The Australian National University: News Update

ANU Rated in the Top 10 International Universities

The Times Higher Education world university rankings judge world class universities across their teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. Being ranked seventh in the world reflects the universities commitment to conduct research on a global scale and to provide our students with global opportunities.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Marnie Hughes Warrington said, “At the heart of our mission is the commitment to ensure an ANU education gives our graduate’s qualifications that can help them with their careers anywhere in the world.”

Many of our science students also benefit from this global perspective, and high international ranking, by pursuing global opportunities either through one of our many exchange programs or by conducting study on one of our overseas fieldwork trips.

To find out more about our programs and global opportunities, click here.

Hands-on lab visit to RSB at ANU for Session C

With food security a global issue, investment in primary research into plant research has never been more important.

Session C’s food, agriculture, and animal and plant biology group “Fenner” headed to the Research School of Biology to look at some of the latest in plant science research at the ANU.

The entire session was spent in the lab, run by Alisha Duncan, the education and events officer, supported by a team of PhD students and researchers. They work on improving plant photosynthesis, which can improve the yield of staple food crops; the Fenner group’s activity was a simple photosynthesis experiment.

The participants started by making a red cabbage pH indicator. The chemical anthocyanin in the cabbage naturally changes colour, based on the acidity of its environment. After creating this, they used a variety of substances to create a scale, such as bi-carb soda and egg whites.

PH can be used to measure photosynthesis by the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) present in a solution. In this particular cabbage solution, it is purple when neutral, which also equates to atmospheric CO2. The higher the CO2, the more acidic it becomes, and the solution turns pink. The lower the CO2, the more basic it becomes, and it turns blue-green, or even yellow. When CO2 is high in a plant, it indicates that respiration is happening at a faster rate than photosynthesis, therefore the solution will turn pink. When C02 is low, it indicates photosynthesis is at a faster rate than respiration, and the solution turns blue-green/ yellow.

The group were testing photosynthesis of algae, so next had to make algae balls. This is done by suspending many single-celled algae in a jelly-like substance, each with equal amounts of photosynthetic material. After measuring the algae, the participants discussed possible variables that would affect the photosynthesis rate. Each person was given a tube of algae balls and a tube of indicator to test this variable at home.

Participants with their take-home pH indicator and algae balls

 

Being able to have such a hands-on activity at their last lab visit for Session C was fun, and helped to ensure there’s more science to come!

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

ANU’s Zoology labs opens up a world of animal life

Session C’s food, agriculture, and animal and plant biology group “Hill” paid a visit to the Gould Building at ANU to get a tour of the zoology labs and facilities.

The group was greeted by Liam Bailey, a PhD student who has been researching changes in shore birds’ behaviour  in response to extreme climates. After completing his Bachelor of Environmental Science, his PhD has taken him to Schiemonnikoog in the Netherlands to study the Eurasian oystercatcher. He gave the group an overview of other research being conducted in the labs – from work on brood parasites and hosts, fiddler crabs’ mating systems, and climate change and its impact on alpine plants.  The following presentations from the PhD students really emphasised how varied zoology research is. The group was particularly interested in the work of Jochen Ziel, who has created a virtual reality system for jumper jack ants, to research how their sense of direction can be applied to robotics and navigational systems.

The Skeleton Museum, talking to a researcher who was working on geckos

The first stop on the lab tour was at the skeleton museum, which also houses preserved creatures. Collections such as these are excellent learning resources for students of the ANU, and during the tour, researchers were working on characterising a new species of gecko that had just been brought in from the field.

In the possum lab,  researchers were measuring the metabolism requirements of marsupials, and the participants got to say hi to some of the animals in their care. From here, it was a short walk to the fish labs, where PhD students were focusing on the mosquito fish, an invasive species, and the effects of inbreeding. Finally, PhD student Ian Brennan talked to the group on why biology is worth studying, before the participants were able to hang out with blue tongue lizards and pat a python.

Holding blue-tongued lizards

To have a look at this research, and everything the Research School of Biology is up to, check out their website: http://biology.anu.edu.au/

 

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

NYSF 2017 visits Canberra firm Seeing Machines

Seeing Machines is a company started out of a robotics lab at ANU. The company develops technology which tracks the movement of eyes. This has a series of applications in the mining, automotive, aviation and medical industries. During the visit, the participants were able to try the ‘fovio’ system which is used in mining vehicles to detect drivers’ micro sleeps and when they need to stop and have a break. If a driver was to fall asleep loud noises and vibrations would wake him/her and alert supervisors.

