Could a neutron beam help stop train derailments?

Scientists are using neutron radiation to look inside solid steel and analyse the stresses within rail tracks. This research will ultimately improve the safety and operational and repair efficiency of heavy-haul railways.

The wheels of heavily laden trains place considerable rolling-contact loading on rail tracks. The heavy loads can change the material properties near the running surface and within the railhead—causing “fatigue”. A number of serious incidents, including derailments, have been attributed to rail failures resulting from rolling-contact fatigue and accumulated residual stress.

Bragg Institute instrument scientist Dr Vladimir Luzin is looking at fatigue in insulated rail joints (IRJs) within a research project initiated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Rail Innovation. IRJs are an integral part of rail track systems, but they are also weak points, and their replacement is the single largest track maintenance cost in New South Wales, apart from ballast work.

“When a rail comes out of a factory it has already some residual stress,” explains Vladimir. “Now we are looking at the atomic level to see how these stresses develop through the life of the rail joints.”

Vladimir uses neutron diffraction to see how residual stresses evolve through different production steps and during service. The beauty of neutrons is that they can penetrate steel—unlike X-rays—and they can be used to map the stresses inside the rail components non-destructively.

Manufacturers and operators want to control and minimise these stresses. This research, backed by modellers and metallurgists, will help industry partners cut costs, modify production methods and develop rails of a quality and strength that can handle increasing loads.

Bragg Institute, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Vladimir Luzin, Tel: +61 2 9717 7262, vladimir.luzin@ansto.gov.au,  www.ansto.gov.au

Donating used eyeglasses is a poor use of resources

It’s much better to give new glasses than recycled glasses if you want to help one of the 640 million people who are vision-impaired or blind simply for the lack of an eye examination and appropriate glasses.

Thembani waits for an eye examination at the Umlazi community hall near Durban, South Africa Credit: Dean Saffron/ICEE
Thembani waits for an eye examination at the Umlazi community hall near Durban, South Africa. Credit: Dean Saffron/ICEE

This is according to a new international study led by Australian researchers.

Dr David Wilson, research manager in the Asia-Pacific for International Centre for Eyecare Education and head author of a major paper on the topic, says although you might feel good sending your old reading glasses to a developing country, it is far better to give $10 for an eye examination and a new pair of glasses—and that’s more likely to strengthen the ability of these communities to help themselves.
Continue reading Donating used eyeglasses is a poor use of resources

Prized astronomer continues to contribute

He received the first ever Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year in 2000, then the Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2006, the Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2007 and the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011—it’s been a satisfying progression for Brian Schmidt, professor of astronomy at the Australian National University, and for Australian science. Schmidt led one of two research teams that determined that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.

Brian Schmidt, the Malcolm McIntosh Physical Scientist of the Year 2011. Credit: ANU
Brian Schmidt, the Malcolm McIntosh Physical Scientist of the Year 2000 and 2011 Physics Nobel Laureate. Credit: ANU

But winning awards does not mean he’s resting on his laurels. Apart from countless invitations to speak, Brian has his hands full with commissioning SkyMapper, a new optical telescope equipped with Australia’s largest digital camera at 268 megapixels. And he’s also involved in two significant new facilities pioneering technology to be used in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope: the Murchison Widefield Array and the Australian SKA Pathfinder. And in his spare time, he’s working on one of the next generation of optical telescopes, the Giant Magellan Telescope.
Continue reading Prized astronomer continues to contribute

Spray-on solar cells

Imagine a power station that’s literally sprayed onto your roof —and could match the colour of your tiles.

GERRY WILSON IS DEVELOPING SPRAY-ON SOLAR CELLS. CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO

Thin film solar cells are thinner, cheaper and more versatile than the traditional silicon solar panels. Spray-on solar is a next step in the evolution of on-site power generation.

“These cells can be made with semiconductor dye materials, so you can match them to any colour or pattern you like—they’ll just convert that part of the solar spectrum into electricity. In the future we could have billboards that act as solar panels,” says Dr Gerry Wilson of CSIRO’s flexible electronics team.

Continue reading Spray-on solar cells

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.”

Continue reading Bionic pioneer explores how we’re wired for sound

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.

Continue reading Birds, bees, robots and flying

Galactic shutterbug

A new instrument at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) can sample the light coming from hundreds of galaxies per night—which can tell us new things about the universe.

Astronomer Sam Richards sitting in the prime focus cage at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, where the SAMI instrument usually sits. Credit: Jon Lawrence
Astronomer Sam Richards sitting in the prime focus cage at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, where the SAMI instrument usually sits. Credit: Jon Lawrence

Sydney-AAO Multi-object Integral field spectrograph (SAMI) can look at up to 100 galaxies in a night, because it can look at 60 different regions in each of 13 different galaxies, all at once.

But most observatories around the world can only do one galaxy at a time.
Continue reading Galactic shutterbug

Supercomputer probes cancer crisis point

The long-term survival chances of patients with breast cancer plummet if the cancer recurs or spreads to other parts of the body in the process known as metastasis.

Breast cancer cells visualised with antibodies recognising E-cadherin (red) or vimentin (green). The cell nuclei are visualised with a DNA-binding stain (blue). Credit: Cletus Pinto & Rhiannon Coulson, St Vincent’s Institute

So the National Breast Cancer Foundation recently funded a five-year, $5 million National Collaborative Research Program to investigate metastasis and discover potential drugs to stop or slow it. The EMPathy Breast Cancer Network program was also charged with finding ways of diagnosing metastasis before it occurs. The research is highly dependent on the latest sequencing technology and demands the massive computer power and sophisticated data handling techniques of modern bioinformatics.
Continue reading Supercomputer probes cancer crisis point

Intelligent drugs

Dr Georgina Such imagines a miniscule capsule designed like a set of Russian babushka dolls.

Georgina Such is working on smart capsules could change the way we deliver drugs. Credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au
Georgina Such is working on smart capsules could change the way we deliver drugs. Credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au

The capsule is designed to sneak through the blood stream untouched.

When it finds its target—a cancer cell—it passes into the cell, sheds a layer, finds the part of the cellular machinery it needs to attack, sheds another layer; and then releases its cargo of drugs, destroying the cancer cell and only the cancer cell.

Creating such a capsule may take decades, but Georgina and her colleagues at the University of Melbourne have already developed several materials which have the potential to do the job.

Continue reading Intelligent drugs

Tracking lithium for better batteries

Imagine a mobile phone, gaming gadget or laptop with a battery that never needs replacing, or electric cars powered by batteries that are as fast to recharge as it is to refill your car with petrol.

Neeraj Sharma prepares a sample battery in the glove box. Credit: ANSTO
Neeraj Sharma prepares a sample battery in the glove box. Credit: ANSTO

Researchers at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) are unlocking the secret inner workings of lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries to develop better, safer portable power.
Continue reading Tracking lithium for better batteries