All posts by Karen Taylor-Brown

Growing sovereign capability, issue 6, Australian University Science

Australian university science is key to building our sovereign capability in manufacturing, medicines, food and agriculture, communications and defence. Decades of research in chemistry, physics, earth and environmental science and biology has equipped us to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing global challenges of the pandemic, climate change and market uncertainty. University science is also the only way we will ensure we have the skilled people we need to ensure this capability into the future.

This issue of Australian University Science magazine examines key ways in which university science is delivering on advancing Australia’s sovereign capability. Australian university science addresses major global challenges such as tracking sinks and sources of carbon emissions, in equipping us to deal with the evolving pandemic crisis, and in developing our capabilities in defence and battery manufacture.

Australian University Science – exploring the achievement so university science in building Australian’s sovereign capability.

Australia’s strong science and research training is integral to driving new economies. Universities have a critical role as partners in establishing innovation and technological change in industry. As science delivers new insights and tools, new industries are emerging and people with science skills will be essential to these new industries.

Australian University Science magazine highlights these stories, showcasing exceptional science teams and Australian science graduates working in industry. To provide feedback or suggestions, subscribe or order additional copies, visit

Four ways university science is building sovereign capability

Image: Quantum microscope, by Aleksandr Kakinen

Australian university science has a long history of co-investing with major international and national organisations to build sovereign capability. Here are just four areas where these partnerships are pushing the limits of innovation.

1. In medical imaging and quantum technologies

We may be all made of star stuff, according to famous American astrophysicist Carl Sagan, but exactly what we are made of and what that looks like led physicists studying the fundamental state of matter to the weird world of quantum physics. Now, Australian scientists have used quantum technologies to create a microscope that can visualise at small scales with 35% more clarity than existing technology. 

This will lead to better medical imaging and improved navigation systems. “We’ve shown it’s possible to go beyond the limits of classical physics, to see things you could not see in a regular microscope,” says lead researcher Professor Warwick Bowen from the University of Queensland.

The research was published in Nature on 9 June, 2021

2. In advanced materials

Twenty years ago, Nobel-prize winning physicist and chemist Dr Richard Smalley discovered Boron Nitride Nanotubes (BNNT), a material 100 times stronger than steel, heat resistant up to 3000 degrees and harder than diamonds. Now, Deakin University have partnered in an Australian startup company Li-S Energy Ltd and used BNNT to create a quantum sulphur battery that could power mobile phones for over a week and electric cars for more than 1000 km. 

The research was undertaken at Deakin’s advanced manufacturing precinct in Geelong, leveraging the expertise of Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials and the facilities of Deakin’s ManuFutures scale-up accelerator. 

“These results are the culmination of 10 years of research into the development of lithium sulphur batteries and how that is influenced by advanced nanomaterials. The belief and investment in the research program from Li-S Energy have enabled us to bring our research toward a commercial reality,” say Professor Ying Chen and Dr Baozhi Yu, the project’s lead researchers.

3. In sourcing critical minerals

To get to zero emissions, or even close, requires a revolution in mining to supply critical minerals for batteries, solar panels and other renewable energy tech. The University of Adelaide’s Australian Critical Minerals Research Centre is a collaborative, cross-disciplinary effort to increase Australia’s sovereign supply of critical minerals. 

The Centre’s director, Associate Professor Carl Spandler says the list of critical minerals changes as new technologies emerge, and fundamental geology is needed to understand how and where these minerals are concentrated to ore levels in the Earth’s crust. “Zero emissions by 2050 means we need a lot of these metals in a short period of time,” says Spandler.  At the same time, students will need to be more multi-skilled, including being trained in cultural awareness, and understanding environmental implications even in the exploration stage, he says. “In the research space that’s a big shift because exploration geology has previously been a fairly siloed operation.”

4. In manufacturing and energy research

With colleagues from three Queensland universities (UQ, QUT and James Cook University), Professor Peter Talbot from QUT’s School of Chemistry and Physics developed and patented a process for producing complex nanoscale metal oxides based on decades of fundamental chemistry research. Spinning out two companies, the Very Small Particle Company and ScienceWorks Consultants, the researchers are using this novel  process to produce industrial catalysts for the reduction of greenhouse gases in exhaust flues and advanced battery materials for electric vehicles. 

Talbot now leads a team of QUT researchers that have produced Australia’s first lithium-ion battery after establishing the country’s only facility capable of such manufacturing.

Written by Heather Catchpole

First published in Australian University Science, issue 6

Soil science critical to food production in a climate challenged future

Image: Soil CRC Project Leader, Professor Terry Rose and PhD Student Cameron Copeland, Southern Cross University. Supplied.

Dr Michael Crawford gets a strong sense of a soil just by touching it. 

“When you pick it up, a healthy soil crumbles in your hand; it feels moist; it’s got a certain kind of smell,” he explains. 

But he says it’s thanks to a long — around 100 year — history of Australian soil science that soils can be assessed not just with senses, but with objective measures too. Crawford is CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for High Performance Soils, or Soil CRC.

“Australia typically ranks in the top five globally in soil science output every year — most of the fundamental research comes from universities, but CSIRO and state governments contribute significantly too,” says Crawford. 

“We’re able to monitor soil chemistry, and markers of physical condition and biology, which viewed together give a measure of soil health.” 

Funded for a period of 10 years, the $167 million Soil CRC commenced operations in 2017. Eight Australian universities are major partners, along with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), the South Australian Grain Industry Trust and New Zealand’s Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research. 

“The Soil CRC aims to increase agricultural productivity and profitability through connecting the latest in university soil science with industry and farmers,” Crawford says.

Soils are estimated to directly contribute around $63 billion each year to Australia’s economy through agricultural production alone. Soils’ value increases to $930 billion a year when biodiversity and carbon storage are factored in as economic assets.    

Multidisciplinary approach to soil

Historically, Australia’s strengths in soil research tended to align with institutions that had agricultural science capabilities. Now the range of universities involved is much broader, incorporating basic soil science, agronomy, data, analytics, engineering as it relates to sensors, and social sciences such as economics, marketing and business.  

Crawford says the regional location and diverse expertise of university partners means the very latest in soil knowledge can be efficiently translated into action on the ground. 

The University of Newcastle’s Dr Liang Wang is a specialist in sensors for environmental monitoring, and leads a project aimed at creating affordable and rapid field-based soil tests.

“We’re applying sensing technologies to develop lab-on-a-chip technology for real time analysis of soil,” Wang says. 

The chips will measure dissolved organic carbon in soil, nutrients such as nitrate, phosphorus and potassium, and bioactivity linked with bacteria and fungi.

“We want farmers to be able to prepare a simple solution of their soil mixed with water, put a drop in the chip, and then instantly read the carbon or other nutrient concentration,” explains Wang. 

“We hope this capability will allow farmers to collect soil data in a cost-effective, simple way, and help them make decisions – things like what crop to plant, or how much fertiliser to apply.” 

The importance of organic carbon

Dr Lukas Van Zwieten works at the interface of soil science and agricultural practice. A University of Sydney graduate, he is a Soil CRC program leader, a researcher in NSW DPI, and a farmer himself. 

Van Zwieten says although inorganic carbon does exist in soils in mineral form, it’s organic carbon — found in decaying plant matter, soil organisms and microbes — that is vital for healthy soil. 

“The more organic carbon in soil, the better the cycling of nutrients,” he says. “This means your plants are more likely to grow better, you’ll be less reliant on continual fertiliser application, and healthier soil microbes will lessen the chance of plant disease.” 

