Thumbnail image for Fresh Science partnership to bring FameLab Australia 2014

In 2014, The British Council and Fresh Science have joined forces to bring FameLab to Australia.

Fresh Science is a national competition that helps early-career researchers share their stories of discovery.

In 2014 Fresh Science has partnered with the British Council to bring FameLab to Australia. For details on how to nominate for FameLab Australia, visit www.famelab.org.au

You can read the stories of last year’s Fresh Scientists below.

And you can find out more about Fresh Science here.

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Lights! Camera! Science! Passionate Aussie scientists are in the spotlight talking science.

No jargon, no lab coats – props, music and poetry optional.

Join us in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide for the State Heats of FameLab Australia – a competition that gives early-career researchers the chance to talk about their science in plain English.

But they’ve only got 3 minutes.

The State Heat winner will head to Perth to compete in the FameLab national final in May.

All events are free to attend and all are welcome.

Register your attendance in your state via Eventbrite:

 

Our State Finalists are:

NSW Finalists

Dr Matt Baker, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute
Mr Jordan Collier, University of Western Sydney
Mr Matthew Collins, CUDOS/University of Sydney
Dr. Graham Doig, University of New South Wales
Mr. Ali Fathi, University of Sydney
Mr Nathanial Harris, University of Wollongong
Mr Steve Krezo, University of Western Sydney
Dr James Makinson, University of Sydney
Mr Andrew Merdith, University of Sydney
Dr Vince Polito, Macquarie University
Dr Lydia Tong, University of Sydney

Qld Finalists

Mr Peter Gous, Centre of Nutrition and Food Science – QAAFI/University of Queensland
Dr Katharine Greenaway, University of Queensland / Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
Ms Anthea King, University of Queensland/University of Copenhagen
Mrs Karishma Mody, The University of Queensland
Ms Saira Mumtaz, James Cook University
Dr Linda Pfeiffer, Central Queensland University
Mr Anton Pluschke, The University of Queensland
Dr  Michael Smout, James Cook University

SA Finalists (Including ACT and Tas)

Mr Michael Douglass, University of Adelaide
Dr Niraj Lal, Australian National University
Ms Mika Peace, University of Adelaide / Bureau of Meteorology
Dr Sally Potter, Australian National University
Ms Daisy Veitch, TU Delft
Dr Benny Samuel Eathakkattu Antony, Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania
Mr Nick Roden, University of Tasmania and CSIRO

Vic Finalists

Mr James Aridas, Monash University
Dr Ebrahim Bani Hassan, The University of Melbourne
Mr Matthew Bird, The University of Melbourne
Mr Justin Chen, MIMR-PHI Institute of Medical Research, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Monash University
Mr David Collins, Monash University
Ms Lori Ferrins, Monash University
Ms Melanie Finch, Monash University
Dr Nishar Hameed, Deakin University
Mr. Jared Horvath, University of Melbourne
Dr Katherine Locock, CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering Division
Miss Linden Servinis, Deakin University
Dr Kartik Venkatraman, East Gippsland Shire Council

WA Finalists

Ms Jenny Fairthorne, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and the University of Western Australia
Dr Luke Hopper, University of Notre Dame Australia/Edith Cowan University
Dr Therese O’Sullivan, Edith Cowan University
Mr Francis Torres, University of Western Australia
Mr Mark Zammit, Curtin University

Australia wastes 7.3 million tonnes of food a year, with Australian households responsible for dumping more than half of that: about 4.1 million tonnes or around 9kg of food from every home, every week.

But for the first time, we know exactly what we waste, how it is wasted, and where it goes.

Researchers from the University of South Australia have traced the cycle of food waste in a three-year study looking at the economic, environmental and psychological modelling of food waste.

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A Pacific Ocean coral island, populated around 40 years ago, reveals how human settlement can quickly degrade water quality and affect the health of coral reefs, Sydney scientists say.

Jessica Carilli, of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, and Sheila Walsh, of the Nature Conservancy, used Kirimati Island to examine the shells made by an organism that thrives in high-nutrient conditions, which is considered detrimental to coral.

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curiosity_large_verge_medium_landscapeEvidence of life on Mars may have drawn one step closer after geological scientists discovered how water and nutrients could be found on the red planet.

Siobhan Wilson, of Monash University, has collaborated with America’s Indiana University to find that water-bearing crystals on the planet’s surface can produce water and help release nutrients, supporting the possibility that minerals could sustain life beyond Earth.

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cryptosporidiosis-cryptosporidium-hominisA CSIRO scientist has developed a fast, reliable and cheap test for detecting dangerous parasites in swimming pools and water supplies

Dr David Beale from Victoria has developed a test that detects the by-products of Cryptosporidium, which allows the rapid identification of the parasite and a quicker response to ensuring water quality in public pools and water utilities.

