Young guns – our up and coming

Saad SayeefSaad Sayeef – Research Scientist – Energy

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


Beau Leese – General Manager – Strategy, Performance and Flagships 

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


Lisa portraitLisa Harvey-Smith: Research Astronomer – Information Sciences

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

Nick RodenNick Roden – PhD Student – Environment

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


Vanessa (Ginny) Hill – Social Media Advisor – Communications

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



Our solar team sets a hot and steamy world record

The run of sunny weather we’ve had in south-eastern Australia over the last few weeks has been breaking quite a few records – and not just on the weather charts.

A team of solar thermal engineers and scientists at our Energy Centre in Newcastle have used the ample sunlight flooding their solar fields to create what’s called ‘supercritical’ steam – an ultra-hot, ultra-pressurised steam that’s used to drive the world’s most advanced power plant turbines – at the highest levels of temperature and pressure EVER recorded with solar power.


The heliostat array, as viewed from Solar Tower 2.

They used heat from the sun, reflected off a field of heliostats (or mirrors) and concentrated onto a central receiver point to create the steam at these supercritical levels. The achievement is being described in the same terms as breaking the sound barrier, so impressive are its possible implications for solar thermal technology.

So what is it exactly that these Chuck Yaegers of the solar world have gone and done?

Put simply, the temperature of the steam they created (570° C) is about twice the maximum heat of your kitchen oven – or around the point where aluminium alloy would start melting. And the accompanying pressure (23.5 megapascals) is about 100 times as high as the pressure in your car tyres, or roughly what you’d experience if you were about 2 kilometres under the surface of the ocean.

Solar thermal tower.

The solar thermal tower in action: check out the steam being generated.

That’s all impressive in itself. But when you take into consideration that this is the first time solar power has ever been used to create these ‘supercritical’ levels on this scale – traditionally only ever reached using the burning of fossil fuels – the real worth of this achievement begins to sink in.

Solar thermal, or concentrating solar power (CSP) power plants have traditionally only ever operated at ‘subcritical’ levels, meaning they could not match the efficiency or output of the world’s most state of the art fossil fuel power plants.

How a solar thermal power plant works.

How a supercritical solar thermal power plant would work.

Enter our team and their Advanced Solar Steam Receiver Project. To prove that solar thermal technology can match it with the best fossil fuel systems, they developed a fully automated control system which predicts the heat delivered from every mirror (or heliostat), allowing them to achieve maximum heat transfer, without overheating and fatiguing the receiver. With this amount of control, they were able to accurately recreate the temperature and pressures needed for supercritical success.

So instead of relying on burning coal to produce supercritical steam, this method demonstrates that the power plants of the future could be using the zero emission energy of the sun to reach peak efficiency levels – and at a cheaper price.

While the technology may be a fair way off commercial development, this achievement is a big step in paving the way for a low cost, low emission energy future.

 The $5.68 million research program is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and is part of a broader collaboration with Abengoa Solar, the largest supplier of solar thermal electricity in the world. 

For media inquiries, contact Nick Kachel on (02) 4960 6270 or

Improving prediction of deadly Irukandji jellyfish blooms

A decades-old problem in predicting Irukandji blooms has been solved by a team of our scientists, and the results could directly benefit northern Australia’s community and its tourism industry.

Last year we wrote about a new Irukandji forecasting system that Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin and her team were testing in northern Queensland.

The team were looking to prove a link between Irukandji blooms and weather conditions, based on a hindcast of previous Irukandji stings and correlating weather records, so that they could accurately predict future blooms.

Irukandji jellyfish.

Carukia barnesi, the so-called ‘common Irukandji’, taken in sampling nets at Palm Cove near Cairns. Credit: Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin.

In a paper published today in the Journal of the Royal Society, Lisa-ann and her team have presented their findings, which demonstrate a clear link between Irukandji blooms and trade winds – or lack thereof.

Says Lisa-ann, “We know that Irukandji blooms generally co-occur with blooms of another invertebrate, called salps. We also know that salp blooms are triggered by upwelling, which in northern Queensland is driven by subsidence of trade winds. Sure enough, when we investigated we found a clear connection between recorded Irukandji ‘sting days’ and days when there was little to no trade wind present.”

Around Palm Cove, a beach near Cairns where the tests took place, the southeast trade winds are the dominant wind most of the time. These trade winds cause a net downwelling pressure that pushes the water downward and out to sea. However, when these winds begin to ease in the summer months, an upwelling occurs. It is these upwellings that Lisa-ann and her team believe transport Irukandji to the top of the water column – and on towards shore.

Irukandji stings on skin.

The subtle marks of an Irukandji sting belie their deadly potency. Credit: Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin.

Finding this elusive key to Irukandji bloom prediction has been a long process.

“More than 70 years worth of work has gone into trying to accurately predict Irukandji blooms, and I myself spent 18 years attempting to establish a link,” says Lisa-ann

“It wasn’t until I came to CSIRO and collaborated with my co-authors, who are ecological and oceanographic specialists, that we made the connection.”

