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Curtin team behind submariner endurance research named Eureka finalist

Media release

A team of Curtin researchers are finalists in the 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes for their innovative research into strategies to assure the endurance and performance of crew aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s high-tech new Attack Class Submarines.

(L-R) Researchers Katrina Hosszu, Dr Michael David Wilson, Dr Luke Strickland, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Sharon Parker, Alex Boeing, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Mark Griffin, Associate Professor Karina Jorritsma and Belinda Cham from the Future of Work Institute at Curtin University stand on submarine HMAS Sheean at Fleet Base West in Western Australia. Picture: Department of Defence

Nominated for the 2021 Department of Defence Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia, the team from Curtin’s Future of Work Institute (FOWI) is working closely with Defence to research new ways of working that aim to better integrate the technology and human capability of Australia’s future submarine.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Karina Jorritsma, from FOWI, said the project involved developing and testing new watchkeeping concepts that could better balance work and rest for submariners. These concepts are designed to support submariners to work effectively with advanced technologies, while allowing them to sleep longer hours, and have higher quality respite time, over the course of long and demanding operational missions.

“Australia’s future fleet of submarines will be fitted with technologies that enable enhanced endurance and expanded capabilities, however these vessels cannot realise their full potential without a matched human component that can also endure and maintain performance over time,” Associate Professor Jorritsma said.

“Submariners face tough working, living, and sleeping conditions while at sea. For up to several months at a time, they work long hours interacting with complex technology and must deal with unpredictable dangers in an isolated and confined environment.”

Associate Professor Jorritsma said increasing world-wide accessibility of emergent technologies meant procuring state-of-the-art technology may not be sufficient to guarantee regional warfighting superiority for the Royal Australian Navy.

“Our research helps to secure a competitive advantage for Australia by facilitating the design of an Attack Class Submarine that integrates human elements with state-of-the-art technology for optimised crew endurance,” Associate Professor Jorritsma said.

“By drawing on data collected during active submarine operations, and working alongside submariners as well as submarine designers, we have been able to produce a number of novel human-centred design recommendations that have substantively supported preliminary design considerations for the Future Submarine Program.”

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, considered Australia’s leading science awards, were established in 1990 to reward outstanding achievements in Australian science and science communication.

The 2021 winners will be announced on October 7.