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.

A polariton filter turns ordinary laser light into quantum light

Nature Materials paper Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Artist’s impression of the polaritonic photon conversion platform. Laser photons enter through the top mirror and leave through the bottom mirror exhibiting quantum ‘granularity’ – after interacting with the semiconductor layer. Image: Andrew Wood

An international team of researchers led out of Macquarie University has demonstrated a new approach for converting ordinary laser light into genuine quantum light.

Their approach uses nanometre-thick films made of gallium arsenide, which is a semiconductor material widely used in solar cells. They sandwich the thin films between two mirrors to manipulate the incoming photons.

The photons interact with electron-hole pairs in the semiconductor, forming new chimeric particles called polaritons that carry properties from both the photons and the electron-hole pairs. The polaritons decay after a few picoseconds, and the photons they release exhibit distinct quantum signatures.

The teams’ research was published overnight in the journal Nature Materials.

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Trees remember heatwaves

Eucalyptus grandis

The flooded gum or rose gum (Eucalyptus grandis). Photo: Geoexplore

An Aussie eucalypt can ‘remember’ past exposure to extreme heat, which makes the tree and its offspring better able to cope with future heatwaves, according to new research from Macquarie University.

This finding could have important implications for restoring ecosystems and climate-proofing forestry, as the number of hot days and heatwaves increase due to climate change.

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The Milky Way is warped

A slightly exaggerated impression of the real shape of our warped and twisted Milky Way. Image: Xiaodian Chen (National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

The first accurate 3D map of our galaxy reveals its true shape: warped and twisted.

Background information and further images below.

Astronomers from Macquarie University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have used 1339 ‘standard’ stars to map the real shape of our home galaxy in a paper published in Nature Astronomy today.

They found the Milky Way’s disc of stars becomes increasingly ‘warped’ and twisted the further away the stars are from the galaxy’s centre.

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Cane toads: what they do in the shadows

A juvenile cane toad (Rhinella marina) in Emma Gorge, Western Australia. Photo: M.G. Swan

Cane toads are picking up some shady habits, according to a new study co-authored by a Macquarie University researcher.

Toads in Western Australia have been spotted awake and active during the day in deeply shaded habitats, despite the species usually being nocturnal in Australia and other parts of the world.

However nearby cane toad populations at more exposed sites remained only active at night.

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Promiscuous females and their role in evolution

A promiscuous female fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) marked with paint. Photo: The Wigby Lab

Males have to make less of an effort to mate with promiscuous female fruit flies, making the quality and quantity of their semen all the more important in the competition to fertilise the females’ eggs.

This also leads to male flies repeatedly mating with the same female, according to a paper published overnight in Nature Communications, by researchers from Macquarie University, the University of Oxford and the University of East Anglia, who looked into the eyes of thousands of fruit flies.

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The quest for the missing proteins in rice

Rice (Oryza sativa) is the major food source for more than half the world’s population. Photo: Pille-Riin Priske/Unsplash CC

Researchers have identified over 5,700 new proteins in rice and are calling for a global effort to find the remaining missing proteins, in a new study co-authored by Macquarie University.

The international team of scientists from Australia, Iran and Japan say there’s an estimated 35,000 proteins encoded by the rice genome, and yet we still don’t have experimental evidence for 82 per cent of them.

This is important because rice is the major food source for more than half the world’s population, and in order for it to grow in warmer climates and with less water we will need to better understand rice at the molecular level. [continue reading…]

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.  [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

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