All posts by Lydia Hales

Tracking dust

Statisticians have revealed the surprising source of dust that plagues townships beside a Hunter Valley rail line delivering coal to Newcastle’s busy port.

Airborne dust increases as trains pass. But it wasn’t clear exactly how—for example, whether the dust was escaping uncovered coal wagons or coming from the diesel engines pulling the wagons. The answer was surprising.

Mathematicians from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers correlated air-pollution data against information on passing trains and weather conditions.

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Widening the net on Motor Neurone Disease

Recent advances pinpointing genes involved in the inherited form of Motor Neurone Disease (MND) are now being used to hunt for the culprits of ‘sporadic’ cases.

Ian and his team are hunting the genes involved in Motor Neurone Disease. Credit: Paul Wright
Ian and his team are hunting the genes involved in Motor Neurone Disease.
Credit: Paul Wright

Sporadic MND is the most common form (around 90 per cent), and unlike the ‘familial,’ disease, it appears in patients without a family history.

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Build it and they will come – chip design creates computer blueprint

The design of a 3D silicon chip architecture clears another hurdle in the international race to build quantum computers.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have designed a chip based on single atom quantum bits, creating a blueprint for building a large-scale silicon quantum computer.

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Making jet engines (and power generation) more efficient

It’s very hard to set up a jet engine in a wind tunnel and get accurate measurements inside it while it’s rotating 7,000 times a minute.

As air passes over these turbine blades (flowing from right to left) a wake is created which interacts with the next (lower) blade. Credit: Richard Sandberg and Richard Pichler
As air passes over these turbine blades (flowing from right to left) a wake is created which interacts with the next (lower) blade.
Credit: Richard Sandberg and Richard Pichler

So while other members of the University of Melbourne’s mechanical engineering department use wind tunnels to measure turbulence on the surface of airplanes, Professor Richard Sandberg has developed a computer program to make the same measurements inside an engine.

His work also applies to the turbines used to generate power from gas, wind and wave.

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The water beneath our feet

Subterranean caves in the Blue Mountains have been

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Measuring infiltration water in the Wombeyan Caves, New South Wales. Credit: Andrew Baker

converted into observatories to quantify how water moves through buried rock structures into groundwater.

Groundwater forms the world’s largest active repository of fresh water—more than a hundred times larger than rivers and lakes combined.

To use that groundwater resource sustainably, we need to know that we are only using as much water as is being continually replaced, mostly via rainfall and underground leakage from rivers.

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Helping patients cope with cancer

Pairing psychology with cancer treatment has a profound impact on the wellbeing of patients, Associate Professor Maria Kangas and her team at the Centre for Emotional Health have found.

CBT helps give patients the skills to cope with the challenges of cancer diagnosis. Credit: Chris Stacey
CBT helps give patients the skills to cope with the challenges of cancer diagnosis. Credit: Chris Stacey

In a recent clinical trial, head and neck cancer patients were offered weekly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions concurrent to their radiation therapy appointments.

After just seven sessions, patients reported a significant decline in cancer-related anxiety and/or depression. And after a year, 67 per cent were no longer experiencing any anxiety or depression and were doing better than the control group who had received regular counselling, but not CBT.

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Printing a cartilage repair kit

A new printing technology can now simultaneously print living stem cells and the environment they need to survive and become the right cell type. The first application is a cartilage repair kit.

“Our current 3D printers can integrate living and non-living materials in specific arrangements at a range of scales, from micrometres to millimetres,” says Professor Gordon Wallace, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong.

“And we’re developing new approaches that will enable 3D printing of nano-dimensional features.”

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Saving seagrass sanctuaries

Seagrass meadows provide food and habitat for everything from dugongs and birds to fish and tiny crabs.

Using maths to protect seagrass meadows and the communities they support .
Using maths to protect seagrass meadows and the communities they support .

Globally we’re losing over 100 sq. km per year due to dredging, coastal developments and runoff. That’s bad news for the animals they support, and bad news for us too, as seagrass supports healthy coastal fisheries as well as acting as a carbon store.

To see how seagrass can be given a fighting chance, Dr Paul Wu at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers and collaborators have put an extended modelling technique to new use, predicting seagrass health and suggests how some modified human activities could reduce the damage.

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Under pressure: stable storage for radioactive waste

A stable and compact nuclear waste technology is moving from research level to industrial-scale at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

The Synroc can (left) becomes significantly smaller (pictured centre and right) following Hot Isostatic Pressing, minimising disposal volumes.
The Synroc can (left) becomes significantly smaller (pictured centre and right) following Hot Isostatic Pressing, minimising disposal volumes.

The planned full-scale nuclear waste treatment plant incorporates ANSTO’s Synroc innovation that locks away radioactive waste products by mimicking natural geology.

“A key part of the Synroc process is Hot Isostatic Pressing, which applies heat and pressure to minimise the disposal volume and transform liquid radioactive waste into a chemically durable material suitable for long term storage,” says Gerry Triani, Technical Director at ANSTO Synroc.

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Can algae fuel our future?

We can make biofuels with algae, but can we make them commercially viable?

A University of Queensland (UQ) research team is working towards it – and Siemens, Neste Oil Corp, the Queensland Government and others have joined their quest.

The Solar Biofuels Research Centre is one of the most advanced national facilities investigating the development and use of high-efficiency microalgae production platforms.

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