Two million containers—but how many pests?

Balancing the risks and benefits of trade and pests.
Balancing the risks and benefits of trade and pests.

Every visitor to Australia quickly learns that we take quarantine seriously. Our country is free of many pests, weeds and diseases that are widespread overseas. Our relative disease-freedom is good news for our people, for agriculture and for the environment.

Visitors’ luggage is screened at the airports. But what about the two million shipping containers that enter Australia each year? How do we strike a balance between open trade and quarantine?

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Breast reconstruction using your own cells

A new approach to breast reconstruction
A new approach to breast reconstruction

Researchers in Melbourne will trial a new procedure to reconstruct breasts in patients following mastectomy. The procedure will use the women’s own stem cells instead of silicon.

Focusing on the treatment and recovery of women with breast cancer, the new technique known as Neopec involves the insertion of a customised biodegradable chamber which is contoured to match the woman’s natural breast shape. The chamber acts as a scaffold within which the woman’s own stem cells are used to grow permanent breast fat tissue.

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From bionic ear to bionic eye

An example of the microchip that will be inserted into retinas to help restore sight. Credit: NICTA
An example of the microchip that will be inserted into retinas to help restore sight. Credit: NICTA

Melbourne scientists gave Australia the first practical bionic ear. Today, over 180,000 people hear with the help of the cochlear implant.

Now, The University of Melbourne is a key member in an Australian consortium developing an advanced bionic eye that will restore vision to people with severe vision loss. This device will enable unprecedented high resolution images to be seen by thousands of people with severely diminished sight, allowing them to read large print and recognise faces.

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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.

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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?

New ways of looking at old diseases: An African sojourn confirms a vocation in sexual health

When Catriona Bradshaw volunteered as a visiting medical officer in sexual health and HIV medicine at an African hospital, it was a turning point that confirmed her career choice – in sexual health.

Catriona Bradshaw, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Sam D'Agostino
Catriona Bradshaw, Photo credit: SDP Photo, Sam D’Agostino

Now, with the help of her L’ORÉAL Australia For Women In Science Fellowship, Bradshaw plans to clear up confusion about a common genital infection of women – bacterial vaginosis.

She suspects that bacterial vaginosis may be sexually transmitted. By studying the spread of the disease in young women she plans to determine if this is the case.

She hopes that her work will lead to improved treatment regimes – benefiting women in the West and in developing countries.

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