Comments Off on ANU Student Rebecca Beath Joins NRL Touch Premiership
ANU Engineering and Science student Rebecca Beath has made it into the NRL Touch Premiership, playing for the Parramatta Eels Women’s team. I asked Bec a few questions about her experience as a student athlete after she won her first game in the competition earlier this month.
How long have you been playing touch and what drew you to the sport? Can you tell me a bit about your involvement with ANU Touch?
‘I’ve been playing touch since I was 10 years old. I always enjoyed running around with the footy at recess and lunch throughout primary school, and from there I made my first ACT rep team and haven’t looked back since! I think I got drawn to touch because I always wanted to be like my big brothers playing footy, but was never a fan of the contact involved in tackling, so touch was a great middle ground! I got involved with ANU Touch in my first year of uni (2013) when I signed up for Uni Games. From then I’ve made my best mates at uni through the Touch Club, and was President from 2014-15 as well.’
Has ANU played a part in shaping you as an athlete?
‘ANU has played a part in my athletic career by offering awesome facilities to train in, and the elite athlete program run by Billy Mason. I’m not involved with the program any more due to time constraints but it is an awesome way to get the guidance needed in the gym to achieve great results! Support from lecturers and tutors has always been great too, they’ve always been understanding if I miss a class or need an extension due to my sporting commitments.’
How did you become involved with the NRL Touch Premiership?
‘I play Touch football up in Sydney for the Manly Sea Eagles, and also for the Alliance at the Elite 8 competition. When the Premiership was announced, players from NSW were selected into squads for the three NSW teams, and I was lucky enough to get picked in the Parramatta Eels side!’
What has it been like balancing commitments to study and work with playing professional-level sport?
‘It’s been really difficult, but with strict time management it’s possible! Travelling to Sydney twice a week takes its toll, but by preparing early and knowing what I have coming up, I can make sure I get all the work done that I need to.’
What advice would you give to ANU students who are aspiring to achieve similar heights in their athletic careers?
‘I would say don’t be afraid to approach lecturers and tutors if you need a little extra help! It’s always hard to manage both study and sporting careers, but when plenty of notice is given, lecturers can be quite accommodating and do all they can to help you out. Depending on your sport, elite level opportunities may not come around too often, so be sure to take them when they come!’
Are you feeling optimistic about prospects of winning the Premiership?
‘I think we have a really good shot at winning the Premiership. We’ve got a bit to work on from our first game, but if we play the best touch we can I know we can get a win on the 30th and then in the final up in QLD. It’ll be tough against some of the best players in the country, but hard work can get us there.’
Comments Off on New Supercomputer coming ANU’s way
Over the next year, the ANU-based, National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) Facility will receive the final instalment of the $70 million dollars needed to replace Raijin. Named after the Shinto God of thunder, lightning and storms, it is currently Australia’s highest performance research computer. Raijin, was installed in 2012 and was the 24th in the world in terms of Petaflops. Which is the ability of a computer to do one quadrillion (10^15) floating point operations per second (FLOPS).
Now 76th in the world, after a bit of help from the National Agility Fund to drag it up from 121th in the world, it has a measured peak performance of 1.67 Petaflops.
This means in an hour, Raijin can perform roughly the same number of calculations, it would take 7 billion people 20 years to do on calculators.
Currently, the fastest supercomputer in the world is the Sunway TaihuLight. Which as of last year clocked a score of 93.015 Petaflops and can be found in the National Supercomputing centre in the city of Wuxi in China. A reading of almost 3 times the second most powerful in the world, Tianhe-2, also based in China.
Supercomputer is a fluid term, with there being no unanimously accepted definition. A commonly accepted definition is having 1% or more of the computing power of the worlds highest performing computer – meaning there are only around 215 of them in existence.
The most recent cash injection comes from Government’s National Innovation and Research Agenda, which has promised to deliver $2.3 billion over 10 years to support national research infrastructure. With Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel labelling high-performance computing a national priority in the Australian Government’s 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap:
“Throughout our consultations to develop the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap the critical importance of Australia’s two high-performance computers was manifestly clear”
This most recent announcement of funding ensures, more than 4000 researchers in 35 universities, five national science agencies, three medical research institutes, and industry will benefit from a boost in computational horsepower. With some of the most notable of these being the Australian Research Council, CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology as well as our very own ANU.