“Also, you’ll have improved water-holding capacity, better soil structure and more aeration — together all those things improve resilience of the system and drive agricultural productivity,” says Van Zwieten. 

Murdoch University’s Associate Professor Frances Hoyle has a deep understanding of challenges faced by farmers in managing soil organic carbon.  She is the former WA lead for the ​National Soil Carbon Program, and was a communicator in the federal Carbon Farming Futures program. 

Recognising the broader drivers of climate and localised environment, Hoyle likens managing soil carbon to running an active working bank account.

“You make some withdrawals as you support food production systems, but you should make deposits over time too — things like retaining organic residues on land, optimising biomass production, minimising soil disturbance or keeping crop stubble in the ground all help,” she explains.

Hoyle is one of the Directors of SoilsWest, a body that translates fundamental discoveries in soil science and plant nutrition for applied agriculture and growth of farming businesses. SoilsWest started in 2016 as a partnership between the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). 

It’s now centred at Murdoch University, and continues to build collaborations and partners across Murdoch, DPIRD, UWA, Curtin University and CSIRO to support growers find ways to better manage soils.

“SoilsWest aims to enhance productivity and secure our food futures,” Hoyle says. 

How soil responds to stressors

Griffith University’s Dr Mehran Rashti is interested in soil resilience. 

“In Australian conditions, soils are confronted with drought, seasonal changes, compaction, extremes of acidity and alkalinity, and residues from herbicides and pesticides,” Rashti says. 

“While a soil can be healthy in the sense that it delivers good productivity in a single year, a resilient soil will deliver productivity over a long time frame, and despite exposure to stressors.” 

Mehran’s research aims to delineate how organic carbon delivers resilience in different types of soils, in various parts of Australia and for a range of crops. 

“I’m using a range of analytical approaches to distinguish between different forms of organic carbon to better understand their role in regulating soil resilience to stressors,” Rashti says.

Healthy soils are an asset Australia’s soil science capacity is set to grow. As part of a new National Soil Strategy, the May 2021 Budget launched the National Soil Science Challenge, making available new funding to address priority gaps in Australian soils science through a competitive grants program of $20.9 million over four years. 

“Australian soils aren’t easy — they have their challenges and their constraints,” says Crawford.  “Being able to understand and manage our soils into the future is fundamentally important.”

Written by Sarah Keenihan

First published in Australian University Science, issue 6

Profile: Helen Tower, manufacturing vaccines

Image: Helen Tower from theCommonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) company, Seqirus

As a validation specialist at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) company Seqirus, Helen Tower is helping the Australian pharmaceutical industry cement its ability to locally manufacture life-saving vaccines.

“I thought it was cool that our bodies have our own little army fighting against the ‘bad guys’ of infection and disease,” says Helen, an immune system enthusiast since high school.

Tower’s passion led her to a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne. 

For her Honours thesis, she collaborated with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to research cancer immunology. Her supervisor, Dr Kara Britt, was Head of the Centre’s Breast Cancer Risk and Prevention Lab. Britt became one of Towers’ most significant mentors.

“Kara’s mentorship provided me with the building blocks to become a competent scientist, and she was a pivotal role model for me as an influential female leader in the science industry,” Tower says.

Tower’s background in pharmacology and immunology landed her a place in the CSL Graduate Program, based at Seqirus, CSL’s vaccine-manufacturing business. After completing the program, she moved into her current role as a validation specialist, helping develop, implement and validate analytical testing methodology for the quality control laboratories.

Tower works on projects related to the testing of Seqirus’ locally manufactured influenza vaccine, Q Fever vaccine and antivenom products. She was also on the project management team for Seqirus’ contract to locally manufacture the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the importance of the vaccine manufacturing industry.” 

Tower’s career in the pharmaceutical industry has allowed her to use the skills she gained at university to directly benefit patients. 

“Thinking critically, solving problems and interpreting data are all important skills that have stood out to me in the transition from university to the workplace,” she says. 

The CSL Graduate Program is a two-year program focused on providing career opportunities within CSL Behring and Seqirus global businesses.

The program is a chance to work alongside and learn from a diverse group of professionals who are leaders in their field.

For more information on the CSL Graduate Program visit the website.

Written by Nadine Cranenburgh

Helen’s Career Path

Bachelor of Science (Pharmacology), University of Melbourne

Bachelor of Science (Honours) (Pathology / Immunology), University of Melbourne

Graduate program, CSL

Validation specialist, CSL

First published in Australian University Science, issue 6

Profile: Marco Petasecca, building space capability

Image: Associate Professor Marco Petasecca, National Space Qualification Network at the University of Wollongong.

Exposed to extreme temperatures and spacecraft vibration, space-bound electronics must also withstand collisions with high-energy particles from solar winds and cosmic rays. This can cause catastrophic radiation damage known as a Single Event Effect (SEE).

Petasecca is the lead for the new National Space Qualification Network (NSQN) at the University of Wollongong (UOW). There, his team will design a laser-based facility to test components’ ability to endure SEE, as part of a six-partner consortium from Australian universities and industry establishing the first sovereign facilities to test and certify space-bound electronics.

“You can approximate the result you get from particles using very intense light,” says Petasecca. This is much cheaper and simpler than using a particle accelerator.

Petasecca pioneered this concept in Italy where he founded a startup currently running testing projects for the European Space Agency. He joined UOW as he was more interested in physics than design, and became a theme leader for UOW’s Centre for Medical Radiation Physics. He also enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at UOW to familiarise himself with Australia’s teaching environment. 

This degree also provided a deep comprehension of modern theoretical physics and quantum mechanics, which will help him understand the processes at play when designing the NQSN facility. Until now, electronic components for space have been tested overseas, however Petasecca stresses the importance of onshore testing facilities for military and space electronics.

“It’s very expensive and needs a level of security that you may not want to give to another country,” he says.

Written by Nadine Cranenburgh

Marco’s career path:

  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering), University of Perugia, Italy
  • Founder, MAPRad, Italy
  • PhD (Radiation Detection), University of Perugia, Italy
  • Bachelor of Science (Hons), Physics, University of Wollongong, Australia
  • NQSN Project Lead, University of Wollongong, Australia

First published in Australian University Science, issue 6

Preparing for the next pandemic

Image: University of Queensland’s Dr Kirsty Short uses molecular biochemistry to investigate future potential animal-to-human virus transmission.

Basic science informs and drives advances in knowledge that address social needs. Nowhere was this more obvious than the extraordinary ability of scientific research in rapidly helping society respond to the pandemic. As new variants emerge and we face the need to develop new vaccines and policies that can let us learn to live with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we look at what’s next and the science these advances rely on. 

Building blocks for new vaccines

When the next pandemic virus strikes — as it most certainly will — Professor Bernd Rehm’s team in Brisbane will be ready to launch into action.

The Director of the Centre for Cell Factories and Biopolymers at Griffith University’s Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD) has, with colleagues, developed technology that allows researchers to quickly precision engineer vaccines in response to a novel virus. And it’s the result of years of painstaking science research and development.

“The approach is based on hijacking the assembly pathways of microbial cells to assemble vaccine particles that mimic the virus. We basically take genetic information from the virus and incorporate that into microbial production hosts,” he says. This allows them to create candidate vaccines in the lab that are then available to test in animal trials.

The platform relies on metabolic and protein engineering to create a range of tiny polymer nanostructures — such as micelles and polymersomes — to assemble stable vaccines, which safely deliver antigens of the new virus into the body, provoking the immune system to produce antibodies against it. 

