Future Materials and Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In this Issue

  • Research News

    HIPS – a super-tough, super-adaptable fireproof coatings - CSIRO researchers have developed a new fire-resistant coating that can withstand temperatures of over 1000°C. Current commercial coatings used on building materials and structures usually break down at between 150-250°C.

  • Know your material

    AccessNano climbs into space with nanotubes - The dream of a working space elevator has been given a new lease of life in recent years with the development of carbon nanotubes – a wonder material with the strength and flexibility that some believe might make them a perfect candidate for building the cable that lies at the heart of the space elevator concept.

  • Tin Tacks

    Tombstones track pollution - Did you know that marble headstones in cemeteries can be used to measure levels of pollution? It’s true; the rate of weathering of marble gravestones can indicate changes in pollution or climate between locations and over time

  • Sensational Materials

    The art and science of a quick sell - How long does it take to pitch a great idea for producing lighter and cheaper magnesium alloys? Dr Dong Qiu from the University of Queensland demonstrated it could be done effectively in less time than it takes to pour a Guinness.

    From ashes to fire proof concrete - A Curtin University of Technology PhD student has devised a fireproof concrete using a waste by-product of coal fired power stations.

    New amplifier detects magnetic materials - A revolutionary new amplifier designed by a team of physicists at The University of Western Australia may radically improve our ability to remotely sense magnetic minerals and may one day help space explorers locate magnetic asteroids.

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

From Oz to Europe (and back again)

Carla Gerbo

I want to start by thanking all of our newsletter readers that contacted me after the release of the July newsletter either asking for assistance, congratulating us on a story or asking us to share information. It’s a great privilege that we at Future Materials and the Australian Nanotechnology Alliance (ANA) can act as a conduit sharing information and resources; but what I like best is the networking that I’ve started to note between our readers and the story participants.

Our newsletter is now distributed by email to over 10,000 people. This is mainly in Australia but our international links are growing, and it really is fantastic to get Australian research successes into the big picture. And it’s the big global picture that I want to touch on in this editorial.

In October a delegation of 11 leading Australian researchers is visiting Europe to undertake high level meetings aimed at reinforcing and leveraging strategic research links and relationships between the European Union and Australia. Two Future Materials’ board members and a foundation member of the ANA are on that delegation.

Travelling to Brussels for the meetings will be Future Materials’ Professor Jim Williams (ANU), Professor Robert Lamb (Australian Synchrotron) and the ANA’s foundation member Professor Max Lu (University of Queensland). The Australian delegation will be lead by Professor Chennupati Jagadish (ANU). I’m hopeful that I will also be joining the mission to learn how the EC has successfully implemented a range of measures that encourage research, industry and government collaboration in what they term the knowledge triangle.

The Australian delegation will be briefed on knowledge sharing, technology transfer and collaboration. Australia is keen to learn from four EC pilot projects which examine (a) complex electronic systems; (b) transportation; (c) climate and energy; and (d) regenerative medicine. These four areas have close parallels to Australia’s competitive advantage sectors. A better appreciation of how they are working in Europe will assist us in developing and improving our own strategies. Added to this, the issues the EU had to deal with in terms of encouraging communication and collaboration between research and industry will provide important lessons for Australia.

From international networking back to collaborations on home-soil, I’m always blown away by research applications developed by local companies. Consider, for example, the recent Sydney Executive Series industry participants Cap-XX (June) and RPO (July). Australia undoubtedly has enormous potential to keep building in this space. Despite a range of challenges from regulation through to manufacturing, it’s clear we have an exceptional R&D capacity here in Oz.

In terms of the Future Materials/ANA Executive Series this month, there is first time event planned for Newcastle, and there’s also a Brisbane workshop looking at corrosion and coating. Check our event file in this newsletter and come along if you can for great discussion on knowledge transfer and new ideas. And, keep in mind the great refreshments supplied by the Executive Series sponsor Davies Collison Cave.

In this newsletter you will also note that we have restarted our podcast series with a number of informative interviews. We have commenced a “conversation” series with CAST CRC and you will hear three interviews with David StJohn, Sue Keay and Gary Savage. A further two presentations include Philip Valencia of CSIRO and his work on wireless sensors and Assoc Professor Sebastien Perrier’s presentation from the recent Sydney Executive Series talking about the University of Sydney’s Centre for Polymers and Colloids. You can download the episodes on the ANA website, or subscribe to the podcast with iTunes to keep up to date with the latest episodes.

All in all it’s another big month, so keep your feedback coming and if you have an interesting story you’d like to share, let me, or David Salt who writes this newsletter, know.

