Mgp Uwa Bmr Shane Chambers June 2016 01

Searching for sharks

Shane Chambers

Physics Researcher


Pairing science and music may seem like an odd career, but that’s exactly where Shane Chambers has found his niche. 

With boyhood interests spanning astronomy, space exploration, music, economics and even parapsychology, Shane ultimately chose a science pathway to align with his skills.

“I did the astrophysics stream at UWA but found it was not for me. At the time I wanted to develop a musical career and I felt a bit lost. I then discovered acoustics, which is music and physics together, and it was then I fell in love with science and haven’t looked back since,” he says.

After successfully defending a noise complaint from his local council using knowledge from his studies, Shane chose an acoustics-based subject for his honours project.

New underwater acoustic system searching for sharks

Shark

“I discovered acoustics whilst an undergraduate at UWA, not through a course, but having to defend a prosecution lodged against me by my local council for noise disturbance from practising my drums and percussion.”

Shane Chambers

He recalled looking at their measurements and feeling something wasn’t right. While he was studying Physics at UWA, he got the ear of one of his lecturers to cross check what he thought was wrong with it, and after writing a letter to the council outlining simple concepts about the physics of music versus noise, the prosecution was withdrawn.

“During my honours year I made friends with people in Computer Science and began making electronic drums to interface with their synthesisers. We formed a band and I also did some research assistant work in Biophysics at UWA. My direction unfolded from there."

"As my career developed, I have taken my cues from the researchers at UWA Physics who have established themselves with one foot in industry and the other in academia.”

Shane’s current project is testing  whether the hardware designed in his PhD could be used as a new way of detecting sharks; one which uses much less energy than traditional sonar methods being tested elsewhere. 

“I have been working in underwater acoustics for about 15 years and knew the limitations sonar had when trying to detect sharks,” he says.

“The other alternatives are shark barriers and aerial patrols which have their problems and are very expensive. I was already examining sound propagation in shallow coastal waters and how it interacts with whale and dolphin biosonar, when it occurred to me I could adapt what I had already made to test a fairly simple but novel concept to detect sharks that hadn’t been tried before.”

Showing initiative has been vital to Shane’s success, who says it’s important to run your own race, not someone else’s.

“I took a PhD subject that even our own navy has no experience in, so I guess I am pioneering at the forefront,” he says.

“Usually in the Physical Sciences, you join an established laboratory and take on a topic that is not really your own. I came to UWA with my own topic to follow (studying high frequency shallow water acoustic propagation) and started from the ground up.  I was forced to be innovative because often I did not have that bit of equipment one would normally have in an established laboratory.”

Devising new methods to get around the limitations of his equipment, which are now patentable, led to one of Shane’s proudest moments. He was awarded a major commercialisation grant from the WA Government to test the concepts developed in his PhD in a shark detector – a first for a UWA PhD student.  

More stories