Comments Off on Using Mimicry to Solve Nature’s Problems
Biomimicry – the idea of drawing inspiration from nature to influence the design of materials, structures and systems.
Biomimicry influences virtually every component of modern design – the shape of our buildings, the aerodynamic designs of a fighter jet and bullet trains, the way computer networks communicate with each other, and the hydrophobic material of Olympic swimsuits.
These are big problems, but can biomimicry solve the greatest challenge of the 21st Century – Climate Change?
Evolution and Trial and Error
A key principle of the design process is trial and error. In drug design, chemists simply try different chemicals at (calculated) random until they find a drug with the desired effect. If you’ve ever had to code, you’d know that a good way of finding a solution (albeit, not necessarily the best one) is running through countless iterations of a program until you find one that works.
And just like a computer program, the faster and the longer you can try an iteration of a problem, the more solutions you can try, and the likelihood of finding a ‘better’ solution grows. Could we tap into the greatest trial and error process on Earth – evolution? It’s been running for 4 billion years, as long as there has been life on Earth!
And this is where biomimicry can be useful – the Earth’s climate and environment has been ever changing for billions of years, and life on Earth has already experienced five mass extinction events in its history. Knowing how species and ecosystems have survived through these aeons of change could hold the answer to how humans can adapt to climate changes, as well as mitigate against further effects and stop a sixth.
Biomimicry and the Fight Against Climate Change
According to a paper put out last year at the International Conference on Applied Energy, biomimicry can mitigate against the effects of climate change through several key ways:
Energy Effectiveness and Energy Efficiency
Many things in modern engineering are high consumers of energy and major emitters of greenhouse gas emissions – mainly a result of inefficiencies in cooling and insulation. Improving energy efficiency in these parts of our lives is not only an important step in addressing climate change but also an immediate one, too. By emulating the effectiveness of living organisms and systems in how they use materials and energy – we can become less resource intensive and thereby improve our energy efficiency.
For example, Harare’s Eastgate Centre, the largest office and shopping complex in Zimbabwe, uses the structure of southern Africa termites to provide a stable temperature inside the shopping centre, with minimal mechanical cooling – thereby reducing GHG emissions. By cooling, heating and ventilating by almost entirely natural means, the Eastgate centre is consuming 90% less energy than a conventionally climate-controlled building of the same size.
At Cornell University in the US, they are making what they’ve termed a ‘synthetic tree’. Instead of using transpiration and the capillary action of roots and leaves in trees to pull water upwards, they are creating a wallpaper that they hope to put on the inside of buildings so that it will move water up without pumps. When the average person uses over 60 litres of water every time they shower, you can imagine how much water would need to be transported up a residential high rise building which can reach over 100m tall, full of many hundreds of people. You could use the energy from pumping that water 100m for your shower to instead run your laptop for a full 1 hour lecture. That’s a lot of energy.
While it’s important we reduce the energy lost to consumption inefficiencies, fighting climate change will also require significant innovations in the way we generate energy.
Drawing inspiration from kelp – a type of seaweed found in shallow, clear ocean waters – Australian scientists developed a new type of tidal energy production in 2006, one that uses a series of buoyant floats (blades) able to pivot on the sea floor with the rise and fall of the sea. The movement of the blades drives hydraulic cylinders which then generate electricity.
With the help of biomimicry, engineers and scientists are improving traditional methods of renewable energy. By using the shape of the hydrodynamic edges of Humpback Whale’s flippers – wind turbines turn in much slower wind speeds and generate more electricity thanks to the more aerodynamic design. For example, the whale-inspired turbines generate the same amount of power at wind speeds of 16km per hour that conventional turbines generate at 27km per hour.
Carbon Capture and Storage
While the methods and designs listed above are great at reducing future environmental damage; biomimicry can also help fix the problems that we have already created.
The environmental principle copied here is carbon sequestration – capturing carbon from the atmosphere (or capturing it before it gets there in the first place) and storing it in a less-harmful way – usually underground.
