Does coral help create rain?

Researchers have found that coral reefs may play a key role in cloud formation. Now they’re working to make climate modelling more accurate.

Australian and international scientists, led by QUT’s Professor Zoran Ristovski, spent a month in late 2016 collecting data on airborne particles emitted from the Great Barrier Reef, which they are now analysing.

Continue reading Does coral help create rain?

When boron nitride outshines gold and silver

Ultra-thin boron nitride outshines gold and silver when used to detect contaminants in smart sensing technology. 

It is 100 times more effective at detecting dangerous materials in our food and environment than noble metals.

Traditionally, detection surfaces of these devices have been made using gold and silver. But covering these metals with a microscopically thin layer of boron nitride greatly enhances their performance.

The findings are by a team from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials, Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science and China’s Wenzhou University. Continue reading When boron nitride outshines gold and silver

Improving agriculture, together

A new approach to horticultural spraying could be the result of a collaboration between design students from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Swinburne University in Melbourne.

“Yanmar is a manufacturer of farm machinery, and they asked us to solve a big problem for grape-growers,” says Natsumi Takamatsu, a design student at Kyoto.

“What we developed was a sprayer to mitigate the drift of sprayed agricultural chemicals. Really it was the actual viticulturists when we interviewed them and they were saying things like ‘If only I had something like this.’”

“Australia and Japan enjoy the seasons at opposite times of the year so we can conduct field research in the vineyards all year,” says Yoshiro Ono from Kyoto Institute of Technology.

Harnessing the sun and improving agriculture

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have built a pilot concentrated solar power plant in Yokohama. It uses CSIRO technology now being manufactured by South Australian company Heliostat SA.

“We’re making seven-and-a-half-metre square solar mirrors,” says David Linder-Patton, the CEO of Heliostat SA.

They focus the sun’s energy into a tower receiver that generates heat which can be used in industries such as steel manufacturing, brick processing and mineral refining.

The Mitsubishi plant will test their technology on receivers they have developed and also CSIRO’s suntracking technology and heliostat manufacturing.

“Working with companies the size of Mitsubishi helps us to get to industrial scale a lot quicker than we could do otherwise,” says David.

Making mining safer


In Western Australia’s Pilbara iron ore mines, a fleet of robot trucks are moving more than a billion tonnes of dirt and rock. The giant trucks carry 350 tonnes in every load. They’ve been developed over the past decade in partnership with Komatsu.

“Rio Tinto and Japan’s Komatsu came together to produce not just the robots but a technology that is immensely useful to Rio Tinto.

Putting those things together has produced a fantastic result,” says Tetsuji Ohashi, the CEO of Komatsu.

“Mining in the future is all about moving lots and lots of material more efficiently,” says Michael Gollschewski, the MD of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara mines.

“Today we’ve got controllers sitting in the operation centre in Perth, overseeing 72 autonomous trucks 1500 km away in the Pilbara across three different sites. It’s amazing,” he says. 

Repairing teeth together


Across Japan teeth are being made stronger with chewing gum and other products using an ingredient discovered in Australian dairy milk.

Now an innovative Japanese company is taking the Australian discovery to dental surgeries around the world.

“Our discovery was based on milk, to develop a delivery system of calcium phosphate to make teeth stronger,” says Eric Reynolds, from The University of Melbourne.

Clinical trials of the chewing gum showed that it helps stop tooth decay and helps reverse early stages of tooth decay.

“The Recaldent chewing gum was very successful in Japan and the leading dental supply company in Japan, GC Corporation, then became interested in the technology.”

“We’ve developed materials for repair of tooth decay and damage but now we’re focusing on prevention and protection collaborating with Melbourne University,” says Satoshi Tosaki from GC Corporation.

“One of those products is a cream, in Australia it’s called Tooth Mousse, that’s sold to dentists to strengthen patients’ teeth and that’s now sold in more than 50 countries worldwide,” he says.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with GC because I’ve learnt a lot from them in terms of business. But I think the most gratifying thing is that their products actually help people, and substantially reduce the burden of oral disease,” Eric says.

