Future Materials and Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In this Issue

  • Research News

    Insights on alloys under stress: How far can you push a metal alloy? It’s difficult to know without observing the fine scale structural changes that take place in an alloy as it undergoes a stress test, and making such observations has traditionally been very difficult. But new research from ANSTO and the University of Wollongong might be changing this.

  • Know your material

    Fool’s gold opens window on ancient Earth: ‘Fool’s gold’ has tricked many amateur prospectors into thinking they’d struck it rich. But now, thanks to an investigation by Earth scientists at the University of Queensland, fool’s gold is providing an invaluable lesson on Earth’s early history, and may even help in our search for extraterrestrial life

  • Tin Tacks

    Nanotubes set to speed up desal: A team of researchers from The Australian National University have discovered a way to remove salt from seawater using nanotubes made from boron and nitrogen atoms. The technique could make the process of desalination up to five times faster.

  • Sensational Materials

    Lacewing silk another advanced material from Nature’s cupboard: CSIRO scientists have just revealed their findings on the rare and fascinating silk produced by lacewing insects to make their egg stalks a cross-beta silk.

    Nanobones may replace artificial implants: Murdoch University’s Nanotechnology group is working on creating a bone substitute that could make artificial implants a thing of the past.

    UWA’s powerful new ion probe facility: The University of Western Australia has just opened a new imaging and analysis facility that has the capacity to search for evidence of the earliest life on Earth, help find new ore deposits, and detect weapons-grade uranium in minute dust particles.

Event Calendar

For more information on international conferences in minerals, metals and materials click here.


The strategic alliance between Future Materials and the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance encapsulates our belief in collaboration through open innovation principles. Aligning Future Materials’ foundations within research organisations and the ANA’s industry focus provides a catalyst for economic development utilising new and advanced materials


Future Materials
School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences (Bld 68)
University of Queensland
ST LUCIA QLD 4072
Australian Nanotechnology Alliance
PO Box 609
HAMILTON QLD 4007

Phone: 07 33653829 • Email: c.gerbo@uq.edu.au
www.future.org.auwww.nanotechnology.org.au


Carla's Corner

The view from the Roundtable

Carla Gerbo

In September I was part of the ARC Nanotechnology Network (ARCNN) and the Australian Academy of Science Nanotechnology Stakeholder Day which took place in the Shine Dome, Canberra. As one of about 50 people who took part in this day, it was a great opportunity to mix with representatives from industry, research and government. Together we looked at ways of progressing a range of important issues including research collaboration, industry linkages, international linkages, infrastructure and research trends.

We also had the opportunity to hear preliminary results of the first ‘Survey of Nanotechnology’, undertaken by Dr Fiona Leves from the Australian Academy of Science. The survey brought together some 316 responses. These came mainly from university participants, but included a scattering of industry, government and service providers. It provides some interesting ideas on current research trends in nanotechnology (with the top five being: materials, nano-characterisation, nano-bio/medical devices, electronics/photonics and energy/environment). Dr Leves received funding from the ARCNN to undertake the survey.

Of the respondents that have collaborations in place, around 54 percent have current collaborations with international partners. These are mainly with the United Kingdom, United States, China, Germany, Japan and France. The predominant form of exchange was in the form of ideas or data, or joint publishing. Lower down were researcher/student exchange, and joint government or industry funding. From the 316 responses, the Survey identified over 700 different collaborations; however the involvement of industry and government remains significantly lower than research to research collaborations.

Which means we still have a great deal of work in Australia to get the message across to industry of the importance of advanced materials, and the competitive advantage that firms can earn by getting involved with research. It is important that Australia does not stand still in supporting collaborations.

Hopefully this survey can be undertaken again in 12 months so we can start tracking the performance of nanotechnology as it progresses from research to commercialisation. As the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance (ANA) and Future Materials are two of the key networks in this space, we take our role of fostering continual knowledge transfer between research and industry very seriously. Through 2010 and beyond we look forward to working with the Federal and State Government’s in getting our message out. The recent closure of an important nanotechnology network and the decision to not renew funding of another two will be felt across the community.

I understand that there are arguments that networks need to be self funding, and while I agree with the market economist’s concept in theory, the reality is that nanotechnology, unlike other enabling technologies like ICT and biotechnology, do not represent an industry sector. With nano and materials science having such broad relevance, our challenge is to get to as many industries and regions around Australia to inform them of the opportunities. Just as important is linking industry with their local or relevant research institution.

I am a believer that there is a direct link between firms that use and have access to research or characterisation/analysis resources and their productivity.

Again I encourage you to contact me if you have an issue or if you are looking for a particular university/pubic research institution “expert”.

Keep an eye out for our November Executive Series networking event and new pod-cast interviews on the ANA website (presentations of inspirational Australian’s utilising “small things for big outcomes”).

And keep your feedback coming (and if you have an interesting story you would like to share, either let myself know or our editor David Salt).

Remember, I’m just an email or phone call away (07 33653829 or c.gerbo@uq.edu.au.)

Carla Gerbo
National Co-Ordinator - Future Materials
Director & CEO - Australian Nanotechnology Alliance


Research News

Insights on alloys under stress

Dr Klaus-Dieter Liss

How far can you push a metal alloy? It’s difficult to know without observing the fine scale structural changes that take place in an alloy as it undergoes a stress test, and making such observations has traditionally been very difficult. But new research from ANSTO and the University of Wollongong might be changing this.

The research has produced the first micro-scale, in-situ, real-time observations of dynamic recrystallisation within alloys when placed under extremely high temperatures and stress. The observations were made using cutting-edge real-time synchrotron technology at the Argonne National Laboratory in the United States.

“This new research data is extremely important when studying how materials may react to stimuli, such as irradiation, over time and helps monitor their durability and reliability, as well as provide insights into new materials,” says ANSTO’s Dr Klaus-Dieter Liss, the materials scientist leading the research.

Dr Liss presented the results of the research at the Thermec’ 2009 Conference in Berlin in August. (Thermec is a leading international conference on the processing and manufacturing of advanced materials.) The work also featured on the cover of the August edition of Advanced Engineering Materials.

“Common solids such as metals, ceramics and rocks are made out of micrometre-sized crystallites consolidated in a large block,” explains Dr Liss. “Their mechanical properties depend upon their size and orientation.

“In a thermo-mechanical process, such as forging metal or occurring naturally in the Earth’s crust, thermal effects that drive these structures towards the perfect crystal state compete with mechanical stress, breaking larger crystallites into smaller pieces it is this process that is directly viewed for the first time in this research.

The observations are made by firing a well collimated X-ray beam onto the sample from the right. The beam is then diffracted into powder-diffraction cones onto a two-dimensional detector. The recorded rings show spottiness due to large grain size with respect to the small illuminated sample volume. The spottiness of the rings changes as a function of time as the sample is heated and strained in the load frame. The morphology of the spottiness gives deep insight into the deformation process of the sample

“The metal we studied was Zircaloy-4, which is used to hold fuel in ANSTO’s OPAL nuclear research reactor core and meanwhile we have studied other materials for usage in space and jet aircraft.

“In the reactor core this material is exposed to extreme temperatures and radiation, so increasing our understanding of how it’s affected at the atomic level is important for reactor maintenance and information for future generation developments and uses.

“Although these structural changes, scientifically known as dynamic recrystallisation, are commonly understood in science, predictions about how a specific material will react are very difficult as they depend on a number of things such as chemistry, temperature, strain and data on thermo-mechanic history.

“This research focussed on developing a new method of observation, which successfully revealed all the micro-structural kinetics, relevant statistics and crystal changes that occurred during the thermo-mechanic process, providing us with more detailed information about what is taking place structurally.”

Dr Liss is an inaugural ANSTO Senior Research Fellow working on Modern Diffraction Methods Applied to Thermo-Mechanical Process in Materials Science.

More info: Sharon Kelly sharon.kelly@ansto.gov.au


Know your materials

Fool’s gold opens window on ancient Earth

Michaela Partridge explores ancient life by examining sections of rock and analysing any fool’s gold it may contain. (Image courtesy of Michaela Partridge)

‘Fool’s gold’ has tricked many amateur prospectors into thinking they’d struck it rich. But now, thanks to an investigation by Earth scientists at the University of Queensland, fool’s gold is providing an invaluable lesson on Earth’s early history, and may even help in our search for extraterrestrial life.

“We have discovered new ways to use fool’s gold to reconstruct the ancient atmosphere,’ says Michaela Partridge, a PhD student at the University of Queensland.

Three billion years ago the Earth couldn’t support life as we know it - the atmosphere was deadly to oxygen-breathing plants and animals. But two and half billion years ago life changed the Earth’s atmosphere creating the oxygen-rich air we rely on today.

How this ‘Great Oxidation’ happened is one of the greatest questions of evolution. And the answer will also contribute to the search for extraterrestrial life and for new mineral deposits.

“Some fool’s gold, or pyrite, is made by microbes,” explains Ms Partidge. “We’ve found that as the concentration of sulfur and oxygen in the atmosphere changes, we find differently-shaped grains of the bright golden sulfur-bearing mineral pyrite or fool’s gold in the rock record. We can then work out which of these grains were made by simple organisms and which were formed by inorganic processes.

