Scientists follow their passion in the same way that sports people, artists and musicians do; but we often don't see their results in such an obvious way; so I am highlighting just a few of the successes from the immediate past twelve months.
Vaccine for Hendra virus now available
Hendra virus was first identified in horses in 1994, and has been responsible for the death of 80 horses and four people who contacted infected horse tissue. It originates from bats in the wild.
The Australian Federal and State Governments have added more than $12 million into various research projects associated with this virus in many Government, private, CSIRO and University laboratories; along with research grants already won by these institutions. In November 2012, a vaccine for horses was released by CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratories in association with Pfizer Animal Health Australia. (See article on biosecure laboratories – insert ref to super-clean labs )
But his is not the end of the matter. The safety and effectiveness of the vaccine needs to be monitored over time. It will also take several years of testing before there is a vaccine for humans, although people are protected if their horses are vaccinated. And biologists still need to determine how this virus is transmitted from bats to horses (and sometimes dogs). More needs to be done, and Government funding is still ongoing to help scientists in this quest. A summary is found at: en.wikipedia.org
Scientific details reported in: www.csiro.au
Cane toads' toxin turned back on themselves
Professor Rick Shine AM FAA and his team at the University of Sydney have discovered that cane toad tadpoles eat other cane toad eggs, presumably to reduce competition. It is the venom on the eggs that attracts the tadpoles.
The scientists have successfully used baited funnels containing the toxin to attract tadpoles. This reduces the tadpole numbers and stops the toads breeding. It can only work in limited areas, such as billabongs up to 50 m in diameter – it won't eradicate the toads from the whole of Australia - but it is a start in helping to control them. (www.smh.com.au)
Student reward for solar-energy-in-space project
In April, the American Society for Engineers invited Aaron Bonanno, a fourth-year student at the University of New South Wales, to explain his research at the Earth and Space 2012 Conference in California.
Mr Bonnno has used basalt to simulate moon dust, and developed solar thermal energy blocks that are lightweight and easy to store. He said that his idea is to use the lunar rocks to generate energy, so that when people are on the moon in the future, they can produce energy on site rather than having to transport a large amount of equipment from Earth.
Story reported at www.smh.com.au
Two water conservation start-up companies win international awards
"Imagine H2O" is a US non-profit organisation that awards a Wastewater Innovations Prize to companies in the early stages of commercialising business opportunities.
Brisbane-Based Bilexys (a spin-off from the University of Queensland) won $US10,500 plus consulting services and software, for using waste water as a source of raw materials for chemicals and plastics production.
Also, one of two runners-up was Nexus eWater funded by the ACT Government and ANU, which, in 2013, will sell a product to allow households to recover, treat and reuse 'grey' water. (www.treehugger.com)
2012 Eureka awards
The Australian Museum Eureka awards this year awarded 18 prizes worth a total of $180,000. The categories are wide-ranging, and winning entries covered areas such as: environmental research, physics, biomedical research, uses of technology, safety in the surf, science journalism, science teaching, defence science, medicine, young and emerging researchers and their mentors, school students, commercialisation of innovation, science photography, and other categories within these broad areas.
Summary at: eureka.australianmuseum.net.au
Complete list from Sydney Morning Herald of August 29th: www.smh.com.au
With this small selection, I have shown how Australian scientists are holding their own with the best of the rest of the world; and how Australia is acknowledging and supporting them. I just read statistics that 12.5 million people read, listened or watched news of the Eureka Prize winners via the Australian media. That is more than half Australia's total population. It seems that science is more popular than the journalists and spin doctors would have us think!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html