This early warning system could potentially allow individuals, communities, councils and governments, as well as other marine industries, to know about Irukandji blooms up to a week in advance. By being able to predict Irukandji blooms, we can reduce the direct threat to ocean-goers by closing beaches, and also reduce anxieties and uncertainties associated with areas known for Irukandji stings.

Beach closure due to Irukandji.

A beach closure at Palm Cove due to an Irukandji bloom. Credit: Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin.

Lisa-ann says this study is just the first step. Further refinements and testing mean that we could provide greater certainty in prediction, and further reduce the rate of Irukandji stings. The system also has the potential to be rolled out at a national and international level.

“However, we must reiterate that this forecasting system is not a miracle cure for Irukandji,” says Lisa-ann. “We can never remove the threat completely.

Visit our website for more information on the Irukandji forecasting system.

For media enquiries or a copy of the Royal Society paper abstract contact Kirsten Lea, +61 2 4960 6245 or


More than 85 years of growth, change and impact

By Dr Megan Clark, CSIRO Chief Executive

Some of you may have seen a series of articles in the local media covering a range of topics in relation to CSIRO.  I would like to share with you the opinion piece, below, in response.

For 87 years, CSIRO science has been supporting Australia’s national growth. CSIRO has not done that by standing still, and over a decade ago a radical transformation of the way we deliver our science was undertaken.

To remain relevant to the nation and to answer the complex questions for society, we needed the courage to transform. For example it is no longer enough for farmers merely to have the best crop varieties.  For the next level of productivity they need the best farming systems, the best sensors, the best water efficiency and soil knowledge.  They need all of these answers delivered in a connected way.

Dr Megan Clark

Dr Megan Clark

CSIRO provides these answers through its flagship program, multidisciplinary challenge-focussed groups that bring together the best minds and research.  Was this the right decision? Yes it was, and others around the world agree with us: the Grand Challenges program in Canada and the INRA metaprogrammes in France are just two examples of similar responses. But to maintain the solutions focus requires a balance with science excellence.

We hold ourselves accountable to those who are passionately committed to quality science, our former employees, our clients and the Australian public and I agree with those who demand science excellence.  How do we do this? We subject our experiments, our papers, our fields of research, our output and our operations to rigorous scrutiny.

Each flagship and research division brings in a team of international experts every three to four years. The experts examine many dimensions of our work, make recommendations and when we receive criticism we act.

We respond by increasing investment in some areas of science, building on areas and exiting from others, making decisions that balance our budget constraints with our science goals. If a review shows we are not performing in a science area, we build, we exit or we transform that area.  There is no standing still in CSIRO.

For example, in 2009 the Earth Sciences and Resource Engineering review decried the publication rate. In only three years this rate has doubled. CSIRO’s geoscience standing has for the first time entered into the ranks of the top 0.1 per cent of global institutions. And this has been achieved at a time when technology from this division is helping the mining industry in 19 of the 31 Australian long wall mines, for both productivity and safety gains.

As some have feared, the CSIRO transformation has not curtailed our science.  Here are some of the facts: Our ranking is in the top ten of all institutions in the world for three scientific fields: environment/ecology, agricultural science, and plant and animal science.  This is equal with the standing of research heavyweights such as Oxford and Yale Universities, an extraordinary achievement for an Australian institution.

In 2012 we had record engagement with industry, record licenses of our IP and a record publication rate. Our mandate as an applied science organisation goes beyond research. CSIRO is Australia’s largest patent holder with 3582 live patents, 728 inventions, 275 trademarks and 83 plant breeder rights. We have particular strengths in measurement, biotechnology, materials (metallurgy) and computer technology, winning the prestigious European Inventor Award from the European Patent Office last year for the CSIRO team that invented fast wireless LAN.

CSIRO partners with 38 of the 40 universities in Australia and has connections with 72 countries. These relationships help train future researchers and build international scientific connections. We recruit, train and mentor hundreds of young scientists each year in schools, as university students and as doctoral candidates.

Building science capability for Australia is an important part of CSIRO’s culture.  We know our people like the work and find it meaningful.  Exit interviews invariably tell the same story “I loved my work here because I knew it was making a difference”. Our externally conducted staff survey tells us our people are more engaged than ever before.  Our absentee rate is less than half that of the Australian Public Service and our turnover is low.

This contemporary view of CSIRO as evidenced in our staff measures, has also been validated by our external clients. In a recent pilot client survey, the average willingness-to-recommend score was 8.6 out of 10. Our long term research alliances with Boeing, GE, Orica and many others are a further validation of our contribution to industry.

We do have areas to improve.  We have had claims of unacceptable behaviour made by former employees and I have addressed those directly. A number of internal actions are in place as well as an independent external review which is underway.  CSIRO has been criticised by some for being silent on this issue but we must respect the privacy of all involved and it is not appropriate to discuss or defend details of alleged cases in public.

