Macquarie University

We assist the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Macquarie University with their research communication, helping them to raise the profile of their science and researchers.

A collection of their media releases is included below.

You can also read all the news from the Faculty on their website.

Or follow the Faculty @MQSciEng and their Executive Dean @BarbaraMesserle on Twitter.

Friend or foe: how do you feel about the insects and spiders living in your home?

A jumping spider commonly found in Australian backyards. Photo: Jim McLean

Do you love or loathe your creepy-crawly house guests? Are you an insecticide at the ready kind of person? Or do you take a more live and let live approach?

Researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Sydney want to know about the insects and spiders living in and around your home, how you feel about them, and what you do to control them.  [click to continue…]

Bugs’ burps for efficient hydrogen production

Bacteria that turn sugar into hydrogen are being engineered by Macquarie University researchers who received a $1.1 million grant from ARENA, the Australian government’s renewable energy agency.

“There’s global interest in using hydrogen gas to produce electricity in hydrogen fuel cells, for example to power vehicles, heat buildings or provide electricity for industry,” says Professor Robert Willows, who is one of the project leaders. “It’s a clean and efficient energy source.”

While 95 per cent of the hydrogen used worldwide currently is produced from fossil fuels, increasingly people are looking at how to produce hydrogen from renewables.

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Turning coffee waste into coffee cups

Dominik Kopp in the lab.

A Macquarie PhD student believes he’s come up with a way to turn coffee waste into biodegradable plastic coffee cups.

He’s developed a method to turn coffee grounds into lactic acid, which can then be used to produce biodegradable plastics, and is now refining the process as he finishes his PhD.

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$6.9 million quest for new antibiotics from Australia’s unique microbiome

Macquarie University and UWA scientists will join forces with two Australian companies to search for new antibiotics in 500,000 species of Australian microbes.

Background information below.

The project will be supported by a $3 million CRC-P grant announced by Australia’s Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, Senator Zed Seselja.

“We have samples of over 500,000 Australian microbes,” says Dr Ernest Lacey, Managing Director of Sydney-based company, Microbial Screening Technologies (MST), and the leader of the project.

Microbe-covered plates. Image credit: Andrew Piggott

“We’ve collected them from the soil in backyards, in paddocks, and forests. We’ve collected them from insects, plants and animals. We’ve gone everywhere to find Australia’s unique microbiome.”

“Each microbe contains a unique cocktail of metabolites. When we find an interesting new molecule, we’ll be relying on Macquarie University researcher Dr Andrew Piggott and his team to help us to work out its structure and mode of action.”

“Then Dr Heng Chooi from UWA will use genomics to unravel how the microbes assemble these metabolites and then boost their productivity.”

“Advanced Veterinary Therapeutics (AVT) is led by Dr Stephen Page and will focus on animal health potential,” says Dr Lacey.

“The CRC-P Program helps businesses, industries and research organisations to work together on short-term projects to develop practical solutions to challenges in key industry sectors,” Assistant Minister Seselja said at the project launch.

The three-year project, “BioAustralis, towards the future, will harness MST’s unique collection as a source of next-generation antibiotics capable of overcoming microbial resistance. [click to continue…]

Macquarie and Analog Devices announce partnership to develop the next generation of design engineers

New lab designed to meet the demands of the next wireless revolution

Images credit: Bruce Guenter/Flickr

Macquarie’s School of Engineering today announced a partnership with  semiconductor company Analog Devices, Inc. (Nasdaq: ADI) to launch the Macquarie and Analog Devices Teaching and Research Laboratory (MADTRL).

The new teaching and research lab will bring industrial experience into Macquarie University, to better prepare the next generation of engineers.

“Traditionally, undergraduate engineering education has been structured around classroom theory, laboratory exercises, and a relatively disconnected industry-placement or internship system,” says the School of Engineering’s Professor Michael Heimlich.

“Similarly, Masters and PhD work is typically done in an academic setting with inputs and arms-length interactions with the ‘real world’ at best.”

Many emerging applications ranging from 5G mobile networks to low Earth orbit satellite constellations will require new design paradigms to meet their technical needs and cost constraints.

Analog Devices hopes this partnership will help develop the next generation of microwave and millimetre-wave integrated circuit (MMIC) designers to meet the demand.

“Macquarie University has a history of world class MMIC design and modelling expertise,” says Analog Devices’ Senior Director of Engineering, John Cowles.

“Bringing these technical skills closer to real product development is critical towards accelerating the introduction of next generation technologies into emerging high frequency applications. The merging of design innovation with world class manufacturing is what makes this partnership so exciting.”

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The future of electronics is chemical

We can’t cram any more processing power into silicon-based computer chips.

But a paper published in Nature overnight reveals how we can make electronic devices 10 times smaller, and use molecules to build electronic circuits instead.

Computer chip

Image credit: Brian Kostiuk/Unsplash

We’re reaching the limits of what we can do with conventional silicon semiconductors. In order for electronic components to continue getting smaller we need a new approach.

Molecular electronics, which aims to use molecules to build electronic devices, could be the answer.

But until now, scientists haven’t been able to make a stable device platform for these molecules to sit inside which could reliably connect with the molecules, exploit their ability to respond to a current, and be easily mass-produced.

An international team of researchers, including Macquarie University’s Associate Professor Koushik Venkatesan, have developed a proof of concept device which they say addresses all these issues.

Their research was published overnight in Nature.

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Are damselflies in distress?

How are insects responding to rapid climate change?

Molecular Ecology paper Monday, 30 April 2018

Damselflies mating

The blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans) in mating formation. Photo: Rachael Dudaniec

Damselflies are evolving rapidly as they expand their range in response to a warming climate, according to new research led by Macquarie University researchers in Sydney.

“Genes that influence heat tolerance, physiology, and even vision are giving them evolutionary options to help them cope with climate change. Other insects may not be so lucky,” says Dr Rachael Dudaniec, lead author of the paper.

The study, published in Molecular Ecology today, investigated the genetics of an insect’s capacity to adapt and survive in a changing world by looking at the blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans) in Sweden.

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Robots: 22 international teams, 51 Aussie teams competing at Sydney Olympic Park from Sunday

FIRST Robotics Competition Australian Regionals kick off in Sydney from 11-18 March.

Move over Olympians! It’s athletes of a different kind that will be pitting their skills against each other at Sydney Olympic Park from 11 March-18 March.

High school teams from across the Asia Pacific are descending upon the Quaycentre to battle it out at the FIRST Robotics Competition Australian Regionals.

“It’s a competition, but it also teaches students design and engineering skills when they’re building their robots,” explains FIRST Australia director Luan Heimlich.

“They benefit from learning how to work together in teams, and cooperate and solve problems with tangible outcomes.”

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Michaelia Cash at FIRST

Beatrix Potter, pioneering scientist; using whales and fish to trace emerging viruses; travelling back in time; and uniting women in earth and environmental sciences

Female scientists have played a critical role in many scientific discoveries throughout history, but their contributions have often been overlooked.

Ahead of International Women’s Day this Thursday, Macquarie University scientists are celebrating the work of forgotten women of science through history; explaining how their work today is changing the world; and making the case for why women in earth and environmental sciences need to stand together.

  • Lesley Hughes researches the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. Now she’s celebrating the work of Beatrix Potter and other pioneering but forgotten women of science, through the exhibition Hidden Figures of STEMM.
  • Evolutionary biologist Jemma Geoghegan is using whales and fish to better understand how new viruses emerge.
  • Kira Westaway uses glowing grains of sand to travel back in time. Her work has transformed our understanding of human evolution.
  • Volcanologist Heather Handley’s research into volcanoes in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ is improving our understanding of volcanic hazards. She’s also the co-founder and chair of new network Women in Earth and Environmental Sciences Australasia (WOMESSA).

More on each of these stories  below.

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World’s largest-ever ape; more efficient aircraft; and why having more women in science matters

Science needs more women and four Macquarie scientists can tell you why ahead of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this Sunday.

  • Professor Barbara Messerle is a research chemist and leads a team of 360 academic staff and 6,400 students as the Executive Dean of Macquarie University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering.
  • Dr Shari Gallop was surprised by the level of gender inequality she encountered at the start of her academic career, so she co-founded the network to do something about it.
  • Associate Professor Kira Westaway is leading a team to hunt in China for fossils from Gigantopithecus blacki, the largest ever ape to walk the planet.
  • Dr Sophie Calabretto is developing the maths that will help designers build more efficient aircraft and climate scientists develop the next generation of global climate models – and she’s worried about the declining number of girls studying maths.

More on each of these scientists below.

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Saving our species and the future of weeds: protecting biodiversity in a changing climate

Biodiversity Node at Macquarie University wins 2017 BHERT Award for Outstanding Collaboration for National (Non-Economic) Benefit

New South Wales is better placed to manage and protect its biodiversity in a changing climate thanks to the deeply collaborative work of the Biodiversity Node of the NSW Adaptation Research Hub, hosted by Macquarie University.

Since it was established in 2013, the Node has delivered research to support the management of biodiversity conservation in NSW under climate change. As a result of this research the Node has produced a suite of evidence-based online tools including:

  • Niche Finder: baseline maps of ecological ranges and climate niches
  • Threatened Species: metrics on the vulnerability of NSW threatened species to climate change
  • Weed Futures: predicting how weeds will respond to climate change
  • Climate Ready Vegetation: step-by-step instructions on revegetation planning for future climates.

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Professor Dali Kaafar to lead research at the Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub

A focus on cyber security and privacy-preserving technologies.

Macquarie University is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Dali Kaafar as Scientific Director of the Optus Macquarie University Cyber Security Hub.

Prof Kaafar will move from CSIRO Data61 on 3 October 2017.