Trying out the system

In addition to learning about the company and the technology they develop, the participants had the opportunity to hear from nine of their employees and their own journey through science. This was a unique opportunity to see where particular degrees could take the participants in the future but at the same time revealed that the skills a STEM degree gives you can be applicable in a wide range of areas.

revealed that the skills a STEM degree gives you can be applicable in a wide range of areas

The participants heard from software engineers, mechanical engineers and research scientists. One theme that was common throughout the presentations was the importance of having the right attitude, mastering maths, and the need to “always be learning, your whole career” (Seeing Machines software engineer, Andrew Medlin).

Kate Robinson, a NYSF 2017 partcipant said that she, “found it really interesting seeing how the different engineers went from one place to another and how they have been able to travel with their jobs, not just staying in Australia but travelling overseas. The lab was interesting being in the workplace, seeing how everyone works together and what they do on a day to day basis”.

The participants really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the engineers and discover what path could lie ahead for them.

Veronica O’Mara, NYSF 2017 Session C Communications Intern and NYSF 2014 alumnus.

 

Session C earth science lab visit rocks!

An obvious pun, but it had to be done…

Earth and Environmental Science Group Darwin visited the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, to get a good look at the many areas of research that the school covers. As an introduction, the group heard the 3-Minute-Thesis speeches of three different post-graduate students – their captivating talks demonstrated the how vast earth science research fields are.

Next the group visited the SHRIMP – the Sensitive High-Resolution Ion Microprobe – used to determine ion ratios in geologic materials. Liane Loiselle, a PhD candidate, talked to the group about the process of radiometric dating, showing the equipment and a range of samples, the oldest of which was a meteorite that predates the earth itself. Liane discussed at length the benefits of uranium-lead dating, including a dice experiment to demonstrate decay rate, before the group participated in a timeline activity. Using both real samples and props, participants placed dinosaurs, trilobite fossil, and the meteorite  (to name a few) along a roll of paper where each square equalled 10 million years.

Next was a tour of Professor Greg Yaxley’s lab, and the experiments he works on. Professor Yaxley’s field is experimental petrology, which focuses on the origin, structure, and composition of rocks. In his work, he recreates the conditions in the earth’s crust using complex machinery, to create samples similar to those found thousands of kilometres below our feet.

After leaving Professor Yaxley’s lab, the group received a brief presentation on seismology from Dr Michelle Salmon. The participants discussed the world seismic monitor, which looks at recent worldwide earthquake activity, before they used the seismograph installed in the room to simulate an earthquake with a group jump, showing the magnitude on the screen.

Professor Yaxley explaining how they create the conditions in the earth’s crust

Finally, the group visited the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics ‘Wet Lab’, which researches fluid flow problems on earth, including ocean circulation and ice melting due to climate change, among others. The group firstly conducted an experiment to show the effect of gravity currents, mixing salt into a portion of water and watching it interact with fresh water when released. This was repeated with different water sodium levels in a larger tank, before the group got a look at the new rotating table machine that models the currents of the southern ocean, and holds a lot of promise for future research.

In the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics ‘Wet Lab’

To have a look at that research, and everything the Research School of Earth Sciences is up to, have a look at their website: http://rses.anu.edu.au/

 

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

Van Dooren Lab at ANU offers NYSF a hands-on visit

The NYSF 2017 Food, Agriculture and Animal & Plant Biology group ‘Hill’ visited the Van Dooren Lab this afternoon, located in ANU’s Research School of Biology. Hosted by Dr Giel Van Dooren and his team of postgraduate students, the Hill group spent anafternoon learning about parasitology.

Parasitology is the study of parasites, organisms that feed off a ‘host’ organisms, usually with negative effects to this host. The group was specifically looking at protozoan parasites, single-celled organisms that are found in the bodies of hosts, and often with the host’s own cells. The four parasites the participants were focusing on in the Van Dooren Lab are known to be responsible for malaria, chagas disease and toxoplasmosis.

The participants had to determine what parasite was infecting a ‘patient’, with one assigned to each group of four. The participants had to examine blood and tissue samples of a patient, through microscopy, as well as conduct a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) experiment. Each patient also had a scenario attached, to help narrow down what parasite it could be, such as ‘she has recently travelled to the rainforests of Borneo, and upon her return has begun to have headaches, fevers, and chills’.

Dr Van Dooren teaching students how to use the mechanical pipette

Firstly, the group used the PCR technique on DNA from the patients. PCR is a process that replicates DNA, which is then pipetted into an agarose gel solution plate and exposed to an electric field. The field causes the DNA molecule to migrate through the gel, with smaller molecules moving faster than larger ones. This is photographed and shows as ‘bands’ of DNA, with infected patients, containing parasitic DNA as well, showing extra ‘bands’. The actual PCR process can take about an hour after being set up, but the participants were excited to try this new technique, which also meant using tools they had never used before.