Traditionally, carbon storage centred around ‘sweeping it under the rug and forgetting about it’. Biomimicry can, however, help carbon sequestration be much more productive and useful. For instance, the Rocky Mountain Institute in the US is working on developing an alternative material to concrete which emulates the ability of marine snails to grow crack resistant shells that are harder than any artificial ceramic. Marine snails do this through a process known as biomineralisation, where they turn carbon into more useful carbonates. This technology turns concrete production – once a heavy source of carbon emissions – into a way of storing carbon safely and usefully.
Another example of biomimicry used in carbon capture is ‘Treepods’ – large artificial tree-like structures drawing inspiration from the Dragon Tree. Found in the semi-deserted areas of Africa, the Dragon Tree has a complex network of branches supporting a wide stretching canopy. The design allows Treepods to fix solar panels on its ‘canopy’ which in turn powers an air cleaning system fixed along its ‘branches’ that remove carbon from the air.
Biomimicry is obviously very useful in tackling environmental problems, but it doesn’t solve the cause of these problems – our unsustainable way of life. Even if we mitigate future environmental problems using biomimicry, we will still need to deal with the current impacts of climate and environmental change. It’s going to take a lot more than some clever science and a keen eye for nature to solve this global issue.
And perhaps, the principle, of ‘fixing it’ is wrong. A solution solves an existing problem; medicine cures the sick. We are gambling with our species survival, a game where the world needs to get better every time. Ingenuity must outstrip greed, or everything is over. Perhaps, not playing is the smarter idea.
Comments Off on ‘Why would you sign yourself up for a miserable existence by doing an arts degree?’ asks local STEM kid after not sleeping for three days
Reports indicate that on Friday, after spending seventy straight hours locked in a room monitoring a machine for his physics supervisor, local STEM student Matthew met up with the group of people that he sees once every three weeks and refers to as his ‘friends’. They kicked off their monthly slosh with some lively debate about how unfair the ATAR cut-off is for the PhB degree is and how the one biology student among them was objectively the worst person on the entire planet. However, it wasn’t long before the conversation was punctuated by long, awkward pauses. It seemed like Matthew’s brief taste of human interaction was about to come to a crashing halt, especially after somebody suggested to the math kid that maybe doing highly specialised courses didn’t actually make him better than anyone and just made him unemployable. Matthew desperately fumbled around for a point of conversation and, soon enough, struck gold.
‘But why would you do arts?’ he cried, downing his third energy drink in two hours.
The comment was well-received, and the next forty-five minutes were dedicated to tearing into arts students and their sad, sad lives. One of their number, Ben, landed a joke lauded by the others as ‘spicy’ when he asked the group what the difference between a philosophy degree and a bench was, and went on to explain that a bench could support a family. Incidentally, Ben had just spent the last two months reading WikiHow articles on ‘how to be empathetic’ in preparation for the GAMSAT. They made it through the entire night without awkwardly trying to work out each other’s GPAs, and instead cheerfully compared how many years had passed since any of them had actually read a book. All went home satisfied, with many informing their housemates that their friends ‘weren’t so bad after all’.
It is widely reported that Matthew saw an article on Facebook discussing the lack of employment opportunities for law students and intends to raise the topic when he next sees his friends in twenty- four days’ time. More to come.
Comments Off on Orbit Inequality: Ways Developing Countries Are Locked Out of Space
The idea that developing countries are ‘locked out of space’ – may seem obvious. They simply can’t afford to launch satellites into space, right? Well, there’s a bit more to it than that – the ideal orbits for most satellites are very specific, and with over 43,000 satellites being launched into Earth’s orbit since Sputnik I in 1957, space is filling up fast.
If you’re not already familiar with it, allow me to introduce the idea of a Geostationary Orbit to you. It takes 24 hours for the Earth to spin around its axis – it’s the reason we have night and day.
Early governments and space agencies realised very quickly that as great as it was sending satellites into space – you’d lose contact with them when they travelled around the other side of the Earth in their orbit. Was there some way that they’d be able to maintain contact with their satellites, and still be able to use them 24/7?
This is where the idea of Geostationary Orbit comes in. If we were to position a satellite somewhere in Earth’s orbit, that was moving at the exact same speed as the planet’s rotation, then it would appear as though the satellite was fixed to a single point on the ground, meaning, it could be seen all the time.
