By Jenna Daroczy, CSIRO Digital Editor
About four years ago, we hatched a plan to start sharing our science with the world of social media with our very first blog. Now we’re super excited to give you a first look at the next evolution.
Over the years we’ve brought you all the latest from our work in space in our Universe blog, our voyages at sea with our Investigator blog, and of course, stories from right across our varied and diverse science right here in our News Blog.
So to keep giving you all the news you know and love, we’ve built a new home for all of the great news you love that really showcases the breadth and depth of work we do here.
Whether it’s tasty treats from our projects in health, whiz-bang advances in the world of tech, partnerships with industry that give Australia the competitive edge, or anything in between, it’s now easier to cruise around all of our stories at our new site: blog.csiro.au
We’ve organised our archive of news into handy categories for you to browse through, and designed nice, clean pages to make catching up on the latest innovations and research a breeze. So what are you waiting for? Dive in!
A note for our dear subscribers:
We love you! No, seriously, we do. And we’re committed to making this move work for our relationship.
If you’re receiving our updates by email, we’ve got you covered. We’ll make sure you’re signed up to keep getting all the latest news direct to your inbox. We’ve even tweaked our system so you’ll get all the updates from the day in one handy email, rather than multiple emails during your day.
If you’re keeping up with us through a WordPress.com subscription, things are a little trickier.
Unfortunately, we can’t do all the work in this relationship, we need you to come on over and subscribe to our new blog. It’s really easy, and you can opt for a daily email update, or a weekly wrap-up with everything we’ve been up to. Just head to our Subscribe page.
Just to sweeten the deal, we’ve got our hands on a bunch of tickets for Buzz Aldrin’s* upcoming speaking gigs in Melbourne and Sydney. All you need to do is subscribe for your chance to win. And don’t worry if you’re already a subscriber – we’ve included you in the draw too.
*When and where? Sydney: 27 November; Melbourne: 29 November. Visit www.liveonstageaustralia.com.au for more info.
*How will winners be decided? We will be choosing the winners from our email subscriber list at random. Winners will be notified by Friday 23 October.
Here’s a challenge: how would you go about finding something if you didn’t know what it was you were looking for?
No, this isn’t an ancient riddle or one of those horrible corporate team building exercises. It’s actually a very real problem being being faced by astronomers using our newest telescope, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP).
In order to understand how galaxies form and evolve, the Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) team will take a census of radio sources in the sky. Along the way they expect to find about 70 million galaxies along the way – which is a substantial increase from the 2.5 million we currently know of. But to do so means trawling through, literally, a Universe of data.
“With EMU significantly increasing the volume of phase space we’re observing, it’s more than likely we’re going to stumble across some unexpected new phenomena,” said the project’s Principal Investigator, Ray Norris.
But with the supercomputer only sifting through data collected according to a specific selection criteria, there is a chance that these phenomena may fall through the cracks and lie undiscovered for decades, until an “open-minded researcher” suddenly recognises something odd in the data.
The truth is out there, but how would the team find it?
Well, we can tell you how: by developing a cloud computing platform that learns how to stumble across unexpected bits of science that would otherwise be ignored.
“We had a huge opportunity to analyse the data to look for outliers that might point to some new and interesting discovery, so we looked to cloud computing as a way to mine the massive amounts of data looking for any hidden gems.”
The result is the Widefield ouTlier Finder (WTF), a project to develop data mining techniques that search for phenomena beyond the limits of current astronomical knowledge.
Ray says there are three types of outliers they’re looking for. “First are the artefacts, which are important for our quality control, then there are the statistical outliers which are interesting, but the most important are the third kind of outliers – the entirely unexpected bits of science, the ones that make us stop and say – WTF?”.
“The complexity of the newest telescopes like ASKAP means that we can’t just hope to simply stumble across new phenomena, we have to actively look for it by whatever means we can, or else we’ll end up missing the most exciting science results of the future.”
WTF’s cloud-based backend is hosted on Amazon Web Services servers, where the researchers are able to access software for data reduction, calibration and viewing right from their desktop. The team is currently issuing a challenge using data peppered with “EMU (Easter) Eggs” – objects that might pose a challenge to data mining algorithms. This way they hope to train the system to recognise things that systematically depart from known categories of astronomical objects, to help better prepare for unanticipated discoveries that would otherwise remain hidden.
