Promising material provides a simple, effective method capable of extracting uranium from seawater

  • Uranium can be extracted from seawater simply and effectively using a new material
  • Adding neodymium to layered double hydroxides (LDHs) improved their ability to capture uranium selectively
  • Multiple techniques at ANSTO clarified the octahedral coordination environment, oxidation state and adsorption mechanism

An Australian-led international research team, including a core group of ANSTO scientists, has found that doping a promising material provides a simple, effective method capable of extracting uranium from seawater.

The research, published in Energy Advances and featured on the cover, could help in designing new materials that are highly selective for uranium, efficient, and cost-effective.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Tomography helps to provide insights into Aboriginal cultural belongings

ANSTO is committed to using its infrastructure and expertise to work with Aboriginal communities and organisations to confirm the great antiquity of Aboriginal cultural heritage and assist with their preservation.

A number of sophisticated non-invasive nuclear and accelerator techniques were used to provide information about the origin and age of an Australian Aboriginal knife held in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

The knife with a striking highly polished resin handle was selected to be part of a 26-object exhibition, The Invisible Revealed held at the Powerhouse during 2021-2022.

Prior to the exhibition, the Powerhouse Museum wanted to determine the materials used in the construction of the knife and handle.

Powerhouse Museum First Nations Collections Coordinator, Tammi Gissell, explained that because little was known about the origin or use of the blade, it had to be handled with caution and following cultural protocols.

For this reason, the object was sent in a closed box to senior instrument scientist Dr Joseph Bevitt.

“Essentially, we had to answer these questions without looking at the object. The object was sent  to the Australian Synchrotron, where we used a 3D imaging technique, known as tomography, on the Imaging and Medical beamline (IMBL) to analyse it. The powerful X-ray can penetrate the box and the object to reveal important information about the materials,” explained Dr Bevitt.

The imaging was done by IMBL instrument scientist Dr Anton Maksimento and the data processed by Dr Bevitt.

“We could determine that the object was not made of metal but a very dense bone. Only two animals had bone that dense – the Australian cassowary and the water buffalo. As the museum told us it was found in northern Queensland, the source would have been the cassowary,” he added.

The next investigation used radiocarbon dating of the red Abrus seeds found on the handle.

Radiocarbon dates of the seeds from the Centre for Accelerator Science at ANSTO indicated  that they were most likely to have been harvested between 1877 and 1930— which may indicate the knife’s time of production.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Image from the Imaging and Medical beamline at the Australian Synchrotron

Credit: ANSTO

Synchrotron technique reveals more details of mysterious underlying portrait in Renaissance painting

Conservators and curators from the Art Gallery of New South Wales have used an advanced imaging technique at the Australian Synchrotron to gain more information about an underpainting in a famous Renaissance portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1537 to 1569.

The painting, Cosimo I de’ Medici in armour, by Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino , is one of at least 25 known portraits of the Duke in armour and the only painting by the Italian mannerist painter in an Australian collection.

Art Gallery of NSW painting conservators Simon Ives, and Paula Dredge (now at The University of Melbourne) and curator of international art Anne Gérard-Austin, used the X-ray fluorescence (XFM) microscopy instrument to scan the portrait with the assistance of senior instrument scientist Dr Daryl Howard.

As reported in an article recently published in the prestigious art journal, The Burlington Magazine, most of the metallic elements in pigments can potentially be imaged with the technique.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: (left) Cosimo I de”Medici in armor by Agnolo Bronzini c1545 Art Gallery of NSW and (right) Composite XRF scan map showing mercury (red) and iron (green)

Synchrotron techniques reveal structural details of fossilised fragment of a rare Australian dinosaur skull

This week palaeontologists from Curtin University announced that a specimen from the collection of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton Queensland as the first near complete skull of a sauropod, a massive, long-tailed, long-necked, small-headed plant-eating dinosaur, found in Australia and other parts of the world.

The team took 3D images of the entire group of skull fragments, of which a small piece, the premaxilla bone, was scanned in higher detail on the Imaging and Medical beamline at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron.

Instrument beamline scientists Dr Chris Hall and Dr Anton Maksimenko assisted with the IMBL measurements and data processing respectively.

“The synchrotron imaging confirmed there were replacement teeth inside the premaxillary bone,” said Senior Instrument scientist Dr Joseph Bevitt, who often assists palaeontologists’ with neutron scanning of fossils at the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering and the IMBL instrument at the Australian Synchrotron.

