From a summer with telescopes, to getting your sea legs the hard way

selfieBy Mikayla Keen

I love my job. As a CSIRO communication advisor I get to work with amazing scientists, hear fantastic stories of discovery and innovation, learn new things… and get paid to do it.

I began my CSIRO adventure in 2009 as a summer student working at the Parkes Radio Telescope. At the final seminar I asked ‘how do I get a job here?’ and four months later I was a communication advisor supporting agricultural scientists working across the country.


Ah, back in the day. My first job at CSIRO was summer intern at ‘The Dish’.

That physics degree didn’t help me understand the work they were doing, but then the job isn’t about becoming an expert in the science. Being a communicator is all about listening, asking those silly questions and helping the scientist tell their story. The only trouble is there aren’t enough hours in the day to tell them all.

I love my job, last week more than most, because last week I got to go on the new Investigator marine research vessel. I’ve never been to Tassie before so it was a week of firsts; first time visiting Hobart, first time on a research vessel and first time throwing my guts up on a piddling four metre swell.

Don’t ask me how I managed it but I scored a berth on one of Investigator’s sea trials. I have to admit my heart went badaboom when I first saw her sitting across the bay as I drove over the Tasman Bridge. Investigator is one fine lookin’ Sheila, even her aft-side looks good.

Once on board, the first thing I noticed was how quiet the ship is once you’re off the main deck. There was only a quiet hum from the engines and the occasional lapping of waves against the hull to disturb the peace.

I was lucky enough to score a cabin on the first platform deck (one below the main deck) with a porthole. It was bliss waking up to the reflection of the sun shimmering off the surface of the Derwent.

View from porthole

‘Views from a porthole’.

I’ve cruised before, but nothing is quite like the Investigator. I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest cabin I’ve ever had on a ship, although I had to make my bed. Oh, the horror.

You have to be really conscious of sound too; the crew works to 12 hour shifts which means your neighbour might be just getting to bed when you get up in the morning and you don’t want to disturb your neighbour. They might be responsible for steering the ship, or feeding you.

Yes, there are chefs on board, and what joy they bring to the voyage. Food is available 24 hours a day and I can personally vouch for how darn good it is. That’s a feat considering no one can pop in to the local supermarket.The ship’s pantries and cool rooms are substantial in size and sturdiness. Not only do they store enough food to feed up to 60 people (most of them burly men working long hours) for up to 60 days, they also have to keep the food stuff safe during rough seas.

While the food was delicious going down it was not so lovely coming back up. Turns out my guts of steel were not so steely. As we sailed over the continental shelf Investigator was tracking back and forth, mapping the sea floor. This meant changing the angle of the ship to the swell, from calm to rough and all that choppiness in between. Hello, lovely new bathroom.

I wasn’t much better the next day when the team were practicing deploying the big Southern Ocean Flux System (SOFS) mooring. These moorings have to survive the southern ocean for over a year at a time so they’re big and sturdy. The big float sits on the surface bobbing up and down with a long chain of instruments hanging beneath it. The four metre swell was perfect conditions to test deploying the mooring before the real thing in the southern ocean next year.

SOFS float

Southern Ocean Flux System (SOFS) mooring.

It was not so perfect (or mild) on my stomach. I’ve been in worse conditions and been fine but then in the past I’ve had the advantage of being on holiday; sitting on deck, eyeballing the horizon, drinking ginger tea. Investigator is not a holiday destination; it’s a research vessel and there’s work to be done .

The third day of the voyage dawned clear and calm (sigh). I ate a wonderful full breakfast to make up for what I had missed. Hat’s off to those who can do this for months at a time. Although, the views really aren’t so bad.

There is joy to being on the water.

There is a joy to being on the water.

CSIRO has been darn good to me over the years. I thought it might be difficult to top starting off at the most beautiful radio telescope in the world, but CSIRO is just one of those places where no matter which way you turn, you can’t help but trip over an amazing story.

The eyes have it: Is this our next Australian of the Year?


Dr Yogi Kanagasingam

State finalist in the Australian of of Year awards, Dr Yogi Kanagasingam

Meet Yogi Kanagasingam. Yogi works at our Australian e-Health Research Centre and his vision is to change the way eye care is delivered around the world to prevent needless blindness.

A ‘serial inventor’, Yogi has developed a number of low-cost diagnostic technologies that are used to take images of our eyes.  These devices are helping in the early detection of serious conditions, ranging from those that directly threaten sight, through to stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease.

By focusing on affordable, mobile solutions, he is bringing quality eye care to thousands of patients who might otherwise have gone without.

