By Ian Oppermann, Director, Digital Productivity and Services
When disaster strikes – such as January’s bushfire in Victoria or the recent cold spell that froze much of north America – it’s vital for emergency services to get the latest information.
They need to access real-time data from any emergency sites and command centres so they can analyse it, make timely decisions and broadcast public-service updates.
CSIRO thinks it has a solution in its high speed and high bandwidth wireless technology known as Ngara, originally developed to help deliver broadband speeds to rural Australia.
The organisation has announced a licensing deal with Australian company RF Technology to commercialise Ngara so it can be used to allow massive amounts of information to be passed between control centres and emergency services in the field.
There is already interest from agencies in the United States and it’s hoped that Australian agencies will soon follow.
Squeezing more data through
The technology will package four to five times the usual amount of data into the same spectrum. This will allow emergency services to send and receive real time data, track assets and view interactive maps and live high definition video from their vehicles. It’s a step in what has been a long journey toward an ambitious vision.
For years, the vision of the communications research community was “connecting anyone, anywhere, anytime” – a bold goal encompassing many technical challenges. Achieving that depended heavily on radio technology because only radio supports connectivity and mobility.
Over the years we designed ever more complex mobile radio systems – more exotic radio waveforms, more antenna elements, clever frequency reuse, separation of users by power or by spreading sequence and shrinking the “cell” sizes users operate in.
A research surge in the late 1990s and 2000s led to a wealth of technology developed in the constant drive to squeeze more out of radio spectrum, and to make connections faster and more reliable for mobile users.
This radio access technology became 3G, LTE, LTE-A and now 4G. Europe is working on a 5G technology. We’ve also seen huge advances in wireless local area networks (WLAN) and a strong trend to offload cellular network data to WLAN to help cope with the traffic flowing through the networks.
Demand for more keeps growing
Despite this, the data rate demands from users are higher than what mobile technology can offer. Industry commentators who live in the world of fixed communication networks predict staggering growth in data demand which, time tells us, is constantly underestimated.
We’ve even stretched our ability to name the volume of data flowing through networks: following terabytes we have exabytes (1018), zetabytes (1021) and yottabyes (1024 bytes) to describe galloping data volumes.
A few more serious problems arise from all of this traffic flowing through the world’s networks. The first is the “spectrum crunch”. We have sliced the available radio spectrum in frequency, time, space and power. We need to pull something big out of the hat to squeeze more out of the spectrum available in heavy traffic environments such as cities.
The second is the “backhaul bottleneck”. All the data produced in the radio access part of the network (where mobile users connect) needs to flow to other parts of the network (for example to fixed or mobile users in other cities).
Network operators maintain dedicated high capacity links to carry this “backhaul” traffic, typically by optical fibre or point-to-point microwave links. This works well when the backhaul connects two cities, but less well when connecting the “last mile” in a built-up urban environment.
When the total data volume which needs to be moved in terms of bits-per-second-per-square-metre rises into the range requiring backhaul capacities and is mobile, then some clever dynamic backhaul technology is needed.
As more of us carry yet more devices, and continue to enjoy high quality video-intensive services, we will keep pushing up our data rate demands on mobile networks. In theory, there is no known upper limit on the amount of data an individual can generate or consume. In practice, it depends on available bandwidth, the cost of data and the ability of devices to serve it up to us.
We have seen amazing progress in mobile data rates over the past decade. This trend will need to continue if we’re to keep pace with demand.
A new solution
To address the burgeoning data demand, and building on a strong history in wireless research, CSIRO has developed two major pieces of new technology – Ngara point-to-point (backhaul) and Ngara point-to-multi-point (access) technology. (Ngara is an Aboriginal word from the language of the Dharug people and means to “listen, hear, think”.)
The latter Ngara technology solves several big challenges over LTE networks through its “narrow cast” beam forming transmissions and smart algorithms which can form a large number of “fat pipes” in the air, reducing energy wastage of the radio signal, and increasing data rates and range.
It also enables wireless signals to avoid obstacles like trees, minimises the need for large chunks of expensive spectrum and allows agencies to dynamically change data rates where and when needed during an emergency.
In Australia we are looking at a field trial of Ngara in remote and regional communities to deliver critical broadband services such as health and education.
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.
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
There’s a common thread – or plastic – in things you use every day. Think of the plastic casing protecting your phone, your drink bottle, plastic shopping bags and even sewerage piping. Polymers have countless uses and are used by almost everyone every day.
“We really do use them every day,” said Thomas Pattison, who has just completed a summer of research as part of our vacation scholarship program. Thomas is not your average university student though. He just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nanotechnology and Applied Sciences from RMIT and stands at 6 foot and 6 inches tall. You could say…he stands out.
Over the summer, Thomas worked on a carbon dioxide based biodegradable materials project in Clayton.
