Category Archives: ResearchNews

Bowie Medal Award for Tara Pukala

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Congratulations A/Professor Tara Pukala, for recently being awarded the Bowie Medal from the Australian and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry (ANZSMS).

The Bowie Medal recognises research excellence in the field of mass spectrometry by an Australian or New Zealand researcher under the age of 45 years.

Professor John Bowie is a Professor of organic chemistry at the University of Adelaide, with a specialist interest in mass spectrometry and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his contributions to the field.

Tara will be presenting her findings at a keynote lecture at the 26th ANZSMS conference that will be held in Adelaide, 16-20th July.

Top 100 Articles of 2016

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The publication “Fast machine-learning online optimisation of ultra-cold-atom experiments” was ranked in the top 100 articles published in Scientific Reports in 2016, receiving 11820 views.

The paper was the result of a collaboration between Australian National University and Professor Andre Luiten.

Scientific Reports is part of the Nature publishing group and more than 20000 articles were published in 2016.

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Reference: Wigley et al (2016) “Fast Machine-Learning Online Optimization of Ultra-Cold-Atom Experiments” Scientific Reports, 6, 25890. doi:10.1038/srep25890

New optical fibre sensor to aid breast cancer surgery

An IPAS research team led by Dr Erik Schartner has developed an optical fibre probe that distinguishes breast cancer tissue from normal tissue – potentially allowing surgeons to be much more precise when removing breast cancer.

The device could help prevent follow-up surgery, currently needed for 15-20% of breast cancer surgery patients where all the cancer is not removed.

Published today in the journal Cancer Research, the researchers in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, and the Schools of Physical Sciences and Medicine, describe how the optical probe works by detecting the difference in pH between the two types of tissue. The research conducted with our partners Prof. Grantley Gill at with the Breast, Endocrine and Surgical Oncology Unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Dr Deepak Dhatrak of SA Pathology and Prof David Callen, Director of the Centre for Personalised Cancer Medicine at the University of Adelaide. 

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“We have designed and tested a fibre-tip pH probe that has very high sensitivity for differentiating between healthy and cancerous tissue with an extremely simple – so far experimental – setup that is fully portable,” says project leader Dr Erik Schartner, postdoctoral researcher at the CNBP at the University of Adelaide.

“Because it is cost-effective to do measurements in this manner compared to many other medical technologies, we see a clear scope for this technology in operating theaters.”

Current surgical techniques to remove cancer lack a reliable method to identify the tissue type during surgery, relying on the experience and judgement of the surgeon to decide on how much tissue to remove. Because of this, surgeons often perform ‘cavity shaving’, which can result in the removal of excessive healthy tissue. And at other times, some cancerous tissue will be left behind.

“This is quite traumatic to the patient, and has been shown to have long-term detrimental effects on the patient’s outcome,” Dr Schartner says.

The optical fibre probe uses the principle that cancer tissue has a more acidic environment than normal cells; they produce more lactic acid as a byproduct of their aggressive growth.

The pH indicator embedded in the tip of the optical probe emits a different colour of light depending on the acidity. A miniature spectrometer on the other end of the probe analyses the light and therefore the pH.

“How we see it working is the surgeon using the probe to test questionable tissue during surgery,” says Dr Schartner. “If the readout shows the tissues are cancerous, that can immediately be removed. Presently this normally falls to post-operative pathology, which could mean further surgery.

The researchers currently have a portable demonstration unit and are doing further testing. They hope to progress to clinical studies in the near future.

$14.7 million in grants to further drive innovative defence technologies

Minister for Defence Industry, The Hon Christopher Pyne MP today announced seven Australian organisations would receive Australian Government funding of $14.7 million to develop and demonstrate innovative technologies to enhance Defence capability, as part of the Government’s $1.6 billion investment in defence innovation.

https://www.pyneonline.com.au/media-centre/media-releases/147-million-in-grants-to-further-drive-innovative-defence-technologies

IPAS researchers Prof Andre Luiten, A/Prof John Hartnett and A/Prof Martin O’Connor are the research leaders of one of these projects. Their project is to develop Ultra-High Quality Signal Generation for Over the Horizon Radar. The project aims to upgrade the overall performance of the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN), through a performance upgrade of its essential sub-systems. This will improve overall detection of targets.

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$4.5 million awarded for new research discoveries

IPAS researchers have today been awarded $4.5 million in federal funding for new research.

This included 4 Discovery Projects, 1 DECRA Fellowship, 1 Future Fellowship and 2 LIEF infrastructure grants led by IPAS members. 

IPAS Partnership with Trajan Video

Additional funding for vital research

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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.”

Article from Senator Hon Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Minister for Education and Training

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Spotlight on IPAS

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

Take me to the article

Download in PDF format

Surgery probe cuts cancer trauma

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

A/Prof Christian Doonan awarded Distinguished Lectureship Award

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.

A/Prof Christian Doonan

A/Prof Christian Doonan

Dr Stephen Warren-Smith wins prestigious Ramsay Fellowship

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.

Dr Stephen-Warren Smith

Dr Stephen-Warren Smith