Crashing helicopters for safety

Mathew Joosten crashes several helicopters a day—without any deaths or injury. He uses computer simulation.

Crashing helicopters can now be done from the safety of the keyboard. Credit: ACSCRC
Crashing helicopters can now be done from the safety of the keyboard. Credit: ACSCRC

A research student of the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Composite Structures, Mr Joosten has designed ‘virtual crash test’ software to help accelerate the development of safety systems.

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Putting a cap on fatigue

Drivers of trucks, dozers, graders and excavators at Australian mines could soon be saved from the risks of fatigue by their headgear.

Putting a cap on fatigue
The SmartCap protects against fatigue. Credit: CRC Mining

Incidents on mine sites caused by tiredness are a significant cause of injuries and deaths, and cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production and accidents each year. So Dr Daniel Bongers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Mining (CRCMining) in Brisbane has invented a SmartCap, fitted with sophisticated sensors which can “read” the brain’s nerve activity through hair and detect the level of fatigue of the wearer.

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Milk could soothe the savage gum

Melbourne dental health researchers have discovered a painless, low-cost treatment which may prevent gum disease.

Milk could soothe the savage gum
A peptide found in milk may help prevent gum disease and protect teeth. Credit: Istock photos

And the key ingredients—protein fragments known as peptides—come from cows’ milk.

The link between the peptides and gum disease was forged at the Melbourne Dental School node of the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre by Dr Elena Toh. “This could provide a cheap and simple way to help prevent gum disease,” she says. “And because the peptides are derived from milk, there should be no toxicity issues.”
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Parasites betrayed by their genome

Photo: The barber’s pole worm causes deaths and massive production losses in the sheep industry. Credit:IstockphotoMelbourne veterinary researchers are using genomic techniques and bioinformatics to lead them to new specific candidate drugs for the treatment of a devastating parasite known as barber’s pole worm, which causes anaemia, deaths and massive production losses in the sheep industry.

Using the latest gene sequencing technology and the supercomputers of the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative, Prof Robin Gasser’s research group from the University of Melbourne’s Veterinary School have been able to compare barber’s pole worm’s DNA and RNA with that of other organisms in order to track down genes essential to the worm’s growth, development, reproduction and survival. Continue reading Parasites betrayed by their genome

Faster flash flood warnings

Flash flooding, brought on by sudden torrential rain, killed dozens of people in Australia in 2011. Because of their very nature, it has been difficult to provide effective warnings. And that is a significant gap in Australia’s natural disaster management, according to the submission of RMIT University’s Centre for Risk and Community Safety to the 2011 Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry.

Technology could mean more effective warnings against flash flooding, like the kind that hit Toowoomba, Queensland in January 2011. Credit: KingBob.net
Technology could mean more effective warnings against flash flooding, like the kind that hit Toowoomba, Queensland in January 2011. Credit: KingBob.net

We now have the technology to deliver such warnings, says director of the Centre, Prof John Handmer. “But using it would raise issues about how quickly both the authorities and people at risk are prepared to make critical decisions when they receive the information.”

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Curing cancer with radiation – safely

Prostate and other soft-tissue cancers are often treated with radioactive sources implanted or inserted into the body. But monitoring the dose is problematic.

Curing cancer with radiation – safely
Computer simulation of brachytherapy prostate treatment showing radioactive source trajectories through the pelvic region. Credit: Rick Franich
Medical physicists at Melbourne’s RMIT University are developing a technique to monitor the radiation dose more accurately.

In high dose rate brachytherapy, tumours are targeted by radioactive sources temporarily inserted into the body.

“Until now, it has not been possible to check at the time of delivery whether the doses received by the tumour and by surrounding healthy tissue matched the planned levels,” says Dr Rick Franich, Medical Radiation Physics group leader at the University’s Health Innovations Research Institute.
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Preparing for the worst

Fire fighters should identify what are potentially the worst-case events and prepare for them, even if they are extremely unlikely to occur, says Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre psychology researcher Claire Johnson.

Preparing for the worst
Fire fighters need to be prepared for the worst that can happen. Credit: Queensland Fire and Rescue Service

“A failure to consider worst-case scenario possibilities has been implicated in a number of high-profile investigations into Australian bushfire disasters,” says Claire, who submitted her PhD thesis on worst-case scenario planning to La Trobe University in Melbourne in March this year.

For instance, the inquiries following the Canberra bushfires in 2003 and the Wangary fires on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula in 2006 both suggested lack of considering the worst contributed to an underestimation of the threat posed.
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Australian farmers bring climate research to the paddock

Leading grain farmers are guiding climate researchers as part of Australia’s Climate Champion initiative.

Australian farmers bring climate research to the paddock
Farmer Simon Wallwork has worked with climate scientists on his farm. Credit: GRDC

They hope the results will help farmers to adapt to Australia’s increasingly challenging and variable climate.

Scientists supported by the Managing Climate Variability program asked the farmers about what they needed to know about climate in their areas—what forecasts and predictions would be most helpful and how they should be presented.
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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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How a molecular assassin operates

The secrets of a molecular assassin could lead to more effective treatments for cancer and viral diseases, better therapy for autoimmune conditions, and a deeper understanding of the body’s defences enabling the development of more tightly focused immunosuppressive drugs.

How a molecular assassin operates
In this simulation, the perforin molecule (blue) punches a hole through the cell membrane (beige) providing access for toxic enzymes (red). Credit: Mike Kuiper
These are just some of the wide-ranging possibilities arising from research which has revealed the structure and function of the protein perforin, a front-line weapon in the body’s fight against rogue cells.

A pivotal role was played by 2006 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, molecular biologist Prof James Whisstock and his research team at Monash University. It was research fellow Dr Ruby Law who finally worked out how to grow crystals of perforin. And the team was then able to collaborate with Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies of the micro-crystallography beamline at the nearby Australian Synchrotron to reveal its complete molecular structure.
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