For the past 12 weeks, Thomas has been feeding carbon dioxide, a cheap and readily available waste product from industrial scale reactions, to replace the building blocks in polymerization. By investigating different catalysts to determine which one produces the polymer efficiently with the right properties, this can eventually lead to improvements in the strength, rigidity and heat resistance of the polymer or even create entirely new materials.
Thomas says that finding a more efficient, cheaper and sustainable way to do things is what bought him into the world of science.
Watch his summer experience:
“I studied a small amount of polymer science in my degree which was really interesting and I felt that participating in the summer program at CSIRO was an excellent opportunity to improve my practical skills. I learnt more about an interesting area of science and research that has direct, real-world applications.”
When he’s not in the lab, Thomas plays competitive dodge ball on a weekly basis. ”I highly recommend it; you get to throw balls at people without getting told off.”
For more information on careers at CSIRO, follow us on Linkedin.
The saying goes that if Sir David Attenborough says it, it must be true.
I may have made that one up, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the Sir commands a level of respect about all things in the natural world above any other living scientist. I would even go so far as to say that if the Sir gave me advice on my home loan or hair style, I’d probably take it.
So you can imagine our delight when, while watching the Sir’s ‘Rise of Animals’ last week, we saw footage from our film archives, dating back to the early 1970s. The Sir spends some time talking about echidnas, one of only two mammals that lay eggs (the other is the platypus). The soft, leathery egg is deposited into the pouch and hatches approximately 22 days later. Welcome to the world, little puggle.
This reproductive process is quite unique and, in the Sir’s words, ‘the hatching process itself has only rarely been captured on film’. So pleased are we to have been the ones to capture it.
If you’ve only got 10 seconds to spare you can watch our highly-anticipated GIF series of a puggle hatching below… or scroll right down for the full rare footage (all 1 minute, 3 seconds of it).
Get ready for the puggle in full hatching glory.
Our archive videos make for great viewing. If you loved watching a puggle hatch, then you’ll squeal with delight watching the slightly more grotesque ‘Birth of the red kangaroo‘. Or better yet subscribe to our YouTube channel where every Throwback Thursday we treat you to an archive classic.
PS. Before someone else points this out, I am well aware that echidnas don’t have teats. They have milk patches. Let’s be honest, saying ‘Patch time’ wouldn’t have made for such an interesting headline… so let’s just call it artistic licence.
By Andrew Holmes, CSIRO Fellow
This article is part of the Australia 2025 series.
Chemistry is the most central of scientific disciplines and underpins the physical, material and biological world. Opportunities are abundant in the field of chemistry, as most major advances take place at the interface of two or more disciplines and chemistry sits at the core of trans-disciplinary research.
Most scientific research and development is collaborative and global. For Australia to continue to be a prosperous nation, post the mining boom dividends, we must create wealth through invention and innovation, and we must view this national wealth creation through invention and translation as a global enterprise.
Chemistry started saving lives when pharmaceutical drugs were invented. A catastrophic threat from disease in the future will be presented by the strains of pathogens developing resistance to antimicrobial drugs.
A safe and prosperous Australia will be one in which we redouble our efforts to invent new antibiotics to kill common bacteria as well as the drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis that are emerging. It is not too fanciful to imagine a new class of antibiotic using a delivery system that enters bacterial cells carrying a built-in warhead that explodes and shatters the cell wall, destroying the bacterium.
Many cancers are influenced by the way key proteins interact in living organisms. In the future we can expect to continue seeing the development of anticancer drugs consisting of molecules that inhibit certain protein interactions.
This is a completely new approach in the fight against cancer, as is the use of delivery systems based on specialist polymers; these can carry the toxic anticancer drug specifically to the required point of action where they recognise tumour cells that can be destroyed on release of the drug while leaving other non-tumour cells unaffected.
Response of cancer cells to chemotherapy varies from individual to individual. Now it is possible to sequence the human genes of individuals, and this is heavily dependent on analytical chemistry techniques in combination with biological approaches.
The ability to carry out genome sequencing cheaply and effectively will depend on the invention of new techniques for reading the genetic code on long chains of DNA. One promising approach is the use of protein nanopores or custom-synthesised porous macromolecular systems whose pores allow only DNA chains to be threaded through.
As each base on the DNA passes through the pore it is “read” by inbuilt optical or electrical nanodetectors/transistors that allow the chain sequence to be recorded fast and efficiently.
Acquisition of these vast quantities of data and the ability to correlate the information with disease states in humans will depend on the close interaction of chemists with statistical biologists and bioinformaticists (so chemists will need a good mathematics training as well).
These are the kinds of contributions that chemistry will make to health care in Australia provided we invest now in training and pathways for ideas to be converted into commercial products.
Next generation electronics
In my own field of polymers, chemistry in combination with physics and materials science has revolutionised the way in which we think of plastics.
