We have been reunited with an old friend. We met a long time ago, 22 years in fact, and we certainly left our mark during that first meeting. Now with a long passage of time behind us, we are keen to find where she has been all this time.
We are, of course, talking about the stunning Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT). Tagged in 1993, the fish was reeled in by avid fisherman Matt Bell with the help of Skipper Dennis Heinicke, near Port MacDonnell last week.
We first met ‘Bluey’ when she was approximately two years old. At the time, our scientists were out on the open oceans teaming up with the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna to tag over 11,000 southern bluefin tuna in the Great Australian Bight (GAB).
Thanks to our citizen scientists Dennis and Matt, Bluey is back, and my how she has grown. The fish has more than doubled in size. She weighs 102 kgs and has had a decent growth spurt, from 60 cm to a behemoth 191 cm total length – or if you are a purist for measurements, her ‘fork length‘ is 175 cm (that’s still 5′ 7”, or taller than Tom Cruise).
Other than growing up to be taller than Hollywood celebrities, what does a southern bluefin tuna do in twenty years? From what we can tell, Bluey has led quite an interesting life.
We know that Bluey spent large parts of her life travelling the southern seas. And although she was reeled in 800 km east of where she was originally caught and tagged, we know from our other more sophisticated SBT tags that Bluey has been undertaking large migrations. As a juvenile, these migrations took her from the GAB to the Indian Ocean; upon maturing, she travelled between the Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean, just south of Indonesia. It is here that adult SBT spawn each year.
Dennis and Matt have not only been helping our researchers by reporting and returning Bluey’s tags, but they have also collected some very important samples of the fish. By looking at Bluey’s otoliths (deposits in the ear) we can determine and verify her age. By looking at her ovaries we can determine her sex and reproductive history. And by analysing the chemical composition of Bluey’s muscles, we can know her diet.
Why are we so excited about this find? Because we rely on the cooperation of commercial and recreational fishers to find the tags, and in the vastness of Southern Ocean, finding a tagged fish after such a long time is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Remember, Bluey doesn’t have a social media profile (MySpace wasn’t even around back then) so checking in and finding out what’s been happening is a bit more complicated than trawling through her Facebook Timeline. Now that the tags and the fish are back with our scientists, we have an opportunity to learn more about the life of this particular bluefin and the SBT population in general.
These insights, will help with our ongoing research and conservation efforts in our southern oceans. The information is invaluable as we seek to understand how exploration and extraction activities in the ‘Bight’ might affect SBT populations.
We will now add Bluey’s profile to the data we’ve gathered after almost 50 years of archival tagging efforts.
We’ve recently been tagging juvenile SBT (similar to the two year old Bluey) with ‘smart’ archival tags that gather detailed data on the movements, diving behaviour, habitats, and feeding of the SBT. By comparing the data from these tags to similar tags we deployed during the 1990s and 2000s, we can investigate the impacts of oil and gas exploration and extraction on juvenile SBT during the period they ‘summer’ in the GAB.
To learn more about our SBT tagging efforts, visit our fisheries page.
If you consider yourself a budding citizen scientist, and you do happen upon one of our tags during your fishing adventures, we’d love to hear from you. There are prizes and giveaways for returned tags, plus the gratitude of our scientists and the knowledge you are furthering our understanding of these incredible creatures.
Information on how to return tags to us and the details we need are in the form below.
The East Coast Low of April 2015 has been devastating. Lives were lost, countless millions of dollars’ worth of damage and destruction to property was sustained, and hundreds of thousands of homes (along with important infrastructure) lost power.
Thankfully, the water is subsiding and emergency services are turning their focus from rescue missions to the clean-up. At the time of writing, electricity companies are still scrambling to restore power to homes and dozens of traffic lights are not operating in Newcastle and the surrounding areas. We’ve heard stories of barbecue-cooked meals and games of Monopoly by candlelight.
Many CSIRO staff, working from our Energy Centre in Newcastle, have been directly impacted by the extreme weather (author included!). The site itself was at one stage closed due to a loss of power and safety concerns; it’s back operating, but in a limited capacity.
Looking out the window at our solar thermal field, and you can’t help but be struck by the realisation that even the best of us still rely heavily on the central electricity grid.
But for how much longer?