“It is a pleasure to appoint Prof Kaafar who is regarded worldwide as one of the leaders in cyber security, in particular regarding data privacy issues,” says Dr Christophe Doche, Executive Director of the Cyber Security Hub.

“Privacy is a fascinating and important research area as it cuts across fields of information technology, business, law, criminology, psychology, and ethics,” he says. “This research topic is thus very well aligned with the philosophy of the Cyber Security Hub, which is to tackle cyber security issues with an interdisciplinary mindset. Privacy-preserving technologies are key to enable collaboration amongst organisations and to foster private and confidential data-sharing for wider and more powerful cyber security approaches.”

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Dali-Kaafar

Microbial mass movements: the millions of species we ignore at our peril

Michael Gillings (Credit: Chris Stacey, Macquarie University)

Science paper Friday, 15 September 2017

Background information below.

More high-res images available below.

Wastewater, tourism, and trade are moving microbes around the globe at an unprecedented scale. As we travel the world we leave billions of bacteria at every stop.

As with rats, foxes, tigers and pandas, some microbes are winners, spreading around the world into new ecological niches we’ve created. Others are losing, and might face extinction. These changes are invisible, so why should we care?

“Yes, our survival may depend on these microbial winner and losers,” say a team of Australian, Chinese, French, British and Spanish researchers in a paper published in Science today.

“The oxygen we breathe is largely made by photosynthetic bacteria in the oceans (and not by rainforests, as is commonly believed),” says Macquarie University biologist Michael Gillings.

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The mystery of leaf size solved

Click here for high-res images.

Background information below.

And feature story by lead author Ian Wright for The Conversation here.

A global team of researchers have cracked the mystery of leaf size. Their research was published today as a cover story in Science.

Why is a banana leaf a million times bigger than a common heather leaf? Why are leaves generally much larger in tropical jungles than in temperate forests and deserts? The textbooks say it’s a balance between water availability and overheating.

But it’s not that simple.

The research, led by Associate Professor Ian Wright from Macquarie University, reveals that in much of the world the key limiting factor for leaf size is night temperature and the risk of frost damage to leaves. [click to continue…]

Big Leaf

Reinventing the laser

Caring for Country in Arnhem Land
Macquarie University Eureka Prize winners

Macquarie University congratulates its winners in the 2017 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes and the winner of the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.

High-power diamond lasers invented at Macquarie University

High-power lasers have many potential applications: from medical imaging to manufacturing, shooting down drones or space junk, or powering deep space probes. But current laser technologies overheat at high power.

Rich Mildren and his team have developed a technique to make diamond lasers that, in theory, have extraordinary power range. Five years ago, their lasers were just a few watts in power. Now they’ve reached 400 watts, close to the limit for comparable conventional lasers.

Rich Mildren won the Defence Science and Technology Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

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Rich-Mildren

Reinventing the laser

High-power diamond lasers, invented at Macquarie University, Eureka finalist

High-power lasers have many potential applications: from medical imaging to manufacturing, shooting down drones or space junk, or powering deep space probes. But current laser technologies overheat at high power.

Rich Mildren and his team have developed a technique to make diamond lasers that, in theory, have extraordinary power range. Five years ago, their lasers were just a few watts in power. Now they’ve reached 400 watts, close to the limit for comparable conventional lasers.

Their calculations suggest that their diamond laser technology could handle over a thousand times the current power. They’ve also shown that they can use diamond to focus multiple laser beams into a single beam. And they can create almost any frequency of light.

Diamond is an outstanding optical material and exceptionally good at dissipating heat. But it’s not very good at generating a laser beam as its dense structure makes it difficult to introduce the impurity additives normally needed to amplify light. Until now.

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diamond_laser

Indigenous and Western science caring for country in Arnhem Land

A unique collaboration between scientists and Aboriginal people in remote south-eastern Arnhem Land is building knowledge about country and how local people can better manage it.

In the last nine years the Ngukurr Wi Stadi bla Kantri (We Study the Country) Research Team has discovered species new to science, found new populations of threatened species, preserved culturally-significant wetlands, and documented the community’s plants and animals in eight local languages.

Led by ecologist Dr Emilie Ens from Macquarie University and Ngandi Elder Cherry Wulumirr Daniels, this citizen science research is also working with the Yugul Mangi Rangers to better manage the new threats facing their country—like feral animals, weeds, climate change and altered fire regimes.

The project is blending ecological methods with traditional knowledge and ways of seeing country. “Our ancestors were rangers. We were rangers for 40,000 years and are rangers today,” Cherry says. “It’s a responsibility for us to look after those things.”

“We are not doing it for ourselves. We are doing this for our country and for our people and for the sake of our culture, keeping our culture alive and strong.”

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What are your gut bugs telling you to do?

What fly guts could reveal about our health: microbes in the gut can influence diet and reproduction, and the changes could be passed on to the next generation.

Discoveries from Macquarie University and Sydney University illustrate how microbes in the gut can influence host animals. The work could be important for understanding the effects of the gut microbiota on physiology and cognitive function in humans in the future. More below.

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flies