Delivery day for this 3D printed bike

3D printed bike

Sam’s new 3D printed sweet ride.

By Angela Beggs

Today we joined designer Sam Froud at his studio to chat about the highly anticipated delivery of his new bike.

But it’s not just any bike that has had Sam eagerly waiting the postman; it’s one of the first ever 3D printed bikes – with parts manufactured by our 3D printing experts.

You may recall prototype #1, which we brought to you earlier this year.

Sam Froud has joined forces with the same bike company, Flying Machine, to come up with this gem, dubbed Prototype #2.

They contacted us, and once again, we used our 3D printer to make a sweet set of lugs, the small metallic components that join the tubular frame of the bike, for the two-wheeler.

The new 3D printed parts make for ‘infinite flexibility’ and generally give riders a better cycling experience.

Sam’s bike was on display all weekend at the Design Matters event in Melbourne, part of Melbourne International Design Week 2014.

Sam definitely knows design matters, especially when it comes to 3D printing bikes.  Check out our chat with Sam and watch his first ride.

Lighting up lives, literally.

When Dr Scott Watkins, one of our flexible solar cell experts, arrived in India last week, the task at hand was a very special one. He’s helping to shed light on the people of Bangalore – the country’s third most populated city.

Scott is working with the team from Pollinate Energy, a ground breaking group, whose mission is to provide solar lights to India’s urban poor.

Pollinate, founded in 2012, has a rapidly expanding team of ‘Pollinators’, local young entrepreneurs who can now grow a solid business selling solar lights to members of the community on low-cost payment plans.

Typically, kerosene lamps are used in villages to give light after dusk, however there are environmental and health issues associated with this type of lamp. Since Pollinate began, they’ve managed to save 111,572 litres of kerosene, not to mention almost 6,000,000 rupees that this kerosene would have cost.

Helping a family get a solar-powered light for their home for the very first time.

Helping a family get a solar-powered light for their home for the very first time. Photo credit: Megan Aspinall.

Scott, who was part of the team that created Australia’s largest printable solar cell last year, has ventured abroad to take part in a project to determine the impact of the new lights in the communities of Bangalore. Already, in week one, he’s come across some truly incredible stories of people whose lives have been improved by the project since its conception last year.

On his blog, Scott talks us through one of his first encounters with a community member who has one of the new lights.


Photo credit: Megan Aspinall.

“I spoke with a man one night who had been living in a tent in the community for over 20 years. He has two young boys and they used to have travel to a relative’s house to occasionally read at night,” Scott said.

“Since buying the solar-powered light over a year ago the boys have been able to study at home and the father was so proud to tell me that his boys were both now ranked first in their class. The older one, aged about 10, loves science,” he added.

Inspired by the blackout which hit India last year and left millions of people without light, the Pollinate group have now overseen the introduction of 4,500 systems reaching over 20,000 people.

At CSIRO, we’re part of the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC). VICOSC brings together over 50 researchers across Victoria who are conducting research into new materials and processes to enable the production of flexible, large area, cost-effective, reel-to-reel printable, plastic solar cells. Our work is also supported by the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovolatics, ACAP, a research consortium that is focused on developing solar technologies in Australia and through international partnerships.

Get behind Scott Watkins and follow his blog to get all the updates on the Bangalore mission with Pollinate – we think it’s seriously inspiring stuff.

From animals to humans: understanding Ebola virus

An artificially coloured electron microscope image of Ebola virus .

Ebola – an artificially coloured electron microscope image of the virus.

By Gary Crameri and John Lowenthal

There is growing global concern as the West African country of Guinea battles to contain a deadly outbreak of Ebola virus, yet another disease of animal origin, which is threatening the lives of their people.

Previous outbreaks of the virus have been localised in Africa, but there are growing concerns that it could spread further with cases now being diagnosed in the neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. So what exactly is known about this disease?

Ebola virus 101

Ebola virus, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a highly infectious and contagious illness with a fatality rate in humans of up to 90 per cent.

One of the most lethal infectious diseases known, it was first discovered in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks – one in Nzara, Sudan and the other near the Ebola River in Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then over 1600 deaths have been recorded.

The Ebola virus is feared for its rapid and aggressive nature. When the virus gains access to the human body, it starts attacking the vascular system and the walls of the blood vessels. This prevents blood from clotting causing internal or external bleeding.

Diagnosing Ebola in its early stage is difficult. Its early flu-like symptoms such as headache and fever are not specific to Ebola virus infection and are seen often in patients with more commonly occurring diseases in the region like malaria and cholera.

Where does it come from?

Ebola virus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it passes from animals to people. As with the respiratory diseases SARS and MERS and the Hendra virus, bats have been identified as the reservoir host. Four of the five subtypes of Ebola virus occur in an animal host which is native to Africa.

There is good evidence that other mammals like gorillas, chimpanzees and antelopes are probably the transmission host to humans but the mechanism of their infection from the fruit bats is not certain.

Ebola can then spread to humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals or through people consuming an infected animal.

Once a person is infected, the virus can only be spread to other people by very close contact, including direct exposure with bodily fluids or through exposure to objects that have been contaminated with blood or infected secretions. Infected individuals can be infectious for weeks after recovery from the acute illness.

There is no vaccine or known cure for Ebola virus infection. As with many emerging infectious diseases, treatment is limited to pain management and supportive therapies to counter symptoms like dehydration and lack of oxygen. Public awareness and infection control measures are vital to controlling the spread of disease.

Scientists working on zoonotic agents wearing biosafety suits

Scientists working on zoonotic agents require the highest level of biosafety

The next big virus?

A number of emerging infectious diseases are causing issues on a global scale. We’ve also seen outbreaks over the past few months of Hendra virus, MERS and two avian influenza viruses, H7N9 and H5N1.

Recent growth and geographic expansion of human populations and the intensification of agriculture has resulted in a greater risk of infectious diseases being transmitted to people from wildlife and domesticated animals. Moreover, increased global travel means there is a greater likelihood that infectious agents, particularly airborne pathogens, can rapidly spread among the human population. Together, these factors have increased the risk of pandemics – it’s not so much a matter of if, but when.

