Clean water with crystals

Dr Cara Doherty, materials scientist, CSIRO, Melbourne

Dr Cara Doherty (credit: L’Oréal Australia) Cara Doherty is developing new technologies that could transform water filters, batteries and medical sensors, and clean up carbon emissions. And it all comes down to holes and surface area.

She has a vision for a new manufacturing industry for Australia. She works with crystals that are packed with… nothing. They’re highly porous sponges—down to a molecular level—and can be customised to absorb almost any molecule.

These crystals are metal–organic frameworks (MOFs). They can be challenging to make. And it’s also difficult to determine which crystal will be good for which job. But it’s even harder to deploy the crystals—to put them in the right place to do useful work.

Cara uses antimatter (positrons) and synchrotron light (X-rays) to measure the crystals and their properties. Then she uses her patented technique to imprint useful shapes for devices.

With the help of her L’Oréal For Women in Science Fellowship she will investigate how to take the next step: to develop the 3D structures that would be needed for a smart water filter.

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Regular source of ocean data now underway

More than 50 different environmental measures routinely collected by Australia’s national ocean research vessels—including sea surface temperature, dissolved oxygen concentration, and salinity—can now be accessed online almost as they are recorded.

The Marine National Facility vessel Southern Surveyor, one of Australia’s scientific research ships. Credit: CSIRO
The data is incorporated, often automatically, into predictive meteorological and ocean models, improving their accuracy.  “So we end up with an improved representation not only of the weather but of processes like large scale ocean circulation or the state of the seas during tropical cyclones,” says Dr Roger Proctor, director of the e-Marine Information Infrastructure Facility of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System.

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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.


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

Changing the world one molecule at a time

Many plastics and polymers—including paints, glues and lubricants—will be transformed in the coming years by the work of Australian chemists, Professors David Solomon and Ezio Rizzardo.

David Solomon (left) and Ezio Rizzardo (right) with Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Irene Dowdy

Their work is integral to more than 500 patents and their techniques are used in the labs and factories of DuPont, L’Oréal, IBM, 3M, Dulux and more than 60 other companies.

Eventually, the pair’s chemical theories and processes will influence hundreds of products.

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Fibre optics: from cables to colon health

A new fibre optic medical tool is revolutionising our understanding of serious but socially embarrassing digestive illnesses, such as constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome. Thanks to this device, medical scientists can see for the first time the coordinated, fine and complex muscular activity of the human digestive system in action.


CSIRO optical physicist Dr John Arkwright, together with Dr Philip Dinning, of Flinders University, collected a 2011 Eureka Prize for their creation of the fibre optic catheter, which gleans information about digestive function by measuring pressure.
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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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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,,

Tracking lithium for better batteries

Imagine a mobile phone, gaming gadget or laptop with a battery that never needs replacing, or electric cars powered by batteries that are as fast to recharge as it is to refill your car with petrol.

Neeraj Sharma prepares a sample battery in the glove box. Credit: ANSTO
Neeraj Sharma prepares a sample battery in the glove box. Credit: ANSTO

Researchers at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) are unlocking the secret inner workings of lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries to develop better, safer portable power.
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Star-shaped polymers boost engine performance

New lubricants containing star-shaped polymers have hit the market, thanks to Australian polymer technology. Lubrizol Corporation has launched the first commercial products developed using CSIRO’s Reversible Addition Fragmentation chain Transfer (RAFT) polymer synthesis process.

Asteric ™ Viscosity Modifiers are tailor-made star-shaped polymers made possible by RAFT Credit: Lubrizol
Asteric ™ Viscosity Modifiers are tailor-made star-shaped polymers made possible by RAFT Credit: Lubrizol

CSIRO chemist Dr Ezio Rizzardo says the RAFT process allows much greater flexibility and potential for polymer synthesis, compared with conventional methods. “Conventional polymerisation is a relatively simple process with two ingredients: large amounts of monomer and a small amount of an initiating agent. You apply heat; a chain reaction starts and runs to completion, making polymer chains that can have widely varying lengths.”
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Telescope of tiles

No moving parts – a new kind of radio telescope
The Murchison Widefield Array is a telescope with no moving parts. Credit: David Herne, ICRAR

Far outback in Western Australia, 32 tiles—flat, stationary sensors—each carrying 16 dipole antennas have begun collecting scientific data.

These first tiles will ultimately form part of a much bigger array of 512 tiles, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA)—Australia’s second Square Kilometre Array (SKA) demonstrator project. Like CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), the MWA is being built at the remote, radio-quiet Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO). Continue reading Telescope of tiles