The days of Australia’s defence forces routinely deconstructing major equipment to visually inspect for corrosion could soon be over, saving huge amounts of time and money, and possibly even lives.
In a world first, researchers at the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), University of Adelaide have developed a unique form of
that can be coated with flurometric corrosion-sensing material—another world-first technique—and embedded throughout the critical structures of aircraft and ships.
Co-lead researcher and IPAS Deputy Director Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem says this means a fighter jet’s wings, for example, could be checked for the early signs of corrosion in a matter of seconds, with no deconstruction required, then be immediately returned to action.
“We’d been working on training light along tiny ‘nano-rail’ fibres threaded through liquids, structures or other mediums as detectors for several years,” says Heike.
“The light in the nano-rails isn’t contained, as it is in standard broadband-Internet optical fibres, but rather is guided along an exposed core, and can interact with surrounding materials to reveal their secrets.
“The Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) asked us to work collaboratively wit them to develop these fibres to detect corrosion in the harsh environments which Defence’s aircraft and ships are exposed to.”
According to Heike, the breakthrough came when co-lead researcher Roman Kostecki developed the world’s first exposed-core optic fibre made from silica.
“This made it sturdy enough for use outside the lab, and allowed us to start applying the technology to real-world problems.”
The team subsequently developed a unique method of coating the fibres with chemicals that respond when light comes into contact with any nearby corrosion by-products, enabling near-instant checks to be conducted by firing lasers along the fibres.
“We’ve already successfully checked for aluminium ions in aircraft-grade materials—the first time that’s ever been done with optical fibres—so we’re very excited to keep expanding the technique’s applications in conjunction with the DSTG.
“It has fantastic potential to create safer aircraft, ships, and even critical structures like bridges, which could ultimately contribute to saving lives.”
The technology has also led to new health-related research, says Heike, including in-vitro-fertilisation (IVF) and water-safety applications.
Finalist for the 2016 South Australian Science Excellence Award – Excellence in Research Collaboration UoA and Trajan
IPAS along with Trajan have been named finalist for Excellence in Research Collaboration award by the Government of South Australia.
From the Government of South Australia, Department of State Development:
The Science Excellence Awards is South Australia’s premier event to recognise and reward outstanding scientific endeavour, including its application in industry and the advancement of science and mathematics education.
Finalist for the 2016 South Australian Science Excellence Award – Excellence in Research Collaboration:
Trajan – University of Adelaide partnership
In November 2015, the University of Adelaide (UoA) commenced a major strategic partnership with Trajan Scientific and Medical (Trajan), with the support of the South Australian government, and launched the new Trajan R&D and Manufacturing Hub in Adelaide at the University. This collaboration is enabling the realisation of research, development and commercialisation of new generation specialty glass products for the global science and medical equipment market.
The winner will be announced at the SA Science Excellence Awards Ceremony on Friday 12 August 2016.
The Turnbull Government has announced an additional $16 million for 10 critical research projects that will generate meaningful social and economic benefits for all Australians in areas including urban infrastructure, bioscience, telecommunications and health.
Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the investment from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) Agility Fund would help unlock Australia’s potential as an innovation nation by “backing work that offers real and tangible benefits for Australians from all walks of life”.
“Homes, hospitals, farms and fishing trawlers are just some of the places set to see benefits from the research these new facilities will deliver,” Minister Birmingham said.
“From areas as diverse as microscopy and marine science to ion acceleration and veterinary science, the Coalition’s $16 million additional investment in 10 research projects highlights our commitment to ensuring Australia has the support it needs for research and innovation.
“Our commitments stand in stark contrast to Labor which in government announced $6.6 billion worth of cuts from higher education and research and left major research infrastructure without funding, like NCRIS, which jeopardised the jobs of 1,700 highly skilled critical researchers.”
The additional $16 million funding comes on top of the $150 million of indexed investment for ongoing operations that we committed through the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Minister Birmingham said that the Coalition had taken an holistic approach to research by encouraging collaboration with industry and business to focus on being more responsive to the needs and priorities of our society and economy.
“Australia needs a coordinated and focused approach to research priorities that are targeted at those things that make a difference to Australia and generate meaningful social and economic benefits,” Minister Birmingham said.
“That’s why our National Innovation and Science Agenda outlined sharper incentives in research funding that reward research excellence and partnership with industry.
“In May we committed $163 million to 258 new research projects that have been selected based on how they map to the challenges Australia faces.”
Minister Birmingham was joined at the announcement by the country’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO who was in Adelaide as part of a nationwide consultation trip to develop the priorities for Australian research.
