Starch to save young lives

A fibre may help save millions of children in developing countries who die or who are left malnourished from diarrhoea each year.

Resistant starch in the diet may protect millions of children in developing countries from diarrhoea.

Graeme Young, AM, of Flinders University, is leading a global project that will test his theory that resistant starch increases zinc absorption in the body.

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Academy recognition

Photo: Wouter Schellart’s geodynamics research into the activity of the Earth’s mantle, including the Mt Etna volcano, earned him the AAS Anton Hales medal for Earth Sciences. Credit: NASA

The Australian Academy of Science recognised five individuals for their career achievements in 2013.

Light work makes for a better drop

New Australian technology will enable real-time monitoring of wine throughout its fermentation and maturation process, reducing spoilage and improving quality.

Smart Bungs use sensors based on optical fibres to continuously monitor the health of wine during the fermentation and maturation process. Credit: IPAS/Jennie Groom Photography

The “Smart Bung” technology has been pioneered at the University of Adelaide by the Institute for Photonics & Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine (SAFW). The work is led by Prof Tanya Monro, Director of IPAS.

An optical fibre sensor incorporated into the bung of a wine cask can detect substances that might cause the wine to spoil. The optical fibres have tiny holes that take up minute samples of the wine. The sensor shines light through the fibres to determine the concentration of certain important chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide and sulphur dioxide—all without having to open the cask. The system will enable continuous, real-time cask-by-cask monitoring and an immediate response if problems are detected.

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Higgs boson: the Australian connection

In 2012, scientists celebrated at the announcement of the discovery of a Higgs boson-like particle, a subatomic particle that completes our model of how the Universe works.

Director of the High Energy Physics Conference, Geoff Taylor (right) celebrates the Higgs-like particle announcement at the Melbourne Convention Centre. Credit: Laura Vanags/ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale
Director of the High Energy Physics Conference, Geoff Taylor (right) celebrates the Higgs-like particle announcement at the Melbourne Convention Centre with Pauline Gagnon of CERN. Credit: Laura Vanags/ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale

The announcement was made simultaneously at CERN in Geneva, and to hundreds of physicists gathered in Melbourne for the International Conference on High Energy Physics.

“As scientific discoveries go, this is up there with finding a way to split the atom,” says Prof Geoff Taylor, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP).

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Camping and puppets top science teaching prize

Brooke Topelberg’s students are so keen on science that her lunch-time science club has a waiting list.

2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools winner, Brooke Topelberg with students. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools winner, Brooke Topelberg, with students. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

And Jane Wright has been taking high school girls to explore science in the bush for over 25 years.

Both of these passionate professionals have been awarded a Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching.
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Tracing cosmic rays from radio pulses

‘THE DISH’ AT PARKES. CREDIT: SETH SHOSTAK
‘THE DISH’ AT PARKES. CREDIT: SETH SHOSTAK

The energy of ultra-high energy (UHE) cosmic rays that strike the Earth’s atmosphere make the energy produced from particle collisions by the Large Hadron Collider look puny. A team based in South Australia is now developing the techniques and technology to find out where such energetic particles could possibly originate. They ultimately hope to use the proposed SKA telescope to conduct their search.

“We think some cosmic rays are produced in the remnants of supernovae—exploding stars—but where the most energetic ones come from, that’s a mystery,” says Justin Bray, a PhD student hunting for their source as part of the LUNASKA (Lunar Ultra-high-energy Neutrino Astrophysics using SKA) project led by Ray Protheroe at the University of Adelaide and Ron Ekers at CSIRO. Continue reading Tracing cosmic rays from radio pulses

Putting Einstein to the ultimate test

CSIRO’s Parkes telescope records pulsar signals to try to detect gravitational waves. Credit: David McClenaghan / CSIRO

Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts them, and they could be scattered throughout the Universe. But so far, gravitational waves— ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space and time—have never been detected. Several Australian teams of astronomers are trying to catch the first signs of one.

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Japanese spacecraft calls Australia home

AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSION OF THE HAYABUSA SPACECRAFT APPROACHING THE ASTEROID ITOKAWA. CREDIT: A. IKESHITA/MEF/ISAS.
AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSION OF THE HAYABUSA SPACECRAFT APPROACHING THE ASTEROID ITOKAWA. CREDIT: A. IKESHITA/MEF/ISAS.

On 13 June 2010, a Japanese spacecraft bearing pieces of another world parachuted down to Australian soil after a seven-year-long journey through deep space.

During its journey, the spacecraft, called Hayabusa, encountered the 530-metre-long asteroid called Itokawa in November 2005, and briefly landed on it. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) designed Hayabusa to collect samples of the asteroid’s surface. Hayabusa then landed at the Department of Defence’s remote Woomera Prohibited Area in the South Australian desert. Fifty years ago, Woomera was one of the most active rocket launch sites in the world. It is still the largest land-based test range on the planet. Continue reading Japanese spacecraft calls Australia home

Spot the nutrients

Tri-colour map of: Fe (red), Cu (green) and Zn (blue) in a grain of barley.
Tri-colour map of: Fe (red), Cu (green) and Zn (blue) in a grain of barley.

South Australian researchers are using the Australian Synchrotron in their work on how to increase levels of iron and other micronutrients in staple grains such as rice and barley. The intense X-rays of the synchrotron can pinpoint where in the grain those micronutrients are found.

One third of the world’s population suffers from iron deficiency. One of the reasons for this is that more than three-quarters of the iron in rice is lost when the outer layers of the grain are removed during milling.

Enzo Lombi and Erica Donner from the Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment and Remediation at the University of South Australia are using the x-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM) beam to probe grains of rice, barley and other staple grains that have been designed to boost levels of key micronutrients like iron.

The researchers use the intense synchrotron light to produce images showing concentrations of elements, like iron, copper, zinc and selenium.

One of the new plants they are studying is a strain of rice that has multiple copies of the gene for nicotianamine, which is involved in the long-distance transport of iron. The idea is that more iron will be moved into the inner layers of the rice grain.

The technique used by Enzo and Erica is the only one sensitive enough to determine the chemical form of these elements at the low levels found in cereal grains. It will show how much of the iron will be available when it reaches the consumer.

Photo: Tri-colour map of: Fe (red), Cu (green) and Zn (blue) in a grain of barley.
Credit: Enzo Lombi

Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment and Remediation, Enzo Lombi, Tel: +61 8 830 26267, Enzo.Lombi@unisa.edu.au