The current model
Existing Australian power grids — in particular the National Electricity Market (NEM) grid — have evolved over the last 60 years. These systems were small in number, but had large and remote generators that provided power at high voltage through a transmission system connected to customers through a lower voltage distribution grid.
This system has one-way power flow; distribution networks divide power from large generators into small quantities for customers. But in natural disasters like the one we’ve just experienced, or during times of peak demand (in the summer months, for instance) the centralised nature of the grid can lead to mass power outages.
One in seven Australian homes now have solar panels on their roofs — one of the highest rates in the world. This ‘community-based’ approach is known as distributed generation, and it’s set to rise.
So, could a grid of the future make widespread power outages (like the one we’re currently experiencing) a thing of the past?
According to Sam Behrens, leader of our Demand Side Energy Technologies research group in Newcastle, it’s a definite possibility.
“With the right uptake of technology, we could see more and more individual houses — or even whole new estates — going off the grid, and becoming independent from the larger network.
“This would undoubtedly lessen the impact of widespread power outages like the one we’re experiencing in Newcastle and surrounds currently.”
This aligns with one of the scenarios from our Future Grid Forum, where around one third of consumers are predicted to disconnect from the grid by 2050. Increasing uptake of solar is one thing, but the ability to store energy is the real game-changer here.
“The technology for storing solar power already exists and although it’s a bit expensive right now, companies like Samsung and Bosch are starting to mass produce these batteries, so I think we’re going to see costs come down dramatically in the next three or four years. It could be on a similar scale to the trend with solar panels, where costs came down one hundred fold in the last 10 years,” said Sam Behrens.
“The growing number of electric vehicles on the road now will also make a contribution, as they can be plugged into the house and used to provide back-up power during outages.”
For those who are in the dark as to what our site in Newcastle looks like/does, here’s a taste tester
Hold on to the Monopoly set for now, but future mass grid defection may be closer than you think.
For more information about our work on a smart, secure energy future, head to our website.
This Anzac Day, Australia and New Zealand commemorate 100 years since the beginning of WWI’s Gallipoli, a campaign famous for its heroism and infamous both for its terrible death toll and the horrific conditions on the battlefield.
Despite generations of war veterans developing mental health issues as a result of their service, it was not until 1980 that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was formally recognised. Even today, PTSD remains a misunderstood, misdiagnosed condition, for which there is no widely effective treatment.
Currently diagnosis of PTSD in the military relies on paper-and-pencil tests and screening interviews by psychologists who assess servicemen and women pre-deployment, pre-extraction and post-extraction.
Now, researchers are turning to brain-imaging to improve their understanding of the condition. They’re trying to identify the physical characteristics that may help explain why some individuals subjected to trauma develop PTSD, while others exposed to identical trauma do not.
“You can be in the same armoured vehicle and only one of the four in the vehicle will subsequently develop mental health issues,” explains Miriam Dwyer, CEO of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation.
“When it comes to breaking your arm, we know how to fix it; or if you have blood-pressure issues, we can sort that out. But when it comes to mental health issues and the brain, we have a long way to go.”
Miriam is excited to see the outcomes of a major study by the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation into the physical health and genetics of 300 Australian Vietnam veterans. Of the 300, half have PTSD, and half do not; and in a sub-study, 100 of the veterans (50 sufferers and an equal control group of non-sufferers) have undergone MRI brain imaging.
Stephen Rose from CSIRO is charged with analysing the 100 sets of images.
“We’re looking at the volume of particular parts of the brain that may predispose individuals to PTSD, believed to be the hippocampus and the amygdala, which are in the temporal lobe and some frontal lobe structures as well, particularly the anterior cingulate. These parts of the brain seem to be very vulnerable to injury, which may predispose people to PTSD, especially in the military,” he says.
“We can measure the volume of these regions of the brain very accurately and look at cohorts of Vietnam veterans who have PTSD, and compare those with cohorts of Vietnam veterans who don’t have PTSD. That may give us some insight into whether these parts of the brain are associated with PTSD, or predispose people to developing it.”
The study is also measuring the brain’s white-matter tracks using a combination of diffusion imaging and a technique called tractography to see the effect of mild traumatic injury on the brain.
These kinds of invisible injuries are prevalent in the military and can occur, for example, when a soldier is near an explosion, even if there is no observable physical injury.
“What is postulated is that having a mild head injury may increase the accumulation of toxic material in these vulnerable parts of the brain, and may increase the risk of people going on to have PTSD. There’s a lot of interest from the military in measuring these subtle brain injuries.”
Tracers developed by GE are also being used to study biochemical changes inside the brain that indicate either short- or long-term damage to brain tissue, which may be the beginning of a disease developing. These enable specialists to look for ‘hotspots’ in the brain, which previously was only possible post-mortem.
Stephen stresses that the team’s research is in its early days, but he’s excited by its potential to help.
As Miriam says, “we understand the consequences from a psychological perspective of PTSD, but not the specific causes”, which is why this research is so important.
“We know what the symptoms are when you develop PTSD, but the treatments are still not great. The standard treatment is exposure therapy, and that works well in about one-third of patients; doesn’t work at all in another third and it can actually have a negative impact for some patients if delivered incorrectly.
“There aren’t any very good drugs in development for PTSD, probably because of the complex combination of emotional, cognitive, behavioural and biological symptoms. We’re still really trying to understand how we can effectively engage and treat all sufferers—not just one-third.”
This is an edited extract from GE Reports. Read the full feature here.
By Emily Lehmann
A nanoparticle is one billionth of a metre, it might be hard to appreciate how small that is, but our resident virtual nanoscientist Amanda Barnard understands this “invisible” world.
So it’s no wonder that today the Foresight Institute announced Amanda as this year’s awardee of the prestigious 2014 Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (Theory) – it’s like the Nobel Prize of the nanoscience world.
Not only is Amanda the first Australian in the Prize’s 22-year history to win the award, she’s also the first woman, shining a much-needed spotlight on the achievements of women in science.
The award is named after Richard Feynman a renowned physicist and Nobel Prize winner from last century: the father of quantum electrodynamics.
Amanda’s award winning work required the use of powerful supercomputers to make the most of decades of big data on tiny nanoscience, gaining insights that might one day lead to extraordinary, life-changing products.
We’re thinking: self-cleaning surfaces, fuel cells for harnessing energy, printable inks that conduct electricity, and new drugs to cure life-threatening illnesses. These are just some of the incredible possibilities.
Just a few years ago, Amanda made a fundamental discovery on diamond nanoparticles, finding that they have unique electrostatic properties that make them spontaneously arrange into very useful structures, with huge implications for improving healthcare.
Already, her diamond discovery has underpinned the development of a potentially life-saving chemotherapy treatment that targets brain tumours, created by the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).
Among her other research highlights, Amanda developed a new technique for investigating the shape of nanomaterials including their size, temperature or potential uses in chemistry. This means we can tailor them to make bespoke nanoparticles targeted to specific application areas.
Before Amanda sets off for California next month to pick up her award, she shared with us some more insights about her work at the nanoscale.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy our current move into big data. Going into big data sets to identify trends between nano properties and structures is like finding buried treasure. It’s exciting when you can see the forest for the trees and get a moment of clarity, when all the data collects. Those moments are really interesting and I look forward to having more of them.
I also love that science is reinventing itself all the time. It never becomes complacent and will always be exciting as it continually evolves. One finding always leads to another question.
How does your work impact on product design and development?
I use statistics to determine how well certain tiny material structures will perform under specific conditions. By predicting how imperfections at a molecular level impact on performance, we can design products with less susceptibility to faults from the outset. We can also design ‘molecular machines’ that can perform more familiar tasks, like cogs in a watch; they are an integral component that can enhance or improve products.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
This prize is definitely a career highlight and I’m thrilled! This would have to be up there as a career highlight for anybody working in nanotechnology.
What is the biggest challenge you’re grappling with in your role at the moment?
Implementing our science on the cloud is the biggest technical challenge for us at the moment. The data is so big and the skill set is so new and so specific. The cloud would provide easy open access to results amongst our research peers and we need to do this to collaborate and make the most of all the research data that’s available.
Where would you like to see your research /science go or lead to in future?
I don’t want to know. I hope I’m not able to predict where science goes, rather I want to be surprised of where it takes us next, and enjoy the ride.
Find out more about Amanda’s work at our virtual nanoscience lab
Anzac Day is a time for honouring our soldiers, eating Anzac bikkies and enjoying a couple of cold bevies while watching the Footy. For Australian wheat farmers, Anzac Day also marks the important start to the sowing season, with late April through to May having long been accepted as the optimal time for sowing wheat in Australia.
