All posts by Lydia Hales

How we imagine the future

Dr Muireann Irish 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” to imagining complex events such as “my next holiday”.

Muireann’s work will inform the development of activities for dementia patients that will improve their quality of life. Credit: L’Oréal Australia
Muireann’s work will inform the development of activities for dementia patients that will improve their quality of life. Credit: L’Oréal Australia

And she’s shown that people with dementia don’t just lose the ability to remember the past, they also lose the ability to envisage the future.

While working at Neuroscience Research Australia and the University of New South Wales, Muireann has demonstrated that patients with dementia are unable to imagine future events or to engage in future-oriented forms of memory, and she has revealed the key brain regions that support these complex functions.

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From jet engines to personalised surgical tools

The Monash scientists who led the creation of the world’s first 3D-printed jet engine in 2015 are now improving the design and cost of manufacturing medical implants, surgical tools, aerospace components, and more.

They’ve been working with surgeons to design tools for specific operations, to replace ‘one-size-fits-all’ tools currently available.

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More accurate readings of the heart

Almost everyone has had their blood pressure measured with an inflatable cuff around the arm. But as useful as this is, it can differ from the reading at the heart itself.

Using a mathematical model to transform how we measure blood pressure. Credit: Mark Butlin
Using a mathematical model to transform how we measure blood pressure. Credit: Mark Butlin

Twenty years ago Sydney scientists found a way to get that extra information. They created a model that gives the pressure at the main artery of the heart, using the wrist’s pressure pulse (the shape of the ‘waves’ that both travel along arteries when the heart pumps blood, and travel back to the heart as it fills with blood).

The model wasn’t applicable to children, since their limbs are still growing – so now they’re adapting it to fit.

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Changing the minds of dementia patients

“I’m ecstatic about the impact our programs have on kids, and knowing that we’ve changed their lives for the better. But we need to ask ‘what about our retirees?’” says Professor Ron Rapee, ARC Laureate Fellow, and former Director of the Centre for Emotional Health.

Viviana is developing programs that might help lower susceptibility to dementia. Credit: Myles Pritchard, Macquarie University
Viviana is developing programs that might help lower susceptibility to dementia. Credit: Myles Pritchard, Macquarie University

Retirees are less likely to suffer from mental health problems but they still develop anxiety and depression – and there’s increasing evidence these conditions are risk factors for dementia.

To make things worse, they’re often left untreated as there’s a perception that it’s normal for older people to suffer depression as they lose their friends, health and independence.

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Add colour for 10 times more gas

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Matthew Lee (left) and Mike (right) injecting nutrients into a coal seam 80 metres below ground. Credit: Sabrina Beckmann

Adding a simple textile dye can increase the methane yield of coal seam gas wells by a factor of 10, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have found.

The discovery could breathe new life into old, exhausted wells, reducing the need for new ones.

It could also improve the economics of renewable biogas energy production.

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What happens next?

You’re in hospital: should you stay? Should you leave? What’s your risk of dying?

The patient’s ‘forecast’ is continually updated with the results of each of their medical tests. Credit: Chris Stacey, Macquarie University
The patient’s ‘forecast’ is continually updated with the results of each of their medical tests. Credit: Chris Stacey, Macquarie University

By mining electronic health records, researchers at Macquarie University believe they can help improve decision making by health professionals.

Dr Blanca Gallego Luxan is investigating using hospital information and state health and death registries to fill gaps in patient care – whether due to discontinuity of care, lack of information on a condition, or simply the limits of what humans can predict.

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Could magnets stop us falling over?

Non-invasive brain stimulation using an applied magnetic field can strengthen brain connections that weaken as we age.

Perth researchers hope to use this technique to improve the quality of life and reduce the risk of falls and injuries in older people.

Past the age of about 60, there’s a weakening of the structural connections between the three different areas of the brain that control our decision-making processes, our ‘planning’ centres, and our fine-motor control.

It’s the connections between those areas that ultimately allow us to successfully interact with our environment, for example adjusting our foot placement when we step on uneven paving.

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Traffic matrices for more reliable digital networks

We’ve all cursed an ineffective digital network, whether it’s delays streaming the latest Game of Thrones or a dangerous mobile phone overload during bushfire season. But no-one wants to pay extra for an over-engineered network.

The secret to designing and testing a digital network to find the happy medium is a mathematical tool called a traffic matrix: a model of all the digital traffic within the network.

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Shedding ‘spooky’ light on unbreakable security

‘Perfect entanglement’ of two light beams has opened a major step towards highly secure quantum communication systems.

The University of Queensland’s Professor Tim Ralph and his colleagues from Canada and Russia have developed a technique to restore entangled light beams that have been distributed between distant points.

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