Imaginary friends, real benefits

Credit: Marina Adinolfi
Credit: Marina Adinolfi

Children with imaginary friends are better at learning to communicate than those who do not have one, according to psychologist Dr Evan Kidd at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

In a study of 44 children, Evan and his colleague Anna Roby showed that the 22 children who had imaginary friends were able to get their points across more effectively when talking.

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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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Reading the Genome

Marnie Blewitt

The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne

Marnie Blewitt The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, MelbourneMarnie Blewitt wants to know how a human being is made: how does a single fertilised egg develop into an adult with millions of cells performing a myriad of different functions. It’s the hottest issue in genetics, and one that’s close to her right now as she is expecting her first child soon.

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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?

Crystallising a career in immunology

As a child, Natalie Borg tried to grow crystals. Two decades on, she is still growing crystals. But now she is analysing them with synchrotron light, to figure out how our bodies mount a rapid defence when we are attacked by viruses.

Natalie Borg at work in the lab. Photo credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo
Natalie Borg at work in the lab. Photo credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo

“The immune system is complex and is made up of many specialised types of cells and proteins. The key is to understand their function,” Natalie says.

To date, she’s been working as part of a successful team at Monash University. In 2007 her work on how our natural killer T cells recognise fats from invaders was published in Nature.

Now she’s setting up her own laboratory at Monash—a bold move but essential if her career is to grow. With the help of her L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship, she will study key steps in our body’s early warning system against viral attack.

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Unravelling the immune system

Erika Cretney is fascinated by the human immune system. “As we find out more about how it works, it seems to grow in complexity,” she says. “I’m not sure that we’ll ever know everything about it.”

Erika Cretney at work in the lab Photo, credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo
Erika Cretney at work in the lab Photo, credit: L’Oréal/SDP Photo

Her interest lies in ferreting out the function of genes, proteins and cell types in the immune system, and identifying the roles they play. And with the help of her L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship, she is pursuing a new target: a small group of T cells that play a role in controlling inflammation and auto-immune diseases.

The Fellowship will give her the freedom to promote her new field of study at international conferences and it will help with childcare costs as she balances a full-time research career with the needs of her young son. Continue reading Unravelling the immune system

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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