EMU has received a grant to develop a cloud computing platform for machine learning as part of the AstroCompute in the Cloud collaboration, driven by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the SKA Telescope. The collaboration is intended to accelerate the development of innovative tools and techniques for processing, storing and analysing the global astronomy community’s vast amounts of astronomic data in the cloud.
Last week the world watched on as NASA announced the discovery of flowing water on Mars. This week we’re analysing water on a patch of red dirt a little closer to home.
The Pilbara – a 500,000 square kilometre stretch of land that’s home to 50,000 people in northern Western Australia. It’s hot, dusty… and full of minerals. The region’s high-grade iron ore deposits, significant deposits of gold, manganese, copper and uranium, not to mention the offshore gas reserves, make it one of the world’s most important resource regions.
It’s also a region that is rich in environmental and cultural values, and has significant areas of grazing land. Whether it’s the vast reserves of iron ore, the spectacular diversity of plants and animals, or some of the oldest living Indigenous cultures in the world, there’s one resource they all depend on — water.
That’s why we joined forces with the Government of Western Australia and BHP Billiton to conduct the biggest study into the water resources of the Pilbara, ever – it even has a catchy name: the Pilbara Water Resource Assessment.
It took three years and dozens of researchers, but we now have a body of knowledge that will help guide water planning and management for the Pilbara into the future.
Here are some of the interesting things we’ve learnt:
1. Ten times more water can evaporate in the Pilbara than falls as rain
Because of the blistering extreme heat in the Pilbara, surface water doesn’t last long. The Assessment found that the potential evaporation exceeds annual rainfall by 6 to 14 times, depending on the location within the Pilbara. Despite this, fresh water sources are quite common throughout the region.
2. Groundwater is the most important water source
This is a bit of a no brainer when you consider the first point. Groundwater is currently the main water resource used by towns and industry. This groundwater is not only vital to communities, but it also supports a range of ecosystems, usually near river pools and springs. These ecosystem include species of Acacia found nowhere else, one of the richest assemblages of reptiles in the world, and some of Australia’s iconic mammals – such as the northern quoll and greater bilby.
The greatest variety of ecosystems which depend on groundwater were found in the Hamersley Range.
3. We know what it takes to make a stream flow
Between 8 and 30 mm of rain is required for runoff to occur in most Pilbara catchments, which makes the streams and rivers flow. This is important because runoff is the main way the region’s aquifers will be recharged with water. The runoff leaks through streambeds into shallow aquifers just under the surface and from there is able to replenish deeper aquifers, which can store large quantities of water within inland areas.
4. The Pilbara is almost certainly getting hotter
Despite the uncertainty inherent in predicting future climate, there’s one thing that all the Global Climate Models used in this study agree on – the Pilbara is getting hotter. The assessment team used the same modelling tools used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to determine what the future climate might look like in the Pilbara. The models project temperatures will be about 1°C warmer by 2030 and 2°C warmer by 2050, compared with 1980s temperatures.
5. It is getting dryer… and wetter
The team assessed the rainfall trends for the area and found that between 1961 and 2012 the east of the Pilbara had become wetter and the west of the area had become drier. They also used the climate models to predict future rainfall for the Pilbara and the models were split on whether the future would be warmer and drier, or warmer and wetter.
Rainfall in the Pilbara results from both tropical weather processes from the north and temperate weather processes from the south. This makes it difficult to predict future rainfall trends for the region because the modelling suggests these processes will respond differently to any increases in greenhouse gases into the future.
On balance, the climate projections carried out by the Assessment team indicate the Pilbara may become slightly drier by 2030 and 2050. But they’re not ruling out the potential for a wetter future either — they modelled a range of wet and dry future scenarios so water managers can be prepared.
If this makes you thirsty for more information about the Pilbara’s water check out the Assessment’s final reports. You can also enjoy a selection of images from this stunning region in the gallery below.
The Pilbara Water Resource Assessment was funded by CSIRO, the Government of Western Australia and BHP Billiton. The project was led by CSIRO and overseen by officers from the Department of Water, BHP Billiton, the Pilbara Development Commission and the Water Corporation.
