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

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. [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

Scientists performing at a venue near you – FameLab Australia State Heats

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Lights! Camera! Science! Passionate Aussie scientists are in the spotlight talking science.

No jargon, no lab coats – props, music and poetry optional.

Join us in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide for the State Heats of FameLab Australia – a competition that gives early-career researchers the chance to talk about their science in plain English.

But they’ve only got 3 minutes.

The State Heat winners will head to Perth to compete in the FameLab national final in May.

All events are free to attend and all are welcome.

Register your attendance in your state via Eventbrite:

[continue reading…]

Building on mud: when can we start?

Julie Lovisa in lab 2

A Queensland engineer can now predict how long it takes for reclaimed land to become suitable for development, potentially saving millions of dollars in building costs.

Dr Julie Lovisa from James Cook University is using maths to determine when dredged soil is solid enough to build on.

[continue reading…]

Monitoring drugs at home, not the hospital

Aliaa Shallan Holding the Heart of her Device (Credit Aemi Abdul Keyon, UTAS)

A tiny Tasmanian invention that could make personalized medication easy and affordable.

Millions of people should have their blood tested each day to check the level of prescription drug in their blood.

Some drugs are only effective within a very narrow range. Too little and the drug is ineffective, too much and the drug could be deadly.

[continue reading…]

How ankles can save footballers’ knees

Maths meets Carlton, AFL fights ACL

Hossein MokhtarzadehAFL knee injuries could be dramatically reduced if physiotherapists paid more attention to ankles, a Melbourne mechanical engineer has found. He is now trialling the mathematical models to help Carlton Football Club predict and screen for players at most risk of knee injuries.

Hossein Mokhtarzadeh has demonstrated that the ankle is key to preventing knee injuries that cost the Australian football codes tens of millions of dollars a year. As a University of Melbourne post-doctoral fellow at the Australian Institute for Musculoskeletal Science, Hossein is hoping to expand his work into protecting the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against injury by developing exercises to strengthen critical muscles supporting the ankle joint. He also has a vision for a mechanical bracing system for those who may not be able to train their muscles to a sufficient level.

[continue reading…]

The fastest sperm may not be best

angelacrean2Sydney sea squirts show that there’s more to fertilization and IVF than we thought

For sea squirts the key to a long and happy life is to be fertilized not by a fast sperm, but by one that stands the test of time, Dr Angela Crean, from the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre at the University of NSW, has found.

And her discovery, published in PLoS, also shows for the first time that the influence of sperm extends well beyond the moment of conception. If further studies demonstrate the same effects in human sperm, the finding will change some of the assumptions used in IVF practice.

[continue reading…]

Sticky ear mystery solved

Ruth-Thornton-doing-video-otoscopyTrial of treatment underway in Perth

Perth researchers are planning to end the sleepless nights that families face when ear infections strike and won’t go away. Their research could reduce the need for antibiotics and surgery, and help tackle hearing loss in indigenous communities.

Dr Ruth Thornton and her research team at the University of Western Australia have discovered that sticky nets of DNA hide the bacteria in the ears of kids with recurrent middle-ear infections, where they evade antibiotic treatment by creating impenetrable slimy biofilms.

[continue reading…]

Using genes to counter rust

Safeguarding an important food crop—and the world’s beer supply

  • On-site – farmers’ crop of barley infected with leaf rust
  • Lee Hickey, University of Queensland geneticist and John Agnew, Chair of the Northern Region Barley Advisory Committee will be available for comment.

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An international study led by a Queensland scientist has found a way to better safeguard an important food crop—and the world’s beer supply.

The study, led by University of Queensland geneticist Dr Lee Hickey, successfully identified a gene that protects barley against leaf rust – a disease that hit Queensland farmers in 2010 and could destroy almost a third of the national crop.

[continue reading…]

Aussie algae fuel green oil hope

SBRC - pond measurements_LRDespite the claims of some, commercially viable fuels from algae have not yet been developed. But newly trialled native algae species provide real hope, a Queensland scientist has found.

Dr Evan Stephens and the team at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, in collaboration with Germany’s Bielefeld University and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, have identified fast-growing and hardy microscopic algae that could prove the key to cheaper and more efficient production of the alternative fuel.

With the help of these native species, Australia could potentially become an oil exporter like Middle East by devoting just 1% of its land to algae farms.

[continue reading…]

Worms reveal link between dementia gene and ageing

Yee Lian Chew2 thumbThe discovery of a link between a specific gene and ageing in a species of worm could reveal valuable lessons for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Low levels of the protein generated from the gene known as ‘tau’—also present in humans—not only hastens age-related changes in the brain of the worm, but also shortens the worm’s life, Sydney University PhD candidate Yee Lian Chew has found.

