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Blog Biology 29 May 2018
Chronic pain is difficult to manage, and opinions vary on the best course of action to take.
Chronic pain is difficult to manage, and opinions vary on the best course of action to take.
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Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia are seeking volunteers to understand attitudes and knowledge among chronic pain sufferers in order to develop better management strategies.

The team, led by Rachel Elphinston, includes scientists from the university’s School of Psychology and Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research.

Elphinston and colleague Dylan Samuel Chean Wei Tan are looking to recruit participants who are living with chronic pain caused by arthritis, injury, or surgery. Volunteers will complete a short online survey about their specific “pain experience”.

Recruitments are set to continue until the end August, but might go for longer depending on participation.

There are varying attitudes towards chronic pain, with some people believing that stress-management works to reduce it, and others favouring medications and surgery. It is these differing attitudes that Elphinston and her team wish to explore and understand.

They believe that a deeper understanding of people’s perceptions and outlooks regarding chronic pain could lead to the development of treatments that might target both physiological and psychological aspects of the condition.

To find out more about what the study involves and participate in it, click here.

Virtual and augmented realties will soon transform everyday life.
Virtual and augmented realties will soon transform everyday life.
Mina De La O/Getty Images

Data61, the data science arm of the CSIRO, Australia’s federal research agency, has announced the opening of a state-of-the-art laboratory built to develop augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and 3D web technologies, which will have applications in many fields.

The facility, called the Immersive Environments Lab, is based in the Australian capital, Canberra.

The laboratory comes equipped with wearable holographic computing devices, virtual touch displays, spatial cameras, interactive mapping systems and motion capture contraptions.

The facility itself is housed within a “smart building” of sorts, worth $100 million, which gives users a breakdown of the historical and current energy usage of all the devices on site.

AR techniques developed by this laboratory are currently being used in the arts and science-themed Powerhouse Museum in Sydney to give visitors a holographic experience of various exhibits in the collection.

Other applications include using AR, VR and web technologies to improve and enhance the health, agricultural, manufacturing, and urban planning sectors.

The Immersive Environments Lab is also partnering with small and medium size business enterprises and government associates to help them adopt advanced technologies early.

“The Immersive Environments Lab will facilitate collaboration between industry, government and universities to place Australia at the forefront of this next wave of technology which will reinvent our industries and create new ways of working and playing,” says Data61 CEO Adrian Turner.

Blog Space 21 May 2018
The Parkes radio-telescope has had a new $2.5 million receiver installed.
The Parkes radio-telescope has had a new $2.5 million receiver installed.
Yury Prokopenko/Getty Images

Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, has installed a specialised receiver on the Parkes radio-telescope in the state of New South Wales to enable astronomers to better “hear” the din emitted by the cosmos, widening the horizons of what they can observe.

The device will allow scientists to hear the celestial symphony in its entirety, rather than as isolated snippets of sound. Radio-waves captured will be converted into discernable electrical signals and imagery for astronomers to study in more detail.

This $2.5 million receiver was built in conjunction with engineers from Swinburne University of Technology, based in Melbourne, Australia, and sponsored by the Australian Research Council, Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The gadget can capture and identify radio frequencies between 700MHz and 4GHz – a much wider range that its predecessors. The multi-tasking receiver is able to run various projects simultaneously, including searching for gravitational waves emitted by black holes, mapping magnetic fields of the Milky Way, and studying neutron stars.

The new instrument is part of the regular refurbishment of the telescope, to keep at the forefront of astronomical discovery. The Parkes instrument is one of three that make up the Australia Telescope National Facility. It has been operational for five decades.

It has aided in discovering the nature of quasars — quasi-stellar radio sources — the highly luminous bodies that occur at the centre of galaxies, and was instrumental in discovering a spiral shape of the Milky Way.

It is a key element of NASA’s mission control infrastructure – role that was commemorated in the 2000 comedy movie starring Sam Neill, The Dish.

Blog Biology 18 May 2018
The intricacies of DNA provide challenging opportunities for researchers.
The intricacies of DNA provide challenging opportunities for researchers.
TEK IMAGE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

The University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia has opened a collaborative Genome Innovation Hub that will focus on using genetic research to improve societal heath.