Recognising this passion and dedication, Yogi has been named as a WA finalist in the 2015 Australian of the Year Awards. Here are just some of the sight-saving (and often life-saving) projects he’s working on:

Saving sight in remote communities

Regular eye tests are important. They can be used to pick up many diseases including diabetic retinopathy – one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness in Australian adults.

However due to the remoteness of some Australian communities, it can be very difficult for people to access this type of specialist care.

That’s why we’ve been working with our partners in Western Australia (Gold Fields and Great Southern) and Queensland (Torres Strait Islands) to set up remote eye screening – giving hundreds of people access to eye testing services.

This is possible thanks to technology Yogi has developed called Remote-I.

Using Remote-I, local clinicians are able to conduct routine retinal screenings, often as part of scheduled health clinic visits. The system then sends hi-res retinal images to a city-based specialist ophthalmologist via satellite broadband – allowing them to accurately diagnose and refer patients who need immediate treatment.

A retinal image

Retinal images and electronic patient files are sent to city-based ophthamologists.

 A global vision for eye care

Now Yogi and his team are taking Remote-I to the world. For the past year, they’ve been working with the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Centre in China’s Guangdong Province to introduce the technology throughout a network of ten hospitals.

With a population of over 100 million people in Guangdong, local health professionals are now using the technology to screen up to 1000 patients per week. That’s a lot of eye tests.

As well as giving patients access to specialist care, this project is also providing the research team with valuable data about blood vessel patterns in retinas. This will allow them to design algorithms that could be used to automatically detect particular eye diseases, aiding diagnosis in routine screenings.

Early detection of Alzheimer’s

Using curcumin (a compound in the spice turmeric), Yogi and his team have also developed a spice-infused eye test for Alzheimer’s disease.

Patients ingest the curcumin which binds to beta-amyloid plaques (the sticky proteins that indicate Alzheimer’s) showing up in retinal scans as bright spots which can be counted and measured.

Early results show the amount of plaque in the retina closely mirrors the amount in the brain. If confirmed, this could be the beginnings of an easy, non-invasive test for early detection of Alzheimer’s – maybe up to 20 years before cognitive symptoms appear.

Bright spots showing Alzheimer's plaques in retinal scan

Amyloid plaques, a sign of Alzheimer’s, show up in retinal scan as fluorescent spots as curcumin binds to them


We’re proud as punch of Yogi. As well as the groundbreaking work he is doing with us here at CSIRO, he is also giving back to the community in his personal time. Yogi is actively involved with local Rotary Clubs, including Freshwater Bay Rotary in WA where he helps promote regular eye screening for primary school children. This can make a big difference to students, as early detection of vision abnormalities can improve both academic and sports performances.

We wish Yogi all the best this Saturday when the WA Australian of the Year will be announced at Government House. WA’s winner will then join recipients from other States and Territories as finalists for the National Awards, to be announced on Australia Day 2015.

Read more about our eHealth research on our website.

CO2 capture and storage – reducing carbon emissions from coal

In Australia we generate 75% of our electricity from coal. This creates a lot of CO2 emissions, with increasing concerns about global warming and climate change.

Dr Paul Feron wants to be able to use the coal without releasing carbon dioxide. He leads a multi-disciplinary team developing cost-effective methods to capture and store CO2.

Paul’s team has built and operated capture pilot plants illustrating that the technology can be retrofitted to coal-fired power plants as well as smelters, kilns and steel works.

He is focused on reducing the cost of the capture process, so that the technology can be taken up widely – not just in Australia, but also in developing countries which depend on coal for their energy supply . So that we can meet the world’s need for energy without adding to CO2 emissions. Hear Paul talk about his work.

Next week the National Carbon Capture and Storage conference is happening at Cockle Bay in Sydney from August 31 to September 3 – visit the website for more information.

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.

Why the stuff between the stars is like a glass of beer

By Nola Wilkinson  

Ever wondered what there is between the stars? Dr Naomi McClure-Griffiths not only wonders about it, she’s on a mission to find out.

Naomi is fascinated with the life of stars, the behaviour of interstellar gas, and how gas and stars interact.  “As an astronomer, I’d like to understand how the galaxy formed and how it’s living its life,” she says.

Naomi has conducted a massive survey of all the hydrogen gas in and around in the Milky Way. In doing so, she has shown that the stuff between the stars is actually foamy.

“The galaxy is much more frothy and bubbly than we ever thought. It looks like the head on a glass of beer.”

Very large stars, 8-20 times the size of our sun, experience dramatic supernova explosions that push gas out of the galaxy via solar winds travelling at up to 1000 kilometres a second.

It is these solar winds that blow bubbles in the gas between the stars, creating a frothy, foamy appearance.

Watch this video to find out more about Naomi and her amazing work:

Naomi’s team undertook the Galactic All Sky Survey using our Parkes telescope and is planning future work using our ASKAP radio telescope.