They have already developed two new vaccine candidates to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. As we’ve seen, the battle against SARS-CoV-2 is far from over: while seven vaccines are currently being deployed worldwide, evolution drives the virus to become more infectious. The more people it infects, the more mutations arise, creating new variants — some of which may sidestep existing vaccines, or make them less effective.

Scientists around the world are racing to try and stay ahead of the mutating virus, developing an arsenal of new vaccine candidates against it. Importantly, the GRIDD technology platform was developed locally, allowing Australian researchers to not only respond to new variants of SARS-CoV-2, but entirely new pathogens. Along with a domestic ability to rapidly design new vaccines, their manufacturing process can be easily upscaled within months to produce millions of doses per week.

Unmasking weaknesses in the new viruses

Where will the next pandemic virus come from? Before SARS-CoV-2 came along, based on decades of research, scientists had expected influenza would be the most likely to cause a global pandemic, and that a new devastating strain would likely come from birds. That hasn’t changed.

In fact, the threat from a pandemic ‘bird flu’ virus has got worse: the most worrying variant of highly pathogenic avian influenza, HPAI Asian H5N1, is now endemic in poultry in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. It seems only a matter of time before the virus mutates an ability to jump to humans.

To prepare for this, scientists at the University of Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, led by Dr Kirsty Short, have mapped the genome of the black swan, the bird most susceptible to avian influenza, a disease that can cause severe symptoms and kill the birds within 24 hours. 

By understanding why black swans fall victim to the virus so easily and quickly, scientists hope to understand how the virus attacks, how the bird’s immune system responds, and glean insights into how the pathogen propagates.

“Since 2003, this virus has only infected approximately 800 people worldwide — however, more than 50 per cent of infected individuals have not survived the disease,” says Short. “If the current pandemic teaches us anything, it’s that it is important we know more about potential animal-to-human viruses early.”

Her team has already identified genes that are differently expressed in black swans. “We’re annotating immune genes in the black swan genome and comparing them to genes in the closely related mute swan genome, along with other avian species. We’re also employing computer-driven, large-scale comparisons of these genomes,” says Short. 

It’s the kind of research that may help find chinks in H5N1’s armour in preparation for doing battle in the years ahead.

Airborne transmission

One good thing to come out of COVID-19 has been the acceptance in medical circles of how easily viruses transmit through the air — partly thanks to Professor Lidia Morawska, Director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at the Queensland University of Technology. In May 2021, the aerosol physicist led a group of 239 scientists from around the world — including physicians, virologists and epidemiologists — to convince the World Health Organisation that airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2 was not only possible, but actually happening.

Mitigating this risk in buildings will require an overhaul of national building codes, adding ‘air quality’ as a top priority for indoor ventilation. But Morawska argues this is needed not just to fight pandemics; poor indoor air quality is increasingly recognised by scientists as a health issue. 

Australians spend 90% of their time indoors — in homes, schools, restaurants, offices, public buildings or inside cars. 

As buildings become better sealed from the outside, pollutants within are being found at high concentrations. The medical cost of indoor air pollutants alone runs at $140 million a year, while its wider burden to the economy may be as high as $12 billion a year. 

“We need building engineering controls that take into account the physics knowledge we already have about airborne infection and transmission,” she says. “But we also need a paradigm change in how buildings are designed, equipped and operated, to minimise all airborne risks — not just infection transmission, but airborne particulate matter emitted by industry, transport, bushfires and dust storms.”

While indoor air quality is a developing science, it’s an issue that is rising to prominence — partly thanks to COVID-19 and the repeated instances of airborne transmission, which have led to large-scale outbreaks and lockdowns with devastating economic impacts. 

While new codes would apply only to new buildings, older buildings should also have ventilation systems retrofitted, Morawska says. This would not only minimise infection transmission in future pandemics, but dramatically reduce the incidence of respiratory disease from indoor air pollutants. “When inhaled, fine particles can damage heart and brain function, circulation, breathing and the immune and endocrine systems,” she says. 

Her centre is developing scientific and engineering solutions to suppress airborne transmission of respiratory viruses, including intelligent building systems, new quantitative methods for assessing a plethora of indoor air risks and practical tools to improve indoor environments. 

COVID-19 has forced us to take the existing science more seriously, which will make our workplaces healthier. And that’s a good thing, she says. 

Written by Wilson da Silva

First published in Australian University Science, issue 6.

Opinion: Expediting science expertise

Image: Supplied

Written by Professor Hugh Bradlow, President, Australian Academy or Technology and Engineering

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown Australia the risks in relying on global supply chains. There’s a growing awareness that Australia needs to achieve a measure of independence (without sacrificing its global outlook) and this will require advanced technological sciences to create local industries in current and emerging fields.

The urgent need to build sovereign capability and competitiveness has accelerated the transition of our manufacturing sector to Industry 4.0. Australian universities have a vital role to play in ensuring that we have sufficient people with the advanced skills needed to run such sophisticated industries.

Emerging industries present an even greater imperative for advanced skills. For example, quantum computing will, over the next decades, start to transform many industries, as it will improve machine learning, financial systems and drug discovery among many other possible uses.

It will also require a whole new skills base: hardware and software engineers, mathematicians and physicists, instrument and material scientists. The key point is that universities have the capabilities to pioneer new technologies and develop the skills to implement them.

Australia is fortunate in that it has a strong research base across all these fields. University research groups, such as that led by Professor Michelle Simmons at UNSW, have been working to make quantum computing a reality for 20 years or more.

To ensure that quantum computing emerges as a successful industry in Australia, the scientists/engineers who develop it will have to look to commercialise their work. This is happening at UNSW through its Silicon Quantum Computing spinoff. 

Australia’s industrial sector will need to look at ways in which it can capitalise on these advanced developments and absorb the skills coming out of university research groups to create new wealth. 

There is also a role for government. Increased investment is needed to build on our leadership in these emerging fields. 

The United States and the United Kingdom have recently agreed to strengthen ties in science and technology to create global leadership in emerging technologies. Their agreement aims to strengthen cooperation in areas such as the resilience and security of critical supply chains, and also realise the full potential of quantum technologies. Australia cannot replicate their financial commitment, but it needs to play its part.

First published in Australian University Science, Issue 6

Fighting fungal infections: Giant leaps for smart nanotech

Image: Candida Fungal Biofilms with and without smart micelle treatment. Supplied: Professor Clive Prestidge, University of South Australia

They’re roughly the same size as a coronavirus particle, and 1000 times smaller than a human hair, yet newly engineered nanoparticles developed by scientists at the University of South Australia, are punching well above their weight when it comes to treating drug-resistant fungal infections.

Created in partnership with Monash University, the new nanobiotechnology (called ‘micelles*’), has a remarkable ability to battle one of the most invasive and notoriously resistant fungal infections ­– Candida albicans.

It’s a timely finding, especially given the significant rise of dangerous fungal infections in hospitals with countries overrun by COVID-19.

Candida albicans is an opportunistic pathogenic yeast that is extremely dangerous to people with compromised immune systems, particularly those in a hospital setting. Found on many surfaces, Candida albicans is notorious for its resilience to anti-fungal medicines. It is the most prevalent cause of fungal infections worldwide and can cause serious infections that can affect the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones, and other parts of the body.

Senior investigator, UniSA’s Professor Clive Prestidge says the new polymer-based micelles could revolutionise current anti-fungal medicines.

“Managing and treating invasive fungal infections is particularly challenging because so many fungal biofilms are resistant to contemporary antifungal drugs,” Prof. Prestidge says.