Chris McKay | +61 7 3833 5728 | +61 455 085 247 | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Eamonn Bermingham
From seeing the first ever up-close images of Pluto, to finding water on Mars, to Stephen Hawking teaming up with a Russian billionaire in the search for aliens, 2015 has been a huge year for space exploration. So as we celebrate World Space Week, it seems quite fitting that our minds cast back to another big year for space. In fact, the biggest of them all: 1969, the year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon.
But before you settle into your lounge, office chair or ergonomic workspace for our tale of space history, we have got some big news. To celebrate Buzz Aldrin’s upcoming visit to Australia next month, we’ve managed to get our hands on some front row tickets to see the famous astronaut in person. He will be captivating audiences in Sydney and Melbourne with a journey through space and time, from the historic walk on the moon to his vision for a future manned mission to Mars.
We’ve got more details on how you can win at the bottom, but right now we’d like to take a trip down our own memory lane, as we recall our role in one of humanity’s most significant achievements.
At 12.56 pm on 21 July 1969 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), mankind took its ‘one giant leap’ and 600 million people watched as Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.
Our Parkes radio telescope, along with NASA’s antenna at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, played a key role in televising the first moon walk.
The ‘Dish’ famously supported receiving the television signals on that momentous day. Although many people think the Parkes telescope was the only station receiving the signal, it was the 26-metre antenna at NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek space tracking station near Canberra that was the prime station assigned with receiving the initial TV pictures from the Moon and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface. (The Tidbinbillla deep space tracking station, today known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, provided support to the command module in lunar orbit.)
Eight and a half minutes after those first historic images were broadcast around the world, the television signal being received by the larger 64-metre Parkes radio telescope was then selected by NASA to provide the images for the following two hours and 12 minutes of live broadcast as the Apollo 11 astronauts explored the Moon surface.
While the Parkes telescope successfully received the signals, the occasion didn’t go without a hitch. The lunar module had landed at 6.17am AEST. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were supposed to rest before the Moonwalk, but Neil Armstrong was keen to get going. The astronauts were slow getting into their suits and when they got outside the Moon was rising over Parkes.
The telescope was fully tipped over, waiting for the Moon to rise, when a series of strong wind gusts – 110 km per hour – hit. They made the control room shudder, and slammed the telescope back against its zenith axis gears. Fortunately the wind slowed, and Buzz Aldrin activated the TV camera just as the Moon came into the telescope’s field-of-view. At this time, Honeysuckle Creek was taking the main signal. Eight minutes later the Moon was in the Parkes main detector’s field-of-view and NASA switched to Parkes. The weather was still bad, and the telescope operated well beyond its safety limits.
The signals received by Parkes were sent to Sydney. From there the TV signal was split. One signal went to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the other to Houston for the international telecast. The international signal had to travel halfway around the world from Sydney to Houston, adding a delay. So Australian audiences saw Neil Armstrong’s historic first step 0.3 seconds before the rest of the world.
To celebrate Buzz’s visit, we’re giving away 3 tickets for both the Sydney and Melbourne events. Entering is simple enough: we want you to take a moon selfie using the hashtag #MoonBuzz. But instead of taking a selfie with the moon, we want you to take a selfie as the moon. All you need to do is get your hands on a camera and a toilet roll (bear with us here, we’re not raving lunar-tics) and follow these steps:
- Hold the toilet roll in front of your face so that you’re looking down the cylinder.
- Position your camera / phone at the other end, so that your face is framed by the roll.
- Take the photo!
- Submit your entry via any of our social channels (Instagram, Twitter or Facebook) with the hashtag #MoonBuzz
To give you an idea of what we’re after, here’s one we prepared earlier:
And the more creative you can get, the better*. Hurry, entries close next Sunday 11 October. Terms and conditions below.
- Did I Win?:Winners will be chosen by CSIRO based on images uploaded to our social channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) which include the hashtag: #MoonBuzz. Users should also indicate their city of choice (Sydney or Melbourne) in their post. The image adjudged to be the most interesting, unique or humorous (ie the best) will be declared the winner.
- When and Where: Sydney: 27 November; Melbourne: 29 November. Visit www.liveonstageaustralia.com.au for more info.
- Be a Follower:You must be following one of our accounts to be considered (whether it be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter)
- Not on Instagram?:Shame on you! But we don’t mind, share your pics with us on Facebook and Twitter and we will include those in the competition, if you include #CSIROgram
- No, you’re not funny: Trust us, submitting a picture of you ‘mooning’ us will not get any laughs. We’ll just block and report you.
