From Roman nanocrystals to new gold catalysts

Electron micrograph of different forms of gold nanocrystals.
Electron micrograph of different forms of gold nanocrystals.

Two thousand years ago, Roman glass blowers used gold nanocrystals to create vases with brilliant colours ranging from red to purple. Today, gold nanocrystals are being used as catalysts in chemical reactions and may even become high-density data storage devices.

Gold nanocrystals aren’t gold in colour. They change colour as their size and shape change.

Continue reading From Roman nanocrystals to new gold catalysts

Stories of Australian Science 2010

stories2010_pdfMeeting science journalists and television producers around the world, we’ve discovered that they have a healthy appetite for Australian science and Australian wine.

So we’ve put together this publication to give journalists and others with an interest in science a taste of what’s happening Down Under.

For this collection we invited Australian research organisations to contribute snapshots of some of their current research. The stories illustrate the breadth and depth of Australian science.

Click here to read the stories, including:

  • the astronomy inside the world’s Wi-Fi computers and networks
  • the benefits of an imaginary friend
  • how bacteria from kangaroos are fighting cancer
  • breast restoration using your own stem cells
  • a milk protein that encourages exercise
  • the hidden clock in a grain of sand
  • understanding what happened on Black Saturday

Among the other fifty stories you’ll meet the winners of this year’s Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, learn about plans for a giant radio telescope and more.

Please feel free to use the stories for your own social media, website, or publications. Everything is available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence.

Browse the collection

You can browse this year’s collection at

Or use the menus on the left to search all our stories by field or science, organisation or State.

The full publication is also available as a PDF and in print. If you’d like us to send you some copies please email


How did we get here?

Zenobia Jacobs

University of Wollongong

Zenobia Jacobs wants to know where we came from, and how we got here. When did our distant ancestors leave Africa and spread across the world? Why? And when was Australia first settled?

Zenobia Jacobs, University of Wollongong (photo credit:

These are difficult and controversial questions. But Zenobia has a deep understanding of time and how to measure it. She has developed a way of accurately dating when individual grains of sand were buried with human artefacts. And that technique is transforming our understanding of human evolution.

Continue reading How did we get here?

On the hunt for dark energy

Tamara Davis

University of Queensland / University of Copenhagen

In 1998 astronomers made an astonishing discovery-the expansion of the Universe is not happening at a steady rate, nor is it slowing down toward eventual collapse. Instead, it is accelerating. The discovery required a complete rethink of the standard model used to explain how the Universe works.

Tamara Davis, University of Queensland / University of Copenhagen (Photo credit:

“Now we know that stars, planets, galaxies and all that we can see make up just four per cent of the Universe,” says Tamara Davis, a University of Queensland astrophysicist.

“About 23 per cent is dark matter. The balance is thought to be dark energy, which we know very little about.”

Continue reading On the hunt for dark energy

Are nanoparticles safe?

After two decades of research the first wave of nanotechnology consumer products are entering the marketplace in applications as diverse as catalysts, surface treatments for glass, cosmetics and drug delivery. But the properties that make them attractive to industry may also have unforeseen consequences. That worries Amanda Barnard, a physicist at The University of Melbourne.

Amanda Barnard (Graphic by Amanda Barnard. Photo credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo)
Amanda Barnard (Graphic by Amanda Barnard. Photo credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo)

“Many materials that are normally inactive—gold and silver, for example—become biologically active when the particles are just a few nanometres in size. So, if we are creating these new particles we need to understand how they will behave in the environment.”

Amanda believes she can create a theoretical framework that will allow the risk of nanoparticles to be determined in the computer—before the particle has even been made. She will use her L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship to develop new computational tools to predict the behaviour of nanoparticles in the environment. Continue reading Are nanoparticles safe?

School girls join study to understand black holes and the birth of stars

Black holes are some of the most bizarre objects in the universe. They can have as much mass as a billion stars combined. How did they form and how did they get so big?

Ilana Feain, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison
Ilana Feain, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Tim Morison

“What are they doing to the galaxies in which they live?” asks Dr Ilana Feain of the CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility.

This is one of the biggest questions facing astronomers in the 21st Century. The 29-year-old astronomer will use her L’ORÉAL Australia For Women In Science Fellowship in her quest for an answer to this question.

And she is enlisting two Australian girls’ schools to contribute to a 24/7 program to observe a ‘nanoquasar’ and its associated black hole some billion billion kilometres from Earth. Continue reading School girls join study to understand black holes and the birth of stars