Building on our ASSETS in Indigenous education


A picture can tell a thousand words, but this one only needs 78: The ASSETS Program has helped us form many emotional relationships that although only started a few days ago, life bonds have been formed with many great friends that we will never forget. These people will forever be our brothers, sisters and mentors that we gladly and lovingly accept as our family. We wish the best for all of you and we hope to see you again, whilst we’re making a change for ourselves and our country. Thank you.

This heart-warming testimonial comes from one of a group of 28 talented young Indigenous students that were selected to take part in our Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS) camp in Adelaide last month.

The ten day camp was like many other science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) programs that take place around Australia, but with one big difference – ASSETS has a fundamental and intrinsic focus on Indigenous culture and history.

The program saw the year 10 and 11 students – who were selected based on their high performance and interest in STEM subjects – take part in a range of cultural activities. They visited Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, had a cultural tour of the Warriparinga wetlands, and visited the Camp Coorong museum. The group also practiced traditional basket weaving with Ngarrindjeri elder Auntie Ellen, and shared nights around the fire pit – including cooking and eating kangaroo tail.

Ashlei Major, from Townsville, during a workshop.

Ashlei Major, from Townsville, participating in an ASSETS workshop.

Kurt Boundy, from Oberon in the central west of New South Wales, said for some of the students it was a chance to reconnect with their ancestry.

“I grew up not knowing a lot about my background, but coming here it’s opened up a lot of opportunities,” Kurt said.

And just as importantly, it allowed the students and their mentors to foster strong bonds with like-minded friends from all over Australia.

“It’s made me think of back home and how I’ve lost connection with my culture – and it’s good to connect [with] other students,” said Chloe Sobieralski, from Townsville.

As well as focusing on cultural heritage, the program encouraged students to study maths and science in senior years and consider a career in the sector.  They visited local universities to learn about topics ranging from traditional and modern uses of native plants to passive energy design in building architecture. Students then used these sessions as background and inspiration for their experimental inquiry presentations, which were presented to the rest of the group.

While the program was only available to 30 students in 2014, there are plans to expand the program to three residential summer schools a year from 2015. The three summer schools will be held in locations around Australia, supported by a range of academic and cultural providers from universities, research, industry, government and business.

Students and staff with Professor Irabinna Rigney at LKCC.

Students and staff with Professor Irabinna Rigney at LKCC.

Studies have shown that Indigenous students are significantly under-represented across all fields in higher education, but with a more pronounced disparity in STEM subjects. Through programs like ASSETS, students, teachers, mentors and Indigenous organisations can link cultural pride with academic success – and foster a new generation of high-achieving individuals.

But we will leave the final words to another of the students – Sharni Cox, of Tasmania.

“We have the ability to change our future,” said Sharni. “We can control what we do. We don’t have to listen to what other people tell us. I’m in charge of me.”

The ASSETS program is part of a new partnership between BHP Billiton Foundation and CSIRO: totaling $28.8 million over five-yeas designed to improve the participation and achievement of Indigenous students in STEM subjects and professions.  

For more information about the ASSETS program, including how to apply, please contact Caitlin Lewis at or 03 9252 6209.

How we’re using science to turn wastewater into wine

It's a grape day for wine

It’s a ‘grape’ day for turning wastewater into wine.

Bill Gates caused a stir recently by drinking a glass of water that had, only five minutes earlier, been human waste.

No, Billionaire Bill hadn’t lost a dare. He was actually showcasing his faith in the latest wastewater processing technology – technology that could, if utilised properly, go a long way towards solving the global issue of access to clean drinking water.

Though, it’s not just drinking water that’s in the picture. Imagine, that instead of sipping from a glass of water, Bill was instead quaffing a Barossa Valley red, produced from a vineyard that uses wastewater to irrigate vineyards. It’s an entirely possible scenario (although we’re not sure how often Bill visits Tanunda).

For many, reconditioned wastewater is taboo for consumption, but as Bill so prominently demonstrated, wastewater processing technology is a viable way of both hydrating our planet AND reducing waste.

When affluence meets effluence. Photo credit: Screenshot via thegatesnotes

When affluence meets effluence. Photo credit: Screenshot via thegatesnotes

Which is why we’ve been working with some of Australia’s leading wineries to prove that wastewater can play an important role in wine production.

In a recently released report – Sustainable recycled winery water irrigation - we demonstrate how wineries could reuse their wastewater to safely irrigate their crops. Not only would the reuse of wastewater result in cost savings and better environmental practices, but it could even improve the quality and yield of the crops themselves.

The (Adelaide) hills are alive with sound of wine growing. Photo credit: CSIRO

The (Adelaide) hills are alive with sound of wine growing.

Our lead scientist on the report, Dr Anu Kumar, and her team developed the guidelines after rigorous field, laboratory and glass house trials with participating wineries in the Barossa Valley, Riverina and McLaren Vale regions.

Anu and her team looked at the options for the reuse of wastewater on the vineyards – irrigation, evaporation and disposal – and found that, on the whole, irrigation was the most sustainable.

The study found that wastewater containing less than 60 mg per litre of sodium, 1250 mg per litre of potassium and 625+1084 mg per litre of sodium plus potassium (in combination) was safe for application on grapevines. Of particular interest, the nutrients and organic matter in winery wastewater can even enhance soil productivity, increasing crop growth and yield.

In fact, some of the participating wineries were so satisfied with the results that they have begun implementing our guidelines themselves.

But Anu and her team have been upfront in explaining this isn’t a one size fits all solution. For instance, wastewater can also increase soil salinity, which is bad news for healthy soil.

“It really isn’t a one-approach method,” said Anu. “Individual wineries need to discuss how they use wastewater with experts to ensure that guidelines are being adhered too, as well as the strict regulatory conditions.”

When it comes to waste water, there is much to consider. Photo Credit:

When it comes to wastewater, there is much to consider.

Dr. Kumar and her research team will continue to work with their partners at the University of Adelaide and the Australian Grape and Wine Authority (AGWA) to share these findings with other wineries around Australia.

In a country like Australia that is so susceptible to drought conditions and water shortages, it’s important that we find more efficient and sustainable ways to use what can be such a scarce resource.

Now, to get Bill down to the Barossa for that glass of red…

In conjunction with Dr Kumar and her team, the Australian Grape and Wine Authority has published a useful resource kit which includes more information about winery wastewater management and recycling.

Climate projections show Australia is heading for a much warmer future

Beach scene

Future Sydney? Climate projections show Sydney’s climate could end up more like Brisbane’s. Image: Kevin Gibbons/Flickr, CC BY

By Kevin Hennessy, CSIRO and Penny Whetton, CSIRO

Australia is on track for up to 1.7C of warming this century if the world curbs its greenhouse emissions, but under a worst-case scenario could see anything from 2.8C to 5.1C of warming by 2090, according to new climate change projections released by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

The projections are the most comprehensive ever released for Australia. They are similar to those published in 2007, but based on stronger evidence, with more regional detail. These projections have been undertaken primarily to inform the natural resources management sector, although the information will be useful for planning and managing the impacts of climate change in other sectors.

Possible futures

The new report draws on climate model data used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). The Fifth IPCC Assessment Report (AR5), released in 2013 and 2014, used a range various greenhouse gas and aerosol scenarios to project future climate change.

Over the past 10 years, carbon dioxide emissions have been tracking the highest IPCC emission scenario (known as RCP8.5). If there is limited international action to reduce emissions, then projections based on the highest scenario may be realised.

However, if emissions are significantly reduced over the coming decades, then intermediate emissions (RCP4.5) might be feasible. Following the low emissions scenario (RCP2.6) would be very challenging given the current trajectory of carbon dioxide emissions.

How does Australia compare?

By late in this century (2090), Australia’s average warming is projected to be 0.6 to 1.7C for a low emission scenario, or 2.8 to 5.1C under a high emission scenario.

The warming under the high scenario is similar to the global average warming of 2.6 to 4.8C under the high emission scenario reported by the IPCC AR5. However, inland areas of Australia will warm faster than coastal areas.

For example, the Rangelands of inland Australia warm by 2.9-5.3C by 2090 under high emissions, while the East Coast, including Sydney and Brisbane, warms by 2.7-4.7C.