The men and women who work at CSIRO are among the most passionate, committed and hard working in Australia. It is a privilege to lead CSIRO and I am proud of the evidence I get every day of the difference we make to the lives of Australians.

Octopus, spaceship, or virus?

By Jayden Malseed

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but we’re hoping these brightly coloured images can tell an even bigger story.

At first glance you may think the image below is part of an octopus tentacle, or maybe the underside of an alien spaceship from the 1996 movie Independence Day, or perhaps even something else entirely.

Microscopic blue and green image of a ferret's kidney infected with Hendra virus

Is it an octopus? Is it a spaceship?…nah…it’s only 200 microns wide!

It’s actually a section from a ferret’s kidney that is infected with Hendra virus,  and has been taken with a confocal microscope.

Now this isn’t just your ordinary microscope. Costing roughly $750 000, the microscope is designed to focus on fluorescent colours that have been ‘tagged’ to specific components, which then show up on a big computer screen, giving us these incredible pictures.

The green highlights are the cells that have been infected by Hendra, while the blue highlights are the cell nuclei. To create this picture an antibody is dyed fluorescent green, which then attaches to the viral proteins, effectively colouring it green.

The vital research, led by microscopist Dr Paul Monaghan, uses these images to study the cell biology of Hendra virus. The confocal microscope, which is located within the high containment facility at our Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong Victoria, helps Paul and his team better understand the virus, and to be able to answer questions such as why it attacks certain cells, and what it does when it gets to a cell.

“We’re developing a deeper understanding of the virus by using the microscope and the images, and if we can pinpoint a specific stage in the virus lifecycle and say to ourselves ‘this is the point we need to stop it’ then that would be enormous”, Paul explained.

This is a confocal image of tissue culture taken 18 hours after inoculation with Hendra virus, and is about 100nm wide

This is a confocal image of tissue culture taken 18 hours after inoculation with Hendra virus, and is about 100nm wide

The two images to the right are slightly different from the first. Where the first was a section from a kidney, these are taken from cells growing in tissue culture. We have also labeled two virus proteins: one red and one green.

They demonstrate how the Hendra virus has infected the cells, and after 14 hours has fused those cells together to form what is called a syncytium. The green/blue round circles are the nuclei – normally one in each cell – but the rest of the cell is relatively unaffected.

This is a confocal image of tissue culture taken 124hours after inoculation with Hendra virus, and is about 100nm wide

…and after 24 hours.

After 24 hours, the infection has progressed and newly made virus proteins are gathering at the edge of the cell (next to the black areas) to form new viruses. The red and green proteins are now together and can be seen as an irregular orange line at the edge of the cell.

These images allow Paul and his team to study the virus at different stages of its lifecycle, and and will be incredibly helpful for future research with Hendra virus and other related viruses that threaten the biosecurity of our animals, people and environment.

This research is part of our wider program of work on bats and the viruses they carry.

Smooth operator: CSIRO’s UltraBattery

Dr Lan Lam (far left) and some of the team members that work on the UltraBattery in the laboratories in Clayton, Melbourne.

Dr Lan Lam (far left) and some of the team members that work on the UltraBattery in the laboratories in Clayton, Melbourne.

Today we celebrate the career of Dr Lan Lam – the primary inventor of CSIRO’s UltraBattery – an invention putting two technologies together into one awesome storage unit! Bringing down the cost of hybrid electric vehicles and making it easier to integrate more renewable energy into the grid are just some of the achievements of the UltraBattery.

Dr Lam and his team took the world’s 150 year-old battery technology and revolutionised it in the CSIRO labs. Today Dr Lam retires and leaves a legacy of impact.

“It was always my dream to create a better battery. I knew the success of hybrid electric and electric vehicles were dependent on it,” said Dr Lam.

This year the first UltraBattery will be released in the automotive market, powering hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) in Japan, United States, South America, Europe and Asia. The use of HEVs decreases our reliance on fossil fuels and thereby reduces our carbon emissions.

Hybrid Electric vehicle using UltraBattery technology

The UltraBattery has been tested in Australia and overseas. The car in this photo clocked over 100,000 miles at the Millbrook Proving Ground in the United Kingdom.

The UltraBattery combines the traditional lead acid battery and a supercapacitor into one – normally they are separate components.

“It sounds simple, but we have now created a new technology that is 70 per cent cheaper than current batteries used in hybrid electric cars, and they can also be made in existing manufacturing facilities,” Dr Lam said.

Two of the world’s battery giants, Japan’s Furukawa Battery Company and United States’ East Penn Manufacturing, are commercialising the UltraBattery for both automotive and renewable energy storage applications.

UltraBattery technology has been successfully installed in large-scale solar power plants in New Mexico, USA and King Island off the coast of Tasmania – the largest renewable energy storage system in Australia. UltraBattery storage allows intermittent renewable energy to be smoothly supplied to the electricity grid.