*As much as we’d love to claim credit for coming up with this selfie idea, credit must go to fans of the Mighty Boosh.
By Jake Southall
Last week, 16 high school teams from around the world gathered in Calvert, Queensland to put their unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) skills to the test and save Outback Joe at the ninth annual UAV Challenge.
Yet again, our hapless mannequin Outback Joe found himself lost and in desperate need of assistance from the world’s top UAV teams. This year he really got himself into a jam.
Joe got himself lost, cut off by floodwaters and, to make matters worse, he made an “emergency call” to advise that he was suffering an allergic reaction and needed urgent medical assistance. Yet another unfortunate predicament for our inanimate friend.
To save Outback Joe each team was tasked with designing and developing their own UAV (a.k.a flying robot or drone) plus the software and hardware necessary to complete the mission.
The teams then needed to manoeuvre their UAV past two overhead hurdles and deliver an EpiPen payload (to assist with Joe’s allergic reaction, of course) safely, and as close to the stricken mannequin as possible. This could either be deployed remotely by the team’s mission manager (the team member responsible for delivering the EpiPen) or autonomously by systems on board the aircraft such as a camera, a GPS system, or even through the use of ultrasonic sensors. The EpiPen then needed to land safely and intact with a shock measurement under 75G.
On top of all this, there’s a twist! While the pilot flying the aircraft has a visual on Outback Joe, the mission manager was placed in a completely closed off room with no visual of Outback Joe, their teammates, or the aircraft during the flight.
This additional obstacle not only called for the use of quality technology but top-notch teamwork as well.
It was a battle hard fought by all of the spirited teams, but in the end it was the local heroes of team Double Duo from the MUROC Flying Club at Mueller College, Queensland who prevailed through the storm and interference to take home the $5,000 grand prize and rescue Outback Joe in the 2015 Airborne Delivery Challenge.
The Double Duo team were one of the only teams to successfully drop and land three packages with a shock reading under 75G. Meeting the shock measurement of 75G and keeping the EpiPen intact proved to be one of the greatest challenges for all the teams.
The contest was extremely tight with only one point dividing the winners Double Duo and runner-up team Par Hexellence, who received a majority of their flying points by impressively, autonomously dropping their EpiPen payload.
Winners of the 2015 Airborne Delivery Challenge, Double Duo receiving their trophy and certificate. The prize was awarded by Kathryn Williams (right) of Platinum Sponsor Northrop Grumman. Image: Stefan Hrabar
In a post-event interview on 612 ABC Brisbane radio, Double Duo team captain Michael Phillips discussed attitudes towards drones, how this event showcases the positive aspects and advantages of UAV technology, and how it can be applied to a range of scenarios to help us in the future. We’re sure if Joe could talk and articulate his limbs and digits he would agree and give a big thumbs up.
A big congratulations to all the teams for the great spirit in which they competed and the event sponsors for their continued support.
Like going to the dentist, mineral exploration and discovery can involve a lot of drilling and a fair amount of (financial) pain. And much like your friendly neighbourhood dentist, the longer it takes to understand what’s happening, the more it costs.
When it comes to getting information about the minerals and chemistry of a single drill hole, the process can take up to three months. This is because a typical setup involves: setting up the drill site, drilling, extracting rock cores, sampling and logging those cores and sending the samples to a laboratory (which is often a considerable distance from the exploration site) for analysis. Then there is the process of entering and analysing the data, popping the findings into a database and getting it back to the company, so they can make a decision – it’s more complex than a root canal and much more expensive.
To speed up the process of understanding the mineralogy and geochemistry of drill hole cuttings we developed a portable lab, one that can be fitted to the exploration drill rig and analyse in real-time.
Instead of taking three months this process now takes about one hour – that’s more than 2000 times quicker than the current arrangement.
We’ve called this technology Lab-at-Rig®. Developed in partnership with Imdex and Olympus Scientific Solutions Americas, this onsite lab can be fitted to a diamond drill rig and a solid recovery unit to drastically speed-up the process of analysing an exploration site.
The lab includes a sample preparation unit that collects solids from drill cuttings and dries them; X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction sensors to provide chemistry and mineralogy of the sample respectively; and the capability to upload that data to the cloud for analysis, in less time than it takes to watch a movie.