“Fungal biofilms are surface-loving microbials that thrive on implanted devices such as catheters, prostheses and heart valves, making the presence of these devices a major risk factor for infection.

“In places like India – which has nearly 40,000 new COVID-19 infections every day – hospital resources are severely stretched, leaving healthcare workers are not only battling COVID-19, but also dealing with complacency and fatigue.

“The unfortunate result is that infection control practices have deteriorated, putting patients on mechanical ventilation at greater risk of developing bacterial or fungal infections.
“As fungal biofilms tend to seed recurrent infections, finding ways to break and beat the infection cycle is critical, especially now.

“Our research has identified and developed smart micelles that have the ability to break down single and multi-species biofilms to significantly inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, one of the most virulent fungal species.

“We estimate that the new micelles could improve the efficacy of anti-fungal medicines by 100-fold, potentially saving the lives of millions of people worldwide.”

Dr Nicky Thomas, co-investigator, says the new micelles present a breakthrough for treating invasive fungal infections.

“These micelles have a unique ability to solubilize and entrap a range of important antifungal drugs to significantly improve their performance and efficacy”.

“This is the first time that polymer-based micelles have been created with intrinsic capabilities to prevent fungal biofilm formation.

“As our results already show that the new micelles will remove up to 70 per cent of infection, this could be a real game changer for treating fungal diseases.”

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Metal-absorbing plants and a sustainable future for mining

Image: Green phloem sap exuding from Phyllanthus balgooyi in Sabah (Malaysia) containing 20 per cent nickel. Credit: Antony van der Ent, UQ.

Harvesting plants that can absorb metal from the ground may offer a sustainable solution for mining and rehabilitation according to research underway at The University of Queensland.

UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) has teamed up with the Queensland Government to investigate whether plants can reliably produce metals such as cobalt and zinc through a process known as phytomining, where the plants absorb the metals from the ground.

Associate Professor Peter Erskine said the study is investigating if this process, once implemented at a large scale, could be a sustainable option for mining rare metals and the transition from carbon-fuelled mining.

“We’re currently growing plants using metal-rich soil and tailings from around Queensland,” Professor Erskine said.

“Thanks to a previous study conducted by UQ researchers, we know Queensland is home to native plants that have this ability to absorb metal, which are known as hyperaccumulators.

“UQ’s further phytomining research has the potential to unlock a sustainable stream of critical metals, including from mine wastes and  tailings, that still hold residual metals of interest.

“So, in effect, phytomining could turn waste into new resources.”

The researchers are confident that the phytomining of nickel could quickly proceed to full-scale production and that the phytomining of cobalt, thallium and selenium are on the horizon.

Queensland Minister for Resources Scott Stewart said the joint study had the potential to shape the state’s mining future.

“Rare earth metals are vital to the global economy with the popularity of renewable technology and electric vehicles continuing to grow,” he said.

We already know Queensland has rich deposits of minerals like cobalt, copper and vanadium.

“Research like this will help Queensland emerge as a world-leader in extracting and processing these metals, meaning more jobs and investment for all Queenslanders.”

Professor Rick Valenta said phytomining had the potential to help the mining industry address the expected drop in critical metals supply.

“Lithium, cobalt, copper and nickel are going to be increasingly important for society as renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles become more prevalent,” Professor Valenta said.

“But these critical metals are becoming increasingly difficult for the mining industry to access due to environmental, social, governance and technical factors.

“Without supporting alternative methods of extracting these critical metals, the mining industry may find that is unable to keep up with the growing demand for them.

“Phytomining is uniquely suited for that role because it both introduces an abundance of new resources that can be unlocked with less invasive methods and it allows the sourcing of metals from mine waste.”

Tech heavy-weights combined forces to form new industry association

Image: Shutterstock

Aiming to grow the value of the Australian tech industry to $250 billion over the next decade, 23 Australian leaders in tech have formed the Tech Council of Australia.

The Tech Council comprises the full spectrum of tech companies. It will aim to advise and engage with governments, businesses and the wider community to help support the ongoing creation, development, and adoption of technology across industries.

The council’s board includes Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar, Afterpay co-founder Anthony Eisen and Canva co-founder Cliff Obrecht. The board will be overseen by Tesla chair Robyn Denholm, with various other tech leaders involved in the group.

Considering the sector employs an estimated 861,000 Australians, the group aims to grow the industry, support local talent and influence regulatory policy to ensure the sector can continue to thrive.

Currently, the Australian tech sector contributes $167 billion to the Australian economy. It is the third biggest industry by revenue.

The TCA has three roles

  1. Policy: To work closely with the industry and government on policy areas that grow the tech sector and jobs in it, such as supporting talent development; incentivising growth and investment; and ensure regulatory settings across the economy work for the tech-enabled economy. 
  2. Research: To undertake unique, data-driven research into the impact of the tech sector, and key issues impacting it.
  3. Engagement: As the unified voice for the sector, TCA will bring government decision-makers and industry together to engage on the role, value and benefits of the tech sector to Australia.

The full list of board members is:

  • Scott Farquhar, Co-CEO, Atlassian (Director)
  • Anthony Eisen, Co-founder and Co-CEO, Afterpay (Director)
  • Cliff Obrecht, Co-founder and COO, Canva (Director)
  • Mina Radhakrishnan, CEO, :Different (Director)
  • Didier Elzinga, CEO, Culture Amp (Director)
  • Wyatt Roy, Former Federal Minister (Executive Director)
  • Kate Jones, Former Queensland Minister (Executive Director)
  • Alex McCauley, former CEO, StartupAus (Executive Director)
  • Kate Pounder, CEO, Tech Council of Australia

You can view the full list of companies involved on the Tech Council’s website.

Investment in youth environmental education key to addressing climate change

Image: Shutterstock

An international group of researchers from Monash University, Exeter University, University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and Stanford University, have identified that education is a cornerstone in supporting the necessary behavioural changes that are needed to address climate change. 

In a recently published research paper, the researchers argue that environmental education, particularly within the areas of humanities, arts and social sciences, is the only way to gain unified support to promote lasting social and environmental change.

Professor Alan Reid, from the Faculty of Education at Monash University, says environmental and science education helps people to identify fake information and ideologies, and understand and respond appropriately to warnings about the climate emergency.

“The deepening environmental crisis will continue to worsen if there is not significant support and investment in environmental and science education,” Professor Reid said. 

“Governments and other organisations need to direct more funding to education innovation to help young people address the complex, interlinked trends in the deteriorating state of ecosystems, biodiversity and climate, amongst other environmental issues.” 

The experts add that consensus on our current environmental predicaments must also be supported by those in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, and wider society. 

Professor Jo-Anne Ferreira from USQ, says the research identifies the importance of a whole-school approach as opposed to quick curriculum fixes for addressing the climate emergency. 

“We also need to look at investment and innovation in lifelong learning and non school-based provision, alongside examining the focus of current initial teacher education and continuing professional development,” Professor Ferreira said.  

“Global leaders should be discussing how to reimagine, recreate and restore environmental education to reduce the consequences of the environmental crisis. Countries should embed environmental and science education throughout society in ways that make sense locally,” added Professor Justin Dillon from the University of Exeter.

The research paper highlights international surveys that show many governments continue to fail to support and invest enough in environmental and sustainability education across pre-school, school, college and university settings. 

“Ensuring any form of environmental education is relevant, coherent, fit for purpose, funded appropriately, and available to current and future generations within and beyond the curriculum will be crucial to addressing sound and pertinent warnings from scientists,” said Professor Reid. 

The researchers conclude that as a collective we must consider the role of education both critically and creatively in influencing and shaping any of our individual and collective behaviours.

