Terry Speed doesn’t expect to see headlines reading “Statistician cures cancer” any time soon. But he knows that maths and stats can help researchers understand the underlying causes of cancer and reduce the need for surgery.
A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads. But he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help them cope with the genetic revolution.
Until recently, everyone thought that the biologically active candidates for new drugs would mainly be found in high-biodiversity tropical forests.
People have speculated about the potential of quantum computers for decades—how they would make child’s play of constructing and testing new drugs, searching through huge amounts of data and ensuring security of information.
This scenario may be coming true in a high-tech basement at the University of New South Wales.
Each year in early July, when its 700 students are on holiday, Townsville State High School becomes the headquarters for a V8 Supercars race.
But before and after the race, Sarah Chapman’s Year 11 science students are hard at work, slopping their way through the nearby mangroves and wading into the neighbouring estuary. The data they collect is then used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to manage the impact of the race on local estuaries. “The students are really taken by the idea that they are finding out things nobody else knows,” Sarah says.
While researching the performance of the optical fibres that are the backbone of telecommunications and the internet, Tanya Monro realised that they could do much more.
She’s invented a new class of hollow or holey fibres using soft glass, which have thousands of applications as sensors: detecting metal fatigue in aircraft wings and other structures; monitoring contamination in water supplies; and a smart bung that monitors wine development while it’s still in the barrel.
James Whisstock and his Monash University colleagues have uncovered how the bacterium Helicobacter pylori sticks to the stomach lining, where it can cause ulcers and sometimes cancer.
The role of Helicobacter in causing gastric ulcers was originally discovered by Australian Nobel Laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren.
The recent work by James and his team was performed using the Australian Synchrotron and showed how the Helicobacter pylori protein SabA interacts with sugars present on the cells that line the stomach.