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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Monalisa Padhee

Babies conceived through in vitro fertilisation may have an increased risk of heart disease in adult life, an Adelaide scientist has found.

Monalisa Padhee, of The University of South Australia, found sheep fetuses conceived through IVF had bigger hearts than those born naturally, raising questions about the long-term health effects of the popular technology.

“An enlarged heart is one of the strongest predictors of heart disease in later life,” says Monalisa, who undertook the study as part of her PhD. “Bigger hearts are sometimes considered a good thing as athletes have them, but the enlargement of the heart through IVF is non-exercise based and therefore not good.”

According to Monalisa, the earliest period of embryonic development is critical in determining the heart health in later life and any subtle changes may have adverse effects on normal heart development.

“We are trying to understand what genes and proteins are altered as a result of IVF procedures and this information may provide the links between IVF and increased risk of heart disease,” she says. “This data shows that further investigation is warranted so that the parents of children conceived through IVF can just enjoy the miracle of being parents to a happy and healthy baby.”

SA State Finalist: Monalisa Padhee, University of South Australia


Krishna Venkidusamy

Bacteria prove fuel for thought as an Adelaide researcher reveals their ability to clean up petroleum waste and produce electricity.

Krishna Venkidusamy, of The University of South Australia, has developed microbial fuel cells that use bacteria to break down diesel and produce power, opening up the possibility of a green solution to Australia’s petroleum pollution problem.

“The technology employs the world’s tiniest inhabitants, bacteria, which can eat the petroleum waste and produce electrons. During this process, we can generate an electrical current,” says Krishna, who is doing the research as part of her PhD.

“The process is suitable for almost any type of organic waste material, from contaminated soil to the by-products of many industries,” she says.

A pilot study is set to demonstrate the economical removal of these pollutants from the environment while generating electricity. “More research will find the best candidate microbes, reduce costs for materials, and increase the technology for commercial scales,” Krishna says.

The approach also has potential in areas with limited access to electricity or where polluted sites are difficult to treat.

“The use of these microbial systems to clean up polluted sites has been known for decades, but only recent technological advances have made it possible to harness the electricity during the clean-up process,” Krishna says. “On a commercial scale, this technology will help produce a cleaner and safer environment and provide green energy at the same time.”

Nationwide there are over 100,000 sites contaminated with petroleum products such as petrol and diesel. Petroleum hydrocarbons, their primary constituents, pose risks to human health when inhaled, ingested or exposed to skin.

SA State Finalist: Krishna Venkidusamy, CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment


Dragana Calic

Underage drinkers and border-control fraudsters may need to think twice about hoodwinking security as a South Australian psychologist reveals some people have an enhanced ability to match faces with photos.

Dragana Calic, of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), found that some trained participants were much better at matching faces to passport-style photos than others who had also been trained in the same task, which is central to security applications like border control, secure-access facilities and nightclubs.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that trained participants were better than untrained participants. However, what is interesting is that some were better among the trained participants,” says Dragana Calic, who conducted the PhD research as part of a collaboration between DSTO and The University of Adelaide.

Trained and untrained participants were asked to decide if a person’s face, presented live or on video, matched the one shown in a passport-style photograph. The research also investigated the extent to which better performance could be due to innate abilities.

“Results were not clearly indicative of what superior performance may be attributed to,” Dragana says.

She says further research is needed to determine whether the enhanced face-matching performance is due to an innate ability, particular training or simply continuous conduct of the face-matching task.

SA State Finalist: Dragana Calic, Defence Science and Technology Organisation


A common drug used for chemotherapy side effects may help halt the growth of brain cancer, an Adelaide neuroscientist has found.

Dr Elizabeth Harford-Wright, of The University of Adelaide, discovered that the drug decreased tumour cell growth in mice by blocking a neuropeptide contributing to its growth.

“Our study has been one of the first to demonstrate that a neuropeptide named substance P is substantially increased in brain tumours. We thought that this increase might be driving tumour growth,” says Elizabeth, who did the research as part of her PhD.

During the study, the chemotherapy drug was administered to mouse models, which resulted in the reduction of brain tumour size, the prevention of further cancer cells and the increased death of tumour cells.

“These are very exciting results and allow us the opportunity to further study the potential of this drug as a treatment for brain tumours in the future,” Elizabeth says. “An additional benefit of this drug is that it is already used in cancer clinics to help patients with the side effects of chemotherapy,”

In Australia, one person dies from a brain tumour every eight hours. Prognosis is often very poor for brain cancer patients, making investigation of new therapies vital.

