Mundane passion anchors $20 billion industry

An engineer has credited a passion for the mundane as the driving force behind his geotechnical solutions that have influenced nearly all the oil and gas developments in north-west Western Australia.

Mark Randolph is providing engineering solutions to support offshore oil rigs.

The industry is expanding rapidly to meet the demand for natural gas in the growing Asian economies. Mark Randolph has contributed to anchoring the essential infrastructure as the industry moves offshore and into deep waters. He provides the analysis and design of piled foundations and solutions for offshore foundations, anchoring systems and pipelines.

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Tracking the spread of deadly diseases

Dr Kathryn (Kat) Holt, Bio21 Institute, The University of Melbourne

Kathryn-Holt-700x500-2Kat Holt is using genetics, maths and supercomputers to study the whole genome of deadly bacteria and work out how they spread. Studying a typhoid epidemic in Kathmandu, she found that it didn’t spread in the way we thought epidemics did. Her research, published in Nature Genetics, will change how we go about responding to epidemics.

With the support of her L’Oréal For Women in Science Fellowship, Kat will be using the same techniques to understand how antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread in Melbourne hospitals. Are people catching these superbugs in hospital, or are they bringing the bugs into hospital with them? Can we give the intensive care clinicians early warning of a drug-resistant bacteria in their patients?

Kathryn (Kat) has been a pioneer ever since she became the first student at the University of Western Australia to undertake an honours year in the then-fledgling area of bioinformatics.

Kat ventured across the Nullarbor to the other side of Australia—to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne—where she sought advice from bioinformatics guru Prof Terry Speed. As a result, she ended up as a doctoral student at the world renowned Sanger Institute at the University of Cambridge, one of the homes of the human genome project.
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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

Putting Einstein to the ultimate test

CSIRO’s Parkes telescope records pulsar signals to try to detect gravitational waves. Credit: David McClenaghan / CSIRO

Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts them, and they could be scattered throughout the Universe. But so far, gravitational waves— ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space and time—have never been detected. Several Australian teams of astronomers are trying to catch the first signs of one.

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Nurturing super astronomers at home

SUPER SCIENCE FELLOW DR JAMES ALLISON AT NARRABRI DURING AN OBSERVING RUN AT THE AUSTRALIA TELESCOPE COMPACT ARRAY. CREDIT: ANANT TANNA.
SUPER SCIENCE FELLOW DR JAMES ALLISON AT NARRABRI DURING AN OBSERVING RUN AT THE AUSTRALIA TELESCOPE COMPACT ARRAY. CREDIT: ANANT TANNA.

Advanced telescopes need advanced astronomers to run them. Australia is matching the millions of dollars it is investing in new telescope technology with funds to help train the rising stars of Australian astronomy.

“We’ve had big investments in infrastructure, and now we need young scientists with the expertise to use them,” says Elaine Sadler, professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney and chair of the National Committee for Astronomy.

One new tranche of research funding for early career astronomers comes in the form of three-year Super Science Fellowships from the Commonwealth Government. In 2011, 14 young astronomers became Super Science Fellows, joining the 17 who started work in 2010. All up, astronomy will receive one-third of the Federal Government’s $27 million commitment to the Fellowships program. Continue reading Nurturing super astronomers at home

The destruction of a star

THE ZADKO TELESCOPE MAKING OBSERVATIONS NEAR GINGIN, 70 KILOMETRES NORTH OF PERTH. CREDIT: JOHN GOLDSMITH/CELESTIAL VISIONS.
THE ZADKO TELESCOPE MAKING OBSERVATIONS NEAR GINGIN, 70 KILOMETRES NORTH OF PERTH. CREDIT: JOHN GOLDSMITH/CELESTIAL VISIONS.

You have to be well prepared, quick and lucky to take a picture of an explosion, especially if that explosion occurred 11 billion years ago in a remote part of the Universe. Having the right equipment, plus friends in high places, certainly helps. And that’s exactly what the Zadko Telescope—managed by the University of Western Australia at the Gingin Observatory about 70 kilometres north of Perth—does have.

In December 2008, just after it was installed, the telescope was first on the scene to record for future analysis the afterglow of a momentous event—a huge explosion as a star collapsed into a black hole releasing a massive gamma-ray burst. It’s the kind of happening the one-metre Zadko Telescope, currently the largest optical telescope in Western Australia, was built to observe. And it performed flawlessly, outpacing the world’s most powerful telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

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Australian scientists elected to Royal Society

Four of Australia’s most accomplished scientists have been elected to the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, the Royal Society of London.

PROF IAN FRAZER LAUNCHES THE CERVICAL CANCER VACCINE GARDASIL. CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND

Prof Ian Frazer, Prof Alan Cowman, Prof Mark Randolph and Dr Patrick Tam join 40 other scientists to be elected to the Royal Society in 2011, which celebrated its 350th anniversary last year.

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Fresh Science 2010

Each year we identify early-career scientists with a discovery and bring them to Melbourne for a communication boot camp. Here are some of their stories.

More at www.freshscience.org.au

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens
Jacek Jasieniak sprinkling quantum dots. Credit: Jacek Jasieniak

Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.

Cling wrap captures CO2
Colin Scholes operates a test rig for his carbon capture membrane. Credit: CO2 CRC

Cling wrap captures CO2

High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”

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