“The work Dr Finkel and his Expert Working Group of researchers, stakeholders and business leaders are doing is critically important to develop a new roadmap for NCRIS and direction for research and innovation for the next decade,” Minister Birmingham said.
“The Expert Working Group has already made great progress and their work will ensure Australia has clear research priorities so that our universities and institutions can work together to tackle the challenges we face across the country.”
Six case studies have been featured in the Winter Edition of Lumen Magazine. The Universities Alumni Magazine. Case studies include:
- Surgery probe cuts cancer trauma
- Shining light on ancient events
- Support for the food and beverage sector
- Sniffing out disease
- Helping prove Einstein right
- Scientists strike gold
Surgery probe cuts cancer trauma
An optical fibre probe being developed by IPAS should improve the accuracy of breast cancer surgery and reduce the trauma for patients. Currently there is no reliable technique for assessing if tissue is healthy or cancerous during surgery, with many patients forced to endure a follow-up operation to remove tumour tissue that was missed.
“We’re working on an optical fibre probe that can be used by the surgeon during the initial surgery for an instant assessment of whether the tissue is cancerous or not,” said Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Erik Schartner. “The tip of the probe simply has to be placed against an unknown area to receive a reading.”
“We’re hoping this will find broad use by surgeons and reduce the worry and trauma to patients who may have to face additional surgeries due to the limitations of existing medical devices.”
Shining light on ancient events
An IPAS research team is shedding new light on the modern and ancient worlds through its advances in luminescence dating. The process is being used to provide exciting new insights into areas of great interest such as the dating of earlier climate change events and the human colonisation of Australia.
“Our research is also helping investigations into a third controversial topic – the timing and cause of the mass extinction of Australian megafauna,” said Adjunct Professor Nigel Spooner.
Luminesence dating measures radiation and energy absorption in samples to provide the age of events from a few months to hundreds of millennia. It’s become a critical tool in areas such as palaeontology, archaeology and the earth sciences.
“The work of our lab is helping to better understand the physics of luminescence to provide even greater accuracy and extend its use in other novel applications,” Nigel said.
Support for the food and beverage sector
Technology developed to identify bacteria in hospitals has been adapted by IPAS and the Adelaide Proteomics Centre to assist the local brewing industry in improving quality control practices. Beer contaminated by spoilage microorganisms can cost brewers thousands of dollars for expensive recalls and cause immeasurable damage to brand reputation.
Dr Florian Weiland said IPAS was using mass spectrometry profiling as a rapid and cost-effective way of identifying spoilage yeast and bacteria during routine testing at various stages of beer production.
“While beer-spoilage microorganisms are harmless to human health, they produce off-flavours in the beer. This technology allows smaller breweries to conduct more extensive testing of their products that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive,” he said.
IPAS has been working with Coopers Brewery to further develop the technology and is also involved in a separate initiative with Mismatch Brewing Co, The Hills Cider Company, Ashton Valley Fresh and Adelaide Hills Distillery. Other microbrewers and small-batch beverage companies can also have samples tested using a fee-for-service program.
“Eventually we want to expand the technology for the broader SA food industry, particularly dairy and smallgoods producers,” said Florian.
Sniffing out disease
A super-sensitive laser system dubbed an optical dog’s nose is being developed by IPAS scientists to ‘sniff out’ disease in a person’s breath. The optical frequency comb analyses breath molecules to detect evidence of disease before any external symptoms are showing.
“Breath analysis is a relatively new field with studies around the world demonstrating that diseases such as lung and oesophageal cancer, asthma and diabetes can be detected in this way,” said IPAS Director Professor Andre Luiten.
The technology being developed by IPAS sends up to a million different light frequencies through each molecule to reveal its unique molecular fingerprint.
“The system could lead to broadscale health screening because it can test for a range of molecules at once and offers almost instant results,” said Andre.
The team hopes to have a working prototype within two years and a commercial product by 2020. Andre thanked the SA Government for supporting the project through the Premier’s Research and Industry Fund.
Helping prove Einstein right
Scientists at IPAS have played a key role in proving the existence of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time first predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago. The technological triumph earlier this year is sweet success for Associate Professor Peter Veitch, the University’s Head of Physics, who has spent most of his working life trying to detect these elusive waves.
Peter was part of an IPAS team that provided support for the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration. IPAS researchers developed ultra-high precision optical sensors to correct the distortion of laser beams within the Advanced LIGO detectors. This enabled the high sensitivity needed to detect minute signals produced by the cataclysmic merger of two black holes more than one billion years ago.
“I’ve spent nearly 40 years working towards this detection which could lead to dramatic changes in our understanding of the universe and its evolution,” said Peter.
