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Quantum gamble awarded best article of the year

INGENUITY magazine, the UNSW Engineering’s research showcase, topped hundreds of publications last week with its story on quantum computing in silicon. Quantum Gamble was awarded Best Single Article of the Year at the annual Publish Awards.

Journalist Wilson da Silva, Editor-at-Large of COSMOS Magazine, and Editor of INGENUITY, took out the award against strong competition, with judges praising the clarity and insight of the article. The article covers all five of the leading designs for quantum computing, which could revolutionise cryptography, payments and exponentially increase computing speeds.

It focusses on the combined efforts of UNSW engineers Professors Andrea Morello and Andrew Dzurak and Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons in the quest for quantum computing in silicon, which would dramatically improve the commercialisation capacity of quantum computing elements.

“Science has thrilling stories to tell. Even a complex topic like quantum mechanics has drama, tension and a deeply human story of people on a quest,” said da Silva.

“That’s definitely the case with this story, which has dozens of competing teams, five mind-boggling designs, the world’s best minds and a race to build the most powerful computer ever devised. All I had to do was find a path through one  the most complex topics in science in a way that highlighted that drama.

“I am delighted to win, but could not have done it without the help and support of the researchers involved, who patiently worked with me on almost a dozen drafts, and the creativity and tolerance of Refraction Media, who laboured assiduously to make the article a success.”

The Publish Awards recognises the best work in consumer, business-to-business and custom publishing across print and digital.

INGENUITY is a new annual publication, styled as a popular science magazine, which applies a journalistic feature-based review of the best research and innovation undertaken in the preceding year at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Read the winning article or access the full issue of INGENUITY here.

 

 

bacterial biofilms

Molecular warfare

Featured image above: Cyrille Boyer of UNSW’s School of Chemical Engineering. Credit: Quentin Jones

We often picture disease-causing bacteria as an invading army of individual cells. But in fact, these pathogens find strength in numbers, glomming onto each other and coating the surfaces around them in near-indestructible protective sheets called biofilms.  

These biofilms pose an enormous problem in medicine. They can form directly on lungs, wounds or other living tissue, and can contaminate medical devices such as catheters, prosthetic joints and other implants. Food production, water treatment, and other industrial facilities can also fall victim to their powers. Many types of biofilms resist antibiotics, and the bacteria they’re built from churn out toxins that make their human hosts sick. Yet, no good way exists to destroy them. 

Cyrille Boyer, a polymer chemist and Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Nanomedicine at UNSW in collaboration with Dr Nicolas Barraux, believes that a nanomaterial he designed – a polymer-coated iron oxide particle that heats up when a magnetic field is applied – can provide a solution.

In December 2015, he and his colleagues reported in Nature’s open access journal Scientific Reports that using these nanoparticles to raise the temperature of a biofilm by just a few degrees caused it to break apart.

bacterial biofilm

bacterial biofilm
Biofilm of staphylococcus aureus (or ‘golden staph’) on a catheter; bloodstream infections with this bacteria kill 20 to 35% of patients within a year.

Solo-swimming bacteria are much more susceptible to antibiotics, Boyer explains, so the researchers could then send in another type of particle to deliver medicine that kills off the bugs. They are now planning on testing the particles in live mice and discussing a potential partnership with a company interested in taking the method into clinical development.  

Polymer chemist Eva Harth from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, describes it as an out-of-the-box strategy to treat a long-intractable problem.

This paper shows that a polymer construct can be much more effective than a traditional drug,” she says. 

“There’s an enormous need for new technologies” for breaking up biofilms, says Rodney Dolan, Director of the Biofilms Laboratory at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s a very creative, very interesting approach, particularly combining particles with magnetic fields to localise and control the effect.” 

Smart, easy, elegant solution

Boyer is a master of materials, and his specialty is controlling the effects of the nanoparticles and polymers he creates.

“In my team, we are looking at how to make smarter nanoparticles, where the nanoparticle acts in response to an external signal,” he says.

In 2015, Boyer was awarded the Australian Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for his work using light to catalyse the assembly of polymers with distinct properties. Although the biofilm-busting technique doesn’t employ light, it’s right in line with Boyer’s vision of building ‘smart’ particles whose behaviour can be controlled for therapeutic purposes.  

Boyer created his iron oxide particles in response to a discovery made by microbiologist Nicolas Barraud at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. The two met by chance, when Barraud, then based at UNSW, was attending a conference out of town. He popped
in on a talk Boyer was giving about polymers that release nitric oxide.
“It was a serendipitous meeting,” he says. “We realised we were working at the same university, a few buildings across.”  

