Prize-winning scientist works with antimatter, to make substances that are bigger on the inside – and real

Dr Matthew Hill

Dr Matthew Hill

Matthew Hill’s work sounds as though it should be directed by George Lucas. The main difference is that it’s real. But a job where the tools of trade include the Australian Synchrotron AND antimatter still sounds like science fiction.

As do the results that come from it. Matthew has just been awarded the 2014 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year (presented as part of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science awards), for his work on Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs).

These are networks of metal atoms that are linked and separated by carbon-based compounds. They’re incredibly porous – about ten times more so than any material discovered previously. Their internal storage capacity can be as much as 6000 square metres for a gram of material. That’s a whole football field, stored in a tiny space.

It doesn’t end there. They form as crystals, so their structure can be worked out precisely. And, because they can be made using a broad range of metals and organic compounds, it’s possible to construct a huge number of different structures with different characteristics. This means they can be designed to suit specific applications.

MOFs aren’t just for storing things, although they’re very, very, good for that. About forty per cent of the energy consumed by industry is used to separate things, whether it’s in natural gas production, mineral processing, food production or pollution control.

The first of these is well under way. Matthew and his team have developed a membrane embedded with crystals that efficiently separates natural gas from contaminants, and lasts much longer than traditional membranes. He’s working with gas companies to develop the patented technology that could replace the multistorey processing plants found on gas fields with smaller truck-sized systems.

Patented applications for the food industry are also in the works. And further down the track are carbon dioxide scrubbers; safe compact storage systems for gas and hydrogen; and even crystals that could deliver drugs or fertilisers on demand.

One big aim is for carbon capture and storage. Matthew says, ‘The energy-expensive part of carbon capture is in its release. So we teamed up with Monash and Sydney Universities to make a MOF that soaks up the CO2 part, and changes shape when concentrated sunlight shines on it. It wrings itself out like a sponge, and releases 70 per cent of the CO 2 it has stored.’

So how sci-fi is that? Reducing the amount of energy needed to store things – and thus also reducing the carbon emissions, then finding a way to store the carbon at the other end.

But just to show once again that truth can be stranger than fiction, here’s one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up’ stories. The Malcolm McIntosh Prize is awarded in honour of a former CEO of CSIRO, who sadly died in 2000. Matthew is married to the niece of Dr McIntosh.


Investigator’s scientific sea trials are about to begin!

Nicholas Kachel:

Our new Marine National Facility, RV Investigator, is ready to hit the waves for its first scientific sea trials. We’ve got heaps of cool new equipment to try out… dive on in to find out more!

Originally posted on Investigator @ CSIRO:

Since Investigator arrived in Hobart in early September we’ve been really busy fitting out $6.7 million worth of scientific equipment, from one end of the ship to the other.

Now it’s time to go out for scientific sea trials on the new Marine National Facility research vessel, Investigator, to check all of the gear works to its optimum capacity and to also get some training on how to operate the scientific equipment from the manufacturers.

There are some really cool bits of gear that we’ll be testing on the first voyage, including the sonar that maps the sea floor, the TRIAXUS, the radon detector and the gravity meter.

The ship is scheduled to be back in port in Hobart on 1 November, when we’re going to do a fast turn around, and head back out to sea on the same day, with a whole new group of vendors.

On the second…

View original 38 more words


Make our ASKAP telescope a star of the night sky

By Emily Lehmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Four ways to lose weight and feel ‘electric’ this summer

As the mercury rises and our focus turns to hitting the gym and shedding those cuddly winter kilos, we thought we’d take a look at a few ways we could be making our workouts really count.

While the idea of working up a sweat and electricity might sound like a recipe for disaster, you’d be surprised how people and businesses are using sport and exercise to create electricity – with a conscience.

Giving light to rural communities


A company in the US has created a soccer balled called Soccket which can generate three hours of light with just thirty minutes of play. The ball is being used in rural off-grid areas of Mexico. Soccket stores the kinetic energy built up while you play using a pendulum-like mechanism.

Creating greener stadiums
At the Homes Stadium in Kobe City, Japan, the floorplan has been designed to harness vibrations made by cheering fans to create electricity. The electricity generates is fed back into the stadium’s power supply. The more fans cheer the less power the stadium needs to take from the ‘grid’.

Building safe places for kids to play


Soccer superhero Pele recently teamed up with global energy company Shell to launch a new type of pitch in a Rio. It is made from tiles which capture kinetic energy created by the movement of the players. The light is being used to power the pitch at night, resulting in a safe and secure community space.

Keeping your gym green
A gym in the UK made history by becoming the first self-powered gym using the energy of bikes, cross trainers and ‘vario’ machines to power its lights. Each machine feeds around 100w per hour back into the gym’s power supply. Treadmills also generate enough energy to power their own information screens.

And for those of us who may not be able to book a round the world trip purely for exercise purposes, why not try signing up for our new Total Wellbeing Diet online trial? Visit the website for more information and to sign up.

 


Want to see what we collect?

Mould spores. We collect them

Mould spores. We collect them

We collect things. Lots of things.

You might have heard about our major collections – the National Wildlife Collection, National Fish Collection, National Insect Collection, National Herbarium. You might even have heard of the Cape Grim Air Archive. But what about the National Soil Archive? Let alone the Fungus Collection or the Algae Collection.

The National Soil Archive contains more than 70 000 soil samples from nearly ten thousand sites across Australia. They’re not just bits of dirt picked up from anywhere. Not only are the samples representative of soil types throughout Australia, they’re a time capsule of sorts as well. Quite a lot of the samples date from the early 1920s, before widespread pesticide use.

