Tag Archives: Outreach

What is Nanoscale Biophotonics?

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics have an early hurdle to jump when trying to explain their research to friends, family and the general public.

What on earth is nanoscale biophotonics?

While nothing about the field could exactly be called “simple”, it does become easier to understand when we realise that light can be put to some unusual uses.

And in biophotonics, that is as a tool to measure and detect all manner of things, from the genes that give away the presence of a pathogen, to chemicals released as part of our bodies reactions to the environment, and the fatty deposits that could mean you are at risk of a heart attack.

Dr Georgina Sylva, a recent winner of a A$20,000 #STEMstart grant, simplifies matters by breaking the definition of “nanoscale biophotonics” down for us.

“Nanoscale means things that are on a really, really tiny scale. Things that are a nanometre in size”.

At that scale (and a nanometre is equal to one billionth of a metre) it is way beyond the limitations of an ordinary microscope to see – and that’s where light comes in.

“Biophotonics refers to studying and understanding biology using light,” says Georgina.

“Photonics is how we play with light and how we use light. We are able to use the properties of light – the way that it can act as a particle or a wave to see very small things – to detect, to sense, to image, to measure things.

“Nanoscale biophotonics allows us to get a really good close-up image of what’s happening in a biological environment. The whole point of that is to understand how we can solve biological problems.”

Until nanoscale biophotonics, we have been in the dark about much of the activity inside human cells because we didn’t have the right technology to see them. But by using light we can measure almost anything – the chemicals released at the precise moment a human egg is fertilised, for example, or the Ph of a baby’s blood during birth to detect the risk of oxygen deprivation.

Just as astronomy’s Hubble Telescope has allowed us to suddenly view exoplanets and distant galaxies, nanoscale biophotonics has revealed our “inner space”, a new world for scientists to explore.

So, what are the applications of nanoscale biophotonics, and how might this field influence health and medicine? Read our next blog post How nanoscale biophotonics is already making our lives better.

Australia wins ‘bronze’ at global neurophotonics summer school

10 July 2019:

A mini-project to map the hearing capability of zebrafish won Adelaide-based PhD student Mengke Han third prize at global neurophotonics summer school that brought some the world’s brightest minds together in Quebec, Canada in June.

Mengke represented Australia at the Frontiers in Neurophotonics Summer School, where researchers and students spent 10 days discovering the latest advances in live cell optical imaging techniques.

With a focus on the up-close workings of the nervous system, the school combined tutorials and hands-on experiments, delivered by experts in photonics and neuroscience.

“We used a relatively new and very powerful imaging technique called two-photon microscopy, to map the brain and neurons of living zebrafish,” Mengke says.

Mengke’s experiment setup

“Zebrafish are small and transparent so they are a convenient species to study in the lab.

“But everything we learn about zebrafish ear development and function, can be applied to human medicine. We can even test human genes in a zebrafish to see what influence they might have on hearing problems.”

With an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s in physics, Mengke’s current PhD research looks at the development of voltage-sensitive nanoparticles for real-time monitoring of brain activity.

She is based at the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), School of Physical Sciences, the University of Adelaide. She is also member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP).

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.

Pop-up science

25 May 2019:

CNBP researchers Dr Georgina Sylvia and Dr Erin Smith (in conjunction with Children’s University Adelaide) have taken their love of science to the public, demonstrating fun-filled experiments to budding young scientists at a ‘pop-up’ event titled ‘The Magic and Wonder of Science’. The event took place as part of the biennial ‘Dream Big Children’s Festival’, held in South Australia, May-June, 2019.

Attendees at the ‘pop-up’ outreach event saw science working in practice as well as real-life applications of differing scientific elements.

“We demonstrated numerous experiments to our audience including creating ‘Elephant’s Toothpaste’. This is a foamy substance caused by the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide,” says Georgina.

“Other experiments included a demonstration of atmospheric pressure with a jar of water, as well as the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze an everyday egg in a fry-pan. We wanted to inspire our young audience and to open their minds to the everyday science that exists all around them,” she says.

“Our show aimed to be a blend of entertainment and education with plenty of humor and laughs as well.”

Below – Erin and Georgina putting on their scientific show!

 

Cancer research to the public

20 May 2019:

CNBP AI at Macquarie University and Early Career Fellow at the Cancer Institute NSW, Dr Andrew Care, has presented his research to a packed house at a ‘Pint of Science’ public outreach and engagement event, 20th May 2019.

Held at the Nags Head Hotel, Glebe, Sydney, Dr Care talked about the latest in cancer research with a particular focus on a newly discovered class of biologically-derived nanoparticles (protein nanocages), and how they can be genetically-engineered to target and destroy tumours.

“Taking my science out to the public was great fun,” he says. “But more importantly it was a good opportunity to highlight that positive advances we are making in the fight against disease thanks to ongoing research investment in Australia,” he said.

