Dropping a bombshell on women in science

By Emily Lehmann

Cathy Foley

Dr Cathy Foley

If you thought Wikipedia had everything covered, then you were wrong.

Online activists have dropped the bomb that women scientists, despite their long history of achievements, are underrepresented on the site.

To ‘write’ this wrong and give greater recognition to women in science, the activists fired Australia’s first Wikibomb.

As part of National Science Week, 140 people from across the country bombarded Wikipedia with entries about Australian women in science – old and new.

Not only have these activists got Wikipedia up to speed, they’ve also helped highlight an important issue for science in Australia: the gender gap. There are significantly fewer females working in science than males. There are even fewer women in leadership positions and some areas of physics and engineering have as little as five per cent female participation.

One of Australia’s leading scientists and Science Director for our Manufacturing Flagship, Dr Cathy Foley, has written about the number of reasons for this.

There are practical reasons, such as women departing the workforce to have children. Many of these women change careers and move away from science.

There are also cultural reasons. Science can be ‘blokey’ and very competitive. Often women don’t get the same kinds of accolades and awards, don’t apply for the same jobs, grants, prizes and can’t progress in the same way.

So why bridge this gap?

There is strong evidence that companies operating with a gender-balance actually enhance their ability to innovate and gain a competitive advantage.

If we want to solve the biggest problems we need to have all the best minds working towards it, including men and women.

Speaking recently at the 2014 Ruby Payne-Scott Lecture at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, Cathy shared her thoughts on women in science and what can be done to bridge the gap:

View the transcript.


Mixing ancient knowledge with new to understand biodiversity

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 6: Indigenous perspectives

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right across Australia have close connections with the native species that inhabit their customary land and sea estates (or ‘Country’), and these connections form a vital part of their diverse cultures—whether they happen to live in the desert, on an island or in the city.

Street art image of a bird on a wall in Melbourne's Union Lane

Gamilaraay artist Reko Rennie represents biodiversity and his culture in the laneways of Melbourne – freyapix/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Indigenous people shaped the pre-colonial environments of Australia for 50,000 years. Today, formalised Indigenous land and sea management programs are an increasingly significant part of environmental management in Australia, with vast tracts of the country being managed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander custodians.

This sustained residency, along with long-term observations and oral histories, mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have unique knowledge systems and perspectives on Australia’s biodiversity and its management—a dynamic mix of old and new knowledge.

In the sixth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Fiona Walsh talks about some of the perspectives that have been shared with her by Aboriginal knowledge holders she has worked with:

You might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book to find out more about the unique perspectives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples bring to understanding and caring for our biodiversity—including those of Dr Walsh’s co-authors on the chapter, Sandra McGregor and Peter Christopherson.

Last week’s video looked at the role of national parks and reserves in protecting our biodiversity. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.


Ghostbusting in the Gulf

By Eamonn Bermingham

scissors cutting turtle net

A rescued turtle off the Northern Australian coast.

The Gulf of Carpentaria off Australia’s northern coast has one of the highest rates of abandoned fishing nets, or so-called ghostnets, anywhere in the world.  In fact, up to three tonnes of netting washes ashore each year for every kilometre of coastline.

Unfortunately, all of these nets can have a big impact on our marine life.  Getting caught in nets is one of the most common causes of death for marine turtles in Australia. Ghostnets have also been known to catch dugongs, sharks, and fish species and cause damage to coral reefs and seabeds. What’s more, they can create shipping lane hazards and introduce alien species into vulnerable ecosystems.

While ghostnets can cause big issues, the good news is that our researchers have found a way to tackle the problem.

Working with Ghostnets Australia and Indigenous rangers, we analysed data from more than 8,000 ghostnets retrieved from the region’s coastline over a seven year period. We found that 5000 to 15000 turtles had been caught in the nets during this time.

According to lead scientist Dr Chris Wilcox, as well as quantifying the problem for the first time, the team was able to find a solution that will allow regulators to manage the issue more effectively.

“Using the data collected and oceanographic modelling we’ve identified a pinch-point at the north-eastern section of the Gulf near Weipa where nets can be intercepted and removed relatively cheaply – before they reach high-density turtle areas,” he said.

Northern Australia map

The Gulf of Carpentaria has one of the highest rates of abandoned fishing nets in the world.

As well as creating a healthier marine environment and a more sustainable fishing industry in the region, the study will improve our understanding of the overall global threat from marine debris. This will inform regulation, enforcement, and conservation action.

If you’re interested in finding out more about marine debris, check out our website.

Ghostnets Australia is an alliance of indigenous communities stretching across Northern Australia from the Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Kimberleys.


Sorry Nanna: Study focuses on draughts those snakes can’t keep out

As much as we love those draught-busting door snakes our nannas knit, it is safe to say they aren’t the most scientific solution when it comes to stopping draughts coming through windows or doors. But in the spirit of keeping wintry draughts out, we are launching Australia’s first study of air leakiness in Australian homes.