To view the research paper, please visit:

Roadmap highlights opportunity to lead in carbon capture and utilisation

Image: CSIRO

The CO2 Utilisation Roadmap explores the opportunities presented by emerging carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) technologies for Australia to support new industries and reduce carbon emissions.

The Roadmap identifies how emerging CCU technologies could be used to support growth opportunities in Australia’s food and beverages industry, the creation of zero or low carbon building products and materials, and position Australia for the export of low emissions chemicals and fuels.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said CCU technologies can help transition Australia towards a lower emissions future while creating economic growth.

“No single technology will take us to net zero – the scale of our challenge in adapting to climate change and decarbonising our industries requires us to draw on every available tool,” Dr Marshall said.

“The development and demonstration of high abatement technologies like CCU has the potential to have a significant impact, as part of our broader efforts to both reduce emissions and lift the competitiveness of our industries.”

Currently, industries such as cement, steel, plastics and heavy transport still rely on fossil fuels or have inherent emissions in their processes and are traditionally ‘hard to abate’.

These industries are unable to rely on renewable technologies alone and account for about a sixth of Australia’s emissions and around a third of global emissions.

CCU technologies capture CO2 from the waste streams of industrial processes, or directly from the atmosphere, and convert it into useful new products, ranging from synthetic fuels to food and beverages, chemicals, and building materials.

Image: CSIRO

Associate Director of CSIRO Futures Vivek Srinivasan said Australia is well-placed to lead in CCU technologies.

“Our analysis shows that Australia is well positioned to capitalise on the CCU opportunity and become a leader in this emerging area,” Mr Srinivasan said.

“Australia’s advantages include capacity to implement the low-cost, low-emission electricity needed for CCU technologies, a track record for developing internationally competitive export industries, and established international bilateral agreements on low emissions technologies.”

The Roadmap draws on extensive national and international consultation, modelling and analysis to determine the key advantages, barriers, and considerations to support scale-up for identified areas of CCU opportunity for Australia.

By acting as a potential major user of hydrogen and helping to reduce CO2 emissions, CCU complements CSIRO’s investment in Australia’s hydrogen and emissions reduction research through the Hydrogen Industry and Towards Net Zero Emissions Missions.

CSIRO worked with government and industry to develop the CO2 Utilisation Roadmap including the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Woodside, Santos, BHP, Wesfarmers Chemicals, Energy & Fertilisers, APA Group, Mineral Carbonation International, the Victorian Government, KBR, Advisian, Australian Trade and Investment Commission and CO2 Value Australia.

Download the report.

First published by CSIRO

SA Science and Innovation Awards, nominations now open

Nominations are now open for the 2021 SA Science Excellence and Innovation Awards, celebrating South Australia’s top researchers, industry leaders and educators.

Minister for Innovation and Skills David Pisoni said the awards recognise and reward science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) professionals making outstanding contributions to research, innovation and education, as well as highlighting significant research and development being conducted in South Australia.

“As we continue to face the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, it is important to recognise and celebrate the critical role that science and its translation plays in ensuring our economic recovery and growth,” Minister Pisoni said.

“These awards enable us to pay tribute to our extraordinary science, research and innovation leaders who continue to shape and deliver solutions to some of the most complex challenges facing communities across Australia and the world.

“It’s also an opportunity to celebrate educators who inspire and challenge the next generation to develop the knowledge, skills and creativity to build a better world.”

Chief Scientist for South Australia Professor Caroline McMillen said that the state takes real pride in the achievements and ongoing contributions of the previous recipients of these prestigious awards, which continue to deliver economic, health and environmental impact across the world.

“Importantly we know that in STEMM we need diversity of ideas from talented individuals of different backgrounds, cultures and abilities to generate the diversity of solutions necessary to fuel innovation,” Professor McMillen said.

“I look forward to seeing diversity reflected in the great applications submitted for these important awards.”

Chief Entrepreneur for South Australia Andrew Nunn also said the state’s research, entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem was home to world-leading and diverse businesses driving economic growth for SA.

“It’s clear that South Australian businesses are recognising the opportunities that come with working with researchers, enabling them to find practical solutions to challenges, develop new products and services and increase their global profile,” Mr Nunn said. 

“Sharing our success stories is vital to build our state’s culture of innovation. I encourage all businesses and industry leaders to nominate.”

The South Australian Scientist of the Year and South Australian Innovator of the Year will receive a prize to the value of $25,000. Other award winners will receive a prize to the value of $10,000 to use towards their career development.

Applications close 5pm Wednesday, 11 August 2021. For more information, guidelines and to apply, visit

New ‘warm vaccine’ effective against all key virus variants.

Image: A scientist working under high containment at CSIRO’s Australian Cenetre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong, Victoria.

A ‘warm’ COVID-19 vaccine suitable for remote and resource-limited locations lacking access to cold storage supply chains is one step closer following an international collaboration between scientists from India and Australia.

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, played an important role in evaluating heat-tolerant COVID-19 vaccine formulations developed by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and biotech start-up Mynvax – against all current SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.  

Published in the peer-reviewed ACS Infectious Diseases journal, researchers showed the vaccine formulations triggered a strong immune response in mice, protected hamsters from the virus, and remained stable at 37°C up to a month and at 100°C for up to 90 minutes. 

Most vaccines require refrigeration to remain effective, like Oxford-AstraZeneca which must be kept between 2-8°C and Pfizer which requires specialised cold storage at -70°C. 

CSIRO scientists at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong contributed to the study by assessing vaccinated mice sera (blood samples) for efficacy against key coronavirus variants, including the Delta variant currently spreading globally including in Sydney.  

Dr. S.S. Vasan, CSIRO’s COVID-19 project leader and co-author, said the Mynvax-vaccinated mice sera show a strong response to all variants of the live virus. 

“Our data shows that all formulations of Mynvax tested result in antibodies capable of consistent and effective neutralisation of the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern,” Dr Vasan said. 

CSIRO’s evaluation of the different Mynvax formulations will support selection of the most suitable candidate for planned human clinical trials in India later this year.  

Above: An image of the Coronavirus responsible for causing the disease COVID-19.

CSIRO’s Health and Biosecurity Director, Dr Rob Grenfell, said the pandemic has demonstrated the need for global scientific collaboration to address the urgent demand for multiple cost-effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.  

“CSIRO has a long history of developing and testing vaccines for humans and animals,” Dr Grenfell said. 

“Since the start of the pandemic, CSIRO has played a crucial role in fighting COVID-19 by conducting preclinical evaluation of two COVID-19 vaccines including Oxford-AstraZeneca, tracking emerging variants of concern, and monitoring wastewater to detect hotspots in the community. 

“A thermostable or ‘warm vaccine’ is critical for remote or resource-limited locations with extremely hot climates which lack reliable cold storage supply chains, including regional communities in Australia’s outback and the Indo-Pacific region.” 

The peer-reviewed paper, Immunogenicity and protective efficacy of a highly thermotolerant, trimeric SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain derivative, was published by ACS Infectious Diseases on 15 July 2021.  

The CSIRO study was funded by a grant from Australia’s Federal Department of Finance.  

