Fresh Science

Fresh Science is a national competition that has been helping early-career researchers find, and then share their stories of discovery for the past 18 years.

Taking young researchers with no media experience and turning them into spokespeople for science, Fresh Science gives its finalists a taste of life in the limelight, with a day of media training and a public event in their home state.

In 2015 Fresh Science ran in every mainland state, with 61 Fresh Scientists in six state events, and seven public events bringing Fresh Science to around 1000 members of the public.

Read some of the fresh science we discovered in 2015 here.

Click here to visit the Fresh Science website

Curing blindness by repairing corneas with invisible films

A patented treatment could restore eyesight for millions of sufferers of corneal disease.

The University of Melbourne–led team of researchers have grown corneal cells on a layer of film that can be implanted in the eye to help the cornea heal itself. They have successfully restored vision in animal trials and are aiming to move to human trials next year.

Berkay Photo - Fresh Science ProfileVictor Fortmann’s vision in one eye failed following a condition called bullous keratopathy. Two donated cornea transplants restored his sight for a period, but he now needs a third to restore his vision in that eye.

Over 2000 corneal transplants are conducted in Australia each year. But globally there’s a shortage of donated corneas, and the resulting loss in vision affects about 10 million people worldwide.

“We believe that our new treatment performs better than a donated cornea, and we hope to eventually use the patient’s own cells, reducing the risk of rejection,” says Berkay Ozcelik who developed the film working at the University of Melbourne.

“Further trials are required but we hope to see the treatment trialled in patients next year,” he says.

[click to continue…]

Blood reveals Great Barrier Reef sharks as homebodies

Small Australian sharks have been exposed as bigger homebodies than previously thought, in a study that took an existing chemical tracking technique and made it work for Great Barrier Reef sharks.

Dr Sam Munroe in the field

Dr Sam Munroe working in the field, Cleveland Bay, Queensland

The study found that the travel history of the Australian sharpnose shark was written in their blood—with chemical ‘fin-prints’ showing they tended to stay within smaller areas than previously believed.

“Small-bodied sharks that are both predator and prey, such as the Australian sharpnose, may be particularly important links between food webs,” says lead researcher Dr Sam Munroe, who studied the sharks while at James Cook University in Townsville.

“Information on their movements can improve our understanding of how the ecosystems function, while also helping us predict species most at risk from the impacts of a changing environment.”

[click to continue…]

Brain training to give tendon pain the boot

Footy player, netballer and ballet dancer available for interview

Re-training the brain with painless exercises may be the key to stopping recurring tendon pain, according to Melbourne researchers.

Dr Ebonie Rio

Dr Ebonie Rio

AFL, basketball and netball players are the major sufferers, with tendon pain in the knee debilitating and long-lasting. The injury can sideline a player or cause them to give up the sport entirely.

“More than 50 per cent of people who stop sport because of tendon pain still suffer from that pain 15 years later,” says Dr Ebonie Rio of the Monash University Tendon Research group.

“Our simple exercise is revolutionising how we treat tendinopathy.”

[click to continue…]

Not to be sniffed at! Nose spray offers pain relief in childbirth

Pain relief during childbirth may soon be delivered via a self-administered nasal spray, thanks to research from University of South Australia midwifery researcher, Dr Julie Fleet.

Well known for its use in delivering pain relief to children and in managing pain in patients being transferred by ambulance, the nasal spray analgesic drug, fentanyl, has now been shown to be effective in relieving labour pain.

Julie Fleet, University of South Australia)

Julie Fleet, University of South Australia

In fact Julie and her colleagues at Flinders University and the University of Adelaide have found that fentanyl nose spray is just as effective as pethidine injections, which are commonly used, but fentanyl has fewer side effects for both mother and baby.

[click to continue…]

Filtering the blood to keep cancer in check

A new diagnostic system used to detect cancer cells in small blood samples could next be turned towards filtering a patient’s entire system to remove those dangerous cells – like a dialysis machine for cancer – says an Australian researcher who helped develop the system.

Dr Majid Warkiani at the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at the University of New South Wales

Dr Majid Warkiani, Australian Centre for NanoMedicine, UNSW

The technique was developed for cancer diagnosis, and is capable of detecting (and removing) a tiny handful of cancer-spreading cells from amongst the billions of healthy cells in a small blood sample.

The revolutionary system, which works to diagnose cancer at a tenth of the cost of competing technologies, is now in clinical trials in the US, UK, Singapore and Australia, and is in the process of being commercialised by Clearbridge BioMedics PteLtd in Singapore.

[click to continue…]

Kimberley corals are true Aussie battlers

Zoe collecting samples for further molecular analysis. Photo WA Museum

Zoe collecting samples for further molecular analysis. Photo WA Museum

While coral reefs around the world are feeling the heat, little-known reefs in Australia’s Kimberley region are prospering, despite living in some of the toughest conditions—and scientists aren’t yet sure why.