“By analysing these tiny golden mineral grains we can build much more detailed models of the ancient biosphere and atmosphere.” says Michaela, one of the primary researchers involved in the project.

Aspects of the research have been published in the prestigious scientific journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The UQ team, led by A/Prof Sue Golding in the School of Earth Sciences, is the first to confirm that differently shaped grains of pyrite may originate from different sulfur sources. The two to three-billion-year-old rocks studied by the team are from Western Australia’s Hamersley Basin and can contain several different forms of pyrite which microscopic organisms helped to produce.

“We can analyse the chemistry of both the pyrite and the rock itself to discover if any organisms were present, and if they were, whether they lived in a high or low oxygen environment.” says Michaela Partridge. We’ve found that there were locally different ‘pools’ of sulfur in the atmosphere and oceans two and a half billion years ago. This can only happen under conditions of low oxygen.

“We have already found that life on Earth three billion years ago was much more complex than previously thought. There were many different communities of bacteria, blue green algae and other microbes.”

Mapping the changes of when and where different types of microbes existed allows the team to trace the spread of oxygen from low concentrations in localised environments three billion years ago, to the oxygen-rich planet we know today. The researchers have shown that these changes happened much more slowly than previous models have suggested.

This understanding of the early evolution of planet Earth will help to extend what we know about the life forms and atmospheres that might evolve on other planets and moons, in our own solar system and beyond.

And, this early life on Earth contributed to the creation of some of the richest mineral resources in Australia so there may be benefits for mineral exploration.

Michaela Partridge is one of 15 early-career scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal Government.

More info: Michaela Partridge m.partridge@uq.edu.au


Tin Tacks

Nanotubes set to speed up desal

Nanotubes may revolutionise water desalination

A team of researchers from The Australian National University have discovered a way to remove salt from seawater using nanotubes made from boron and nitrogen atoms. The technique could make the process of desalination up to five times faster.

Researchers Dr Tamsyn Hilder, Dr Dan Gordon and group leader Professor Shin-Ho Chung from the Computational Biophysics Group at the Research School of Biology at ANU have come up with a way to eliminate all salt from seawater whilst maintaining high water flow rates. Their results have been published in the journal Small.

With population growth and climate change limiting the world’s fresh water stores (25% of the world’s population currently affected by water shortages), there is increasing focus on ways to improve desalination and demineralisation of water. Nanotechnology-based water purification devices, such as those proposed by Hilder, Gordon and Chung, have the potential to transform the field of desalination.

“Boron nitride nanotubes can be thought of as a hollow cylindrical tube made up of boron and nitrogen atoms,” said Dr Hilder. “These nanotubes are incredibly small, with diameters less than one-billionth of a metre, or 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a single strand of human hair.

“Current desalination methods force seawater through a filter using energies four times larger than necessary. Throughout the desalination process salt must be removed from one side of the filter to avoid the need to apply even larger energies.

“Using boron nitride nanotubes, and the same operating pressure as current desalination methods, we can achieve 100% salt rejection for concentrations twice that of seawater with water flowing four times faster, which means a much faster and more efficient desalination process.”

Hilder, Gordon and Chung use computational tools to simulate the water and salt moving through the nanotube. They found that the boron nitride nanotubes not only eliminate salt but also allows water to flow through extraordinarily fast, comparable to biological water channels naturally found in the body.

“Our research also suggests the possibility of engineering simple nanotubes that mimic some of the functions of complex biological nanotubes or nanochannels,” said Professor Chung, and work is continuing to investigate these possibilities further. These devices, once successfully manufactured, may be used for antibiotics, ultra-sensitive detectors or anti-cancer drugs.

A copy of the paper is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/smll.200900349. More info: Tamsyn A. Hilder (tamsyn.hilder@anu.edu.au)


Sensational Materials

Lacewing silk another advanced material from Nature’s cupboard.

Lacewing eggs on the end of their rigid silk stalks. The egg stalk silk is produced as a droplet which is drawn out by the female and dries rapidly. (Photo by Holly Trueman)

CSIRO scientists have just revealed their findings on the rare and fascinating silk produced by lacewing insects to make their egg stalks a cross-beta silk.

“We have identified and sequenced the genes for the egg stalk silk of adult females of a common Australian green lacewing, Mallada signata,” says Dr Tara Sutherland from CSIRO Entomology.

“We found that the lacewing egg stalk silk contains two fibrous proteins which are folded up like panels in a concertina door. The silk in the egg stalk is produced as a liquid and dries in few seconds in air. It is very strong with a high lateral stiffness - nearly three times that of silkworm silk and remarkable elastic.”

A female lacewing produces the silk as a drop of liquid which she then draws out. The thread hardens in a few seconds and the female then lays an egg on its tip, protecting the egg against predators.