The World Health Organization has warned that the source of the next human pandemic is likely to be zoonotic and that wildlife is a prime culprit.

While the current list of known emerging infectious diseases is a major concern, it’s the unknown viruses, with a potential for efficient human-to-human transmission that pose the biggest threat.

Fortunately Australia has a robust system to deal with an emergency disease outbreak, including our very own Australian Animal Health Laboratory, a globally recognised biosecure zoonosis laboratory, and scientific and medical experts linked via a national veterinary and public health laboratory network.

We’re running out of wireless spectrum… so what can we do?

Guy with mobile

Sorry mate, but unless the wireless spectrum has room for it, internet on your iPhone’s going to be pretty slow. Image: Flickr / aye_shamus

By Ian Oppermann, Digital Productivity & Services Director

While discussions around closing oil refineries in Australia bring talk of future economic security, our economic future also depends on a less visible, but finite resource.

We can now foreshadow a time of “peak data”, when the radio spectrum is so crowded, we will reach a limit on how much data can be used for wireless services – at least in urban environments. Today we released a report World Without Wires on the threat of “peak data” and what that could mean for the way we connect and access essential services in the future.

The report points out that wireless communication relies on the availability of radiofrequency spectrum, inherently a finite resource.

In a recent article in The Conversation, I explained how we in Australia expect more and better digital services to be delivered to our smart devices anytime, anywhere and how this burgeoning data demand is putting stress on the networks that deliver those services wirelessly.

Man with mobile

Image: Mike Licht,

Future increases in demand, both in terms of speed and volume, for wireless data and services over coming decades will severely test technologies and infrastructure.

Based on our current body of research and the trajectories of technological innovation across the world, we expect wireless technology to underpin a massive range of socio-economic developments that will significantly impact the modern world.

We envision a future in which consumers and other stakeholders will expect high-speed wireless connectivity to enable a range of future applications and social developments.

This will include:

  • internet-based personalised streaming services to replace TV and phones
  • minute-by-minute updates from widespread sensing technologies embedded in our environment
  • driverless cars and “virtual concierges” made possible by wireless location services
  • a whole new world of government and business teleservices being delivered to us via private digital networks and beyond.

A worldwide phenomenon

In many global cities, including in Australia, we’re rapidly approaching the point of “peak data”, where user demand for wireless internet, telephony and other services can no longer be fully accommodated by the available radiofrequency spectrum.

Currently bands of frequencies (measured in megahertz: MHz) are allocated for a wide range of uses such as TV/radio broadcast, emergency services and mobile phone communications.

How frequency modulation works.

While we continue researching new ways to make spectrum use more efficient, and future allocation of spectrum blocks may change over time, the fundamental situation is that spectrum is an increasingly rare resource.

Our estimates are that spectrum demand will almost triple by 2020, implying that existing infrastructure will need to rapidly expand available capacity to meet this demand.

With more and more essential services delivered digitally and on mobile devices, finding a global solution to “peak data” will become ever more important. The solution could start here.

Home-grown solutions

Australia is strongly positioned to be leader in the wireless world. We have a small population but our research and development community has consistently punched above its weight in wireless innovation. We’ve drawn on our traditional expertise in radioastronomy as well as the fields where technology is applied, such as agriculture, services and mining.

Since CSIRO’s development of high-speed wireless local area network (WLAN) in the early 1990s, our wireless labs have continued to push the boundaries in areas such as wireless positioning and antenna design, complementing equally exciting developments emerging from Australia’s top universities and research institutions.

This appetite for technological change and innovation is not limited to the labs. Australians, as a whole, are early technology adopters. There are more mobile phones today in Australia than there are Australians, and, according to the OECD’s latest figures, Australia now has more wireless broadband subscriptions per capita than any other country in the world.

In June 2013, around 7.5 million Australians were using the internet via their mobile phone – a staggering 510% more than did just five years ago.

Bench of people using mobile devices

We’re demanding more and more data to mobile devices.

To continue on this trajectory, however, wireless communications must become:

  1. scalable, to overcome the threat of spectrum crunch posed by breakneck adoption and growth in demand
  2. ubiquitous, to ensure that access to wireless-enhanced digital services that improve – and sometimes save – lives is available to all regardless of geography or demography.

Australia is in a prime position to address these challenges and develop world-leading applications for ubiquitous wireless connectivity. The pedigree of our wireless laboratories and researchers in all parts of the country is second to none.

To maintain momentum, though, Australia’s scientists and researchers must partner with industry leaders – not just in telecommunications, but health, mining and any other sector which can apply wireless connectivity to improve its performance and reliability.

They must also ensure they develop technologies which directly boost the capabilities and applications of personal mobile devices, which increasingly constitute the single most accessible and relevant digital platform for everyday people.

Australia’s geography, our scattered population, and the nature of some of our major industries provide challenges which are uniquely suited for harnessing ubiquitous wireless connectivity.

Any new technology which can take root here, and bring long-term benefit for both economies and people, is likely to flourish the world over.

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

The economics of adaptation: protecting people, prosperity and environment in a warming world

By Dr Paul E Hardisty

Paul Hardisty

Dr Paul Hardisty

For a long time, people were hesitant to discuss adapting to climate change. Some called it defeatist, others worried it would be used as an excuse to delay action on emissions reduction. That was a long time ago. The science of climate adaptation – developing tools, systems and technologies that improve the ability of communities and businesses to survive and prosper as the climate changes around them – has come a long way.

What emerges from this substantial and growing body of work are four powerful yet simple conclusions:

First: adapting to climate change is about people.

