The woman behind the research of tomorrow

By Melissa Keogh

South Australia is full of brainiacs and Professor Emily Hilder is one of them.

The influential researcher was raised in Tasmania and grew to become one of Australia’s top research chemists.

She was lured to Adelaide in 2016 to head up the University of South Australia’s new multi-million dollar Future Industries Institute (FII).

Prof. Hilder says she was inspired by South Australia’s “incredible optimism” about future industries.

“If I was going to live anywhere else in Australia, it would be South Australia,” she says.

“I saw in SA an incredible optimism about what could be done in the future … there are some challenges we are facing but how are we going to tackle those together?

“I could see the opportunity for me to make a real difference in this space and I could see a real drive from the universities and business centres to make a difference.”

Formerly of the University of Tasmania, Prof. Hilder held a spot on the Analytical Scientist’s Power List from 2013-16 and has published more than 100 academic publications in her time.

Professor Emily Hilder is a leading research chemist who came to South Australia to lead UniSA's Future Industries Institute.

Professor Emily Hilder is a leading research chemist who came to South Australia to lead UniSA’s Future Industries Institute.

Prof. Hilder’s passion at the FII is to deliver research to solve “real world problems” in engineering, science and biotechnology.

These include something as bold as treating cancer to developing products for the renewable energy sector and finding solutions to food wastage.

Opened at Mawson Lakes in 2015, the FII is home to research students and top professors who conduct industry-connected research and innovation across four key strands.

These are minerals and resources engineering, energy and advanced manufacturing, environmental science and engineering, and biomaterials, engineering and nanomedicine.

One of the projects Prof. Hilder is most passionate about is the ongoing research into micro-sampling of biological fluids.

This research could pave the way for moving from the traditional needle-in-the-arm blood test to a more tolerable, single blood drop sample.

“I’m particularly passionate about micro sampling of biological fluids (blood, saliva, spinal fluid) to be less invasive and more user friendly,” she says.

“It’s moving from a particular sample from a vein which a lot of people don’t enjoy, to being able to take a single drop of blood and use it for various analytical samples.”

Professor Emily Hilder says she was drawn to SA's optimism about its future industries which include advanced manufacturing and

Professor Emily Hilder says she was drawn to SA’s optimism about its future industries which include advanced manufacturing and nanomedicine.

Food wastage and security is another of Prof. Hilder’s research passions.

“Some of our researches have been working on screening technology that’s fast, cheap, and simple that can screen for microorganism spoilage in foods,” she says.

“One of the challenges we have in particular for small businesses which is a large part of our food industry is being able to maintain quality product.”

The FII’s focus is research that is relevant to industry and Prof. Hilder says small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are one of SA’s biggest growth sectors.

“98% of businesses are SMEs who have less than 20 employees,” she says.

“I’m passionate about working at the interface between academia and industry and the University is doing something quite different.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity to be a part of something right from the beginning.”

This month’s I Choose SA for Industries stories are made possible by sponsor, the University of South Australia.