All I want for Christmas is a good night’s sleep…

Recently emptied bed

Sleep apnoea can be unbearable for all involved. Photo: Elias Quezada.

…A good night’s sleep, a good night sleep.

Sing it with us now, snorers and snorer sufferers of Australia! Because we might be able to help.

Sleep apnoea is just, well, horrible. It’s a condition where the air passage in the throat becomes blocked during sleep and causes people to stop breathing. Ask any of the million or so Australians who suffer from it – or their sleeping partners – and they will tell you it can cause massive damage: not only physically but emotionally.

Severe cases experience hundreds of blockages per night, leading to high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and diabetes. Bed partners are affected too, with their chances of getting a good sleep rendered near impossible. It can lead to relationship breakdowns, and worse.

Thankfully, a new CSIRO-made solution may just offer a Christmas miracle: a 3D-printed titanium mouthguard that helps air flow freely for sufferers when sleeping.

Brisbane-based dentist Chris Hart first had the idea for a mouthguard with airways that would assist airflow past the sleep apnoea sufferer’s soft palette. He approached us for help developing a 3D device printed from titanium with a soft medical grade plastic mouthguard.

The result is the Oventus Clearway Device. It’s essentially a ‘duckbill’ which extends from the mouth like a whistle and divides into two separate airways. This allows air to flow through to the back of the throat, bypassing obstructions that cause the problems.

The titanium Clearway Device. It's a mouthguard against restless nights.

The titanium Clearway Device (the world’s shortest snorkle?)

For Gold Coast retiree and sleep apnoea sufferer Maurice Hrovat, 57, the new device – which he was lucky enough to trial – has been not just sleep-changing but life-changing. Hrovat was, in an apparently massive understatement, “quite a good snoorer”, and had long ago been banished from he and his wife’s bed, to sleep down the hallway.

Hrovat reported immediate benefits from his trial of the device. “I used to need an afternoon nap, I was so exhausted from a bad night’s sleep,” Hrovat says, but they’re now a thing of the past. “I find I am getting up earlier, and exercising more.” And, most importantly, he’s been allowed back into the master bed.

The Clearway Device is initially only available through the Turbot Street, Brisbane practice of Chris Hart. With practices in Sydney and Melbourne not introducing the product until the New Year, Santa might have to save your device until Christmas 2015. However, interested patients – or dental or medical practices – can find more information on the Oventus website.

NB Pricing for the device is around $1500 but depends on the patient’s individual requirements, as well as their healthcare funding and insurance cover.


The science to being crowned king of the crackers

Flickr/Parlsa.

Image credit: Flickr/Parlsa. Traditionally crackers contain hilarious jokes such as this one: Where do snowmen go to dance? To a snowball!

With the festive season in full swing, many of us will soon find ourselves sitting around a dinner table, tugging on a Christmas cracker then poring over the goodies found within.

Traditionally, cracker etiquette dictates that the person left holding the larger portion is dubbed the cracker king (with flimsy paper crown to prove it).

However, have you ever wondered what ‘cracker strategy’ you should employ to increase your chance of securing the win and looking like one of the Wise Men?

Naturally, our researchers Emma Huang and David Clifford along with their equally-festive colleague from the University of Queensland Kim-Anh le Cao, were wondering the same thing. So they turned to science to find out.

Firstly, they got cracking on identifying three cracking cracker-pulling techniques:

  1. The ‘angle’ strategy: A firm two handed grip, tilting the cracker between 20 and 55 degrees downwards, and applying a steady force with no torque
  2. The ‘passive aggressive’ strategy: a firm two handed grip at no angle, no pulling at all, and letting the other person do the work
  3. The ‘control’ strategy: typical of Christmas parties around the world, where both participants pull at no particular angle, but roughly parallel to the floor

In this festive study, volunteers were randomly paired, employing different strategies multiple times in order to leave us with robust data about the validity of each technique.

Image credit: Flickr/Sanickels. Just this this gentleman, you too could be crowned King of the Crackers.

Image credit: Flickr/Sanickels. Just like this gentleman, you too could be crowned King of the Crackers.

So, what were the results?

If you’re an angler, we’ve got bad news. With just a 40 per cent win rate, this technique isn’t likely to secure your spot as cracker king anytime soon. The traditional ‘control approach’ produced the results closest to random chance, resulting in a win 53 per cent of the time.