The discovery has particular significance this summer with fears of a severe coral bleaching event to hit our northern waters—the result of steadily rising sea temperatures and a strong seasonal El Niño.

WA researchers have found that while coral reefs all around the world are feeling the heat of rising temperatures, some inshore reefs in the Kimberley region’s Bonaparte Archipelago are prospering, despite living in some of the toughest conditions. [click to continue…]

Fresh Science judging

Nominations for Fresh Science 2015 have now closed and judging has begun.

Thanks to all 170+ nominees who took the time to tell us about themselves and their science.

We are reading all the nominations right now, and we’ll get back to you all as soon as as soon as we can.

We have quite a few to get through, so we’ll prioritise them by date: Victoria first, then Townsville, etc. We’ll make sure we give you all at least three weeks’ notice of the event in your state.

Looking for fresh, young researchers with a story to tell

Fresh Science 2015

We’re looking for the best and brightest early-career researchers who have made a peer-reviewed discovery and received little or no media attention.

Fresh Science is a national competition that selects researchers with research results, an invention, or a discovery, trains them in how to tell their story, and helps them share their findings with the media and the public.

We’re looking for:

  • early-career researchers (from honours students to no more than five years post-PhD)
  • a peer-reviewed discovery that has had little or no media coverage
  • some ability to present your ideas in everyday English (something we can build on).

Successful applicants will participate in Fresh Science 2015. First, a day of media and communication training, learning how to find the key, compelling story in their research, and how to tell that story. Then, in the following pub night, they’ll face the challenge of explaining their research. We’ll also publish short profiles on each Freshie, and we’ll pitch the best story in each state to the media.

Nominations are now open and close 1 July. [click to continue…]

Buddhist inspired solar cells and the Eureka Prize winners revealed on Wednesday night

The Face of a Moth

  • Today: a singing prayer bowl has inspired an ANU scientist to re-think the way that solar cells are designed.
  • Today to Wednesday evening: Eureka Prize finalists available for interview.
  • Wednesday night: the 2014 Eureka Prize winners are announced at a grand dinner at Sydney Town Hall.
  • Also revealed on Wednesday: the top science photograph for 2014, available for publication along with all the highly commended photos, including this one: The face of a Moth, by Ralph Grimm.

And finally, a quick thank you to everyone at Radio Australia for your interest in our stories over the years. We were shocked by the scale of the cuts and wish everyone leaving the best. Our friends in CSIRO have also taken big cuts including some 40 communication jobs.  [click to continue…]

Buddhist singing bowls inspire new tandem solar cell design

FameLab (Square)

The shape of a centuries-old Buddhist singing bowl has inspired a Canberra scientist to re-think the way that solar cells are designed to maximize their efficiency.

Dr Niraj Lal, of the Australian National University,  found during his PhD at the University of Cambridge, that small nano-sized versions of Buddhist singing bowls resonate with light in the same way as they do with sound, and he’s applied this shape to solar cells to increase their ability to capture more light and convert it into electricity.

“Current standard solar panels lose a large amount of light-energy as it hits the surface, making the panels’ generation of electricity inefficient,” says Niraj. “But if the cells are singing bowl-shaped, then the light bounces around inside the cell for longer”. [click to continue…]

Can vets help fight domestic violence by identifying pet abuse?

Media call: 11am, 17 August 2014 with researchers and dogs at The University of Sydney Veterinary Teaching Hospital, NSW Lydia Tong Credit OK-White Lane

Pet abuse and domestic violence are closely linked. Animals can’t talk but University of Sydney vet Dr Lydia Tong has shown vets how to tell the difference between bone fractures caused by accidents and those caused by abuse. Her fracture identification methods are giving vets the added confidence to identify cases of violence against pets and could serve as a warning of domestic violence.

Now, in a new study with Domestic Violence NSW, Lydia is looking deeper into the connections between animal abuse and domestic violence to assess the need for better services to protect both human and animal victims.

“Around 70% of women escaping violent homes also report pet abuse,” says Lydia. “So vets are often the first to see evidence of abuse in a family, when they treat injured pets.”

“Different forces on bones can tell a story—the skeleton of an animal keeps a distinct record that indicates the force applied to bones from past injuries, breaks or fractures. But it can often be difficult for vets to say with confidence whether a fracture has resulted from abuse or accident.”

To give vets this confidence, in a 2014 study, Lydia collected cases of abused dogs who were punched, hit with a blunt weapon or kicked, and examined the fractures from these injuries. She then compared these fractures to those caused by genuine accidents. Her results, published in The Veterinary Journal, identified five key features of fractures that vets could look for to distinguish accidents from abuse.

