How galaxies grow up; turmeric could fight malaria; and the PM’s Science Prizes

Bulletins, Media bulletins

A Sydney astronomer Amanda Bauer has discovered and studied a distant cluster of galaxies to find out how galaxies evolve and interact with their neighbours. Her work will help explain the fate of our own Milky Way.

This intergalactic yarn is our latest Fresh Science story. More next week.

Australia and India will work together to study the impact on cerebral malaria of the major ingredient of turmeric, curcumin.

Dr Saparna Pai from the Centenary Institute in Sydney is off to New Delhi for the study.

Centenary is also celebrating over $5 million in grants for research into cardiology, TB, aging and immunology.

And the Prime Minister’s Prizes are approaching – 31 October with a 5 pm embargo. Details if you need them will be available on embargo from tomorrow.

Today: Galaxies in the thick of it grow up fast

In a quest to learn more about our own galaxy, a Sydney astronomer has identified dozens of previously unknown galaxies in a distant cluster.

Using one of the world’s largest optical telescopes, Dr Amanda Bauer—an ARC Super Science Fellow at the Australian Astronomical Observatory—and her team around the world have been studying this cluster closely. They have found that the galaxies close together in the crowded centre of the cluster mature faster than those in isolation on the cluster’s outskirts.

“We are trying to find out why galaxies stop growing and mature, because this will tell us something about the ultimate fate of our own galaxy, the Milky Way,” Amanda says.

A galaxy grows when it is forming new stars. Amanda is trying to find out what stops galaxies from doing this, therefore reaching maturity.

Distant galaxy clusters are relatively rare, she says. They are some of the first systems that formed after the Big Bang and represent the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity.

“We have only recently been able to study them in detail. Using a new technique on the Gemini North Observatory telescope in Hawaii we were able to look at one particular galaxy cluster, where we identified dozens of new galaxies,” Amanda said.

“The galaxies in clusters are slowly but constantly moving and evolving. We are trying to understand the influence that a galaxy’s neighbourhood has on its fate.”

The centre of the cluster is crowded with galactic neighbours in a sea of hot gas. The galaxies influence each other through gravitation, and the hot gas seems to put a brake on star formation.

To understand better how these crowded environments can enhance and then end the growth cycle of galaxies, Amanda and her team are now embarking on an Australian-based project to find new galaxies of varying levels of isolation.

The astronomers will combine existing data with observations from large telescopes in Hawaii and Chile and the Hubble Space Telescope. They hope their results will help them understand how the Milky Way Galaxy developed, and how it will interact in future with its galactic neighbours.

The Milky Way exists under the influence of the nearby Andromeda galaxy and two smaller galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. These galaxies will eventually collide and merge.

“The current prediction is that this will happen in several billion years. Our research should tell us how long the resulting galactic system will form new stars before it settles into maturity.”

Amanda Bauer is one of 12 early career scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Australian Government.

There are high-res images available online here:

For interviews:

•              Amanda Bauer, 0447 029 368,

•              AJ Epstein, 0433 339 141, or Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977,

•              Helen Sim, Media Liaison and Public Relations, Australian Astronomical Observatory,, 0419 635 905

About Fresh Science

Now in its 15th year, Fresh Science is a national event which brings together scientists, the media and the public.

A selection of 12 bright young scientists are selected and supported to be ambassadors for science in Australia.

Fresh Science is supported by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education through the Inspiring Australia initiative, Museum Victoria, CSL Limited and New Scientist magazine.

Our State finals were also supported by the University of Queensland, ANSTO and the South Australian Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology.

For more information, visit

Turmeric could spice up malaria therapy

Australia and India will work together to study the impact on cerebral malaria of the major ingredient of turmeric, curcumin.

The Centenary Institute’s Dr Saparna Pai is off to New Delhi. She has been awarded an Australian Academy of Science Early-Career Australia-India Fellowship to investigate curcumin’s action on immune cells during malaria infection.

The Fellowships were announced by the Academy during the visit to India of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

“It has long been known in India that curcumin is useful in treating malaria,” says Dr Pai, a post-doctoral fellow in Professor Wolfgang Weninger’s Immune Imaging laboratory at the Centenary Institute and the Dermatology Research Foundation at the University of Sydney.

Researchers from the prestigious Indian Institute of Science—where Dr Pai undertook postgraduate training— have shown that curcumin literally switches off the clinical effects of the disease in mice.

More at: 

For interviews, contact:

Cardiology, TB, aging and immunology – Centenary wins support for research thrust

Centenary scientists have won more than $5 million in the latest NHMRC grant round – with seven research grants and three early career fellowships.

The development of a TB vaccine, the genetic regulation of ageing, the fundamental workings of the immune system, the genetic basis of heart disease—these are some of the research areas of key interest to Centenary Institute for which the Australian Government has announced funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Centenary also boasts three new NHMRC Early-Career Fellows along with seven significant research projects in the medical research funding released on Friday.

For further information:

Suzie Graham, 0418 683 166,

Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977, 

Next week: announcing the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Next Wednesday, the Prime Minister will announce the winners of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra.

Past winners include Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, Australian of the Year Ian Frazer and inventor of the bionic ear Graeme Clark.

We have media kits for the five winners of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science available under embargo.

If you need to know who’s winning this year drop me a line. We welcome the opportunity to brief longer lead-time publications.

To access images, videos, citations and profiles, call or email to get the link and password.

All details of the prize winners are under a strict embargo of 5pm on Wednesday 31 October.

There are five prizes:

  • The $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  • The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • The $50,000 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence for Science Teaching in Primary Schools
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence for Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

To find out more about the Prime Minister’s Prizes and past recipients, go to: