In this Issue
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
A busy two months
At the ANA and Future Materials’ we spend a great deal of time thinking about two key themes: (a) how do we get industry more involved in interacting with researchers to build their productivity; and (b) how do we get researchers communicating more effectively with industry? Some may believe it’s the same question - but it’s not. Both themes involve different strategies and activities.
In the last couple of months we’ve been trialling two programs that address each of these challenges.
In Victoria we’ve commenced a program in conjunction with the Small Technology Cluster and patent firm Davies Collison Cave titled “Clayton’s Marriage Between Industry and Research”. It’s a play on the “old” TV commercial, and this program showcases the research facilities in one of Australia’s premier scientific precincts - Clayton. The first event saw 120 people hear presentations on how the Australian Synchrotron and the newly opened Melbourne Centre for Nano Fabrication can work with industry. The event had speakers from each organisation showcasing the scientific infrastructure and resources available.
The second event in this series took place on April 14th with Monash University and CSIRO presenting their advantages. The Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Edwina Cornish spoke for Monash while Dr Calum Drummond, Chief of CSIRO’s Materials Science and Engineering did so for CSIRO. The popularity of this event saw the 90 seats on offer fill in a matter of days. If you missed out, don’t worry, we have more events planned for Clayton in 2010, plus the possibility of tours through the highlighted institutions.
Meanwhile, in Brisbane, our first tour of the equipment purchased for the University of Queensland under the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) was a big hit in March. So much so that plans are now afoot in conjunction with the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group - one of Australia’s peak employer groups) to start tours of ANFF facilities (at the University of Queensland and Griffith University). For Brisbane residents, we’re also planning a special excursion for those with an interest in aviation - but more on that closer to date.
For those not aware of the ANFF, this is a university-based structure incorporating seven Australian universities with the aim of providing access to researchers and industry to state-of-the-art fabrication facilities involved in diverse areas including advanced materials, nanoelectronics, photonics and bio nano applications. We’re very pleased to be working with ANFF(Qld) and with time I’m sure we will be extending the program to other ANFF node states.
For those of you in other States and Territories, sit tight - we have a very exciting year planned and hope to be seeing many more of you through 2010. Remember, I’m just an email or phone call away (07 33653829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Opening the surgeon’s eyes - New approaches to advanced medical imaging
Most people don’t consider the X-ray you get when you break your arm is a form of materials science but it is. X-rays are enabling doctors to distinguish soft tissues (muscle) from hard tissue (bone) and to inspect the bone for damage (fixing the broken bone is also a form of materials science but that’s another story). In a similar way, most forms of medical imaging - be it CT, MRI or PET scans - are a form of materials science.
Dr Ramtin Shams from the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science is working at the cutting edge of advanced medical imaging but he’s not working on a magical new imaging machine that will take better pictures of your insides. What he’s doing is devising new ways that data from existing imaging technologies can be used together to guide the surgeon as he or she navigates their way through your body.
In the last decade, significant advances have been made in medical imaging. Modern Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) scanners can each provide amazingly detailed images of our various tissues and structures (and each form of scanning has its own strengths and weaknesses). They can be used to detect a wide range of diseases including cancer, but they can’t easily be used in the theatre during an operation - they are largely pre-operative techniques (usually part of the diagnosis).
Ultrasound imaging, on the other hand, is an incredibly flexible imaging technique that is suitable for use during an operation. But ultrasound images can be difficult to interpret and often won’t distinguish between different structures with the precision offered by MRI and CT scans.
Imagine if you could combine the real-time imaging of the ultra sound with the precision of pre operative scans. Dr Ramtin Shams is working on achieving just that.
“The aim is to improve the quality of real-time ultrasound images by registering them with the higher quality pre-operative imaging such as provided by CT and/or MRI,” explains Dr Shams. “Once the alignment between the imaging techniques is known, the information in the images can be combined to provide an enhanced image or corresponding images can be shown side by side to assist in interpreting the ultrasound image and for surgical navigation.
“While there are a number of computational challenges to overcome, this work promises to have significant impact in surgical navigation.”
By providing such precision guidance, the field of keyhole surgery (e.g. laparoscopic surgery) would further expand as surgeons are given a better capacity to navigate their way through the body.
“This research will accelerate the shift towards keyhole surgery,” says Dr Shams. “And this will deliver enormous cost savings for hospitals and higher success rates for patients as the need for open surgery decreases.”
And the research is also developing a range of ultrasound synthesis methods for the training of medical staff. A by-product of research in ultrasound simulation is the development of medical simulators for training of medical staff and students. Simulator-based training complements traditional training courses that require access to patients. The training courses can be enriched by providing students with unrestricted access to rare cases and without the need for actual patients.
“We are also seeking to improve the quality of ultrasound imagery by using temporal information as the ultrasound probe is being navigated,” comments Dr Shams. “Ultrasound is a view-dependent imaging technique, but complementary information about a region of interest can be revealed by changing the position and viewing angle of the ultrasound probe relative to the anatomy”.