The Hub was developed at a hefty price tag of $6.6 million, with the overall aim of analysing the human genome such that its secrets can be used to help understand and combat many of the diseases affecting Australians.

The co-operative research centre will aim to promote dialogue and knowledge-sharing between the brightest minds in genetic research, government entities, and industry. This will involve running projects in genomics, stem cell therapies and gene editing.

The University of Queensland is heavily involved in the field, both through the Queensland Genomics Health Alliance, which looks to garner the power of genomics to deliver better healthcare, and the UQ Genomics Initiative, a virtual multi-disciplinary network based at the St Lucia campus of the University.

The opening of the Hub will help to further the University’s goal of infusing genetics into everyday healthcare to improve the health and wellbeing of all Australians.

Blog Biology 16 May 2018
David Attenborough presents Planet Earth II, which features in the 2018 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival. Here we see him apparently trying to scare the Queen.
David Attenborough presents Planet Earth II, which features in the 2018 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival. Here we see him apparently trying to scare the Queen.
Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The 2018 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival will hit theatres in Australian capital cities between May 31 and June 21, screening the best science films from around the world.

This year’s programs comprise nine winning entries selected by a jury from more that 1500 entries, covering long, short, animated and experimental forms.

Best Film winner is The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World, a joint Australian-Canadian endeavour that looks at the fascinating biology of some of the most ancient lifeforms on Earth.

Timelapse is a short film that has won its Spanish maker Aleix Castro multiple awards, including SCINEMA’s 2018 gong for Best Director. The movie gives viewers a futuristic look at the role neural implants might play in making us more efficient, through the eyes of a factory worker.

The winner of the festival’s Special Jury Award, the BBC’s Planet Earth II: Grasslands, narrated by David Attenborough, will also be screened, showcasing the unforgiving nature of ecosystems from the tundra to the savannah.

The SCINEMA International Science Film Festival is presented by Australia’s Science Channel and sponsored by BBC Earth.

It will screen in one-day blocs at Palace Nova cinemas in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth, kicking off in South Australia.

Don’t miss out, book your tickets here.

Mathematician Geordie Williamson, honoured by the Royal Society.
Mathematician Geordie Williamson, honoured by the Royal Society.
University of Sydney

Mathematician Geordie Williamson, from the University of Sydney, Australia, is among a select fifty people to be awarded the honour of Fellow of the Royal Society, based in London, which is the oldest scientific academy in the world.

This recognition is given to individuals who have made significant contributions in furthering our understanding about the natural world, mathematics, engineering and the medical sciences.

Williamson has been designated a Fellow because of his contributions to the mathematical field of representation theory, the study of linear symmetry. A representation turns complex abstract algebra and algebraic objects into linear algebra and simpler matrices. Representation theory also has applications in physics and describing the symmetry of a physical system.

This is one of many awards bestowed on Williamson, who has previously received the Facebook-funded New Horizons in Mathematics Prize, the European Mathematical Society Prize, and an expensive case of wine for winning a bet about a mathematical concept.

Previous recipients of the Fellowship include 80 Nobel Prize winners and the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Sir David Attenborough, and Williamson’s personal source of inspiration, Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Williamson will journey to London to accept his election, along with this year’s fellow recipients, who include South African entrepreneur Elon Musk, and fellow Australian Ingrid Scheffer, a paediatric neurologist who has made important advances in understanding epilepsy.

Blog Biology 10 May 2018
Cognition and memory can start to fade with age, but trans-cranial stimulation may provide an antidote.
Cognition and memory can start to fade with age, but trans-cranial stimulation may provide an antidote.
Colin Anderson/Getty Images

The University of Queensland in Australia is calling on healthy individuals aged between 60 and 75 to participate in a brain training and stimulation study, which could aid in developing strategies to help tackle mental deterioration in a rapidly ageing population.

The study is being carried out by the Attention and Control Laboratory, which has Paul Dux at its helm and is based at the St Lucia campus in Brisbane.

The experiment uses a type of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which is non-invasive and entails stimulating the brain by applying a weak electrical current through two electrodes attached to the scalp.

Participants will attend eight sessions conducted over three months. During the first, measurements will be taken to ascertain baseline levels of cognition. After this, volunteers will come in for a week of daily brain training and doses of tDCS.