Door snake

Door snake, just like nanna used it knit. Flickr/The Bunny Maker

 

The aim is to create a snapshot of the energy efficiency of  newer homes in different Australian cities.  The study will assess 140 homes in capital cities across Australia. Volunteers are being sought to take part in the study which will focus on seals around doors and windows and insulation quality.

Energy efficiency experts will conduct a blower door test to assess the air tightness of the building  and carry out an insulation inspection using thermal imaging of each home to identify hotspots for heat loss/gain.

A blower door test involves attaching a sealed frame containing a fan into one exterior door and closing all other external doors and windows. The fan can raise and lower the air pressure inside the house. This causes air to flow in through all unsealed cracks and openings and the rate of air movement through the house can be measured.

The study, being conducted on behalf of the Department of Industry, will focus on homes less than four years old. Home owners who volunteer to take part will be given a report on their home’s air tightness and insulation quality and a copy of the CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook.

Volunteers are being sought in Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Perth and Sydney. Data has already been collected on homes in Melbourne and Canberra. You can register your interest in taking part here.


Kids raid caves in virtual classroom

Remember when going on a school excursion meant a trip to the bowling alley? Or, for a really special occasion, perhaps a visit to the local fun park?

Well, things have certainly changed since I was at school.

Today, we’re launching what could be Australia’s biggest (and arguably coolest) school excursion ever. In classrooms around the country, students will set out to explore the spectacular Jenolan caves located in the scenic Blue Mountains.

How will this be possible? They’ll be embarking on their journey in virtual reality. 

Real-science-from-caves-to-the-classroom-B

To create this digital experience, we teamed up with 3P Learning to combine their latest educational resource, IntoScience, with HD panoramic video and 3D models of the Jenolan Caves scanned using our (ahem, award winning), laser mapping technology, Zebedee.

Using their own avatars, students from years 6 to 9 will be able to delve into the natural wonder of the caves, all without leaving the classroom. The Jenolan caves are Australia’s largest and, with elaborate underground structures, offer a rich scientific environment full of learning opportunities.

“It’s exciting to see our cave models now brought to life as a virtual world that students can explore and perform their own scientific investigations in,” said Michael Bruenig from our Digital Productivity and Services Flagship.

Zebedee is the first technology capable of mapping caves with lasers while continuously moving, meaning the 3D models it creates are incredibly detailed and can be produced in only the time it takes to walk (or climb or crawl) through a cave.

The technology is already well-known for mapping other iconic landmarks such as the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance, Queensland’s Fort Lytton, and a little structure you might have heard of known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa  Oh yes, and there was a Boeing 727 too.

So, as much as I enjoyed my school field trips (complete with packed lunch and walkman), I can’t help but feel a teensy bit jealous of today’s students. First stop is the Jenolan Caves, but what’s next? The possibilities are endless. Check it out in this video:

This online 3D educational initiative, funded by the Australian Government, will be officially launched today by the Minister for Communication, Malcolm Turnbull.

 


Crystal clear water

Cara Doherty in lab

Cara Dohery at work in the lab. Image courtesy of L’Oreal Australia

Cara award presentation

Cara is presented with her L’Oreal Women in Science Award

 

The UN estimates that 780 million people worldwide have no clean water, and that number goes up if you include those who have been affected by natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Cara Doherty, who has just won L’Oreal’s 2014 Women in Science Award, is working to change that. Using crystals. A very strange kind of crystal, full of nothingness. And to make it stranger, she uses antimatter –positrons – and synchrotron light to measure the crystals and their properties. Then she uses her own patented technique to form them into useful shapes.

These crystals are what’s called metal organic frameworks (MOFs for short). They’re a kind of molecular level sponge that, like a Tardis, is bigger on the inside. Much bigger. They’re massively absorbent, which is the key to their potential.

Technologies based on MOFs have the potential to revolutionise batteries and medical sensors (Cara won a Tall Poppy Award in 2013 for her earlier work on biosensors). They could help clean up carbon emissions. They could also create a smart water filter that could be used to give many millions of people access to safe, clean water.

That’s what Cara will be using the funding from her L’Oreal Fellowship to investigate. She wants to develop the 3D structures such a filter would need.

 

 


Keeping us connected – wirelessly

By Nola Wilkinson

Dr Iain Collings decided early in his career that wireless communications was hot. Fascinated by the prospect of transferring information without wires or optic cables, he saw its huge potential to change our daily lives – and wanted to be a part of it.

The whole world is into cool electronic devices. Our growing appetite for smartphones, iPads, GoPros and FitBits has produced a huge new market – and wireless data transfer is essential for these devices.

What’s more, the more we use them, the faster our demand for higher rates of data transmission grows. Iain has focused his work on the use of multiple antennae to vastly improve the rate of transmission of data wirelessly. As he points out, this is fundamental to meeting the ever-growing global consumer demand. Watch this video to find out more.


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