For more information on CSIRO’s COVID-19 research, visit:  


  • A pre-print of the article is available here:
  • Established in 1916, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is Australia’s national science agency. It has conducted critical preclinical studies for Oxford-AstraZeneca’s viral vectored vaccine (known as Covishield in India), Inovio Pharmaceuticals’ DNA vaccine, and IISc-Mynvax’s protein subunit vaccine against COVID-19. 
  • Established in 1909, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, is India’s premier institute for advanced research and education in all branches of science and engineering, and is the world’s top ranked university in the citations per faculty metric of the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). IISc and its spin-out Mynvax Private Limited have been developing their COVID-19 vaccine with funding from the Gates Foundation and Government of India. Mynvax is also developing improved subunit vaccines for influenza. More:  

First published by CSIRO

COVID-19 exacerbated gender inequity in the STEM workforce

Image: Shutterstock

new report launched today by the Australian Academy of Science has found that the impact of COVID-19 on women in the STEM workforce across the Asia-Pacific region has heightened the challenges and barriers they face in progressing their careers. A survey conducted as part of the report found almost half of the women surveyed with caring responsibilities do not have access to flexible work, despite 60% of them saying flexible arrangements could better support their working conditions.

The survey included responses from 1,109 individuals, including 865 women, from 31 Asia-Pacific countries and economies. This survey provides new evidence of the extent and impact that COVID-19 has had on the STEM workforce across the region. The report calls for STEM-related organisations across the Asia-Pacific to embed more flexible workplace cultures and to recognise that for those working in STEM research, flexible measures of work productivity are needed, especially in terms of publication records.

The worsening of gender inequity in the STEM workforce across the region has been brought about by changes in lifestyle and the blurring of boundaries between the spheres of work and home, increased domestic and caring responsibilities.

The report found the pandemic has also impeded work productivity, increased precarious and insecure work arrangements, and reduced access to research facilities and workplaces due to lockdown arrangements. These new conditions have had a significant impact on individual wellbeing, with the survey finding 50% of survey respondents reporting negative mental health impacts in relation to work or home life.

Despite the impacts of the pandemic the survey found personal passion for their work (59%) and work fulfilment (46%) are the main reasons why women are likely to remain in STEM. 72% reported that their short-term career expectations were to remain in the STEM workforce.

Chair of the report’s Steering Committee, Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger, said the report has revealed that the pandemic continues to profoundly affect the lives and day-to-day activities of women in the STEM workforce at every level.

“Different parts of the Asia-Pacific region have different capacities to respond to these negative impacts. Regional collaboration, together with supportive workplaces and communities, can minimise gendered impacts of the pandemic on the STEM workforce.

“Solutions are offered in the report for all parts of STEM particularly the need for flexibility in workplaces for all genders, and flexibility in grant applications and delivery,” Emeritus Professor Praeger said.

The report also highlights 20 personal stories from nine Asia-Pacific countries and looks at ways the region can future-proof and enhance a diverse STEM workforce in the Asia-Pacific. This project was funded by the Regional Collaborations Programme, administered by the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER).

About the survey

A wide range of STEM disciplines and all career stages were represented in the survey responses. Women in chemistry were the biggest group (13%), followed by women in physics and mathematics (12%), biology (11%), engineering (10%) and medical sciences (9%). More than 80% of all respondents had attained post-graduate qualification. Women aged 35 to 44 years (37%) were the main age group who completed the survey. Just over 25% of the survey respondents were from Australia. The countries of survey respondents are on page 16 of the report.

Handpicking genes for disease-resistant crops

Image: Blackleg in canola. Source: UWA

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have developed tools to identify plant genes
resistant to disease-causing fungi and deploy them to create more resistant crops.

It could lead to more productive harvests and reduce the need for farmers to apply fungicide to canola
crops, a major export industry for Australia.

Blackleg, a disease-causing fungus that can wipe out crops, is a serious problem for canola growers, with
an average of 10 per cent yield loss per year.

The researchers from the UWA Batley Lab set out to investigate the evolution of the resistance genes
against blackleg to develop a durable resistance mechanism to the disease for breeders and farmers.
Using genome sequencing, the team developed a screening platform that can identify the genes that
underlie the resistance against blackleg in canola plants.

The resistance genes can then be deployed in breeding programs to protect canola crops nationwide.
Lead author Professor Jacqueline Batley, from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences, said that by better
understanding plants’ resistance genes, and identifying how they interact with pathogens, it was
possible to improve the crop, the yield and the economic outcomes for farmers.

“There is a global need for sustainable food production and to reduce the use of chemicals on the land
with less economic loss,” Professor Batley said.

“We need to make sure that we have sources of resistance across all plant species so that we have
enough food on our table in the future as the population grows.”

Professor Batley said the disease resistance research could be expanded to different species.

“Once you can understand the DNA, identify the genes and look at what’s causing certain traits, you can
apply this to other species,” Professor Batley said.

This work was undertaken in collaboration with researchers at the University of Melbourne

UNSW joins the Wolfpack Space Hub to support space startups

Image: Shutterstock

UNSW Sydney and Wolfpack Space Hub have joined forces to collaborate on creating a startup for space businesses.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed to mark the start of a co-operation which is designed to develop Australia’s sovereign space capability. Wolfpack will operate as UNSW’s non-exclusive incubator for the university’s space startups. These are independent entities established by students and/or staff of UNSW but not controlled by UNSW.

Wolfpack will provide the startups with services such as business training, access to funding and customer networks, as well as space readiness capability-building. UNSW will provide the startups with access to equipment at ACSER (Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research), including a thermal vacuum chamber, an anechoic chamber, vibration testing equipment, frictionless air beds and Helmholtz coils.

UNSW Professor Andrew Dempster, Director of ACSER, said: “We’re aiming to develop an ecosystem of Australian startups in the space business.“

He says the space industry is moving away from the “big agency/big satellite” model and is becoming much more commercial. There is a new way of doing space business.

“These businesses will benefit greatly from working together in groups and by collaborating to put together missions and to really develop and grow. That’s why we want to find people with great ideas and convert them into successful businesses. Australia has the fastest growing space startup community in the world. The best time to be doing space in Australia is right now.“

Professor Dempster believes the Wolfpack team is an ideal partner for this endeavour. “Jason Held and I have been developing the space sector for a decade and it is fantastic to formalise that long-standing collaboration.“

“With various government funding schemes starting to recognise Australia’s development in space, many inexperienced outsiders are trying their hand at space but Jason is the real deal – he’s been there since the dark days and with Wolfpack he’s delivering genuine outcomes for businesses developed by UNSW students,” says Professor Dempster.

Examples of previous success stories are Spiral Blue, which develops onboard computers for Earth observation satellites, and Sperospace, which designs robotic arms — both of which were founded by UNSW graduates and received significant space and defence agency funding while in residence at Wolfpack.

Dr Held said: “The Wolfpack Space Hub is an incubator ‘by space people for space people’ and focuses on startups that want to fly. A spaceflight focus allows us to rapidly accelerate startups using national assets such as the Responsive Space Operations Centre at Lot Fourteen in Adelaide. For us, it’s not just about getting startups off the ground and ready for investors. It’s about getting them in the sky and getting customers.” 

“We’re really excited to sign this agreement with Professor Dempster and the ACSER team. They have an exceptional track record of supporting space startups already. Working together will have a catalytic effect on their efforts and converting the next generation of researchers into successful off-world space companies.”

Carbon Farming Case Studies Tip Of The Iceberg

A revegetation carbon farming project. “When we tell them it used to be like next door where it is all bare, they can’t believe it.” Rosie Galea and Mark Reed, Landholders, Wedderburn, Victoria. ©Floodlight Media for CER/CMI

The Carbon Market Institute (CMI) welcomes the release of a suite of carbon farming video case studies showing farmers benefiting from “carbon money” under the Federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund.