Map showing climate projections

This map shows the annual mean temperature for present climate (A), and late 21st century (B). In each panel the 14C, 20C, and 26C contours are shown with solid black lines. In (B) the same contours from the original climate are plotted as dotted lines to provide the clearest depiction of the shifts in climate.

Historical context

The new projections should be viewed in the context of what has already been observed. Australia has become 0.9C warmer since 1910. Rainfall has increased in northern Australia since the 1970s and decreased in south-east and south-west Australia.

More of Australia’s rain has come from heavy falls and there has been more extreme fire weather in southern and eastern Australia since the 1970s. Sea levels have risen by approximately 20 cm since 1900.

In future, Australia’s average temperature will increase and we will experience more heat extremes and fewer cold extremes. Winter and spring rainfall in southern Australia is projected to decline while changes in other regions are uncertain.

For the rest of Australia, natural climate variability will predominate over rainfall trends caused by increasing greenhouse gases until 2030. By 2090, a winter rainfall decrease is expected in eastern Australia, but a winter rainfall increase is expected in Tasmania.

Historical climate data can be used as an analogue for the future. The analogue could be a location that currently has a climate similar to that expected in another region in the future.

For example, for a warming of 1.5-3.0C and a rainfall decrease of 5-15%, Melbourne’s climate becomes similar to that of Clare in South Australia, Sydney becomes more like Brisbane, and Brisbane becomes more like Bundaberg in inland Queensland.

Extreme rainfall events that lead to flooding are likely to become more intense. The number of tropical cyclones is projected to decrease but they may be more intense and possibly reach further south. Southern and eastern Australia is projected to experience harsher fire weather. The time in drought will increase over southern Australia, with a greater frequency of severe droughts.

A projected increase in evaporation rates will contribute to a reduction in soil moisture across Australia. There will be a decrease in snowfall, an increase in snowmelt, and therefore reduced snow cover.

Sea levels will continue to rise throughout the 21st century and beyond. Oceans around Australia will warm and become more acidic.

What will Australia look like?

Freshwater resources are projected to decline in far south-west and far south-east mainland Australia. Rising sea levels and increasing heavy rainfall are projected to increase erosion and inundation, with consequent damage to many low-lying ecosystems, infrastructure and housing.

Increasing heat waves will increase risks to human health. Rainfall changes and rising temperatures will shift agricultural production zones. Many native species will suffer from reduced habitats and some may face local or even global extinction.

The most vulnerable regions/sectors are coral reefs, increased frequency and intensity of flood damage to infrastructure and settlements, and increasing risks to coastal infrastructure and low-lying ecosystems.

While reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions would increase the chance of slowing climate change, adaptation is also required because some warming and associated climate changes are unavoidable.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Meet the next generation of Aussie scientists and engineers

Taking a closer look at this years teen-scientists

Taking a closer look at this year’s teen-scientists

How much did you love your Bunsen burner time at school? Or were you more of an adoring-algebra type?

To us, nothing is more valuable and important than nurturing a love of science and technology in the next generation. This is why the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards are such a terrific motivator for students looking to turn their great ideas into reality.

So, before you get lost in your high-school reminiscing, we thought we should share a couple of the entries which have made it to the finals this year.

Prepare to be humbled.

Nick's treatment of honey bee silk has some amazing potential for industries

Nick’s treatment of honey bee silk has some amazing potential for industries

Silky Smooth

The honey bee doesn’t normally come to mind when you think about the production of silk. Interestingly honey bee silk has some amazing industrial uses, particularly in biomedical work.

Nick East, 15, from Canberra has discovered a way that honey bee silk can be purified and treated more cost-effectively than current methods. Honey bee silk can be used for replacing parts of the human body – from ligaments to supporting the immune system. Nick went even further to investigate how the honey bee silk protein could be used to deliver a controlled-release of drugs into the system.

Nick’s entry created a buzz in our team, as we’re no strangers to working with bees for science.

Katherine's project looks at improving building safety in cyclone-prone areas

Kimberley’s project looks at improving building safety in cyclone-prone areas

Raising the roof. And the bar.

Hailing from cyclone-prone northern Queensland, Kimberley Hardwick, 17, is in the running for the awards for her investigation into how different roof designs stand up in windy conditions.

Kimberley’s project isn’t a whole lot of bluster, in fact it stands up really well against the competition.