Now, having given vets this reference to diagnose abuse, Lydia and her colleagues at The University of Sydney are gathering more information on the connections between domestic violence and animal abuse. [click to continue…]

Interpretative dance coaxes bees into quick decisions on nest sites

14171849136_6a20a4805e_oWednesday 9 July 2014

Video and photos of bees available
Scientist available for interview

Dr James Makinson evicts bees from their homes for a good reason—to figure out how they collectively decide on the next place to live. His research on bee communication and consensus-building has been published in this month’s issue of Animal Behaviour.

James and his colleagues at the University of Sydney in partnership with two universities in Thailand have found that not all honeybee species think like the common Western hive bee when it comes to deciding on a place to nest.

Two little-known species—the giant Asian honeybee and the tiny red dwarf honeybee—use a more  rapid collective decision-making process that enables them to choose a new home quickly. But they aren’t as fussy when it comes to the quality of their new home.

It’s work that could help with understanding and managing honeybees for pollination services, ecological health, and pest control. [click to continue…]

Cannibalistic cancer eats itself to survive treatment

But SAHMRI researchers are making it starve by eating itself to death

Lisa Schafranek at the national final of FameLab Australia, held at the WA Museum in May. Credit: OK-White Lane © International FameLab

Scientist available for interview, Tuesday 1 July 2014

Stubborn cancer cells play a cunning trick when faced with treatments designed to kill them — they eat themselves to survive. But SAHMRI researchers have found a way to starve the cancer cells, making them more susceptible to cancer therapy.

As researchers develop more personalised cancer therapies that target cancer cells, they are also seeing an increase in resistance to treatment, where patients relapse or no longer respond to treatment.

One way that cancer resists treatment is by undergoing a process where the cancer cells eat themselves to maintain energy levels during times of stress — a process that helps them survive cancer treatments that would otherwise starve them.

Lisa Schafranek, a University of Adelaide PhD student working a SAHMRI, and her colleagues have used a clinically available drug to stop leukaemia cells from eating themselves to survive cancer therapy. [click to continue…]

Prostate cancer survivors can improve their sex life at the gym

And researchers need Perth men for a study to find out why

Monday 23 June 2014

Media call 9-10am AWST at Edith Cowan University Mount Lawley Campus with researchers and patients.

Perth researchers have shown that twice-weekly exercise can improve sexual function in prostate cancer patients by 50 per cent.

Now, they’re calling on Perth men to participate in a new study to find out why exercise works, and how effective it can be on a broader range of patients.

One in six Australian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 90 per cent of them will report some form of sexual dysfunction during or after their treatment.

“Men think about sex a lot – on average, every 45 minutes which is more often than they think about food or sleep,” says Dr Prue Cormie, a senior research fellow at Edith Cowan University. “So it’s not surprising that sexual dysfunction is the most frequently identified issue of importance among prostate cancer survivors.”

Last year, Prue and her colleagues at the Edith Cowan University Health and Wellness Institute put a group of men with prostate cancer through a supervised exercise program involving twice-weekly group-based sessions of resistance exercise such as weight lifting, and aerobic exercises including walking and cycling.

[click to continue…]

Cars can be lighter, faster, stronger – but they need more arms

Linden Servinis. Credit: OK-White LaneScientist available for interview, Tuesday 17 June 2014

Lighter-weight, fuel-efficient cars may be closer to reality thanks to Geelong researchers who are giving carbon fibre the gripping power it needs to be able to stand up to impacts from motorists.

High-performance vehicles already use carbon fibre – a high-strength lightweight material that can be moulded into complex shapes – to make cars lighter, more fuel-efficient and faster.

But although strong, carbon fibre is prone to damage from sudden impact. And unlike metal, it can’t be repaired – only replaced.

This factor has limited the material’s uptake by the wider automotive industry, as the common bingle would end up costing motorists a lot more to fix.

Ms Linden Servinis, a PhD student at Deakin University, and her colleagues have developed a treatment for carbon fibre that makes it 16% stronger by forming extra chemical ‘arms’ that grip onto its surroundings, allowing the material to withstand greater impacts. [click to continue…]

Future fuels will come in orange flavour

Tim Brennan presenting his talk at the FameLab Australia National Final in May. Credit: OK-White Lane. © International FameLab

But researchers have to teach yeast to make it

Thursday 5 June 2014

Queensland researchers are persuading baker’s yeast to produce orange-flavoured renewable jet fuel from sugar.

Mr Timothy Brennan and his colleagues at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have helped genetically-engineered yeast to evolve to make an oil called limonene, which is found naturally in lemons and oranges, and also happens to be an efficient jet fuel.