SA State Finalist: Elizabeth Harford-Wright, Adelaide Centre for Neuroscience Research

Jonathan Hall

Unlocking the modern world’s magnetic mysteries may prove key to the universe, say physicists from The University of Adelaide.

Dr Jonathan Hall and a research team from the Special Research Centre for the Subatomic Structure of Matter have developed a mathematical tool to explain a previously unexplained subatomic magnetic effect that underpins the working of medical scanners, lasers and computers.

“We discovered that the odd behaviour of a nucleus can be explained mathematically. This puts us all one step closer to understanding the structure of matter and the nature of the universe,” says Jonathan, an ARC Research Associate at the University of Adelaide.

In the nucleus of an atom, the microscopic world of quantum physics underpins a lot of modern technology. However, an extra magnetic effect in the nucleus has had no firm explanation. The new mathematical tool, Effective Field Theory, helps to explain this phenomenon.

“We want to know how matter is put together. Right now, we understand very little, fundamentally, about what goes on in a nucleus,” Jonathan says.

According to him, fundamental science has been a source of great insights and shifts in understanding many times throughout history. “It’s exciting to be on the forefront of discovery, where no one really understands what’s going on, to make progress, and to gain an inkling into the inner workings of matter in the universe,” Jonathan says.

SA State Finalist: Jonathan Hall, University of Adelaide

…by putting the squeeze on mining waste

You may not be able to squeeze blood out of a stone but, by applying the right amount of ultrasound during processing, Jianhua (Jason) Du and colleagues from the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) have been able to squeeze a considerable amount of fresh water from mining waste. [click to continue…]

Patented South Australian technology

South Australian researchers have invented and patented a new technology for delivering cosmetics and drugs to the skin.They are using nanoparticles of silica (essentially sand) to create longer lasting cosmetics and creams that control the delivery of drugs through the skin.

They already have a family of international patents on their technology, and are now actively looking for commercial partners to get their invention out of the lab and on to your skin.

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A biotechnologist from the South Australian Research and Development Institute has taken using “everything but the pig’s squeal” to new lengths. Through clever recycling of pig waste, Andrew Ward has been able to produce feed for aquaculture, water for irrigation, and methane for energy. His ‘waste food chain’ can be applied to breweries, wineries and any system producing organic waste. [click to continue…]

Sophie Bestley catching tuna, photo credit Adam Watkins

Sophie Bestley catching tuna, photo credit Thor Carter, CSIRO

Issued on World Oceans Day

Southern bluefin tuna can’t even have a quiet snack without CSIRO researchers knowing. They’ve developed a way of tracking when the tuna feed and also where, at what depth, and the temperature of the surrounding water.

It’s the first time anyone has been able to observe the long term feeding habits of migratory fishes directly and the information is transforming our understanding of these highly sought after ‘Porsches of the sea’.

Dr Sophie Bestley and her colleagues at CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship surgically implant miniaturised electronic “data-storage” tags into juvenile fishes off the coast of southern Australia. [click to continue…]

Using microscopic streams of liquid to separate valuable metals from dissolved rock could revolutionise mineral processing, according to researchers at the University of South Australia.

The researchers already have shown the technique can be used to extract copper quickly and efficiently. They believe the process can be scaled up to industrial levels and used for recovering many other minerals such as nickel, uranium, gold and platinum. [click to continue…]

A technique which measures the variation in bone density within spinal bones may improve the ability to identify people at special risk of breaking their backs, Curtin University physiotherapist Andrew Briggs has found.

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Some forms of noise can actually improve your hearing, University of South Australia researcher, Mark McDonnell has found.

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Studies by University of Adelaide doctoral student Cadence Minge have shown that a high fat diet can cause damage to eggs in ovaries. And when fertilised, these eggs do not develop into normal, healthy embryos.

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Edwina Sutton and colleagues at the University of Adelaide have been busily turning female mice into males.

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 Bluefin tuna use three times as much oxygen as other fish their size, making them more difficult to culture. That’s just part of the valuable information uncovered by University of Adelaide PhD student, Quinn Fitzgibbon and his colleagues in a study where they monitored live tuna swimming inside a 350-tonne “waterbed”.

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