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

HIPS – a super-tough, super-adaptable fireproof coatings

Researching the protective properties of HIPS coatings (Photo by Lawrence Cheung CMSE)

CSIRO researchers have developed a new fire-resistant coating that can withstand temperatures of over 1000°C. Current commercial coatings used on building materials and structures usually break down at between 150-250°C.

The material is knows as HIPS which is short for ‘hybrid inorganic polymer system’. HIPS coatings contain an inorganic geopolymer resin, and a small component of polymer additives.

Project leader, Dr Damian Fullston of CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering, says CSIRO is seeking coatings manufacturers interested in partnering with CSIRO to customise HIPS to meet product specifications for selected applications.

“They are not only fire-, blast- and acid-resistant, they are also strong, castable, sprayable, and extrudable, making their potential uses almost limitless,” he says. “Geopolymers are an emerging class of ceramic-like inorganic polymers produced at room temperatures that have the potential to transform the building products industry.

“They are not only fire-, blast- and acid-resistant, they are also strong, castable, sprayable, and extrudable, making their potential uses almost limitless. The polymer additives in HIPS improve the flexibility and waterproofing properties, and provide stronger adhesion, which are important properties for a coating.”

HIPS has the potential to form thin fireproof coatings on timbers such as weatherboards, and on metals such as structural or galvanised steel. It can also protect brickwork, either as a thin coating or as a render. HIPS can be applied by spray equipment, roller or brush, and cures from ambient temperature to below 90°C.

HIPS are water-based materials so coatings are free of volatile organic compounds, do not burn or produce heat, and do not release smoke or toxic chemicals at temperatures up to 1200°C.

Geopolymers are cost-competitive, since they are made from readily available raw materials. They can also be derived from industrial by-products such as flyash and blast furnace slag. They can be cheaper than organic resins and coloured with pigments or dyes.

The strength of HIPS materials is comparable with that of phenolic resins in heat-sensitive applications, but HIPS retains higher strength at higher temperatures. HIPS formulations are tailored to be interchangeable with phenolic resins, and have higher fatigue resistance than normal phenolics. CSIRO also sees potential for the manufacture of fireproof wood composites and fire seals from HIPS technology, but has not fully explored these applications to date.

More info: damian.fullston@csiro.au


Know your materials

AccessNano climbs into space with nanotubes

The lure of space is engaging young Australians in nanotechnology

A space elevator is a mechanism for transporting objects and materials into space. It’s basically a long cable that’s tethered to the ground and attached to a satellite in a geostationary orbit (ie, orbits at the same speed of the Earth so it’s always above the same position on Earth). Payloads are simply sent up to the satellite by sending them up in ‘elevators’ that climb up the cable.

Sounds pretty far-fetched, hey? The idea was originally conceived by Jerome Pearson, a US aerospace engineer in 1969, and popularised by Arthur C Clarke in the science fiction novel ‘the fountains of paradise’. If it could be achieved it would literally transform space travel as it would provide a low cost way of moving things into space. However, the technical challenges involved means it’ll probably remain science fiction. Or maybe not!

The dream of a working space elevator has been given a new lease of life in recent years with the development of carbon nanotubes – a wonder material with the strength and flexibility that some believe might make them a perfect candidate for building the cable that lies at the heart of the space elevator concept.

Whether it happens or not the very idea of space elevators from carbon nanotubes is a fantastic hook for getting school students into materials science and nanotechnology. Exploring the science of nanotubes and fantastic applications like space elevators is just one of 13 new teacher modules that have been produced by AccessNano. Each module provides teachers with ready-to-use, versatile, web-based teaching lessons, featuring PowerPoint presentations, experiments, activities, animations and links to interactive websites. And many of the activities are fun. For example, in the space elevator module students get to build carbon molecules and sweet nanotubes in which marshmallows are used for carbon atoms.

Topics covered fit into current Australian curricula requirements, and include teaching units for Years 7-11. Other units include shape memory alloys, nanogold and health, glass, and performance materials.

AccessNano is an Australian government initiative funded through the Australian Office of Nanotechnology. Check it out yourself at http://www.accessnano.org/


Tin Tacks

Tombstones track pollution

Because marble headstones erode in acid rain they can serve as pollution meters.

Did you know that marble headstones in cemeteries can be used to measure levels of pollution? It’s true; the rate of weathering of marble gravestones can indicate changes in pollution or climate between locations and over time.

Rain contains more than just water — it also contains dust particles and acid from air pollution and chemicals. And the acid in rain chemically erodes marble gravestones (and the more acid the rain contains, the more it erodes the marble).

