The sweet side of sulphur: cheap mercury clean-up

A cheap and simple material, using sulphur from petroleum industry waste and plant oils from the food industry, is being tested to clean up mercury pollution from soil and water.

The rubbery material will undergo field tests in 2017 in Australian mining and sugarcane sites, the latter of which use fungicides that contain mercury.  The work is supported by funding from the National Environmental Science Programme’s emerging priorities funding.

“Our technology is about as simple as it can get: mix sulphur with plant oils and heat, then add the resulting material into the contaminated area,” says lead researcher Dr Justin Chalker, of Flinders University. Continue reading The sweet side of sulphur: cheap mercury clean-up

How to stop people entering floodwater

People continue to enter floodwater in vehicles and on foot, despite many knowing the risks.

Researchers from the Bushfire Natural Hazards CRC and Risk Frontiers, Macquarie University, analysed the who, when and why of flood fatalities, so they could target information to high-risk groups and hopefully prevent further deaths. Continue reading How to stop people entering floodwater

Under pressure: stable storage for radioactive waste

A stable and compact nuclear waste technology is moving from research level to industrial-scale at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

The Synroc can (left) becomes significantly smaller (pictured centre and right) following Hot Isostatic Pressing, minimising disposal volumes.
The Synroc can (left) becomes significantly smaller (pictured centre and right) following Hot Isostatic Pressing, minimising disposal volumes.

The planned full-scale nuclear waste treatment plant incorporates ANSTO’s Synroc innovation that locks away radioactive waste products by mimicking natural geology.

“A key part of the Synroc process is Hot Isostatic Pressing, which applies heat and pressure to minimise the disposal volume and transform liquid radioactive waste into a chemically durable material suitable for long term storage,” says Gerry Triani, Technical Director at ANSTO Synroc.

Continue reading Under pressure: stable storage for radioactive waste

Putting a window and lasers in a ship’s hull to improve efficiency

Every shipping manager wages an endless battle against fouling—the bacteria, seaweed, barnacles and other marine life that take up residence on the hull of ships within days of it entering the water.

window4-300x169[1]This biofouling is thought to add more than 20 per cent to the fuel costs of commercial shipping, not to mention the added journey time for a ship weighed down with barnacles. That’s a big cost for the maritime trading nations of Australia and Indonesia, potentially adding up to billions of dollars per year.

Using lasers and a window in a ship’s hull, researchers will assess how quickly the efficiency of the ship declines, and then how to balance fuel efficiency and the cost of putting a ship in dry dock to clean it. Continue reading Putting a window and lasers in a ship’s hull to improve efficiency

Seeing through bushfire smoke

Cool thinking by an Australian defence scientist while a bushfire bore down on his family home provided first responders with clearer satellite images of the blaze, and likely prevented further devastation.

Launching WorldView 3 satellite that carries a Short Wave Infra-Red sensor. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Launching WorldView 3 satellite that carries a Short Wave Infra-Red sensor. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Sampson Flat bushfires in South Australia claimed the lives of around 900 animals, destroying 27 houses along with other property in January 2015.

Chris Ekins evacuated his family, but while preparing to protect their home he heard on local ABC radio that aircraft were having difficulty seeing through the smoke.

Continue reading Seeing through bushfire smoke

Reading the whispers of MH370

A communication ‘heartbeat’ has helped narrow the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The flight disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.

“Essentially we’ve had to develop, and measure the accuracy of, a way to use the extra data collected during the satellite communication,” says Dr Neil Gordon, Head of Data and Information Fusion at the Defence Science and Technology Group in Australia.

“The main communication data is a ‘heartbeat’ signal every hour, asking the aircraft ‘are you there?’ When it says ‘yes,’ a little bit of information attached to that message is captured, giving hints on the speed and direction the plane is travelling, and the distance between the satellite and the aircraft,” Neil says.

Continue reading Reading the whispers of MH370

The answers are blowing in the wind

Modern airplanes use up to half their fuel to overcome the drag caused by turbulence at the surface of an airplane.

The University of Melbourne’s specialised wind tunnel is helping them unlock the mysteries of boundary layer turbulence. Credit: The University of Melbourne
The University of Melbourne’s specialised wind tunnel is helping them unlock the mysteries of boundary layer turbulence. Credit: The University of Melbourne

In 2010, Professor Ivan Marusic’s team of engineers at the University of Melbourne became the first in the world to predict and model the behaviour of the eddies that cause this drag—known as boundary layer turbulence. And now they are trying to control them.

“Even a five per cent reduction could save billions of dollars, and millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide,” says Ivan, “which is a big deal to aircraft operators like Qantas.”

Continue reading The answers are blowing in the wind

Geoffrey Rush talks stars

The search for the first stars and the hunt for dark energy both feature in a new planetarium show narrated by Geoffrey Rush. The show premiered in March 2016 at the Melbourne Planetarium and will be seen in planetariums around the world.

“I hope this show conveys some of the wonder of the Universe we live in,” says Professor Elaine Sadler, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).

The Murchison Widefield Array telescope is discovering when the first stars and galaxies formed.
The Murchison Widefield Array telescope is discovering when the first stars and galaxies formed
Credit: Alex Cherney/Museum Victoria

‘Capturing the Cosmos’ was created by Melbourne Planetarium and CAASTRO, and features the work of two of Australia’s new telescopes, the Murchison Widefield Array and Skymapper.

Continue reading Geoffrey Rush talks stars

Looking for dark matter in a gold mine

Deep underground in rural Victoria, Matteo Volpi is searching for evidence of the cosmic glue that holds the Universe together: dark matter.

Matteo is taking the initial measurements for the study at Stawell Gold Mine where an international team is set to construct a $3.5 million laboratory more than a kilometre underground.

Matteo Volpi is looking for dark matter in the Stawell Gold Mine. Credit: Michael Slezak
Matteo Volpi is looking for dark matter in the Stawell Gold Mine. Credit: Michael Slezak

Understanding dark matter is regarded as one of the most important questions of modern particle physics.

“If we nail it, it’s a Nobel Prize– winning experiment,” says the project leader Elisabetta Barberio, a University of Melbourne physicist and chief investigator of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP).

Continue reading Looking for dark matter in a gold mine

The short lives of hard-living, fast burning, high mass stars

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Shari Breen (Credit: L'Oréal Australia)Dr Shari Breen, astronomer, CSIRO, Sydney

We are made of star stuff. The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth and the iron in our blood were all made in high mass stars that burnt briefly and brightly before exploding.

Dr Shari Breen is using ‘The Dish’ at Parkes and a network of international telescopes to understand the life cycle and evolution of these stars. For her the 1,000 tonne Parkes radio telescope is an old friend that creaks and grumbles as she guides it across the sky, hunting for high mass stars.

She will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to develop her use of masers (laser-like beams of intense radio waves) to investigate these stars.

Continue reading The short lives of hard-living, fast burning, high mass stars