Tag Archives: womeninscience

Improved primary science teaching at no extra cost

Two science teachers from New South Wales and Queensland are using fresh approaches to get kids interested in science – and keep them interested.

Ken Silburn (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
Casula High School has gone from just eight students taking science to two-thirds of Year 11 and 12 students. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

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Where are the plants and animals we want to conserve, and the invaders we want to control?

Jane Elith is one of the most influential environmental scientists in the world, though she rarely ventures into the field.

Jane Elith (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
In the field of environment and ecology, Jane is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

She develops and assesses species distribution models, which are used by governments, land and catchment managers and conservationists around the world—in short, for applying the lessons of ecology.

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Looking for dark matter in a gold mine

Deep underground in rural Victoria, Matteo Volpi is searching for evidence of the cosmic glue that holds the Universe together: dark matter.

Matteo is taking the initial measurements for the study at Stawell Gold Mine where an international team is set to construct a $3.5 million laboratory more than a kilometre underground.

Matteo Volpi is looking for dark matter in the Stawell Gold Mine. Credit: Michael Slezak
Matteo Volpi is looking for dark matter in the Stawell Gold Mine. Credit: Michael Slezak

Understanding dark matter is regarded as one of the most important questions of modern particle physics.

“If we nail it, it’s a Nobel Prize– winning experiment,” says the project leader Elisabetta Barberio, a University of Melbourne physicist and chief investigator of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP).

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Which prostate cancers can be left alone?

Only 10 per cent of prostate cancers are lethal, but which ones? Australian researchers have tracked the mutations that drive the cancer to spread through the body, and eventually become lethal.

Bioinformaticians can use Circos plots to visualise how cancer genomes differ from healthy ones. Credit: Peter Casamento
Bioinformaticians can use Circos plots to visualise how cancer genomes differ from healthy ones. Credit: Peter Casamento

The research shows they can be detected in the original tumour and even in blood samples. Testing the DNA of prostate cancer cells may help clinicians in the future identify which cancers need to be urgently removed and which ones might simply be monitored.

“Some advanced cancer cells evolve the ability to break away from their original location, travel through the bloodstream and create secondary tumours in another part of the body,” explains Clare Sloggett, Bioinformatician and Research Fellow at the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI). “Cells in this state of metastasis are the most deadly.”

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Not to be sniffed at! Nose spray offers pain relief in childbirth

Pain relief during childbirth may soon be delivered via a self-administered nasal spray, thanks to research from University of South Australia midwifery researcher, Dr Julie Fleet.

Well known for its use in delivering pain relief to children and in managing pain in patients being transferred by ambulance, the nasal spray analgesic drug, fentanyl, has now been shown to be effective in relieving labour pain.

Julie Fleet, University of South Australia)
Julie Fleet, University of South Australia

In fact Julie and her colleagues at Flinders University and the University of Adelaide have found that fentanyl nose spray is just as effective as pethidine injections, which are commonly used, but fentanyl has fewer side effects for both mother and baby.

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When the oceans were 20 metres higher: revealing past and future climates

Dr Christina Riesselman, geologist, University of Otago, Dunedin

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Christina Riesselman (Credit: L'Oréal New Zealand)

Three million years ago Earth was much as it is today – familiar continents, animals, and carbon dioxide levels. But temperatures were higher and sea levels were also about 20 metres higher. Today, a billion people live on land less than 20 metres above sea level, and carbon dioxide levels are rising.

Working on the Antarctic ice shelf and at sea Dr Christina Riesselman collects sediment cores from hundreds of metres under the sea floor and reads the climate history of millennia past using the microscopic fossilised fish teeth and diatomic algae she finds in the cores.

Christina will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to turn her focus to the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. 2014 was the hottest year on record, but was it the hottest year since the end of the last ice age? Christina’s research could answer that question and help us understand and plan for the impact of our planet’s rapidly changing climate.

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The short lives of hard-living, fast burning, high mass stars

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Shari Breen (Credit: L'Oréal Australia)Dr Shari Breen, astronomer, CSIRO, Sydney

We are made of star stuff. The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth and the iron in our blood were all made in high mass stars that burnt briefly and brightly before exploding.

Dr Shari Breen is using ‘The Dish’ at Parkes and a network of international telescopes to understand the life cycle and evolution of these stars. For her the 1,000 tonne Parkes radio telescope is an old friend that creaks and grumbles as she guides it across the sky, hunting for high mass stars.

She will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to develop her use of masers (laser-like beams of intense radio waves) to investigate these stars.

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How we imagine the future

Dr Muireann Irish, cognitive neuroscientist, Neuroscience Research Australia/UNSW, Sydney

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Muireann Irish (Credit: L'Oréal Australia)Dr Muireann Irish has discovered which parts of our brain are essential to imagine the future, ranging from simple things like “I must remember my keys and my wallet when I go out,” to imagining complex events such as “my next holiday”. And she has shown that people with dementia don’t just lose the ability to remember the past, they also lose the ability to envisage the future.

She will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to better understand how dementia affects this cognitive function. She expects her work will inform the development of activities for patients that will improve their quality of life and reduce the burden faced by caregivers.

Cognitive decline in the form of dementia will be one of the greatest challenges for our health system in the next fifty years and Muireann is leading the search for solutions.

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A hot future for sharks

Dr Jodie Rummer, marine biologist, James Cook University, Townsville

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Jodie Rummer (Credit: L'Oréal Australia)Dr Jodie Rummer swims with sharks for her research. She is fascinated by fish and their ability to deliver oxygen to their muscles 20 to 50 times more efficiently than we can. Her global research into salmon, mackerel, hagfish, and now sharks explains why fish dominate the oceans, and has given her the opportunity to swim with sharks in the world’s largest shark sanctuary, in French Polynesia.

Her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship will help her predict how sharks and other fish will cope with rapidly changing oceans. Some will be winners, some will be losers as the climate changes. That’s a problem not just for the oceans, but also for the communities that depend on fish for protein.

“Fish have been on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. It’s up to us to ensure they’re here for the next 100 million years,” she says.

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