[continue reading…]

Tiny fossils link ‘old bastard’ marsupials to South America and Africa

robinbeck1Two tiny fossils are prompting an overhaul of theories about marsupial evolution after they revealed unexpected links to South America – and possibly Africa.

One of the fossils, found at the Tingamarra site in south-eastern Queensland, is a 55 million-year-old ankle bone from a mouse-sized marsupial previously known only from South America. The second is a tooth, which derives from a formerly unknown species that shows similarities to fossils found in South America and, surprisingly, North Africa.
[continue reading…]

Marsupial bones and worms’ brains: Fresh Science day two

Marsupial bones and worms’ brains

At day two of Fresh Science, meet two researchers from Sydney

Marsupial fossils the size of a grain of sand reveal unexpected links to South America – and possibly North Africa.

Two tiny fossils are set to overturn the conventional theory about the evolution of marsupials, which holds that there was a single migration from the part of the Gondwana ‘supercontinent’ that became South America to the part that became Australia.

[continue reading…]

Electric fishes spark safer power line technology

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Melbourne researchers have invented and patented a way of detecting and locating potential electrical faults along large stretches of power line before they occur.

The invention was inspired by a boyhood interest in electric fishes, such as the black ghost knifefish.

The patented detection system, already being employed by local electricity companies, could help prevent the major discharges that lead to sparking and blackouts, says Dr. Alexe Bojovschi, a post-doctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering at RMIT University.
[continue reading…]

Mixing drugs and alcohol for better asthma inhalers

Wai Meng Woo - asthma drug particles

Asthma inhalers could soon become much more effective, thanks to a clever new way of making the particles they deliver invented by a Melbourne chemical engineer and his team.

Current puffer designs and typical size ranges of particles mean a large portion of the medication propelled into a patient’s throat remains there. Only a fraction reaches the lungs.

[continue reading…]

Fresh Science national finalists announced

    After five state finals involving 58 young scientists and 15 journalists, we’re looking forward to introducing the twelve national finalists to the world.

    They’ve each had to: write their own press release; practice radio and TV interviews; polish up their ‘elevator pitch’; come up with answers to tricky questions; and entertain a crowd over a glass of wine at the end of the day.

    We’ve picked the top 12 from these state finals to come to Melbourne from 22-25 July for a further four days training in how to communicate their science with the public, government, industry, business and schools at the Fresh Science national final.

    Here’s how you can meet them.

    Fresh Science at the Duke of Kent

    Join us for a beer and hear leading early-career scientists reveal their discoveries in a pub, using rhyme, reason and the odd firework.

    Last year we learned how to interpretively dance video game addiction, describe milk without saying cow and what rhymes with galaxies.

    It’s on from 6:00pm for a 6:30pm start, upstairs at the Duke of Kent – 293 La Trobe Street (between Elizabeth & Queen st), Melbourne, Victoria.

    The event is open to the public, and the more the merrier. Drinks and meals at bar prices.

    If you’re interested in coming, email AJ on aj@scienceinpublic.com.au

    Fresh Science school forums

    Teachers and students can learn about how a worm gene can regulate brain health and ageing; how studying electric fish can help prevent power outages; a 55-million-year-old fossil found in rural Queensland that is challenging theories about the origin of Australian marsupials; how maths can be used to predict the time it will take to make land from mud and more at the Fresh Science school forums.

    At each of the forums students will hear six young scientists talk briefly about their discoveries. Then there will be 15 minutes or so for students to ask questions about the discoveries or how the researchers got into science or the challenges of being a scientist, whatever they want.

    The scientists will be in Melbourne as a part of Fresh Science – a national competition that selects top early career researchers from around Australia to present their work to the media and public. The scientists work in a range of fields from botany and zoology to biotechnology, medicine and engineering.

    The forums are on Thursday 25 July at the Melbourne Museum. The two options are:

  • 10 to 11am or;
  • 11:30am – 12:30pm

The Fresh Science forums are free, but bookings are essential.

For bookings, contact the Melbourne Museum: 

  • 8:30am – 5:00pm, Monday to Friday.
  • 1300 130 152 (regional callers)
  • 03 8341 7767 (metro callers)
  • IMAX online www.imaxmelbourne.com.au

2013 National Finalists

  • Alexe Bojovschi, RMIT University
  • Wai Woo, Monash University
  • Julie Lovisa, James Cook University
  • Yee Lian Chew, University of Sydney
  • Angela Crean, University of New South Wales
  • Aliaa Shallan, University of Tasmania
  • Ruth Thornton, University of Western Australia
  • Robin Beck, University of New South Wales
  • Lee Hickey, University of Queensland
  • Evan Stephens, University of Queensland
  • Christian Reynolds, University of South Australia
  • Hossein Mokhtarzadeh, University of Melbourne