In 2009, the US Government recognised the importance of the UltraBattery and awarded East Penn Manufacturing $US32.5 million towards the development and commercialisation of the technology

There is a wealth of opportunities for the UltraBattery, including distributed smart grids, short driving range electric vehicles and bikes. CSIRO’s large energy storage team continues to research and develop UltraBattery technology, making it lighter, more efficient and help Australia and the world move towards a low carbon future.

Two researchers in a battery bank underneath a wind turbine.

Smoothing renewable energy helps to combat the intermittent nature of the power. So as the wind stops blowing, the UltraBattery kicks in to ensure a steady flow of power into the grid. This is a photo of a project in Hampton NSW, with two of our researchers in the battery bank.

Greenland ice cores provide vision of the future

Ice cores drilled in the Greenland ice sheet, recounting the history of the last great warming period more than 120,000 years ago, are giving scientists their clearest insight to a world that was warmer than today.

In a paper published today in the journal Nature, scientists have used a 2540 metre long Greenland ice core to reach back to the Eemian period 115-130 thousand years ago and reconstruct the Greenland temperature and ice sheet extent back through the last interglacial. This period is likely to be comparable in several ways to climatic conditions in the future, especially the mean global surface temperature, but without anthropogenic or human influence on the atmospheric composition.


The Eemian period is referred to as the last interglacial, when warm temperatures continued for several thousand years due mainly to the earth’s orbit allowing more energy to be received from the sun. The world today is considered to be in an interglacial period and that has lasted 11,000 years, and called the Holocene.

“The ice is an archive of past climate and analysis of the core is giving us pointers to the future when the world is likely to be warmer,” said CSIRO’s Dr Mauro Rubino, the Australian scientist working with the North Greenland Eemian ice core research project.

Dr Rubino said the Greenland ice sheet is presently losing mass more quickly than the Antarctic ice sheet. Of particular interest is the extent of the Greenland continental ice sheet at the time of the last interglacial and its contribution to global sea level.

Deciphering the ice core archive proved especially difficult for ice layers formed during the last interglacial because, being close to bedrock, the pressure and friction due to ice movement impacted and re-arranged the ice layering. These deep layers were “re-assembled” in their original formation using careful analysis, particularly of concentrations of trace gases that tie the dating to the more reliable Antarctic ice core records.


Dr Mauro Rubino: A 2,540 metre long Greenland ice core is reconstructing the Greenland temperature and ice sheet extent back through the last interglacial.

Using dating techniques and analysing the water stable isotopes, the scientists estimated the warmest Greenland surface temperatures during the interglacial period about 130,000 years ago were 8±4oC degrees warmer than the average of the past 1000 years.

At the same time, the thickness of the Greenland ice sheet decreased by 400±250 metres.

“The findings show a modest response of the Greenland ice sheet to the significant warming in the early Eemian and lead to the deduction that Antarctica must have contributed significantly to the six metre higher Eemian sea levels,”  Dr Rubino said.


The first complete ice core record of the Eemian will help science better understand the current and future warming of Earth that virtually all climate scientists attribute to increases in human-produced greenhouse gases.

Additionally, ice core data at the drilling site reveal frequent melt of the ice sheet surface during the Eemian period.

“During the exceptional heat over Greenland in July 2012 melt layers formed at the site. With additional warming, surface melt might become more common in the future,” the authors said.

The paper is the culmination of several years work by organisations across more than 14 nations.

Dr Rubino said the research results provide new benchmarks for climate and ice sheet scenarios used by scientists in projecting future climate influences.

Media: Craig Macaulay. Ph: +61  3 6232 5219 E:

Taking the temperature of the Universe

Astronomers using a CSIRO radio telescope have taken the Universe’s temperature, and have found that it has cooled down just the way the Big Bang theory predicts.

Using the CSIRO Australia Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri, NSW, an international team from Sweden, France, Germany and Australia has measured how warm the Universe was when it was half its current age.

temperature picture

Radio waves from a distant quasar pass through another galaxy on their way to Earth. Changes in the radio waves indicate the temperature of the gas. (Image: Onsala Space Observatory)

“This is the most precise measurement ever made of how the Universe has cooled down during its 13.77 billion year history,” said Dr Robert Braun, Chief Scientist at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.

Because light takes time to travel, when we look out into space we see the Universe as it was in the past — as it was when light left the galaxies we are looking at. So to look back half-way into the Universe’s history, we need to look half-way across the Universe.

How can we measure a temperature at such a great distance?

The astronomers studied gas in an unnamed galaxy 7.2 billion light-years away [a redshift of 0.89].

The only thing keeping this gas warm is the cosmic background radiation — the glow left over from the Big Bang.

By chance, there is another powerful galaxy, a quasar (called PKS 1830-211), lying behind the unnamed galaxy.

Radio waves from this quasar come through the gas of the foreground galaxy. As they do so, the gas molecules absorb some of the energy of the radio waves. This leaves a distinctive “fingerprint” on the radio waves.

From this “fingerprint” the astronomers calculated the gas’s temperature. They found it to be 5.08 Kelvin (-268.07 degrees Celsius): extremely cold, but still warmer than today’s Universe, which is at 2.73 Kelvin (-270.42 degrees Celsius).

CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array. (Photo: David Smyth)

CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array. (Photo: David Smyth)

According to the Big Bang theory, the temperature of the cosmic background radiation drops smoothly as the Universe expands. “That’s just what we see in our measurements. The Universe of a few billion years ago was a few degrees warmer than it is now, exactly as the Big Bang Theory predicts,” said research team leader Dr Sebastien Muller of Onsala Space Observatory at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

“A precise and accurate determination of the cosmic microwave background temperature at z=0.89″, by S. Muller et al. Accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics; online at

MEDIA: Helen Sim Ph: +61 2 9372 4251 E:

Vaccine arrives to boost the frontline fight against Hendra virus

Australian horse owners and the equine industry receive an important boost in their fight against the deadly Hendra virus today, with the introduction of Equivac® HeV vaccine.

The vaccine, available under permit from registered veterinarians, is for use only in horses and aims to protect the Australian equine population against this killer disease. With a high mortality rate, Hendra virus has claimed the lives of more than 60 horses, including nine deaths in 2012 alone.

Info graphic showing details of the transmission and clinical signs of the Hendra Virus

This infographic explains the transmission and clinical signs of the Hendra virus

The threat of Hendra virus extends well beyond horses with four out of the seven people infected with the virus dying as a result of the infection. With no known cure, the Equivac HeV vaccine is set to become the most effective defence against this disease.

‘The vaccine is a major win for people working in veterinary practice, who are at great risk of Hendra infection,’ Dr Ben Gardiner, President, Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) said. ‘This vaccine significantly decreases the risk to horse owners, handlers and veterinarians.’

Vet administering the Equivac HcV vaccine

The Equivac HeV vaccine administered to the first horse by Dr Nathan Anthony in Brisbane, Qld.

The Equivac HeV vaccine was developed in collaboration with four international organisations. In Australia, CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) worked in close partnership with Pfizer Animal Health. Additionally, US organisations, the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences (USU) and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF) have also contributed to the development of this important vaccine.

Pfizer Animal Health was involved from early on in the process, contributing to formulation, industrialisation, production and distribution of the vaccine.

“Our involvement in the collaboration to develop Equivac HeV speaks to our determination to support the veterinary community and equine industry with effective vaccines to aid in the control of potentially life-threatening diseases such as the Hendra virus,” said Mike van Blommestein, Division Director, Pfizer Animal Health Australia.

Additionally, it has also managed the formal regulatory approval process including those safety and efficacy trials required by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for the granting of permit approval, as well as fulfilling the requirements of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

Image of person in high containment laboratory suit

A CSIRO Scientist working in the high-containment area of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory

CSIRO has maintained a significant program of Hendra virus research since it was first identified and has contributed critical technical knowhow and advice on the virus to the partnership. CSIRO also provided the safe handling of Hendra virus and testing of the Equivac HeV at its high containment facility in Geelong, Victoria – the only laboratory in the world capable of such high-risk work.

Leading the specialist team from CSIRO, Dr Deborah Middleton,a veterinary pathologist, has a deep understanding of the need for an equine vaccine to aid in the prevention of the spread of Hendra virus.

Photo of Dr Deborah Middleton

CSIRO’s Dr Deborah Middleton

‘As a veterinarian, I have seen firsthand how Hendra virus has created difficult working conditions for my colleagues and any Australian who works with horses,’ Dr Middleton said.

‘A horse vaccine is crucial to breaking the cycle of Hendra virus transmission from flying foxes to horses and then to people, as it can prevent both the horse developing the disease and passing it on.

‘For the first time, we have a Hendra virus specific tool that provides vets with a greater level of safety when they come into contact with sick horses.’

US partners, HJF and USU, also played an important role in the initial stages of the development of Equivac HeV vaccine. A research team at USU, led by Dr Christopher Broder, worked for more than a decade to find preventive treatments for both Hendra and Nipah virus infections.

Contributing to this work, HJF provided intellectual property advice and guidance to Dr Broder’s team to ensure the Hendra virus vaccine moved from the military to the civilian world.

Pfizer Animal Health is now working to supply Equivac HeV vaccine to those areas with the greatest need across Australia.

Infographic of explaining the history of the Hendra virus

The history of Hendra explained

They will also oversee the training and accreditation of veterinarians working with the vaccine as well as the supply and maintenance of a national vaccine register for horses, requiring veterinarians to record details of a horse’s location and vaccination status.

While the introduction of a vaccine represents a significant step in countering the Hendra virus, it is still important that veterinarians and those who work with horses take precautions to safeguard against infection.

‘Although Equivac HeV will provide enormous reassurance for Australians in contact with horses, owners should still take caution around places flying foxes congregate. Anyone handling a sick horse should continue to take precautions,’ Dr Gardiner added. ‘Simple measures such as using personal protective equipment and clothing, quarantining sick horses from other animals and people and following good hygiene practices as a matter of routine, can greatly reduce the risk of the disease.’

