University of Melbourne Magazine

Faculty of Science: News Update

  • New Science School named after alumna Elizabeth Blackburn

    A new dedicated sciences school for Years 11 and 12 named after Nobel Laureate and alumna Elizabeth Blackburn will give students access to world-leading Australian scientists.

    The Elizabeth Blackburn School of Sciences is a select entry sub-school of University High catering for 200 highperforming and passionate students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). All students have access to mentors from the sciences and industry, leading-edge facilities in stateof- the-art classrooms and exposure to an environment that inspires an interest in science.

    Professor Elizabeth Blackburn said in a video message at the launch that it was truly an honour that the school was named after her. As an alumna of both University High and the University of Melbourne she said the location brought great opportunities for the students. “There is a hub of tremendous minds and scientists in the Parkville precinct and you will have the benefit of these great people as I did when I was there,” she said.

    EB School for Melb Convo

    Bird Song – It’s not just a male gig

    An international study led by the University of Maryland with researchers from the University of Melbourne has upturned the notion that bird songs were a male trait for courting females, who were drawn to the most seductive male song.

    The study found that female song has also been an important part of the evolution of songbirds.

    “Female song was overlooked for a long time. In places like the tropics both male and female song birds sing all year round and female bird song is common in Australia,” said Dr Michelle Hall from the Department of Zoology, one of the study’s authors.

    The study used existing global genetic data and aligned it with new data on whether the female song was a feature of various songbird varieties. The researchers then created an evolutionary tree of songbird species from around the world, including Australasian lineages.

    “Not only did 71 per cent of the songbirds surveyed have female song, but there’s a 92 per cent probability that the common ancestor of modern songbirds had female song. So song is not just a male gig, it is more complex than originally thought.”

    The long-held view of bird song as a male trait goes back to Darwin’s observations in the Northern Hemisphere, where female song is less common. This new study uses genetic and global data not available to Darwin, and suggests that the difference in the sexes that he observed is more likely because females in many species of birds in the Northern Hemisphere stopped singing as an evolutionary process, not because song evolved only in males.

    The study, Female song is widespread and ancestral in songbirds, was published in Nature Communications in March 2014.


    Robert Lamb appointed Head of Canada’s national synchrotron

    Professor Robert Lamb has been appointed to lead the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canada’s national synchrotron, at the University of Saskatchewan.

    Prof Lamb’s appointment follows an extensive international search, and will be effective August 1, 2014. He will succeed CLS Executive Director Josef Hormes.

    Currently at the University’s School of Chemistry, Prof Lamb was the founding director of the Australian Synchrotron. He has also served as chair of the CLS’ Scientific Advisory Committee.

    “Having worked with the CLS team for over three years, I know this is a globally competitive facility, with dedicated staff, excellent researchers and committed partners and customers. I’m very excited to be part of the next chapter of its life,” Prof Lamb said.

    Melbourne to lead new $20m ARC Centre of Excellence

    The University of Melbourne will lead the establishment of a new, $20m research centre that will create innovative mathematical and statistical models for analysing big data sets.

    The ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers of Big Data, Big Models, New Insights aims to uncover knowledge concealed within the size of these big data sets, many of which have the potential to make vital contributions to society, business and government.

    These data sets are so large and complex that they are difficult to process and analyse using traditional tools, said ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Peter Hall from the University’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and director of the new Centre.

    “Current solutions are ad-hoc, since adequate, mathematically founded statistical techniques currently do not exist,” he said.

    The Centre is aligned with the National Research Priority Area of Frontier Technologies for Building and Transforming Australian Industries. These national policies focus investment on research in key areas that can deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits to Australia.

    Collaboration to develop therapy for Parkinson’s

    The University has entered an agreement with US start-up company Procypra Therapeutics LLC to develop a class of drugs for treating neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.

    A cross-disciplinary team of researchers, led by Dr Paul Donnelly (School of Chemistry and Bio21 Institute), Associate Professor Kevin Barnham (Bio21 Institute, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and the Department of Pharmacology) and Associate Professor Anthony White (Department of Pathology), has found that a class of synthetic compounds called copper bis (thiosemicarbazones) can potentially treat Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, such as motor neurone disease.

    Nuclear Physicist named Fulbright Scholar

    Nuclear physicist Dr Mark Boland has received the Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Nuclear Science and Technology. Dr Boland is the Principal Accelerator Physicist at the Australian Synchrotron particle accelerator laboratory and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne, where he cosupervises students in the Experimental Particle Physics Group. He will study at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University in California to extend the ability of the Australian Synchrotron to measure processes at the level of picoseconds – one trillionth of a second. This will allow Australian scientists to examine chemical reactions with a new level of detail and help improve miniaturisation of computers.

    CTRL+P: Printing Australia’s new wave of solar cells


    Scientists have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cells in Australia – 10 times the size of what they were previously able to – thanks to a new solar cell printer installed at CSIRO.

    The A$200,000 printer is a significant leap for the team at the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC), a collaboration between CSIRO, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners. Having already made advancements in the field from printing cells the size of a fingernail to cells that were 10 cm square, the researchers are now able to print organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.

    According to VICOSC project co-ordinator and University of Melbourne scientist Dr David Jones, one of the great advantages of the group’s approach is the use of existing printing techniques – in fact, the group uses the same techniques as that of screen-printing an image onto a T-shirt – which makes it a very accessible technology.