Toxic algal blooms can now be detected up to two weeks before they become a serious health hazard, thanks to an early warning system developed through an Australian university-industry partnership. Continue reading Aussie kit detecting threat of toxic algal blooms
An inexpensive, environmentally friendly alternative to a toxic coating currently used in Australian naval helicopters has been developed at Monash University in collaboration with CAST Cooperative Research Centre in Melbourne.
The magnesium alloy used to house the gearbox of Royal Australian Navy SeaHawk helicopters is prone to severe corrosion in marine environments, costing millions of dollars in maintenance every year. To protect the alloy from corrosion, it is covered with a chrome-based coating that is toxic to humans and the environment.
Physicist Dr Amanda Barnard has been using supercomputers to find the balance between sun protection and potential toxicity in a new generation of sunscreens which employ nanoparticles.
The metal oxide nanoparticles which block solar radiation are so small they cannot be seen, so the sunscreen appears transparent. But if the particles are too small, they can produce toxic levels of free radicals.
Amanda, who heads CSIRO’s Virtual Nanoscience Laboratory, has been able to come up with a trade-off—the optimum size of particle to provide maximum UV protection for minimal toxicity while maintaining transparency—by modelling the relevant interactions on a supercomputer.
Continue reading Saving our skins
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.
Continue reading OPAL reactor fingerprints Aboriginal ochre
Seabirds on one of Australia’s remotest islands have plastic in their stomachs.
A recent survey found more than 95 per cent of the migratory flesh-footed shearwaters nesting on Lord Howe Island, between Australia and the northern tip of New Zealand, had swallowed plastic garbage.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, plastic has been shown to bind poisonous pollutants. As a result, some shearwaters were found with concentrations of mercury more than 7,000 times the level considered toxic.
Only six of more than 200 nests visited contained chicks. The overall population is plummeting.
Continue reading Plastic not fantastic for seabirds
An Australian researcher is working on environmentally friendly insect control methods based on spider venom compounds.
Professor Glenn King recently joined The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, where he will further develop his pioneering approach to insecticide discovery.
Diseases such as leptospirosis, fowl cholera, bovine respiratory diseases or footrot in sheep have devastating impacts on livestock industries worldwide. They have a debilitating effect on animals, leading to food shortage and major economic losses.
Hundreds of the world’s leading synchrotron scientists descended on Melbourne in September
when the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre hosted the 10th International Conference on Synchrotron Radiation and Instrumentation 2009 (SRI2009).
RMIT University researchers have used nanotechnology to create a pioneering sensor that can precisely measure one of the world’s most poisonous substances—mercury.
The mercury sensor developed by RMIT’s Industrial Chemistry Group uses tiny flecks of gold that are nano-engineered to make them irresistible to mercury molecules.