Tag Archives: physics

Birth of our hot Universe

An Australian physicist is unravelling the mystery of how the hot, brilliant stars we see today emerged from our Universe’s “dark age”.

Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

Theoretical physicist Prof Stuart Wyithe is one of the world’s leading thinkers on the Universe as it was 13 billion years ago, when there were no stars or galaxies, just cold gas.

In the next few years astronomers will learn much more as powerful new telescopes come online.

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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

Giving farmers more timely weather and climate forecasts

Seven days. Three months. We can now get accurate rainfall and temperature forecasts for these periods, but what if a farmer had access to quality outlooks that sat between the two—multi-week forecasts?

Giving farmers more timely weather and climate forecasts
Dr Andrew Watkins forecasts for farmers. Credit: Bureau of Meteorology

Multi-week forecasts would allow farmers to make better harvesting and sowing decisions before or after drought or flood events.

Australia’s Managing Climate Variability research and development program is working with the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO scientists to fill this gap.
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Seeing fish through rocks

Dr Kate Trinajstic has used synchrotron light and CT scanning to see through rock, in the process discovering how ancient fish developed teeth, jaws and even a womb. Her work is increasing our understanding of how life on Earth evolved.

Seeing fish through rocks
The winner of the 2010 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, Kate Trinajstic. Credit: Ron D’Raine
About 380 million years ago in what is now the Kimberley Ranges in Western Australia, a vast barrier reef formed. In what would have been the inter-reef basins, large numbers of fish were buried relatively intact. Protective limestone balls formed around them and preserved them. When these balls are treated with acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, the surrounding rock dissolves, leaving only fossilised fish bones.

But in the course of studying hundreds of these dissolving balls, Kate began to see what looked like muscle fibres between the bones. She was eventually able to convince her colleagues that irreplaceable soft tissue detail was being lost in the acid treatments.
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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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Australia’s new reactor opens

The OPAL reactor and new neutron beam facility, managed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney’s south, officially opens on Wednesday 18 April 2007.

Costing $400 million to build, the reactor was described by ANSTO’s Executive Director, Dr. Ian Smith as “the jewel in the crown” of Australian nuclear research.

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Making light work of photonic chip fabrication

Macquarie University laser physicists are part of a consortium developing a micro-processing platform that will revolutionise photonic chip fabrication. This technology has implications for a diverse range of applications such as fibre-to-thehome (FTTH), smart sensor arrays for aircraft, biosensing and astronomy.

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Detecting aircraft fatigue

TanyaMonro_300x180The only way to find out whether the internal structures of an aircraft are corroded is to pull the plane apart and look. But new nanotechnology-based techniques being developed by Prof. Tanya Monro, Director of University of Adelaide’s Centre of Expertise in Photonics, in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, could make costly visual inspection in preventive aircraft maintenance a thing of the past.

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L’Oréal Fellow looking for dark energy

Tamara Davis is looking for dark energy. Credit: timothyburgess.net
Tamara Davis is looking for dark energy. Credit: timothyburgess.net

In 1998 astronomers made an astonishing discovery—the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. The discovery required a complete rethink of the standard model used to explain how the Universe works.

“Now we know that stars, planets, galaxies and all that we can see make up just four per cent of the Universe,” says Dr Tamara Davis, a University of Queensland astrophysicist.

“About 23 per cent is dark matter. The balance is thought to be dark energy, which we know very little about.”

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MCEC hosts the world’s synchrotron scientists

Synchrotron scientists at the ‘6 Star Green Star’-rated Melbourne Convention Centre.
Synchrotron scientists at the ‘6 Star Green Star’-rated Melbourne Convention Centre.

Hundreds of the world’s leading synchrotron scientists descended on Melbourne in September when the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre hosted the 10th International Conference on Synchrotron Radiation and Instrumentation 2009 (SRI2009).

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