Tag Archives: UNSW Australia


Lift-off for Australian CubeSats!

Featured image above: Artist’s impression of the UNSW-EcO cubesat in space. Credit: UNSW Australia

Three Australian research satellites – the first in 15 years – blasted off on Wednesday 19th April from Cape Canaveral and arrived at the International Space Station on Saturday. They will soon be deployed in orbit to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere.

The trio, two of them built at UNSW Australia, are part of an international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites – known as ‘cubesats’ and weighing about 1.3 kg each – which will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth.

This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

Three Australian research satellites blast off from Cape Canaveral. Credit: UNSW

Twenty-eight of the QB50 satellites, including the three Australian cubesats, were aboard the Atlas 5 rocket when it launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The three Australian satellites are UNSW-EC0, built by UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) which will study the atomic composition of the thermosphere along with new robust computer chips and GPS; INSPIRE-2, a project led by the University of Sydney and involving UNSW and the Australian National University which was also partly built at ACSER; and SuSAT, a joint project between by the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia.

The INSPIRE-2 cubesat

“These are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years,” says Andrew Dempster, director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW, and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia.

“There have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967. So we’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history.”

Sometime in May, the first 20 cubesats – including INSPIRE-2 and SUSat – will be deployed from the International Space Station, or ISS, via a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that will eject them at a height of 380 km (the same as the ISS), and they will drift down to a lower orbit where they can begin their measurements. UNSW-EC0 will be deployed with the remaining seven other cubesats around June 17.

The Japanese robotic arm of the ISS hosts the Nanoracks CubeSat launcher. Credit: UNSW

Also aboard the Atlas 5 rocket is Biarri Point, a cubesat for defence applications testing carrying new GPS technology developed by UNSW’s ACSER and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group. It is part of a four-nation defence project between Australia, the US, the UK and Canada that will see the launch of another two cubesats over the next year. The remaining eight QB50 cubesat will be launched separately into orbit by an Indian rocket later in May.

“This zone of the atmosphere is poorly understood and really hard to measure,” says Elias Aboutanios, project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER.

“It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, influencing our weather, generating auroras and creating hazards that can affect power grids and communications.

“So it’s really important we learn a lot more about it. The QB50 cubesats will probably tell us more than we’ve ever known about the thermosphere,” he says.

Project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER, Elias Aboutanios. Credit: UNSW

QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” says VKI’s Davide Masutti.

“The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

Both the QB50 and Biarri projects show what Australia can do in the new age of cubesats, dubbed ‘Space 2.0’, that allows companies and researchers to develop new space applications and devices and launch them at much lower cost.

“It proves that, even with modest resources, Australians can be players in space industry and research,” says Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and technical lead of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat.

“UNSW-EC0 and INSPIRE-2 prove we can devise and build space-ready hardware which can tolerate the punishing strain of blast-off and the harsh conditions of space.”

The team that built the UNSW-Ec0 and INSPIRE-2 satellites. Credit: Herzliya Science Centre

Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering, agrees. “We used to think of space as a place only big-budget space agencies could play in. The advent of cheap and powerful cubesats has made space accessible as never before, and that’s going to be great for industry and research applications. I’m delighted to see UNSW playing a leading role in this emerging sector in Australia. “

Each QB50 cubesat carries instruments with its own engineering and scientific goals. UNSW-EC0, for example, has three other experiments: a robust computer chip designed to avoid crashing in the harsh radiation of space, as some satellites and space probes are forced to do when hit by cosmic rays; a space-borne GPS to enable satellites to cluster together in swarms; and test a super-reliable computer microkernel in the harsh radiation of space.

In addition, UNSW-EC0’s chassis is made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic, itself an experiment to test the reliability of using  3D-printing to manufacture satellites, making them cheaper and much more customisable.

This information was first shared by UNSW Australia on 19 April 2017. Read the original article here, or watch the video below.

science graduates

Science graduates high risk or high reward?

The employment prospects of science graduates are called into question by a report published by the Grattan Institute.

Studying science will get you a job – just not the job you might expect.

Industry and high placed academics have decried the results of a report declaring science to be a ‘high risk’ degree.

Such results fail to represent career prospects for those working outside of traditional science roles, say a cohort of Australia’s leading science experts.

Last week the respected Grattan Institute think tank’s Mapping Higher Education report warned that science was a ‘high risk’ study choice and that many recent science and information technology graduates are failing to find full-time work.

It’s not wrong, but it is near-sighted, say university and industry experts.

The report, released last week, concludes that a bachelor science degree is “high risk for finding a job” with “poor employment outcomes”, warning 51% of science graduates looking for full-time work in 2015 had found it four months after completing their course, 17 percentage points lower than the national average.

There has been a 20-year decline in participation in science at college.

But thinking of science as a one-track path to the lab fails to take into account the broader benefits of a science degree, says Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt.

Professor Les Field, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Australia and Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, says STEM-based education gives students a “versatile, flexible, problem-solving, technology-literate grounding, which is what you need for life and employment in the modern world”.

Science graduates have higher rates of employment

The Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM workforce, shows that over the medium term, people with STEM qualifications have higher rates of employment than graduates from other disciplines, Field points out.

“A survey of 466 employers across various sectors [STEM Skills in the workforce: What do employers want? March, 2015] have also shown that many employers expect to employ many more STEM graduates over the next five to 10 years, and around a quarter are already struggling to recruit people with appropriate STEM qualifications,” says Field.

“There is some mismatch between employer requirements of STEM graduates and the skills and experience with which they are coming out of universities. We should advocate that more industry placements and internships form a stronger part of university education.”

