The neutron zone

The gift of a high-tech German neutron beam instrument is set to help Australian researchers develop new antibiotics, understand smart polymer coatings and create more efficient solar cells.

The Spatz neutron reflectometer uses a beam of neutrons generated in the Open Pool Australian Lightwater (OPAL) reactor in Sydney to reveal the structure of surfaces and interfaces such as cell membranes and multi-layered electronics.

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Improving carbon fibre production

Making higher quality carbon fibre will be easier thanks to infrared analysis being used at the Australian Synchrotron.

The tough fibre, which is 10 times stronger and five times lighter than steel, is made by heating a synthetic product called polyacrylonitrile (PAN) in temperatures up to 600°C.

Some aircraft, high performance cars and the new electric BMW i3 are partly made with it. But slow and costly manufacturing methods currently deter the mass use of carbon fibre in automotive and aeronautical industries.

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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.

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Sharing light and neutrons

Japanese researchers are coming to Australia for our neutron beams. It’s helping them continue their research following the shutdown of all Japanese research reactors in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. And it cements a friendship in beamline science that kickstarted Australian access to synchrotron light.

A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL. Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO
A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL.
Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO

“Japan’s leadership in electronics, advanced manufacturing and computing complements Australia’s leadership in agriculture, health and minerals,” says the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) Robert Robinson, who chaired an Australia Japan Neutron Science Workshop in 2013.
The collaboration is contributing to research into: hard magnets for electric cars; new high density plastics; superconducting cables for the ITER fusion reactor; and the structure of a range of biological molecules.

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Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Working together, researchers in Japan and Australia are getting better at predicting the areas most at risk from earthquakes.

They are also working together on ways to determine, within seconds of a warning, the scale and likely impact of an earthquake.
Rapid detection and warning systems combined with smart engineering saved many lives in the Great Japanese Earthquake of 2011. But the earthquake and the resulting tsunami were much bigger than geological modelling suggested. The reasons for that might be found in deep history.

Mapping the hazard

Big earthquakes may be separated by centuries or millennia. But earthquake hazard maps are based on information gathered since 1900 when modern seismographs came into use. It’s difficult to model events happening over millennia when you have not got deep historical information. Continue reading Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Using neutrons to show weak spots in turbines, railway lines and pipes

From pipes to power station turbines and railway lines, ensuring that engineering components perform under pressure can save lives.

By scattering neutrons from the OPAL research reactor across an object—such as a complex power station turbine—the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) can test the integrity and safety of metal components.

Anna Paradowska with Mehdi Soodi (Laser Manager from Hardchrome Engineering) setting up the turbine blade for neutron measurements. Credit: Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Anna Paradowska with Mehdi Soodi (Laser Manager from Hardchrome Engineering) setting up the turbine blade for neutron measurements. Credit: Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

This proactive approach to maintenance is helping to safeguard the power industry from millions of dollars in damage and potential loss of life or injury. For example, ANSTO is helping Hardchrome Engineering test their refurbished turbines and provide a subatomic ‘seal of approval’ for the safety of repairs undertaken.
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Providing the very stuff of protection

From keeping Australian troops safe from explosions, to ensuring military vehicles can maintain flexibility on damaged roads, the Armour Applications Program of the Defence Materials Technology Centre has pioneered high-performance materials.

Bushmaster army vehicles are keeping Australian troops safe. Credit: Australian Defence Department
Bushmaster army vehicles are keeping Australian troops safe. Credit: Australian Defence Department

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New light on storing energy

Solving the problem of how to store energy is essential for a future run on renewables.

That’s why promising materials for hydrogen fuel cells and high capacity, long-lived batteries are being explored at the atomic level by the Australian Synchrotron.

QUINFEN GU IS INVESTIGATING A NEW CLASS OF HYDROGEN STORAGE MATERIALS. CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO

Australian Synchrotron scientist Dr Qinfen Gu is investigating a new class of hydrogen storage materials being developed by scientists at the University of Wollongong and their international collaborators.Qinfen is using the powerful X-rays of the synchrotron to observe and analyse the structure of these materials. Continue reading New light on storing energy

Frog peptides versus superbugs

Neutrons and native frogs are an unlikely but dynamic duo in the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly known as superbugs, recent research has shown.

The growling grass frog’s skin secretions include disease fighting peptides. Credit: Craig Cleeland

The skin secretions of the Australian green-eyed and growling grass frogs contain peptides (small proteins) that help frogs fight infection. Researchers hope these peptides will offer a new line of defence against a range of human bacterial pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
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