They’ve worked out how to get the yeast to make more oil without killing itself in the process.

It’s an important step in scaling up biofuel production so that it can become a serious alternative to traditional fossil fuels. [click to continue…]

A ‘tango’ between light and mirrors could help find signs of life on Mars, and identify minerals and water deposits here on Earth

Francis Torres. Credit: British Council/OK-White LaneTuesday 3 June 2014

Scientist available for interview in Perth on Tuesday 3 June

Dr Francis Torres, a physicist at the University of Western Australia, has developed the mirror device at the heart of a new amplifier technology, which uses an interaction between a high-powered laser and mirror motion to magnify subtle metal, temperature and biological vibrations so they are more easily detected.

“Our idea is to connect the sensors in existing space exploration tools to our amplifier so they can look deeper underground and find smaller and hard-to-find targets such as hidden mineral deposits, water or other bacterial life,” says Francis, who developed the resonator mirror as part of his PhD.

According to Francis, the amplifier technology could also enhance the detection sensitivity of Earth exploration tools and medical sensors.

[click to continue…]

Worm spit heals then kills; sends Cairns scientist to the UK in search of fame

Michael025am AEST, 28 May 2014

Vision: laboratories, close-up photos of the worms, footage of Michael’s talk

Cairns researchers have discovered a wound-healing and cancer-causing hormone in the spit of a liver worm that lives in over nine million people and infects adventurous Australian tourists. The Southeast Asian liver fluke munches through the liver repairing the damage as it goes. But after many years of infection it can cause liver cancer and kills 20,000 people each year in Thailand alone.

Now James Cook University researcher Dr Michael Smout has found that a protein in the spit also sends wound-healing messages.

In 2010 James Cook University researchers discovered that the worm spit was promoting cell growth and wound repair. Then in 2012 Dr Michael Smout discovered a growth hormone in the spit, showed it was responsible both for the repair and in part for the cancer, and that it promotes wound-healing. He hopes that the work will lead both to new wound-healing compounds, and to a vaccine against the worm.

The discovery received no public attention at the time. But now its discoverer, Dr Michael Smout, is presenting the work publically for the first time thanks to FameLab Australia. He won the Australian final two weeks ago in Perth using a teddy bear to assist in his talk. He flies to the International FameLab final in the UK on Friday to represent Australia. [click to continue…]

Parasitic worm spit – heals wounds, causes cancer, wins FameLab Australia

Congratulations to Dr Michael Smout from James Cook University for taking out Australia’s first FameLab competition on Tuesday night in Fremantle, WA.

Michael and his research story on cancer-causing liver worms will be heading to the UK in June to represent Australia at the International FameLab competition held at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival.

He’ll be needing some extra luggage allowance to take his props with him.

Congratulations to all the finalists, and to the runner-up Tim Brennan from The University of Queensland.

You’ll be hearing more about Michael’s work and other Fresh Science stories in the coming weeks.

FameLab Australia 2014 (Top left: James Makinson, Vince Polito, Niraj Lal, Nick Roden, Prue Cormie, Robyn Williams (MC), His Excellency Malcolm McCusker AO, Francis Torres, Tim Brennan, James Aridas, Linden Servinis. Front left: Dr Ian McLeod (judge), Michael Smout, Lydia Tong, Lisa Schafranek, Prof Lyn Beazley (judge), Nick Marchand (judge). Photo: OK-White Lane. © International FameLab.

FameLab Australia 2014 (Top left: James Makinson, Vince Polito, Niraj Lal, Nick Roden, Prue Cormie, Robyn Williams (MC), His Excellency Malcolm McCusker AO, Francis Torres, Tim Brennan, James Aridas, Linden Servinis. Front left: Dr Ian McLeod (judge), Michael Smout, Lydia Tong, Lisa Schafranek, Prof Lyn Beazley (judge), Nick Marchand (judge). Photo: OK-White Lane. © International FameLab.

Jetlag skin patch may prevent brain damage in newborns

James Aridas presenting his talk at the FameLab Australia National Final in May. Credit: OK-White Lane © International FameLabA simple and affordable ‘jetlag’ skin patch could help prevent deaths and disabilities of two million babies worldwide each year by reducing brain damage caused by low oxygen during birth.

Monash University PhD student James Aridas and his colleagues at MIMR-PHI Institute’s Ritchie Centre have found that melatonin patches, commonly used to treat jetlag in the US, can reduce damaging free radicals and subsequent brain cell death when they are administered in the hours after birth asphyxia has occurred.

The discovery could help change the fate of around 300 Australian babies who develop disabilities and neurodevelopmental disorders after birth asphyxia each year, as well as that of millions of babies in developing countries where treatment is almost non-existent.

[click to continue…]