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.
This scenario may be coming true in a high-tech basement at the University of New South Wales.
Each year in early July, when its 700 students are on holiday, Townsville State High School becomes the headquarters for a V8 Supercars race.
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.
New computer models are challenging the conventional wisdom in marine science.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading Saving our skins→
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.
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. Continue reading The life and death of blood cells→
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.
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. Continue reading Seeing fish through rocks→
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