Lenses a fraction of a hair’s width, faster communication and better solar cells

A lens just a billionth of a metre thick could transform phone cameras. Swinburne researchers have created ultra-thin lenses that cap an optical fibre, and can produce images with the quality and sharpness of much larger glass lenses.

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Robo reef protector

A fleet of autonomous robots is being developed by Queensland scientists to kill crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), and monitor the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Matthew Dunbabin and Dr Feras Dayoub of QUT are working with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to create the RangerBot, following successful field trials of QUT’s COTSBot in 2016.

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Modern humans were in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than previously thought

Dating of ancient human teeth discovered in a Sumatran cave site suggests modern humans were in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The international research, led by Dr Kira Westaway from Macquarie University and published in Nature, has pushed back the timing of when humans first left Africa, their arrival in Southeast Asia, and the first time they lived in rainforests.

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Reinventing the laser

High-power lasers have many potential applications: from medical imaging to manufacturing, shooting down drones or space junk, or powering deep space probes. But current laser technologies overheat at high power.

Associate Professor Rich Mildren and his team have developed a technique to make diamond lasers that, in theory, have extraordinary power range. Five years ago, their lasers were just a few watts in power. Now they’ve reached 400 watts, close to the limit for comparable conventional lasers.

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The mystery of leaf size solved

Why is a banana leaf a million times bigger than a common heather leaf? Why are leaves generally much larger in tropical jungles than in temperate forests and deserts? The textbooks say it’s a balance between water availability and overheating.

But it’s not that simple.

A global team of researchers, led by Associate Professor Ian Wright from Macquarie University, revealed that in much of the world the key limiting factor for leaf size is night temperature and the risk of frost damage to leaves.

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Stories of Australian Science 2017

Making motorcycle clothing safer, a robotic arm for stroke rehab, prospecting for gold using prehistoric volcanoes—these are some of the highlights of the past year featured in Stories of Australian Science 2017.

Australian scientists are making silk-derived implants to fix damaged eardrums, and working to stop people going into flood waters. They’re flying unmanned drones to record our reefs in incredible detail, and teaching bots to search out and destroy crown-of-thorns starfish. They’re keeping stored red blood cells in shape, testing water safety with fingernail-sized sensors, expanding the net for gravitational waves, and much more.

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Supporting Australian science – 2017

Science in Public is a science communication business based in Melbourne, Australia, with a team of 12 staff and associates.

We have a passion for science. We encourage and challenge scientists to reach the public, politicians and the media, while staying true to their science. We mentor, train, plan, and benchmark. We produce websites, reports, books, videos, events and conferences.

You can read more about us at www.scienceinpublic.com.au

Stories of Australian Science grew out of our work hosting the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne in 2007, where we realised that there was a hunger for more stories about the best of Australian science.

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