“The simplicity of my test means pools and water supplies can be tested proactively instead of reacting to an outbreak,” says David.  “Because the test is cheap, they can test water supplies more frequently and more widely, ensuring safer water for families.”

The research, published in Environment Pollution, identified Cryptosporidium by its unique chemical fingerprint. The developed test still requires water samples to be sent to a laboratory for analysis; however, David has plans for a simplified version.

“We want to use this technology to develop a simple test, similar to those available for chlorine and pH, so that mum and dad at home can test their own pool water for this nasty bug and protect their families,” he says.

Cryptosporidium is found in water contaminated with faeces and is resistant to current disinfectant treatments. Thousands of people are infected with the parasite each year, and water utilities and pool operators are hampered in issuing public warnings until an outbreak has occurred.

Victoria State Finalist: David Beale, CSIRO

air_on_boardAirlines and their passengers may both breathe a little easier thanks to a Sydney scientist’s discovery of how to increase cabin airflow without increasing cost.

Chaofan Wu, a PhD student at the University of NSW, has developed a ventilation system that improves airflow in airplane cabins by 10 per cent without consuming more fuel and creating a larger carbon footprint.

“We often hear people complaining about the ventilation during the flight; however, ventilation in the air is extremely expensive because the fresh air is taken from the engine and consumes the airplane’s thrust,” says Chaofan.

“The results of our ventilation system are encouraging as it shows the promise to provide passengers fresher air with no extra cost of engine thrust, which means fuels,” he says.

During his research, Chaofan discovered that fresh air travelled along the ceiling and the side of the cabin before coming to the passengers, in traditional airflow delivery systems.

“If the ventilation air could be smarter and go straight to the passengers, the air freshness would be greatly enhanced,” he says.

With the help of colleagues, he developed airflow small devices that could be attached to the inlets on a plane’s ventilation system, creating a more direct trajectory of fresh air to passengers.

Chaofan says his system is compact, inexpensive to build and could be easily integrated with an existing plane ventilation system.

NSW State Finalist: Chaofan Wu, University of New South Wales

Alan Duffy

Galaxies fuel their enormous growth by stopping for gas from space, a Victorian astronomer has found.

Dr Alan Duffy, of The University of Melbourne, has discovered how galaxies grow hundreds of times bigger without a decrease in the gas they use to form stars, an inverse relationship that had previously remained a mystery.

“I could see that the amount of gas, the fuel for forming stars, wasn’t changing even though the galaxies were clearly getting bigger. It was a real mystery,” says Alan, a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Melbourne and International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

By simulating regions of the universe on powerful supercomputers, Alan was able to watch galaxies form and grow over 10 billion years of cosmic time.  The simulations, created with colleagues in The Netherlands, show that the galaxies are able to pull in new gas from the vast regions of nearly empty space around it, using it up as fast as it falls in.

“Now we know what to look for, we can try and catch these galaxies in the act using radio telescopes – something only possible with the enormous new Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder,” Alan says.

Victoria State Finalist: Alan Duffy, The University of Melbourne

 

Andrew Ong

A new class of super-accurate atomic clocks may detect miniscule changes in the laws of physics and shed light on how and why life exists in the universe, Sydney physicists have found.

Andrew Ong and his collaborators at the University of New South Wales discovered that the clocks could detect potential changes in a fundamental constant that governs the interaction between electrically charged objects.

“A changing fine-structure constant could explain why the conditions of our universe are so finely-tuned for all life to exist,” says Andrew, who did the research as part of his PhD.

“The value of the certain physical constants have to fall within a narrow range in order for carbon to be produced in stars. Without this mechanism, there would be no building blocks for all carbon-based life on our planet,” he says.

Atomic clocks, which measure time via the frequency of atomic transitions, are about 100 times more accurate than existing clocks. They are used in GPS satellites and the definition of the standard second.

The researchers hope to measure the frequency change over a few years so they can collect enough data to reach a conclusion about whether the fundamental constants vary and the rate at which they might vary.

“If we could show that the physical laws are always changing, then we can say that life exists simply in the region of the universe where the conditions are just right,” Andrew says.

NSW State Finalist: Andrew Ong, University of New South Wales

Greta Frankham pic

Australia may be losing more animals to extinction than previously thought, with the discovery of new fungi-foraging mammal sub-species, a Sydney zoologist says.

Greta Frankham, of the Australian Museum and The University of Melbourne, has discovered new sub-species of long-nosed potoroos across Australia, raising concerns over the wider impact of mammal extinction in a country that already holds the record for the highest rate in the world.

“We thought we knew all about Australia’s iconic mammals, but genetic tools are now revealing new species and sub-species across the continent,” Greta says.