As the world warms, people are exposed to greater levels of risk. The State of the Climate 2014 report, recently released by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, shows that climate change is here and is happening now . The risk of bushfires has increased. Communities are more exposed to extreme heat. Over the past several years, extreme flooding in Australia has caused incalculable suffering. Without serious action to reduce emissions, these trends will strengthen. Adaptation means protecting people from the impacts already occurring and that we’ll see in future by changing the way we plan, design, and operate the places we live: keeping cities cooler by retaining and enhancing urban tree canopies and greenspaces; building houses to current fire codes; continuing to improve our ability to predict fire weather and provide early warning so communities can prepare; planning housing development to avoid exposed floodplains and retrofitting existing buildings to ensure survivability. Adaptation saves lives.

Second: adapting to climate change is good business.

During the recent Queensland floods, mines were flooded, rail lines washed out, and power disrupted, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production. Studies by Stern, Garnaut, and others estimate that climate change, unchecked, will cause economic losses in the billions. CSIRO estimates that by 2070, the value of buildings in Australia exposed to climate-related events will exceed five trillion dollars. But carefully planned and timed adaptation can reduce the damage and cost impact of climate change on businesses and our economy by up to half, and in some cases more. Many businesses in Australia are already starting to plan resilience into their operations, driving down risk levels. But many have not, and remain significantly exposed. Adaptation, properly done, saves money.

People up to their waste in flood water

The floods in Brisbane, 2011. Image: Glenn Walker

Third: Adaptation is a good deal, but the longer we wait to act, the lower the benefits.

Many of the practical adaptive actions we can do to protect our families, communities and businesses are low cost, and yield significant improvements in resilience. Some adaptation measures, like preserving coastal ecosystems (dunes and mangroves, for instance), protect homes, coastal infrastructure and industry from storm surges and sea-level rise, and cost almost nothing. Building or retrofitting homes to current fire codes costs relatively little, and substantially improves survival rates. Recent CSIRO research shows that protecting buildings from coastal flooding can yield up to $40 in net benefit for each dollar invested. Another study on protecting infrastructure from high winds shows that net benefits of adaptation are large, but drop by half if we wait 20 years to implement. Act early, reap the rewards.

Fourth: There are economic and ecological limits to adaptation.

Adaptation is good news, and compared to the challenge of cutting emissions, much can be achieved quickly and with little fuss. But it is important to recognise that there are limits to what adaptation can do.

There are economic limits. We will exhaust the lowest cost – highest benefit adaptation options first. Dunes and mangroves are great, if you have them, but they can only do so much. As the climatic changes persist and worsen, as is projected, other measures will be needed. Sea walls and tidal barriers can help protect coastal communities from sea-level rise and storms. But they can pose significant engineering challenges, and carry big price tags. In the next few decades, with business-as-usual emissions, the costs of adaptation could start not only to stress the ability of society to pay, but could begin to surpass the cost we would have had to pay to transform our energy systems in the first place.

There are ecological limits, too. While there are things we can do to help reduce the impacts on species and ecosystems, like planning reserves to provide corridors for migration, and transplanting vulnerable species into refuges in new suitable locations, the rates of ecosystem change implied by our current emissions trajectory will leave many creatures behind. Landmark work done by CSIRO predicts that at current emission rates, virtually every native ecosystem in Australia will have been replaced by something else by 2070.

Adaptation makes sense, on a number of levels. Understanding the practical and economic limits of adaptation will help us frame the case for emissions reduction, highlight the risks we face, and show the importance of starting our adaptation journey now.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II released its Fifth Assessment Report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability today. In this video Dr Mark Howden discusses how CSIRO is developing strategies to help reduce the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and communities:

What’s our role in the search for missing flight MH370?


Image: Department of Defence

By Kirsten Lea

UPDATE 16/04/2014:

CSIRO continues to provide support to AMSA and the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) in the search for MH370 by way of oceanographic modelling and debris tracking. CSIRO is not involved in the underwater search for the missing black box. Any such media enquiries should be forwarded to the JACC media centre 

News across the world has been dominated by the tragic mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

Many people have been asking CSIRO for our take on the situation, the ocean, the technology being used to find the debris of the plane – so we wanted to let you know how our technology is being used and how we’re assisting the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

Why are we involved in the search?

CSIRO has a Memorandum of Understanding with AMSA that allows them, during a maritime incident, to call on us for scientific knowledge and technical support.

Incidents include oil spills, search and rescue, shipping accidents and in the case of MH370, modelling and projecting the track of debris spotted by satellites.

What are we doing?

To assist AMSA with the search we have created a task force of oceanographers, led by our own Dr David Griffin and Dr Andreas Schiller, to help with two main tasks:

  1. Back-tracking the items spotted by satellite to a possible common origin (a possible crash site).
  2. Forward-tracking to guide on-water searches. We are helping to locate items seen by satellites several days ago, to direct boats and planes to where the items could have drifted.

To do this, we’re using a number of ocean models that all run routinely in real-time, as part of our existing ocean monitoring and modelling projects and collaborations. We’re focusing this current capability on the southern Indian Ocean.

How does the modelling work?

Our modelling works in two ways. First, if a piece of debris is located our systems can help to ‘hindcast’, or backtrack, to the original location, or the possible crash site. Secondly, if a piece of debris is located by satellite, our systems can help the boats and planes by forecasting, which helps to locate the debris location one or two days later.

These models use data from the Global Ocean Observing System and Australia’s Integrated Marine Observation System (IMOS*). Three satellites (Jason-2, Cryosat-2 and SARAL) are particularly crucial to the work. The satellites are equipped with altimeters, which map ocean-surface topography, or the hills and valleys of the sea surface, with accuracy better than 5-centimetres. We also use data from several additional satellites which measure the temperature of the surface of the ocean as an additional source of information.

Ocean currents run along the slope of the sea surface like wind flows around high and low pressure systems in the atmosphere.

*IMOS is a national array of observing equipment (satellites, floats, moorings, radars, robotic gliders, etc) that monitor the open oceans and coastal marine environment around Australia.  We are one of ten national research institutions and universities that delivers the IMOS ocean portal, allowing anyone to view and download the latest data on our oceans.

How to read ocean models

A map of ocean conditions

When we create a map of ocean conditions, like the one above displaying conditions on 24 March 2014, we can see the contours (the white lines in the diagram) of the ocean, or the sea level, which helps us to predict where items at the surface, for example debris, are drifting. The black arrow heads show the current direction and strength (bigger arrows mean the water is flowing faster) and eddies (swirling in the ocean) and the different colours shows the sea surface temperature (blue/green being colder, orange/yellow being warmer).

The map above is also giving us information from the Global Drifter Program (a network of satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys); you might be able to see the little magenta arrow heads showing us the buoy location and direction.

For more information on our ocean modelling and forecasting, see BLUElink, a collaboration between CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Royal Australian Navy.

The challenge we face

The ocean is vast and conditions are continuously changing. This area is known for strong winds, large waves and turbulent eddies. Debris can potentially travel up to 50 kilometres a day. We are tracking eddies in the Indian Ocean, around the area of the search, which are about 100 kilometres wide.  The water is moving around these at about 0.5 metres a second, or one knot.

The modelling and observations are not completely precise but they are a big help, for example, the video below demonstrates how debris would move across the ocean over a period of nine months (data covers March – November 2009).

For media enquiries and more information regarding the search, visit JACC’s website.

For media enquiries regarding CSIRO’s involvement, contact Nick Kachel, 02 4960 6270 or

Can backpacking flies rescue Queensland’s farmers?

Queensland backpacker: a fruit fly fitted with a micro-sensor.

Queensland backpacker: a fruit fly fitted with a micro-sensor.

By Paul De Barro, Senior Principal Research Scientist and Paulo de Souza, Science Leader – Sensor Networks

Queensland’s fruit and vegetable farmers are under pressure, having lost their main weapon against their main enemy – fruit flies.

Last year, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority banned the use of the pesticides dimethoate and fenthion, used by horticulturalists to keep Queensland fruit fly (also called Q-fly) at bay, after finding that these chemicals pose an unacceptable risk to human health.

Q-fly is the highest priority pest for a range of horticultural industries and can inflict considerable financial losses on producers, both through the money spent on pest management, and in lost production and exports. It affects citrus, orchard fruits, grapes and vegetables, industries that together are worth A$5.3 billion a year. Managing Q-fly costs an estimated A$26 million annually.

But the pesticide ban has opened up the opportunity to develop a more sophisticated – and benign – way to beat the Q-fly.

Bizarre as it might sound, flies wearing tiny radio-tracking backpacks could help by revealing the fruit flies’ movements – and by extension, the best places to release sterile males to reduce the population.

Swarm sensing

Figuring out where insects spend their time, how far they travel and what they are doing has traditionally been very difficult to do in real time. That makes it difficult to develop eradication strategies beyond blanket treatments over wide areas.

But the new micro-tracking technique, known as “swarm sensing”, can reveal this information in unprecedented detail.

As part of a current CSIRO project, we are fitting tiny micro-sensors to 5000 bees in Tasmania, as part of a world-first research program to monitor their movements and their environment.

The ultimate aim is to improve honeybee pollination and productivity on farms, as well as help us monitor for any biosecurity threats, including Colony Collapse Disorder, a global phenomenon where worker bees from a beehive or colony abruptly disappear or die.

Tiny backpacks

The sensors are tiny radio frequency identification sensors that work in a similar way to a vehicle’s e-tag, recording when the insect passes a particular checkpoint. The information is then sent remotely to a central location and we can build a comprehensive three-dimensional model and visualise how the insects move through their landscape.

The sensors are 2.5mm x 2.5mm in size and weigh about 5 milligrams each. A new generation as small as 1.5mm x 1.5mm is being designed; less is more, as smaller sensors will interfere less with the flies’ behaviour.

Micro-sensing backpacks are being fitted to 5000 Tasmanian bees.

Micro-sensing backpacks are being fitted to 5000 Tasmanian bees.

Honeybees are perfect as a starting point for our research, as they are social insects that return to the same point and operate on a very predictable schedule. Any change in their behaviour indicates a change in their environment.

So when we model their movements, we will be able to recognise very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause. This will help us understand how to maximise their productivity, as well as monitor for any biosecurity threats.

Tackling the Q-fly

Meanwhile, back in Queensland, instead of studying an insect that is vital to our food supply, we are faced with one that threatens it. So we are bringing the same technology to bear on the problem of Q-fly.

Our sensor technology will be used in combination with our sterile insect technology (SIT) research, where we are working with government and industry to develop a male-only line of sterile Q-fly.

We believe that our SIT offers an environmentally-friendly, sustainable and cost-effective approach to controlling this noxious pest.

SIT is a scientifically proven method for suppressing or eradicating fruit fly populations and managing their potential impacts in horticulture production areas. It has already been used with great success around the world and in South Australia to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly. However, the development of male-only sterile Q-fly will be a world first.

Our sterile insect technology could be the key to eradicating the Q-fly. Click to view full size.

Our sterile insect technology could be the key to eradicating the Q-fly. Click to view full size.

Despite all our knowledge of fruit flies, we do not actually know where they go to reproduce. When you are looking to deploy sterile male flies to disrupt the mating cycle, this information is a critical piece of the puzzle.

By releasing fruit flies with “backpacks” that can track their movements, we will be able to answer that question, which will assist us in targeting where to release the sterile Q-fly males. We will also find out how to better deploy traps and baits, so that we can improve their effectiveness, while reducing the costs of management.

This will also help farmers in currently pest-free areas to protect their produce. While these areas have not needed to use treatments before sending their fruit and vegetables to interstate or international markets, they face increasing risk as Q-fly incursions are happening more frequently, threatening the ability to maintain pest-free zones.

Future developments

The next generation of sensors will generate power from insect movement, store the energy in batteries being developed at CSIRO and will have some tracking capability to follow their movement in real-time. Among other things, we also want to understand insect behaviour under different weather conditions.

That would truly represent a game-changing opportunity, allowing us to track and record thousands of insects in their natural habitats, in relatively remote areas.

Queensland is no stranger to swarms of backpackers – but this time, it’s a little more high-tech.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

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

Australia’s part in 50 years of space exploration with NASA

Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex has played a major role in exploring space.

By Dave Williams, Group Executive Information Sciences

Who can forget the hit movie The Dish and Australia’s role in beaming the first live television pictures of man’s first landing on the moon?

Well, the filmmakers did play with the truth a bit but it did show Australia’s long history of working with NASA on space exploration.

This week CSIRO with NASA are celebrating more than five decades of working together on space exploration through the Deep Space Network, known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. CSIRO operates this facility on NASA’s behalf.

When it all began

Australia has been an integral part of every deep-space mission NASA has flown, going back to 1957 when it ran tracking facilities at Woomera. In 1962, CSIRO Parkes telescope supported NASA’s Mariner 2 mission.

The CDSCC control room back in 1969.

The CDSCC control room back in 1969.

The 1960s saw three space-tracking stations built in the Australian Capital Territory – the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla in 1964, a second station at Orroral Valley in 1966, and a third, at Honeysuckle Creek, in 1967.

Why the ACT? It combined a field of view essential to the missions with a relatively “radio-quiet” environment for receiving signals and proximity to a major city.

It was actually Honeysuckle, supported by Tidbinbilla and CSIRO’s Parkes telescope, that brought to the world the sight and sound of Neil Armstrong taking that first momentous step onto the Moon.

As NASA’s programs evolved, the functions of the Honeysuckle and Orroral Valley stations were wound up or merged into those of Tidbinbilla, and the two former stations were closed.

A single 26m antenna at the CDSCC in 1965

The station operated a single 26m antenna at the CDSCC in 1965.

Tidbinbilla was brought on air in December 1964 to support Mariner 4 which flew by Mars in July 1965. As the signal was very weak the station asked the civil aviation authorities to divert any aircraft that could come between Mars and Tidbinbilla at the time of closest approach.

Is that a UFO?

At the critical time, when Mariner 4 had gone behind Mars, the direct phone from Canberra Airport rang and the station was asked if it was experiencing interference from a UFO! The offending object was later identified as a weather balloon.

Mariner 4 was quickly followed by Surveyor 1 which was sent to the Moon to check out the surface in preparation for the lunar landings.

The 70mm antenna at CDSCC.

The 70m antenna is the largest steerable parabolic antenna in the Southern Hemisphere.

As a satellite moves away from the Earth a deep-space tracking station is used for controlling the direction and rate of travel as well as receiving data from the satellite.

Tidbinbilla is one of three such stations worldwide that collectively run the satellites. The others are in California and Spain, near Madrid.

Along with the images of the first moon walk the Deep Space Network has received amazing views from the surface of Mars, and the first “close-ups” of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. It sends commands to the Mars rovers and receives data from some of NASA’s space telescopes.

Over the lifetime of the facility NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has funded the operating costs of more than A$800 million. NASA is currently investing A$110 million to add two more antennas to the station’s current three.

That Curiosity on Mars

In August 2012 the Canberra station had prime responsibility for guiding the landing on Mars of a car-sized robotic rover, Curiosity.

The complex sequence of events in the landing had never been practised, only simulated: the landing is known as the “seven minutes of terror” by all involved.

Millions of people around the world watched the live coverage. At Tidbinbilla, the public packed out the visitors centre to hear a commentary of the landing, as one stage after another was successfully completed.

As the touchdown signal came through, the live feed from the US showed the mission team erupting into joy. And then there was Curiosity’s first image, showing the rover was alive. All this came through the Canberra station.

Technology advances

Some 50 years ago, the blurry black and white pictures of Mars from Mariner 4 showed us that that planet had large craters. Today we can study rocks the size of blueberries and watch video of dust devils on the Martian surface.

We’ve found water on the Moon and even on Mercury, seen the hydrocarbon lakes on Titan and volcanoes on pizza-faced Io. We’ve measured the super-winds on Saturn, five times faster than an Earthly hurricane.

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which downloads via the Deep Space Network, has found more than 3,600 possible planets. Most of their solar systems are very different from ours.

The next step

Next year, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto.

An artist’s impression of the New Horizons spacecraft at Pluto in 2015

An artist’s impression of the New Horizons spacecraft at Pluto in 2015. Image: NASA

It is already more than four billion kilometres from Earth and radio signals take eight hours to make a return journey.

As it flies by Pluto, it will send back the first close-up images of that dwarf planet — and yes, they will come through the Canberra tracking station.

Then the spacecraft will go on to study Pluto’s neighbours in the Kuiper Belt, a crowded but little-known region of our solar system – once again pushing the limits of exploration.

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

Amazing Space: a golden partnership

Carol Saab:

Celebrating 50 years of space love with NASA today. Didn’t know we collaborated with NASA? Our Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex is part of the Deep Space Network and has a fascinating history. Read more over on the Universe blog.

Originally posted on Universe @ CSIRO:

Today, we’re on the ground at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) in Canberra to celebrate 50 years of the NASA Deep Space Network , and Australia’s role in it.

Did you know that Australia has supported the US space program for more than 50 years? Australia’s partnership with the USA in space missions formally dates back to February 1960, when an agreement was signed to facilitate the establishment of a deep space tracking facility in Canberra.

A news clipping about the Australia-US agreement, from the Canberra Times, 7 March 1963. Via: Trove Digitised Newspapers.

A news clipping from the Canberra Times, 7 March 1963. Via: Trove Digitised Newspapers .

The global Deep Space Network is made of up three tracking stations: our dishes at Tidbinbilla (in Canberra), Goldstone (California) and Madrid (Spain); it controls spacecraft travelling through the solar system and receives the data they send back. Together, the three stations provide around-the-clock contact with more than 40 spacecraft, including missions to study Mars, Venus…

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A flexible approach is needed for Australia’s electronics industry


A blue phosphorescent organic light-emitting diode, or OLED.

By Scott Watkins, Stream Leader, Thin Film Solar Cells

Australia’s manufacturing industry could be given a welcome boost if it takes advantage of some of the latest research here and overseas to create ultra thin and flexible electronic devices.