The project came about back in 2011, when a group of researchers were watching a diamond drilling operation near Adelaide and asked a simple question: ‘what if we could analyse the cuttings separated from that fluid in real time?’ We now know the answer: we can save a lot of time and money.
And now, after two years of research and development we’ve just announced that we will be commercialising Lab-at-Rig® and bringing this technology to the world, with the help of our commercialisation partner REFLEX.
With the prototype becoming a reality, perhaps we should turn our attention to making dentist visits quicker.
The Lab-at-Rig prototype was developed under the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC).
CSIRO, Imdex, Olympus, University of Adelaide and Curtin University are now working on the $11m collaborative DET CRC Lab-at-Rig Futures Project, which will build the next generation system to cover: new sensor technologies, improved data analysis and processing for decision making, and development of the system for new applications and drilling platforms.
Hate the taste of Brussels sprouts? Do you find coriander disgusting or perceive honey as too sweet? Your genes may be to blame.
Everybody’s food preferences vary and are shaped by their unique combination of three interacting factors: the environment (your health, diet and cultural influences); prior experience; and genes, which alter your sensory perception of foods.
The food we eat is sensed by specialised receptors located in the tongue and nose. The receptors work like a lock and are highly specific in the nutrients or aromas (the keys) they detect. Sweet receptors, for instance, detect only sweet molecules and will not detect bitterness.
When you eat, your brain combines the signals from these specialised taste (in the mouth) and olfactory (aroma in the nose) receptors to form a flavour. Flavour is further influenced by other perceived qualities, such as the burn of chilli, the cooling of mint, or the thickness of yogurt.
Our unique sensory worlds
Humans have about 35 receptors to detect sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami and fat tastes. They have around 400 receptors to detect aroma. The receptor proteins are produced from instructions encoded in our DNA and there is significant variation in the DNA code between individuals.
In 2004, American researchers identified that olfactory receptors were located in mutational hotspots. These regions have higher than normal genetic variation. Any of these genetic variants may change the shape of the receptor (the lock) and result in a difference in perception of taste or aroma between people.
Another American study shows that any two individuals will have genetic differences that translate to differences in 30% to 40% of their aroma receptors. This suggests we all vary in our flavour perception for foods and that we all live in our own unique sensory world.
How much sugar do you add to your tea?
Our ability to perceive sweetness varies a lot and is partly controlled by our genes. A recent twin study found genetics accounts for about a third of the variation in sweet taste perception of sugar and low-calorie sweeteners. Researchers have identified specific gene variants in the receptors that detect sweetness: TAS1R2 and TAS1R3.
There is also high variation in the detection of bitterness. However, the story is more complicated than sweet taste, as we have 25 receptors that detect different bitter molecules. Bitter receptors evolved to detect and stop us from eating harmful toxins. That’s why bitterness is not widely liked.
One of these bitter taste receptors (TAS2R38) controls the ability to detect a bitter compound called PROP (propylthiouracil). Based on the ability to detect PROP, people can be split into two groups: “tasters” or “non-tasters”. Tasters often dislike bitter green vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
PROP status has also been used as a marker of food preferences, with non-tasters shown to eat more fat and better tolerate chilli.
Genetics has also been linked to whole foods, such as coriander preference, coffee liking and many others. But genes have only a small influence on preference for these foods due to their sensory complexity and also the contribution of your environment and prior experiences.
Understanding the influence of genes on taste perception offers a way to personalise products tailored specifically to your needs. This could mean tailoring a diet to a person’s genetics to help them lose weight. Indeed, genetic testing companies already offer dietary advice based on your individual genes.
Personalised food products to suit your own genetic dietary preferences are another example. Food products based on personal tastes are already in supermarkets. Salsa can be bought in mild, medium and hot. What if you could purchase food products specifically formulated for your own genetically determined sensory preferences?
Personalisation can also apply at the population level. Food manufacturers could tailor their food products to different populations based on an understanding of how common a genetic variant is in each population.
We are just beginning to understand how genes alter our sense of taste and smell, and how this may affect food preferences. Further research is needed to understand how multiple genes may combine to influence sensory perception and dietary intake. This is no easy feat, as it will require studies with extremely large numbers of people.
Another important research area will be to understand if our taste genes can be modified. Imagine if you could alter your food preferences to consume healthier foods.