“My work shows that this species should actually be managed as at least three subspecies and, depending on future results, that these may actually represent three completely different species,” she says.

“It is critical that we recognise and protect the genetic diversity of species so they have the best chance to adapt to future environmental changes.”

According to Greta, the long-nosed potoroo is an endangered ‘keystone species’ that eats and disperses a wide variety of fungi and truffles throughout the ecosystem, improving the health of eucalypts and wattles. It is currently managed as two subspecies.

“This makes conservation of these marsupials pivotal to the well-being of the broader forest ecosystem,” she says.

Greta says land clearing and the introduction of foxes has accelerated the extinction of potoroos over the last two centuries, and immediate intervention is necessary to ensure this doesn’t continue.

NSW State Finalist: Greta Frankham, Australian Museum

Alex Donald pic

A Sydney scientist has created the world’s smallest metallic wire, which is 100,000 times shorter than the width of a hair.

Dr Alex Donald, of the University of New South Wales, manipulated five silver atoms into a zigzag-shaped metal wire, overcoming previous difficulties of creating anything smaller than one-billionth of a metre.

“Scientists can already create metallic wires that are measured in nanometres, or one-billionth of a metre, which are many times larger than this wire. A key challenge in going smaller is that it becomes increasingly difficult to isolate and determine the shapes of such small particles,” says Alex, an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award fellow and chemistry lecturer at the University of New South Wales.

Alex used an advanced instrument at the University of Melbourne to first manipulate the five atoms into a bowtie shape and then into a zigzag-shaped wire. He found that the addition or removal of a chemical allowed him to switch between shapes.

“We do not yet know what we can do with this wire, if anything, but these results demonstrate that an impressively small metal cluster can be entirely isolated and moulded into a relatively predicable shape,” he says.

These atom clusters have unique properties, including high-surface areas, which may ultimately make them useful as sensitive chemical sensors. For example, if one ounce of silver was converted into five-atom clusters, the total surface area of the clusters would be equivalent to 10 times the area of Australia.

NSW State Finalist: Alex Donald, University of New South Wales

ANNE

Regular participation in yoga classes may help older people to stay independent and avoid falls, a Sydney scientist has found.

Dr Anne Tiedemann and a team at the George Institute for Global Health, University of Sydney, found that participants’ balance and mobility had significantly improved after 12 weeks of yoga, while the comparison group had declined. The research was published in the July Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science.

“Previous research has shown that older people who perform well on these balance and mobility tests are about half as likely to fall as people with poor balance and mobility,” says Anne, the study leader and a NHMRC postdoctoral research fellow. “These results show that yoga may prevent falls in older age.”

The study involved 54 people, aged 59 to 87 years. Half of the group took part in twice-weekly Iyengar yoga classes and the other half did no yoga. After 12 weeks the yoga participants showed marked improvements in mobility and balance when performing tests such as one-legged standing, walking fast and standing up from a seated position without arm support.

Falls are a major threat to independence in older age and can result in lasting disability, reduced quality of life and even death. At least one in three older people fall each year, translating to around 1 million older Australians falling annually.

“It’s vital that older people work on their balance through targeted exercise to prevent a fall and experiencing these serious outcomes,” Anne says.

NSW State Finalist: Anne Tiedemann, The George Institute for Global Health, University of Sydney

Angela Crean pic

Swimming fast may ensure a sperm wins the race, but crossing the finish line first doesn’t ensure a gold medal for offspring.

Dr Angela Crean, of the University of NSW, discovered that sea squirts were more likely to survive if they were produced from sperm that swam for longer before fertilisation, questioning assumptions about sperm quality and fertilisation success.

“This is surprising because it suggests that a sperm’s influence on offspring extends beyond just the DNA it carries,” says Angela, an ARC DECRA fellow at the University of New South Wales.

“This finding has the potential to change the way we view and study inheritance. It is unknown how widespread this phenomenon is, but given the obvious implications for IVF technologies, it will be exciting to test if sperm and offspring quality are linked in other species,” she says.

Sea squirts reproduce by releasing both eggs and sperm into the ocean. Some sperm find an egg to fertilise straight away, while other sperm have to swim for hours.

This unusual reproductive strategy allowed Angela to test whether differences in sperm quality can influence offspring fitness. She found that offspring produced from long-lived sperm were more likely to hatch and to survive when put back into the ocean, compared to offspring from fresh sperm of the same male.

While differences in sperm traits are known to influence the fertilisation success of sperm, the influence of sperm quality was thought to end there. Angela’s research questions this assumption by linking sperm longevity to offspring survival.

NSW State Finalist: Angela Crean, University of New South Wales

http://freshscience.org.au/2013/seasquirt-sperm

Matt Collins pic

A new optical circuit could make internet communication secure from increasingly sophisticated hacking attacks, a Sydney physicist says.