“Ultimately, our goal is to improve the visibility of the human body and provide surgeons with high-quality images that increase the number of laparoscopic surgeries that will be done in the future,” says Dr Shams. “If we achieve that, everyone is a winner.”
More info: Ramtin.Shams@anu.edu.au
Know your materials
Probing materials with antimatter
Antimatter has always had a very ‘science fiction’ feel about it because most of us only hear the term being used in science fiction books and movies. But antimatter is very real, it can be produced in small quantities in special facilities and it has some very important applications for materials science.
Most of the fundamental particles of physics have an associated antiparticle with the same mass but opposite electric charge. In the case of electrons, their antiparticle is the positron, which carries a positive charge. A group of scientists at the ARC Centre for Antimatter-Matter Studies (a collaboration of several Australian universities and research institutions) have built a dual beamline facility at the Australian National University for the production and study of positrons. It’s called the Australian Positron Beamline Facility and one of these beamlines is devoted to materials science.
When positrons enter matter they commonly join with an electron to form a short-lived exotic atom called positronium. In vacuum, it has a lifetime of 140 nanoseconds but in solids this can be reduced to a few hundred picoseconds. However, positronium is attracted to voids in solid material and because these act like tiny vacuums its lifetime is extended where voids are present. In effect this means that by injecting a very short pulse of positrons into a material and measuring the timing of the gamma ray annihilation signatures, scientists can determine the size and density of imperfections in the material. This is especially useful for example, in high grade silicon used in microelectronics and in detecting early signs of fatigue in metals.
But given that antimatter and matter annihilate on contact, how do you create a positron beamline in the first place? The positrons in the Australian Positron Beamline Facility are generated as a radioactive decay product of an isotope of sodium 22Na. The positrons emitted by the sodium source emerge at every angle and with a range of energies up to about 500keV.
The Australian Research Council recently announced a A$4.5 million extension to the funding of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Antimatter - Matter Studies (or CAMS). This funding extends the operations of the collaborative Centre until 2013.
Director of the Centre, Professor Stephen Buckman from the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering welcomed the extension of funding for another three and a half years.
“This will enable CAMS to continue its important fundamental studies and to pursue its increasing focus on applications of antimatter in biomedical and materials sciences,” says Professor Buckman.
CAMS is a collaboration of eight Australian universities and research institutions performing research on positron and electron interactions with matter, from single atoms to biological molecules, surfaces and materials. The wide ranging research program draws together virtually all of Australia’s top scientists working in these fields.
More info: Dr Colin Taylor, Chief Operations Officer, email@example.com
Old tailings may lead to new photovoltaics
Tailings from Australia's gold-rush could be used in the production of speciality, high-value feedstocks that could be used in solar-grade silicon production.
High quality, low impurity quartz is already being recovered from the waste tailings of late 19th century alluvial gold mines at Creswick, west of Melbourne. The quartz is currently being supplied as architectural-quality quartz to landscape and construction industries and to niche markets.
Project leader, Dr Hal Aral, says the goal is to develop a commercially viable and environmentally sustainable quartz-purification process that produces metallurgical and solar-grade silicon feedstock from these tailings.
The researchers, working through the Minerals Down Under Flagship, are developing a purification process that has the potential to lead to cheaper silicon solar cells - something that depends critically on the availability of inexpensive solar-grade silicon feedstock - and, with that, increase solar energy use.
Already, physical and chemical treatment is showing that the research team can produce various particle sizes that are 99.995 per cent pure silica, a step towards the goal of 99.999 to 99.9999 per cent pure silica that is needed for solar-grade silicon production.
With the right processes, quartz from Creswick could be supplied as high-quality, fine-particle-sized (down to 10 to 20 microns) and lump (20 to 80 millimetre) quartz suitable for both metallurgical and solar-grade silicon production.
At the moment solar-grade silicon is manufactured from scraps of semiconductor-grade silicon which, in turn, is produced from metallurgical-grade silicon. Semiconductor-grade silicon processing includes chlorination and complex downstream work, which Hal says is tedious and expensive, eventually making the final cost of silicon products very high.
Additionally, the demand for solar-grade silicon is now greater than the amount of scrap the electronics industry can supply. It means the industry is looking for high-purity, fine-particle-sized feedstocks for solar-grade silicon production.
For the research team, the next stage is to demonstrate the CSIRO-developed physical and chemical treatment processes at a large scale.
More info: Hal.Aral@csiro.au
Tailor-made nano-sized drug delivery system
Scientists at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Science (MIPS) in collaboration with the biotechnology company Starpharma Holdings Ltd have developed a new method to deliver medications that may benefit thousands of patients with particular types of cancer, HIV and lymphatic conditions.
The Melbourne-based research team has shown how PEGylated Polylysine dendrimers, a new type of nano-sized drug delivery system, can be altered to target either the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.
Lead researcher at MIPS and the Associate Dean of Research, Professor Chris Porter said the discovery has particular implications for the treatment of diseases which are spread via the lymphatics and lymph nodes.