By looking into how roof features – such as pitch and surface area – would affect uplift during a cyclone, Kimberley was able to develop a series of recommendations to reduce the pressure placed on a house.

This entry has the potential to save money, houses and people’s lives.

The youngest finalist Dhruv, shows off his in-home sensors, PROTEGO

The youngest finalist Dhruv, shows off his in-home sensors, PROTEGO

Keeping a digital eye on the elderly

To our youngest finalist, Dhruv Verma, 14, from Victoria. Dhruv has developed PROTEGO, or PROactive Technology for Elderly on the GO.

Inspired by his great grandfather who lived independently into his nineties until he had a fall, Dhruv designed PROTEGO to help address the increasing strain on our aged care system by allowing elderly people to live independently in their own homes for longer.

Harnessing some clever technology, such as in-home sensors and real-time alerts sent to carers via their smartphones, this entry is all about using latest tech for social good.

If great minds think alike, then Dhruv is in good company – our scientists are trialling a similar system in Queensland.

We wish all the young entrants the best of luck at the awards next week, and we look forward to working with you in the not too distant future.

The BHP Billiton Science and Engineering awards are a partnership between BHP Billiton, CSIRO and the Australian Science Teachers Association. They are sponsored by BHP Billiton and managed by CSIRO. The awards are also supported by the Intel Corporation.

The winners will be announced in Melbourne next week by Mr Bryan Quinn, Head of Group Technology and Geoscience and Engineering, CSIRO Board Member, Professor Tom Spurling and Australian Science Teachers Association President, Ms Robyn Aitken.

The Hungry Microbiome Part 2: Starch

Plants eat sun, plants make giant cell. Simple.

Plants eat sun, plants make giant, squiggly cell. Simple.

Welcome to the second installment in our four-part animated series on the digestive system.

Today we’re talking about starch – so let’s start with some background.

Almost all of our food comes either directly or indirectly from plants: directly, when we are eating plant parts (leaves and stems), their storage organs (vegetables), their burgeoning embryos (fruits), or their offspring (seeds and pulses), and indirectly when we devour animals that ate plants themselves.

Plants have many components that can be used by our bodies. From their seeds we obtain amino acids to build muscles and upkeep our own cells. And by eating plants and therefore plant cells, we digest their DNA, break it down, and recycle it to use in our own DNA. Some elements and minerals such as phosphorus are necessary for our survival.

But plants need phosphorus just as much as us. Plants get phosphorus via their roots, which get it via the soil (which is composed of pulverised phosphate-rich rocks). Whether we eat the herbivores that are feasting on the plants, or go straight to the plants, we are replenishing our phosphorus reserves to make more cells. All of this phosphorus, used in our very genetic make up, is ultimately derived from soil and rocks — the Earth. Hippies sure know their biochemistry.

Among many of the nutrients created by plants, for plants, starch is a fundamental one.

So what’s the deal with it?

‘Sup with starch?
In this video, we take a look at starch and the role it plays in our digestive system. What is it? Where’s it come from? Why is it important?

But that’s not all there is to know about starch. When our own bodies consume too much food, instead of excreting it and wasting those precious resources, our body converts those nutrients into storage materials for later use on a rainy day. If we ingest more simple sugars than we need, for example, our bodies will take those components, transform them into fats, and store them away in our body. Then, when food is scarce, those fats can be broken down and used as life-preserving energy.

Plants do this too. Instead of fat, plants use ‘starch’, and instead of love handles, plants have potatoes and yams. Where animals eat plant sugars, plants make plant sugars from scratch. If they make too much, they’ll fold up the sugars into starch and store it in their tubers. To the plants existential dismay, hungry animals — too inept to make their own sugar — come fossicking for the plants’ precious starch reserves.

Some plants protect their starch with lethal solanine, the toxic chemical found in green potatoes, while others forfeit their reserves to rabbits. Ehh, what’s up doc?

Nonetheless, once the starch is consumed by us hungry herbivores, it must be broken down into its constituent saccharine parts. For true herbivores, rabbits and cows and the like, this is not such a problem. For more omnivorous creatures such as ourselves, starch is a hard nut to crack. Our bodies have evolved elaborate mechanisms to get the most out of starch, but, as always, we must rely on our bacterial comrades to finish the job for us.

