Arc welders in the operating room; the physics of kangaroo’s knees; no more exploding smartphones; women in leadership; and more

Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Media releases

Tuesday 6 December 2016

No more exploding smartphones: Australia-China supercapacitor collaboration (Brisbane)

The perils of lithium-ion batteries are well known to owners of the Galaxy Note 7, but battery fires have also plagued power plants and even passenger jets in-flight. The Queensland Government is getting behind an Australia-China collaboration to build supercapacitors: purely electric storage devices using graphene, which promise many advantages over their chemical-based cousins.

QUT’s Professor Nunzio Motta is leading the Australian end of the research. The major challenge is developing scalable ways of growing graphene sheets. At the Congress, he’ll present his work on growing graphene for other kinds of electronic components but he’s happy to talk about both areas and the potential of graphene. He imagines, for example, a car or train in which the body panels act as energy stores extending the battery range, and storing energy from braking. 

Arc welders in the operating room: plasma’s surprisingly soft touch (Adelaide)

Credit Endre Szili

Credit Endre Szili

Could plasma jets replace lasers in cancer therapy? The tools more often used to cut and weld metal can be surprisingly gentle, says Endre Szili from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute. He’s part of an Australia-UK-Japan collaboration on plasma medicine, which involves the use of ionised gases for everything from wound healing, to disinfection and cancer surgery. Unlike plasma torches, the plasma jets used by the team are cool to touch, making them useful for treating skin.

They’ve been testing plasma jets on real tissue, hoping to fine-tune their equipment to deliver exactly the amount required. Along the way, they’ve made note of a surprising added benefit: plasma jets can deliver potentially therapeutically beneficial agents deep within living tissue. This could make plasma jets particularly useful for targeted disease treatments; for example, killing cancer cells in a tumour without damaging the healthy tissue.

Kangaroos can help us bounce back from knee injuries (Brisbane)

Kangaroo knees are impressively tough, and QUT researchers think they know why. They’ve been using a clever MRI trick called the Magic Angle Effect to image the microscopic structure of kangaroo cartilage, and have identified the structural characteristics of three different cartilages in the knee joint, each adapted for a different role—sliding, squishing, and carrying load—which allow Skippy to come down hard on both legs without needing a knee reconstruction.

Whilst the three histological zones have previously been identified in cows, horses and kangaroos, this study shows there are considerable differences between the thickness of these zones and also in the extent of collagen anisotropy.  Tonima Ali from QUT hopes their findings may benefit knee joint treatment and tissue engineering.

Gas plasma sterilising milk and improving beer (Geelong)

Plasma is sterilising milk without harming its nutritional value and improving beer brewing. Dr Xiujuan (Jane) Dai from Deakin University has shown that plasmas can do this and more: enhancing plant growth, treating wastewater, and enabling nano-fabrication at atmospheric pressure and near room temperature.

These plasmas are partially ionised gas containing electrons, ions, excited atoms and molecules, free radicals, and UV photons. Plasma has been much more difficult to generate inside liquid than in gas, because much more energy is required. Selection of a desired chemical species in liquid is even more difficult. But Jane and her team at Deakin can now do it cheaply and safely. She’s developed a rig that generates gas plasma within a liquid by blowing gas bubbles through fine metal needles. The plasma is formed inside the bubbles when a very short, high-voltage pulse is applied between the needles and a mesh immersed in the liquid. Choosing the gas used allows the selection of species. These species are generated inside the bubbles and can only react with, and go straight into, the liquid giving high production. The gas and liquid can be varied, which has opened up the surprisingly wide range of applications.

Jane has always been devoted to global collaboration and sharing know-how as she believes that it is critical to the future of plasma innovation for a better world.

Also today:

  • Australia helping to crack fusion power, bringing the energy of the sun down to earth for a zero carbon future
  • Diversity in science: where are we at for ‘women in science’, what it means for women’s leadership in Asia and Australia, for LGBTI scientists, and diversity generally.
  • From Kodak and Xerox to lasers and the LED revolution—100 years of the Optical Society; incoming president Eric Mazur will talk on why optics is import 100 years on.

The APCC-AIP Congress is the Joint 13th Asia Pacific Physics Conference and 22nd Australian Institute of Physics Congress incorporating the Australian Optical Society Conference. It’s on at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from 4 to 8 December 2016