If there was an award for persistence in the face of continuing setbacks, Dr Frank van Kann from the School of Physics would be a top contender.
He and his team have been working to build a new tool for the minerals industry for more than 20 years. Now, thanks to substantial backing from Rio Tinto, the project is up and running.
The tool is a unique airborne gravity gradiometer for mineral exploration, measuring gravity gradients from an aircraft with higher sensitivity than other gradiometer systems. Based on low temperature, super-conductor technology, it can detect below-ground changes in the density of geological structures that could indicate the presence of ore bodies.
Although a mining company expressed interest in the project in the early 1980s, funding did not materialise. The team eventually gained a five-year grant to build a prototype from the-then National Energy Research and Development Council.
BP Minerals - at that time part of BP Petroleum - became involved as well and by 1988 the physics team had successfully demonstrated a third generation prototype.
But company takeovers and mergers over ensuing years complicated funding for the project. Then in 2000, with support from a Canadian company, the project resumed.
This year, Dr van Kann applied for an Australian Research Council linkage grant, underwritten by the Canadian company, but this failed and it appeared the technology would again remain undeveloped.
"We were very despondent," Dr van Kann admitted.
"Then, Rio Tinto, which had maintained an interest in the project since the late 1980s, came back into the picture."
Andrew Beveridge, project manager with UWA's Office of Industry and Innovation, said Rio Tinto wanted the final design and construction work to be at UWA.
"In addition to the substantial support for constructing the machine in the Physics workshops, we have negotiated a commercial licence-related agreement that, if the instrument performs as designed, will return considerable royalties to the University," he said.
The agreement with Rio Tinto was signed in October 2005 and Dr van Kann expects the first airborne tests to be completed within two years.