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.

An island haven for frogs in a sea of extinctions

New Guinea is one of the only places in the world where frogs are safe from the species-destroying chytrid fungus. An international team of scientists has published a new paper that shows how to keep it that way, but they need help to carry out their plan.

The chytrid fungus has wiped out more than 90 frog species around the world, and it’s driving hundreds more towards extinction. New Guinea – the world’s largest tropical island, and home to 6% of all known frog species – is one of the last remaining refuges from the deadly infection.

A team of scientists led by researchers from Macquarie University and the University of New England in Australia think they know how to keep the island’s frogs safe, but they need support to establish a long-term program of monitoring and conservation.

[continue reading…]

Earth recycles ocean floor into diamonds

Is the sparkler on your finger recycled seabed? Photo: Flickr CC/Stephen Durham

Most diamonds are made of cooked seabed.

The diamond on your finger is most likely made of recycled seabed cooked deep in the Earth.

Traces of salt trapped in many diamonds show the stones are formed from ancient seabeds that became buried deep beneath the Earth’s crust, according to new research led by Macquarie University geoscientists.

Most diamonds found at the Earth’s surface are formed this way; others are created by crystallization of melts deep in the mantle.

In experiments recreating the extreme pressures and temperatures found 200 kilometres underground, Dr Michael Förster, Professor Stephen Foley, Dr Olivier Alard, and colleagues at Goethe Universität and Johannes Gutenberg Universität in Germany, have demonstrated that seawater in sediment from the bottom of the ocean reacts in the right way to produce the balance of salts found in diamond.

The study, published in Science Advances, settles a long-standing question about the formation of diamonds. “There was a theory that the salts trapped inside diamonds came from marine seawater, but couldn’t be tested,” says lead author Michael. “Our research showed that they came from marine sediment.”

[continue reading…]

More safe havens for native plants and animals needed in NSW’s west

The squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) is listed as a vulnerable species in New South Wales. Photo: Wikimedia CC/Brisbane City Council

Location matters for species struggling to survive under a changing climate.

A new study led by Macquarie University has found we need to provide more safe havens for wildlife and plant species to survive under climate change in New South Wales’ west.

Along the Great Dividing Range, the vulnerable spotted-tailed quoll will be forced to move into higher habitats as the climate changes, but can find sanctuary in protected areas like Kosciuszko National Park.

The squirrel glider, also listed as a vulnerable species, will have more suitable places to live under climate change. However, few of its potential new homes in central western New South Wales are adequately protected.

[continue reading…]

It’s not just fish, plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help us breathe

Plastic pollution can harm both the micro and macro-organisms living in our oceans. Photo: Kevin Krejci

Ten per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one kind of bacteria in the ocean. Now laboratory tests have shown that these bacteria are susceptible to plastic pollution, according to a study published in Communications Biology tonight.

“We found that exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria,” says lead author and Macquarie University researcher Dr Sasha Tetu.

“Now we’d like to explore if plastic pollution is having the same impact on these microbes in the ocean.”

[continue reading…]

Building farms and towers at sea to feed and power the world

As partners in the $329 million Blue Economy CRC announced in Launceston

Chief investigators from Macquarie L-R: Dr Fatemeh Salehi, Professor Darren Bagnall, Dr Ming Li, Dr Rouzbeh Abbassi

Macquarie University engineers will develop new technologies for ocean infrastructure as part of the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre announced by Karen Andrews, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

The Blue Economy CRC will drive an evolution in marine-based industries, unlocking enormous economic, environmental and technological benefits in aquaculture and renewable energy in Australia’s maritime zone.

[continue reading…]

Macquarie University to link Australia’s future smart satellites

As partners in the $245 million SmartSat CRC announced in Adelaide this morning.

Eighty-four research and industry partners are contributing $190 million investment in cash and in kind to the new Cooperative Research Centre for Smart Satellite Technologies and Analytics, and the Australian government is contributing a further $55 million. The CRC is led by the University of South Australia. 

“A new generation of low-cost smart satellite technology has the potential to enhance agriculture, mining, communication and national security,” says Associate Professor Sam Reisenfeld, who leads Macquarie University’s contribution to the CRC.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

$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.”

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]

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.

[continue reading…]