Given this basic fact, the Geological Society of Australia is calling on individuals, schools and community groups across Australia, to visit their local graveyards and measure the weathering rates of old marble headstones as part of an international project called the Gravestone Project to track shifts in world pollution levels and climate change.

Two methods can be used to measure the weathering rate of marble gravestones. The Lead Lettering Method measures the erosion of a marble gravestone in comparison with the lead lettering used on it (as the lettering is not eroded by the acid in rain but the marble is). When marble gravestones are created, they are polished smooth so the lead letters and marble surface are flush. By measuring the distance that the lead lettering sits out from the eroded marble on weathered gravestones, and relating this to the date of death on the gravestone, scientists can determine by how much the gravestone has eroded over time.

While not as accurate as the Lead Lettering Method, the Thickness Method can be used for marble gravestones that do not contain lead lettering. It assumes that when the headstone was made it was a constant thickness from top to bottom—so by measuring any subsequent differences in the thickness of the headstone between its top and bottom, and relating this to the date of death on the headstone, scientists can determine the rate of weathering of the headstone caused by acidic rain over time.

In the Gravestone Project, participants will visit their local graveyard (importantly, only after obtaining any required permissions to do so), determine its location using a GPS and add this location to a global graveyard map on the EarthTrek website (www.goearthtrek.com). They will also note on the map whether the graveyard has (or does not have) white marble headstones. Participants can then go a further step and select five white marble headstones that vary in age (including the oldest and youngest in the graveyard) and vary in the direction they face, record the dates of death shown on these headstones, and (while ensuring full respect and care is shown around the graves) measure the weathering rate of the headstones using micrometer callipers. Participants will log this and various other data about the gravestones on the EarthTrek website.

President of the Geological Society of Australia, Professor Peter Cawood, said: “The terrific thing about EarthTrek is that it will engage the wider community in a whole range of exciting scientific research while also providing enormous people-power to greatly assist the scientists undertaking the research. EarthTrek projects across the globe will be focusing on critical research into key environmental issues such as climate change, pollution, the spread of noxious weeds and tracking endangered animals, just to name a few. By actively engaging the wider community in their work, scientists involved in EarthTrek can substantially increase the amount of data they collect for their research, dramatically raise the profile of their research in the broader community, and provide younger people with a first-hand opportunity to experience the wide range of fascinating work that a career as an Earth Scientist offers.”

Director Education & Outreach with the Geological Society of America, Gary Lewis, said: “EarthTrek has already received a very positive community response around the globe with participants signing up from the USA, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Spain and Australia. It is terrific that so many people want to get involved in the project and help scientists with some fascinating research while also spending time outdoors using current technology and having fun. We have also had a great response to EarthTrek from scientists across the world, who can see the real benefits to their research that will stem from this project. We continue to encourage the support and partnership of even more scientific agencies and professional societies across the broad spectrum of science in making this program a powerful experience for both the scientists and the wider community.”

Associate Professor Deirdre Dragovich from the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, said: “It is amazing to consider that, because marble headstones are freshly cut when they are placed in a cemetery, the weathering ‘clock’ is effectively set to zero. Gravestones are also very accurate indicators of pollution levels—in places where pollution has increased the weathering rates of marble headstones have increased too (and, conversely, weathering rates have decreased in places where pollution has decreased). The Gravestone Project provides a unique opportunity to gather important information about this weathering from different countries, climates and pollution environments—and it is also a great way for the wider community to contribute to cutting-edge research on pollution and climate change.”

More info: http://www.goearthtrek.com/Gravestones/Gravestones.html


Sensational Materials

The art and science of a quick sell

Dong Qiu in action

How long does it take to pitch a great idea for producing lighter and cheaper magnesium alloys? Dr Dong Qiu from the University of Queensland demonstrated it could be done effectively in less time than it takes to pour a Guinness.

That was the challenge anyway at an event called Technology on Tap, part of the 4th International Light Metals Technology Conference held on the Gold Coast at the end of June. The event challenged scientists to explain their research in less time than it takes to pour a Guinness, or 2.5 minutes.

Dr Qiu, from UQ’s School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, played the part of a butcher at a meat market, and the idea he was ‘selling’ was a way of producing stronger, lighter and cheaper magnesium alloys that can be used in the production of cars, laptops and other modern technologies.

According to Dr Qiu, these alloys can be produced if you use his secret ingredient - a grain refiner - which makes metals strong. And his style won over an international panel of judges who judged Dr Qiu to be the best presenter (winning him $2000).

"It was a great experience,” Dr Qiu said after the event. “I might become an entertainer yet,"

The Light Metals Technology Conference is an international event that showcases metals and alloy technologies from across the world.

