When the oceans were 20 metres higher: revealing past and future climates

Dr Christina Riesselman, geologist, University of Otago, Dunedin

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Christina Riesselman (Credit: L'Oréal New Zealand)

Three million years ago Earth was much as it is today – familiar continents, animals, and carbon dioxide levels. But temperatures were higher and sea levels were also about 20 metres higher. Today, a billion people live on land less than 20 metres above sea level, and carbon dioxide levels are rising.

Working on the Antarctic ice shelf and at sea Dr Christina Riesselman collects sediment cores from hundreds of metres under the sea floor and reads the climate history of millennia past using the microscopic fossilised fish teeth and diatomic algae she finds in the cores.

Christina will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to turn her focus to the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. 2014 was the hottest year on record, but was it the hottest year since the end of the last ice age? Christina’s research could answer that question and help us understand and plan for the impact of our planet’s rapidly changing climate.

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The short lives of hard-living, fast burning, high mass stars

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Shari Breen (Credit: L'Oréal Australia)Dr Shari Breen, astronomer, CSIRO, Sydney

We are made of star stuff. The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth and the iron in our blood were all made in high mass stars that burnt briefly and brightly before exploding.

Dr Shari Breen is using ‘The Dish’ at Parkes and a network of international telescopes to understand the life cycle and evolution of these stars. For her the 1,000 tonne Parkes radio telescope is an old friend that creaks and grumbles as she guides it across the sky, hunting for high mass stars.

She will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to develop her use of masers (laser-like beams of intense radio waves) to investigate these stars.

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How we imagine the future

Dr Muireann Irish, cognitive neuroscientist, Neuroscience Research Australia/UNSW, Sydney

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Muireann Irish (Credit: L'Oréal Australia)Dr Muireann Irish has discovered which parts of our brain are essential to imagine the future, ranging from simple things like “I must remember my keys and my wallet when I go out,” to imagining complex events such as “my next holiday”. And she has shown that people with dementia don’t just lose the ability to remember the past, they also lose the ability to envisage the future.

She will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to better understand how dementia affects this cognitive function. She expects her work will inform the development of activities for patients that will improve their quality of life and reduce the burden faced by caregivers.

Cognitive decline in the form of dementia will be one of the greatest challenges for our health system in the next fifty years and Muireann is leading the search for solutions.

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A hot future for sharks

Dr Jodie Rummer, marine biologist, James Cook University, Townsville

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Jodie Rummer (Credit: L'Oréal Australia)Dr Jodie Rummer swims with sharks for her research. She is fascinated by fish and their ability to deliver oxygen to their muscles 20 to 50 times more efficiently than we can. Her global research into salmon, mackerel, hagfish, and now sharks explains why fish dominate the oceans, and has given her the opportunity to swim with sharks in the world’s largest shark sanctuary, in French Polynesia.

Her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship will help her predict how sharks and other fish will cope with rapidly changing oceans. Some will be winners, some will be losers as the climate changes. That’s a problem not just for the oceans, but also for the communities that depend on fish for protein.

“Fish have been on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. It’s up to us to ensure they’re here for the next 100 million years,” she says.

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Changing lives: Australia–Japan science links

To read about Japan-Australia innovation collaborations—including searching for new malaria drugs, giant robot trucks carrying ore, and chewing gum that reverses tooth decay—click here.

Japanese science changing Australia

The impact of Japanese technological prowess on Australian society is obvious for all to see. How we listened to music was transformed by audio recording technologies: from the Walkman to the CD. Home entertainment was changed by video tapes, DVDs, and game consoles. We rely on Japanese innovation in transport—reliable car engineering, the lean manufacturing techniques that made them affordable and, more recently, hybrid cars.

Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow
Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow

Fundamental science discoveries are bringing a new era of transformation. Japanese researchers were honoured last year with the Nobel Prize for their invention of the blue LED. They succeeded where for 30 years everyone else had failed. Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps—lasting a lifetime and using a fraction of the energy.