There is now a whole emerging field of “plastic electronics” in which specialised plastics (the so-called semiconducting polymers) can replace the traditional semiconducting materials such as silicon to serve as transistors, and as the active material in flat panel displays (TV screens, laptop and smart phone displays) as well as numerous other “smart” devices.
These materials are already in some of the largest colour TVs seen last year at the annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas.
It will not be long before we are able to print flexible solar cells (just as we print another great Australian invention, the polymer banknote) that can be sewn into clothing to serve as cheap portable power sources for recharging mobile devices.
It is my dream that large area arrays will eventually provide substantial amounts of renewable electricity for our nation.
Returning to transistors, just imagine a flexible plastic inner helmet lining full of transistors that can detect and monitor brain function in real time when a sportsperson (such as a Test cricketer or AFL player) receives a severe and damaging blow to the skull.
We won’t be merely waiting to carry them off the field when they cannot say which day it is. We shall know instantly which parts of the brain may not be functioning properly after the injury. This is the field of flexible electronics that chemists will invent.
There will be applications that will be life changing, just like the change in our lives that happened with the emergence of mobile devices in the past ten years. With appropriate investment and a calculated risk Australia can become a “Master of the Universe” through clever chemistry.
What are the technologies that traditionally have made Australia wealthy? Historically we have been a strong agricultural nation. Good agriculture depends on many factors including soil and climate conditions. Chemists will continue to invent safe and efficient herbicides and pesticides, but these will in the future be integrated with genetically modified organisms so that the specific threat will be defeated without interfering with the surrounding ecosystem.
The mining industry has dominated recent Australian exports. Extraction of the key chemical elements from ore bodies employs the “froth flotation process” initially developed in Australia and researched by surface scientist Sir Ian Wark from CSIRO.
However, all mining industries employ vast quantities of water. My vision for the future of chemistry is to develop a water-free mining industry (as well as other chemical manufacturing) that employs solid state chemical separation processes perhaps in combination with supercritical fluids such as carbon dioxide or other benign solvents.
Energy and efficiency
That brings us to the topic of energy. Burning carbon-based fuels to generate energy would not be so bad if we could capture the resulting carbon dioxide efficiently and convert it back into hydrocarbon products such as methane and diesel.
These are the two grand challenges for chemistry. Chemists are working on capturing carbon dioxide from flue gas emissions using amine-trapping agents to form carbamates, but we have a long way to go. This has to be 100% effective and the resulting product has to be able to release the carbon dioxide into a suitable storage without consuming too much energy.
Then we have to invent ways of turning the carbon dioxide back into methane. This requires hydrogen and a superb catalyst or electricity because in terms of an energy scale carbon dioxide lies at the bottom of Mount Everest and methane is on the top.
The hydrogen will have to come from using sunlight (photochemistry) and a catalyst to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Humankind has not yet solved this, although Nature does it through photosynthesis, surprisingly not very efficiently, but certainly well enough to have sustained life on earth for billions of years. Some challenge for chemists but we will do it!
We will only achieve these ambitions if we also recognise the need to inspire young people in a broad-based science education with an opportunity to become practising chemists.
By Wenju Cai, Principal Research Scientist, Wealth from Oceans Flagship
Recently speculation has been rife that the end of 2014 will see an El Niño event — the change in Pacific ocean and atmosphere circulation that is known to produce drought, extreme heat, and fire in Australia. The Bureau of Meteorology’s latest statement predicts that Pacific Ocean temperatures may approach El Niño levels by early winter, but the jury is out beyond the end of this year.
Given the catastrophic effects El Niño can have, should we be getting prepared anyway?
An El Niño for 2014?
A small number of models have predicted an El Niño later in the year. But these models generally suffer from what scientists call an “autumn predictability barrier”. During the southern hemisphere autumn it is hard to distinguish the development of an El Niño from background variability.
But a recent high-profile paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences adamantly predicted an El Niño later this year, using a new framework that explores how ocean temperatures are connected between the equatorial Pacific and other regions. The paper claims to overcome the autumn predictability barrier, quoting a 70% success rate in simulating prediction of historical El Niño events.
Preparing for the worst
To better ready ourselves for an El Niño event, we need to know what the impact might be. El Niño affects our lives in many ways.
One important consideration is Murray River, which supports economic activities estimated at tens of billions of dollars each year, including our irrigated agriculture and water supply in regional areas.
El Niño can also happen in conjunction with other climate cycles. When an El Niño coincides with the positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole, there is usually a dramatic reduction in annual inflow.
A prediction of an El Niño will trigger consideration of water allocation by our water managers, taking into account of the need for environmental flow to ensure the long-term health of the river.