Whilst the PCR was running, the group used microscopy to examine the blood and tissue samples. As most protozoan parasites enter their host’s cells, they can often be seen easily under the microscope, and can even give an estimate of how long the patient has been infected. Once the PCR results were found, the group then sat with their demonstrators and discussed the literature behind the parasites, including prevention, treatment, and the struggle for treatment as parasites become resistant to drugs. Groups then presented their findings, combining results from microscopy, PCR, and based on the scenario given, to the rest of participants, including the prognosis and treatment of their patients.

Participants presenting their findings

To Find out more about Dr Van Dooren and his work, check out the university website: http://biology.anu.edu.au/research/labs/van-dooren-lab-cell-biology-and-metabolism-apicomplexan-parasites

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

Session C engineering lab visits start with robotics by Robogals

The first science visit for the Session C engineering and advanced manufacturing group ‘Newton’, was a visit to ANU’s College of Engineering and Computer Sciences. Here Matthew (an NYSF 2012 alumnus) and Theresa, an ANU Physics undergraduate and an ADFA UNSW Mechanical Engineering undergraduate respectively, ran the workshop on behalf of Robogals. Robogals is a student-volunteer based organisation that encourages primary and secondary school girls to get into engineering and technology, through workshops such as the one delivered for the NYSF.

The robots used in the workshop were Lego Mind-Storms, and although most of the group had used them before, the session was anything but ordinary for the young scientists. The first exercise was to demonstrate how exact instructions had to be for a low-level thinking machine to process. One participant, the ‘programmer’, had to instruct two others to draw a symbol they had never seen, with their eyes closed. Whilst one ‘robot’ participant managed to do a fairly accurate job, the other ‘robot’ became a little confused by the programmer’s instructions…

The robot-participant attempts

Next, they flashed coloured cards in front of the robots’ sensors to instruct it which way to move, which was the basis of the program they went on to start using. The group’s goal was to program their robots to complete a maze, with all successfully completing the task. From here, the instructors showed the participants how to modify the program so the robot now created sound when its sensor moved over a certain colour. Suddenly the engineers were musicians as they began replicating nursery rhyme tunes!

Matthew brainstorming with the group

The last half hour was special to the group, as they were given the opportunity to problem solve concepts set by the presenters. Matthew worked with a group to figure out a way to program the robots as an etch’n’sketch, combining their usual program with paint and having the robot’s trajectory tracked on the screen. Theresa was helping the students figure out a way to program the robots to follow their hand movements. Both groups were brainstorming ideas, and going through the trial and error process to figure a solution. Although the groups did run out of time to complete their projects, they agreed this section of the afternoon was definitely the most challenging, having never been given this opportunity when using the robots before.

To find out more about Robogals, check out their website: http://robogals.org/.

The Lego Mind-Storm

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

Session C’s first workshop has them thinking

Interactive, relaxed, entertaining; all excellent descriptors of the ‘Critical Thinking Skills’ Workshop the NYSF 2017 participants attended this afternoon.

The workshop was presented by Dr Will Grant, a University of Queensland graduate with a PhD in Political Science. Dr Grant currently works at ANU as a researcher, lecturer, and graduate studies convener at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

Critical Thinking is important for everyday life and future careers, and participants were engaged from the start, questioning and delving deeper and deeper into the topic. And developing a thorough understanding of these skills was about to immediately come in handy for the participants, as the practical section of the workshop began.

The opportunity to practice Critical Thinking Skills in a supportive environment encouraged a lively debate. Example scenarios with five possible solutions were shown, with Dr Grant prompting participants to discuss their answer with those around them, before taking a group consensus.  Constructive arguments were presented and rebutted as the scenarios became more difficult, and many differing opinions emerged from the group.

Dr Grant wrapped the workshop up with a discussion on Critical Thinking in everyday life, and as the group exited the lecture hall, the excited chatter confirmed the afternoon was a great start to the many activities and discussions yet to come in Session C.

 

Meg Stegeman, NYSF alumna 2014 and Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C

 

 

NYSF 2017 Session A: Speed Date A Scientist

Speed Date A Scientist is an annual event at the NYSF that allows small groups of students sit and chat with many a variety of scientists from various disciplines and backgrounds. The turnout of scientists willing to be interrogated by the NYSF 2017 Session A cohort was phenomenal, resulting in an average of one scientist per group of four students.

The students have the opportunity to ask these scientists about their field, their career path, and their life in general. This article is a collection of quotes (including some bombs of wisdom) from some of incredible scientists who made the event possible.

Dr A J Mitchell – Nuclear Physics, RSPE ANU

“If you’re passionate about what you do, it makes going to work a whole lot easier.”

“At the heart of every atom you have a collection of protons and neutrons that really shouldn’t be held together – there is a whole lot of positive charge very close together so they should repel apart. The work we do is study that nuclei.”