Young guns – our up and coming

Saad SayeefSaad Sayeef – Research Scientist – Energy

When clouds block the sun, solar panels and the electricity networks they are hooked up to need time to adjust to the fluctuations. Saad is working out how to maximise solar efficiency as part of the Energy Networks Team in the CSIRO Energy Flagship. He is looking at various solutions including smart grids, solar energy management and solar “forecasting”.


Beau Leese – General Manager – Strategy, Performance and Flagships 

Beau is responsible for the development and implementation of the CSIRO’s overall enterprise strategy, new strategic initiatives, science portfolio investment, planning and performance management, Impact 2020 and cross Flagship collaboration (phew). Beau led CSIRO’s operating model review and the startup phase of the integrated reform program. He is a member of CSIRO’s Executive Management Council, SICOM and Major Transactions Committee.


Lisa portraitLisa Harvey-Smith: Research Astronomer – Information Sciences

Lisa is CSIRO’s Project Scientist for the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder in WA.
The daughter of a Primary School teacher and a house-dad, Lisa left school at the age of 11 and taught herself at home, where her passion for astronomy developed. Her scientific publications span a number of fields from star formation, cosmic magnetic fields and gravitational lensing to supernova remnants. When not designing telescopes and studying galaxies billions of light-years away, she enjoys ultra-long-distance running, including 12 and 24-hour races. In 2012 she was appointed chair of the steering committee of the Women in Astronomy Chapter of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

Nick RodenNick Roden – PhD Student – Environment

Rather than chipping on to the 9th green on the professional golf circuit, Nick Roden is now looking at how different biological and physical processes combine to influence the carbon cycle in the waters around East Antarctica. A few years ago Nick, who is based in Hobart, decided that studying the biology of the waters around East Antarctica as part of a PhD had a brighter future than being a professional golfer, so Nick chucked in the clubs and joined CSIRO. We’re glad he did.


Vanessa (Ginny) Hill – Social Media Advisor – Communications

Vanessa Hill + Luna Vanessa is one of the team leading CSIRO into the digital age as far as social media is concerned –video content produced by Vanessa has had more than 13 million views on YouTube. Other platforms such as Twitter and news@CSIRO blog take CSIRO’s and Vanessa’s work to millions more each year.
Even when Vanessa is at home or on holidays – she keeps on tweeting and communicating science.



Mitch Serena: teaching with fire

Meet Mitch Serena: master of scientific entertainment.

Meet Mitch Serena: master of scientific entertainment.

What kind of job involves making tornadoes one day, sitting on a thousand nails the next, with some liquid nitrogen and lightning bolts thrown in for good measure?

Mitch Serena’s of course. As a part of CSIRO’s Education program, Mitch has visited over 75,000 school students with one aim: to make them as excited about science as he is.

On a typical day he performs live, curriculum-linked science shows for school kids across Australia, teaching them about topics as diverse as weather, chemistry, magnetism and energy.

The shows help to enrich school science teaching and give students an authentic and exciting learning experience.

“My favourite part of the day is watching the students leave my show with a big smile and a sense of curiosity,” says Mitch.

Working with us has given Mitch access to plenty of great Australian science stories, and he loves sharing them with the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists.

Mitch has also made appearances on Channel 7’s Saturday Disney as well as hosting episodes of DIY Science on YouTube. Check them out below.

He has a taste for performances of the musical variety too, both as a spectator and as a musician. His seven years of keyboarding in the rock band Planet of the Stereos even saw him record an album in Montreal and tour the country with Shannon Noll.

“The band was great fun, and I like to think it taught me a few performance skills that bring something extra to my science shows,” says Mitch.

Who said learning wasn't fun?

Who said learning wasn’t fun?

Mitch got his first taste of science communication while studying his Bachelor of Science (Physics) at the University of New South Wales.

“I felt myself drawn to science communication because I could see how important it is in society, and the great things that can happen when it’s done well.”

He was among the millions of young people inspired by Carl Sagan, having been wonderstruck by Cosmos as a child.

He also lists some more surprising influences:

“Tim Minchin, the musical comedian, has done some hilarious stuff on critical thinking. And of course, my 4th grade teacher. She started it all with her fun science experiments. We made our own kaleidoscope that I couldn’t stop gazing into.”

It’s not all smiles and fireballs though – there’s plenty of research and development that goes into preparing and presenting the shows, and a lot of travel. But according to Mitch, it’s all worth it.

“I believe that somewhere out there, there’s a child who is going to be a world-leading scientist, or policy maker, or entrepreneur, but doesn’t even know what science is. I love the thought that maybe I can plant that seed.”

Carl Sagan was right: understanding is joyous.

For more information on careers at CSIRO, follow us on LinkedIn.


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