Fighting disease together

Malaria kills 500,000 people every year. And 90 per cent of those are children. Griffith University researchers are screening hundreds of thousands of compounds supplied by Japanese companies to find the right compound with activity against the malaria parasite.

Japan’s Global Health Innovative Technology Fund is supporting the research as part of their search for new ways to fight malaria.

“GHIT is a fund that invests in partnerships between Japanese and non-Japanese entities,” says BT Slingsby, the Executive Director of GHIT.

“Many of those entities are in Australia including The University of Melbourne, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and Griffith University.”

“Currently we’re working with companies such as Daiichi-Sankyo, Takeda, Mitsubishi Tanabe, and Eisai,” says Griffith University’s Vicky Avery. 

They bring those compounds to us. We then dispense them into plates which contain the parasite we’re trying to kill.  After they’ve been incubated for a period of time we then look to see whether they’ve had an effect in killing the parasites.

“Once one defines a hit, usually it’s the pharmaceutical company that drives forward the further development of that compound to create a drug.

“This collaboration is fantastic in that it has three groups who complement each other,” Vicky says.

The Japanese pharma companies bring expertise in drug discovery and development.  GHIT has managed to pull together significant funding from both global partners as well as the Japanese Government. And Griffith University brings the biology expertise.

Japan and Australia: partners in innovation

Japan and Australia: partners in innovation

Japan and Australia have a long history of collaboration in science and innovation. Here we profile some recent examples:

These stories and videos were produced by Science in Public for the Australian Embassy in Tokyo.

More below, and click here to read more stories of Japan-Australia research.

Continue reading Japan and Australia: partners in innovation

Teaching search engines to know what you need

Information scientists are figuring out how to make search engines better at listening, so they can give us search results before we even ask.

Quizzing Siri or Alexa on the weather forecast or latest football results is common these days. But if we’re going to have fluent and intuitive conversations with future search engines, they will need to be built differently.

This challenge has captivated Professor Mark Sanderson, Director of the Enabling Capability Platform for Information and Systems (Engineering), and his team at RMIT University. Continue reading Teaching search engines to know what you need

Exploring the mystery of the oceans

Australia and Japan are both island nations with vast maritime reserves and responsibilities. Together we’re developing the science needed to understand, use, enjoy and protect our unique marine ecosystems. And we’re collaborating to solve some of the mysteries of the ocean systems that drive the world’s climate.

Attack of the giant starfish

The waters off Japan’s tropical Okinawa Islands are home to hundreds of species of coral. The reefs attract a rich diversity of life: fish, turtles, whale sharks, and… the crown-of-thorns starfish.

Five thousand kilometres to the south is the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest reef system and one of the richest and most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. The Australian Government is committed to protecting the Reef and has developed a plan to 2050 to ensure the sustainability of the Reef. But the Reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 30 years and periodic plagues of crown-of-thorns are responsible for more than forty per cent of the coral loss. Continue reading Exploring the mystery of the oceans

Changing lives: Australia–Japan science links

To read about Japan-Australia innovation collaborations—including searching for new malaria drugs, giant robot trucks carrying ore, and chewing gum that reverses tooth decay—click here.

Japanese science changing Australia

The impact of Japanese technological prowess on Australian society is obvious for all to see. How we listened to music was transformed by audio recording technologies: from the Walkman to the CD. Home entertainment was changed by video tapes, DVDs, and game consoles. We rely on Japanese innovation in transport—reliable car engineering, the lean manufacturing techniques that made them affordable and, more recently, hybrid cars.

Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow
Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow

Fundamental science discoveries are bringing a new era of transformation. Japanese researchers were honoured last year with the Nobel Prize for their invention of the blue LED. They succeeded where for 30 years everyone else had failed. Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps—lasting a lifetime and using a fraction of the energy.

In 2006 Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. By introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, that is, immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body. His work is transforming stem cell medicine and many Australian researchers are now using induced pluripotent stem cells to develop stem cell medicines.

Continue reading Changing lives: Australia–Japan science links