Read more on the ANSTO website

From the jaws of a crocodile to powerful synchrotron light, La Trobe researchers discover a mechanism that could help fight fungal infections

La Trobe University researchers have used the Australian Synchrotron in a new study that reveals how crocodiles resist fatal fungal infections with a unique pH sensing mechanism despite living in filthy water.

The research team led by senior author Prof Marc Kvansakul solved the atomic structure of small crocodile proteins, known as defensins, using the Microfocus Crystallography (MX2) beamline.

“Using the power of the Australian Synchrotron, we were able generate structural data to define how defensins attack and kill fungal pathogens,” said senior author Professor Mark Hulett, leader of the Hulett Lab at La Trobe University.

The research, that was published in Nature Communications last week, has attracted considerable media interest since it was announced because of the potential application as a more targeted treatment of fungal infections.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Dr Alan Riboldi Tunnicliffe and Dr Rachel Williamson  at the MX beamline

Shining a light on the Australian Synchrotron’s $100M BRIGHT beamlines

A special inaugural event held by ANSTO at its Australian Synchrotron for more than 30 funding organisations has showcased the first of the $100 million BRIGHT Program’s brand new, state-of-the-art beamlines.

The event, at the Clayton facility in Melbourne on Friday 9 December, also marked the official welcoming of the BRIGHT Program’s latest funding partnership with the University of South Australia as the 32nd contributor to provide additional capital funding for the construction of new beamlines.

Since 2018, the BRIGHT Program has received joint funding from leading Australian universities and medical research institutes, New Zealand government, universities and crown research institutes, via the New Zealand Synchrotron Group, and the Australian government through the CSIRO, Defence Science and Technology Group, and ANSTO.

The program is enabling the design, installation, and commissioning of eight new beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron to meet the growing demand of these sophisticated technologies by Australian and international researchers and industry partners.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Prof Michael James, Senior Principal Scientist , Australian Synchrotron and Prof Enzo Lombi  of the University of South Australia. UniSA has announced funding support for the program.

New beamline provides state-of-the-art imaging capability

The new Micro Computed Tomography (MCT) beamline is the first instrument to become operational as part of the $94 million Project BRIGHT program, which will see the completion of eight new beamlines at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron.

The BRIGHT beamlines greatly expand the investigational power and throughput of the Australian Synchrotron with new capabilities not covered by existing instruments.

Despite a series of setbacks and delays due to COVID-19, a team of instrument scientists, engineers, project officers, and technicians achieved first light on MCT on 21 November 2021 at 8:32 pm.

It is a significant technical achievement that is captured and recorded for posterity with a black and white image of the ‘beam’, which means the synchrotron light has been successfully directed from the main ring to the new beamline.

Micro-CT uses X-rays produced by the Australian Synchrotron to reveal a detailed picture of the inside of an object, slice by slice, non-destructively. The instrument produces a series of projected images captured sequentially while the sample is rotated. Using high-performance computing infrastructure and software, a three-dimensional object can be reconstructed from the projected images.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: (left-to-right) Chris Hall (IMBL), Gary Ruben (Scientific Computing), Tingting Feng (Scientific Computing), Daniel Häusermann (IMBL), Andrew Stevenson (MCT), Anton Maksimenko (IMBL), Adam Walsh (MCT), Benedicta Arhatari (MCT), Haopeng Shen (CSIRO user), Sherry Mayo (CSIRO user), Matthew Cameron (IMBL)

Scientists confirm the presence of rare diamond in stony meteorites

Australian and international researchers have used ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron to confirm the presence of an unusual diamond found in stony meteorites.

The ureilite meteorites contain a rare hexagonal form of diamond, lonsdaleite, that may have been formed shortly after an ancient dwarf planet collided with a large asteroid about 4.5 billion years ago.

The team of scientists from Monash UniversityRMIT UniversityCSIRO, the Australian Synchrotron and Plymouth University confirmed the existence of lonsdaleite and clarified how it was formed in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal. The study was led by geologist Professor Andy Tomkins from Monash University.

Beamline scientists Dr Andrew Langendam and Dr Helen Brand assisted the team with experiments on the powder diffraction beamline.

“Information that indicated the presence of lonsdaleite was gained by other methods but what was needed most was confirmation of lonsdaleite,” explained Dr Langendam.

“Our powder diffraction beamline is able to differentiate complex mineral phases, such as those found in the meteorites.

