US-Australia collaboration: partners in innovation, transforming lives and economies together

Partners in innovation

In 2017 Science in Public produced a series of factsheets for the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, to highlight some of the US-Australia innovations transforming both countries.

You can view the factsheets online by clicking on the links below or by downloading the individual PDF files.

  1. Protecting our crops—partners in food security (Download PDF)
  2. Protecting phones, robots and governments—partners in cybersecurity  (Download PDF)
  3.  From the ocean floor to batteries—partners in energy (Download PDF)
  4. Cars, planes…partners in advanced manufacturing (Download PDF)
  5. Eyes, hearts, bionic spines—partners in new health technologies (Download PDF)
  6. Healthier trucks and clean air underground—partners in mining technologies (Download PDF)

Transforming lives and economies together

Cochlear implant pioneer Professor Graeme Clark with recipient Credit: Cochlear Limited
Cochlear implant pioneer Professor Graeme Clark with recipient. Credit: Cochlear Limited

The United States is the world’s undisputed innovation leader, but Australian ingenuity is helping to meet America’s biggest challenges and improve the lives of its citizens every day.

  • Across America, deaf children are hearing for the first time thanks to a cochlear implant or bionic ear invented and manufactured in Australia.
  • Young women have access to vaccines that prevent cervical cancer, because of the work of Australian medical researchers at the University of Queensland.
  • America’s largest warships use Nulka for missile defence. It’s a little Aussie rocket that pretends it’s a ship.
  • In Pittsburgh, they’re making an ‘ultra-battery’ for storage of renewable energy, developed at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. The technology will also be used in hybrid cars.
  • Texan cotton farmers are growing crops that use less water, less pesticide and produce better cotton, with the help of CSIRO-derived plant varieties.
  • In Nebraska, Cold War technology, adapted by Australian mining company BHP Billiton, is being used to find rare earth mineral deposits from the air.
  • In Hawaii, one of the world’s largest optical telescopes uses an instrument built at ANU to analyze infrared light.
  • And millions of people are connecting to the internet wirelessly, thanks to discoveries by CSIRO astronomer-engineers.

In February 2011, Australia and America’s science leaders met in Washington DC to explore  closer science collaboration.

Science in Public produced a series of factsheets for the Australian Government showcasing some of the successes of past and present US-Australian collaboration in science, and signaling future collaboration.

You can view the factsheets online by clicking on the links below or by downloading the individual PDF files. To download all the factsheets as one PDF click here.

  1. Overview: Innovation today means jobs and prosperity tomorrow. (Download PDF)
  2. Delivering sustainable agriculture and biosecurity. (Download PDF)
  3. Slivers of sun: clean energy and smarter mining. (Download PDF)
  4. Science collaboration improves health. (Download PDF)
  5. Understanding and responding to changing climate. (Download PDF)
  6. Traveling at Mach 5: Defense and materials science in action. (Download PDF)
  7. Searching the southern sky, and unchaining the internet. (Download PDF)
  8. The Australian science and technology system. (Download PDF)

Slivers of sun: clean energy and smarter mining

Klaus Weber (left) and Andrew Blakers (right) inventors of sliver solar cells. Credit: ANU
Klaus Weber (left) and Andrew Blakers (right) inventors of sliver solar cells. Credit: ANU

Australia’s investments in energy and resource research are helping the world go green, and creating jobs in America’s heartlands.

The world’s largest manufacturer of photovoltaic cells depends on Australian technology, and US companies are working on turning Australian ideas into practical electric cars and sustainable plant-based fuels.

Over the last 20 years Australia has been able to meet the rapidly growing demand for minerals and energy in China, India and other Asian countries through a culture of innovation that has over the past 150 years changed the very shape of mining.

Two recent innovations—one sourced from US military technology—are assisting in the search for new mineral and energy reserves in America and across the world.

Slivers of the Sun

Australia and the US have a long history as world leaders in solar research. In fact, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Emcore Corporation in New Mexico have created the world’s most efficient solar cell combination. And the world’s largest photovoltaic cell manufacturer, Suntech Power of China, as well as companies in Europe, use Australian technology to develop their businesses.

Now, the new technologies are creating jobs in America. In June 2010, Transform Solar—a joint venture between US company Micron Technology and Australia’s Origin Energy—announced it will reopen a plant in Boise, Idaho to make efficient, new, sliver solar cells. As a consequence, the city looks like regaining many of the 3,000 jobs it lost when the factory closed.

Sliver cells were invented at the Australian National University (ANU) by Dr Klaus Weber and Professor Andrew Blakers. A single flat wafer of silicon is cut vertically into thousands of slivers. These are rotated 90 degrees and laid side by side to create a solar cell. The much larger and thinner active surface generates current on both sides, and the result is more power for about the same cost.