Whilst Geostationary Orbits (GOs) can be achieved at any latitude along the Earth’s surface, the best GOs are the ones positioned along the Equator. This allows for the radio signals to easily bounce up and down along the Earth. For example, Australia can’t really communicate with anyone in the Northern Hemisphere directly due to the curvature of the Earth, since the straight-line travelling radio waves would literally fly off the Earth and into space. However, if we aim our radio communications at a satellite fixed in the sky (a GO satellite) we can ‘bounce’ the signal off it and reflect it onto countries like Japan.
As of today, there are approximately 2,000 active (fully or partially operational) satellites orbiting the Earth. As of April 2017, 85 countries had launched satellites into space – however, most of these were by a foreign supplier, with only 11 countries having the capacity to send satellites into orbit using their own launch vehicles. This includes New Zealand, which launched their first satellite into orbit using their own space agency in January 2018.
Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT, was launched in 1967 from the Woomera Test Range in South Australia, on board an American rocket. At the time, it made Australia the seventh nation in the world to have a satellite launched, and only the third to have one launched from within its own territory. Since then, Australia has launched 26 satellites into orbit around the Earth – 14 of which are still active. Compare this to the United States, which as of 1 February 2018 had a staggering 779 active satellites orbiting the Earth.
You can see from just the numbers the issues we have here.
As more and more governments, militaries and private companies send communication satellites up into these Geostationary Orbits, we are literally running out of room to place them in the Earth’s orbit. It means that when, and if, developing countries decide to launch satellites, all the best spots along the Equator will be taken.
Unlike meteorological satellites, which obliged to provide their weather and meteorological data to all countries for free, under the World Meteorological Organisation Convention, telecommunication and remote sensing satellites are not obliged to share their data.
The implications of this are enormous. Not only does it limit a developing nation’s capacity to communicate with the wider world, but also for developing countries to have the opportunity to obtain all the details concerning their natural resources. You can imagine how developing countries are completely reliant on the developed nations to provide the data and assist with analysis of their very own countries – understanding their geographic landscape – waterways, forest cover and use of agricultural. Satellites can also be used to detect the mineral and natural resource composition of the ground beneath – factors which dramatically affect the strategic planning of governments. You’re literally shut out from the rest of the world.
The modern ‘Space Race’ isn’t about who can get to Space or the Moon first – it’s about ensuring you’re not left behind with technology here on Earth.
Comments Off on ANU Students Take On The World Solar Challenge
A project that started as a pipe dream of three ANU engineering students in 2013, has now turned into more than 30 students working together to grow an extremely complex start-up. The team has spent hours working hard on all aspects of the project – from business, engineering and design – to build something that will change the future of solar-powered vehicles.
Over the past few months, students have worked against the clock in the workshop to put together a car to race over 3000km from Darwin to Adelaide. Technical team leader Nathan Coleman recalls the time he and two of his mates conjured up the idea of making a solar car: ‘I was procrastinating, as usual, when I came across the Bridgestone World Solar Car Challenge website. We all wanted a chance to do something hands on.’ He is immensely proud of his team and grateful to all the students who volunteered their time. Business team lead Mark McAnulty says it is undoubtedly the largest ANU student-led project ever and certainly one of the most exciting projects at the ANU.
The vehicle will take part in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge that officially runs from 8-15 October 2017. From Canberra, the race team will be transporting the car to Darwin where they will undertake safety checks and prepare themselves for the long journey. ‘The car will be competing in the Challenger Class, up against some of the fastest solar cars in the world. The ANU is certainly an underdog as some teams get millions of dollars to build their car. However, we have put together something that is competitive and will get through the tough conditions,’ says Arlene Mendoza, Race team lead.
Students in the team will be away from the university for almost a month. ‘It is a huge time commitment, but it is also a once in a lifetime opportunity to be involved in this race. We have been dedicated to the project for the past 18 months, and this is the final push,’ says Arlene.
But the car’s journey does not end after it reaches Adelaide. The team is organising a tour of regional towns surrounding the ACT after the race. ‘We want to inspire regional high school students and show them what they can contribute to if they come to ANU to study’, Emily Rose Rees, team leader, explains. ‘Our sponsors have been instrumental in the process. It has been so encouraging to have genuinely interested and engaged sponsors.’
The team will live stream parts of the race via Facebook and will post regular updates on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Follow the team on social media by searching MTAA Super Solar Invictus to stay up to date throughout the race and find out if this new team can take out the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.