Researcher

Associate Professor Robert Niven

My Expertise

  1. Environmental contaminants and impacts, especially per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) and heavy metal contaminants in subsurface soils, groundwater, surface waters and the atmosphere, and environmental policy and sustainability.
  2. Theoretical fluid mechanics, especially generalisations of transport equations and conservation laws, and connections to Lie symmetries and dimensional analysis.
  3. Theory and applications of probabilistic inference, including maximum entropy analysis and Bayesian inference, applied to a variety of complex natural and engineered systems (including fluid flow systems, flow networks and dynamical systems).

Keywords

Biography

Research 

  • Internationally recognised research leader in (a) environmental contaminants, including per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminants, and environmental impacts and policy; (b) theoretical fluid mechanics, including conservation laws, Lie symmetries and dimensional analysis; and (c) theory and applications of probabilistic inference, including maximum entropy analysis and Bayesian inference. This includes:

Research 

  • Internationally recognised research leader in (a) environmental contaminants, including per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminants, and environmental impacts and policy; (b) theoretical fluid mechanics, including conservation laws, Lie symmetries and dimensional analysis; and (c) theory and applications of probabilistic inference, including maximum entropy analysis and Bayesian inference. This includes:
    • PFAS contaminants in soils, water and other media, including entrapment mechanisms, surface/interfacial phenomena, and their remediation by foam fractionation and in situ fluidization. This includes major intellectual property commercialisation, and laboratory facility development.
    • Other emerging contaminants in soils, water and other media, including tyre waste antioxidants and breakdown products.
    • Non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLs) in porous media, including surface/interfacial tension phenomena, nucleation phenomena and multiphase systems;
    • Heavy metal and inorganic contaminants in surface waters, groundwater, potable water supplies and soil.
    • Environmental impacts, sustainability and environmental management.
    • Spatial and parametric analogues of the Reynolds transport theorem and resulting conservation laws, and connections to Lie scaling and dimensional analysis.
    • Maximum entropy analysis, Bayesian inference and machine learning applied to networked flow systems, including water distribution, energy distribution, transport and electricity distribution networks.
    • Maximum entropy analysis and Bayesian inference for the analysis of fluid flow systems, dynamical systems, dissipative systems and groundwater vulnerability assessment.
    • The combinatorial basis of entropy and its applications, including to the analysis of graphs and flow networks.
  • Success in research funding, with a career total of A$3.38 million in grants and fellowships from Australian, European, French, German, Japanese, UK and U.S. sources. This includes ARC Discovery Project grants for 2010-12 and 2014-16, and an ARC SRI PFAS grant over 2019-22.
  • Leadership of a research group and major project on the remediation of PFAS contaminants in water and soil across UNSW Canberra and Macquarie University, funded by an ARC SRI grant (total A$1.364 million) with industry partner OPEC Systems Pty Ltd. This has involved significant IP commercialisation and major laboratory facility development.
  • Success in competitive research fellowships, including Churchill (1998), Fulbright (2003), JSPS (2006), Marie Curie Incoming International Fellowship, Denmark (2007-08), Endeavour (2010), Isaac Newton Institute (2010) and Institute PPrime CNRS / Region Poitou-Charentes, France (2014-15 and 2018).

Teaching 

  • Course coordinator and lecturer for undergraduate courses in environmental engineering, fluid mechanics, hydraulic engineering, geology, soil mechanics, materials engineering, hydrology, contaminant hydrogeology and (from 2023) nuclear engineering, across BE degree programs in Aeronautical, Civil, Mechanical and Naval Architecture Engineering, and BTech degree programs in Aeronautical Engineering and Aviation.
  • Delivery of Masters-level workshops and short courses in Bayesian inference, including to the AFMC Summer School (Dec 2019).
  • Postgraduate teaching in Maximum Entropy Analysis, including a Masters / PhD course at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and delivery of numerous Masters-level short courses and workshops in Australia and internationally.
  • Past and present supervisor of a number of BE thesis, Masters and PhD students.

Academic Engagement and Leadership:

  • Elected Council Member of the Australasian Fluid Mechanics Society, from 2021, and Founding Chair of the ACT Chapter, from 2019.
  • Editorial Board Member of the journal Entropy since 2007, and Stat since 2019.
  • Undergraduate Aeronautical Coordinator, SEIT, UNSW Canberra, 2016-2018.
  • Research Development and Mentoring Coordinator, SEIT, UNSW Canberra, 2016-2018.
  • Host or member of the organising committee of international conferences: AFMC 2024 (Treasurer), to be held Canberra, Dec 2024; AFMC 2022, to be held Sydney, Dec 2022; MODSIM, Canberra, Dec 2019; MaxEnt 2018, The Alan Turing Institute, London, UK, Jul 2018; MaxEnt 2017, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Jul 2017; MaxEnt 2015, Potsdam, NY USA, Jul 2015; BayesianControl 2015, Poitiers, France, Apr 2015; MaxEnt 2013, Canberra, Dec 2013 (the first time held in Australia); MaxEP Workshop, ANU, Canberra, Australia, Sep 2011; and Facets of Entropy, Copenhagen, Denmark, Oct 2007. 
  • Host of numerous visiting scholars and PhD students to SEIT, UNSW Canberra.
  • Past or present research grant assessor for funding agencies in Australia, Romania, Chile and USA.