For those saying bah-humbug to the passive aggressive approach, you might want to rethink things. With an impressive 92 per cent success rate, it turns out the key to securing the win is to let your partner do all the hard work.

As our researchers describe in their study, the passivity of this approach could have important implications for future Christmas parties. Aside from the obvious reduction in cracker-related injuries, the strategy has another major benefit – it is easy to employ with subtlety, unlike strategies involving an angle, which must surely arouse suspicions in your pulling partner.

While we wish you well on your cracker journey, we’ll leave you with a word of caution – while the ‘do nothing’ approach does have a high success rate, it only works if you’re the only one who knows about it.  If both you and your partner employ the same strategy, the party could stretch on forever, resulting in a burnt dinner and no paper crown for you.

Want more festivity? Read the full study or check out ‘a statistician’s Christmas party’


Explainer: what is raw milk and why is it harmful?

There is no evidence that the health benefits of milk are compromised by pasteurisation. jacqueline/Flickr, CC BY-NC

There is no evidence that the health benefits of milk are compromised by pasteurisation. jacqueline/Flickr, CC BY-NC

By Edward Fox, CSIRO and Narelle Fegan, CSIRO

Milk is a highly nutritious food, and an important source of amino acids and minerals such as phosphorus and calcium, which contributes to bone health.

Historically, milk was prone to contamination by bacteria from cows that could cause severe illness in humans. This remains the case with raw (unpasteurised) milk. The tragic death of a Victorian toddler this week is a stark reminder of these risks.

Pasteurisation involves heating the product to 72°C for 15 seconds. The method was originally employed to destroy bacteria in wine and beer that caused these products to spoil. It was quickly realised that this process could also be applied to milk to destroy harmful bacteria, and make milk safer for human consumption.

Pasteurisation was first introduced in Australia in the late 1950s and remains a legal requirement for milk produced for human consumption in Australia.

Nowadays, some of the important bacteria that pasteurisation targeted, such as those that cause tuberculosis, are no longer as problematic. So why do we continue to pasteurise milk?

The animals we use for milking can sometimes carry other pathogenic organisms that are capable of causing disease in humans. They can be found on hides or shed in the faeces.

Even healthy animals may be a source of organisms that are harmful to people. Such pathogens may be present in the farm environment, including soil, water, on pasture and in animal feeds. These pathogens can enter the milk during milking and if such milk is consumed, it can cause disease.

The most common pathogens found in association with dairy farms and milking animals include bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), Campylobacter and Salmonella, but other pathogens such as parasites like Cryptosporidium, a type of gastro, may also be present.

As soon as milk is secreted from the udder, it is at risk of contamination by many different bacteria. cheeseslave/Flickr, CC BY

As soon as milk is secreted from the udder, it is at risk of contamination by many different bacteria.
cheeseslave/Flickr, CC BY

Campylobacter and Salmonella can cause severe diarrhoea and certain types of E. coli, particularly those known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), can cause very severe disease which impairs kidney function and may result in death.

Milk is highly nutritious to bacteria. Bacteria can quickly proliferate if their growth is not inhibited. Stopping the growth of bacteria in milk requires either heating to kill the bacteria, or chilling, which will not kill the bacteria but will slow down their growth.

E. coli, for instance, can go from ten cells to 100 million cells in just over six hours at 30°C. Only ten cells may be required to make someone ill. If such an organism is likely to be present, it’s important that any potential growth is stopped.

These harmful bacteria have caused outbreaks and disease associated with the consumption of raw milk in many countries. Data from the United States indicates that over a 13 year period to 2011, there were 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalisations and two deaths associated with the consumption of raw milk.

In Australia, raw milk contaminated by bacteria such as Campylobacter and Salmonella caused at least nine outbreaks of disease between 1997 and 2008, leading to 117 cases of illness.

So why do people choose to drink raw milk?

Advocates of raw milk often claim improved health benefit and nutritional value, or desiring a product which has not undergone further processing, retaining bacteria naturally present in milk.

But there is no evidence that the health benefits of milk are compromised by pasteurisation.

The defining difference between pasteurised and raw milk is the bacteria that are present. As soon as milk is secreted from the udder, it is at risk of contamination by many different bacteria as it makes its journey to our table. This includes harmful bacteria. These bacteria can lead to severe illness in humans, particularly children and the elderly.

For these reasons, raw milk continues to have a far higher risk of causing illness. Pasteurisation remains an important step in ensuring we can continue to enjoy safer, nutritious milk.

Further reading: Bath milk crisis must prompt better cosmetic safety regulation

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


The big day is here: RV Investigator’s Welcome to Port

Nicholas Kachel:

The sun’s out and the champagne’s been smashed(http://ow.ly/FLqwL)… It’s the RV Investigator’s Welcome to Port day! There’s a shipload of activity taking place in Hobart for this event today, but let’s step back for a second and take a look at just why the Investigator is worth all this fuss. Dive on in and explore below!

Originally posted on Investigator @ CSIRO:

RV Investigator

RV Investigator will be formally commissioned in Hobart today.

The day has finally arrived: our new 94 metre, A$120 million research vessel (RV) Investigator will be commissioned in Hobart today.

This marks Investigator’s transition  from being a CSIRO  ship building and commissioning project to being Australia’s new Marine National Facility ship, ready to embark on its maiden voyage in March 2015.

You may have noticed we’ve been making quite a bit of fuss about the Investigator recently. Here’s three* good reasons why.

First of all, she’s good news for Tasmania. Between them, Investigator and the Marine National Facility pump somewhere between $7 million and $11 million a year into the local economy. In the last ten years Hobart has become a marine and Antarctic science hub. CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship and the University of Tasmania’s $45 million Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) headquarters are located there, along with a large…

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A different kind of show and tell

Science partnership between Marnie Sparrow from Sandringham College (Vic) and Felix Lipkin, CSIRO Land and Water Flagship

Science partnership between Marnie Sparrow from Sandringham College (Vic) and Felix Lipkin, CSIRO Land and Water Flagship

Imagine you’re back at school, and one day the teacher has something for show and tell. Someone, actually. A real live scientist, or mathematician, or ICT specialist. And not just the once.

It’s been happening regularly in Australian schools since 2007. All levels of schools, from kindy to Year 12. In the only program in the world of its size and scope, Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools (SMiS) puts practicing STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) professionals into school classrooms. We also do the same thing with ICT professionals.

The program was a response to the decline in the numbers of students electing to study STEM subjects. It seemed that a promising strategy for arresting this would be to find a way for students to see the relevance of their science courses, and see that people working in science aren’t the caricature nerds represented in the media. But how to get them into the classroom? One way was to combine two kinds of outreach, and get involved with teachers’ professional development.

So we started a program to mentor teachers – and by doing so, provide students with a positive image of people working in the STEM sector. Seven years later, there have been more than 4000 partnerships between teachers and STEM professionals in schools. At the moment there are more than 1600 active partnerships.

It’s not just CSIRO scientists who are involved. Scientists in Schools volunteers can be research scientists and engineers, science and engineering postgrads, and applied science professionals like doctors, vets, and park rangers. Mathematicians in Schools wants to hear from anyone who did a degree with a maths focus and works in a job that uses maths: economists, accountants, surveyors and mathematical scientists, among others. If you’re an ICT professional working in research; a postgraduate ICT student or you’re involved in ICT in industry, like programmers, ICT security specialists, and systems analysts, you’re suitable for ICT in Schools.     Mathematician-microchip-focus-web

When teachers ask for a mentor to be paired with them, we select appropriate matches very carefully. We’re a bit like the Blood Bank: we have to find suitable partners for the procedure to be a success. And we don’t think any of our volunteers are the equivalent of Type O.

Teachers might be looking for someone with expertise in a particular topic. We also have to consider time constraints – some volunteers might only be available at particular times, and there are logistical considerations such as transport availability to take into account as well.

But this doesn’t mean that areas that aren’t readily accessible miss out. We can arrange long-distance partnerships too – Skype, email and block visits are our friends here. Some of the partnerships can be surprising – at present we have a scientist from the Australian Antarctic Division paired with a teacher in Townsville, based on common expertise and interests. And we cherish the pictures from a previous partnership between a teacher in a Northern Territory school and another Australian Antarctic Division scientist. When she visited the school, she took her polar suit with her, and the photos of her all rugged up in the NT heat just to show the kids are incongruous and charming.