“X-ray diffraction revealed a series of peaks representing pyroxene, goethite, olivine and lonsdaleite,” he added.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Mineral map highlighting the partial replacement of lonsdaleite by diamond 

Credit: Authors Sequential Lonsdaleite to Diamond Formation in Ureilite Meteorites via In Situ Chemical Fluid/Vapor Deposition PNAS  119 (38) e2208814119

Microscale clues provide insight into cataclysmic Tongan volcanic eruption

Key Points
  • The intensely powerful and destructive Hunga blast was unlike previous events, It was a unique event in that scientists were able to capture the eruption with satellite imagery and other instruments.
  • The Hunga volcano started out with a flat upper surface to a depth of 150 metres before the eruption, which ejected at least 6.5 cubic kilometres of ash and rock and left a deep caldera 250 metres below sea level.
  • Electron microscopy revealed different concentrations of chemicals in the two types of magma that came together and mingled to form distinctive swirling bands in the samples. Infrared beamline analysis techniques provided crucial information about the diffusion of water in the tiny fragments.
  • The chilling effect of the water as the magma fragmented, the concentration of water and the chemical composition of the particles also provided clues about the depth at which the event occurred.

When the Tongan Hunga volcano erupted in January this year, it was a huge explosion with a mass ejection that reached more than 55 kilometres into the atmosphere, causing local fatalities and evacuations. The blast created significant tsunami waves in the Pacific Basin and generated pressure waves that encircled the globe.

Although not a significant inundation,  the impact of the tsunami reached Australia with waves of 82cm at the Gold Coast, 65cm at Port Kembla and 77cm at Eden’s Twofold Bay in NSW.

In an effort to understand why the eruption was so explosive, internationally-recognised volcanologist Prof. Shane Cronin of the University of Auckland and associates rely on beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron to support comprehensive research on the Hunga event.

Two sets of experiments have already been carried on the Imaging and Medical beamline and the Infrared Microspectroscopy beamline, while another investigation is scheduled for the X-ray fluorescence microscopy beamline.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Undersea volcano

Scientists discover that crocodile devoured a baby dinosaur  

Advanced nuclear and synchrotron imaging has confirmed that a 93-million-year-old crocodile found in Central Queensland devoured a juvenile dinosaur based on remains found in the fossilised stomach contents.

The discovery of the fossils in 2010 was made by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (QLD) in association with the University of New England, who are publishing their research in the journal Gondwana Research.

The research was carried out by a large team led by Dr Matt White of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and the University of New England.

The crocodile Confractosuchus sauroktonos, which translates as ‘the broken crocodile dinosaur killer’ was about 2 to 2.5 metres in length. ‘Broken’ refers to the fact that the crocodile was found in a massive, shattered boulder.

Early neutron imaging scans of one rock fragment from the boulder detected bones of the small chicken-sized juvenile dinosaur in the gut, an ornithopod that has not yet been formally identified by species.

Senior Instrument Scientist Dr Joseph Bevitt explained that the dinosaur bones were entirely embedded within the dense ironstone rock and were serendipitously discovered when the sample was exposed to the penetrative power of neutrons at ANSTO.

Dingo, Australia’s only neutron imaging instrument, can be used to produce two and three-dimensional images of a solid object and reveal concealed features within it.

“In the initial scan in 2015, I spotted a buried bone in there that looked like a chicken bone with a hook on it and thought straight away that it was a dinosaur,” explained Dr Bevitt.

“Human eyes had never seen it previously, as it was, and still is, totally encased in rock.”

The finding led to further, high-resolution scans using Dingo and the synchrotron X-ray Imaging and Medical Beamline over a number of years.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Dr Joseph Bevitt and Dr Matt White with the sample on the Imaging and Medical beamline at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron

Spare time hobbies and interests

Finding ways to relax and recharge your batteries is really important and helps you maintain perspective, particularly during very busy periods at work. Participants in #LightSourceSelfies told us what they like to do in their spare time. This montage, with contributors from the Australian Synchrotron, CHESS, SESAME and the APS, shows the variety of interests that people within the light source community have. If you are looking for a new way to relax and unwind, you might find an idea that appeals to you in this #LightSourceSelfie!

Enjoying your spare time away from light sources!


Experimental time at light sources is very precious. When a synchrotron or X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) is in operating mode the goal is to allocate as many experimental shifts to external scientists and in-house research as possible. This includes night shifts! So, how do light source users survive the night shifts? #LightSourceSelfies brings you top tips from scientists based at, or using, 5 light sources in our collaboration – the ESRF, Advanced Light Source (ALS), ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron, CHESS and the PAL XFEL.

We all love science!

#LightSourceSelfie from users of the Australian Light Source

Marta Krasowska (Associate Professor), Sarah Otto (PhD Student) and Stephanie MacWilliams (Early Career Researcher) are scientists based at the University of South Australia. They share a passion for soft matter research and conduct experiments at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron. Their research questions relate to structural ordering in soft matter and its relevance in applications such as food, personal care products, biomaterials and pharmaceuticals.

