Michelle Simmons’ work building silicon atomic-scale devices is paving the way towards a quantum computer with the capacity to process information exponentially faster than current computers.
She is also Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, acknowledged to be a world-leader in the field of quantum computing—which uses the spin, or magnetic orientation, of individual electrons or atomic nuclei to represent data.
In the past five years, Michelle’s research group and collaborators have made a number of notable advances. They have fabricated the world’s first single-atom transistor in single-crystal silicon, and the world’s narrowest conducting wires, also in silicon, just four atoms wide and one atom tall with the current-carrying capacity of copper.
In May 2014, a team led by PhD candidate Emily Petroff from Swinburne University was the first to see ‘fast radio bursts’ (FRBs) live, using the Parkes radio telescope in central New South Wales. The search was triggered by signals found in recycled data. They also discovered that someone was opening the kitchen microwave.
New drugs may be on the way for malaria, a disease that helps push millions of people into extreme poverty, thanks to an Australian team working with a remarkable new Japanese organisation.
Blood vessels act as tissue engineers during facial development, guiding the formation of jaw structures in mice, according to research from South Australia.
From pipes to power station turbines and railway lines, ensuring that engineering components perform under pressure can save lives.
By scattering neutrons from the OPAL research reactor across an object—such as a complex power station turbine—the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) can test the integrity and safety of metal components.
This proactive approach to maintenance is helping to safeguard the power industry from millions of dollars in damage and potential loss of life or injury. For example, ANSTO is helping Hardchrome Engineering test their refurbished turbines and provide a subatomic ‘seal of approval’ for the safety of repairs undertaken.
Continue reading Using neutrons to show weak spots in turbines, railway lines and pipes
A promising treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) could open the way to therapies for cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other disorders.
Sam Berkovic and Ingrid Scheffer have changed the way the world thinks about epilepsy, a debilitating condition that affects about 50 million people.
Twenty years ago doctors tended to regard most forms of epilepsy as acquired rather than inherited. In other words, they believed epilepsy was mostly due to injury: the result of things like a crack on the head in a car accident, a bad fall in the playground, a tumour, or something having gone wrong in labour. Parents felt responsible and the resulting guilt was enormous.
The two clinician-researchers from The University of Melbourne have led the way in finding a genetic basis for many epilepsies, building on their discovery of the first ever link between a specific gene and a form of epilepsy. Finding that answer has been of profound importance for families.
Along the way, Sam and Ingrid discovered that a particularly severe form of epilepsy, thought to result from vaccination, was actually caused by a gene mutation. This finding dispelled significant concerns about immunisation.
Dr Elena Tucker, geneticist, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne
Dr Elena Tucker has brought peace of mind to families affected by rare energy disorders. She’s found genes responsible for some of these diseases.
Now, with the support of her 2014 L’Oréal For Women in Science Fellowship, she will look at hundreds of individual genomes to determine the causes of sex-determination disorders.
For the thousands of families affected by these rare disorders Elena’s work provides an understanding of the causes and opens a path to management and to potential treatments one day. And the techniques she’s developing underpin the broader development of personalised medicine.
For her PhD, Elena used high-throughput DNA sequencing to investigate the genetics of mitochondrial disease. Mitochondria are the membranous structures in the cell where food is converted into the energy that powers our bodies. Anything that disables them, such as the mutation of a gene, robs the body of the energy it needs to function. This can lead to symptoms such as seizures, muscle weakness, developmental delays, liver dysfunction, heart failure or blindness.
Elena discovered four genes, and helped in finding an additional four, within which mutations have a direct link to such conditions. This has accounted for a significant proportion of new genetic diagnoses of mitochondrial disease.
Dr Vanessa Kellermann, evolutionary biologist, Monash University, Melbourne
Vanessa Kellermann is working with native fruit fly species from Tasmania to tropical Queensland to find out. She has already demonstrated that tropical flies are more vulnerable to change in the long term. They don’t have the genetic capacity to evolve quickly. Now, with her L’Oréal For Women in Science Fellowship, she will explore how flexible they are in the short term—how individual insects can respond to change during their lifetimes.
“No one sets out to study flies,” she says. But they are perfect for asking basic questions that will allow us to create models of evolution and help people—from farmers to health professionals—plan for change.
When Dr Vanessa Kellermann tells people she studies flies, there’s an almost automatic assumption that she’s working to get rid of them. In fact, it’s quite the reverse. Vanessa would consider her research a success if her flies hung around for many more millions of years, along with most of the other plants and animals on Earth.