UltraBattery drives cars further

Ultrabattery at work. Credit: CSIRO
Ultrabattery at work. Credit: CSIRO

The UltraBattery, invented by CSIRO and launched in 2008, has brought the conventional car battery into the era of low-emission transport and renewable energy storage. By combining lead-acid technology with a supercapacitor, the UltraBattery not only charges and discharges rapidly, but lasts four to five times longer than an ordinary battery.

It also costs about 70 per cent less to produce than the nickel-metal hydride batteries normally used in electric vehicles. These properties, while especially useful for electric vehicles with regenerative braking, also are excellent for capturing and storing electricity produced from intermittent renewable sources, such as solar and wind power. In 2009, as part of a package to accelerate the production of advanced battery technology for electric and hybrid vehicles, the East Penn Manufacturing Company was awarded US$32.5 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to produce the UltraBattery.

Growing aircraft fuels

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing and California biotech company Amyris have joined the Queensland Government, the University of Queensland, the airline Virgin Blue, and several other companies in exploring the possibilities of producing aviation fuel sustainably using green algae. The project is based on the work of Associate Professor Ben Hankamer from the University of Queensland’s Institute of Molecular Bioscience and his team, who have had great success in improving the efficiency of the process.

At the Queensland University of Technology, Syngenta Biotechnology Inc of North Carolina and Australian company Farmacule are using molecular technologies to develop efficient ways of producing the transport fuel and chemical feedstock bioethanol from the sugarcane residue known as ‘bagasse’. The process is complicated and involves employing a string of enzymes to break down cellulose. But if the researchers get it right, the applications will extend to plant resources far beyond the waste generated by the sugar industry.

Finding tomorrow’s mines from the air

Tucson copper mine. Credit: istockphoto
Tucson copper mine. Credit: istockphoto

In the 1990s, Australian resources company BHP recognized that a sensor that measured minute changes in gravity, and hence density of the Earth below, might be useful as a means of discovering potential ore bodies in remote areas.

In 1999, BHP obtained a license to adapt to mineral exploration technology that originally had been developed by Lockheed Martin for the US Navy to help submarines avoid seamounts. The airborne sensor, which BHP named Falcon, has been responsible for discovering new diamond pipes in northwest Canada, and has assisted in detecting iron, copper, gold and coal deposits elsewhere.

Magnetic squid

Another Australian technology already out in the marketplace makes use of superconducting quantum interference device or SQUID technology that can detect extremely small magnetic fields. Known as LANDTEM and developed by CSIRO, the sensor, a high-temperature superconductor that must be stored in liquid nitrogen, is sensitive enough to detect the difference between an ore body and overburden. In less than 10 years the technology, which cost just AU$4 million to develop, has been directly responsible for helping to unearth about AU$6 billion worth of previously undiscovered ore bodies.

Mining with bubbles

In the 19th century, miners at Broken Hill in far western New South Wales pioneered the use of bubbles to separate minerals from their ores. This ubiquitous technology was modernized in the 1980s with the creation of the Jameson Cell by Dr Graeme Jameson at the University of Newcastle and Mount Isa Mines. The Vigo and A.T. Massey coal companies in Indiana and West Virginia respectively are among hundreds of mines worldwide now using this system marketed by Xstrata Technologies.

Making virtual minerals

Researchers at the University of Sydney led by Professor Dietmar Müller are collaborating with colleagues at Caltech, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Hawaii to develop a Virtual Geological Observatory. The facility will store data on rocks, processes and movements over geological time and use this information to simulate mineral formation. In future, this technology will help in the detection of mineral deposits underground.

New extraction technologies

Once a new mineral deposit has been found, the next challenge is to determine which minerals you can extract and at what cost. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has for the past 30 years been helping mining companies assess and develop processes for uranium ores, extract rare earth metals, and remove radioactivity from ores. This work has contributed to mining projects around the world, including the US.

Mopping up gases

Dr Deanna D’alessandro. Credit: L’oreal/SDP media
Dr Deanna D’alessandro. Credit: L’oreal/SDP media

A bright young researcher in the area of carbon capture is Australian chemist Dr Deanna D’Alessandro. Dr D’Alessandro, who has returned to the University of Sydney as a postdoctoral research fellow after a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, has constructed crystals full of minute pores. One teaspoon of the most effective of her chemicals has the surface area of a football field. What’s more, the size and shape of the pores can be customized using light. So, she believes she can create molecular sponges that will mop up carbon dioxide, hydrogen, or almost any gas, and then release it on cue.

This is an part of a series of eight factsheets exploring US-Australian collaboration and outlining some of the ways that Australian science is contributing to America’s society and economy. You can download all of the factsheets as one PDF here.

