Performance criterion 3 – Delivery of research outcomes
World leading research and technology outcomes - Be part of a global network of researchers, delivering innovative solutions to complex problems, through strategic partnerships.
Goal - Delivery of research outcomes that have scientific and industry impact, with a focus on health, the environment and the nuclear fuel cycle
Results - Assessed by a minimum of eight research case studies outlined below.
Human health research
ANSTO uses its infrastructure, capabilities and expertise to build knowledge and optimise the beneficial impacts of nuclear science on human health; ANSTO produces current and future radioisotopes for use in nuclear medicine; and enables research into prevention and improving the approaches to detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Case study 1 - A diagnostic tool and treatment in one, offers new hope for Australian cancer patients
ANSTO has specialist expertise and the infrastructure to produce radioactive substances that can be used for diagnosis and treatment.
A radioactive variation of the element scandium, scandium-47, that has the potential for both diagnosis and treatment of disease was produced for the first time in Australia in ANSTO’s OPAL multi-purpose reactor.
Scandium-47 has properties similar to lutetium-177, which is already being used in clinical trials as a treatment for prostate and neuroendocrine cancers; but unlike lutetium-177, it has the potential to be a true theranostic.
The term 'theranostic' describes the use of paired radioactive agents, one for diagnosis, and another chemically similar one to provide therapeutic treatment of a tumour or site of infection.
The decay emissions of scandium-47 are applicable to both targeted cancer therapy and higher quality single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging than can be achieved using lutetium-177. In addition, the positron emission tomography (PET) imaging radioisotopes scandium-43 and scandium-44 can be produced using a cyclotron.
The team which included ANSTO’s Leena Hogan, Dr Paul Pellegrini and Attila Stopic, with support from Mike Izard and Dr Ivan Greguric, is now shifting its focus to scale up production of scandium-47 and to develop methods for producing other therapeutic radioisotopes.
ANSTO researchers are teaming up with the University of Sydney to develop innovative, personalised treatments for cancer.
The group, which was awarded $80,000 in seed funding from the University of Sydney’s Drug Discovery Initiative, will focus on developing and using molecules of tumour-targeting agents linked to metal chelators that are suitable for containing radioisotopes in theranostic applications.
The research will develop injectable diagnostic agents based on triphenylphosphonium (TPP) salts that accumulate in tumour cells, emitting radiation for detection using PET or SPECT medical imaging techniques. The approach enables diagnosis and treatment planning for therapies including neutron capture enhanced particle therapy (NCEPT), a transformative radiotherapy technique proposed and under development at ANSTO.
The work at ANSTO will be conducted by Dr Mitra Safavi-Naeini, Dr Benjamain Fraser, Dr Nigel Lengkeek, Dr Ryan Middleton, Nicholas Howell and Naomi Wyatt.
The approach will allow flexibility in both the diagnostic and therapeutic radioisotopes incorporated into the TPP agent. The team can then tailor a specific agent towards the desired treatment outcome. Diagnostic agents will be developed with PET radioisotopes such as gallium-68 and copper-64. For therapeutics, they will focus on gadolinium-157, lutetium-177 or copper-67 analogues.
ANSTO conducts and enables inter-disciplinary research using nuclear and isotopic techniques to address some of Australia’s and the world’s most challenging environmental problems, focusing on water resource sustainability, climate change, and the impact of contaminants.
Case study 3 - Research clarifies origins of methane in our atmosphere
ANSTO has contributed to research on atmospheric methane emissions, showing that a massive release of this potent greenhouse gas from fossil methane reservoirs is unlikely as global temperatures rise.
A companion study also revealed important new evidence that methane emissions from human mining and use of fossil sources have been greatly underestimated—as these emissions had been inaccurately attributed to natural fossil emissions from geological sources in the Earth. In the related industrial era methane study, the team found that human fossil methane emissions had been underestimated by between 25 and 40 per cent.
The fossil methane research led by University of Rochester in the United States and published in Science, found that emissions of natural fossil methane sources have been overestimated in the period of Earth’s last deglaciation 8,000-15,000 years ago.
During that time the Earth went from a colder to a warmer state. Using samples of past atmosphere preserved as bubbles in ice, researchers concluded that very little methane from natural stores in the Earth, such as undersea methane hydrates, thermos-karst lakes and permafrost, actually reached the atmosphere as the planet warmed.
The researchers believe this may be due to natural buffers, such as oxidation by ocean microbes as the methane bubbles rise to the surface when methane hydrates destabilises.
Co-authored by ANSTO’s Dr Andrew Smith, the high-profile collaboration was made possible by ANSTO’s capability to measure radiocarbon in ultra-small samples of carbon.
ANSTO is one of few laboratories in the world that can undertake these demanding measurements, using a technique pioneered by Andrew Smith and colleagues at the Centre for Accelerator Science.