External Engagement and Leadership:

  • Public commentary on PFAS contamination in Australia, including to an inquiry of the Parliament of Australia, since 2018.
  • Expert Opinion services in major disputes concerning soil and groundwater contamination, including cases to the Supreme Court of NSW.
  • Founder and President (since 2013) of The MaxEnt and Bayesian Association of Australia, Inc., a scientific association and registered charity to support research and teaching in probabilistic inference.

My Qualifications

  • BSc(Hons) and The University Medal in Chemistry and Geology, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 1991.
  • PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 1998.

My Awards

  • Invited Professor, 2 months, 2018, hosted by Laboratoire des signaux et systèmes (L2S), CentraleSupélec / CNRS / Université Paris Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
  • Invited Professor, 2 months, 2018, hosted by Institut Pprime and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Poitiers, France.
  • Invited Professor, 11 months, 2014-2015, hosted by CEAT, Institut Pprime, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Poitiers, France, funded by Region Poitou-Charentes and Institut Pprime, Poitiers, France.
  • Invited Senior Research Fellow, 1 month, 2012, hosted and funded by Institut Pprime, CEAT, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Poitiers, France.
  • Senior Research Fellow, 3 months, 2011, hosted and funded by Institut Pprime, CEAT, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Poitiers, France.
  • Visiting Fellowship, 1 month, 2010, hosted and funded by the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge, UK.
  • Endeavour Executive Award, 2 months, 2010, hosted by the Graduate School of Integrated Arts and Sciences, Hiroshima University, Japan, funded by the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
  • Marie Curie Incoming International Fellowship, 14 months, 2007-2008, at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, funded by the European Commission (6th Framework Programme).
  • Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Invitation Fellowship, 1 month, 2006, at Dept of Information & Image Sciences, Chiba University, Japan.
  • Fulbright Professional Fellowship, 4 months, 2003, hosted by 3 universities in USA, funded by the Australian-American Fulbright Commission.
  • Churchill Fellow, 3 months, 1998, funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
  • Recipient of 6 other awards and prizes during BSc(Hons) studies in chemistry and geology.

My Research Supervision


Supervision keywords


Areas of supervision

  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in soil and groundwater, and remediation by foam fractionation and in situ fluidisation.
  • Theoretical fluid mechanics, especially continuous Lie symmetries, conservation laws and dimensional analysis.
  • Probabilistic inference, including maximum entropy analysis and Bayesian inference methods applied to complex engineered and human systems, especially in automated form for machine learning.

Currently supervising

Dr Jianlong Wang, Research Associate, "PFAS Source Zone Remediation by Foam Fractionation and In Situ Fluidisation", ARC-funded project, commenced 2020.

Ms Nasrin Taghavi, PhD candidate, "A Geospatial Bayesian Probabilistic Method for Groundwater Vulnerability Assessment", commenced 2019.

 


My Engagement

Recent engagement:

  • Niven, R.K., Environmental contaminants in Australia: the need for a Commonwealth EPA, invited presentation, panel on “Are Our Environmental Laws Fit for Purpose?”, National Environmental Law Association, 2021 National Conference, presented 3 Sep. 2021.
  • Niven, R.K. (UNSW), Stuetz, R. (UNSW), Andersen, M. (UNSW), Timms, W. (Deakin), Boyle, C. (Deakin), Moon, E. (Deakin), Ghadouani, A. (UWA), Proposal for the Renewal of Field of Research (FoR) Codes in Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering, Submission to the ANZSRC Review, submission 2, 10 February 2020.
  • Niven, R.K. (UNSW), Stuetz, R. (UNSW), Andersen, M. (UNSW), Timms, W. (Deakin), Boyle, C. (Deakin), Moon, E. (Deakin), Ghadouani, A. (UWA), Proposal for the Renewal of Field of Research (FoR) Codes in Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering, Submission to the ANZSRC Review, 7 June 2019, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.24239.48806.
  • Niven, R.K., Khan, S., Taylor, M., Wilson, S.P. and Wright, I. (2019), Summary and Position Paper: The need for a Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA) for enforcement of the regulation of environmental contaminants, May 2019, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.10638.00323.
  • Niven, R.K. (2018), Submission, Parliamentary Inquiry into the Management of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance (PFAS) Contamination in and around Defence Bases, Parliament of Australia, 6 July 2018, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20480.74245.
  • Niven, R.K. (2018), Submission to NSW Government on Proposed Remediation of Land State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), NSW Government, April 2018, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.15140.78721.
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Location

Building 20 Room 129
School of Engineering and Information Technology,
The University of New South Wales at Canberra,
PO Box 7916,
Canberra BC ACT 2610,
AUSTRALIA

Contact

+61 2 5114 5188 (voicemail only)