Andrea Morello: Quantum computing becomes more than just spin

People have speculated about the potential of quantum computers for decades—how they would make child’s play of constructing and testing new drugs, searching through huge amounts of data and ensuring security of information.

Andrea Morello. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/Bearcage

This scenario may be coming true in a high-tech basement at the University of New South Wales.

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Motor races and science labs fuel interest in science

Each year in early July, when its 700 students are on holiday, Townsville State High School becomes the headquarters for a V8 Supercars race.

Sarah Chapman and student. Credit: Nicole Waters

But before and after the race, Sarah Chapman’s Year 11 science students are hard at work, slopping their way through the nearby mangroves and wading into the neighbouring estuary. The data they collect is then used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to manage the impact of the race on local estuaries. “The students are really taken by the idea that they are finding out things nobody else knows,” Sarah says.

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Camping and puppets top science teaching prize

Brooke Topelberg’s students are so keen on science that her lunch-time science club has a waiting list.

2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools winner, Brooke Topelberg with students. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
2011 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools winner, Brooke Topelberg, with students. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

And Jane Wright has been taking high school girls to explore science in the bush for over 25 years.

Both of these passionate professionals have been awarded a Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching.
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Changing the world one molecule at a time

Many plastics and polymers—including paints, glues and lubricants—will be transformed in the coming years by the work of Australian chemists, Professors David Solomon and Ezio Rizzardo.

David Solomon (left) and Ezio Rizzardo (right) with Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Irene Dowdy

Their work is integral to more than 500 patents and their techniques are used in the labs and factories of DuPont, L’Oréal, IBM, 3M, Dulux and more than 60 other companies.

Eventually, the pair’s chemical theories and processes will influence hundreds of products.

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Birth of our hot Universe

An Australian physicist is unravelling the mystery of how the hot, brilliant stars we see today emerged from our Universe’s “dark age”.

Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

Theoretical physicist Prof Stuart Wyithe is one of the world’s leading thinkers on the Universe as it was 13 billion years ago, when there were no stars or galaxies, just cold gas.

In the next few years astronomers will learn much more as powerful new telescopes come online.

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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

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Virtual management of the world’s oceans

New computer models are challenging the conventional wisdom in marine science.

Virtual management of the world’s oceans
Beth Fulton’s fisheries models are used all over the world. Credit: Istockphoto
These models have revealed for example that: large populations of jellyfish and squid indicate a marine ecosystem in trouble; not all fish populations increase when fishing is reduced—some species actually decline; and, sharks and tuna can use jellyfish as junk food to see them through lean periods.

The models were developed by the 2007 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, Dr Beth Fulton, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart.
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Saving our skins

Physicist Dr Amanda Barnard has been using supercomputers to find the balance between sun protection and potential toxicity in a new generation of sunscreens which employ nanoparticles.

Dr Amanda Barnard with one of her nanoparticle simulations Credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo
Dr Amanda Barnard with one of her nanoparticle simulations Credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo
The metal oxide nanoparticles which block solar radiation are so small they cannot be seen, so the sunscreen appears transparent. But if the particles are too small, they can produce toxic levels of free radicals.

Amanda, who heads CSIRO’s Virtual Nanoscience Laboratory, has been able to come up with a trade-off—the optimum size of particle to provide maximum UV protection for minimal toxicity while maintaining transparency—by modelling the relevant interactions on a supercomputer.
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The life and death of blood cells

Dr Benjamin Kile of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research in Melbourne has found why the blood cells responsible for clotting—platelets—have a short shelf life at the blood bank.

The life and death of blood cells
Benjamin Kile, winner of the 2010 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. Credit: Bearcage Productions
There’s a molecular clock ticking away inside them that triggers their death. He’s also discovered a gene critical for the production of blood stem cells in our bone marrow that happens to be responsible for a range of cancers.

These major discoveries earned Ben the 2010 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. Now he is trying to use them to extend the life of blood bank products, and get to the heart of some of the big questions in cancer.
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Seeing fish through rocks

Dr Kate Trinajstic has used synchrotron light and CT scanning to see through rock, in the process discovering how ancient fish developed teeth, jaws and even a womb. Her work is increasing our understanding of how life on Earth evolved.

Seeing fish through rocks
The winner of the 2010 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, Kate Trinajstic. Credit: Ron D’Raine
About 380 million years ago in what is now the Kimberley Ranges in Western Australia, a vast barrier reef formed. In what would have been the inter-reef basins, large numbers of fish were buried relatively intact. Protective limestone balls formed around them and preserved them. When these balls are treated with acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, the surrounding rock dissolves, leaving only fossilised fish bones.

But in the course of studying hundreds of these dissolving balls, Kate began to see what looked like muscle fibres between the bones. She was eventually able to convince her colleagues that irreplaceable soft tissue detail was being lost in the acid treatments.
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