Termites and ants are stockpiling gold in their mounds, new CSIRO research has found.
Australia’s smallest and most numerous mining prospectors can show us where new gold deposits are. [click to continue…]
stories of discovery from early-career researchers around Australia
Australia’s smallest and most numerous mining prospectors can show us where new gold deposits are. [click to continue…]
Ngan’gi speakers know it’s time to look for freshwater crocodile eggs when the red kapok trees near the Northern Territory’s Daly River burst into flower.
This can occur at a different time each year, but the environmental link is solid.
A Darwin-based scientist has converted this link and other intimate Aboriginal knowledge of Australia’s landscape into an environmental management tool.
CSIRO’s Emma Woodward worked with Aboriginal elders as part of the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge research program to develop six seasonal calendars from six different language groups from the Northern Territory and Western Australia. [click to continue…]
In flour it reduces heart disease risk say Melbourne and WA researchers
You can lower your risk of heart disease significantly, just by using flour containing 40 per cent lupin beans in the place of conventional wholemeal flour, according to research by Victoria University dietitian Dr Regina Belski and colleagues from the University of Western Australia. [click to continue…]
Previously unknown species of naturally-occurring bacteria have the potential to save the alumina and aluminium industries millions of dollars while helping to reduce their impact on the environment, microbiologist Naomi McSweeney has found in a collaborative project between Alcoa of Australia, CSIRO and the University of Western Australia. [click to continue…]
A Curtin University researcher has shown that some ancient periods of massive eruptions released green house gases so quickly that they caused rapid climate change and mass extinctions.
But today we are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than even the most rapid sequence of eruptions.
“We have carefully dated minerals contained in the volcanic rocks and shown that only the fastest sequences of eruptions caused significant species extinctions,” says Dr Fred Jourdan who works as part of an international team.
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.
Research by a Perth forensic scientist is helping to
stem the flood of forgeries entering the international
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.
Sporting technology used on lizards to watch them run.
The same camera that analysed the bowling action of Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan is being used to study how dragon lizards can escape a bigger, faster predator, the goanna.
“It’s all in the running action,” says zoologist, Chris Clemente from the University of Western Australia. His work has shown that lizards have adapted their locomotion to fit with their habitats. For example, the dragon lizard can swing its leg around in almost a full circle which gives it an advantage in woody habitats with lots of obstacles.
Australia has the highest diversity of lizards in the world. They are a major part of our environment. Yet, despite this rich abundance, we don’t know much about them, says Chris, one of 15 early-careers scientists presenting their work to the media as part of the national Fresh Science competition.
What’s more, he says, lizards are direct descendents of dinosaurs. “If we understand modern day lizards we may also be able to unlock secrets of the past,” he said. “For example, the ancient seven-metre goannas may have had a more upright style of running making them faster runners than humans.”
Chris is using motion-analysis cameras to create a three dimensional model of the lizards running in virtual space. When combined with information about the habitat and body shape of these lizards, it begins to paint a picture of the lizard world.
“We may then be able to use this picture to predict how extinct reptiles moved and what habitat they lived in,” Chris said.
Goannas are a particular focus of his work. An invasion of these lizards from Asia 6 million years ago has resulted in 27 different species spread right across Australia. They can be found living in diverse habitat, from open deserts to tropical rainforest.
“They also vary in size. The smallest goannas are about the size of your thumb and the largest stretch over two metres,” he said. “No other group of animals shows such variation in body size, and my research is looking at why this group of lizards has been so successful.
“Larger lizards like goannas often hunt smaller lizards like dragons, and my motion research can help predict who would win such a predator-prey survival battle,” he said.
“I have found that the larger goannas will outrun the smaller dragons every time. But the dragons often get away because of their greater manoeuvrability.”
Chris got interested in this research after reading about the study of how ostriches run. Being bipedal, the research was comparing their gait with that of humans. With a passion for lizards, especially the giant lizards from prehistoric times, his honours project began by looking at dragon lizard locomotion. Moving on to goannas for his PhD, he got thinking about who would back in a race – goanna or lizard?
|A juvenile Varanus Panoptes is curious about the camera||Head of large adult Varanus Panoptes||Chris building the race track to measure speeds|
|Close-up of adult Varanus Panoptes in threat posture||Adult Varanus Panoptes in threat posture||Tongue flicking in Varanus Panoptes|
Ctenophorus Cristatus running upright on two legs (bipedally)
Goanna marked up ready for action
A treasure hunt through Western Australia’s south-west has uncovered more than 20 new trigger plant species – small plants that catapult pollen onto visiting insects.