"We are excited by the possibilities that this technology may provide in the improved treatment of particular types of diseases, including metastatic cancer, lymphoma, HIV and metastitial tuberculosis," says Professor Porter.
Dendrimers are precisely defined, synthetic nanomaterials that are approximately 5-10 nanometres in diameter. They are made up of layers of polymer surrounding a central core. The dendrimer surface contains many different sites to which drugs may be attached and also attachment sites for materials such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) which can be used to modify the way the dendrimer interacts with the body.
PEG can be attached to the dendrimer to 'disguise' it and prevent the body's defence mechanisms from detecting it, thereby slowing the process of breakdown. This allows the delivery system to circulate in the body for an extended time period, maximising the opportunities for the drug to reach the relevant sites.
Professor Porter's group and Starpharma have been investigating dendrimer-based drug delivery systems for some time - but these most recent finding appear to hold particular promise. The data, published in the Journal of Controlled Release, demonstrates that by increasing dendrimer size by increasing the chain length of attached polyethylene glycol chains, a dramatic increase in absorption efficiency after subcutaneous injection can be achieved and transported into the lymphatic system. Conversely, a shorter PEG chain was shown to lead to rapid absorption into the blood.
"Our work suggests that careful design of the size and surface characteristics of PEGylated Polylysine dendrimers provides an opportunity to choose whether these delivery systems are absorbed and distributed via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system," says Professor Porter.
"The ability to target therapeutic treatments in this way offers the potential to maximise drug concentrations at sites of action within the lymphatic system - and importantly to minimise concentrations elsewhere, potentially reducing side effects and toxicity. It is still early days, but we're confident the potential for improved patient treatment is significant".
More info: Samantha Blair (Media and Communications): 03 9903 4841 or 0439 013 951
New spin on magnetic quantum dots
UQ researchers are working with nanotechnologists at UCLA to create magnetic quantum dots, a cutting edge semiconductor technology that will pave the way for the next generation of electrical and information systems.
Professor Jin Zou and Dr Yong Wang from the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology at the University of Queensland (UQ) have collaborated with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Intel Corporation to create the advanced ‘magnetic quantum dots'.
Magnetic quantum dot technology is expected to underpin future communications and resolve power consumption and variability issues in today's microelectronics industry by providing computers and other devices with extraordinary electrical and magnetic properties.
Professor Zou said the team's breakthrough had enabled their magnetic quantum dots to simultaneously utilise both ‘charge' and ‘spin' - two types of outputs generated by electrons.
“Developing quantum dots which are able to harness both outputs may help to significantly reduce the size of electrical devices and reduce power dissipation inherent in electrical systems, because the collective spins in spintronics devices are expected to consume less energy than current charge-based technology,” says Professor Zou.
What’s more, the team was able to prove the novel technology in experiments at relatively high temperature, something which was not previously thought possible.
ARC Australian Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Yong Wang said the successful operation of the technology in sustainable and manageable conditions would enable it to be more easily integrated into existing silicon-based microelectronic technology (the current platform used by industry).
“We hope our work will help to improve the performance of microelectronics in applications used in health care to defence to communications,” says Dr Wang said.
The breakthrough research was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Materials.
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New research into storing nuclear Waste
Curtin University of Technology has signed a four-year, $1.2 million agreement with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to conduct research into the storage of nuclear waste. The project brings together expertise in materials modelling from Curtin’s Nanochemistry Research Institute (NRI) with ANSTO’s renowned nuclear science to undertake fundamental research into the design and implementation of nuclear waste forms.
Curtin’ Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Development, Professor Linda Kristjanson, said the University was pleased to be working with ANSTO on such an important research area.
“It will build on our existing ties with global leaders in nuclear research, including ANSTO and Los Alamos in the US, and will allow Curtin to conduct fundamental research into the safe containment of highly radioactive waste,” says Professor Kristjanson.
Professor Kristjanson said Curtin already had research capacity in the area with Associate Professor Nigel Marks, who had an Australian Research Council grant to work on nuclear materials, and ARC Professorial Fellow, Professor Julian Gale.
ANSTO’s Institute of Materials Engineering Head, Professor Lyndon Edwards, said the collaboration would build national capacity in materials modelling that would be important for Australian science and industry and produce outcomes that further improve our understanding of nuclear waste.
“There has been a significant increase in global interest in nuclear power in recent years and more nuclear power plants are being planned around the world today than at any time in the past 30 years,” says Professor Edwards. “New higher efficiency, intrinsically safer Generation IV reactor systems are also being developed which will require new nuclear waste solutions.
“By working with Curtin, ANSTO is ensuring that Australian science remains at the forefront of how to design, manufacture and store nuclear waste in a safe, economic and timely manner.”
The new staff member will be based at the $116 million Curtin Resources and Chemistry Precinct and will work under the umbrella of the Curtin Institute for Minerals of Energy (CIME), which was launched by Federal Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson in November 2009.