Small devices to fight a big disease

Detection of dangerous water-borne pathogens will soon be much easier, thanks to advances using microfluidic systems developed at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN), the Victorian node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF).

A microfluidic wafer. Credit: MCN

Microfluidics deals with the control and manipulation of fluids in tiny, constrained volumes, in order to perform scientific tasks. The advantages in such systems centre around the cost and effort savings associated with miniaturisation and automation.
Continue reading Small devices to fight a big disease

A new art form from nanotech

Science and art have combined to bring hand-drawn content for holographic TV and other 3D display technologies a step closer, thanks to research at the Australian National Fabrication Facility’s NSW node (ANFF-NSW) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Paula Dawson’s work may help to deliver holographic TV and 3D display technologies – represented with an artist’s impression. Credit: Paul Henderson-Kelly

Unlike the traditional method of making a hologram—which involves reflecting a laser off a real object—the new technique simulates objects within computer software. In a recent test, a virtual, digital hologram file was produced and etched as a 3 mm-wide nanoscale pattern onto a glass plate using ANFF-NSW’s Electron Beam Lithography facility. When laser light was shone through the glass, a 3D hologram sprang into life.

Continue reading A new art form from nanotech

Micro muscles bend to the task

A breakthrough in the electroactive polymers used to make electrically controlled micro “artificial muscles” could be important for future drug delivery in the body, as well as a having a host of other applications.

A tiny micro "muscle" made of electroactive polymer layers will bend when an electrical potential difference is applied
A tiny micro ‘muscle’ made of electroactive polymer layers will bend when an electrical potential difference is applied. Credit: G. Alici et al.

The new research, conducted at the Australian National Fabrication Facility’s (ANFF) materials node at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in NSW has produced materials which, unlike earlier versions, do not need to be immersed in an electrolyte solution. They are self-sufficient and can even work in air. Continue reading Micro muscles bend to the task

Next generation packaging

Melbourne-based manufacturing company RMAX is working with CSIRO to make a sustainable, and biodegradable, version of a product involved in the life-cycle of many of the things we buy.

The prototype biodegradable polymer box (on the left) alongside a standard expanded polystyrene box. Credit: Gary Toikka, CSIRO
The prototype biodegradable polymer box (on the left) alongside a standard expanded polystyrene box. Credit: Gary Toikka, CSIRO

They hope to cut the environmental impact of the nine thousand tonnes of expanded polystyrene (EPS) that ends up in Australian landfill every year.
Continue reading Next generation packaging

Understanding the genetic contribution to epilepsy

Twenty years ago doctors thought epilepsy was caused by injuries or tumours but, thanks to the work of a Melbourne paediatrician, we now know that there’s a large genetic factor.

Ingrid Scheffer with one of her young patients Credit: SDP/ L’Oréal
Ingrid Scheffer with one of her young patients. Credit: SDP/ L’Oréal

Prof Ingrid Scheffer, a paediatric neurologist at the Florey Neuroscience Institutes and the University of Melbourne, has spent the last 20 years looking at the genetics of epilepsy, particularly in children.

We now know that genes play a large role and that’s opened the way to better diagnosis, treatment, counselling, and potential cures.

In particular, Ingrid’s team and her collaborators at the University of South Australia have discovered that one kind of inherited infant epilepsy is due to a single letter change in the genetic code.

Continue reading Understanding the genetic contribution to epilepsy

Planets

SUNSPOT LOOPS IN ULTRAVIOLET. CREDIT: NASA/TRACE.
SUNSPOT LOOPS IN ULTRAVIOLET. CREDIT: NASA/TRACE.

In May 1921, a massive burst of protons and electrons from the Sun, known as a coronal mass ejection, enveloped Earth. If that same event happened today, a recent report from the American National Academy of Science argued, it would take down one-third of the US power grid, causing an estimated $10 trillion damage to industry which would need up to a decade to repair.

So, the development by University of Sydney physicists Iver Cairns and Vasili Lobzin of the Automated Radio Burst Identification System (ARBIS) software—which can provide up to three days’ warning of such an event, allowing protective action to be taken—is significant.

Defending the Earth against solar attack

The program automatically samples chunks of data from the Learmonth (Western Australia) and Culgoora (northern New South Wales) Solar Observatories for the specific frequency patterns which herald particular types of solar bursts. When there are reasons for concern, the software automatically sends out warning emails to recipients all over the world.

ARBIS is the legacy of more than 60 years of listening to the radio emissions of the Sun, a field pioneered by Paul Wild, former chair of Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. Solar physics flowered in Australia during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, according to Paul Cally of Monash University, whose interests include studying the complex and ever-fluctuating magnetic fields around the Sun, and helioseismology, probing the internal structure of the Sun by analysing its electromagnetic vibrations.

“A lot of researchers are not aware of the significant historical role the study of the Sun has played in development of astronomy and astrophysics,” he says.

He notes that CSIRO will contribute the tuneable electromagnetic filter at the centre of the visible imager and magnetograph—an important instrument for probing the structure of the Sun— to be carried by the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, which is expected to be launched early in 2017.

PHOTO: SUNSPOT LOOPS IN ULTRAVIOLET. CREDIT: NASA/TRACE.

School of Physics, University of Sydney
Professor Iver Cairns, Tel: +61 (2) 9351 3961, cairns@physics.usyd.edu.au, www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~cairns/

School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University
Professor Paul Cally, Tel: +61 (3) 9905 4471, Paul.Cally@monash.edu, web.maths.monash.edu.au/~cally/

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An amateur crashes onto the scene

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

Managing a data mountain

The world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is expected to generate more data in a single day than the world does in a year at present. And even its prototype, CSIRO’s ASKAP, is expected to accumulate more information within six hours of being switched on than all previous radio telescopes combined.

Such gargantuan streams of data require serious management, and that will be one of the jobs of the $80 million iVEC Pawsey Centre in Perth, which is due to be completed in 2013.

The planned Pawsey High-Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science in Perth (photo credit: Woodhead/CSIRO)

Continue reading Managing a data mountain

Tracing cosmic rays from radio pulses

‘THE DISH’ AT PARKES. CREDIT: SETH SHOSTAK
‘THE DISH’ AT PARKES. CREDIT: SETH SHOSTAK

The energy of ultra-high energy (UHE) cosmic rays that strike the Earth’s atmosphere make the energy produced from particle collisions by the Large Hadron Collider look puny. A team based in South Australia is now developing the techniques and technology to find out where such energetic particles could possibly originate. They ultimately hope to use the proposed SKA telescope to conduct their search.

“We think some cosmic rays are produced in the remnants of supernovae—exploding stars—but where the most energetic ones come from, that’s a mystery,” says Justin Bray, a PhD student hunting for their source as part of the LUNASKA (Lunar Ultra-high-energy Neutrino Astrophysics using SKA) project led by Ray Protheroe at the University of Adelaide and Ron Ekers at CSIRO. Continue reading Tracing cosmic rays from radio pulses