In 2006 Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. By introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, that is, immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body. His work is transforming stem cell medicine and many Australian researchers are now using induced pluripotent stem cells to develop stem cell medicines.

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Sharing light and neutrons

Japanese researchers are coming to Australia for our neutron beams. It’s helping them continue their research following the shutdown of all Japanese research reactors in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. And it cements a friendship in beamline science that kickstarted Australian access to synchrotron light.

A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL. Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO
A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL.
Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO

“Japan’s leadership in electronics, advanced manufacturing and computing complements Australia’s leadership in agriculture, health and minerals,” says the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) Robert Robinson, who chaired an Australia Japan Neutron Science Workshop in 2013.
The collaboration is contributing to research into: hard magnets for electric cars; new high density plastics; superconducting cables for the ITER fusion reactor; and the structure of a range of biological molecules.

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Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Working together, researchers in Japan and Australia are getting better at predicting the areas most at risk from earthquakes.

They are also working together on ways to determine, within seconds of a warning, the scale and likely impact of an earthquake.
Rapid detection and warning systems combined with smart engineering saved many lives in the Great Japanese Earthquake of 2011. But the earthquake and the resulting tsunami were much bigger than geological modelling suggested. The reasons for that might be found in deep history.

Mapping the hazard

Dr. Catherine Chagué-Goff studying the devastating 2011 tsunami at Arahama on the Sendai Plain, credit: Witold Szczucinski.
Dr. Catherine Chagué-Goff studying the devastating 2011 tsunami at Arahama on the Sendai Plain, credit: Witold Szczucinski.

Big earthquakes may be separated by centuries or millennia. But earthquake hazard maps are based on information gathered since 1900 when modern seismographs came into use. It’s difficult to model events happening over millennia when you have not got deep historical information. Continue reading Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Internationalising science together

IVF, heart research, and coral research gain from working together

Australian and Japanese science leaders understand the importance of internationalising their research—creating international science networks that are more than the sum of their parts. And the complementary strengths of the two countries result in greatly enhanced research when they work together.

President of The Systems Biology Institute Hiroakai Kitano with CEO of Monash IVF James Thiedeman (left), credit: EMBL
President of The Systems Biology Institute Hiroakai Kitano with CEO of Monash IVF James Thiedeman (left), credit: EMBL Australia

Science is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, and the collaborations between Japan and Australia reflect this trend. One rapidly growing network is being driven by the Systems Biology Institute of Japan, together with Monash University and the Australian affiliate of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The natural partners joined forces in 2013 to create SBI Australia, the Japanese Institute’s first international affiliate. It was joined by SBI Singapore in 2014.
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Preserving the foundations of Japanese culture

An Australian archaeologist is advising on the preservation of sites of the unique prehistoric Jomon culture of Japan.

Remnants of the Jomon’s unique culture are found in diverse archaeological sites in northern Honshu and Hokkaido, credit: Ian Lilley.
Remnants of the Jomon’s unique culture are found in diverse archaeological sites in northern Honshu and Hokkaido, credit: Ian Lilley.

Hunter-gatherers are typically thought to be wanderers who moved to harvest the animals and plants on which they fed. Not so the Jomon, one of the important founding peoples of Japan.

By careful management of the resources they found in many varied environments in the north of Japan—fruit, nuts, fish, seafood, birds—the Jomon lived in permanent settlements for about ten thousand years until three thousand years ago. They were not farmers, but nonetheless lived in open, undefended villages. They developed sophisticated pottery, basketry and lacquered wooden crafts, and constructed storage pits and stone monuments.

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Making plastics, mining, and engineering

2014 ATSE Clunies Ross Medals

John Nutt helped design and analyse the sails of the iconic Sydney Opera House early in a career that saw him pioneer the use of computers in engineering, and contribute to the first fire code for buildings.

Kevin Galvin’s invention of the Reflux Classifier has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits to the Australian economy, and revolutionised mineral processing around the world. It maximises mineral recovery by improving the recovery of fine, but still valuable, particles. Continue reading Making plastics, mining, and engineering