Just last week, the University of Washington announced the thinnest ever light emitting diodes (LEDs), based on 2D semiconductors that are only three atoms thick – that’s 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

This research, as well as our own work on flat, atom-thin semiconductors, is helping to realise incredibly thin electronic devices that can bend, flex and even wrap around your arm.

This continually evolving field of flexible electronics promises to deliver products that are shaped, formed and coloured in ways that bear little resemblance to today’s rigid devices. Think roll-up TV screens, wearable devices and paper-thin solar cells as part of our everyday lives.

Given the exciting possibilities, we can expect intense consumer demand for flexible electronics products. The market will be big and pervasive, estimated to grow from A$16 billion last year to A$77 billion in 2023.

This huge market represents a major manufacturing opportunity for Australia. It’s now up to us as a country to step up and play our part.

What are flexible electronics?

Flexible electronics are just that: flexible. It’s this feature that has the potential to change the way we do things.

Two of the most promising areas for flexible electronics are thin film solar cells and revolutionary new displays known as organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs).

OLEDs are already found in mobile phones and even in curved televisions. They are now moving into lighting, allowing us to take advantage of large panels that emit uniform light, rather than point sources such as bulbs.

In Australia, the combination of R&D and design is already shining a light on the incredible possibilities OLEDs offer. Andy Zhou, a design graduate from Monash University, worked with CSIRO scientists to develop the Pendant Plus, a flat, flexible light that showcases the potential of this technology.

Just as OLEDs can convert electricity into light, similar devices can convert light into electricity: organic solar cells.

What’s most exciting about this technology is that the absorbing materials (and even the electrodes that go on top of them) can be embedded on surfaces using conventional techniques such as screen printing. Just as 3D printing is set to change the way we manufacture many objects, printing of solar cells on demand is fast becoming a reality.

What role can Australia play?

Australia has a number of highly respected research groups working on thin film solar. Many of these groups are closely linked to research on traditional, silicon-based solar cells and rely heavily on chemistry.

The consortium of researchers that I am a part of recently installed a new printer that allows us to print solar cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper – the largest in Australia.

We’re working towards using these solar cells in products such as small advertising displays and portable lighting. We’re also developing materials and processes that will allow us to integrate them directly into building materials such as windows or steel roofing.

Further down the track, new advances such as perovskite-based solar cells are raising the possibility that printed solar could compete with more traditional cells on efficiency and cost.

Kick-start an industry

For Australia, printed solar cells are just one product that could kick-start a local flexible electronics industry.

Solar cells printing.

Printing solar cells by the roll.

We’re working hard to partner with many different companies to bring together end-users, component manufacturers and designers to create a flexible electronics ecosystem.

The companies positioned to take advantage of this opportunity will be involved in printing, coating, plastic forming and electronic integration as well as roofing, window and tile manufacturers.

There are even some auto suppliers that have begun to investigate how they might use flexible electronics for internal lighting. It is these businesses that diversify into new game-changing areas that will be best placed to tackle the challenges Australia’s manufacturing industry is currently facing.

Looking overseas, successful business models for flexible electronics in Europe, Germany, the UK and the US rely on clusters of small to medium enterprises (SMEs), each contributing a specific component to the final product. Australia’s rich SME sector is perfectly suited to this approach.

The danger for Australia is that if we wait until these technologies are truly “off-the-shelf” then it is highly likely that the “shelf” will be located overseas.

So the next step for Australia is for companies, industry groups and government to get together and talk about how to develop this capability for flexible electronics and foster a local skilled workforce.

We have the opportunity to take ownership of this for our manufacturing future. Let’s get on a roll.

Scott Watkins works for the CSIRO’s Flexible Electronics group which has received funding from the Australian Research Council, Australian Renewable Energy Authority, Victorian Government (DSDBI and Energy Technology Innovation Strategy), Idemitsu Kosan, Bluescope Steel, Innovia Securities and the Department of Industry (Australian Government).

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

The ozone hole saga takes a new twist

The ’70s were all about disco, big hair, gold chains and flares… you can smell the hairspray just thinking about it.

Lady spraying her hair with hairspray

You can’t sport a hairstyle like this without hairspray. Image: Indiewire

But while the hairstyles were getting bigger and badder, scientists were busy making a discovery that would put them on a collision course with this emerging fashion.

The atmosphere’s ozone layer was being depleted – and CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were responsible. CFCs were one of the main chemicals in hairspray (as well as every other aerosol product) and were used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

When sunlight hits CFC molecules in the upper atmosphere, they break apart, producing a chlorine atom that in turn reacts with ozone molecules and breaks them apart – see this explanation from the Bureau of Meteorology. The ozone layer provides us Earthlings protection from the Sun’s harmful UV rays.

This discovery led to a landmark international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which saw most of the world’s countries sign on to phase out the use of CFCs. This has largely succeeded to date, with CFCs having been almost completely replaced by a related group of chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which don’t deplete ozone (although they do have their own set of problems).

Or so we thought.

In research published in the journal Nature Geoscience this week, scientists revealed that they have detected four new ozone-depleting gases in our atmosphere. More than 74,000 tonnes of three new CFCs and one new hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) – an intermediate form of CFC – have been released into the atmosphere.

While this is a small amount when compared to the peak emissions of other CFCs in the ’80s, these emissions are contrary to what the Montreal Protocol set out to achieve – and so raise questions about where they are coming from.

The team, including our own Dr Paul Fraser, made the discovery by comparing today’s air samples with air trapped in polar firn (compacted snow), providing a natural archive of the atmosphere. They also looked at air samples collected between 1978 and 2012 at our Cape Grim air pollution station in northwest Tasmania.

The source of these new gases remains a mystery.

“We know they are coming from the northern hemisphere, but that is as good as we know at this stage,” Dr Fraser told ABC Science.

“It is good that we have found them quite early and that they haven’t accumulated to a significant degree in terms of ozone-depletion. Now we are hoping to find out where they are coming from so their sources can be switched off.”