More info: Sue Keay, CAST CRC (0408 778 667).

From ashes to fire proof concrete

A Curtin University of Technology PhD student has devised a fireproof concrete using a waste by-product of coal fired power stations.

William Rickard is PhD student in Curtin’s Centre for Materials Research. He has developed a geopolymer cement using fly ash produced by coal fired power stations. According to Mr Rickard, this material is a safer building material for fire prone areas, and it also reduces carbon emissions.

“Five to eight per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the manufacturing of cement,” explains Mr Rickard. “Creating geopolymer cement from fly ash produced by coal fired power stations releases up to 80 per cent less carbon dioxide than standard cement.

“Not only can we reuse industrial waste and save it from being dumped into unsightly tailings dams, we can help to reduce our carbon emissions and the impact of global warming.”

About 13.5 million tonnes of fly ash is produced in Australia each year and over 600 million tonnes globally.

“Fly ash is a waste material with great potential as a resource for cement production,” says Mr Rickard. “While also being as strong as regular cement, geopolymer cement has exceptional fire resistance, making it superior to conventional building materials.

“Geopolymer cements will maintain their strength and integrity during a fire while traditional cements will break down and fail. It can be used to insulate wall panels and build fire proof bunkers in rural areas, potentially reducing the damage caused by bush fires.

“Although we are in the early days of developing this new form of geopolymer concrete, I am optimistic that we will have a commercially ready product in the next few years.”

The Centre for Materials Research at Curtin is working with the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Resource Processing (CSRP) in developing new and improved materials from industrial by-products.

In an effort to promote geopolymers, CSRP has created the Geopolymer Alliance that aims to enhance the sustainability of the mining and power industries by promoting the uptake of geopolymer technology within existing industries such as the building and construction industry.

More info: william.rickard@student.curtin.edu.au

New amplifier detects magnetic materials

Viet Dang, a member of the team who developed the new amplifier

A revolutionary new amplifier designed by a team of physicists at The University of Western Australia may radically improve our ability to remotely sense magnetic minerals and may one day help space explorers locate magnetic asteroids.

The research team, led by Professor David Blair, invented the device while trying to solve a technical problem in kilometre scale gravitational wave observatories that aim to detect black holes across the universe.

"We have turned a problem for gravitational wave detectors into a new gadget with an amazing range of applications," Professor Blair said.

Professor Blair's team includes research director Dr Chunnong Zhao, research fellow Dr Li Ju, and International Postgraduate Research Scholarship students Haixing Miao, Slawomir Gras and Yaohui Fan as well as students Viet Dang, Lucienne Merrill and Zhongyang Zhang who are testing two different versions of the amplifier.

"We all use amplifiers everyday - they are all around us, in radios, televisions, phones and MP3 players," Professor Blair said. "They use electricity to increase the volume of sounds or the strength of radio signals. Every form of telecommunication and almost every sensor used for monitoring everything from aero-engines to human bodies depends on an amplifier. Even light can be amplified and this is necessary for the operation of optical fibre networks."

Professor Blair said the new device could directly amplify sound, turn sound into light and even suck energy out of objects in a process called optical cooling.

"We predict that it can cool vibrations until the only vibration that remain are ghostly quantum fluctuations," he said. "In a slight variation the same device can amplify radio waves and turn these into light, or measure tiny magnetic fields down to a millionth of the strength of the earth's magnetic field.

"The new amplifier operates by shining laser light onto a flexible mirror. When the light reflects off the mirror, the mirror recoils and the tiny recoil is enough to convert the light into a new light beam of a slightly different colour, and in a pattern that allows it to build up by resonance as it reflects back and forth between the flexible mirror and a second mirror. This build up of the light is actually powered by the incoming laser beam."

The team calls the new device an opto-acoustic parametric amplifier or OAPA. The OAPA combines two patterns of light waves with a sound vibration. Earlier devices developed in Europe and the US used a single light pattern. These devices could also amplify, but they suffered from noise effects that gave them limited performance.

"Our breakthrough was to work out how to combine two separate light wave patterns with the pattern of vibrations in a flexible mirror," Professor Blair said.

Now the team plans to demonstrate optical cooling with the device, and to make a sensor for airborne detection of magnetic minerals in conjunction with research and development company Gravitec. Some team members also hope to make a device to be put on spacecraft to help locate magnetic asteroids that could be mined and used in future space exploration.

The project is a result of an international team effort, with scientists from Australia, China, Poland, Chile and US all contributing to the invention, which was funded by the Australian Research Council and WA Government Centre of Excellence.

More info: Prof David Blair, dgb@physics.uwa.edu.au


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