Scientists have long sought to produce artificial insect silks. The fact that the lacewing’s silk is produced as a liquid which rapidly solidifies in air makes it easier to produce than the complex systems of moths and spiders.

Dr Sutherland said that silk production is a multi-step process which involves making the proteins and then fabricating these into the physical structure of silk.

While the silk proteins from bee and ant silks are easier to produce chemically, it is the much simpler way lacewings fabricate their silk that has caught the scientists’ interest. This lacewing is also a very effective biocontrol agent as its larvae consume, amongst other things, aphids, mealybugs and mites.

The cross-beta silk discovery came out of the Crop Biofactories Initiative research program which was jointly funded by the CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. The CBI aims to add value to agriculture and the chemicals industry through the development of technologies for novel industrial compounds from genetically modified non-food crops.

More info: tara.sutherland@csiro.au

Nanobones may replace artificial implants

Murdoch University’s Nanotechnology group is working on creating a bone substitute that could make artificial implants a thing of the past.

One of the risks associated with joint replacement surgery is the possibility of infection around implanted joints, and the need to remove the implant if traditional methods such as antibiotic treatment are unsuccessful.

Dr Gerard Eddy Poinern, Head of Murdoch University’s Applied Nanotechnology Research Group (MANRG) said his team’s nanotechnology would replace the traditionally used titanium plate with a plate of nanohydroxyapatite that is more easily accepted by the body.

“In the case of nanohydroxyapatite, you can dose it with antibiotics so when the bacteria comes in, it releases antibiotics and there is a stronger chance of the implant being accepted by the body,” says Dr Poinern.

As Hydroxyapatite is the main component of inorganic material found in bone, Dr Poinern believes his team’s new recipe of nanohydroxyapatite would have an easier biocompatibility and bioactivity, allowing the body to repair itself much faster.

“When it’s put into the body, the body recognises it and will try to grow into it, accepting it quite well compared to other implants,” he says. “The beauty about this is because it’s in nanoform, like a powder, you can then shape it into screws, plates or any form you require.”

Mr Ravi Brundavanam, who is supervised by Dr Poinern and Dr Zhong Tao Jiang at the MANRG, played a major role in pioneering the new chemical recipe to make nanohydroxapatite, as part of his honours project.

“The point for us was to look at whether we could make the nanobone in a different way, so we came up with a new recipe for making it,” says Dr Poinern. “Now that we have a prototype, we will look at the properties of this nanohydroxyapatite compared to the micron size hydroxyapatite.”

Dr Poinern says further research would map out the nanohydroxyapatite’s strength and load-bearing properties, and hopefully link with a medical field collaborator to test its compatibility. The MANRG team has several ongoing projects in the nanotechnology field, including the use of iron nano-particles to remove nitrates from fertilisers, nano-polymers to deliver anti-stroke drugs and nano-skin for scarless skin regeneration.

More info: G.Poinern@murdoch.edu.au

UWA’s powerful new ion probe facility

The Cameca IMS 1280

The University of Western Australia has just opened a new imaging and analysis facility that has the capacity to search for evidence of the earliest life on Earth, help find new ore deposits, and detect weapons-grade uranium in minute dust particles. The Ion Probe Facility was launched by the Federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, in August. It houses the two cutting edge ion microprobes (the NanoSIMS and a new Cameca IMS), both of which are flagships of the $39 million national Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF).

The facility’s newest ion microprobe (the Cameca IMS) is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and one of only 15 worldwide. UWA Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Robson, said the Cameca IMS 1280 would enable the University to extend beyond its existing record of scientific achievement to reach new levels of international excellence for the benefit of the whole community.

“The microprobe provides a rare opportunity to develop novel techniques for looking at the origin of the Earth, the Moon, and life on Earth," Professor Robson said.

Director of UWA's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis, Winthrop Professor David Sampson, said the machines worked by bombarding samples with high-energy ion beams.

“These instruments perform ‘secondary ion mass spectrometry’ - they measure near surface chemistry and can differentiate isotopes of the same element (for example, carbon-12 and carbon-13, that only differ by one neutron) with minimal preparation of the samples,” Professor Sampson said.

“The NanoSIMS does this with exquisite nanometre spatial resolution and is used primarily for chemical mapping. The IMS 1280 is optimised for exquisite sensitivity and precision at the expense of spatial resolution, so the two instruments complement each other.”

Built in France, the $6 million, 7.5 tonne IMS 1280 had to be flown to Adelaide because of freight restrictions at Perth Airport. From there it was trucked over the Nullarbor in 12 crates. Then each component had to be lifted by crane to the first floor of the Centre, which had been reinforced with steel beams to take its weight.

More info: David.Sampson@uwa.edu.au


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