The computerised training tasks are aimed at improving speed of decision-making, memory, and ability to focus on specific tasks, capabilities which diminish with age-related cognitive decline and in conditions such as dementia. Volunteers are followed up in sessions after one and three months to determine if beneficial effects of the experiment persist over time.

This study hopes to gather vital information that may be the first step in maintaining and even augmenting mental acuity in people as they age. To find out more, you can contact the researchers via k.horne@uq.edu.au, or ring 0411 641 079.

In certain circumstances, playing with your phone while eating is a good thing.
In certain circumstances, playing with your phone while eating is a good thing.
Westend61/Getty Images

A new study by Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, has found that games incorporated into a smartphone app might be the solution to tackling Australia’s inadequate consumption of vegetables.

Having observed the dinner habits of nearly 200,000 Australians since 2015, CSIRO researchers found that majority of them were woefully short of the daily dose of five vegetables recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

This led to the development of an app called VegEze, aimed at people who need coaxing to make a lifestyle change. CSIRO worked in conjunction with SP Health, a digital marketing company, and Hort Innovation, a non-profit, government-funded, Australian grower-owned company that advocates for horticulturists.

A game called “Do 3 at Dinner” was incorporated into the app and formed part of a research study, which challenged users to eat three vegetables with their evening meal for 21 days. It also allowed tracking of intake, and came equipped with encouraging reminders and rewards to keep users motivated.

The results show that of the 4000 people who downloaded the app and participated in the trial, 80% achieved the three-veg goal. The most significant increase in vegetable consumption was among obese people, men in particular, who upped their intake by 30%.

The scientists conducting the study found it encouraging that technology could be used to induce positive changes in the habits of people, particularly those at risk of disease. It also provided vegetable growers insight into the eating habits of their consumers.

If you feel that you, a friend or family member could benefit from joining the challenge, download the free app here, or find out more about the on-going study.

Blog Biology 07 May 2018
Painted Petri dishes, by street artist Barek, part of the ARMI exhibition.
Painted Petri dishes, by street artist Barek, part of the ARMI exhibition.
Barek/ARMI

The Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) will be showcasing the work of nine artists who have used research conducted as the institute as inspiration, from May 25 to June 12 at the St Heliers Street Gallery in the Abbotsford Convent arts precinct, in Melbourne, Australia.

The collection, dubbed Regeneration: An Exhibition, was produced as part of the ARMI artist-in-residence program, in which artists spent a week embedded, learning directly from the scientists about the various studies being conducted. They took part in experiments, interacted with the equipment, and then put their own unique spin on the work and scientific techniques they had observed to produce thematic works of art.

The exhibitors include a street artist by the name Barek, who used Petri dishes as a vessel for his drawings of shark eggs; Christelle Hug, who painted her impression of stems cells viewed under a microscope; and Candice McGaw, who illustrated the development of zebra fish embryos in colourful detail.

The ARMI, based at Monash University in Melbourne, is one of the largest organisations of its kind in the world. It opened the doors of its various laboratories in 2009 in order to tackle health issues affecting Australians, particularly the ageing population, by tapping into the human body’s innate regenerative capacities.

The proceeds of sales will go straight back into the institute and be used to support its ground-breaking work. Book your tickets here.

Blog Climate 02 May 2018
Many tourists, including Prince Charles, visit the Great Barrier Reef.
Many tourists, including Prince Charles, visit the Great Barrier Reef.
Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

Funding to the tune of $100 million for scientific innovation and research is a key part of a $6.4 billion project to help protect the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), announced by the Australian Government. The project is called Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan.

The GBR brings in many billions in tourism revenue, and sustains thousands of jobs. But it has been adversely affected by rising ocean temperatures and acidity, recurrent bleaching, and the crown-of-thorns starfish.

To combat these issues and more, the sizeable government investment will look to focus specifically on science and technology, in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Premier agencies including the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Australia’s national scientific body, the CSIRO, will receive funds to work together to determine the best research and development program for reef restoration and how to obtain additional private funding.

The investment will also go towards supporting women and girls in the STEM fields, which could potentially lend a hand in future conservation efforts.

CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall and Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will play key roles in advising the government ministers in charge of this ambitious undertaking.