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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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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

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