2006

A Sydney research team has developed a sun and wind driven ventilation system to cool commercial buildings on the hottest summer days. They hope that the new system will reduce the power requirements of a commercial ventilation system by 15 to 20 per cent.

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A research team in Sydney has created molecules that mimic those in plants which harvest light and power life on Earth.  

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The bane of all wedding videos-that picture of the bride in front of the window where her face so dark that you can’t see the features-may soon be a thing of the past.

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The cleaning power of sound waves on the back of a truck

A young researcher in Sydney is cleaning up contaminated soil by blasting it with ultrasound.

Andrea Sosa Pintos from CSIRO Industrial Physics has shown that toxic and carcinogenic pollutants, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can be decomposed quickly, easily and cheaply using a portable treatment unit.

 “Chemical analysis of the soil and water after we’ve treated it confirms that more than 90 per cent of pollutants have been destroyed,” she says.

Present soil remediation techniques such as landfill disposal, incineration and bioremediation, have many limitations. “None of these provides a complete or cost-effective solution. And some of them can be time-consuming.” says Sosa Pintos.
“Our process is very simple. We generate high-power ultrasound waves in a slurry of the contaminated soil in water,” Sosa Pintos explains.

The soil and water are mixed and the slurry is pumped through a treatment unit where it is exposed to the ultrasonic waves. The whole process only takes a matter of minutes, as opposed to hours and days, or even months using other techniques.

 “Ultrasonic waves travelling through the mixture create micro-bubbles. When these bubbles burst on the surface of the soil particles, they release intense shock waves which can generate temperatures of up to 5000 degrees Celsius. Any chemical contaminants on the surface of the soil particles bear the brunt of these bursts of energy and are blown apart,” she says.

Importantly, the surrounding liquid stays cool, eliminating the possibility that the remnants of the toxic compounds can recombine to form dangerous by-products, as sometimes happens using other technologies. Dioxins are formed during incineration, for instance.

The pilot plant Sosa Pintos and her colleagues have developed can already process about a tonne of soil a day. For a commercial scale system a more efficient feeder unit including a higher capacity pump would be required.

Sosa Pintos says. “If the right engineering company were interested, within a couple of years we could develop a commercial treatment unit able to be hauled to contaminated sites on the back of a truck.”

The combination of high destruction rates, very low energy costs, and the convenience of on-site treatment, makes high-power ultrasound a promising option for soil remediation. 

Andrea Sosa Pintos is one of 16 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to school students and the general public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the Melbourne Museum and sponsored by the Federal and Victorian governments, New Scientist, The Australian and Quantum Communications Victoria.  One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

A research team at the University of Adelaide has found a way to reduce brain swelling, the most common cause of death after stroke. [click to continue…]

Surfing in Alice Springs

16 August 2006

in 2006

(before NT and SA collided two billion years ago)

TWO BILLION years ago, the Australia we know today existed only in pieces. Northern, western and central Australia all belonged to different continents. [click to continue…]

RESEARCHERS in Sydney have discovered that an enzyme only found in immune cells plays a key role in promoting rheumatoid arthritis. The work raises the possibility of new and better treatments for the painful and debilitating condition, which affects about one in a thousand Australians of all ages.

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I am writing to alert you to a health and exercise story which has been released
today as part of the Fresh Science program. A combination of supplements readily
available in health food stores can double the rate at which an exercise program builds muscle and sheds body fat.

It’s all a matter of timing, according to Melbourne researchers.

The researchers found that people who consumed the supplements immediately before exercising with weights gained much more muscle and strength than those who took the same supplements at other times of the day. The supplements used were whey protein, isolated from milk, and creatine monohydrate, extracted from plants.

“This study is the first to demonstrate that timing the consumption of these supplements promotes better results from exercise,” said Dr Paul Cribb the lead researcher, from Victoria University. “This is a simple strategy that most adults could incorporate into their exercise programs.”

Whey protein is a high quality dairy protein which stimulates muscle growth, and is rapidly absorbed by the body.  Creatine monohydrate is thought to aid energy production.  Both supplements are widely available and have been shown in research to provide a variety of health benefits.

Adult males participated in a 10-week supervised resistance training program while consuming the supplements. Those who took the supplements directly before and after exercise showed significantly better improvements in strength and muscle (fat-free) mass compared to a control group. The control group performed the same resistance exercise program and took the same supplement at other times of the day.

The changes in body composition were confirmed by muscle analyses at the cellular and subcellular levels. And the benefits were obtained without the participants’ having to diet or disrupt their normal, healthy eating patterns.

Cribb argues that this information is not only important for athletes, but has much wider application. “Athletic performance and vanity aside, building muscle is a vital part of healthy ageing. An age-associated loss of muscle is thought to initiate many illnesses that shorten our lifespan such as osteoporosis, type-II diabetes, and heart disease.”

“This is one of very few studies that provides data on a safe, cost-effective strategy that can help maintain muscle mass through life.”

AST Sports Science supplied the supplements used in this research.

Paul Cribb is one of 16 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to school students and the general public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the Melbourne Museum and sponsored by the Federal and Victorian governments, New Scientist, The Australian and Quantum Communications Victoria.  One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

A young Melbourne researcher has discovered that a compound
which attracts white blood cells to areas of inflammation also plays an
important role in attracting human embryos to the womb, supporting the establishment of a healthy pregnancy.

