Tag Archives: neuroscience

Bionic pioneer explores how we’re wired for sound

Prof Graeme Clark changed the way we thought about hearing when he gave Rod Saunders the first cochlear implant in 1978—now he might just do it again.

3-D reconstruction of the left implanted cochlea in the brain of Rod Saunders. Credit: G. Clark; J.C.M. Clark.; M. Clarke; P. Nielsen- NICTA & Dept Otolaryngology, Melbourne University

Back then, Graeme brought together a team of engineers and medical personnel; now he’s trying to reveal exactly how the brain is wired for sound—by bringing together software specialists and experts on materials that can interface with the brain.

“We’re aiming to get closer to ‘high fidelity’ hearing for those with a cochlear implant,” says Graeme, now distinguished researcher at NICTA and laureate professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne. “This would mean they could enjoy the subtlety of music or the quiet hum of a dinner party.”

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Birds, bees, robots and flying

He isn’t a pilot, but few people would know more about ways of navigating while flying than Prof Mandyam Srinivasan (Srini) of the Queensland Brain Institute. And he’s steadily finding out more.

Srinivasan works on bee navigation: here he is in the All-Weather Bee Flight Facility at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) Credit: Dee McGrath/QBI
Srinivasan works on bee navigation: here he is in the All-Weather Bee Flight Facility at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI). Credit: Dee McGrath/QBI

Initially known for his work in bees, since receiving the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2006, Srini has shown that birds and insects use a similar system of visual guidance to prevent themselves from crashing into trees when flying through dense forest.

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Putting a cap on fatigue

Drivers of trucks, dozers, graders and excavators at Australian mines could soon be saved from the risks of fatigue by their headgear.

Putting a cap on fatigue
The SmartCap protects against fatigue. Credit: CRC Mining

Incidents on mine sites caused by tiredness are a significant cause of injuries and deaths, and cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production and accidents each year. So Dr Daniel Bongers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Mining (CRCMining) in Brisbane has invented a SmartCap, fitted with sophisticated sensors which can “read” the brain’s nerve activity through hair and detect the level of fatigue of the wearer.

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Parkinson answers deep in the brain

A Parkinson patient who can walk again, and improved life for people with the behavioural disorder known as Tourette syndrome.

Peter Silburn and his team are using deep brain stimulation to help movement and mood disorder patients beyond the reach of other therapies. Credit: Sunday Mail.
Peter Silburn and his team are using deep brain stimulation to help movement and mood disorder patients beyond the reach of other therapies. Credit: Sunday Mail.

These are two of the results of a partnership between University of Queensland neurologist Prof Peter Silburn and neurosurgeon Dr Terry Coyne who have ventured deeper into the human brain than anyone else in the world.

Peter treats patients at St. Andrew’s Hospital in Brisbane using deep brain stimulation, a technique that uses electrodes to stimulate a region some 12 centimetres under the surface of the brain.

“There are 100 billion neurons in the brain and we can’t restore all of them. But the deep brain is like a telephone exchange—by stimulating this one section of the brain, you can unblock the flow of messages,” Peter says.
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Fresh Science 2010

Each year we identify early-career scientists with a discovery and bring them to Melbourne for a communication boot camp. Here are some of their stories.

More at www.freshscience.org.au

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens
Jacek Jasieniak sprinkling quantum dots. Credit: Jacek Jasieniak

Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.

Cling wrap captures CO2
Colin Scholes operates a test rig for his carbon capture membrane. Credit: CO2 CRC

Cling wrap captures CO2

High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”

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Language – nature or nurture?

Why can children learn any language – is it nature or nurture? Using the world’s first magnetoencephalography (MEG) system designed to study cognitive processing in children, Macquarie University Federation Fellow Professor Stephen Crain will investigate whether or not children have innate language ability.

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Breaking the link between fat and diabetes

Michael Cowley has shown how our brain tells our body we are full. Credit: Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
Michael Cowley has shown how our brain tells our body we are full. Credit: Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

Why do we get fat? What’s the link between obesity, diabetes and hypertension? Can we break the link? These are critical questions around the world. Prof. Michael Cowley may have the answers.

He’s shown how our brains manage our consumption and storage of fat and sugar and how that can go wrong. He’s created a biotech company that’s trialling four obesity treatments.

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From bionic ear to bionic eye

An example of the microchip that will be inserted into retinas to help restore sight. Credit: NICTA
An example of the microchip that will be inserted into retinas to help restore sight. Credit: NICTA

Melbourne scientists gave Australia the first practical bionic ear. Today, over 180,000 people hear with the help of the cochlear implant.

Now, The University of Melbourne is a key member in an Australian consortium developing an advanced bionic eye that will restore vision to people with severe vision loss. This device will enable unprecedented high resolution images to be seen by thousands of people with severely diminished sight, allowing them to read large print and recognise faces.

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