Printing solar cells; HIV and dementia; floods, tsunamis and selling seawater

Bulletins, Earth Science (IUGG), Media bulletins

Thin, flexible, cheaper solar cells that are printed rather than manufactured are where we’re heading with new technology patented by Melbourne researchers.

While other researchers have discovered that HIV can hide out in the brain, leading to increased understanding of the link between HIV infection and HIV dementia.

Both of these discoveries were selected for Fresh Science, a national competition that highlights the work of early-career researchers.

Also, a moody earth: extreme natural hazards, selling seawater, tsunamis in the Pacific and recent floods in Pakistan. These are some of the topics being discussed today at Earth on the Edge, an international earth sciences conference in Melbourne from today till Thursday 7 July.

Understanding the link between HIV and dementia

HIV can hide out in the brain, protected from the immune system and antiviral drugs, Dr Lachlan Gray and his colleagues at Monash University and the Burnet Institute have found.

Scientist available for interview today.

HIV can hide out in the brain, protected from the immune system and antiviral drugs, Dr Lachlan Gray and his colleagues at Monash University and the Burnet Institute have found.

Their discovery is an important step in understanding the link between HIV infection and HIV dementia, and is important for the eradication of HIV in general.

“The persistence of the virus in the brain compromises the brain’s normal function, and leads to the death of neurons and to clinical dementia,” Lachlan says.

In fact, about one in five of those infected by HIV ends up with dementia.

“We believe our findings will aid the development of novel drugs that will prevent HIV using the brain as a sanctuary, and help to shape future eradication strategies.”

Printing solar cells

Australia researchers have invented nanotech solar cells that are thin, flexible and use 1/100th the materials of conventional solar cells.

Scientist available for interview today.

Printable, flexible solar cells that could dramatically decrease the cost of renewable energy have been developed by PhD student Brandon MacDonald in collaboration with his colleagues from CSIRO’s Future Manufacturing Flagship and the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute.

Their patented technology is based on inks containing tiny, semiconducting nanocrystals, which can be printed directly onto a variety of surfaces.

By choosing the right combination of ink and surface it is possible to make efficient solar cells using very little material or energy.

“The problem with traditional solar cells,” Brandon says, “is that making them requires many complex and energy intensive steps.”

“Using nanocrystal inks, they can be manufactured in a continuous manner, which increases throughput and should make the cells much cheaper to produce.”

Moody earth: extreme natural hazards, selling seawater, tsunamis in the Pacific and recent floods in Pakistan

From today, for nearly two weeks Australia is hosting a huge meeting of earth scientists – many of them flying directly from their work in hot spots around the world.

They will be providing the most up-to-date information on the Japanese tsunami, the safety of nuclear installations, the Christchurch earthquake, Cyclone Yasi, the ash clouds and more. They will also be putting all of this in context and reveal the bigger picture about our planet in all its moods.

The conference is Earth on the Edge, the 25th General Assembly of the International Union of Geophysics and Geodesy (IUGG), and it has attracted almost 4,000 delegates from around 100 countries.

Today’s speakers include:

  • The first Australian to be elected President of the IUGG, CSIRO’s Tom Beer. Alik Ismail-Zadeh, Secretary-General of the IUGG, and Professor at the Geophysical Institute at the Carlsruhe Institute of Technology.
    Professor Ismail-Zadeh is leading discussions on extreme natural hazards and how science and society have to partner to cope with natural hazards by integrating natural and social sciences, engineering, economic and industrial activities, public administration and policy making.
  • Trevor McDougall, from CSIRO, who is ‘selling seawater to ocean scientists’. Trevor has redefined seawater for ocean and climate science, and is at the IUGG conference to accept the Prince Albert I Medal for his fundamental advances in ocean mixing processes. He is the first Australian to receive the medal, which will be awarded on Friday.
  • Demetris Koutsoyiannis, a hydrologist at the National Technical University of Athens. His work in modelling water resources is challenging the assumptions behind global climate change models. He has also written on the history of water resource development during antiquity. Who invented the bathroom and when?
  • James Goff, Co-director of the Australia-Pacific Tsunami Research Centre, who says that we don’t know much about tsunamis in the Pacific. That matters because in prehistoric times Australia has been hit by large tsunamis.
  • S Khan will outline what happened during the recent floods in Pakistan and how they are enhancing social resilience through participatory integrated floods and droughts management. If you think the floods in Australia were bad, imagine a flood that affects 20 million people and destroys a million houses. He is speaking on Wednesday 29 June.

Other topics being discussed include:

  • Natural Hazard Risk Assessment in the Australasian Region: Informing Disaster Risk Reduction and Building Community Resilience
  • Understanding the global transport of bacteria in the atmosphere
  • Disaster policy and climate change: how much more of the same?
  • Sustainability of the Venice Lagoon in the face of climate change
  • A series of talks on glaciers:

o What do glaciers tell us about climate variability and climate change?

o Advancing New Zealand Glaciers in a Warming World

o Glacier Changes of the Himalayas in the Last 20 Years

Where: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Conference program available at:

Follow the IUGG conference on twitter – #IUGG2011

Media Assistance: