Could a neutron beam help stop train derailments?

Scientists are using neutron radiation to look inside solid steel and analyse the stresses within rail tracks. This research will ultimately improve the safety and operational and repair efficiency of heavy-haul railways.

The wheels of heavily laden trains place considerable rolling-contact loading on rail tracks. The heavy loads can change the material properties near the running surface and within the railhead—causing “fatigue”. A number of serious incidents, including derailments, have been attributed to rail failures resulting from rolling-contact fatigue and accumulated residual stress.

Bragg Institute instrument scientist Dr Vladimir Luzin is looking at fatigue in insulated rail joints (IRJs) within a research project initiated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Rail Innovation. IRJs are an integral part of rail track systems, but they are also weak points, and their replacement is the single largest track maintenance cost in New South Wales, apart from ballast work.

“When a rail comes out of a factory it has already some residual stress,” explains Vladimir. “Now we are looking at the atomic level to see how these stresses develop through the life of the rail joints.”

Vladimir uses neutron diffraction to see how residual stresses evolve through different production steps and during service. The beauty of neutrons is that they can penetrate steel—unlike X-rays—and they can be used to map the stresses inside the rail components non-destructively.

Manufacturers and operators want to control and minimise these stresses. This research, backed by modellers and metallurgists, will help industry partners cut costs, modify production methods and develop rails of a quality and strength that can handle increasing loads.

Bragg Institute, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Vladimir Luzin, Tel: +61 2 9717 7262, vladimir.luzin@ansto.gov.au,  www.ansto.gov.au

Donating used eyeglasses is a poor use of resources

It’s much better to give new glasses than recycled glasses if you want to help one of the 640 million people who are vision-impaired or blind simply for the lack of an eye examination and appropriate glasses.

Thembani waits for an eye examination at the Umlazi community hall near Durban, South Africa Credit: Dean Saffron/ICEE
Thembani waits for an eye examination at the Umlazi community hall near Durban, South Africa. Credit: Dean Saffron/ICEE

This is according to a new international study led by Australian researchers.

Dr David Wilson, research manager in the Asia-Pacific for International Centre for Eyecare Education and head author of a major paper on the topic, says although you might feel good sending your old reading glasses to a developing country, it is far better to give $10 for an eye examination and a new pair of glasses—and that’s more likely to strengthen the ability of these communities to help themselves.
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Nurturing super astronomers at home

SUPER SCIENCE FELLOW DR JAMES ALLISON AT NARRABRI DURING AN OBSERVING RUN AT THE AUSTRALIA TELESCOPE COMPACT ARRAY. CREDIT: ANANT TANNA.
SUPER SCIENCE FELLOW DR JAMES ALLISON AT NARRABRI DURING AN OBSERVING RUN AT THE AUSTRALIA TELESCOPE COMPACT ARRAY. CREDIT: ANANT TANNA.

Advanced telescopes need advanced astronomers to run them. Australia is matching the millions of dollars it is investing in new telescope technology with funds to help train the rising stars of Australian astronomy.

“We’ve had big investments in infrastructure, and now we need young scientists with the expertise to use them,” says Elaine Sadler, professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney and chair of the National Committee for Astronomy.

One new tranche of research funding for early career astronomers comes in the form of three-year Super Science Fellowships from the Commonwealth Government. In 2011, 14 young astronomers became Super Science Fellows, joining the 17 who started work in 2010. All up, astronomy will receive one-third of the Federal Government’s $27 million commitment to the Fellowships program. Continue reading Nurturing super astronomers at home

Silicon solves helicopter corrosion

An inexpensive, environmentally friendly alternative to a toxic coating currently used in Australian naval helicopters has been developed at Monash University in collaboration with CAST Cooperative Research Centre in Melbourne.

A non-toxic coating will reduce environmental and maintenance costs in Seahawk helicopters. Credit: US Navy
A non-toxic coating will reduce environmental and maintenance costs in Seahawk helicopters. Credit: US Navy

The magnesium alloy used to house the gearbox of Royal Australian Navy SeaHawk helicopters is prone to severe corrosion in marine environments, costing millions of dollars in maintenance every year. To protect the alloy from corrosion, it is covered with a chrome-based coating that is toxic to humans and the environment.