It’s not all feel-good and cute pictures though. It provides a valuable resource for teachers, and gives them far greater confidence in their teaching. It enables the volunteer scientists to brush up on their communication skills – something which is ever more important in science careers. As one of our volunteer scientists from Tasmania says, ‘There is no room for jargon and big words when you talk to kids. I think it helps me understand better what I’m saying when I have to explain it in words an 8-year old can follow’. And our volunteers also say it re-enthuses them about their science – the kids’ enthusiasm reignites their own.

The students also get to practice some real science, and learn about experimental design, as this story shows. And yes, that’s a professor from the University of NSW mentoring a Year 7 teacher. An ACT school gets a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. CSIRO CEO Megan Clark was also a volunteer.

Maths partnership between Stephen Robey from Gungahlin College (ACT) and Billie Ganendran of University of NSW, Canberra (ADFA)

Maths partnership between Stephen Robey from Gungahlin College (ACT) and Billie Ganendran of University of NSW, Canberra (ADFA)

We see this combination of results as a win-win-win. And the three evaluations the program has had so far agreed with us. More importantly, so did parents, teachers and students. A parent from NSW says, ‘It’s fantastic that individuals are willing to offer their time to help facilitate the learning of our children. Please pass on a big thank you for being an inspiration for my son’.

While a teacher from SA tells us that ‘Our mathematician really is terrific in the way he volunteers his time to work with the kids. They love his knowledge, teaching skills and mathematical challenges’.

But this one … This comment, from a student in the NT, brings it all home: ‘The opportunity that we had to work with you was one of the greatest ones in my life. You made science fun for us and getting us involved in the science was a great experience’.

We think this is a pretty special program.


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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World Soil Day: a chance to worship the ground we walk on

By Leon Braun

It’s downtrodden, underfoot and often under appreciated, yet so crucial to our existence that one of our scientists describes it as “the complex natural medium that supports all life on Earth”. It holds our crops, stores and purifies our water, and provides habitat for amazing creatures like the giant Gippsland earthworm, which can reach up to 3 m in length. But most of us only think about it when we’re trying to get it out of footy socks on laundry day.

It’s soil – and today (and all next year) it gets a bit of long-overdue recognition. December 5 is World Soil Day, and the United Nations has declared 2015 to be International Year of Soils. That’s a good thing, because globally, soils are under threat: from erosion, poor land management and urbanisation. At the same time, we need soils more than ever to produce the food we need for a growing population, to help manage climate change and to ensure ecosystem health.

Cracked soil at Chowilla, South Australia.

Cracked soil at Chowilla, South Australia.

Luckily for Australia’s soils, they have CSIRO looking out for them. We started researching soils in 1929, published the first soil map of Australia in 1944, and have been working hard ever since to improve our understanding and management of soils. We’re looking at ways to make agricultural soils more productive and to ensure they’re used sustainably, so future generations can continue to reap their bounty. And we’re working internationally too, so it’s not just Australia that benefits.

Our latest achievement (with allies from around the country) is the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia, a digital map of Australia’s soils with two billion ‘pixels’ of about 90 by 90 metres, down to a depth of two metres below the surface. It contains information such as water holding capacity, nutrients and clay, and has applications for everyone from farmers deciding where to plant their crops to conservationists looking for habitats for endangered native species. You can read more about it here.

We’re also home to the Australian National Soil Archive, which has just gotten a new home in Canberra. The archive contains about 70,000 samples from almost 10,000 sites across Australia, the oldest dating back to 1924. Each sample represents a time capsule of the Australian landscape at the time it was collected, so we can measure things like caesium dispersal from the British nuclear tests at Maralinga and the impact of phosphate-based fertilisers on agricultural land. The archive is a vital national asset for soil researchers and industry, and has even been used by the Australian Federal Police to examine the potential of new forensic methods. Finally, data from the archive powers our first official app, SoilMapp, which puts information about Australian soils at your fingertips. This is incredibly useful, whether you’re growing canola on a farm in Western Australia or planning a major roads project in Victoria.

So as you go through your day today, eat your lunch, wipe your shoes, just remember: it takes 2000 years to form 10 centimetres of fertile soil suitable for growing our food, but just moments for that soil to blow away or get covered in a layer of asphalt. Something to think about next time you sit down to a meal – or do your laundry.


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