Changing lives: Australia–Japan science links

To read about Japan-Australia innovation collaborations—including searching for new malaria drugs, giant robot trucks carrying ore, and chewing gum that reverses tooth decay—click here.

Japanese science changing Australia

The impact of Japanese technological prowess on Australian society is obvious for all to see. How we listened to music was transformed by audio recording technologies: from the Walkman to the CD. Home entertainment was changed by video tapes, DVDs, and game consoles. We rely on Japanese innovation in transport—reliable car engineering, the lean manufacturing techniques that made them affordable and, more recently, hybrid cars.

Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow
Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow

Fundamental science discoveries are bringing a new era of transformation. Japanese researchers were honoured last year with the Nobel Prize for their invention of the blue LED. They succeeded where for 30 years everyone else had failed. Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps—lasting a lifetime and using a fraction of the energy.

In 2006 Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. By introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, that is, immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body. His work is transforming stem cell medicine and many Australian researchers are now using induced pluripotent stem cells to develop stem cell medicines.

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Sharing light and neutrons

Japanese researchers are coming to Australia for our neutron beams. It’s helping them continue their research following the shutdown of all Japanese research reactors in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. And it cements a friendship in beamline science that kickstarted Australian access to synchrotron light.

A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL. Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO
A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL.
Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO

“Japan’s leadership in electronics, advanced manufacturing and computing complements Australia’s leadership in agriculture, health and minerals,” says the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) Robert Robinson, who chaired an Australia Japan Neutron Science Workshop in 2013.
The collaboration is contributing to research into: hard magnets for electric cars; new high density plastics; superconducting cables for the ITER fusion reactor; and the structure of a range of biological molecules.

Continue reading Sharing light and neutrons

Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Working together, researchers in Japan and Australia are getting better at predicting the areas most at risk from earthquakes.

They are also working together on ways to determine, within seconds of a warning, the scale and likely impact of an earthquake.
Rapid detection and warning systems combined with smart engineering saved many lives in the Great Japanese Earthquake of 2011. But the earthquake and the resulting tsunami were much bigger than geological modelling suggested. The reasons for that might be found in deep history.

Mapping the hazard

Big earthquakes may be separated by centuries or millennia. But earthquake hazard maps are based on information gathered since 1900 when modern seismographs came into use. It’s difficult to model events happening over millennia when you have not got deep historical information. Continue reading Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Internationalising science together

IVF, heart research, and coral research gain from working together

Australian and Japanese science leaders understand the importance of internationalising their research—creating international science networks that are more than the sum of their parts. And the complementary strengths of the two countries result in greatly enhanced research when they work together.

President of The Systems Biology Institute Hiroakai Kitano with CEO of Monash IVF James Thiedeman (left), credit: EMBL
President of The Systems Biology Institute Hiroakai Kitano with CEO of Monash IVF James Thiedeman (left), credit: EMBL Australia

Science is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, and the collaborations between Japan and Australia reflect this trend. One rapidly growing network is being driven by the Systems Biology Institute of Japan, together with Monash University and the Australian affiliate of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The natural partners joined forces in 2013 to create SBI Australia, the Japanese Institute’s first international affiliate. It was joined by SBI Singapore in 2014.
Continue reading Internationalising science together

Preserving the foundations of Japanese culture

An Australian archaeologist is advising on the preservation of sites of the unique prehistoric Jomon culture of Japan.

Remnants of the Jomon’s unique culture are found in diverse archaeological sites in northern Honshu and Hokkaido, credit: Ian Lilley.
Remnants of the Jomon’s unique culture are found in diverse archaeological sites in northern Honshu and Hokkaido, credit: Ian Lilley.

Hunter-gatherers are typically thought to be wanderers who moved to harvest the animals and plants on which they fed. Not so the Jomon, one of the important founding peoples of Japan.

By careful management of the resources they found in many varied environments in the north of Japan—fruit, nuts, fish, seafood, birds—the Jomon lived in permanent settlements for about ten thousand years until three thousand years ago. They were not farmers, but nonetheless lived in open, undefended villages. They developed sophisticated pottery, basketry and lacquered wooden crafts, and constructed storage pits and stone monuments.

Continue reading Preserving the foundations of Japanese culture

Changing lives: Australia–Japan science links

Japanese science changing Australia

The impact of Japanese technological prowess on Australian society is obvious for all to see. How we listened to music was transformed by audio recording technologies: from the Walkman to the CD.

Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow
Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow

Home entertainment was changed by video tapes, DVDs, and game consoles. We rely on Japanese innovation in transport—reliable car engineering, the lean manufacturing techniques that made them affordable and, more recently, hybrid cars.

Fundamental science discoveries are now bringing a new era of transformation. Japanese researchers were honoured last year with the Nobel Prize for their invention of the blue LED. They succeeded where for 30 years everyone else had failed. Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps— lasting a lifetime and using a fraction of the energy.

In 2006 Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. By introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, that is, immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body. His work is transforming stem cell medicine and many Australian researchers are now using his induced pluripotent stem cells to develop stem cell medicine.

Australian science changing Japan

It’s not a one way trade. Japanese lives are being improved by Australian inventions such as the bionic ear, gum that repairs tooth decay, sleep disorder treatments, lithium to treat bipolar disorder, aircraft black boxes, and anti-flu drugs, which are all in daily use in Japan.

And when you connect to a fast and reliable wi-fi network you can thank Australian astronomers who were searching for black holes and created tools for cleaning up radio waves.

Collaborating for the future

Today there are hundreds of thriving Australia–Japan research collaborations, many of which will have a profound impact on our lives in the years ahead.

Over the past five years, Japan has consistently placed within the 10 countries that have the highest number of collaborations with Australian researchers on Australian Research Council–funded projects. The ARC reports that the most popular disciplines for collaboration with Japan are: material engineering; biochemistry and cell biology; atomic, molecular, nuclear, particle and plasma physics; astronomical and space sciences and plant biology.

Other collaborations

Seeing every cell in a whole adult brain
Scientists from RIKEN, the University of Tokyo, JAST, and the Queensland University of Technology have developed CUBIC—a technique for rapidly imaging the brain. They believe it will be scalable to whole bodies.

Biomedical applications for ‘magic crystals’
CSIRO and Osaka Prefecture University are developing biomedical applications for the massively absorbent metal–organic framework crystals developed by CSIRO.

How our phones track us
Billions of us now have phones that tell us and others where we are and what’s around us. A team from RMIT, Intel, Fudan University and Keio University is exploring the cross-cultural and intergenerational study of this phenomenon, and the implications for privacy, in three key sites: Tokyo, Shanghai and Melbourne.

For more information: Science in Public, www.scienceinpublic.com.au/stories/japan

Where did the antimatter go?

Antimatter has been disappearing and Melbourne researcher Phillip Urquijo wants to know why.

Phillip Urquijo—looking for missing antimatter. Credit: Casamento photography
Phillip Urquijo—looking for missing antimatter. Credit: Casamento photography

He’s hoping that the Belle II experiment, commencing in Japan in 2017, will give him an answer—and if he’s lucky it will answer many other questions about the beginning of the Universe too.

“What I hope we’ll discover is clear evidence of new quarks, leptons or other force-carrying particles,” says Phillip. “And I’d be really excited if we found a new kind of Higgs particle using this indirect approach.”

Continue reading Where did the antimatter go?

Finding new drugs for malaria

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.

Continue reading Finding new drugs for malaria