But now our research is questioning this common logic. In fact, a team of our scientists in the Agriculture team are now recommending sowing earlier; any time from early April onward.
They’ve been trialling early sowing around southern Australia, and the results were staggering. By including early sown wheat in cropping programs, yield was increased by an average 13-47 per cent across all regions.
Why would sowing earlier lead to higher yields?
Rainfall is critical for the establishment of the mid to fast growing wheat varieties currently popular with Australian farmers and autumn’s historically good sowing rainfall allows the flowering of cereal crops to occur at the best possible time. This is vital to yield and, subsequently, a farmer’s profit.
But a changing climate, declining autumn rains and more extreme spring weather means that conventional sowing times are no longer ideal. Farmers waiting until Anzac Day to sow may miss the best opportunity to get the highest yield.
So we’ve been looking at ways to do things differently.
While our grain researchers were pondering the challenge of maximising farm water efficiency, (research that won them a Eureka prize in 2014) they began considering crop-sowing strategies that would use the increasing summer and early autumn rainfall to establish wheat crops earlier. After all, the idea is to get as much of the wheat crop as possible to flower during the optimal period.
And it’s not enough for farmers to just start sowing their crops earlier because the early sowing of currently popular varieties of fast-maturing wheat presents a different problem: fast maturing wheat, matures, well… fast. This makes the risk of frost damage occurring during flowering stage likely, as fast maturing wheat sown in early autumn will flower right about the time night air starts dropping below a frosty two degrees Celsius.
Frost damage reduces grain quality and yield, so to navigate this challenge the team of researchers needed a solution. The answer is the rarely used, slow-maturing ‘winter wheat’ which can account for this issue.
Farming is an art and knowing the optimal flowering window is key to getting the best yield. So it isn’t enough for farmers to start sowing in early April, for the best results we recommend combining crops – beginning with winter wheat sowing in early April, and then staggering regularly used mid to fast maturing crops at ten day intervals.
This is great news for farmers: not only do they produce a bigger yield of wheat and improve their farm’s sustainability and profitability, but with the pressure off to sow their entire allocation around April 25, they may even find time to take part in the dawn service and watch the Anzac day clash!
You can read more about Dr Hunt’s research here: Optimising grain yield and grazing potential of crops across Australia’s high rainfall zone: a simulation analysis
This research is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)
By Pamela Tyers
What’s the most deadly creature in the world? The lion? The shark? In fact, it’s a bit of a trick question (do humans count?)… but there is a fair argument that the humble mozzie is the world’s top killer.
Many species of mosquito carry deadly diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and west nile virus. Malaria in particular places a huge health and economic burden on developing countries. According to the World Health Organisation, almost 200 million people caught malaria and more than half a million of them died from it in 2013 alone.
Thankfully, Australian scientists have made a significant discovery that could lead to the development of new tests for diagnosing malaria – potentially saving millions of lives. By identifying distinctive chemicals in our breath, researchers have been able to detect whether someone is infected with the disease.
A team of our scientists joined with QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Australian National University to look at the breath of volunteers who had been given a controlled malaria infection, as part of existing studies to develop new malaria treatments.
The research found that the levels of some normally almost undetectable chemicals increased markedly in their breath during the infection.
Stephen Trowell leads our research on the work. He is particularly excited because the new testing method allows us to diagnose malaria much earlier than with other tests.
“The increase in these chemicals were present at very early stages of infection, when many other methods would have been unable to detect the parasite in the body of people infected with malaria.”
“Overall, our breath could prove to be a much better alternative to blood tests for diagnosing the disease.”
The research, published today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, was undertaken in two independent studies where experimental drug treatments were being tested in volunteers who had been given a very small dose of infection. Using a sophisticated analytical instrument, Stephen and the researchers identified four sulphur-containing compounds whose levels varied during the course of the malaria infection.
These sulphur-containing chemicals have not previously been associated with any disease and their concentrations changed in a consistent pattern over the course of the malaria infection, correlating with the severity of the infection. They effectively disappeared after the patients were cured.
