Cognitive engineering is the analysis, modeling, design and evaluation of effective human integration in complex sociotechnical systems. As cognitive engineers, CERG researchers aim to provide better integration between human operators and the system they control. We try to help human operators act more effectively to preserve system safety and productivity, especially if unexpected situations arise. For examples of our work, see CERG Publications.

  • Get involved in CERG research! UQ Winter Research Program and other opportunities
  • Doing a PhD on human factors within CERG.
    • CERG is a supportive and and tightly knit community of researchers, engineers, and thesis students.
    • We support thesis by publication, where the candidate presents for examination an integrated series of papers he/she has published on the thesis topic during his/her candidature in peer-reviewed journals.
    • We normally use the PhD oral defence as a supplement to written examiners' reports, to help ensure timely completion and clarity about revisions.

Current research projects

Chiara Santomauro (CERG PhD student) explores interruptions in healthcare in a representative laboratory setting (cocktail making).


  • Interruptions in healthcare: Causes, consequences, and resilience
    ARC Discovery Grant DP140101821 (2014-2017).
    In this ARC-funded research we will develop better ways to predict the impact of new technologies on medical and nursing work in critical care environments. We will build models that can be used prospectively for technology assessment. Collaboration is with Dr Bala Venkatesh (Princess Alexandra Hospital), Professor Leanne Aitken (PAH; Griffith University), Professor Sid Dekker (Griffith University), Dr Tobias Grundgeiger (Univ of Wurzburg) and Dr David Liu (UQ). Tara McCurdie and Chiara Santomauro are doing their PhDs in this area; Elizabeth Vilgan is doing her honours thesis in the area.

  • Alarm fatigue and multimodal multi-patient monitoring
    ARC Discovery Grant DP140101822 (2014-2017).
    In this ARC-funded research, we are exploring the potential for advanced technologies to help busy clinicians monitor multiple patients. We are exploring how video glasses, auditory displays, and tactile displays might work together to provide continuous non-intrusive background awareness if all is well, but a growing awareness of potential problems before they become critical. Collaboration is with Dr Robert "Butch" Loeb and Dr David Liu (UQ). Mike Pascale is doing his PhD in this area; Kelly Hinckfuss and Sarah Fouhy are doing their honours thesis in the area. 

  • Teamwork in neonatal resuscitation
    Mater Research PhD Scholarship topup (2014-2017).
    In this research we are exploring how certain kinds of teamwork training might improve neonatal resuscitation performance and outcomes. Collaboration is with Dr Helen Liley at Mater Mothers' Hospital. Mia McLanders is doing her PhD in this area, supported by a PhD scholarship topup from Mater Research.

  • Clinical trial of respiratory sonification
    NHMRC Development Grant (2008-2014).
    In this NHMRC-funded research, we are performing a clinical trial of our respiratory sonification technology. This will be the first trial of the respiratory sonification in the clinical context. Our goal is to determine the validity, usefulness, and appropriateness of the respiratory sonification in practice, and to evaluate training needs. The research is being done in by Professor Sanderson (UQ), A/Prof Watson (UQ, Queensland Health's Skills Development Centre), Dr W John Russell (Royal Adelaide Hospital), Dr Richard Morris (The St George Hospital), Dr Kersi Taraporewalla (Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital), and Dr Simon Jenkins (Royal Adelaide Hospital).

Utilities and services

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Passport Office
    Research Agreement with Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2014).
    In this collaboration with DFAT's Passport Office, we are looking at issues relating to how Australian citizens take care of their passports. This research is being done in a small consortium of School of Psychology researchers, including the following: Prof Alex Haslam, Dr Jason Tangen, Prof Penelope Sanderson, Dr Kim Peters, Dr Katharine Greenaway, and Dr Nik Stefflens.


  • Using Cognitive Work Analysis to assist with foresight analysis
    Research Agreement with DSTO (2013-2014).
    In this collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), we are examining how the Cognitive Work Analysis framework might help analysts perform foresight analysis.


Past projects

Below are descriptions of projects carried out by CERG members since its establishment at The University of Queensland in November 2001.