ANSTO measured the amounts of radiocarbon extracted from methane trapped in gas bubbles in the ice and also participated in some fieldwork. One tonne of ancient ice yields one sample of about 20 micrograms of carbon, and many samples were taken over six seasons of field work. Ice was melted onsite and the precious air returned to the laboratories for methane extraction, graphitisation and, ultimately, accelerator mass spectrometry.
Human fossil methane is emitted when humans extract and use fossil fuels including gas, oil and coal. Methane is a significant greenhouse gas, contributing about 25 per cent of global warming since the industrial era began.
The findings which were published in the prestigious journal Nature, provide strong support for the identification of human fossil sources as the primary source of fossil methane emissions in the atmosphere, a question that has been under debate in the scientific community.
Because fossil methane has been locked up in the Earth for so long, the radioactive isotope of carbon, radiocarbon or carbon-14, has decayed away. This makes it easier to identify fossil methane sources from biological methane sources which include wetlands, termites, animals and fires and have a contemporary carbon-14 signature. There are additional natural and human methane sources as well, each of which has a characteristic isotopic ‘fingerprint’.
ANSTO is one of the few laboratories in the world capable of making these measurements, which requires identifying and counting individual atoms in miniscule samples.
Case study 4 - ANSTO research techniques add important insights for local and global studies
ANSTO experts have contributed to two international research projects that are helping to better understand and sustainably use groundwater, which is the largest available freshwater resource on Earth and is the largest source of global drinking water.
ANSTO groundwater expert Dr Karina Meredith contributed to a study, led by the Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre at the University of NSW (UNSW) and published in Nature Communications, that showed urbanisation and climate change threaten the quality of groundwater sourced drinking water and may result in an increase in groundwater contamination and household water costs in some areas.
The study showed that greater quantities of organic matter have been measured in samples from across the globe, including Australia.
A group of international investigators, compiled the largest global data set of organic matter in groundwater to date, involving thousands of groundwater samples from 32 countries.
Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is a naturally occurring component of groundwater, but the higher its concentration, the more difficult and expensive it is to make groundwater drinkable.
The study concluded that climate change and the conversion of natural and agricultural areas to urban areas will increase the quantity of organic matter in groundwater, decrease water quality and increase water treatment costs, compounding existing constraints on groundwater resources.
ANSTO’s capabilities in using naturally occurring isotopes to date groundwater accurately played a key role in the collaboration.
The second study led by ANSTO groundwater experts provided much-needed, quality-assured information about the origins, interactions and vulnerabilities of key groundwater resources in the Maputo District of Mozambique.
In a paper published in Quaternary International, a large team led by ANSTO hydrogeochemist Dr Dioni Cendón Sevilla, reported that intense rainfall during the wet seasons was the source of groundwater recharge and not water flowing from distant mountain ranges.
The team determined that groundwater recharge is likely to take place over decadal time scales. This knowledge enables local managers to determine how much groundwater they can sustainably take.
An understanding of shallow groundwater resources is also vital in the Australian setting and ANSTO tools and expertise can be applied for a wider understanding of similar regions in Australia.
ANSTO is the home of Australia's nuclear expertise. As the operator of Australia's only nuclear reactor, we address key scientific questions in the nuclear fuel cycle for both the current generation of nuclear reactors and future systems.
Case study 5 - New knowledge on performance of alloys in extreme environments
ANSTO has provided insights into the performance of structural alloys for use in the high-temperature environment of molten salt systems as part of a research collaboration between the UNSW and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP).
Molten salt-based energy-generation and energy-storage systems are being explored as next-generation low-emission systems because of the superior physical properties and the safety advantages of molten salts.
The study published in Corrosion Science, led by ANSTO’s Dr Ondrej Muránsky and UNSW student Alexander Danon identified the microstructural characteristics of a nickel-molybdenum-chromium alloy (GH3535) that accounted for its corrosion resistance in a metal used both as a structural material and for weld joints.
Understanding the corrosion performance of structural materials and their weld joints is of technological importance in the design of molten salt-based energy generation and energy storage systems.
The study found that the microstructure of the alloy influences its corrosion behaviour in molten salt and that lattice distortion at high-angle grain boundaries promoted enhanced corrosion in the parent metal more than in weld joints.
Delivering solutions to industry to ensure that Australia’s economy remains strong and competing successfully in international markets is a key priority for ANSTO.
Case study 6 - Leading edge radiation imaging solution
One of the more challenging aspects of dealing with radiation is that it cannot be seen and workers can unknowingly be exposed to its effects. To keep workers safe, it is critical to identify and locate sources of radiation accurately and quickly.
A new imaging technology developed by ANSTO for industry, makes the invisible visible, by identifying and imaging the exact location of radiation sources.
The technology has applications in nuclear operations, national security and defence, safeguards, radiation services and health physics, as well as for first responders to radiological incidents.
This new radiation imaging solution will improve operational decision making for anyone working in radioactive environments and help to keep workers safe.
With spectroscopic gamma-ray imaging across the full energy range and a large 360° by 90° field of view, this technology provides the most advanced radiation imaging capability.
By using compressed sensing techniques, an image can be produced with significantly less samples than traditional imaging methods, delivering faster results.
