Meet the next generation of Aussie scientists and engineers

Jackson Huang and Dhruv  Verma are your 2015 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Award winners.

Jackson Huang and Dhruv Verma are your 2015 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Award winners.

UPDATE – WINNERS ANNOUNCED

A big congratulations to Dhruv Verma from Victoria and Jackson Huang from Queensland, the two winners of this year’s BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards. Dhruv was recognised for his PROTEGO project, and Jackson for his investigation into heartburn medication alternatives. You can more learn more about Dhruv, Jackson and the other finalists below.  

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.

Taking a closer look at this years teen-scientists

Taking a closer look at this years teen-scientists

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

Our youngest entrant, Dhruv Verma, 14, from Victoria has won the Engineering category. Dhruv took out the top prize for his engineering project, 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.

The Winners. Jackson Huang and Dhruv Verma.

The Winners. Jackson Huang and Dhruv Verma.

Flipping the script on heartburn medication

In the ‘Investigations’ category our winner for 2015 is Jackson Huang, from Queensland. Inspired by research from the 80s, Jackson investigated why some additives in different heartburn medication were weakening its effectiveness. As well as finding out why this weakening occurred, Jackson has also been trialling an alternative additive.

To all the winners and finalists we wish you all the best for the coming years, 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.


5 ways high-tech light bulbs can brighten up your life

The new misfit light bulb. Source: Misfit

The new Misfit light bulb. Source: Misfit

By Simon Hunter

Last week hundreds of technology companies headed to Las Vegas for the biggest nerd-fest of the year – CES 2015 – to tout their wares and show off the latest and greatest gizmos.

From pilotless drones that follow you wherever you go to cars that you can park using a watch, the Jetsons would have felt very much at home at this year’s event.

Interestingly though, it was one of the oldest innovations that featured most prominently – the humble light bulb. In their quest to create smarter homes, companies have been finding new ways to integrate colour, connectivity and music into bulbs.

Here we take a look at five new types of lights bulbs that are bringing the sexy back into lighting:

1. Lightscapes

Misfit showed off its Bolt bulb which allows you to create different colour combinations and lightscapes around your home using an app on your phone.

2. Sound
Sony showed off a prototype of its Symphonic Light Speaker which has a built in speaker. It allows you to wirelessly control the bulb and stream music through it.

3. Security

The Sengled Snap Bulb goes one step further. They contain a speaker, microphone and a motion sensor allowing you to stream video to your phone and use the bulb as a security device.

4. Movies

Phillips showcased its Hue bulb which can integrate with movies and gaming to create different lighting around the TV screen.

5. Work, rest and play

Definity Digital has designed a range of bulbs, which they say could help you sleep better or be more alert depending on the time of day.

We’re turning on to smart light technology, too. Recently we took a look at how new materials like flexible electronics are influencing the way lights are designed:  check out the Plus Pendant, which is both smart and flexible. We’re also working on smarter ways to use energy in homes and buildings, including heating, cooling and through apps like Opticool which help to manage energy use in big buildings.


Viva Parkes-Vegas!

Viva Parkes-Vegas!

When stars collide: Elvis meets The Dish

By Glen Nagle

The town of Parkes, NSW – home of our famous Parkes Radio Telescope – has slipped on its Blue Suede Shoes.

In the second week of January each year, Parkes marks the birthday of Elvis Presley with a massive festival celebrating everything Elvis. It started over 20 years ago as a one-day get together of just a few hundred fans. In 2015, the festival has grown to cover a week of events, shows, parades and exhibits and over 15,000 visitors more than doubling the town’s population.

Along with one of the largest collections of Elvis memorabilia on permanent display at the Henry Parkes Visitor Centre (donated by Wiggles performer, Greg Page), the Parkes Elvis Festival is one of the town’s major icons.

The other great icon of course is the Dish – our very own Parkes radio telescope – so combining these two great icons into one stellar event was always going to be, quite literally, a match made in Heaven.

'Return to sender' took on a new meaning for the Dish last night.

‘Return to sender’ took on a new meaning for the Dish last night.

On Wednesday, 7th January an inaugural concert was held at the Dish to help mark the opening night of the Festival – and to celebrate what would have been the King’s 80th birthday the following day.

Starring popular Elvis tribute artist, Shakin’ Rick Mackaway, and backed by the fabulous rock band, The Wilsonics, the dinner and show night attracted hundreds of people from across the region and as far and wide as Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Storm clouds threatened earlier in the day, but nothing was going to rain on this parade of love for the King and the Dish. The clouds almost magically bypassed the telescope and the brightest stars in heaven came out for an incredible night of songs, dancing and laughter against the impressive backdrop of Australia’s iconic radio telescope.

Shakin' Rick, rockin' in to the night.

Shakin’ Rick, rockin’ in to the night.

Continuing to observe the heavens throughout the show, the Dish even performed during the intermission with several large moves enthralling the audience and provoking  questions about both the science behind, and the history of, the Dish.

As the evening came to a close with a final encore performance and the audience departed, the number one question was, “Are you going to do it again next year?!”