The videos were produced in collaboration with the Clean Energy Regulator and tell the story of five different carbon farming methods: soil carbon, vegetation, revegetation, plantation forestry and human-induced regeneration.

John Connor, CEO of the CMI says: “These case studies highlight the significant employment and environmental benefits that come from carbon farming projects, as well as the climate benefits that flow from sequestering carbon through agricultural activities and land management.

“There’s been a decade of successful carbon farming in Australia and these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.”

The case studies, drawn from projects in New South Wales and Victoria, demonstrate that carbon farming works successfully with traditional farming practices, increases productivity and drought tolerance while reducing farm input costs, and provides farmers with new income streams. 

“The government’s Emission Reduction Fund has thrown a lifeline to the Carbon Farming Initiative that first began in 2011,” says Mr Connor. “Almost 1000 projects have been developed so far and thousands more can be delivered that will bring real benefits to regional Australia and the global climate.”

The CMI’s 2017 Carbon Farming Industry Roadmap highlights that with the right policies and ambition, carbon farming can support the development of over 20,000 jobs by 2030, and over $20 billion in carbon project revenue, mostly flowing to regional Australia.

Meanwhile, the CMI’s world-first Carbon Industry Code of Conduct, which defines industry best practice for carbon project developers, becomes fully operational on July 1, 2021.

“With the right policies, and a laser-like focus on integrity, our carbon farming industry can become a major exporter of carbon reduction credits and expertise to a world increasingly demanding them,” Mr Connor says.

The five projects highlighted in the videos are:

  • soil carbon – Olsen’s
  • human induced regeneration – Brindingabba Station 
  • revegetation – Ploughshare 
  • plantation forestry – WeAct
  • vegetation – avoided deforestation – Bulgoo Station. 

“It was a pleasure to visit these carbon farming sites firsthand to see the benefits being delivered and I’d encourage others to do so,” Mr Connor says. “I’d like to thank the farmers, their staff and local businesses we spoke to for their enthusiastic participation.”

About the CMI

The Carbon Market Institute is the industry association for business leading the transition to net-zero emissions and has over 100 corporate members including primary producers, carbon project developers, emission intensive companies and legal, banking and advisory service providers.

New DNA test to transform wild fish population management

Image: ©  David Roberts, Seqwater.

A DNA test developed by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, can improve management of wild fish populations for conservation or harvest by determining the ages of fishes.

Postdoctoral Fellow with CSIRO’s Environomics Future Science Platform Dr Ben Mayne said the new method is a non-lethal alternative to counting growth rings in their otoliths, or ear bones of fish, to reveal their age.

“We developed a fast, cost-effective DNA test for use with three threatened Australian freshwater species, the Australian lungfish, the Murray cod and the Mary River cod, which can also be adapted for other fish species,” Dr Mayne said.

“Knowing the ages of fish in a population is vital for their management, such as setting sustainable harvests or determining whether a species is at risk of extinction as well as understanding growth and reproduction of a species.

“We’re now hoping to share this test with fisheries managers to support conservation projects and sustainable fisheries worldwide.”

Until now, most animals, including fish, didn’t have a practical and non-lethal method to determine age.

Senior Research Scientist at Seqwater Dr David T. Roberts has been conducting research on lungfish for over a decade.

“The search for a method to age Australian lungfish has been costly and technologically challenging,” Dr Roberts said. 

“This breakthrough DNA-based ageing method will advance our understanding of lungfish population dynamics, providing a low cost, accurate and simple method that will improve conservation efforts long into the future.”

Tom Espinoza of the Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water has spent 15 years working on water planning that balances the needs of multiple stakeholders and key aquatic species in Queensland.

“Australian lungfish, Murray cod and Mary River cod are iconic species in Australia due to their economic, scientific and cultural value,” Mr Espinoza said. 

“Non-lethal ageing provides an important platform from which to develop this technique across more species and improve management of the fisheries and natural resources that support them.”

To develop their DNA test, Dr Mayne’s team first worked with zebrafish, which have long been used to study fish biology, before calibrating their technique for threatened species using fish of known ages, bomb radiocarbon dating of scales, and ages determined from otoliths.

The result is a rapid and cost-effective method to determine the age of a fish, which is based on methylation of DNA at places in the genome known as CpG sites.

Despite the zebrafish and the Australian lungfish being separated by more than 100 million years of evolution, this system is conserved and works in both species.

This work is part of CSIRO’s ongoing research to develop ways to use DNA to measure and monitor the environment, including estimating the lifespan of vertebrate species using DNA and surveying biodiversity in seawater using eDNA.

“We are continuing to work with lungfish and cod in south east Queensland by ageing historic genetic libraries to provide detailed demographic profiles to help conserve these species,” Dr Mayne said.

The paper “Non-lethal age estimation of three threatened fish species using DNA methylation: Australian lungfish, Murray cod, and Mary River cod” was published today in Molecular Ecology Resources with authors from CSIRO, Seqwater, Queensland Government, NSW Department of Primary Industries, University of Queensland and University of Western Australia.

CSIRO opens satellite offering for Aussie Earth observation

Image: Computer generated image of the satellite in orbit. ©  Surrey Satellite Technology

Australian researchers in industries like agriculture and natural disaster management can now apply to direct the Earth observation satellite NovaSAR-1 by accessing Australia’s share of the satellite, managed by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

This will mark the first time Australia has managed its own source of Earth observation data, contributing to the growth of the nation’s space industry. 

The satellite can take images of the Earth through all weather conditions, including heavy cloud and smoke, offering a valuable data advantage to the many industries now harnessing the estimated $2.5 billion in economic benefits from the Earth observation sector.  

Dave Williams, CSIRO’s Executive Director Digital, National Facilities and Collections said CSIRO would be operating its share of the satellite as a national facility available to Australian researchers. 

“CSIRO has a strong track record of hosting world-class national research infrastructure on behalf of the nation, including radio telescopes, a marine research vessel, a high-containment facility for researching infectious diseases, supercomputers, biological collections and digital capability,” Dr Williams said.

“Although Australia is one of the largest users of Earth observation data, until now we have not had direct control over the tasking of an Earth observation satellite, so the opening of our NovaSAR-1 facility represents a step change for Australian research and an important step forward for our space industry.”

Satellite data will be downloaded to a receiving station near Alice Springs owned by the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT), Australia’s first and only Aboriginal-owned-and-operated ground segment service provider. 

Peter Renehan, CfAT CEO, said access to NovaSAR-1 has the potential to benefit many Indigenous communities, like Indigenous rangers who look after land and sea and can use imagery from space to help do their jobs.

“It’s important that we can build and own facilities like this right here in central Australia and feel proud that Aboriginal Australians are making such an important contribution to supporting the development of Australia’s sovereign capability in the space industry,” Mr Renehan said.

Dr Amy Parker, CSIRO Satellite Operations and Data Manager, said synthetic aperture radar imagery like that from NovaSAR-1 has not been widely used in Australia before. 

“So far, we’ve used the satellite to capture over 1,000 images, all of which are now available to users. NovaSAR-1 is an exciting addition to the country’s Earth observation resources while also helping us to build our capabilities in satellite operations,” Dr Parker said. 

Applications to use the NovaSAR-1 national facility will be reviewed by an independent committee and allocated based on the scientific merit of the proposed research.

To access the NovaSAR-1 data or find out more about applying for satellite time, visit CSIRO NovaSAR-1 national facility at

About the NovaSAR-1 satellite

The NovaSAR-1 satellite, developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited in the UK, utilises S-band synthetic aperture radar (or SAR), providing medium and high-resolution images of Earth from space. In September 2017 Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, purchased a 10 per cent share of time on the satellite. The agreement allows CSIRO to direct the NovaSAR-1 satellite to collect data through a range of observation modes with priority over the Australian region for the duration of the mission. CSIRO is operating its share of NovaSAR-1 as a national research facility.