CSIRO has maintained a significant program of research on the deadly Hendra virus, since the virus was first identified in 1994.  This work is part of CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship’s commitment to protecting the health of our animals and people from biosecurity disease threats.

The Hendra virus horse vaccine project has received significant funding from State and Federal governments over the years. Most recently, in 2011, the Intergovernmental Hendra Virus Taskforce was formed and additional funding was provided through the National Hendra Virus Research Program to ensure critical timelines for vaccine development were maintained.

Further information

For further information, pre-recorded video footage or an interview, please contact:

Emma Wilkins, CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship

0409 031 658

Katherine Barbeler, Weber Shandwick:

0439 941 632

For more information about the Equivac HeV vaccine, visit health4horses

Read more news@CSIRO posts about the Hendra Virus

What are the future megatrends all Australians need to know about?

By Megan Clark, CSIRO

If hindsight is such a wonderful thing, surely foresight would be better. What if we could see what was coming at us and could position ourselves, our organisations and society to make the most of it?

In 2009 CSIRO asked itself this question and came up with a set of global megatrends. A megatrend is a particularly important pattern of social, economic and environmental activity that will change the way people live.

That 2009 megatrends foresighting work has proven valid and this week we are releasing an updated version, Our Future World 2012, which details six megatrends. These six megatrends unveil economic, social, environmental, political and technological change over coming decades.

Read the CSIRO’s Our Future World 2012 report here.

The megatrends are: “More from Less” – the decline in resource availability while demand is increasing; “Going going gone” which addresses the risk of biodiversity loss due to human activity; “The silk highway” meaning the world’s economic centre is shifting to Asia; “Forever young” where the ageing population is both an asset and a challenge; “Virtually here”; the impact of increased digital connectivity; and “Great expectations”, reflecting the human desire for more intense personal experiences.

The six megatrends all have impacts on how we innovate, what we focus on and how we optimise our efforts.

The centre of gravity is shifting to our region, economically and in a research and development sense. Australia can’t meet the level of investment of our regional neighbours but we can be smarter and more focused about bringing the best we have together. We know we cannot compete on sheer volume of investment but we can bring the very best that Australia has together and we can connect with the very best in the world to ensure our innovation is visible from Shanghai, London, Frankfurt, Jakarta and New York.

Australia’s National Innovation System needs to continue to build collaboration, cooperation and trust in order to remain competitive. University colleagues of mine such as Vice Chancellor of UNSW Fred Hilmer and Vice Chancellor of University of Melbourne Glyn Davis have also called for innovation in the sector, allowing increased differentiation and increasing research focus and industry engagement.

The barbed wire approach to managing research and educational institutions is thankfully putting itself into extinction. But it’s not happening quickly enough. We still see these behaviours and they can cripple our ability to solve problems. However, when we do collaborate we know from experience wonderful things happen.

No one person has sufficient knowledge to build and fly a Boeing 747 from Singapore to London. Nor would one person have all the knowledge and skill to create a sustainable aquaculture industry. We can only achieve these outcomes by taking one person’s ideas and through collaboration, connection and trust, adding them to the ideas of many other people.

Major breakthroughs of the 21st century will come from this successful mixing of ideas and disciplines.

For example a group of CSIRO scientists in Melbourne has recently been contracted by a not-for-profit organisation called PATH to produce antibodies that could pave the way for safe, affordable and effective vaccines against rotavirus, which is a major cause of fatal diarrhoea.

Each year around 2.2 million people die from diarrhoea and most of these are children in developing countries. The story of this research effort is one of collaboration, trust and sharing of ideas.

The antibodies were originally prepared at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. They will now be produced in at scale our recombinant protein production facility in Melbourne.

The facility is Australia’s only non-commercialised laboratory that can produce proteins on a large scale and was initially funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy program and the Victorian State Government.

There is more we need to do so that success examples like this become the norm. This is not about investing more but changing the way we invest and work. We must bring together the very best that Australia has to offer in our research institutions, universities, industry players and connect them nationally and globally to the very best in the world.

One researcher can make a breakthrough but to have a profound impact on the challenges that face this nation and humanity it takes a team, or if you want to build the next Silicon Valley it takes a whole ecosystem. There is no reason why, as we head into what is undoubtedly the Asian Century, that Australia should not be a source of excellence in the region, in science, research and innovation.

CSIRO Chief Executive Megan Clark will launch the CSIRO’s megatrends update, Our Future World 2012, at the National Press Club in Canberra today.

The Conversation’s special megatrends series starts tomorrow.

The CSIRO is a founding partner of The Conversation.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article or view Megan’s National Press Club address.

Is there a limit to athletic ability? – Yes, it’s called physics.

By Paul Savage. Theme Leader, Biotechnology, CSIRO

(This article first appeared in The Conversation.)

In a recent thought-provoking article in The Conversation, Kate Murphy posed the question:“Is there a limit to athletic performance?”. The answer, mathematically speaking, is yes.

