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CNBP conference veteran talks about his links to the Centre

Professor Dennis Matthews is one of CNBP’s oldest friends, having been coming to Australia from his home in California each year for nearly seven years as a member of its International Science Committee.

“I’ve actually been coming here since before the CNBP inception. They were just getting their act together for the initial grant when I first visited,” he says.

Professor Matthews was trained as physicist, but for most of his working life he has been involved in the development of medical devices.

His multidisciplinary life is reflected in his position as professor at University of California Davis in both the Department of Neurological Surgery and the College of Engineering. He was at one time also director of UC Davis’ Center for Biophotonics, Science, and Technology.

“I was hired into the neurological department not because I knew anything about neurosurgery but because they wanted their physicians to have more opportunity to do early stage research, even before it could be translated to the clinic,” he says.

He “abandoned physics 30 or 40 years ago”, drawn to things that were more hands-on and, around that time, he met a medical doctor who wanted to develop better instrumentation.
“I told him I didn’t know anything about medicine so he should go away. But he didn’t.”

That started a long history of working with doctors and bioscientists to develop technology that helped in their work.

“Biological scientists are incredibly smart at what they do but they are not so smart at measuring it,” he says.

“I don’t know what their problems are, of course, so they tell me what they are trying to achieve and I tell them ways to get at the solutions to their problems – and we help each other along the way.

“What I like about it, and CNBP works very nicely in this respect, is that you ‘bootstrap’ it. I tell the bioscientists I can do something but I’m not quite sure I know how to do it. So they challenge me to make technology progress at the same time.”

He believes CNBP has some unique strengths – “I wouldn’t travel around 13,000km to come here otherwise”.

Dennis Matthews presenting at CNBP’s 2019 conference

He was first introduced to the centre by the inaugural director, Professor Tanya Munro. “I thought she had an extremely good vision of where all this could go and perhaps an even better way of communicating that vision.” Since then, he says, current director Professor Mark Hutchinson has emerged as an incredible thought leader as well.

Professor Matthews says he likes the way the CNBP brings themes together and its “Mission Impossible” approach to throwing multidisciplinary teams of experts at problems.

As a technologist he was also drawn to the IPAS fibre optics group, and the way it was developing fibre sensors to interrogate places that might otherwise be invisible.
Two biological research themes particularly interested him.

“Many of the things here are important to me but there were two that were exceptional and that was Mark’s [Hutchinson] work on neuroscience applied to pain, and particularly his interest in developing a “painometer”.

He was also attracted to the IVF research under Chief Investigator Professor Jeremy Thompson.

“My daughter had two children by IVF and so my interests were already a bit piqued. But I was also interested to see if we could make the whole thing work better.”

Secondly was the possibility of making sure the highest quality embryos were developed and then implanted.

“That whole notion was extremely fascinating and provocative to me,” he says. “I think that we are going to learn how to make embryos healthier in normal conception. And if we can make the healthiest baby possible it can lead to a lifetime of good health.”

Personal experience also lay at the heart of his interest in Professor Hutchinson’s work on pain, which, while important to help people cope at a personal level, he sees as a potential solution to the opiate crisis.

“At the moment we are only delivering pain-masking drugs,” he says. “These powerful drugs don’t do anything except make people not care if they hurt – they still hurt.”

He is helping with the task of looking for biomarkers that might underpin such a measuring device.

“I think it’s possible, but I don’t know yet what the right measurements are,” Professor Matthews says. “And the problem with humans is there is no single recipe, so if we do get a panel of biomarkers that said my pain level was 6 it could be completely wrong for you.

“So we need some way to normalise it so we can say this is a baseline for an individual.”
Professor Matthews is particularly drawn to the CNBP’s focus on envisioning the ultimate translation of the technology.

“So instead of just filling the journals with more manuscripts it is also important in biosciences that you keep in mind that your work will, in the end, actually affect patients.

“The question we should always be asking is ‘how do we get doctors to have the latest technologies to work with?’.”

"Hackathon" to build interdisciplinary teams

16 September: By Dr Andrew Care

The 2019 BioNetwork “hackathon” Event was held last week at Macquarie University (MQ). The CNBP-sponsored event promoted interdisciplinarity between the different departments on campus in order to foster innovation and successful collaborations for early-career researchers. The event was modeled as a “hackathon”  in order to develop team building in an interdisciplinary context and develop new ideas based on challenges presented by clinicians from MQ Hospital.

The event hosted a prestigious panel of speakers, and included an opening address from MQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Prof. Sakkie Pretorius and an introduction to the university’s health research priorities by Dr. Brenton Hamdorf, Director of Academic and Research Partnerships. Neurosurgeons and clinical researchers  A./Prof Andrew Davidson and A./Prof. Antonio di Leva presented modern challenges relating to brain cancer research. In the afternoon session, attendees had the opportunity to hear talks from Dr. Sumit Raniga on Orthopaedic Biomechanics and Prof. Lars Ittner on the new MQ Dementia Research Centre.

More than 60 attendants – including CNBP ECRs, came to the event during the day, a majority of which participated in the group activities which resulted in pitch presentations judged by a panel of experts. Generous contributions from the CNBP and others funded prizes for the pitch presentations and poster session, and collaborative grants for interdepartmental projects.

On behalf of the BioNetwork Organisation Committee we would like to thank all of the speakers, sponsors and attendees. We hope MQ and CNBP members will take part in this event again next year, and that the BioNetwork will become a useful outlet for networking and interdisciplinary collaboration on campus.

