A Flinders University chemist is using Australia’s OPAL research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney to investigate ancient Aboriginal Australian society.
Using the technique called neutron activation analysis, Dr Rachel Popelka-Filcoff can “geochemically fingerprint” Aboriginal ochre pigments from different locations, archaeological sites and artefacts.
As the geochemical composition of ochre varies with location, she can correlate each sample with its site of origin, gaining information on cultural practices, travel and exchange patterns, and the relationship of Aboriginal people to the landscape. “Ochre pigments are highly significant in Aboriginal culture,” says Rachel. “Cultural expression often requires a specific pigment. Applying ochre to an object such as a spear can transform both its colour and its cultural meaning.”
Dr Roman Dronov, also from Flinders, is using the reactor to study the formation of bacterial protein layers. He is applying what he finds to constructing a new type of biosensor based on these layers and porous silicon. These highly sensitive devices can rapidly detect trace amounts of molecules, such as environmental poisons and markers of disease—a great improvement on traditional analytical methods.
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