Physicist and researcher, Dr David Boardman, has led the team behind the development of the technology and following nearly a decade of research and development and five years of operational deployments, this novel solution will be ready for commercial release in late 2020.
Case study 7 - Minerals expertise advances sustainable lithium ion battery production
Lithium ion batteries are used to power electronic devices, vehicles and domestic households all over the world. While lithium itself is not rare, it is widely dispersed in nature and therefore difficult to recover. Currently, more than half of the world’s lithium comes from mines in Western Australia.
Even the most advanced mining operations typically only recover 50 to 70 per cent of lithium from spodumene ore. This means that a large proportion of lithium often goes to waste, increasing mining costs and reducing the sustainability of these operations.
ANSTO, in partnership with Lithium Australia, has developed a processing technology that enables the recovery of lithium in the waste from spodumene mining operations. The technology is called LiENa® and Lithium Australia have now been granted a patent from IP Australia for it.
The Minerals team is continuing to work with Lithium Australia in the development of both the LiENa® process and in their work towards establishing domestic battery recycling capability to create a sustainable lithium battery industry in Australia.
ANSTO’s neutron scattering capabilities have helped to contribute to characterise the structure of an oil-in-water emulsion commonly used in foods such as milk, cream, salad dressings and sauces as part of an international team led by New Zealand food scientists at the Riddet Institute.
As oil and water do not mix and emulsions are inherently unstable, emulsifiers are used to prevent their components from separating.
These emulsions have enormous potential in the development of functional foods. They could aid in increased delivery and enhanced uptake of dietary nutrients to help fight malnutrition, as the shelf life of the products that contain these emulsions is also far greater than that of other products.
In foods, the use of molecules such as proteins or food-grade surfactants is the most common way to stablise an emulsion; however, particles can also be used. The primary emulsion droplets effectively behave as particles themselves that can be used to stabilise even larger micron-sized droplets.
In the research published in Langmuir, the team, including ANSTO’s Professor Elliot Gilbert, used particles produced from whey proteins from milk to coat the emulsion droplets.
Neutron scattering was used to determine the packing arrangement of the particles at the interface of the primary emulsion droplets which form a fractal network.
Qilu University of Technology (China) and the University of Queensland also collaborated on the study.
Case study 9 - Insights into microstructure of materials under loading conditions
A team of international researchers led by ANSTO have compared two novel techniques that can be used to assess the degree of accumulated damage in alloys by measuring defects stored in the microstructure.
It is of technological importance to understand the accumulation of deformation in response to stresses in components under various operating in-service conditions in order to estimate their service lifetime.
ANSTO’s Dr Ondrej Muránsky used subatomic particle diffraction-based techniques to obtain complementary information about the crystal lattice defects (dislocations) stored by the material as a result of applied load.
In the study published in Acta Materialia, Muránsky and his collaborators from Queen’s University (Canada), University of California (USA), and Argonne National Laboratory (USA) compared Electron Back-Scatter Diffraction (ESBD) and High Resolution Synchrotron Diffraction (HRSD) techniques, and developed the software code for a theoretical estimation of damage at the mesoscopic grain level.
The two techniques complemented each other and can assist in assessing the remaining life of a component in operating in service conditions. However, it was found that the EBSD technique is more sensitive to a small amount of damage, while the HRSD technique is more accurate when measuring a higher amount of accumulated plastic damage.
Over the last decades, nuclear techniques using neutrons, photons, and ions, have been established as a novel and generally non-invasive investigative approach to characterise cultural-heritage materials.
Case study 10 - A novel approach to dating Aboriginal rock art from the Kimberly is enabled by ANSTO’s radiocarbon dating capabilities
Rock art is always problematic for dating because the pigment used usually does not contain carbon, the surfaces are exposed to intense weathering and nothing is known about the techniques used thousands of years ago.
University of Melbourne researchers in collaboration with ANSTO and the Traditional Owners of Balangarra and Dambimangari Lands in the Kimberley developed a new approach to determine the boundary age estimates of challenging Aboriginal rock art by using radiocarbon found in the remnants of the mud wasp nests on top of or underlying the artwork.
This indirect method of dating could be useful in providing age estimates for other evidence of past human activity including grinding hollows, grooves, carvings as well as paintings.
Mud wasp nests which are commonly found in rock shelters in the remote Kimberley region, also occur ubiquitously across northern Australia, and remnants can survive for tens of thousands of years.
Mud wasp nests were collected from over 108 rock art sites with the permission and assistance of the Traditional Owners of Balangarra and Dambimangari Lands in the Kimberley.
The dates reported in the research paper by lead author Damien Finch and co-authored by ANSTO’s Dr Vladimir Levchenko published in Science Advances provide, for the first time, an estimate for the time period when paintings in the Gwion Gwion style proliferated, mostly between 10 to 12,000 years ago.
To date, it is believed to be the most comprehensive dating of the Gwion Gwion style, which is commonly characterised by elongated human figures wearing adornments.