“We collide them together, see what radiation comes off, and use that as a fingerprint to determine properties such as shape. This gives us a fundamental understanding of nuclear forces.”

“I always enjoyed mathematics and physics, and just always pursued what I enjoyed and now people pay me to do it.”

“If you’re passionate about what you do, it makes going to work a whole lot easier.”

 

Matt Lee – Assistant Director of Strategic Communication, IP Australia

“Doing a double degree you meet a whole bunch of different people, and you can demonstrate to employers that you have skills in many different fields.”

“Doing a double degree you meet a whole bunch of different people, and you can demonstrate to employers that you have skills in many different fields. For me I’m able to quickly read documents and give a sharp overview. It also gave me a strong understanding of global politics.”

“I go around to a lot of startup companies in IT, ag-tech, drone-tech, fin-tech and see a lot of amazing things.”

“One discipline in huge demand at the moment is data science. Everything involves data, but how do you make sense of it? People are needed to take the data, figure out how to interpret it, and make decisions.”

 

Gerard Dwyer – Teacher (Canberra Institute of Technology) and Education Officer (National Zoo and Aquarium)

“I used to like picking up and playing with lizards, but never realised it could be a job.”

“I used to like picking up and playing with lizards, but never realised it could be a job. Then I went to Questacon and got a job feeding the spiders – I love spiders so it was the easiest job I’ve ever had.”

“If you want to work in environmental areas, it pays to be interested in everything. ACT is good, because we have really strong legislation when it comes to the environment.”

“I realised that I can’t fix everything, but at least I can teach a lot of people.”

Gerard’s lizard friend, Sally

 

Claire Howell (Manager at National Forest Inventory)

“Do what you’re passionate about, and if you’re not sure what that is then do what you’re good at because that’s also motivating.”

“When I was in year 11 and 12 I knew I loved being outdoors, and I wanted to do Forest Science at university but I didn’t get in. So I did really well in my first year in another degree and then made my case with the Dean of the faculty and was transferred into second year Forestry.”

“Don’t think that your career will always be your career, because it will change.”

“Do what you’re passionate about, and if you’re not sure what that is then do what you’re good at because that’s also motivating.”

Students meet Claire Howell (Manager at National Forest Inventory) and Stuart Davey (Forest Ecology, Institute of Foresters Australia)

By Jackson Nexhip, NYSF 2017 Session A Communications Intern and NYSF 2013 Alumnus

NYSF 2017 Session A: Human Centred Computing

Nikola Poli (left) and Declan Rixon (right) in the lab

In Session A, NYSF 2017 participants ventured over to the Research School of Computer Science at ANU for a workshop and presentation on Human Centred Computing.

Human Centred Computing (HCC) is based around optimizing computing for people. It is concerned with the function of the computer just as much as it is concerned with ergonomics and the understanding of humans.

After a short introduction to the basics of HCC, students were free to roam around and the lab and look at some of the devices that the PhD students there had been working on.

Human Centered Computing

They had some pretty cool stuff on display, one being an eye tracking exercise through which you can navigate a computer by eye movements alone.

This technology could have an application for people who are unable to use their hands to navigate, but can also be used to learn what kind of information attracts attention on screen, and what doesn’t.

The eye gazing data can also be combined with measurements of heart rate and endodermal activity, then analysed using deep learning or neural network technology to paint a picture of how the content on the screen is making the user feel.

Eye gazing technology

This is the project of PhD student Chris from the Research School of Computer Science at ANU, who had a bit to say about career paths and life in computer science and software engineering:

“Everybody uses technology. Our graduates go off everywhere to big banks, startups and so on. There are always new ways to apply the way of thinking, and there are a wide range of things that IT can apply to.”

“My work is to research into how people use websites, read emails and so on, but the way you configure it could make it good for many things such as self-driving cars or finding a cancer tumour. The basis is the same – neural networks are able to iterate and learn by themselves.”

There are always new ways to apply the way of thinking, and there are a wide range of things that IT can apply to.

Another cool device they had was the Myo PowerPoint arm band, which when strapped to your forearm can monitor the electrical activity of your nerves and allow you to navigate a slideshow using hand gestures.

Double tap your thumb and index finger to go to the next slide, flick your wrist to go back, clench your fist and turn to zoom it. A built in gyroscope even allows you to use your fingertip as a laser pointer!

A very stoked Tom Wright (NYSF student) learning to navigate a PowerPoint presentation with hand gestures

The students left the lab today feeling pretty blown away I think. Myself included. The work that they’re doing here is super cutting edge and exciting, and I can’t wait for the day that I can write these articles with my eyeballs.

By Jackson Nexhip, NYSF 2017 Session A Communications Intern and NYSF 2013 Alumnus