Another consideration is drought, which has a direct impact on our ecosystems and farming communities. Our farmers are very skilled in using El Niño prediction information. They use the information to decide what crops to plant and level of cropping activities. Sometimes it is better not to grow anything, to limit losses.
An incorrect prediction can be costly too. So our farmers make ongoing decisions using updated information (normally on a monthly basis). From time to time they will need help to get through tough times, and so our federal government needs to budget for drought relief.
A further consideration is extreme weather. More heatwaves, bushfires and dust storms will have an impact of human health, infrastructure, and emergency services. For example, our senior citizens are most affected by heat stress.
In the week of the recent January heatwave in Victoria, the number of deaths more than doubled. It’s a common-sense matter of getting well prepared to ensure relief is available when needed. If a cooler is needed, it is too late to install it after you hear the weather forecast.
Global warming: loading the dice
This year, and in summer 2013, southeast Australia experienced significant and unprecedented heatwaves, both associated with bushfires. These kinds of events usually take place in an El Niño year.
In fact, an average El Niño increases the global mean temperature by 0.1C. One example is the extreme El Niño of 1982-83, in which a string of heatwaves preceded the Ash Wednesday bushfires, amid severe drought conditions.
But 2013 and the summer just past were not a result of El Niño. In fact these record-breaking heatwaves occurred at a time when the increase of global surface temperatures has slowed, although regionally temperatures continue to increase. Inland Australia — the source of heat in south east Australian heatwaves — continues to warm.
The reason for the slowdown in the rising global surface temperatures is another ocean and atmosphere cycle: the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Currently in a negative phase, the PDO is encouraging heat to be stored in the ocean thanks to changes in trade winds. Likewise, during a positive PDO, less heat is stored in the ocean, which can enhance the effect of El Niño as in the 1982-83 event.
So there are a range of scenarios depending on a number of different climate cycles. Imagine this one: global warming continues unmitigated by a “hiatus”, and then an El Niño or extreme El Niño occurs. Such an alignment of warming, positive PDO and El Niño is likely to occur several times over the next 20 years. While we can’t predict exactly when the PDO might shift to a positive phase, we might expect the current negative phase to last another four to five years.
If we didn’t like what we experienced in 2013 and early 2014, we’re unlikely to enjoy this worst-case scenario. Heatwaves will be not only more frequent, but hotter too. The associated drought would eventually break, but it will be longer and more severe. Are we ready?
By Ingrid Appelqvist, Research Scientist, Animal, Food and Health Sciences
How do you like your veggies? Are you a boiler, a roaster, a steamer or maybe even a stir-fryer?
There’s no denying the goodness of vegetables. They provide essential nutrients for our everyday health and wellbeing.
But can the way we prepare them alter how much nutrition we get out of them? The short answer is yes – and it’s all to do with their structure.
For generations, many Aussies soaked their veggies in water, boiling them till they were soft and straining off the water they were cooked in. But this method leaches most of the vitamins and nutrients out of the plant and doesn’t leave much goodness other than fibre.
Vitamin C, for instance, is a delicate food micro-nutrient that’s essential for growth and development. But given that it’s water-soluble, it can be easily damaged by overcooking.
So is it better to eat our veggies raw? Snacking on a carrot when the nibbles hit during the day is more nutritious than eating over-cooked veg, but it’s not always the best way to make the most of the vitamins veggies have to offer.
Fruit and vegetables are built from millions of plant cells that lock up their vitamins in what’s called a ‘cell wall’ structure. For instance, when a carrot is fresh and raw, the cell walls are firmly attached to each other. This is partly what gives carrot its crunch.
Based on this work, we’re helping create a healthier Australian food supply by incorporating more positive nutrients – like vitamins and fibre from vegetables – into our everyday processed foods such as bakery products and yoghurts.
But in the mean time, how can we make the most of our veggies?
Gentle steaming with a very small amount of water, or even grating a fresh veggie like carrot, breaks the plants cell walls and makes the inherent nutrients more ‘bio-available’ – that is, available for absorption by the body as we digest it. Adding the water your veg is cooked in to your meal will help maximise the vitamins available for digestion.
The same goes for fruit. Fruit blitzed into smoothies, pureed and used in sauces and desserts breaks the cell walls and increases the bio-availability of many nutrients – but make sure you eat the pulp as well, as it contains valuable nutrients and fibre.
In many cases, veggies or fruit such as tomatoes can provide better nutrition processed than raw – as is the case for tinned tomatoes and pasta and passata sauces.
Of course, some vegetables like potatoes have to be cooked to be able to eat them at all. But a mixture of raw and gently cooked vegetables and fruit in our diet is key to maximising their nutritional value.
Learn more about how we’re keeping you healthy with our interactive graphic.
About the author
Dr Ingrid Appelqvist is a research scientist with expertise in food materials science. She specialises in developing healthier foods with higher nutritional value.