Man standing in front of air canisters

Dr Paul Fraser with air samples collected at Cape Grim, Tasmania.

State of the Climate 2014? It’s warmer.

State of the Climate 2014 report cover

Every two years CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology get together, crunch the numbers and release a definitive report on long term trends in Australia’s climate – The State of the Climate.

The SoC 2014 released today is focused on the changes that have been observed in Australia’s long-term climate trends and it shows that temperatures across Australia were, on average, almost 1°C warmer than they were a century ago, with most of the warming having occurred since 1950.

“Australia’s mean temperature has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910,” BoM chief Dr Vertessy said. “Seven of the ten warmest years on record in Australia have occurred since 1998. When we compare the past 15 years to the period 1951 to 1980, we find that the frequency of very warm months has increased five-fold and the frequency of very cool months has decreased by around a third.

“The duration, frequency and intensity of heatwaves have increased across large parts of Australia since 1950. Extreme fire weather risk has increased, and the fire season has lengthened across large parts of Australia since the 1970s.

“We have also seen a general trend of declining autumn and winter rainfall, particularly in southwestern and southeastern Australia, while heavy rainfall events are projected to increase. Australian average annual rainfall has increased slightly, largely due to increases in spring and summer rainfall, most markedly in northwestern Australia.”

History of data collection

State of the Climate 2014 draws on an extensive record of observations and analysis from CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, and other sources.

CSIRO boss Megan Clark said Australia has warmed in every State and Territory and in every season.

“Australia has one of the most variable climates in the world. Against this backdrop, across the decades, we’re continuing to see increasing temperatures, warmer oceans, changes to when and where rain falls and higher sea levels,” Dr Clark said. “The sea-surface temperatures have warmed by 0.9°C since 1900 and greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise.”

CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology play a key role in monitoring, measuring and reporting on weather and climate, contributing to improved understanding of our changing global climate system. State of the Climate 2014 is the third report in a series and follows earlier reports in 2010 and 2012.

Indicators of a world experiencing a consistent pattern of warming.

Indicators of a world experiencing a consistent pattern of warming.

Below are some of the main facts from the report.


  • Australia’s mean surface air temperature has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910.
  • Seven of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
  • Over the past 15 years, the frequency of very warm months has increased five-fold and the frequency of very cool months has declined by around a third, compared to 1951–1980.
  • Sea-surface temperatures in the Australian region have warmed by 0.9°C since 1900.


  • Rainfall averaged across Australia has slightly increased since 1900, with a large increase in northwest Australia since 1970.
  • A declining trend in winter rainfall persists in southwest Australia.
  • Autumn and early winter rainfall has mostly been below average in the southeast since 1990.

Heatwaves and fire weather

  • The duration, frequency and intensity of heatwaves have increased across large parts of Australia since 1950.
  • There has been an increase in extreme fire weather, and a longer fire season, across large parts of Australia since the 1970s.

Global atmosphere and cryosphere

  • A wide range of observations show that the global climate system continues to warm.
  • It is extremely likely that the dominant cause of recent warming is human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and not natural climate variability.
  • Ice-mass loss from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has accelerated over the past two decades.
  • Arctic summer minimum sea ice extent has declined by between 9.4 and 13.6 per cent per decade since 1979, a rate that is likely unprecedented in at least the past 1,450 years.
  • Antarctic sea-ice extent has slightly increased by between 1.2 per cent and 1.8 per cent per decade since 1979.


  • The Earth is gaining heat, most of which is going into the oceans.
  • Global mean sea level increased throughout the 20th century and in 2012 was 225 mm higher than in 1880.
  • Rates of sea-level rise vary around the Australian region, with higher sea-level rise observed in the north and rates similar to the global average observed in the south and east.
  • Ocean acidity levels have increased since the 1800s due to increased CO2 absorption from the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases

  • Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase due to emissions from human activities, with global mean CO2 levels reaching 395 ppm in 2013.
  • Global CO2 emissions from the use of fossil fuel increased in 2013 by 2.1 per cent compared to 3.1 per cent per year since 2000.
  • The increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 2011 to 2013 is the largest two-year increase ever observed.

Future climate scenarios for Australia

  • Australian temperatures are projected to continue to increase, with more hot days and fewer cool days.
  • A further increase in the number of extreme fire-weather days is expected in southern and eastern Australia, with a longer fire season in these regions.
  • Average rainfall in southern Australia is projected to decrease, with a likely increase in drought frequency and severity.
  • The frequency and intensity of extreme daily rainfall is projected to increase.
  • Tropical cyclones are projected to decrease in number but increase in intensity.
  • Projected sea-level rise will increase the frequency of extreme sea-level events.

Download the full report on our website. Follow the conversation on Twitter with #SoCAus


Media: Huw Morgan  M: +61 417 834 547

Is this the future of lighting?

When Thomas Edison patented the incandescent light bulb in 1879 it would have been hard for him to predict just how much his invention would revolutionise the way we use energy.

Gone were the days of huddling around gas and oil lanterns. The light bulb led to changes in building design, the length of the workday and sparked the creation of entirely new industries.

Since then, scientists and engineers have been continuously trying to improve the way we light our homes and offices. In the 1900s, energy shortages led to breakthroughs in the use of fluorescents. In more recent years it has been all about improving affordability and efficiency.

But what’s the next bright idea in lighting? Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are where it’s all at.

OLEDs are an emerging technology that deliver bright, thin, highly efficient displays with excellent colour purity. They work by taking an organic material, either small molecules or polymers, and sandwiching them between two electrodes.

Because OLEDs are so thin, they are also highly flexible – opening up huge possibilities to change the way we do things.  To showcase the potential of this technology, Australian designer Andy Zhou has created a flexible OLED luminaire. And boy does it have all the bells and whistles.


Plus Pendant in the directional light position

Plus Pendant in the directional light position

Working with our flexible electronics researchers, Andy created the Plus Pendant light as a final year project for his industrial design degree at Monash University. The pendant will be hitting the world stage next month as part of the Melbourne Movement stand at the Milan Design Festival.