In their #LightSourceSelfie, Marta, Sarah and Stephanie discuss what attracted them to this area of research, how they felt the first time they conducted experiments at the Australian Synchrotron, the support they receive from the team based at the facility, their top tips for surviving night shifts and how their research will benefit from the new BioSAX beamline, which is part of the synchrotron’s major upgrade. When it came to single words to describe their research, they agreed on “Challenging, unpredictable and super rewarding!”

How some plants evolved to depend on fire for survival

Researchers based at Monash University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History have pioneered the use of nuclear imaging techniques at ANSTO’s Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering to resolve long-standing gaps in knowledge of the evolution of plants, including Australian natives, that adapted to depend on fires.

Their work has highlighted the key role of wildfires* in the evolution of floral ecosystems.

Dr Chris Mays, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Swedish Museum of Natural History and Research Affiliate at Monash University, has used fossils of plant reproductive structures, like pine cones, to show how they have adapted to fire.

Plants are known to have adapted during two pivotal intervals in their evolutionary history: a mass extinction event in the end Permian period (252 million years ago) and the rise of the flowering plants during the mid-Cretaceous hothouse period  (120–95 million years ago).

“These extreme warming periods were evolutionary ‘bottlenecks’, through which only fire-adapted plants survived. The evolutionary legacy is all around us in Australia, where a huge proportion of the plants today have fire-adaptive traits,” said Mays.

Using neutron tomography on Dingo, the researchers were able to virtually extract images of amber from within fossils and differentiate plant tissues.

“Neutron tomography is an ideal method for non-destructive, three-dimensional imaging of organically preserved, or ‘coalified’, fossil plants. These are the most common types of plant fossils in the rock record,” said Mays.

Because neutrons can easily penetrate through dense sediments, they can be used to see details of extremely fragile fossils, like those of coalified plants, without the need for meticulous extraction. This minimalist approach to fossil preparation ensures that such delicate fossils remain well-preserved in their protective sediments.

The plant fossils are hydrogen-rich, which means they stand out in contrast to the surrounding rock matrix when imaged with high-resolution neutron tomography.

“Neutrons can successfully differentiate fossil plant tissue that is compositionally similar, where other techniques routinely fail,” said Mays.

X-ray tomography on the Imaging and Medical beamline at the Australian Synchrotron was also undertaken to supplement the neutron investigations.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Dr Maggie-Anne Harvey (left) and Dr Andrew Langendam preparing fossil plant specimens on Dingo

Credit: ANSTO

Delivering drugs using nanocrystals

Monash University researchers have used advanced techniques at ANSTO to investigate the production of new, elongated polymer nanocapsules with a high payload of drug nanocrystals to potentially increase drug targetability, and also decrease dosage frequency and side effects.

This method had not been investigated previously and represents a pioneering method of investigation in the field of colloidal science applications for drug delivery.

Nanoparticles have been used to increase the delivery efficiency of cancer therapy because of their biocompatibility, versatility and the easiness of functionalisation.

The team engineered novel elongated polymer nanocapsules, which are unlike the more well-known spherical nanocapsules.

The elongated polymer nanocapsules were made with elongated liposomes or surfactant vesicles and used drug nanocrystals as a template. 

The results provided strong evidence that the elongated structure could be retained, and also confirmed that the loading method to form rod-like drug nanocrystals inside liposomes was a practical solution.

The combination of the high drug payload, in the form of encapsulated nanocrystals, and the non-spherical feature of liposomes represented a more efficient delivery system.

Spherical hollow nanocapsules have been studied extensively, but the formation of elongated nanocapsules containing active pharmaceuticals as therapeutic agents has been previously largely unsuccessful. 

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Elongated nanocapsules can be prepared by polymerisation at the surface of elongated liposome templates with drug nanocrystals

Research finds possible key to long term COVID-19 symptoms

Key Points

  • Researchers from La Trobe University have identified a key mechanism that may link COVID-19 infection and lung damage
  • Lung damage is one of the possible long term effects of COVID-19
  • The macromolecular crystallography beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron continue to provide insights into the structural biology of COVID-19 

The Macromolecular and microfocus beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron continue to be an invaluable resource for studies in structural biology relating to COVID-19.

This week researchers from La Trobe University reported that they have identified a key mechanism in how SARS-CoV-2 damages lung tissue.

Some patients report long term-COVID symptoms affecting their breathing for months after recovering from an initial COVID-19 infection.

Read more on ANSTO website