Australia’s foremost nuclear science and technology organisation, ANSTO, is a key player in establishing safe practice in the field throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Recently, the organisation has set its sights on growing the scope of its collaborations in Asia.
In December 2012, ANSTO formed a joint research centre with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP). The centre focuses on developing materials for extreme environments – in particular, structural nuclear materials for advanced Thorium Molten Salt Reactors. Unlike existing reactors, these next-generation reactors can run on waste fuels and they’re less likely to meltdown.
“The type of science we’re undertaking is changing from fundamental research to research goals leading to real-world applications,” says ANSTO research fellow Dr Massey de los Reyes. “For example, the ANSTO-SINAP Joint Research Centre aims to understand how materials behave in extreme environments: fusion, aerospace, nuclear reactors.”
De los Reyes and colleagues aim to use the knowledge gained in the centre to develop new strategic research partnerships with industry and other organisations, looking at improving existing materials used in thorium reactors or developing entirely new materials for use in extreme environments. “This information could benefit a range of processing and manufacturing industries,” she says.
“The type of science we’re undertaking is changing from fundamental research to research goals leading to real-world applications.”
Eight of ANSTO’s 25 international partnerships have been formed with Asian countries, including Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan. These collaborations are opening up exciting new avenues of research. For example, the National Science Council Taiwan funded the SIKA neutron beam instrument currently under construction at the Bragg Institute in Sydney.
In the arena of basic research, ANSTO Principal Research Scientist Dr David Fink is collaborating with Mongolian scientists to study the past behaviour of Mongolia’s extensive glaciated mountains. As glaciers shrink and grow, they leave evidence of their tracks in the form of rock piles known as moraines.
Dr Fink visited the region in 2013 with scientists from Israel’s Hebrew University and the University of Washington, US, to collect rocks from glacially-carved valleys in the Gobi Altai Mountains. To work out how long moraines in different areas of a valley have been exposed since the glacier retreated, Fink uses a technique called cosmogenic in situ surface exposure dating.
Using ANSTO’s accelerator mass spectrometer, the scientists can establish how long the rocks have been exposed and, therefore, the extent of past glaciation. These records fill in gaps in glacially-driven global climate change covering a period from a few thousand years to about 100,000 years ago.
Fink and his colleagues have undertaken similar work in China and central Tibet in collaboration with researchers at the Chinese Academy of Science. “It really has revolutionised the way we can quantify landscapes,” says Fink.
– Laura Boness