Media releases

Deep dives, green steel, Star Wars – National Science Week kicks off

August promises cool science, hot topics and sharp people.

With more than 2000 planned events around Australia, National Science Week, 10 to 18 August, offers multiple story opportunities – so the time to start scheduling is now.

Headline local and international science stars include:

  • NASA exobiologist Darlene Lim —a scientist who prepares astronauts for missions by putting them in the toughest environments on Earth.
  • Sylvia Earle – nicknamed “Her Deepness”, this veteran US oceanographer pioneered extreme diving, and lived in experimental underwater habitats.
  • Veena Sahajwalla – based at UNSW, Veena is the inventor of green steel, a new building material made from old car tyres and recycled plastic.
  • Eddie Wu – a Sydney maths teacher and YouTube star, Eddie was named Australia’s Local Hero for 2018, and fronted the ABC television series, Teenage Boss.

Other guests include US-based astrobiologist Paul Davies, Australian Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, and War on Waste star Craig Reucassel

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Spinal cord injury? Tired? Get treated!

Melbourne researchers have found that 80 percent of people with quadriplegic spinal injuries have sleep apnoea. It’s having a big effect on their lives but they don’t know they have it, and they don’t know it can be treated.

The researchers are calling for everyone with quadriplegia to see a doctor if they are tired and fatigued, and they’ve produced videos demonstrating the impact on patients’ lives.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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 shape of a perfect storm: saving lives by predicting firestorms

Scientists available for interview – details and photos below.

Correction: an earlier version stated the tool is being formally trialed by the NSW Rural Fire SERVICE. It is currently in use, but formal trials ended in 2016.

A fully developed pyrocumulus cloud, formed from the smoke plume of the Grampians fire in February 2013. Credit: Randall Bacon

Firestorms are a nightmare for emergency services and anyone in their path. They occur when a bushfire meets a ‘perfect storm’ of environmental conditions and creates a thunderstorm.

Dr Rachel Badlan and Associate Professor Jason Sharples are part of a team of experts from UNSW Canberra and ACT Emergency Services that has found the shape of a fire is an important factor in whether it will turn into a firestorm.

Fires that form expansive areas of active flame, rather than spreading as a relatively thin fire-front, are more likely to produce higher smoke plumes and turn into firestorms, the researchers found.

This finding is being used to underpin further development of a predictive model for firestorms. The model was trialed in the 2015 and 2016 fire seasons by the ACT Emergency Services Agency and the NSW Rural Fire Service, and now forms part of the national dialogue around extreme bushfire development.  

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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…]

Have you seen a sawfish?

From Sydney to Cairns to Darwin to Perth, we want to hear about your sightings – a live fish, a saw on the wall of your local pub, or a photo from your family album.

“Your sightings, no matter how long ago they happened, will help us work out how many sawfish there used to be, how many remain, and how we can help them recover,” says Dr Barbara Wueringer, a zoologist and the director of Sharks and Rays Australia (SARA).

A sawfish caught at Manly, Sydney in 1926.
Photo source: Queensland State Library.

Forty years ago, sawfish were regularly seen off Sydney and the east coast, and Perth and up the west coast. Today they’re rarely seen outside of the Gulf of Carpentaria, NT and the Kimberley.

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Melbourne paediatrician wins 2018 CSL Florey Next Generation Award

Oxygen halves child pneumonia deaths

A Melbourne student researcher and doctor has helped Nigerian hospitals halve the number of children dying from pneumonia—just by improving training and access to oxygen.

Dr Hamish Graham has been awarded with the inaugural $20,000 CSL Florey Next Generation Award for top PhD candidate in health and biomedical sciences. [continue reading…]

2018 CSL Florey Next Generation Award finalists

Canberra, Hobart and Melbourne young health and medical researchers vie for $20,000 top PhD student award

  • Eradicating gut worms: a path out of poverty
  • Oxygen halves child pneumonia deaths
  • Smart blood pressure measurement to cut heart risk

Scientists available for interviews

Media contacts: Tanya Ha, tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0404 083 863;
Niall Byrne, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0417 131 977, (03) 9398 1416

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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…]