Sky's the limit

With the move of Boeing Research & Technology Australia (BR&T–A) to UQ St Lucia in mid–2017, aerospace knowledge and expertise is set to soar – and so too is the exchange of information between UQ researchers and industry.

Making the most of UQ’s ‘research powerhouse’ reputation – particularly in mathematics, advanced engineering and neuroscience – about 30 Boeing researchers and technical staff have moved to a specially designed facility in the Hawken building at the heart of the University’s engineering hub, the BR&T–A Brisbane Technology Centre.

Featuring a high-tech student interactive display area, plus computer labs, collaborative spaces and standard office cubicles for Boeing staff, the centre is a step change in UQ’s collaboration and engagement with the company since its association began in 2003, and complements the Boeing Flight Training Centre at Brisbane Airport.

The interactive display area the Boeing Research & Technology Australia Brisbane Technology Centre at UQ.

The interactive display area the Boeing Research & Technology Australia Brisbane Technology Centre at UQ.

According to General Manager of Boeing Research and Technology Australia and joint Chair of the Boeing-UQ Steering Committee, Michael Edwards, the close proximity of Boeing staff to current students and leading UQ researchers in diverse fields – from science and sustainability to health and humanities – will be of great benefit.

“With Boeing’s expanding global operations, we are keen to source graduates and research expertise from the best institutions around the world,” Mr Edwards said.

“An Asia-Pacific first, this connection is particularly valuable as our business in Australia continues to grow.

“We have great faith in Australia’s capacity to generate innovative ideas and expertise in a wide range of fields, including engineering, human movements, neuroscience, chemistry, physics, psychology and computer design, that will translate well to the aerospace industry."

“UQ is one of our key strategic research partners and a leading global player in these important fields.”

Projects already earmarked for investigation include studies in unmanned aircraft and autonomous systems, aircraft simulator technologies, manufacturing technologies, and cabin disease transmission.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said this was a huge vote of confidence in UQ’s students, staff and graduates.

“Boeing, a perennial innovator with around 145,000 employees, can pick and choose university partners. It has come to know UQ people and it likes what it sees.

“Students and staff will now be rewarded with distinctive opportunities arising from the collocation.”

Director of UQ’s Research Partnerships Office Ian Harris, who was instrumental in effecting the partnership, agrees.

“We are entering a flagship research collaboration and partnership that is already showing signs of attracting more interest for deeper collaboration with other large corporations,” he said.

The interactive display area the Boeing Research & Technology Australia Brisbane Technology Centre at UQ.

The interactive display area the Boeing Research & Technology Australia Brisbane Technology Centre at UQ.

“Boeing is keen to embed itself in the strong research culture at UQ – which includes one of the best research libraries in the country, convenient access to world-class research institutes, and excellent general infrastructure – and we anticipate that other companies will be keen to follow suit.

“Our comprehensive range of research, which the Australian Research Council has assessed as above or well above world standard in 95 per cent of all broad fields, enables significant interdisciplinary capability that is very attractive to industry.”

Mr Harris is particularly impressed with Boeing’s “very high-end, very visual, very high-tech” audiovisual and augmented-reality display that is open to all, already enhancing the student experience and exposing the reality of careers in aerospace.

“This move gives tangible expression to UQ and Boeing’s alignment with the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda and the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland program.”

Eyes focused on nurturing talent

UQ PhD student Aimee Ryan (left) conducting eye-tracking research.

Fostering innovation and nurturing the best are the aims of the Boeing UQ Research Alliance PhD Scholarship Scheme, launched in 2015. Offering about $40,000 a year to 10 outstanding PhD students in a range of fields – including engineering, information technology, physics, human factors and psychology – the scholarships are of joint benefit. Award recipients can pursue their research free from financial concerns, and Boeing can align with some of the nation’s most creative citizens endowed with sophisticated research skills and expertise. ChangeMakers spoke with Aimee Ryan from the UQ School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, who was one of the first five award recipients.

UQ PhD student Aimee Ryan. 
Image: Boeing Defence Australia Ltd

UQ PhD student Aimee Ryan.
Image: Boeing Defence Australia Ltd

What is the title of your PhD and what is it about?

Eye movements and attention in flight-related tasks. Basically, we are using an eye-tracking machine to determine differences in the attentional strategies of pilots with different experience levels.

How did you get into this field?

In the third year of my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, I got a taste of cognitive engineering and human factors when Professor David O’Hare lectured us. It was fascinating. After completing my honours year in a completely different area, I managed to secure him as supervisor for my master’s degree, where I focused on cognitive engineering and human decision-making. Psychology is not just about counselling: cognitive engineering is an entire field of its own.

How did you hear about the Boeing UQ award?

I saw an online advertisement for the scholarship and thought my research was a perfect fit. I applied to UQ to upgrade my master’s degree to a PhD and was successful.

Apart from the financial considerations, how has the award been of benefit?

With visits to the Boeing headquarters, it has been a great chance to experience first-hand what it would be like to work in the industry. Boeing has also provided unique opportunities, such as tickets to Women in Aviation Australia events, where I met many high-achieving women in the field.

UQ PhD student Aimee Ryan (left) conducting eye-tracking research.

UQ PhD student Aimee Ryan (left) conducting eye-tracking research.

How are your days structured?

I mostly work on campus at St Lucia as that’s where the eye-tracking machines are and where my supervisor (Dr Guy Wallis) is based, although I do meet with Boeing staff periodically to discuss my project. I expect the Boeing liaison to increase in the future as my work develops.

What have been your discoveries so far?

At present, I am trying to get the experimental paradigm working and have been using university students as ‘guinea pigs’ for my research, and so am only in the early stages of my research. Ask me in a couple of years time.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Working in a male-dominated environment is sometimes tricky. I would like to encourage greater gender diversity in what is a very interesting field.

What does the future hold?

For the next two years, at least, I expect to be completing my PhD, and then I would like to do research work in an industry setting.

Do you have any advice for future Boeing UQ Research Alliance PhD Scholarship Scheme applicants?

Just go for it – especially if you are female. We need more of a gender balance in this industry. And it’s the perfect opportunity to test whether or not you are a proper fit for the team.

For more information about research higher degree scholarships at UQ, visit

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