Barry’s own work along with the many collaborations with leading researchers and scientists has resulted in many breakthroughs in science.
These breakthroughs come in two parts. First, the breakthroughs come from a Fundamental Breakthrough (theory and understanding) – the underlying foundations of how we understand physical sciences. The second breakthroughs are a result in that new theory & understanding forming Technology Breakthroughs (practical applications) – where we can exploit these new understandings to solve big real world problems such as killing viruses, improving transport, right through to cleaning water.
These breakthroughs have led to range of new innovations, with simple, low energy, low cost, scalable solutions in many areas.
(practical applications, exploiting the theoretical breakthroughs by Barry & his colleagues)
Hot Bubble Water Sterilisation
“Hot bubbles” have proven highly effective in the destruction of various solutes, from viruses and bacteria to hormones and anti-biotics. Taking advantage of the properties of a bubble column, this low energy, simple solution destroys contaminants without high pressures, chemical additives, fancy expensive membranes or anything else that can foul or break. Using hot gas means energy costs are low and solution temperatures remain relatively low.
Heavy Metal Removal
Specially designed naturally based surfactants are used to bind heavy metals in a counterflow bubble column. Contaminants are then removed via foam floatation, a simple, low cost and highly scalable solution already used at enormous scale globally. Using naturally based surfactants means no environmental concerns.
Ion Exchange is the oldest, most simple process known for desalination. Its one limitation is in regeneration of the ion exchange medium. This process solves the regeneration problem, making Ion Exchange not only the simplest but also the cheapest method available. Efficiency is further enhanced with the use of new Ion exchange mediums with significantly greater capacities.
Similar to Heavy Metal removal, a Bubble column foam flotation process and targeted surfactant is used to remove over 80% of PFAS in a single step. With surfactant and air the only inputs, this process is simple, cheap and safe operate at large scale.
Naturally Based Surfactants
Naturally based surfactant have significant environmental and biohazard advantages over synthetic based alternatives. The problem with naturally sourced surfactants is the high cost of extraction and low relative availability. Previous methods for synthesizing such surfactants have provided only very low yields. This new approach provides yields above 95% in a simple 2 step process, allowing not only tailored surfactants, but to synthesize these with naturally based compounds.
Many processes, particularly mining, produce large volumes of waste sludge with fine to very fine suspended solids. Removing the bulk of the liquid is critical not only to the cost but to allow safe storage and or disposal. Various high energy, delicate membrane and other complex methods have been tried to solve this problem. This method takes advantage of the unique properties of different gasses coupled with the unmatched efficiency of the bubble column to remove over 80% of water from even the lowest micron sludge.
For thousands of years water has remained the principal method for suppression of fire, despite its limited effectiveness. This technology utilises the specific properties of naturally occurring materials to capture and thermally release large volumes of CO2. With the potential to suppress ember attacks as well as improved fire fighting and liquid suppression, this technology has a wide range of potential applications from coatings to firefighting liquids.
Significant Scientific Contributions
Ninham founded the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics in 1970, a world leader in the field of colloid and surface science. He has continued to lead the field for nearly 4 decades. He also founded and led the ANU Optical Sciences Department for more than 15 years. More than 75 of the students and/or research fellows he has mentored became full professors in Australia and overseas in various fields by 2010, and more than 10 had become Fellows of the Australian Academy of Sciences, and five Fellows of the Royal Society. He supervised around 200 Ph.D. theses in Australia and Overseas.
The Department maintains its high profile in experiment, applied work, and in theory at the boundaries of physical chemistry, chemical engineering, physics and biology, structure in condensed matter, inorganic chemistry and works extensively with industry.
Most recognised contributions are: pioneering advances in surface force theory and measurement; in theories of electrolytes and colloidal interactions; and in the self-assembly of surfactants; microemulsions; lipids and other biosystems.
Contributions to other fields: Numerical analysis, astrophysics, stochastic processes; physical, inorganic and biochemistry; statistical mechanics of soft condensed matter; liquids at interfaces; solution chemistry, especially electrolytes, polyelectrolytes, new materials via templating and mechanochemistry; immunology; hydrophobic interactions; porous, disordered and random media; membranes for reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration; number theory in physics; molecular forces in physics; and asymptotic analysis.
Other Professional contributions
- Chairman and organiser, various international meetings in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology
- Reviewer, many scientific journals
- Member and Chair, 10 years, ANU Encyclopaedia Britannica Committee
- Director Australian Enhanced Oil recovery program
- Chair National Review Committees in Physical Chemistry (1986), and Basic Engineering Sciences, Sweden (1997)
- Reviewer of Phys. Chem. for Atomic Energy Commission France (1998)
- Numerous University Committees
- Feature Writer in National Press, on education and science policy
- Consultant to companies incl. Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, joint programs with Memtec, Rohm and Haas, W.A. Sands
- Played a major role in preserving ANU from dismemberment during political disputes on new versus old Universities
- Founder, with Professor John Molony of the ANU Emeritus Faculty
- Foundation Member, UNESCO World Commission on Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology. (1998-2002)