Kate considered the issues of physiology, the impact of new technology, and also controversial augmentations such as performance-enhancing drugs and gene therapy. Her conclusion was that a ceiling to human performance still seems a long way off.

The contention of limits to athletic performance is likely to engender robust debate at a dinner party discussion with strong arguments on both sides. But the answer to the question of whether performance in any particular athletic endeavour has a limit must be yes, in a strict mathematical sense.

Take high jump records over time. Since breaking a record means a higher jump than the previous one, the sequence of records is known as a monotonic non-decreasing sequence. It is mathematically trivial to prove that a monotonically non-decreasing sequence of real numbers with an upper boundary has a limit less than that upper boundary. Hence, if an upper boundary can be identified for any sequence of athletic records, then that sequence has some limit.

Obviously, every athletic record has a hypothetical upper boundary – the 100m sprint cannot be faster than zero seconds and the javelin throw is limited by Earth’s escape velocity (you can’t throw faster than 11,190km/s on Earth). So by induction, all athletic performances have a limit.

This intuitively makes sense. We know there are limits to what can be achieved by the physics of our universe, if not the limitations of our physiology.

A more vexing question is when (if ever) we will see an end to improvements in athletic performance. In other words, will records be set that will never be broken? And, for specific sports, what might we expect those records to be?

First let’s distinguish between sports in which there’s the potential for open-ended improvement and those sports that are limited by the rules of the game. The latter category includes gymnastics, where a perfect 10 cannot be bested, or ten pin bowling where a perfect 900 in a single three-game league session is the maximum attainable score.

Sports in this grouping are all about performance on the day and records normally take the form of lifetime achievements rather than single one-off performances. In this category there are long-standing records that are highly unlikely to ever be broken: Margaret Court’s 62 Grand Slam wins, Byron Nelson’s 11 consecutive PGA tour victories in 1945, or Sir Donald Bradman’s 99.94 test batting average.

For sports in which achievements are constrained only by performance, such as marathon running and discus, the progressions of world records generally follow a curve that seems to approach an asymptote – that is, they get closer and closer to some finite limit in ever decreasing increments.

For example, the men’s marathon record was just under three hours in 1908, and today stands at just over two hours. The trend line appears destined to level out at around two hours, and the world record has only been improved by six minutes in the Last 45 years (see figure). Note however that this is not a smooth progression but is rather characterised by several sudden drops followed by periods of somewhat linear incremental improvements.

This phenomenon is in fact rather common across most sporting record trends and it often reflects innovations in training, nutrition, equipment, and technology. Examples such as carbon fibre bicycles, waveless swimming pools and frictionless suits, the klapskate in endurance speed skating, and the Fosbury flop in high jump all contributed to sudden changes in world record trends.

Even in sports where technological improvements play little part, sudden jumps in the record trends can be witnessed. Possibly one of the most highly analysed record trends in athletics is the men’s 100m sprint. For the past 20 years there has been a slight linear downward trend from 9.93 to 9.74 followed by a sharp drop with Usain Bolt’s astonishing new record of 9.58 seconds set in 2009.

Men’s sprint records have been modelled using extreme-value theory, logistic models, actuarial calculations, statistical analysis, and biomechanical analysis.

Estimates of the ultimate time for the 100 metre sprint using these methods vary between 9.0 and 9.5 seconds. But all are agreed that even with the occasional outliers like Usain Bolt, the ultimate 100 metre sprint record would eventually be reached.

Of course, it is outliers such as Usain Bolt that will hasten the time of the unbreakable record. Unusually large improvements in records are often followed by long periods of the record being unbroken.

A good example is Bob Beamon’s amazing long jump of 8.90 metres in 1968, a full half a metre longer than the previous world record. Beamont’s record stood for 23 years until 1991 when Mike Powell leapt 8.95 metres for a record that has now stood 21 years.

This is perhaps an example of where most record trends are heading – small improvements by once-in-a-generation athletes, setting records that stand for many decades.

Men’s marathon times 1908-2011.

While logically there must be a limit to human performance it is ultimately impossible to know if a given record is unbreakable. So if you are asked at a dinner party if you think Usain Bolt’s sprint record, Mike Powell’s long jump record, or even Don Bradman’s batting average will ever be beaten, your safest answer is: “yes, but we may not live to see it”.

Wiping out diarrhoea

In Australia, diarrhoea is annoying and uncomfortable but generally not deadly. However, in some of the world’s poorest nations, diarrhoea is life threatening and it usually takes the lives of our smallest, most vulnerable people: our babies.

Researchers controlling the New Brunswick bioreactor

Researchers controlling the New Brunswick bioreactor

The main culprit is rotavirus; a major cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea in young children worldwide. It is found in all countries and almost every child in the world would have been infected by it at least once by the time they are three years old.

Rotavirus kills nearly half a million children every year, 85 per cent of whom live in developing countries, where vaccination against the virus is less accessible.

So, what are we doing about it?

