The ‘coolest’ place for astronomy

High on the Antarctic Plateau, in one of the coldest places on Earth, a group of telescopes are peering through stellar dust clouds into the heart of our galaxy.

The cold helps counteract interference from the telescopes and surrounding equipment, which can hinder our ability to see relatively
‘cool’ objects in space, such as asteroids, young stars, and interstellar gas.

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Compound interest

What happens when disaster builds on disaster

Climate change will bring hotter weather and rising seas, but what it means for natural disasters such as floods and fires is less clear.

Part of the difficulty is that such catastrophes are often “compound events” in which multiple factors combine to wreak havoc.

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Studying heart development one cell at a time

Examining how individual heart cells develop is revealing how the cells make decisions to form a working heart.

Once an adult heart is damaged, it has no ability to heal itself. Dr Nathan Palpant at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland and Associate Professor Joseph Powell at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the University of New South Wales are trying to understand how that might be changed by tracking individual stem cells along their journey to becoming heart cells.

“Heart development is a difficult and complicated process, but we think the answers to heart repair are likely to lie in understanding heart development,” Nathan says. “So we are using stem cells to model development as it occurs in our bodies.” Continue reading Studying heart development one cell at a time

Clearing corneas and restoring vision

The eye’s cornea depends on stem cells to help maintain transparency. If disease or trauma deplete stem cell reservoirs, a rapid and painful loss of vision soon follows.

Professor Stephanie Watson and Professor Nick Di Girolamo have used stem cells to repair their patients’ vision. It’s the culmination of a 15-year collaboration to restore sight in Australians with corneal disease.

Stephanie is an international leader in research and innovation with the University of Sydney and is also a practising corneal surgeon. She met Nick as an early career scientist through a research group at the University of New South Wales and they discovered their shared interest. Nick is now a Director with the School of Medical Sciences at UNSW. Continue reading Clearing corneas and restoring vision

Stories of French-Australian Innovation

Changing lives together: from water to astronomy to cancer, this collection showcases outstanding collaborations between French and Australian researchers.

Scientific collaboration between Australia and France stretches back to the early days of European settlement, when La Pérouse built an observatory at Botany Bay in 1788.

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Quantum computing in silicon

A French-Australian collaboration is setting out to make silicon quantum computing a practical reality.

“I’m excited by our technology because it has the potential to change the world,” says Professor Andrew Dzurak of the University of New South Wales, the quantum computing expert who leads the Australian side of the partnership.

Andrew and his colleagues hope that their work will enable computing capabilities that are out of reach today and perhaps also result in the first universal quantum computer. Continue reading Quantum computing in silicon

Fuel for the future

Cooking with a hydrogen-powered barbeque

The need to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy technologies is becoming more urgent, and Australia’s trading partners are demanding low-emission energy sources.

Electricity production from renewables can be variable, and any excess electricity must be stored for use on days with less wind or sun. Battery systems are used for storage, but they have limitations.

An alternative is to store energy in the form of hydrogen.

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Balloons over the Red Centre

A perfect view of the Milky Way

On a series of calm, cool mornings in April 2017, 70 French scientists (from the French space science agency CNES, CNRS IRAP, and the Université Paul Sabatier de Toulouse) launched three enormous balloons into the sky above the heart of Australia.

CNES was using the Alice Springs Balloon Launching Centre (ASBLS) to send three precision scientific instruments up to altitudes of 30–40 kilometres to make observations that are impossible from the ground.

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Hypersonic travel

Brussels to Sydney in less than three hours

A passenger jet could one day fly halfway around the world in just a few hours. That’s the goal of the HEXAFLY project (High-speed Experimental FLY): going beyond the supersonic realm pioneered by the now-defunct Concorde to reach hypersonic speeds more than five times as fast as sound.

Led by the European Space Agency, the project has now brought on international collaborators to prepare for an early stage test flight planned for 2020.

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The shape of a perfect storm: saving lives by predicting firestorms

Correction: an earlier version stated the tool is being formally trialed by the NSW Rural Fire Service. It is currently in use, but formal trials ended in 2016.

Firestorms are a nightmare for emergency services and anyone in their path. They occur when a bushfire meets a ‘perfect storm’ of environmental conditions and creates a thunderstorm.

Dr Rachel Badlan and Associate Professor Jason Sharples are part of a team of experts from UNSW Canberra and ACT Emergency Services that has found the shape of a fire is an important factor in whether it will turn into a firestorm.

Fires that form expansive areas of active flame, rather than spreading as a relatively thin fire-front, are more likely to produce higher smoke plumes and turn into firestorms, the researchers found.

This finding is being used to underpin further development of a predictive model for firestorms. The model was trialed in the 2015 and 2016 fire seasons by the ACT Emergency Services Agency and the NSW Rural Fire Service, and now forms part of the national dialogue around extreme bushfire development.  

Continue reading The shape of a perfect storm: saving lives by predicting firestorms