Currently, diagnosing malaria involves using powerful microscopes to look for parasites in blood using a method discovered in 1880. As the world starts to work towards the elimination of malaria, there is an urgent need for more sensitive and convenient tests to detect early and hidden cases.
The team are now collaborating in regions where malaria is endemic to test for the chemicals in the breath of patients with the disease. They are also developing very specific, sensitive and cheap “biosensors” that could be used in the clinic and the field to breath test for malaria.
We’ve worked on developing a range of similar bioproducts – you can read more about them here.
For media enquiries, contact Andreas Kahl on andreas.kahl(at)csiro.au or +61 407 751 330.
Claire-Elise Green wants to time travel. She wants to peer into the stellar nursery of the cosmos and understand how stars are formed, in their infancy, billions of years ago. To do this she needs access to multi-billion dollar telescopes, astronomical amounts of data and the time to work with the best and brightest in the field. Not something you can just Google.
This is why she is heading to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany to work with the equipment, data and experts needed to further her PhD research. This isn’t a cheap European getaway by any stretch of the imagination.
But Claire-Elise took a big step towards financing this journey when she was selected as the first ever recipient of the CSIRO Alumni 2015 Scholarship in Physics award.
The award was setup in honour of the four physicists who sadly lost their lives – two years ago – in a tragic accident, with a view to helping young Australians finance their projects and research in physics.
After beating out 14 other entries, Claire-Elise was handed the award and the $5000 scholarship fund at a ceremony in Lindfield, NSW.
Before she heads off to Germany with her novelty over-sized cheque, we had a chance to sit down and speak with Claire-Elise about her research, her time with us and her passion for science.
Claire-Elise’s scholarship winning project seeks to understand the birth of stars. So she scours the sky, looking for ancient molecular clouds in the deep dark recesses of space. These clouds play the role of stellar nurseries and look like large blobs with a radio telescope, so naturally she refers to this area of research as blob-ology.
Deep within the blob (and with the help of incredibly sensitive high resolution telescopes) you can find strings of gas and dust which appear within the cloud. These strings, called filaments, are the focus of Claire-Elise’s PhD, supervised by Dr. Maria Cunningham at UNSW, and our very own Dr Joanne Dawson.
In the process of star formation, dense regions of gas and dust within the molecular cloud collapse under gravity to form star forming cores. Most of these star forming cores have been found to lie on these dense filaments of gas like beads on a string. The role of these filaments in the star formation process, however, is currently unknown.
While she has had access to the Australian Compact Telescope Array near Narribri, and the Mopra Telescope, near Coonabarabran there is still lots of work to be done in this relatively new field of astrophysics and the time she will spend at the Max Planck Institute will further her understanding of the cosmic cabbage patch.
This PhD research into star formation is the culmination of many years of study back here on Earth.
A passionate scientist from a young age, Claire-Elise cites our Double Helix magazine as an early inspiration for all things scientific (please excuse the shameless self-promotion).
As she moved into high school she was fortunate enough to be part of a program designed to encourage young women to engage with science. Indeed, she chose to complete a Bachelor of Advanced Science majoring in Physics at University. And even though she was considering a double major including chemistry, we won’t fault her for taking the easy road and sticking to a single major!
In order to get some real world experience she completed two summer programs with our scientists where she collected her own data with the telescope at Parkes and the array of telescopes at Narrabri, she even used this opportunity to be get published.
Not only did she spend valuable time in the field where she could get her hands dirty and experience the realities of modern research, she also had the opportunity to rub shoulders with inspirational scientists like our own Dr Julie Banfield and Dr Jill Rathborne. Oh and she got to take a hayride on the world famous ‘Dish’ and take some memorable pictures.
Through all these experiences and with the example set by her mentors like Dr Cunningham, Dr Dawson and Dr Rathborne, Claire-Elise developed into a scientist with a passion for encouraging more women to try science, as she says – they tend to “rock at it”.
Before she departs for Europe and the next stage of her research career, she hopes to find some time to indulge in her favourite pastimes: tending her vegetable and herb gardens and enjoying a bit of the old ‘Crafternoon tea’ (that’s an afternoon tea coupled with crafts if you are unfamiliar with the term). When you are searching for the answers to the some of the universe’s biggest questions, it pays to stay grounded.
You can hear more about Claire-Elise’s research in her own words on Thinkable.org. Don’t forget to vote for her while you are there.