Home' InDaily : August 26th 2010 Contents Vol21No7August2010|5
Reactor to reveal secrets of Indigenous art
Two researchers from Flinders School of
Chemical and Physical Sciences have been
named the Australian Institute of Nuclear
Science and Engineering Inc (AINSE)
Research Fellows for 2011.
It is the first time AINSE Fellowships have
been awarded to researchers in South
Australia and that two awards have gone to
the one university.
The three-year fellowship will allow
Dr Rachel Popelka-Filcoff and
Dr Roman Dronov to use the Australian
Nuclear Science and Technology
Organisation's Lucas Heights facility to carry
out aspects of their research.
Dr Popelka-Filcoff is conducting a
comprehensive study of the elemental
make-up of ochre, a naturally occurring iron
oxide pigment that is widely used by
Indigenous Australians, as part of an
ongoing project with the South Australian
Museum and Artlab Australia.
"Ochre is found on archaeological sites of
Indigenous people, worldwide. However, in
Australia, ochre has a great significance
both on the artefacts and in cultural
expression," Dr Popelka-Filcoff said.
"Ochre from particular sites, because of
its colour and crystallinity and other
characteristics, may be sought only
during certain times of the year for
specific rituals such as coming-of-age
ceremonies," she said.
"Ochre also has a connotation with blood
and death and Dreaming stories, because of
its inherent colour.
"And there's research to suggest that the use
of ochre transforms an object. A spear has a
certain meaning, but as soon as you apply a
certain ochre to it, it also transforms its
colour and its cultural meaning."
Dr Popelka-Filcoff will use the Neutron
Activation Analysis (NAA) facilities at Lucas
Heights to obtain a "geochemical fingerprint"
of various ochre samples.
"We irradiate the sample in the reactor and,
after irradiation, it undergoes radioactive
decay, emitting delayed gamma-rays. These
gamma-rays have a particular energy specific
to a given element," she said.
"Measuring the gamma-rays allows us to
determine the concentrations of the
elements we're interested in, such as
transition metals and rare earth elements.
These concentrations represent the
geochemical signature of how the ochre was
formed for a particular site.
"In theory, each one of these geochemical
chemical fingerprints is different for each site,
so we can build a database of these for known
ones and then eventually to artefacts and
objects, analyse them in the same way and
trace them back to original sources."
The analyses will help Dr Popelka-Filcoff trace
some of ancient ochre-exchange routes.
Dr Roman Dronov's research is focused on
developing a new generation of optical
biosensors, devices that can detect trace
amounts of molecules including
environmental toxins and disease biomarkers.
A scientific "canary in the coalmine",
biosensors are used in a range of settings
from biomedical diagnostics, such as glucose
monitoring in diabetes patients, to food
quality monitoring and counter-terrorism.
Using neutron-based surface analysis, Dr
Dronov will examine the way proteins
organise themselves in porous silicon film
used in optical biosensors.
"My goal is to develop a new simple approach
to assemble proteins on porous films in a
single-step process that offers high stability and
reproducibility for applications in advanced
optical biosensors," Dr Dronov said.
"This will find practical uses in biomedical
diagnostics and environmental monitoring and
can be extended to applications in tissue
engineering, drug delivery or biofuel cells," he said.
"The biosensors' high sensitivity and selectivity,
compared to classical analytical methods, and
accompanied by high throughput, portability
and energy efficiency, promise substantially
enhanced performance and economic benefit.
"Large market demand exists for robust and
cost-efficient biosensor solutions and there are
hence clear opportunities in this project for IP
development and technology commercialisation.
"The use of biosensors in point-of-care settings
can help to achieve earlier disease detection and
better disease management."
of research that has potential to improve
the prevention and treatment of serious
"My lab uses cutting-edge techniques to
identify how cells communicate with each
other through the release of
neurotransmitters and hormones,"
Dr Keating said.
"We have identified several proteins, some
associated with human disorders including
Down Syndrome, Alzheimer's Disease and
diabetes, that regulate the release of these
chemical messengers from cells."
Tall Poppy winners in South Australia and
interstate are selected on the basis of both
their research achievement and passion for
communicating their work, and the Flinders
Tall Poppies will take the message of the
merits and benefits of science into high
schools with a series of presentations in
Charles Gent Award winners Dr Charlie Huveneers (left) and
Dr Damien Keating (right) with Vice-Chancellor
Professor Michael Barber
Dr Popelka-Filcoff with test artefacts in the
SA Museum collection
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