  1. Overview: Innovation today means jobs and prosperity tomorrow. (Download PDF)
  2. Delivering sustainable agriculture and biosecurity. (Download PDF)
  3. Slivers of sun: clean energy and smarter mining. (Download PDF)
  4. Science collaboration improves health. (Download PDF)
  5. Understanding and responding to changing climate. (Download PDF)
  6. Traveling at Mach 5: Defense and materials science in action. (Download PDF)
  7. Searching the southern sky, and unchaining the internet. (Download PDF)
  8. The Australian science and technology system. (Download PDF)

Innovation today means jobs and prosperity tomorrow

Astronomer Naomi McClure Griffiths at Parkes. Credit: CSIRO
Astronomer Naomi McClure Griffiths at Parkes. Credit: CSIRO
  • A factory in Boise, Idaho, is re-opening to make a new kind of solar cell invented at the Australian National University (ANU).
  • In Pittsburgh, they’re already making an ‘ultra-battery’ for storage of renewable energy, developed at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. The technology will also be used in hybrid cars.
  • Texan cotton farmers are growing crops that use less water, less pesticide and produce better cotton, with the help of CSIRO-derived plant varieties.
  • In Nebraska, Cold War technology, adapted by Australian mining company BHP Billiton, is being used to find rare earth mineral deposits from the air.
  • In Hawaii, one of the world’s largest optical telescopes uses an instrument built at ANU to analyze infrared light.
  • Across America, deaf children are hearing for the first time thanks to a cochlear implant or bionic ear invented and manufactured in Australia.
  • Young women have access to vaccines that prevent cervical cancer, because of the work of an Australian medical researcher at the University of Queensland.
  • And millions of people are connecting to the internet wirelessly, thanks to discoveries by CSIRO astronomer-engineers.

These are just a few examples of the way Australian and US science and innovation are working together to build a healthier, sustainable and more connected future for the people of both nations.

“Australia and America’s shared vision of growth through innovation has in the past led to developments from the Nulka hovering decoy rocket which protects ships against incoming missiles, to improvements in IVF technology. It can generate not only jobs, but a better future for both countries.”

Continue reading Innovation today means jobs and prosperity tomorrow

Researcher to fight insects with spider venom

An Australian researcher is working on environmentally friendly insect control methods based on spider venom compounds.

Professor Glenn King recently joined The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, where he will further develop his pioneering approach to insecticide discovery.

Continue reading Researcher to fight insects with spider venom

Whiplash: who won’t get better?

MRI scan showing fat infiltration into neck muscle. Credit: James Elliot, University of Queensland
MRI scan showing fat infiltration into neck muscle. Credit: James Elliot, University of Queensland

Most people recover from whiplash injuries within the first few months. However, some people have long term pain—lasting months or years. Until now there has been no way of diagnosing these more severe cases.

New research suggests that fat deposits in the neck muscles are the key.

“We’ve found that people with long term injury have large amounts of fat infiltration in their neck muscles,” says Dr James Elliott from the University of Queensland (and former US professional baseball player). “Something is causing that difference, and it isn’t their body weight,” he says.

Algae that make biofuels and hydrogen

IMB_Ben_with_algaeAn Australian researcher is leading an international team of scientists developing a clean source of energy from microalgae. The team have developed one algae that not only makes oil for biodiesel production but also generates hydrogen. Commercial hydrogen production uses fossil fuels and produces carbon dioxide.

Continue reading Algae that make biofuels and hydrogen

Tiny particles could assist in breast cancer screening

These optically barcoded nanoparticles could transform cancer diagnosis.
These optically barcoded nanoparticles could transform cancer diagnosis.

Blood tests using nanoparticles carrying molecules which can detect breast cancer biomarkers could save millions of lives and open the way to mass screening for many cancers.

Prof. Matt Trau, of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland, and his team are using a combination of nanotechnology and molecular biology in the project, funded by a five-year $5 million grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Continue reading Tiny particles could assist in breast cancer screening

L’Oréal Fellow looking for dark energy

Tamara Davis is looking for dark energy. Credit: timothyburgess.net
Tamara Davis is looking for dark energy. Credit: timothyburgess.net

In 1998 astronomers made an astonishing discovery—the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. The discovery required a complete rethink of the standard model used to explain how the Universe works.

“Now we know that stars, planets, galaxies and all that we can see make up just four per cent of the Universe,” says Dr Tamara Davis, a University of Queensland astrophysicist.

“About 23 per cent is dark matter. The balance is thought to be dark energy, which we know very little about.”

Continue reading L’Oréal Fellow looking for dark energy

On the hunt for dark energy

Tamara Davis

University of Queensland / University of Copenhagen

In 1998 astronomers made an astonishing discovery-the expansion of the Universe is not happening at a steady rate, nor is it slowing down toward eventual collapse. Instead, it is accelerating. The discovery required a complete rethink of the standard model used to explain how the Universe works.

Tamara Davis, University of Queensland / University of Copenhagen (Photo credit: timothyburgess.net)

“Now we know that stars, planets, galaxies and all that we can see make up just four per cent of the Universe,” says Tamara Davis, a University of Queensland astrophysicist.

“About 23 per cent is dark matter. The balance is thought to be dark energy, which we know very little about.”

Continue reading On the hunt for dark energy