About the Centre for Appropriate Technology

The Centre for Appropriate Technology Ltd (CfAT) was established in 1980 to research, design, develop and deliver appropriate technologies and technical training to Indigenous people living in remote communities. CfAT’s wholly-owned subsidiary, CfAT Satellite Enterprises (CfATSE), manages a satellite ground station, which is Australia’s first and only Aboriginal-owned-and-operated ground segment service provider. CfATSE has partnered with global communications company Viasat (Nasdaq: VSAT) to bring affordability and reduce latency to Earth observation and remote sensing applications.

Australian finalist in international science communication prize

Image: Shutterstock

A video detailing ground-breaking work to supply remote communities in Australia with fresh drinking water is a finalist in an international competition aimed at inspiring a new generation of technologists and engineers, by showing the impact engineering has on our lives.

The International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS) has established two annual Communication Prizes to encourage those in STEM to think more about engaging with the public about the significance of their work, and to inspire students to consider career paths in those fields.

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) is a founding member of CAETS and was tasked with judging the Australian entries and choosing a finalist to compete against those from other countries.

The successful Australian video entry about Project Gilghi, submitted by Aurecon CEO William Cox FTSE, details an initiative to supply remote communities with energy-efficient, transportable water purifying treatment plants.

Project Gilghi is a solar-powered water treatment plant that can fit into a shipping container, so it can be easily transported, set up and be operational within just two to three days. The project is guaranteeing long-term water sustainability for remote areas and ensures long-term water security as well as a range of environmental and water resource benefits for Indigenous communities.

ATSE President Hugh Bradlow congratulated Mr Cox, saying it’s a successful engineering story that deserves international recognition.

“Australia’s technologists and engineers are doing incredible, innovative work, but this is sometimes poorly understood because it has not been explained in terms everyone can understand,” he said.

“The Aurecon entry clearly articulated how technology and engineering is making a positive impact on these communities and solving real-world problems.”

Mr Cox expressed excitement over the new milestone Aurecon and Project Gilghi have achieved.

“We are honoured to be representing Australia in the prestigious CAETS Communication Prizes,” he said.

“Beyond an engineering success story, Project Gilghi is a story of renewing hope and uplifting equality for the remote Indigenous community of Gillen Bore by providing them with access to safe, sustainable drinking water. Together with our partner Ampcontrol, our hope for Project Gilghi is to be a catalyst that would bridge the water inequality gap on remote communities not only in Australia, but across the globe.”

Launched in 2019, Project Gilghi is not only providing the community of Gillen Bore in the Northern Territory with clean drinking water, it is also presenting employment opportunities with a training program developed for local Indigenous people to operate and maintain the unit in an ongoing capacity. Ultimately, this has facilitated community ownership over the water supply.

With its significant social impact, Project Gilghi has also been recognised by professional industry organisations in and outside Australia in 2020 such as the Australian Financial Review for Best Social Impact Innovation, Australian Water Association for Infrastructure Project Innovation, Good Design Awards for Social Impact, and Institution of Civil Engineers UK Chris Binnie Award for Sustainable Water Management among others.

The Aurecon entry can be viewed here: Australian finalist in international science prize | ATSE

The winners of the CAETS Communications Prizes will be announced on 19 September in Buenos Aires.

First published by The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering

Intergenerational challenges can be solved by science

Image: Shutterstock

Australia must ‘level up’ on our outlays in income-generating R&D and research translation to tackle the vast structural economic, social and budget challenges ahead, the nation’s peak body for science and technology has said.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the Intergenerational Report’s forecasts made an urgent case for STEM investment.

“A slowing economy, a major productivity challenge, a dropping birth rate, and a long-term COVID hangover sharpen the imperative for clever investments now to put Australia on a path to become a global science and technology superpower,” she said.

“The clear message from this report is that Australia needs to level up its investments in future income-generating R&D and research translation to tackle the challenges ahead. Science and technology are the answer to every one of them.” 

“In a world advancing technologically at breakneck speed, the key to future prosperity for Australia will be our ability to be at the forefront of the big advances in science, engineered solutions and the emerging technologies of AI and quantum.”  

“Nailing those capabilities will help Australia to solve the big social, economic and budget challenges coming our way – including in health care and aged care.

”Science & Technology Australia’s recent policy vision – Australia as a STEM Superpower – contains many of the answers on how the nation can meet the challenges highlighted in today’s Intergenerational Report.

“An ambitious strategy to level up Australia’s R&D investment should begin with a new $2.4 billion research translation and commercialisation fund and a national R&D target of 3 per cent of GDP to peg ourselves to key global rivals.”

First published by Science & Technology Australia

Multiversity investment to deliver skills and research dividend for NSW

Image: Shutterstock

The University of Newcastle, University of Wollongong, UNSW Sydney and Western Sydney University – collectively the NUW Alliance – recently launched its Multiversity program of specialist technology courses, designed and delivered with TAFE NSW and industry, to drive job creation and upskilling at Bradfield. The Alliance welcomed the NSW Government’s generational investment in critical supporting infrastructure at the outer Western Sydney new city centre.

As part of the NSW Budget package, $138.2 million has been designated for Bradfield’s first building, which includes $24.9 million for a ‘high tech facility’ with an additional $22.9 million earmarked to fit-out the facility with state-of-the-art research equipment.

Commenting on the funding announcement, NUW Alliance, Chief Executive Officer, Dr Andy Marks said, “This at-scale commitment from the state government backs in the Multiversity and provides the platform to do something truly transformative in skills and research for the benefit of NSW residents and businesses.”

The NUW Alliance universities and their University of Technology Sydney (UTS) peers, are currently developing an industry-aligned research vision to support the NSW Government’s plans for its coming high tech facility at Bradfield.

Dr Marks added, “This investment comes at a vitally important time for business – large and small, local and international – seeking to leverage the research and development opportunities the new airport and city centre will bring.”

“The combined research expertise of five universities, working collaboratively on focussed job-creating technologies will be of a magnitude and impact unlike anything previously seen in Australia”, Dr Marks said. “We commend the State Government for taking the critical first step in making that a reality”, Dr Marks concluded. 

About the NUW Alliance

The NUW Alliance comprises four leading Australian research-intensive universities – the University of Newcastle, UNSW, the University of Wollongong and Western Sydney University.

The NUW Alliance spans a geographic area home to more than 75% of NSW’s population and 25% of Australia’s. The size and scale of our Alliance has not been seen before in Australia – 194,000 students plus 14,500 staff, working across 37 locations including 15 innovation hubs and driving $850 million in research funding.

The mission of the NUW Alliance is to seek out the big collaborations that make a difference, collaborations that unlock new value, impact and benefit for our communities across NSW.

About the Multiversity 

Backed by both the NSW Government and the Australian Government, the Aerotropolis Multiversity will deliver a new approach to education and training, connecting the future of learning to the jobs of the future. In an Australia-first collaboration, the University of Newcastle, UNSW Sydney, the University of Wollongong, Western Sydney University and TAFE NSW have joined forces to establish the Multiversity – a new education, training and research approach ready for the 22nd century, centred on the Western Sydney Aerotropolis and Western Parkland City.

In December 2020, the Multiversity was successful in gaining $17.09 million in Commonwealth funding through National Priority Places, Innovation Places, and short course places.