All posts by Niall

X-rays for gold

China and Australia are the world’s two largest producers of gold. So, it’s fitting that a device combining Australian and Chinese research, and capabilities in high-tech manufacturing, is set to shake up the industry.

Ore processors need to know how much gold is in their raw material to get the most out of it. The current industry standard for testing ore is the fire assay, an elaborate and time-consuming process that requires temperatures over 1000 degrees and toxic chemicals such as lead. It also takes at least 8 hours to complete.

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Clean gas, clean air

New technologies are making natural gas a cheaper and greener fuel

Air quality in China’s cities is improving thanks to government initiatives to reduce urban coal burning. In Beijing, for example, homes, schools, hospitals and factories are switching from coal to gas for heating. As a result, demand for gas has quadrupled over the past decade. Now Australian researchers are partnering with Chinese industry to make gas production even cleaner and more efficient.

Both countries will benefit. China has large gas reserves but much of the gas is in unconventional sources such as coal seam gas and shale gas. The gases from these sources can contain less than 50 per cent methane so impurities such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen must be removed. For nitrogen that usually means cooling the gas to separate the valuable methane from the nitrogen in an energy-intensive process costing billions of dollars.

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How deep is your sleep?

Reading brain activity for better anaesthesia

More than 40 million people have major surgery in China each year. For every one of them the nature of consciousness is a very practical concern. Too low a dose of anaesthetic could see you wake up during the operation. Too high a dose could have long term health consequences.

Currently, the best monitoring devices can only monitor a suite of secondary indicators of consciousness. A Guangdong company has partnered with the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) with the aim of making anaesthesia easier and safer. They’re creating an intelligent device to directly measure the depth of unconsciousness and adjust the anaesthetic dose in real time.

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The ‘coolest’ place for astronomy

High on the Antarctic Plateau, in one of the coldest places on Earth, a group of telescopes are peering through stellar dust clouds into the heart of our galaxy.

The cold helps counteract interference from the telescopes and surrounding equipment, which can hinder our ability to see relatively
‘cool’ objects in space, such as asteroids, young stars, and interstellar gas.

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More wheat, less water

China and Australia can dramatically boost wheat yields and improve food security by unlocking the genetic potential within the hundreds of wheat varieties grown in the two countries. That’s the promise of the latest collaboration between wheat researchers in the two countries.

Chinese farmers have been growing wheat for at least 4,000 years. Crop yields per hectare are now nearly 10 times higher than in 1960 and China is now the largest wheat producer in the world. But wheat researchers say we can do more.

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From sky to hospital

Working together to create advanced manufacturing industries

The maiden flight of the COMAC C919 airliner in May 2017 illustrated China’s ambition in advanced manufacturing.

Many of the airliner’s parts are made using 3D printing, and Australian engineers are working with their Chinese colleagues to develop the technology further.

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Managing a data mountain

The world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is expected to generate more data in a single day than the world does in a year at present. And even its prototype, CSIRO’s ASKAP, is expected to accumulate more information within six hours of being switched on than all previous radio telescopes combined.

Such gargantuan streams of data require serious management, and that will be one of the jobs of the $80 million iVEC Pawsey Centre in Perth, which is due to be completed in 2013.

The planned Pawsey High-Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science in Perth (photo credit: Woodhead/CSIRO)

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Putting Einstein to the ultimate test

CSIRO’s Parkes telescope records pulsar signals to try to detect gravitational waves. Credit: David McClenaghan / CSIRO

Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts them, and they could be scattered throughout the Universe. But so far, gravitational waves— ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space and time—have never been detected. Several Australian teams of astronomers are trying to catch the first signs of one.

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Mega star nursery gives birth to new knowledge

THE MASSIVE DENSE CLOUD OF HYDROGEN (SHOWN BY THE RED CONTOURS), CALLED BYF73, APPEARS TO BE COLLAPSING IN ON ITSELF DUE TO GRAVITY, FORMING HUGE PROTOSTARS (SEEN AS RED)
THE MASSIVE DENSE CLOUD OF HYDROGEN (SHOWN BY THE RED CONTOURS), CALLED BYF73, APPEARS TO BE COLLAPSING IN ON ITSELF DUE TO GRAVITY, FORMING HUGE PROTOSTARS (SEEN AS RED)

Enormous collapsing clouds of cosmic gas and dust may yield clues on how massive stars form, which is an enduring mystery of astronomy.

One such cloud, called BYF73, has been studied by a research team using CSIRO’s Mopra radio telescope. Peter Barnes, an Australian researcher working at the University of Florida in the US, leads the team. The massive hydrogen cloud is collapsing in on itself and will probably form a huge cluster of young stars. Continue reading Mega star nursery gives birth to new knowledge

Recording the impact of a super-massive black hole

PARTICLES EMITTING RADIO WAVES STREAM MILLIONS OF LIGHT-YEARS INTO SPACE FROM THE HEART OF THE GALAXY CENTAURUS A. CREDIT: ILANA FEAIN, TIM CORNWELL & RON EKERS (CSIRO). ATCA NORTHERN MIDDLE LOBE POINTING COURTESY R. MORGANTI (ASTRON), PARKES DATA COURTESY N. JUNKES (MPIFR).
PARTICLES EMITTING RADIO WAVES STREAM MILLIONS OF LIGHT-YEARS INTO SPACE FROM THE HEART OF THE GALAXY CENTAURUS A. CREDIT: ILANA FEAIN, TIM CORNWELL & RON EKERS (CSIRO). ATCA NORTHERN MIDDLE LOBE POINTING COURTESY R. MORGANTI (ASTRON), PARKES DATA COURTESY N. JUNKES (MPIFR).

At the centre of a nearby galaxy lurks an object of huge interest, a super-massive black hole. CSIRO scientists have used their radio telescopes to take a picture of the galaxy surrounding it, a task some thought could not be done, because of the sheer size and radio brightness of the scene. The image of Centaurus A took about 1,200 hours of observations and a further 10,000 hours of computer processing to put together, but the work is already beginning to bear fruit.

“We didn’t generate this image just to make a pretty picture,” says lead scientist Ilana Feain of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. “We want to understand in detail how the energy from super-massive black holes influences the formation and evolution of their host galaxies.” Continue reading Recording the impact of a super-massive black hole