Australian science’s place in Asia

Australia’s scientists are among the most productive in the region. That’s the picture that emerges from the Nature Publishing Index 2011 Asia-Pacific released in March 2012

AUSTRALIA RANKS THIRD IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION IN TERMS OF PUBLICATIONS IN NATURE GROUP JOURNALS. CREDIT: NASA VISIBLEEARTH.NASA.GOV

Australia ranks second only to Singapore in terms of science output per capita and per scientist in the Index, which measures the publication of research articles in Nature research journals by Asia-Pacific nations and institutions. Singapore and Australia are also first and second in the Asia-Pacific respectively in terms of GDP per capita. Continue reading Australian science’s place in Asia

Star-shaped polymers boost engine performance

New lubricants containing star-shaped polymers have hit the market, thanks to Australian polymer technology. Lubrizol Corporation has launched the first commercial products developed using CSIRO’s Reversible Addition Fragmentation chain Transfer (RAFT) polymer synthesis process.

Asteric ™ Viscosity Modifiers are tailor-made star-shaped polymers made possible by RAFT Credit: Lubrizol
Asteric ™ Viscosity Modifiers are tailor-made star-shaped polymers made possible by RAFT Credit: Lubrizol

CSIRO chemist Dr Ezio Rizzardo says the RAFT process allows much greater flexibility and potential for polymer synthesis, compared with conventional methods. “Conventional polymerisation is a relatively simple process with two ingredients: large amounts of monomer and a small amount of an initiating agent. You apply heat; a chain reaction starts and runs to completion, making polymer chains that can have widely varying lengths.”
Continue reading Star-shaped polymers boost engine performance

New chlorophyll a gateway to better crops

A chance finding has led to the first new chlorophyll discovered in 67 years, opening up possibilities for biofuel and food crops to use sunlight more efficiently.

2011 Life Scientist of the Year Min Chen. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
2011 Life Scientist of the Year Min Chen. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

Continue reading New chlorophyll a gateway to better crops

New tool for better breast cancer detection

Queensland scientists are helping radiologists to spot the more subtle signs of breast cancer, using computer tools and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Photo: Contrast-enhanced MRI of a breast. Credit: Yaniv Gal
Photo: Contrast-enhanced MRI of a breast. Credit: Yaniv Gal

Currently MRI allows radiologists to detect lumps or other growths by creating a 3D anatomical image of the breast.

Prof Stuart Crozier and his team at the University of Queensland have developed a computer tool that improves MRI detection by spotting more subtle indicators of cancer.

“When cancers are just starting to form, they form abnormal blood vessels very early, to feed their rapid cell division,” Stuart says.

“By seeing how certain contrast agents move through the tissue, we can pick up the formation of these blood vessels.”

Photo: Research Assistant Michael Wildermoth works with the software that shows how certain contrast agents move through breast tissue. Credit: Kim Nunes
Photo: Research Assistant Michael Wildermoth works with the software that shows how certain contrast agents move through breast tissue. Credit: Kim Nunes

This works towards solving two issues with conventional MRIs.

First, it should reduce the number of false positive results and therefore the number of women put through biopsies of benign tumours.

Second, this should catch tumours earlier, not just when tumours are big enough to discern visually.

“The goal is to assist radiologists to identify areas of cancer risk that may not be obvious on conventional images,” Stuart says.

Stuart, a Fellow of the Australian Academy for Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), was recently presented with a 2012 Clunies Ross Award for his contributions to the engineering of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.

The research, funded as an Australian Research Council’s Discovery Project, is now undergoing trials with 140 women at private radiology firm Queensland X-ray.

Photo: Contrast-enhanced MRI of a breast.
Credit: Yaniv Gal
Photo: Research Assistant Michael Wildermoth works with the software that shows how certain contrast agents move through breast tissue.
Credit: Kim Nunes

University of Queensland, Stuart Crozier, stuart@itee.uq.edu.au, www.itee.uq.edu.au

Massive galaxy survey confirms accelerating Universe

The Universe is definitely getting bigger, faster—and astronomers using the Anglo-Australian Telescope in NSW have confirmed it.

The WiggleZ survey looked at over 200,000 visible galaxies (middle), but also gave insights into dark matter (the green grid that deforms the gravity field) and dark energy (the purple grid). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The WiggleZ survey looked at over 200,000 visible galaxies (centre), but also gave insights into dark matter (the green grid that deforms the gravity field) and dark energy (the purple grid). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltec

The results are now in for WiggleZ, a survey of the night sky, spanning 200,000 galaxies and billions of years of cosmic history.

“This puts a nail in it. Clearly the universe is accelerating, and clearly there is something like dark energy,” says Prof Matthew Colless, director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory and a member of the WiggleZ team.
Continue reading Massive galaxy survey confirms accelerating Universe

No moving parts – a new kind of radio telescope

Murchison Widefield Array
The Murchison Widefield Array is one of the first telescopes with no moving parts. Credit: David Herne, ICRAR

Far outback in Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory located on Boolardy Station, 315 km north-east of Geraldton, 32 tiles each carrying 16 dipole antennas have begun to collect scientific data on the Sun. At the same time they are providing engineering information to be used to extend the facility to a much bigger array of 512 tiles – the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).

Continue reading No moving parts – a new kind of radio telescope