From the ocean floor to batteries—partners in energy

Heading into deep water

Perth researchers help Chevron keep oil and gas flowing smoothly

Out in the Gulf of Mexico Chevron are operating a $7.5 billion platform that’s recovering oil and gas from two-kilometre-deep ocean.

It’s the largest and deepest operation in the Gulf, with over 146km of pipeline bringing oil and gas to refineries.

But pipelines operating at extreme depths in cold water and crushing pressure are prone to blockage. University of Western Australia researchers are helping Chevron keep oil and gas flowing through deep-water pipes.

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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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Eye, repair yourself

Gene therapy clinical trials are underway to treat one of the leading causes of blindness in the developed world.

The treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (more advanced than dry macular degeneration) will hopefully be available to patients within three years, says the team at the Lions Eye Institute in Western Australia.

They’re using a modified virus to carry a gene into the cells at the back of the eye. The delivered gene encourages these cells to continuously secrete medication to treat the problem.

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Flying whale sharks

Short periods of flapping wings alternating with long, gliding descent helps birds preserve energy in flight. Now researchers have discovered that sharks and seals can use the same technique to glide through the ocean.

Adrian chasing down tags released from whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef. Credit: Steve Lindfield
Adrian chasing down tags released from Whale Sharks at the Ningaloo Reef. Credit: Steve Lindfield

Murdoch University’s Dr Adrian Gleiss led a team that attached accelerometers to whale sharks, white sharks, fur seals, and elephant seals.

They found that all four species performed the characteristic undulating flight of birds and bats, with periods of active, upwards propulsion alternating with slow, passive, gliding descents.

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Geoffrey Rush talks stars

The search for the first stars and the hunt for dark energy both feature in a new planetarium show narrated by Geoffrey Rush. The show premiered in March 2016 at the Melbourne Planetarium and will be seen in planetariums around the world.

“I hope this show conveys some of the wonder of the Universe we live in,” says Professor Elaine Sadler, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).

The Murchison Widefield Array telescope is discovering when the first stars and galaxies formed.
The Murchison Widefield Array telescope is discovering when the first stars and galaxies formed
Credit: Alex Cherney/Museum Victoria

‘Capturing the Cosmos’ was created by Melbourne Planetarium and CAASTRO, and features the work of two of Australia’s new telescopes, the Murchison Widefield Array and Skymapper.

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Unboiling an egg

Scientists in Australia and California have worked out how to unboil an egg. It may sound like an odd discovery, but it’s changed the way scientists think about manipulating proteins, an industry worth AU$160 billion per year.

Flinders University Professor Colin Raston and his team have developed Vortex Fluid Technology – using mechanical energy, or spinning, to reverse the effects of thermal energy, or boiling.

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Kimberley corals are true Aussie battlers

Zoe collecting samples for further molecular analysis. Photo WA Museum
Zoe colleacting samples for further molecular analysis. Photo WA Museum

While coral reefs around the world are feeling the heat, little-known reefs in Australia’s Kimberley region are prospering, despite living in some of the toughest conditions—and scientists aren’t yet sure why.

The discovery has particular significance this summer with fears of a severe coral bleaching event to hit our northern waters—the result of steadily rising sea temperatures and a strong seasonal El Niño.

WA researchers have found that while coral reefs all around the world are feeling the heat of rising temperatures, some inshore reefs in the Kimberley region’s Bonaparte Archipelago are prospering, despite living in some of the toughest conditions. Continue reading Kimberley corals are true Aussie battlers

Predicting change, brains, trains and mental health

State Awards

“Trait-based ecology” enables Macquarie University’s Mark Westoby to explain patterns of species occurrence and abundance and to understand the impacts of climate change and changing patterns of land use. He received the $55,000 NSW Scientist of the Year.

Nanocapsules for drugs delivery: Frank Caruso is making miniature capsules that could better deliver drugs for cancer, AIDS and cardiovascular diseases. He won one of the 2014 Victoria Prizes for Science & Innovation worth $50,000.

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