ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 1, Winter 2011

Research bites

Right across ACU, researchers are working hard to solve life's mysteries, devise ways to better our environment and improve Indigenous education outcomes. Here's a taste...

Dr Pre De Silva
School of Arts and Sciences

The manufacturing of Portland cement, the most widely used binder system in the building industry, is considered to be one of the highest CO2-emitting industries – contributing to four per cent of global CO2 emissions.

CO2 emissions in Australia are more than eight million tonnes due to the Portland cement manufacturing process. The building industry is therefore under tremendous pressure to minimise the usage of Portland cement and the scientific community is racing to develop an alternative.

Dr Pre De Silva from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has been conducting research into the chemistry of alternative binder systems such as geopolymer, which is considered an environmentally-friendly alternative.

"The research we are undertaking is very much application oriented and its ultimate goal is to formulate alternatives to a traditional well-established binder system," she said.

"This research has the potential to cut down CO2 emission as well as aid in recycling certain industrial wastes, bringing both environmental and economic benefits to the international community."

Professor Peter Rendell
School of Psychology

Professor Peter Rendell's research into how pregnancy can affect memory has been featured in media around the world. He recently received funding to continue his work – this time looking at the ability to imagine future events.

Professor Rendell said his inspiration came from ACU's recently published study investigating the impact of alcohol intoxication on prospective memory. The study showed that encouraging participants to engage in future event simulation eliminated the deficit in prospective memory caused by alcohol consumption.

Professor Rendell said his findings to date have shown differences in future thinking between adults and pregnant women.

"I have found that older adults perform worse on prospective memory tasks in laboratory settings than on similar tasks in daily life," he said.

"Interestingly, I have found the reverse with pregnant women, who seem able to marshal resources and perform well over the few hours involved in laboratory tests of prospective memory, but have difficulty sustaining this performance with remembering intentions over several days in daily life."

Dr Ross Keating
School of Education

Dr Ross Keating is undertaking a self-reflective study of Eastern texts, with the aim of developing a useful strategy for late adolescents searching for personal meaning in their lives.

"One of the defining features of this century is that everyone now has immediate access to the world's so-called sacred literature, in any language, of one's own choice," he said.

"In the area of Eastern writings alone I can buy online texts ranging from a finely nuanced English version of the Upanishads to a scholarly edition of Zen poems and stories. Such texts are like old-growth forests full of potential and life-enhancing wisdom."

Dr Keating has chosen a self-reflexive style study as he is less concerned with the historical authenticity of such writings; instead he is working towards authoritative translations that value personal experience.

"It engenders sincerity in reading, and clarity and poetic expressiveness in writing," he said. What results is a kind of lyric essay.

Professor Paul Oslington
School of Business and School of Theology

Church-related not-for-profit organisations deliver approximately half of all social services in Australia, through various kinds of grants, partnerships and contracting arrangements.

These arrangements have attracted international attention, and significant economic, managerial, and theological issues have arisen for governments, the organisations delivering the services, those receiving them, and the Church.

Professor Paul Oslington is coordinating a project to bring together a team of theologians, economists, leadership scholars and sociologists of religion to work on these issues in conjunction with some of the not-for-profit organisations.

"Through ACU's collaboration with the National Church Life Survey, and the Church social service organisation we will be able to assemble path-breaking qualitative and quantitative data sets on the delivery of services by Church organisations, and study some of these issues," he said.

Professor Oslington will present a paper on the project in Washington DC this month.

Professor Elizabeth Warren and Eva DeVries
School of Education

Representation oral language and engagement in mathematics (RoleM) is a DEEWR-funded program which follows a cohort of Indigenous students from preparatory school to year three.

The longitudinal study tracks Indigenous numeracy development across 12 Queensland schools.

The maths program developed by the RoleM team, of which ACU's Professor Elizabeth Warren and Eva DeVries are a part, reflects the standards expected of all students in the new Australian Mathematics Curriculum.

Professor Warren said that young Indigenous students are very capable of achieving high levels of mathematics as evidenced by the first-year results from RoleM.

"Achieving high levels in mathematics is a complex process," she said. "It involves leaders who believe in the ability of young Indigenous students and who are willing to share their leadership role with committed Indigenous people.

"It also relies on dedicated Indigenous education workers as key players in building solid foundations for mathematical learning.

"Finally, it requires the development and implementation of a focused mathematics program that is supportive of Indigenous students' learning."

Associate Professor Mary Coloe
School of Theology

A team of ACU theologians are working to re-examine key biblical texts in order to change religious attitudes towards the environment.

"If religious attitudes have helped to create the environmental crises we now face, then in order to change human behaviour towards greater responsibility for global flourishing, religion needs to be part of the solution," said team leader Associate Professor Mary Coloe. She is conducting the research with Dr Antoinette Collins, Professor Anthony Kelly and Dr Laurie Woods.

"Science and religion need to work together. Scientists have been appealing to religious leaders to actively promote greater environmental responsibility."

Their research aims to establish a firm foundation for not only developing a change of attitude, but also a new ethic that promotes the growth of all planetary life and a just global community.

Associate Professor Coloe said there were several challenges facing the group – including the common perception that the Bible condones and even demands the subjugation of material creation to human desires.

"Genesis 1 and its connotations that humans are central to the universe has helped shape Western attitudes towards nature, and some have used these texts to justify policies that exploit natural resources with no regard to environmental and social consequences," she said.

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