PATH is an international not-for-profit organisation that transforms global health through innovation. Currently two rotavirus vaccines, Rotarix and RotaTeq, are available and recommended for global use by the World Health Organization, but they are not yet widely available in or affordable for low-resource countries.

PATH is working on two fronts—increasing access to and effectiveness of existing commercial rotavirus vaccines worldwide and speeding the development of safe, effective, and more affordable new rotavirus vaccines. New vaccines and suppliers will increase the availability of rotavirus vaccines and increase competition. This will help make rotavirus vaccines on the market more affordable and accessible to the world’s most vulnerable children.

PATH came to us because they needed antibodies and we can produce them, lots of them.

‘We will be producing six antibodies for PATH,’ said George Lovrecz, the Leader of our Protein Production and Fermentation Group. ‘The antibodies will be used to test the quality of new rotavirus vaccines being developed.’

Dr Louis Lu working in CSIRO's recombinant protein production facility used for the large-scale production of antibodies

Dr Louis Lu working in CSIRO’s recombinant protein production facility used for the large-scale production of antibodies

The antibodies, originally prepared by Dr Carl Kirkwood from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, will be produced at our Recombinant Protein Production Facility – a laboratory that we use for the large-scale production of cells and proteins. Initially funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy initiative and Victorian State Government, the Facility is Australia’s only non-commercialised laboratory that can produce proteins, such as antibodies, on a large scale – from hundreds of milligram to kilogram quantities.

‘We have a unique facility in Australia and we can produce the antibodies in large amounts,’ explained George. ‘We will produce enough antibodies to supply PATH’s partners for the next five years.’

‘We are proud to be working on this groundbreaking project to help save the lives of children in the world’s poorest countries,’ he said.

Calling all designers: Our robot wants a body!

By Sarah Wood

The brains and skeleton of CSIRO and the National Museum of Australia’s museum robot are almost complete but what will it look like on the outside? Well, that could be up to you.

Researchers from our ICT Centre Autonomous Systems lab in Brisbane and their partners at the National Museum of Australia are looking for inspiration for the design of our museum robot’s body.

So far the nameless, body-less robot has a brain (thanks to our smart robotic technology) and a skeleton structure. We’re looking across Australia for designers, engineers, art and fashion students, robot enthusiasts and anybody who wants to design a robot body to help design and build the body of the robot.

If you’re the winner you’ll not only get the kudos of having your robot design selected and the opportunity to bring your design to life, you’ll also receive $500 and see your robot launched at the National Museum of Australia in October where it will give school students from afar guided tours of the Landmarks: People and Places Across Australia Gallery with the help of a real life museum guide.

So get thinking about a design the possibilities are endless! The robot could also look like a museum curator, a cubism sculpture, a mad scientist, or a bunyip, the only limits are imagination and the ability to build it.

While we’re not looking for a rehash of these designs, check out this Huffington Post article which looks at the 13 most famous robots, cyborgs and androids from film perhaps you’ll find some inspiration.

If you’re not so good at drawing (and I’m definitely not!) you could start thinking about a name for our museum robot. The naming competition will be opened to school students in October as the robot begins its trial with several schools across Australia connected to the NBN.

For more information about Museum Robot visit the CSIRO website HERE or the museum robot project page HERE where you can see a demonstration of the technology.

If you are interested in entering the museum robot design competition or know someone who might be the competition details and specs are HERE.

CSIRO news blog: A little bit of robot love

¡Hola Chile!

For all of you that haven’t heard CSIRO has set up shop in Chile and today the Centre’s Northern Node in Antofagasta will be opened.

We’ve joined with the Chileans to work on some of the challenges for our respective minerals industries  – through the CSIRO Chile International Centre of Excellence in Mining and Mineral Processing.

With the support (and combined brain power) of our partners we have dedicated the next 10 years to creating technologies that will hopefully reduce the environmental impact of mining while also increasing productivity.

At the opening today. From left: Jonathan Law, Director, Minerals Down Under Flagship; Dr Neal Wai Poi, Director, CSIRO Chile Centre of Excellence; Orlando Jimenez, Business Development Manager, CSIRO Chile Centre of Excellence; Dr Megan Clark, Chief Executive, CSIRO; Terry Cutler, Chairman CSIRO Chile Centre of Excellence board; Dr Calum Drummond, Group Executive, CSIRO Manufacturing, Materials and Minerals Group; Jaqueline Quezada, Operations and Finance Manager, CSIRO Chile Centre of Excellence; Javier Ruiz del Solar, Director, AMTC, University of Chile.

Why Chile, you ask? Chile has very similar mining environments to Australia, where issues like water scarcity, energy efficiency, arid environments and deeper mines are ongoing challenges.

The CSIRO Chile Centre of Excellence is co-funded by CORFO and supported by the Universities of Antofagasta and Chile, Cicitem and major industry partners Anglo American North S.A. and South S.A., Antofagasta Minerals S.A., BHP Chile Inc, Codelco, Xstrata Copper Chile.


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