 

Image: DVCR Prof Sakkie Pretorius opening address 

Nanodiamonds are a wound’s best friend

2 July 2019, By Amanda Abraham.

Band-aids and bandages are remarkable. A simple invention allows us to cover, treat and protect injuries until they have time to heal. But they come with a big drawback – the only way we can check how well the wound is healing, is by removing them.

This means that sometimes infections are detected only after they take hold, which can lead to increased recovery times and the need for additional medications and care.
Now imagine a technology that enables us to track the healing process without needing to remove the bandage.

This technology is being worked on by a group of CNBP researchers based at RMIT University who presented their research at a Physics in the Pub event held in Hawthorn last week.

The CNBP team in action at Physics in the Pub. The costume is a finger!

The team explained that by using nanodiamonds in a ‘smart dressing’, researchers are able to detect temperature changes within or surrounding a wound – a common indication of infection – without removing the bandage.

This would give doctors and nurses the ability to track the healing progress without having to remove and re-apply the dressing.

Dr Amanda Abraham, who presented alongside Qiang Sun, Daniel Stavrevski and Donbi Bai, explained that the topic was chosen because “almost everyone has experienced the pain of band-aid removal. Using nanodiamonds could save the patient further discomfort, and speed up the healing process by providing treatment only when needed.”

Physics in the Pub is an informal, light-hearted night where physicists, astronomers, theoreticians, engineers and educators share their love of science over a refreshing beverage. The event is supported by the AIP, and ARC Centres of Excellence CNBP, OzGrav, FLEET and Exciton Science.

CNBP at Macquarie Uni Open Day

19 August 2017:

‘The power of light to measure’ was the phrase commonly expressed by Centre researchers staffing the CNBP stand at this year’s Macquarie University Open Day.

This was in response to potential University students and their family members, who were looking to find out more about nanoscale biophotonics as well as to better understand potential opportunities that might be open to graduates who successfully gain a degree in biology, physics or chemistry.

Many of the visitors left the CNBP stand impressed as to the broad application of biophotonics in the healthcare, food safety and manufacturing sectors. They also learnt more about the current activities of the CNBP, particularly in creating new sensing and imaging technologies to better understand molecular activity taking place within the living body.

The Open Day at Macquarie University saw many thousands of people visit Campus and engage with both staff and current students, in their exploration of courses open for undergraduate study.

Below, CNBP researchers Dr Wei Deng (left) and Dr Lianmei Jiang (right) get ready to talk nanoscale biophotonics as the doors open at the 2017 MQ Uni Open Day.

 

Outreach at Concordia College

16 August 2017:

Students from Concordia College got the low-down on STEM careers—as well as learnt more about lasers, laboratories and the life of a scientist at a school outreach event organised and run by CNBP researchers from the University of Adelaide.

The event, celebrating National Science Week, saw a team of CNBP scientists and researchers visit Concordia College and present a variety of talks, DIY laboratory videos and science demonstrations, to over 150 Year 9 students with an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

CNBP’s Dr Hannah Brown, present on the day, sees outreach as a key responsibility for the science community.

“Getting high school students interested and engaged in STEM subjects is critical—not only to inspire future generations of young scientists but also in supporting the Australian economy more generally. What we hope to do with our outreach efforts is to show that science and technology can be fun and exciting, and potentially rewarding as a future career choice as well.”

Following the event, feedback from both students and teachers present was hugely positive with the CNBP team also gaining a great deal of satisfaction from their interactions and demonstration efforts.

Below: CNBP researchers Hannah Brown, Georgios Tsiminis, Patrick Capon and Aimee Horsfall with students, at the conclusion of a successful session of science outreach at Concordia College.

CNBP attracts the crowds at RMIT Open Day

13 August 2017:

Over 400 interested members of the public, including prospective students,  dropped by the CNBP laboratories as a part of RMIT University’s annual Open Day event, Sunday 13th August, 2017.

The Centre had two optics laboratories open and both were fully staffed by researchers eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for science.

In the first laboratory, an Olympus wide field microscope was on display with a live-cell incubation chamber and a daphnia (water flea), with brightfield and fluorescence videos.

In the other, a cryogenic confocal microscope was on show, which is able to look at the optical properties of nanomaterials, down to temperatures of 4K (which is -269 deg C).

According to CNBP node leader at RMIT, A/Prof Brant Gibson, the day was a great success.

“We saw a large, interested and engaged crowd who really wanted to find out more about our research and activity, and were curious as to how nanoscale biophotonics was going to impact society over coming years.”

There was also a large number of prospective students who visited and talked with CNBP team members. They had a wonderfully diverse range of interests ranging across the physics, chemistry, biology, IT and engineering disciplines.”

“It was fantastic to see the next generation of excited young scientist!”

CNBP researcher at ICMAT and in China

5 July 2017:

CNBP Researcher, Dr Yu, from the University of Adelaide, presented recent findings on “Gating Electron Transfer in Peptides Towards Molecular Switches” at the International Conference on Materials for Advanced Technologies, commonly known as ICMAT 2017, held in Singapore, 18-24 June. It attracted more than 2,500 delegates from all over the world.

Following the ICMAT 2017, Dr Yu made a trip to Chongqing University, one of 985 project Universities in China. An invited lecture was given to the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and he met with Professors Xiaohua Chen, Yi Xu, and Lingjie Li.

While in Chongqing, he also made a visit to the microfabrication facilities, including the MEMS, Wafer Lithography and clean room at the Centre of MicroFabrication and MicroSystems, Chongqing University. Networking provided a number of possible future collaborations.

Below – Dr Yu presenting CNBP science at Chongqing University.