Decision-making for Defence: how MICCN is helping to keep you safe

MICCN provides an exceptional research environment for discoveries that change our understanding of the brain, and which translate that understanding to benefits via industry partnerships, commercialisation and improved health, safety and social outcomes for the community.

Industry partnerships are central to our strategy to deliver impactful research. As such, our Sleep Program established a new funding scheme for Translational Fellowships in Industry.

In 2017, MICCN Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Alex Wolkow, was awarded such a Fellowship; one key outcome of which will see our sleep and circadian research effectively contributing to the safeguarding of Australia.

Through the Fellowship, Dr Wolkow recognised the potential for research already being undertaken with the U.S. Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research (Global), and aligned with Defence and Science Technology (DST) Group’s research on real-world decision-making and how it can be enhanced and protected from the impact of challenging operational conditions, including sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment.

Decision-making is recognised as a major determinant of mission success across Defence. In order to inform operational enhancement and protection of decision-making, substantial knowledge gaps need to be closed regarding the vulnerability of its key elements to performance-degrading conditions, such as drowsiness and fatigue. Sleep loss and circadian misalignment are the two major causes of drowsiness and fatigue, known for their degrading impact on operator performance, health and safety.

It became clear that the potential findings from the research with ONR Global would likely derive great benefit for DST, with the project aligning well with their human performance research priorities.

“The ONR Global project, led by MICCN’s Professor Sean P.A. Drummond, is the first to systematically assess the effects of sleep restriction, circadian misalignment, and the combination of both on specific components of decision-making,” Dr Wolkow said. “Professor Drummond and his team have designed the sleep manipulations in this study to mirror common types of sleep disruptions experienced in the military, and will utilise well-developed decision tasks measuring core components of decision-making that are directly relevant to Defence. Translation of the basic science outcomes of this project will therefore have the potential to inform key priorities of DST within their Cognitive Fitness Framework, such as Foundational, Advanced and Mission ready training, and Operational augmentation.”

DST and MICCN have since formed a collaborative partnership via a three-year top-up scholarship scheme, awarded to MICCN PhD student, Johanna Boardman.

“As part of this scholarship, I will be will examining the separate and combined effects of sleep restriction and circadian misalignment on core components of decision-making,” Ms Boardman said. “I’m excited to be enriching my knowledge of the commercial research environment, and am looking forward to seeing how our research-derived outcomes translate into such an important service.”

For more information or to discuss our current research-industry collaboration opportunities, please contact Dr Andrew Tucker, Senior Lecturer, Research Translation (Industry Engagement), on T: 03 9905 0864, e:

* Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Naval Research

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