Having these old samples gives us an historical record of soil carbon, so they’re an important resource for our work on climate change. They also provide an interactive key to Australian soil classification, which is a handy tool for landcare advisors, agronomists, environmental consultants, ecologists, foresters, geomorphologists, land use planners and catchment managers, and they form the backbone of our SoilMapp tool. Who’d have thought?

And there are actually three different fungi collections. There’s the Wood-Inhabiting Fungi Collection, which is self-explanatory. Then there’s the WA-based Mycology Herbarium, which deals with fungi as parts of ecosystem biodiversity. Blue-fungi-on-wood

The third is a little more off-putting. It’s the FRR Culture Collection. It’s a comprehensive archive of filamentous fungi and yeasts of the kinds associated with processed food spoilage. To put it simply, the national mould collection is a real thing. It’s not in a student share house fridge, but carefully stored and catalogued at CSIRO.

We mustn’t forget the algae. We have a comprehensive collection – the Australian National Algae Culture Collection – stored in Hobart: more than 1000 strains of over 300 species. It’s an important resource for two reasons. The first is that the nutrient value of algae is of growing scientific interest. The second is – and this volvox-aureus-green-alga_32106_1might come as a surprise – it’s aligned with CSIRO’s Microalgae Supply Service. This provides microalgal strains for ‘starter cultures’. They go to industry, research organisations and universities in more than 50 countries. We also supply starter cultures to the Australian aquaculture industry: microalgae are the essential first foods for larval and juvenile animals. They’re also the basis of our Novacq™ prawn food additive.

We think the contents of our cupboards are pretty interesting. They’re certainly unusual.


The ankle bone’s connected to the … 3D-printed titanium implant

3D printed titanium heel implant

The 3D-printed titanium heel implant

Surgery has come a long way since the days when it consisted of either cutting things out or cutting them off. But there are still conditions where amputation is the only alternative.

One of them, until recently, was bone cancer.

Len Chandler was facing the prospect of having his leg off below the knee when he was diagnosed with cancer of the calcaneus (heel bone). Until his surgeon, Professor Peter Choong from Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital, had an idea.

He knew about CSIRO’s work in titanium 3D, after reading about our work on producing an orthotic horseshoe in 2013. He got in touch with John Barnes, our titanium and 3D printing expert, asking whether his vision – a metallic implant which would support a human body’s weight – could become a reality.

3D printed heel implant

3D printed heel implant. Note the rough surface for flesh to adhere to

At the time, CSIRO was working with the Victorian-based biotech company Anatomics on metallic implant technology. John brought Anatomics into the discussion, to draw on their experience as a certified custom medical device manufacturer.

Our Manufacturing Flagship worked with Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital and Victorian biotech company Anatomics on a world-first surgery, developing a heel bone implant printed in titanium on CSIRO’s state-of-the-art Arcam 3D printer.

Working from Anatomics’ schematics for the heel bone, teams at Anatomics and CSIRO developed the design requirements with Choong’s surgical team. These included smooth surfaces where the bone contacts other bone, holes for suture locations, and rough surfaces that would allow tissue to adhere to the implant. In the days before the surgery Anatomics and CSIRO produced three implant prototypes.

The entire process, from first phone call to surgery, took two weeks. Three months after the surgery, Mr Chandler has had his most recent check-up. He’s recovering well, and is able to place some weight on his implant.

3D heel 3As CSIRO’s Robert Wilson, part of the heel printing team, points out, ‘The customisation of 3D printing is good in emergency situations such as these’.

It’s also a local manufacturing process: Australian companies producing implants for our own doctors and patients. That means we don’t have to rely on imported parts, and the design can be truly personalised to the patient.

We’re working with a number of major companies and SMEs across Australia to build capacity in biotech and manufacturing.

The plan, says John Barnes, is that, ‘At some point in the future we expect that local for-profit businesses will have the capacity to work on projects like this, and until that momentum is built up in local industry, CSIRO is here to help local industries gain that momentum’.


Next-gen technologies get down to Robo-business

It doesn't need to be a case of 'us vs them' - robots actually help humans perform better. Image - Franz Steiner www.webneel.com

It doesn’t need to be a case of ‘us vs them’ – robots actually help humans perform better. Image – Franz Steiner http://www.webneel.com

By Emily Lehmann 

A world in which robots and humans live side-by-side is no longer just stuff dreamed up in fantastical sci-fi movies (thank you very much James Cameron). ‘Cos if we’re talking about industry, the smart machine era is already here.

Next-gen technologies like self-driving vehicles, remote augmented reality and fully-autonomous robots are now being used to help companies work better, from underground mines to the factory floor.

The latest and greatest in the ‘bots biz was all the talk last week at RoboBusiness 2014, where we took the opportunity to share our vision for the world of intelligent industry.

We want to create an environment where man and machine can work safely and productively side-by-side. To help us achieve this, we’ve developed Guardian technologies: a suite of intelligent, lightweight assistive robots that will increase the productivity and global competitiveness of manufacturing firms.

The robots include Guardian angel, mentor, helper and worker technologies, which all play their own important and unique role in assisting – but not replacing – people in the workplace.

For instance, Guardians can be used to hold or move heavy, awkward items, or be deployed in places not considered safe for humans to perform tasks – all while a person controls them remotely. Check out this video to see how they work:

We have some exciting news around one of our clever Guardian technologies, Zebedee, which is about to be enhanced with new features and improvements.

Zebedee is our leading handheld 3D laser mapping technology and the next generation version will allow manufacturers to create faster and more accurate 3D simulations of their factory production lines.

We’re also about to start a $2 million research and development partnership with UK-based start-up GeoSLAM on the developments to make this happen. You can read more about this on the IT Wire.

 


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