Approximately 1 in 6 Australian couples will experience infertility. A large part of this may be due to faulty coordination and guidance of the embryo to the mother’s womb.

Natalie Hannan, of Prince Henry’s Institute, has found that the compound fractalkine is also produced by the uterus. To ensure a healthy pregnancy, the lining of the uterus must produce factors that attract the embryo to implant and begin to grow. Fractalkine may help the placenta to form and tap into the mother’s blood supply, by guiding the cells from which it develops to their right destination.

“In short, fractalkine plays an important role in the establishment of a healthy pregnancy,”  says Hannan of the Uterine Biology Group at Prince Henry’s whose work led to the unravelling of the compound’s role.

“The problem for many infertile couples lies in failure of the embryo to become properly embedded in the mother’s womb. A better understanding of this complicated process should advance treatments for infertility.

“Although infertility treatment has dramatically improved over the past few years, more than 75 per cent of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) attempts will fail. A large part of this may be due to faulty communication between the mother and the baby, involving compounds such as fractalkine.”

Hannan says that fractalkine is produced by the lining of the uterus at the time of implantation, when the embryo makes a special receptor that enables it to respond to fractalkine.

Using advanced technology that allows the movement of cells to be measured, Hannan discovered that human placental cells migrate towards fractalkine. Without fractalkine and many other similar compounds involved in the control of the essential processes of early pregnancy, implantation will fail.

“This exciting finding may improve IVF success rates by providing new targets for infertility treatment. It also aids our understanding of what makes a healthy pregnancy, which is ultimately a successful start to life,” Hannan says.

Natalie Hannan is one of 16 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to school students and the general public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the Melbourne Museum and sponsored by the Federal and Victorian governments, New Scientist, The Australian and Quantum Communications Victoria.  One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Research by a Perth forensic scientist is helping to
stem the flood of forgeries entering the international
antiques market.

A Perth forensic scientist is employing lasers to help trace pottery back to
the kiln site of its production, thus exposing ceramic forgeries, a multi-million
dollar criminal business.

Emma Bartle from the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Western Australia has developed a scientific method to authenticate porcelain, based on a technique known as elemental fingerprinting originally used to establish where gold came from. It employs lasers to vaporise a minute amount of material, which can then be analysed for the elements it contains, and how much of each is present. The process causes no visual damage to the ceramics.

“Over the past decade a multi-million dollar industry has grown up in South-East Asia, Cambodia and Laos to forge Chinese Ming and Japanese Imari porcelain,” Bartle says. “These modern fakes are so detailed and sophisticated that gone are the days whereby trained experts can authenticate pieces using visual examination alone.

“By analysing the porcelains’ chemical composition we can establish the geographical origins of an artefact and trace it back to the kiln site of its production in China or Japan. Each site has a different combination of trace elements, such as strontium and lanthanum, which is unique.”

The accepted conventional method of authentication at present uses emitted radiation to estimate the age of the porcelain; the idea being the older the object the less likely it is to be a fake. However, the process causes visible damage to the ceramics, decreasing both their cultural and monetary value. “Even worse, forgers have now caught up with the science and are artificially aging their imitations”, Emma remarks.

Elemental fingerprinting, pioneered by Prof John Watling for establishing the provenance of gold, is now routinely used in forensic applications. However, its adaptation and application to ceramics is new.

This unique research has sparked both local and international interest. Already museums, auction houses and private collectors have come forward to loan items from their collections for analysis. “We are working in collaboration with The Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art (London), Bonhams Auction House (London) and the Kyushu Ceramics Museum (Japan).”

“We have also analysed some of the ceramic artefacts recovered from Dutch shipwrecks along the Western Australian coastline, which were kindly loaned by the Western Australian Maritime Museum. Private collectors from the US and UK have also sent porcelain shards from their own collections for us to investigate,” says Emma.

Emma Bartle is one of 16 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to school students and the general public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the Melbourne Museum and sponsored by the Federal and Victorian governments, New Scientist, The Australian and Quantum Communications Victoria.  One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Fish make omega-3 from noxious weed

Australian scientists have found that fish fed oil extracted from one of Australia’s most damaging noxious weeds, Patterson’s curse, produce health-giving omega-3 oils for human consumption. [click to continue…]

A young Sydney researcher hopes to develop a way to diagnose and monitor diseases by analysing how the brain responds to colour.

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Playing possum: one love

10 August 2006

in 2006

Why are some males faithful, stay-at-home partners while others sleep around, with no strings attached? In mountain brushtail possums, it turns out to depend on how disturbed their home is.

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Fighting septic shock

8 August 2006

in 2006

A potential new treatment for septic shock and other inflammatory diseases has been discovered by Monash Institute researchers.

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Could Australia rise to the top of the diamond pipe again? Macquarie University researcher
Craig O’Neill believes his research could open new diamond fields across Australia.

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Salads, shampoos and mining to benefit from theoretical
research into droplets

How much effort does it take to understand the behaviour of oil droplets?
A multi-disciplinary team of six researchers from the University of Melbourne
has spent the best part of two years, and used $300,000 of equipment to crack
the problem.

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