  • Healthcare
    • Prospective evaluation of healthcare ICT in critical care. In this research we will develop better ways to predict the impact of new technologies on medical and nursing work in critical care environments. We will build models that can be used prospectively for technology assessment. Collaboration is with Dr Bala Venkatesh at Princess Alexandra Hospital. Cara Stitzlein is doing her PhD in this area. 
      ARC Discovery Project (2008-2010) and UQ Postgraduate Research Scholarship.
    • Head-mounted displays. From our applied work on advanced auditory displays and head-mounted displays for anesthesiologists came a more general interest in perceptual and attentional issues associated with the use of head-mounted displays (HMDs). PhD student Stas Krupenia and honours student Sean Lowe examined why HMDs sometimes focus attention so that events in the external field of view are missed. Honours students Matt Thompson, Morgan Tear and Will Harrison examined whether people's ability to monitor visual objects on an HMD is affected when sound integral to object behaviour is delivered via free-field speakers vs. via ear-piece.
      ARC Discovery Project 2005-2007 and School of Psychology.
    • Interruptions and prospective memory in the Intensive Care Unit. We are examining the impact of information and communication technology on planning and coordination in and around the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), with a view to developing better ways to predict the impact of new technologies on medical and nursing work in critical care environments. Collaboration is with Dr Bala Venkatesh at Princess Alexandra Hospital. Tobias Grundgeiger completed his PhD research in this area, using field research. 
      NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Patient Safety (2007-2009), ARC DP (2008-2010).
    • Modeling coordination for nurse scheduling and rostering. We are using nurse scheduling and rostering as a problem to address broader theoretical issues about coordination in cognitive engineering and organisational psychology. In particular we are examining temporal coordinative needs. Collaboration is with Dr Bala Venkatesh at Princess Alexandra Hospital. Tania Xiao is doing her PhD research in this area, using field research and modeling. 
      ARC DP (2008-2010).
    • Modeling training needs for neonatal resuscitation. What are the training needs for neonatologists learning to perform neonatal resuscitations? Simulators have been developed, but how should they be used as part of a training program? Collaboration is with Dr Helen Liley at Mater Mothers' Hospital. For his PhD, Itsik Nadler is bringing novel theoretical approaches to this issue. 
      Supported by Laedal Inc., and performed in collaboration with Mater Mothers' Hospital and QH Skills Development Centre (2008-2010).
    • Advanced auditory displays and head mounted displays for anesthetists. In this research we explored the advantages and disadvantages of sonification, blood pressure earcons, and head-mounted displays for monitoring of patients under anesthesia. Sonification is the representation of data relations in sound relations and earcons are short musical motifs that express data relations. Head mounted displays provide anesthetists with an ever-present display of patient vital signs that removes the need to remember to turn to look at visual monitors along with the inconvenience of doing so, as when in the middle of a procedure. David Liu completed his PhD on the role of the HMD in particular and conducted our first clinical trial of advanced displays. Professor Sanderson and Associate Professor Watson collaborated on this research with Dr W John Russell and Dr Simon Jenkins at Royal Adelaide Hospital.
      ARC Discovery Grant (2005-2007).
    • Sonification in the critical care environment. We undertook research on sonification in anesthesia environments, focusing especially on respiratory sonification and issues relating to multimodal displays. This work was led by Prof Sanderson and Dr Marcus Watson in collaboration with Dr John Russell at Royal Adelaide Hospital. ARC Discovery Grant (2002-2004)
    • Blood pressure earcons. Blood pressure can be measured continously or intermittently. Dr Marcus Watson developed visual and auditory display concepts for blood pressure monitoring that have undergone empirical testing since 2003.
      UQ Research Development Grant, UQ (2003)
    • Evaluation of critical care alarm standards. New standards for critical care alarms have been proposed (IEC 60601-1-8) but no empirical report has been made of their effectiveness. CERG researchers such as Alex Wee have tested participants' ability to discriminate and identity the new alarm sounds. Research to explore alarm redesigns was completed by Professor Sanderson and Associate Professor Watson in collaboration with Dr Chris Thompson of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney.
      ANZCA grant (2006-2008).
    • Patient information representations for the ICU. This research led by Dr Anne Miller for her PhD took a critical look at the effectiveness of the abstraction-decomposition framework for performing Work Domain Analysis. It proposed an alternative framework for modeling the ICU patient that nonetheless preserves the intention behind Work Domain Analysis and Cognitive Work Analysis. On the basis of this alternative model, Miller developed and tested a low-level prototype of a novel ICU patient information system.