“Not a lot of opportunities”

Zara Barger, a first-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) admits that she is “a little worried” about her prospects. “In Australia it seems as though there is not a lot of opportunities. As part of my degree I have to do two 6-month internships and I think that will give me insight and connections.”

Alecia Newton, a UTS Bachelor of Science student, agrees. “I’m a little bit concerned. I’m planning on getting some experience by volunteering so fingers crossed that will get me a job. But science is a good starting ground – it will give me good knowledge and if it doesn’t work out I will do a Masters in high school teaching,” she says.

Grattan report “surprising”

“It’s surprising to see the Grattan Institute’s claims that are contrary to other reports both here and overseas,” says Jackie Randles, state manager for Inspiring Australia, the Federal Government’s national strategy for engaging communities in STEM.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. By 2020, more than a third of the core skill sets of most occupations will be those that are not yet considered crucial today and likely to involve STEM,” says Randles.

“Closer to home, Australia’s STEM skills shortage continues to be a major risk to our economy with business joining government and academics in calls to redress a worrying skills gap.”

Graham Durant, Director of Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, says graduates with a “good science degree and a balanced portfolio of skills, knowledge and abilities will continue to have good employment prospects but not necessarily as academic researchers.

“The STEM disciplines, including art and design provide very good training for the world of work but degrees should not be regarded as vocational training. A good background in STEM disciplines opens up many opportunities in careers that may not necessarily be regarded as STEM careers.”

Professor Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education at UNSW and former Dean of Science agrees that the longer term prospects for science graduates are excellent.

“With slightly more people studying science, obviously slightly fewer people will get jobs at once. Science still provides opportunities – all doors remain open to science graduates.”

Heather Catchpole

diabetes patch

Wearable diabetes patch

Featured image above: type-1 diabetes patch, which consists of wearable sensors (Humidity, Glucose, pH, Strain, and Temperature sensors) and a co-integrated feedback drug delivery system. Credit: Hui Won Yun, Seoul National University

Recent technological advances in painless, wearable electronic devices could help make life easier for diabetics and their carers.

To keep their blood sugar levels in check, diabetics need to draw blood from their fingertips to measure glucose concentration, and then calculate the amount of insulin they need to inject, several times a day. This is painful and tedious, and often leads to poor management, with dangerous consequences.

Type-1 diabetes is a lifelong disease, one of the most common in children, and the incidence is increasing in Australia.

Now, Korean scientists have created a skin patch to measure glucose in sweat, and published the results in March 2016 in Nature Nanotechnology. They demonstrate that glucose concentrations in sweat closely followed changes in blood glucose. When the skin patch senses elevated glucose levels (or hyperglycemia), the microneedles embedded in the patch then deliver a glucose-lowering drug – metformin – under the skin.

The patch contains an array of sensors also detecting humidity, pH and temperature – parameters used to calibrate the glucose reading in sweat. When hyperglycemia is detected, a built-in heater dissolves the protective coating on the microneedles to infuse metformin.

Biomedical engineers in the USA described a similar device last year called Smart Insulin Patch. In this skin patch, the insulin-loaded microneedles themselves are sensitive to hyperglycemia, which triggers their dissolution, delivering insulin into the body when needed.

Glucose monitoring and management

The GlucoWatch was the first non-invasive real-time glucometer on the market, over a decade ago. “The technology was brilliant. The new skin patch sensors are more sophisticated versions of this,” says Professor Justin Gooding, co-director of the Australia Centre for Nanomedicine at UNSW Australia, and Editor-in-Chief of the journal, ACS Sensors.

The problem with continuous glucose monitors, which are implanted under the skin, is that they can’t be worn for more than a week or two before they need to be replaced, says Gooding.

Other continuous monitors available measure glucose via a fine needle under the skin, and have been reported to irritate the skin with prolonged wear. Non-invasive sweat sensors could eliminate this problem.

Wearable devices that monitor and manage blood glucose levels automatically, build on ideas for an artificial pancreas (also called closed-loop system) from the 80’s, says Gooding. This is a network of devices that together mimic the function of a healthy pancreas.

Gooding explains that it’s challenging to create a skin patch device that can deliver different doses of insulin at different times, like an insulin pump can. Most systems deliver a constant dose, or they just dump.

“Closing the loop is the Holy Grail for diabetes management,” says , a clinical endocrinologist at Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick and researcher at the Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Endocrinology, Westmead.

“It’s still a bit of an art to work out how much insulin someone needs,” she says. The biggest hurdle to closing the loop is the right algorithm to calculate the correct dose of insulin to be injected at the right time.

The skin patch devices could be useful to maintain steady blood sugars between meals, but a large dose of insulin still needs to be injected for glucose spikes after a meal, says Lau. “Often you need to anticipate the spike and inject before a meal to effectively control blood sugars”, she explains.

Clinical trials of an artificial pancreas using existing constant glucose monitors and insulin pumps teamed with new advanced algorithms – to calculate insulin doses – have been scheduled to begin in 2016 by the creators from Harvard University and University of Virginia, USA.

Advances in different research areas take us closer to the possibility of a minimally invasive artificial pancreas that can be worn as a skin patch.

“Research into closed-loop systems is really important because they help us understand how technology can be used to control diabetes,” says Lau.

– Sue Min Liu

Quantum computing breakthrough

Quantum computing breakthrough

A team of Australian engineers have made a quantum computing breakthrough. They built a quantum logic gate in silicon for the first time, making calculations between two qubits of information possible – and thereby clearing the final hurdle to making silicon quantum computers a reality.

The significant advance, by a team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney appeared in the international journal Nature.