Editor's Note: This story features RIPE team member Tory Clarke, who shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her work.
When the announcement was made to close Canberra's university campuses last month to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, it was a welcome step in the fight against infection.
The Australian National University (ANU) alone is home to thousands of students and staff, all who might have unintentionally passed on the virus while at work or study.
But the decision to close campuses posed an unexpected challenge for those who rely on laboratories and on-site equipment to conduct their research.
It did not simply halt tutorials and meetings; it paused projects that relate to a wide range of industries around Australia and the world.
Now, academics in fields such as medicine, chemistry, education and biology are scrambling to find the best ways to conduct their work from the confines of home.
And, for many of them, it is the second set back this year, after
January's catastrophic hailstorm destroyed greenhouses and the projects they were housing. 'Truly heartbreaking for me as a scientist'
Biology researcher Richard Poire-Lassus from the ANU's Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) said the last month had been "very difficult" for the department.
Like many other researchers, Dr Poire-Lassus was forced to throw away experiments he had been carefully growing since being hit by the January hailstorm.
"The APPF has worked with ANU and CSIRO to relocate critical plants and experiments from the 100-plus destroyed glasshouses to our indoor infrastructure," he said.
"ANU scientists were still licking their wounds, only to be asked to discard all the plants they managed to save from the hailstorm and many more.
"This was truly heartbreaking for me as a scientist."
Material from biology experiments had to be thrown away when the ANU shut down.
Dr Poire-Lassus said that some of the research underway in early March will take up to a year to re-grow, while some will never be completed.
Nevertheless, he is supportive of the measures taken to protect the Canberra community.
"We can only praise the prompt and effective measures taken by ANU to flatten the curve, and the APPF has done everything possible to mitigate the effects of the shutdown on the plant science community," he said.
Closure impacts Ghana, Nigeria
Tory Clarke, another biologist, the impact does not simply stall her work as an early-career researcher — it will have flow-on effects that hamper the financial development of people in countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.
Focusing on a variety of crops, Dr Clarke's work aims to improve yields in a bid to accelerate financial growth for those working the land in developing nations.
"I'm part of this international project that's basically trying to engineer plants to be better at growing the food that we eat," Dr Clarke explained.
"[Our] funding stipulates that any technology that we produce will then become available to small holder farmers in countries in Africa.
"These are people where their livelihoods depend on what they can grow — and so if we can increase the yields of the plants that they're growing, that's going to increase the amount of food they can eat.
"But it will also mean that they will have an excess, that they can then sell, and use that to fund other parts of their life, like their children's education for example," she said.
ANU biologist Dr Tory Clarke, pictured with her son Isaac, now works from home. (Supplied)
Funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Clarke's project was also impacted
by the January hailstorm.
Much of what had been destroyed then had just started to re-grow, when the coronavirus shutdown was announced.
"We just [had to] dispose of them all … so that you're not spreading GMO technologies or anything," she said, noting that her projects would be delayed by at least six months.
Dr Clarke's work has now shifted to focusing on data analysis, which she can do from home.
But as a mother to three young children, working from home had both positive and negative impacts.
"We're just trying to balance time," Dr Clarke said.
"It's really different and I really miss my office in terms of that uninterrupted deep-thinking time, because I don't really get that at home."
Canberra's 'wellbeing' also under the microscope
It is not just laboratory work that has had to adapt quickly under coronavirus restrictions.
The pandemic has also forced innovation in areas such as education and health.
The University of Canberra's Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Leigh Sullivan, said they were re-evaluating a wellbeing study developed in the wake of the bushfires.
He said the study, which was examining the wellbeing of those living in Canberra and the NSW South Coast following the fires, was being adapted to also take in the effects of coronavirus.
Research into the best ways to educate children at home has also taken a sudden turn, as schools scramble to reassess the capacity of their students to continue their studies away from the classroom.
"Because we've sort of been moving slowly in that line and all of a sudden, we've had to do it — there's a whole range of new questions that need answering," Professor Sullivan said.
"What are the new needs for educating school kids at home? What are the constraints? How can we do that better?"
ANU joins the fight against COVID-19
Perhaps the greatest change to research has occurred in departments where academics have been recruited in the fight against coronavirus.
At the ANU, a project to use Canberra's sewage to trace coronavirus will help health authorities get a better picture of the rate of infection in the capital.
Epidemiologist Dr Aparna Lal said the study might assist in confirming whether or not community transmission was occurring.
"Scientists reported finding coronavirus in Holland's wastewater before COVID-19 cases were officially reported there," Dr Lal said.
For ANU Research School of Chemistry Associate Professor Megan O'Mara, it meant shifting away from her usual diabetes research in the space of a few days.
Now, she and her team are one of a handful seeking to find a treatment for coronavirus.
For the last decade, Dr O'Mara's research had focused on finding a way to suppress a single amino acid transporter known as B0AT-1, a component of diabetes, which happens to be "part of the receptor complex for COVID-19".
"Companies have been trying to work out how to develop something that inhibits B0AT-1," Dr O'Mara said.
With permission to use the ANU's supercomputer, which is necessary to conduct simulations as part of their potentially life-saving work, the team was able to start work on coronavirus immediately.
Dr O'Mara said they were using simulations to examine how the proteins within the cells of coronavirus were operating, all the while looking for a way to inhibit their growth.
"What we're doing with our computer simulations is seeing how they move and seeing how different drugs and inhibitors stop them from moving," she said.
"So if we can find something that then inhibits this receptor complex and stops the virus from fusing with the host cell we should be able to hopefully find something that will stop it from infecting us," she said.
She said it was a "really exciting" time for their team, who were each working from home but relying on video conferencing for daily meetings.
"I feel incredibly fortunate that we've been able to continue our work on this and that we haven't been as impacted as some of the experimental groups who unfortunately aren't able to continue in their labs," she said.
Niki Burnside || ABC News