Barraud was studying the basic properties of biofilm formation and dispersal, and had recently discovered that nitric oxide could break up biofilms. Back in Sydney, he asked Boyer if he could try the polymers described in the talk. Boyer was happy to comply, and the approach worked relatively well, according to both researchers.

They published a couple of papers, filed a patent, and are still pursuing the project — but the drawback was that nitric oxide is a gas, which makes it difficult to spatially and temporally control its release.

Barraud had also discovered that giving biofilms a tiny temperature boost made the bacteria move and shake, ultimately disbanding them, but he couldn’t work out how to apply the discovery. Then one day, over a beer, Boyer mentioned that he could create particles that induce local heating. “I’ve worked with chemists before,” Barraud says, “and usually as soon as you get into the lab you run into problems. But with Cyrille’s polymer, it was very straightforward,” he says.  

That’s because in this project and others, Boyer focuses on identifying simple, well-worked-out polymerisation methods that can be used in specific applications. “Very precise materials that are easy to make – that’s the key,” says Harth. “It’s smart, easy, and elegant – that’s what he’s after.”

– Alla Katsnelson

For more stories at the forefront of engineering research, check out Ingenuity magazine.

Recommended for you: The Sunshine Factory

New science magazine INGENUITY launched

Featured image above: At the launch of INGENUITY with UNSW Dean of Engineering Mark Hoffman, Refraction Media cofounders Karen Taylor-Brown and Heather Catchpole, and UNSW Engineering’s senior communications advisor Wilson da Silva

INGENUITY, a new science magazine focusing on the frontiers of engineering research at UNSW and with a global distribution, was launched on Tuesday by UNSW’s Dean of Engineering, Mark Hoffman.

“We are, without question, a powerhouse of engineering research in Australia,” said Hoffman. “With nine schools, 32 research centres and participating or leading 10 Cooperative Research Centres, we do truly amazing research – among the world’s best. And we work with more than 500 partners in industry and government to bring the fruits of that research to society.

“We have capacity to do more, as many potential research partners in Australia and overseas are not necessarily aware of the breadth and depth of what we do,” he added. “If we are to have the greatest impact in the world at large, as a university and as engineers, we need to get our research out to the world.  And the creation of INGENUITY is part of that effort.”

Hoffman said the magazine was one of a number of initiatives UNSW Engineering is pursuing to enhance the Faculty’s global impact and its academic and research excellence.

“In May, we hosted the first Ingenuity Fellow, a journalist-in-residence program for overseas science journalists. Our inaugural recipient was Rebecca Morelle, global science correspondent for BBC News in London, and she spent three weeks on-campus meeting some of our best minds and most impressive innovators. And last month, we held a sold-out public event with Peter Norvig, Research Director at Google, talking about Google’s approach to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We mean to not just be the leading engineering faculty in the country but, in a global industry, to be seen as one of the great engineering faculties of the world,” he concluded.

Through engaging storytelling by some of the country’s finest science writers, stylish design and beautiful photography, INGENUITY will bring to life the Faculty’s work in areas like quantum computing, bionic vision, solar energy, water and city environments, artificial intelligence, biomedical instrumentation, robotics, advanced polymers, space research, materials and membranes, cyber security and sustainable design.

The free magazine is being distributed to senior executives of Australia’s largest corporations, federal and state parliamentarians and senior government officials, scientific and industry collaborators of UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering globally, as well as science and technology journalists worldwide. The print edition is also being distributed to Australian embassies and trade offices overseas, and at the biennial World Conference of Science Journalists and the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The magazine is produced by specialist custom publishing house Refraction Media, whose clients include Google, the CRC Association, the Office to the Chief Scientist and ANSTO, and who was named Best Small Publisher in 2015 at the annual Publish Awards.

“Quality long-form journalism in science and technology is hard to come by in Australia,” said Wilson da Silva, the faculty’s senior communications advisor and former editor-in-chief of COSMOS magazine, which he co-founded with Alan Finkel, now Australia’s Chief Scientist. “There’s a wealth of great research stories to tell at UNSW, and we hope that everyone, including the general public, will enjoy the quality writing in INGENUITY and the great stories of Australian research excellence it has to tell.”

How to receive INGENUITY:

This information was first shared by UNSW Engineering on 5 July 2017.