Using 36 OLED panels the pendant shows off the technology’s razor thin profile and flexibility. The frame flexes up and down to change the characteristics of the light, ranging from an area light to a spot light. This unseen mechanism is achieved by clever use of magnets and tensile wiring.

See the light in action in this video:

As you can see the future of lighting looks very bright indeed.

Our flexible electronics team is developing materials and processes to enable the low-cost manufacture of flexible electronics technologies such as displays, lighting and solar cells. Their mission is to develop the science and partner with industry to create new opportunities for manufacturing in Australia and overseas. Follow: @FlexElectronixx

Going undercover with a marine biologist

Sure, everybody wants to be a marine biologist. It’s a glamorous job: working on the ocean, diving off coral reefs, discovering a new species here, saving an endangered species there. It’s definitely a profession that would have you as the talk of the table at dinners and family barbeques.

But what you don’t often hear about is the behind the scenes work – the endless report writing, the rigorous trip planning, getting the smell of fish off your hands. Being a marine biologist is, at times, a thankless task.

Luckily for you, today we’re going to focus on the glamorous part.

Marine biologists from our Wealth from Oceans Flagship and The University of Western Australia recently took a trip to the coral reefs of the Pilbara region, in north Western Australia, where they were scouting survey sites for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership.

Platygyra coral form intricate patterns on a reef off the Southern Barrow Shoals. For myself and the research team, the greatest challenge for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership will be to understand how the unique coral reefs in the Pilbara have adapted to such a diverse range of conditions, and how they will survive into the future. We want to make sure that the region’s ecosystem is better understood and appreciated on an international scale.

Platygyra coral form intricate patterns on a reef off the Southern Barrow Shoals, West Pilbara.

This five year project is taking a snap-shot of the health of the marine ecosystems in this biodiversity hotspot, compiling a baseline of research data that will inform environmental and industrial monitoring programs. This data will underpin the Pilbara’s marine management and ensure long-term commercial and conservation sustainability in the region.

The Partnership is all about providing the science for sound decision making, and this research trip has put the process into practice.

Unfortunately, on the trip the research team found evidence of coral bleaching in the region due to some recent marine heatwaves, including the bleaching of a pocket of ancient coral heads – many up to 400 years old – that have provided an important record of reef health.

“We suspect this bleaching event was due to marine heatwaves that occurred in the region over the past few summers, and to see it up so close was sobering,” said our lead scientist on the project, Dr Russ Babcock.

“But to offset this loss, some reefs only a short distance north showed much less damage and will continue to contribute to a healthy ecosystem. By studying these sorts of variations and why they occur, we can improve our overall understanding of the marine environment in the region, and how we can best preserve it”.

The team managed to take some great images of the incredibly diverse flora and fauna that sits under the waters of the Pilbara. We asked Russ to run us through a few photos from the trip to give you an insight into the work of a marine biologist – and maybe even help you learn something in the process! Click on one of the images below to view the gallery.

“For myself and the research team, the greatest challenge for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership will be to understand how the unique coral reefs in the Pilbara have adapted to such a diverse range of conditions, and how they will survive into the future. We want to make sure that the region’s ecosystem is better understood and appreciated on an international scale,” says Russ.

Find out more about the Partnership here.

Gamifying education to boost science skills

Bill Nye on mobile TV stand.

This is about as high-tech as education got in the 90s. Image: Tumblr

Education has come a long way since the ‘chalk and talk’ classes of the 90s. Back then the most exciting pieces of technology in our school classroom were an overhead projector, the videos we watched on a chunky TV that moved on wheels and the single Apple Mac computer we used for word processing.

Today’s classrooms seems a world away with laptops, tablets, smart boards, video conferencing, webinars, blogs, online videos, educational games and social media now par for the course.

One of the fields taking advantage of this shift in technology and learning is online educational games. A 2010 study of the use of 3D teaching and learning conducted by four Boulder Valley schools in Colorado found that 3D technology stimulated high student interest in, sustained focus on and solid retention of learnt content.

A real life 3D virtual world

‘Gamifying’ educational information is not a new concept. For years, educators have been incorporating game based elements into tasks and activities to teach, persuade and motivate. The reason it works so well is that it can encourage attitude and behaviour change which can be carried through to real-world applications.

Our clever computer scientists are looking to take this concept one step further. They’ve teamed up with 3PLearning, the creators of world leading e-learning tool Mathletics, to transform the real world into the digital world.

Together they are developing a range of new digital environments that replicate real life iconic locations for a new tool called IntoScience - an online science education game that allows secondary students to explore a range of unique 3D learning environments from their computer, iPad or classroom smart board.

The IntoScience game

IntoScience lets students explore the wide world from the comfort of their classroom.

Using their own customisable avatar students begin the journey in their own research lab. As they progress through quests, they explore the surrounding environment and test their science skills to complete inquiry based tasks with their robot helper Lawrence.

IntoScience could one day make online incursions a reality for students who may never get the chance to visit Australia’s most iconic sites. They can walk beneath the dense canopy of the Daintree rainforest, understand the forces holding up the Sydney Harbour Bridge or explore the life found amongst the elaborate underground structures of the Jenolan Caves without leaving the classroom.

Our Zebedee scanner in action at world heritage site, Fort Lytton.

Our Zebedee scanner in action at Fort Lytton.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our home grown laser scanner Zebedee is also being used to create the realistic online environments. The scanner swings back and forth on a spring to capture millions of detailed measurements, generating accurate 3D maps of pretty much anywhere, from caves and forests to buildings and even the leaning tower of Pisa.

By combining these 3D maps with 360 degree high-definition panoramic video (like the one on our Museum Robot’s head), we’re creating online spaces that will mirror real-life environments. This means students could transition from exploring one location in the virtual world to viewing a high definition panoramic video of the exact same place in the real world.


Teachers and students can register to participate in a free trial of IntoScience and the new environments.

This project is funded by the Australian Government.

Media: Sarah Klistorner T: +61 2 9372 4662 M: +61 477 716 031 E:


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