Dr Care added, “I checked out Pint of Science for the first time last year. I saw a great talk by Dr Orazio Vittorio a cancer biologist from Children’s Cancer Institute Australia. After a chat at the pub about our research, we started a collaboration. A year later Orazio and I are developing an exciting new tool for cancer treatment! Together, we’ve also obtained research funding, and we’re about to file a patent and to publish our first paper together. None of this would have possible without Pint!”

“Talking at Pint of Science this year is my way of giving back and saying thanks for making a great collaboration happen…and maybe to find another awesome collaborator lurking in the pub again,” he concludes.

Dr Care’s research group combines techniques from synthetic biology and nanomedicine for the targeted treatment of cancer. More information on his exciting work can be found in his profile here.

Below – Dr Care presenting his research at Pint of Science, Sydney 2019.

Light-based imaging in the body

22 January 2019:

Senior  indigenous students were given an insight into life as an academic researcher, as well as provided with an overview of light-based imaging in the body, following an outreach presentation undertaken by CNBP’s Dr Annemarie Nadort at Macquarie University.

Dr Nadort’s presentation (the challenge of exploring blood as it circulates through the body) and hands-on demonstration of a clinical micro-circulation imager supported Walanga Muru’s ‘Camp Aspire’ program. Camp Aspire sees approximately fifty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (in Year 11/12) spend three days at Macquarie University to discover  tertiary options, explore the campus and make potential  connections related to future study.

“I hope to inspire students with my research journey as well as to  show them that a science degree can help open multiple doors when it comes to future career options,” says Dr Nadort. “The skills you learn at University are valuable and will stand you in good stead regardless of what you end up doing.”

Co-presenting the outreach session with Dr Nadort was Macquarie University’s Professor Orsola De Marco. She spoke to students about her own career journey as an astrophysicist and discussed the importance of tackling gender imbalance by encouraging more women to undertake STEM related study.

Below: Dr Annemarie Nadort explains the properties of light and how it can be best used to explore the inner workings of the body.

‘Ingenuity’ promotes STEM study

23 October 2018:

‘Ingenuity’, a public facing event run by the Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences (University of Adelaide) was recently held at the Adelaide Convention Centre and CNBP science was represented!

The University event, showcasing final year student projects and achievements, was attended by thousands of school students, industry representatives and members of the general public, with the goal of encouraging and fostering an ongoing interest in STEM related subject areas (science, technology, engineering and maths).

This year saw CNBP PhD student Kathryn Palasis participate at the event, giving two presentations to approximately 300 school students on her research (the design and development of photoswitchable drugs) and describing her time at the University, with the aim of encouraging students to pursue a career in STEM.

“It was fantastic seeing the energy and interest in the room,” said Miss Palasis. “The feedback from staff and students was extremely positive and it was great to share my research and scientific passion with them all.”

“Hopefully we’ll see some of these young scientists studying at the University and then showcasing their own exciting areas of research in the years to come,” she said.

Below –  CNBP PhD student Kathryn Palasis delivers her talk.

 

Medical applications of light and fibre optics

20 September 2018:

A class of Year 11 Physics students from Loreto College, Marryatville, South Australia were visited by CNBP researcher Dr Jiawen Li, September 20th, 2018.

During the outreach visit Dr Li spoke on the medical uses of fibre optics technology and answered questions from the class, helping shed light on the life of a scientist and explaining the wide-range of career options open to STEM students.

“I really enjoyed visiting the school and found the session an extremely rewarding experience,” said Dr Li.

“Student questions following the presentation were well thought through and hopefully I helped in some small way to encourage the girls to continue their study of physics and other STEM related subjects.”

“Higher education potentially opens up a wide range of exciting career opportunities right across the science, engineering and medical disciplines,” said Dr Li. “And it would be great to see these enthusiastic students get to University.”

Feedback from the school post-event noted that the students had found Dr Li to be a fantastic role model and that her presentation session had been particularly inspiring.

Below: Students from Loreto College at the outreach session.

Lighting up AstroLight 2018

8 September, 2018:

It was a fantastic evening of outreach by the CNBP-RMIT team at the annual AstroLight Festival, at Scienceworks in Melbourne, 8th September, 2018.

A wide range of demonstrations, talks and hands-on activities from volunteers from Observatories, Universities and Research Centres brought science to life to over 600 members of the public at this annual astronomy and optics event.

CNBP highlights included public talks from Center Chief Investigator Prof Andrew Greentree (The wonders and delights of bees and how they see colour) and Centre Associate Investigator Dr Kate Fox (Fluorescent Implants: 3D printing for the future).

Also  popular was the CNBP interactive stall where there was a number of light based giveaways as well as a room of CNBP light experiments showcasing the properties of lasers, fluorescence, imaging and more.

“Taking science to the public is always extremely satisfying,” said CNBP Node Leader at RMIT University, A/Prof Brant Gibson.

“It’s great to be able to excite and enthuse people about what we do and to explain the relevance that science has in our community more generally.”

“The team came together with a huge amount of energy and positivity which helped make the evening a great success!”

Below – Big smiles from the CNBP-RMIT team at AstroLight 2018!