Perth botanist Dr Juliet Wege made her findings whilst researching at the Department of Conservation and Land Management, the study funded by the Australian Biological Resources Study.
Juliet has formally named eight new species and is in the process of naming and describing many more. Her work won her a place in Fresh Science 2004, a national initiative to bring the work of early career researchers to public attention.
Trigger plants (scientifically known as Stylidium) are a diverse group of native herbs that get their name from the ingenious way they use insects to exchange pollen.
‘When an insect visits a flower, a catapult-like trigger flips rapidly through the air and strikes the insect on its body,” explains Juliet. This trigger action is not designed to eat the insect, or to brush it away. It either dusts the insect with pollen, or picks up pollen that the insect is already carrying.
“It’s a delightfully cunning way to transfer pollen between flowers, and the insects don’t seem to mind a bit,” Juliet says. “They visit flower after flower only to be whacked time and time again.”
There are over 230 kinds of trigger plant, making it Australia’s fifth largest species group. The new trigger plants grow in Western Australia’s south-west – the only part of Australia internationally recognised as a biodiversity hotspot.
”The south-west is home to a treasure trove of trigger plants,” says Juliet. “There are over 150 species recorded from this region, but there are plenty more just waiting to be discovered and named.”
These nameless trigger plants are the tip of the iceberg. Scientists estimate that at least 10% of the south-west flora has yet to be discovered.
“Tragically some of our native plants may become extinct before they are even recognised,” says Juliet. “Many south-west species are rare and subject to threats such as land clearing, dieback disease and weed invasion. Species that we are completely unaware of are especially at risk because they are not being actively targeted in conservation programs.”
Many of Juliet’s newly recognised trigger plants are known from only a few populations. Her research has ensured that their conservation requirements can now be addressed.
“Nature-based tourism is based around our spectacular ecosystems,” says Juliet. “Our native plants also contribute to our economy through industries such as horticulture, and potentially through bioprospecting for pharmaceuticals.”
In pursuit of new species, Juliet hunts through bushland found throughout the south-west region. She also examines pressed trigger plant collections housed at the Western Australian Herbarium and other research institutions in Australia and overseas.
She is constantly on the lookout for the rare or unusual.
“It’s a pretty exciting experience to find and name a new species,” says Juliet. “And you don’t necessarily have to drive too far from Perth or a major town to discover one.”
|A collection of trigger plants||New to science – 4 new trigger plants discovered by Juliet||Photographing trigger plants in WA|
|A trigger plant after having fired its catapult of pollen||An insect visitor||
Stylidium validum Wege
Kristen Warren from Murdoch University in WA is working to save Indonesia’s orang-utans. Many captive orang-utans couldn’t be released into the wild because they appeared to be carrying a human hepatitis B virus. Kristen showed the virus is a new, orang-utan virus – a discovery essential to conservation of dwindling wild populations.
More mums can breast feed successfully
First images of the breast in action
Mothers can be concerned that they do not have a letdown when breastfeeding, so their babies cannot get enough milk. For the first time, Donna Ramsey from The University of Western Australia has used ultrasound to capture moving images of letdown in the breast while a baby is breastfeeding. The work is helping rewrite the anatomy of the breast.
Fossil molecules in rocks obtained from mining operations have unlocked dramatic secrets of immense fluctuations in climate and sea level in prehistoric times.
The method charts climate changes through history and paints a new picture of the Earth’s vegetation cover. It is used by the petroleum industry to identify likely drilling sites for oil wells. [click to continue…]
Robots that look and behave like humans are proving too complicated and expensive to use in industry, and are being replaced by devices called ‘modular manipulators’.
The manipulator is made up of modules, with each module performing one simple task, like putting a bolt in place or twisting it, or bringing two components together. The modules are then linked together so they can perform a series of tasks, like assembling a mobile phone. [click to continue…]
Searching for oil and gas on Australia’s North West Shelf using a perspex tank full of honey, putty, sand and cake sprinkles may seem a little bizarre, but University of WA geologist Dr. Myra Keep believes it may help us locate where oil fields may or may not be. [click to continue…]