Media releases

A New Hope for Coral Reefs: Largest-Ever Study Unlocks Global Solution to Save Coral Communities

Scientists urge priority action on hundreds of surviving reefs.

Image credit: Jeremy Bishop

The majority of 2500 reefs surveyed in a major international exercise retain the coral species that give them their distinctive structure.

More than 80 marine scientists, including several from Australia, contributed to the study, which is published in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution.

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Antiseptic resistance in bacteria could lead to next-gen plastics

Australia-UK researchers identify ancient protein pumps that make bacteria tough to treat – but could be key to new green polymers

The molecular machinery used by bacteria to resist chemicals designed to kill them could also help produce precursors for a new generation of nylon and other polymers, according to new research by scientists from Australia and the UK.

“Resistance to artificial antiseptics appears to be a lucky accident for the bacteria, and it could also be useful for humans,” says Professor Ian Paulsen of Australia’s Macquarie University, one of the leaders of the research group.

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Retro aviation, future climate, beer goggles, and Indigenous astronomy

Launch Saturday at Darwin Festival with artist Caro Macdonald. And 70+ Science Week events around the Territory:

  • What will Darwin look like under climate change? Artists journey to the future through virtual reality.
  • Costa Georgiadis gets dirty with soil science and Craig Reucassel brings the war on waste to Alice Springs.
  • Beer goggles and fitness tests with a health clinic on wheels.
  • How will the Territory meet a 50% renewable energy target?
  • Aviation history as theatre: the 1919 air race from London to Darwin brought to life on stage.
  • Learn from Indigenous astronomers how to use the night sky to navigate, determine the time of year and predict weather
  • A 3D outer space experience in Starlab’s Cosmodome Science Theatre & Planetarium
  • Spin until you’re dizzy and compare your reflexes to those of a Formula 1 driver: the science circus comes to town.
  • Take the Aha! Challenge and test your brain’s creative insight.

More on these highlights below, and others at www.scienceinpublic.com.au/science-week, and on Twitter at @SciWKMedia.

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National challenge seeks to get inside your head

Researchers set up Australia-wide experiment to explore why and when the pennies drop.

Scientists want to know the things that make you go “aha!”.

Throughout August, researchers from the University of Melbourne are conducting a country-wide citizen science project to better understand how the human brain works.

The focus of the project, dubbed The Aha! Challenge, is to investigate the kind of sudden problem-solving insight that makes you spontaneously exclaim “yes!” or “at last!” or, indeed, “aha!”. It’s the ABC’s community project for National Science Week.

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Using quantum dots and a smartphone to find killer bacteria

Australian scientists develop cheap and rapid way to identify antibiotic-resistant golden staph (MRSA).

Researchers Anwar Sunna (right) and Vinoth Kumar Rajendran with their smartphone-enabled MRSA detector.
Credit: Sunna Lab

A combination of off-the-shelf quantum dot nanotechnology and a smartphone camera soon could allow doctors to identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria in just 40 minutes, potentially saving patient lives.

Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph), is a common form of bacterium that causes serious and sometimes fatal conditions such as pneumonia and heart valve infections. Of particular concern is a strain that does not respond to methicillin, the antibiotic of first resort, and is known as methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA.

Recent reports estimate that 700 000 deaths globally could be attributed to antimicrobial resistance, such as methicillin-resistance. Rapid identification of MRSA is essential for effective treatment, but current methods make it a challenging process, even within well-equipped hospitals.

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Gender bending: baby turtles influence their own sex

Chinese-Australian research finds climate change good news, and solves an evolutionary mystery

Chinese Pond Turtle (Mauremys reevesii)
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Baby turtles influence their gender by moving around inside their eggs, research has revealed.

The idea that an embryo reptile can act in a way that affects its chances of developing as male or female has long been thought impossible, but findings by scientists from China and Australia have now provided clear proof of the process.

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, solves a long-standing evolutionary mystery – and offers hope that at least some species thought especially vulnerable to effects of climate change will prove more robust than thought.

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Anaemic star carries the mark of its ancient ancestor

Australian-led astronomers find the most iron-poor star in the Galaxy, hinting at the nature of the first stars in the Universe.

A visualisation of the formation of the first stars. Credit: Wise, Abel, Kaehler (KIPAC/SLAC)

A newly discovered ancient star containing a record-low amount of iron carries evidence of a class of even older stars, long hypothesised but assumed to have vanished.

In a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, researchers led by Dr Thomas Nordlander of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) confirm the existence of an ultra-metal-poor red giant star, located in the halo of the Milky Way, on the other side of the Galaxy about 35,000 light-years from Earth.

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Aussie sharks still at risk from industrial fishing, despite protections

Macquarie University’s Professor Rob Harcourt urges Oceania-wide action to safeguard several species.

Sharks in Australian waters are well protected but are at risk as soon as they leave them, a new international study reveals.

The North Atlantic blue shark shares much of its territory with longline fishing fleets. Credit: Neil Hammerschlag

The study compiled by 150 scientists around the world – including 26 with ties to Australia – has found that even in the most remote parts of the world’s oceans migratory sharks are in severe danger from commercial fishing fleets, new research reveals.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, more than 150 scientists, including Professor Rob Harcourt from the Department of Biological Sciences at Australia’s Macquarie University, report that the sharks – which include iconic species such as the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus)  and the great white (Carcharodon carcharias) – congregate in food-rich areas that are also prime hunting grounds for commercial longline fishing fleets.

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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.

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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.

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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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