Scientists strike gold
Portable gold detection equipment 100 times more sensitive than existing technology has been developed by an IPAS research team.Using light in two different processes – fluorescence and light absorption – researchers have shown they can detect minute traces of gold in water at less than 100 parts per billion. The technology will allow exploration companies to test for gold on-site at the drilling rig with much greater accuracy and speed.
“The presence of gold deep underground is estimated by analysis of rock particles from exploration drill holes but when it’s in very low concentrations that’s extremely challenging,” said post-doctoral researcher Dr Agnieszka Zuber.
“Current portable methods for detection are not sensitive enough and the more sophisticated laboratory systems can take weeks to produce results.”
The easy-to-use IPAS sensor aims to deliver a result within an hour at much lower cost. The research is funded by the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre and the technology is currently being tested on rock samples with promising results.
Story by Ian Williams
Ms Tess Reynolds and the Advanced Materials collaboration between IPAS and the defence industry has been featured as part of the Defence SA Research and Development Strengths website.
“South Australian researchers have a strong culture of cross-university, industry and Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group collaborations in Australia and internationally.
DST Group’s longstanding and significant presence in South Australia has fostered the development in our institutions of specialist defence research concentrations.” See the full article here
Dr Mandy Leung awarded prestigious Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)
Dr Mandy Leung has been awarded a prestigious Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to study micro- and nano-fluidics at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. Mandy completed her PhD in Chemistry under the supervision of A/Prof Tak Kee in 2015. Congratulations to Mandy and we wish her all the very best in her upcoming fellowship.
A/Prof Christian Doonan has been awarded the Distinguished Lectureship Award from the Chemical Society of Japan (CSJ). The award is for a researcher under the age of 40 who is internationally recognised in their field, in this case supramolecular coordination chemistry.
Congratulations to Dr Stephen Warren-Smith who has won a prestigious Ramsay Fellowship. These fellowships are to support outstanding researchers to conduct full time independent research within the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Adelaide.
Stephen completed his PhD in 2011 at The University of Adelaide. Following this, Stephen was a recipient of an ARC Super Science Fellowship to work on fertility biomarker sensing. In 2015 Stephen became a Marie Curie International Fellow at the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) in Jena, Germany, to investigate new designs of optical fibre biosensors. We welcome Stephen back to IPAS in October 2016.
Bidirectional microwave and optical signal dissemination
We have developed a technique to combine and distribute highly stable microwave and optical signals from physically separate frequency standards to multiple locations. This capability can be used to improve precision measurement of time and frequency.
Authors; Light, P., Hilton, A.P., White, R.T., Perrella, C., Anstie, J.D., Hartnett, J.G., Santarelli, G., Luiten, A.N.
Optics Letters 41 (5), pp. 1014-1017 (2016).
Australian researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a method for embedding light-emitting nanoparticles into glass without losing any of their unique properties – a major step towards ‘smart glass’ applications such as 3D display screens or remote radiation sensors.
This new “hybrid glass” successfully combines the properties of these special luminescent (or light-emitting) nanoparticles with the well-known aspects of glass, such as transparency and the ability to be processed into various shapes including very fine optical fibres.
The research, in collaboration with Macquarie University and University of Melbourne, has been published online in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
“These novel luminescent nanoparticles, called upconversion nanoparticles, have become promising candidates for a whole variety of ultra-high tech applications such as biological sensing, biomedical imaging and 3D volumetric displays,” says lead author Dr Tim Zhao, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Physical Sciences and Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS).
Although this method was developed with upconversion nanoparticles, the researchers believe their new ‘direct-doping’ approach can be generalised to other nanoparticles with interesting photonic, electronic and magnetic properties. There will be many applications – depending on the properties of the nanoparticle.
“If we infuse glass with a nanoparticle that is sensitive to radiation and then draw that hybrid glass into a fibre, we could have a remote sensor suitable for nuclear facilities,” says Dr Zhao.
To date, the method used to integrate upconversion nanoparticles into glass has relied on the in-situ growth of the nanoparticles within the glass.
“We’ve seen remarkable progress in this area but the control over the nanoparticles and the glass compositions has been limited, restricting the development of many proposed applications,” says project leader Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heideprem, Deputy Director of IPAS and Senior Investigator of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics.
“With our new direct doping method, which involves synthesizing the nanoparticles and glass separately and then combining them using the right conditions, we’ve been able to keep the nanoparticles intact and well dispersed throughout the glass. The nanoparticles remain functional and the glass transparency is still very close to its original quality. We are heading towards a whole new world of hybrid glass and devices for light-based technologies.”