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Rapid identity check for border security pests

When Australian biosecurity officers find a suspicious insect or other invasive pest, they can now quickly identify it, drawing upon experts around the world using microscopes linked via the internet.

The Remote Microscope Network will allow experts to ‘look over the shoulder’ of biosecurity officers and help them identity pests. Credit: CRCNPB
The Remote Microscope Network will allow experts to ‘look over the shoulder’ of biosecurity officers and help them identity pests. Credit: CRCNPB

The Remote Microscope Network (RMN), developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity (CRCNPB), allows the officers to examine an insect or specimen closely in real time, manipulating it under the microscope while discussing its identification with national and international experts.

The system is coupled to a comprehensive diagnostic information database, allowing comparison with images and information about the suspect.

Until now identification in the field of invasive insects and other pests has been a slow and cumbersome process. It often involved sending a sample to a capital city and waiting several weeks for results.

The RMN is used in conjunction with a Pest and Disease Image Library and a Plant Biosecurity Toolbox, which includes high quality images as well as information about pest distribution. Together they enable field officers to identify pests quickly and accurately, and respond to any threats. This could save millions of dollars in eradication costs and lost market access for Australian producers.

“We’ve added a new, innovative tool to our system which is very cost effective and efficient, and decreases the response time when dealing with potentially harmful pests and diseases,” says Dr Simon McKirdy, CEO of the CRCNPB. “Now relevant diagnostic information is available to field officers around Australia and to our near neighbours.”

Photo: The Remote Microscope Network will allow experts to ‘look over the shoulder’ of biosecurity officers and help them identity pests.
Credit: CRCNPB

CRC for National Plant Biosecurity, Max Knobel, m.knobel@crcplantbiosecurity.com.au, www.crcplantbiosecurity.com.au/

Crashing helicopters for safety

Mathew Joosten crashes several helicopters a day—without any deaths or injury. He uses computer simulation.

Crashing helicopters can now be done from the safety of the keyboard. Credit: ACSCRC
Crashing helicopters can now be done from the safety of the keyboard. Credit: ACSCRC

A research student of the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Composite Structures, Mr Joosten has designed ‘virtual crash test’ software to help accelerate the development of safety systems.

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Putting a cap on fatigue

Drivers of trucks, dozers, graders and excavators at Australian mines could soon be saved from the risks of fatigue by their headgear.

Putting a cap on fatigue
The SmartCap protects against fatigue. Credit: CRC Mining

Incidents on mine sites caused by tiredness are a significant cause of injuries and deaths, and cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production and accidents each year. So Dr Daniel Bongers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Mining (CRCMining) in Brisbane has invented a SmartCap, fitted with sophisticated sensors which can “read” the brain’s nerve activity through hair and detect the level of fatigue of the wearer.

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Milk could soothe the savage gum

Melbourne dental health researchers have discovered a painless, low-cost treatment which may prevent gum disease.

Milk could soothe the savage gum
A peptide found in milk may help prevent gum disease and protect teeth. Credit: Istock photos

And the key ingredients—protein fragments known as peptides—come from cows’ milk.

The link between the peptides and gum disease was forged at the Melbourne Dental School node of the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre by Dr Elena Toh. “This could provide a cheap and simple way to help prevent gum disease,” she says. “And because the peptides are derived from milk, there should be no toxicity issues.”
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Preparing for the worst

Fire fighters should identify what are potentially the worst-case events and prepare for them, even if they are extremely unlikely to occur, says Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre psychology researcher Claire Johnson.

Preparing for the worst
Fire fighters need to be prepared for the worst that can happen. Credit: Queensland Fire and Rescue Service

“A failure to consider worst-case scenario possibilities has been implicated in a number of high-profile investigations into Australian bushfire disasters,” says Claire, who submitted her PhD thesis on worst-case scenario planning to La Trobe University in Melbourne in March this year.

For instance, the inquiries following the Canberra bushfires in 2003 and the Wangary fires on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula in 2006 both suggested lack of considering the worst contributed to an underestimation of the threat posed.
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