For more information on starch, its ultimate fate in our insides, and why we need it more than it needs us, Check out these videos!

Digital trend: the time is ripe for “creatives”

Image of Stefan Hajkowicz

Stefan Hajkowicz – Principal scientist for strategic foresight

By Emily Lehmann

It’s hard for some of us to remember a time when phones couldn’t take video (you can video conference with the humble home phone nowadays), let alone life without the internet. In fact, some of you reading now may not have even been born yet.

Last year delivered everything from a smartphone that you can use as a credit card to ground-breaking, tech-like tiny robots that can swim through the bloodstream.

We have also been busy working on some great developments, like the very clever work of our own team (who doesn’t want a 3D-printed bike?).

The Flying Machine's 3DP-F1 has luges 3D printed out of titanium

The Flying Machine’s 3DP-F1 has luges 3D printed out of titanium

Not all technology was welcome of course – we are looking at you selfie stick – but generally the last few years have been great for technological advancements.

And, yet we must pause and remember our ancient proverbs – “With great leaps forward in technology, comes great responsibility.”

Over the weekend, the World Economic Forum (WE Forum) announced a new collaboration tasked with a mission called the Global Strategic Foresight Community.

It is bringing thought leaders from all over the globe together to compare and contrast insights into global shifts (megatrends), and positively shape the future.

We’re delighted because our principal scientist for strategic foresight Stefan Hajkowicz is one of the 32 members chosen to take part.

As part of this community of experts Stefan will explore the potential of the creative economy. His report shows that creative services (e.g. music, film, theatre, arts, entertainment and a wide range of knowledge products) are an underappreciated bright spot of the global economy.

Which is odd, considering how resilient these industries are. For example, when the global financial crisis threw an enormous spanner into the world economy, creative services continued to grow by an average rate of 14 per cent per annum worldwide, while international trade contracted by 12 per cent.

The creative economy has great potential, and Stefan predicts that they could grow significantly in the future thanks to:

  • Greater income growth in developing countries – opening even more markets
  • Technological change – creating new platforms and ways to collaborate and trade
  • The growth of the internet – which will continue to fuel creative industries with more ideas and opportunities.

The internet is growing as a platform to deliver products such as music and television rapidly and for little cost. Take for instance, the growing number of people using video, media and music streaming websites to get the latest content instantly for a fraction of the price of traditional retailers or outlets.

3D printers could allow virtual goods to be made cheaply on demand, without the need to own a factory or warehouse. Already you can purchase 3D-printed jewellery and quirky accessories online, while companies and researchers are now experimenting and developing products like 3D-printed prosthetic limbs (we successfully printed and implanted a titanium ankle bone last year), clothing and cars.

3D printed titanium heel implant

The 3D-printed titanium heel implant

Advances and trends like this will have a massive impact, by increasing trade in creative services and changing the way the world economy works. They can even help to alleviate some of the world’s greatest challenges like youth unemployment and poverty. We are excited Stefan will be taking part and shaping the conversation.

You can read more about Stefan’s global shifts at the WE Forum’s Global Strategic Foresight Community and his forthcoming book Global Megatrends will be available through CSIRO Publishing in April.

Cosmic radio burst caught red-handed

Nicholas Kachel:

An international team of scientific sleuths are putting together the pieces of a cosmic puzzle – attempting to identify the source of powerful “fast radio bursts” that have originated from the far corners of our known Universe.

Originally posted on Universe @ CSIRO:

News this week that astronomers using our Parkes radio telescope have detected a short, sharp flash of radio waves from an unknown source up to 5.5 billion light years from Earth is the latest chapter in a cosmic ‘whodunnit’ mystery. We have mounting evidence, a team of detectives, and a good pinch of suspense. All we need now is to find the body.

The evidence
‘Fast radio bursts’ are short and bright: they last only milliseconds but give out an enormous amount of energy.

The first burst was discovered in 2007 by astronomers combing old Parkes data archives for unrelated objects. Five more detections were made from Parkes data before researchers using data collected with the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico made the first finding using another facility.

This latest discovery, made by Swinburne University of Technology PhD student Emily Petroff, is the first ‘live’ detection of one of these mysterious bursts…

View original 442 more words


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