Matthew Collins, a PhD student at The University of Sydney, has developed an optical circuit that creates a secure communication link, which can detect any online eavesdroppers.

“People have become reliant on internet security for almost everything they do online, including emails, shopping and business/bank transactions, but new technologies are continually developed that could be used for hacking,” says Matthew.

“Our invention uses quantum physics to guarantee that any message sent can’t be listened to without us knowing about it,” he says.

The technology will be compatible with fibre optics, which make up the bulk of modern internet infrastructure, including the NBN network.

About $8 trillion exchanges hands each year via e-commerce. In 2011 the number of US companies that reported being hacked was 20 per cent, up from 7 per cent in 2007. These attacks cost hundreds of millions of dollars to developed economies, as well as other impacts including legal action and eroded trust in the companies who are hacking victims.

“With rapid technology developments threatening our online privacy, new ways of securing our communications will become vitally important in the future,” Matthew says.

“The next step is for us to take our millimetre-sized optical circuit into the field and test it within the real network. We can then start developing a product that may one day secure the internet for everyone in Australia,” he says.

NSW State Finalist: Matthew Collins, The University of Sydney

Sara al musawi

We may soon know how much time is left on a woman’s biological clock, thanks to a Melbourne scientist’s discovery of an egg-produced protein that affects fertility.

Dr Sara Al-Musawi, of Prince Henry’s Institute, found that a protein produced by the ovary’s eggs, BMP15, plays a key role in determining the number of ripened eggs released from the ovary at a time.

“This is really exciting because we have identified the parts of BMP15 or ‘building blocks’ that change how much protein is made and how it performs in the egg, essential for egg growth and ovulation. We believe that treatments targeting this protein could revolutionise how we treat infertility in women,” says Sara, whose research has been published in the Journal of Endocrinology.

She says women are often told that their biological clock is ticking but that no one really knows what that means.

“Unfortunately, most women only really understand the biology of pregnancy after experiencing fertility issues. It is only when they have trouble falling pregnant or they are faced with infertility due to cancer treatment or early menopause that it comes into focus,” Sara says.

Women are born with a lifetime’s supply of eggs. Each month, the ovary releases “ovulates”, the biggest of the ripe eggs, for fertilisation. The more eggs a woman has, the greater the chance of her successfully becoming pregnant.

Victoria State Finalist: Sara Al-Musawi, Prince Henry’s Institute

Jerry Zhou

Cancer cell ‘fingerprints’ may spell the end to one-size-fits-all therapy as patients are given information to personalise their treatment, says a Sydney scientist.

Jerry Zhou, a PhD candidate, and a team at the Cancer Proteomics Laboratory, University of Sydney, took molecular fingerprints of cancer cells, which allowed them to predict a cancer’s progress and match patients with the best possible therapy.

“Traditionally, all cancers have been labelled as a mindless mass of growing cells and the therapies reflect this one-size-fits-all approach,” says Jerry.

“We are now just beginning to understand their complexity. Cancers are consistently changing and evolving, which means for therapies to work, we need to be one step ahead of the cancer,” he says.

The evolution of cancers is assisted by changes in proteins on their surface. These proteins do the cancer’s dirty work by allowing the cancer to elude the body’s own defences or absorb more nutrients for rapid growth.

To predict what cancers are going to do next, Jerry used an Australian patented cell-capture biochip to take protein fingerprints from over 100 cancer patients around NSW. These cancer fingerprints revealed the aggressiveness of the cancer and helped to predict a patient’s survival.

“By knowing how a cancer will act, we can match the correct therapy with the right patient to get the best results. Protein fingerprinting is providing us with the information needed to personalise cancer therapy,” Jerry says.

NSW State Finalist: Jerry Zhou, The University of Sydney

Alexe pic

The electric fish has inspired the development of a remote intelligent system that can detect the early signs of an electrical power failure.

Alexe Bojovschi led a team from Melbourne’s RMIT University to create a remote sensor system that can identify and locate a fault along large stretches of power line, enabling them to monitor large power networks and to prevent electrical fires.

“The pre-fault detection system has the enormous potential of ensuring a safe and secure place for humanity,” Alexe says.

He says nature has perfected systems over millions of years, which could transmit and receive different kinds of radiation, like the electric fish.  Its ability to transmit and receive through water inspired the realisation that the signs of electrical failure propagated through the power line itself, leading to the development of a remote sensing system that could monitor the voltage drops caused by electrical discharges.

A spin-off power company, IND Technology, has now been established, which can build intelligent power networks.

Electrical faults have been shown to cause power losses and bushfires, like the Black Saturday fires, which can lead to disastrous physiological, human and economic losses.

Victoria State Finalist: Alexe Bojovschi, RMIT University

http://freshscience.org.au/2013/powertech