Hmmm? Elvis and the Dish 2! Two icons, exciting audiences everywhere with music and astronomy.

The possibilities are endless. Watch this space.


Waking Up to New Horizons

Nicholas Kachel:

Our Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex just received a signal, sent at the speed of light, from 4.8 billion kilometres away. Who was it from? What was it about? Find out below…

Originally posted on Universe @ CSIRO:

New Horizons' flies past Pluto in this artists' rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL New Horizons’ flies past Pluto in this artists’ rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL

I guess we all love to sleep in on a Sunday morning, maybe just snoozing under the doona, laying there for a few hours before getting up for a late brunch. Ah! Luxury.

On Sunday 7th December 2014, the New Horizons spacecraft, 5 billion kilometres away from the warmth of Earth, had little time to sleep in. It was ‘wake up’ day. The final awakening from hibernation for the next 2 years until well after its encounter with rapidly approaching dwarf planet, Pluto, set for the 14th July 2015.

Waiting back on Earth to hear the spacecraft’s morning ‘alarm’ go off was the giant 70 metre antenna dish at the CSIRO-managed, Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43).

Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the 'wake up' call from the New Horizons spacecraft. Image: CDSCC/CSIRO Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the ‘wake up’ call from the New…

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Make our ASKAP telescope a star of the night sky

By Emily Lehmann

There’s a new star in the making in the world of astronomy, with our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) named as a finalist in The Australian Innovation Challenge’s Manufacturing, Construction and Infrastructure category*.

We recently shared some of the first images produced  by the amazing ASKAP telescope. It comprises a cluster of 36 radio dishes that work in conjunction with a powerful supercomputer to form what is, in effect, a single composite radio telescope a massive six kilometres across.

This allows it to survey the night sky very quickly, taking panoramic snapshots over 100 times the size of the full moon (as viewed from Earth, of course!).

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

The world-leading facility is revolutionising astronomy, and this award nomination is a welcome recognition. You can vote for it here – just scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Now, for all you space cadets, here’s five astronomical facts about why ASKAP is out of this world and a sure-fire winner:

  1. ASKAP’s 36 radio dishes, each 12 metres in diameter, give it the capacity to scan the whole sky and make it sensitive to whisper-quiet signals from the Milky Way.
  2. ASKAP is an outstanding telescope in its own right, as well as a technology demonstrator for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This pioneering technology will make ASKAP the fastest radio telescope in the world for surveying the sky.
  3. Once built, the SKA will comprise of a vast army of radio receivers distributed over tens to hundreds of kilometres in remote areas of Western Australia and Africa.
  4. The SKA will generate five million million bytes of information in its first day. That’s almost as many grains of sand on all of the world’s beaches.
  5. ASKAP is located in the remote Murchison Shire of Western Australia, which was chosen because there is hardly any human activity and so little background radio noise.

ASKAP is one of four CSIRO projects already in the running for different categories in the Oz’s Innovation Challenge (we’ve also written about swarm sensing and Direct Nickel). You can #voteCSIRO for any and all of them – just follow the links from the Challenge’s home page!


Who will win, the Swans or the Hawks? We asked science

MCG grand final

Which bird is going to fly at the MCG?

By Fiona Brown

Wondering who’s going to win the AFL grand final on the weekend? We were too, so we did what scientists do best and undertook some research to predict whether it will be the Swans or the Hawks taking home the cup on Saturday afternoon. This is what we found.

In favour of the swans is their size and weight. They are among the largest flying birds, with a wingspan of up to 3 metres and weighing in at up to a solid 15 kg. Compared with the hawk*, which has a wingspan of around 95 centimetres and is lucky to tip the scales at 355 grams, we’re guessing that the Swans will surely have the advantage when it comes to tackling.

Will the Swans fly?

Could the Swans’ size, weight, and speed in the air see them fly away with a win? Image by Smudge 9000

However, when it comes to speed, is all that extra weight going to slow the Swans down? If you’ve ever seen a swan walk, you’ll know the answer to this one – yes. Swans are clumsy walkers, moving at slow speeds on dry land thanks to their short legs and large bodies. In contrast, hawks have relatively long legs for birds and will sometimes be seen stalking prey by running along the ground. The Swans will need to be careful that the Hawks don’t literally run away with the game.

Will the Hawks stare the Swans down?

Or will the Hawks’ speed on the ground and agility in the air see them dominate their prey? Image David Jenkins

Interestingly, in the air it’s not quite so clear cut as to who has the advantage – swans have the speed but hawks have better agility. The top speed of a Mute Swan** is claimed to be around 85 km/h, whereas when in pursuit of prey the hawk is reported to only reach speeds of up to 61 km/h. However, hawks are highly agile in flight, able to power through very small gaps in the canopy without colliding with branches. They use this ability to hunt, so are well-practised at using sudden, short bursts of speed to spring from a concealed perch, surprising unsuspecting prey. The take-home message? Watch out for some great marks!