      Princess Alexandra Hospital and Key Centre seed funding (2004).
    • Communication and handover in the ICU. In this research performed with Dr Bala Venkatesh and Tony Limpus at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Dr Anne Miller examined the content and form of doctors' and nurses' communication during handover.
      ANZCA grant (2005).
  • Industrial control rooms and process control
    • Advanced diagnosis and operator performance in the chemical industry.  Major industrial accidents such as the Longford and Olympic Dam fires and explosions cost Australian industry millions of dollars a year and possibly billions over the long term. Together with BlueScope Steel and BP, we have developed an integrated approach to process diagnosis based on a novel multiscale-multifunctional framework that will lead to new hazard identification methods that will, in turn, inform advanced multi-agent diagnostic systems and novel operator interface designs. The goal was to make significant improvements in abnormal condition management. Performed with Professor Ian Cameron (Project leader: Chemical Engineering, UQ) and Professor Katalin Hangos (Hungarian Academic of Sciences). Maureen Hassall is doing her PhD in this area. 
      ARC Linkage Project (2007-2010).
    • Control room alarm management. We looked into the problem of alarms in an electricity transmission corporation's main control room. Many thousands of alarms occur each day, making to difficult to assure that the most important alarms are attended and handled appropriately. The goal was to review strategies for handling the volume of alarms and to propose and implement a way forward. We brought our knowledge of power system operations and of the human response to alarms to this project. Personnel involved were Prof Sanderson, Dr Memisevic, Dr Watson, and Dr Austin Adams.
      Powerlink Queensland (2004-2006)
    • Information representation for power generation control rooms. We are examining issues relating to human supervisory control in the deregulated electricity market, in collaboration with Professor William Wong at Middlesex University and Dr Rizah Memisevic at Powerlink Queensland. Xilin Li is completing her PhD on the evaluation of advanced display concepts for hydropower operations in the dynamic deregulated Australian electricity market.
      ARC Centre for Complex Systems (2003-2006).
    • Information representation for power generation control rooms. In this ARC SPIRT grant with the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority, Professor Penelope Sanderson and Dr Rizah Memisevic examined the role of information design for participants in the recently deregulated Australian electricity market. In the space of a few years, the role of human operators in power plant control rooms has moved from almost exclusively focusing on control of plant towards a growing consideration of market conditions and market goals. The technical and information technology infrastructure has evolved as the market has been introduced. Our goal in this project was to determine the impact of information design based on Ecological Interface Design upon human operator discretionary activity and upon control stability.
      ARC SPIRT Grant (2001-2003), Snowy Hydro Limited.
  • Air traffic control and air defence
    • Evaluating human performance with new technologies. We used Cognitive Work Analysis to develop an analytic framework with which to predict the most sensitive measures of human performance when defence systems undergo technology upgrades. Prof Sanderson supervised DSTO researcher David Crone's PhD on this topic, with DSTO colleagues Dr Neelam Naikar as associate supervisor and Dr Simon Parker as collaborator.
      DSTO-supported PhD research (graduated 2010)
    • Air defence and AEW&C. This was one of a series of research contracts applying Cognitive Work Analysis approaches to the analysis, modeling, design and evaluation of human-system integration in the Commonwealth of Australia's Airborne Early Warning and Control platform (AEW&C) (DSTO AMRL). Performed by Professor Penelope Sanderson with Dr Neelam Naikar at DSTO.
      Research Agreement with DSTO (2000-2001)
    • Predicting workload through situational complexity in ATC. In an ARC Linkage grant to Key Centre for Human Factors, we performed empirical tests in a high-fidelity ATC simulator and cognitive modeling to better understand sources of difficulty in air traffic control operations. The goal was to develop dynamic models of air traffic controller workload that have the potential to operate in near-real time and to help air traffic control management make decisions about changing sector dimensions and staffing in response to traffic load. Performed in collaboration with Dr Andrew Neal, Prof Mike Humphreys, Prof Peter Lindsay, Prof Graeme Halford, Dr Peter Kwantes, Dr Christine Boag, Dr Shayne Loft and Martijn Mooij. Industry sponsor was Airservices Australia.
      ARC Linkage Grant (2004-2007).