Another key factor in predicting who will win any sporting match is the elusive team spirit. Who has the drive and aggression to get the job done? Which team will come together when it matters most? When it comes to aggression, both birds have pretty nasty reputations. Swans will aggressively protect their nests and young, using their size and powerful wings to ward off would-be predators (including humans). Hawks will also aggressively defend their territory, and they don’t get the title ‘bird of prey’ for nothing. They prey mainly upon other small to medium sized birds (including crows and magpies, which could explain Hawthorn’s defeat of Adelaide and Collingwood earlier in the season), but also eat mammals, amphibians, reptiles and occasionally insects. However, when it comes to commitment to the team, the Swans have it in the bag, with adult swans usually mating for life.

And lastly, what about the all-important weather forecast? With our friends at the Bureau of Meteorology predicting showers in Melbourne over the next couple of days and drizzle on Saturday morning, the G could be a bit damp under foot, which might be an advantage if those feet are webbed…!

Okay, so our ‘research’ might not be the most accurate method of predicting who’ll win the big game, but we definitely learnt something about our Australian feathered friends, and as Paul the Octopus clearly demonstrated, animals shouldn’t be dismissed when it comes to predicting results of football matches.

If you’d like to learn more about hawks, swans or any other Australian species for that matter, check out the Australia’s species page on the Atlas of Living Australia.

*Information about the hawks is based on our assumption that ‘hawk’ is short for ‘Brown Goshawk’, as this species of hawk has a brown head and body, yellow legs, and bright yellow eyes.

**The Swan’s mascot is based on the white species of swan found in Australia, which is the Mute Swan.


Eureka, they’ve done it

Winners on stage

All the winners take to the stage at the ‘Oscars of Australian science’.

More than 2 200 years ago, legend has it, Archimedes got into a bath and had a lightbulb moment. He worked out that you could use the amount of water it displaces to measure the volume of an irregularly-shaped object. He was supposedly so excited about this that he jumped out, and ran, dripping wet and naked, down the street yelling ‘Eureka!’ (Ancient Greek for ‘I’ve found it’).

This story might not be entirely true, even though it deserves to be. But something that is unquestionably true is that several of our peeps had their very own Eureka moment, winning an Australian Museum Eureka Award, while fully clothed.

Here’s what they did to earn it.

WUE Initiative team (James Hunt, John Kirkegaard, CSIRO and Stuart Kearns, GRDC)
Department of Agriculture Landcare Eureka Prize for Sustainable Agriculture.

Winners on stage

WUE Initiative team accepting their award.

One of the biggest limiting factors for Australian agriculture is water. CSIRO and the Grains Research Development Corporation have been working on a five-year research project – the WUE Initiative – to increase water use efficiency in grain farming.

The results showed that it’s possible to a significantly improve water use efficiency in the southern and western growing regions, demonstrating an increase in the long term average winter crop yield without increasing input costs, and lifting average Australian wheat yield by around 25 per cent across all regions.

Two thirds of the yield gains from improved WUE come from pre-crop management.

Watch a rundown of their work.

Hendra Virus Research Team
Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research

Winners on stage

The Hendra team accepting their award.

Well, what can we say? Horses and their owners all over Australia are very, very grateful for Equivac® HeV. This vaccine was the culmination of years of painstaking work by the Hendra Virus Research Team. It was also a novel approach to preventing a disease that kills humans – developing a vaccine for the horses that pass it on to humans, and who are also vulnerable to it. Hendra Virus has killed four out of the seven people it has infected – and with the help of this vaccine, they might be the last.

Watch the video about what the team have achieved or get a rundown on Hendra on our website.

Mark Talbot
Science Photography Prize

Microscopic image of wheat

Wheat through the looking glass.

Mark is a microscopist in CSIRO’s Bioimaging & Plant Development unit. He has developed a technique using a scanning electron microscope, to look deeper into plant cell tissues. His images speak for themselves.

Listen to Mark explain his magic.

We’d also like to congratulate the other CSIRO finalist at the Eureka’s last night:

The AIBL Research Team (CSIRO Lead Scientist Lance Macaulay)
University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research

This – the Australian Imaging, Biomarker & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing – is a truly massive multidisciplinary undertaking. It’s a long-term study to discover which are the biomarkers, cognitive characteristics, and health and lifestyle factors that determine whether a person will develop symptomatic Alzheimer’s Disease. It has more than a thousand participants, and is now showing positive results both in detecting biomarkers and developing diagnostic tests.

Watch a short clip about AIBL or read about what curry and Alzheimer’s have to do with each other.

Dr Terence Speed.

And finally, a congratulations to the winner of the CSIRO Leadership in Science award, Professor Terence Speed from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

At the Institute, the team that Terry leads uses computational mathematics to help researchers interpret massive amounts of experimental data.

Terry’s extraordinary leadership in the field extends well beyond the walls of the Institute. His techniques for improved DNA data analysis are distributed free-of-charge and used by thousands of researchers around the world. He is one of the world’s most cited scientists—not only in mathematics, but in computer science, biology and biochemistry.

Read more on Terry’s work at WEHI on the Australian Museum website.

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners of this year’s Eureka Prizes. Archimedes would be proud.


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