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  • AIDS FIGHTER DRAWS HOPE FROM A CRISIS

    By Feb 15, 2013

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    AIDS FIGHTER DRAWS HOPE FROM A CRISIS

    Preventing AIDS is more effective than treating it, says a South African whose 28-year dedication to the cause has brought the promise of a turnaround in this devastating pandemic.After treating his first HIV and AIDS patients in 1985, Professor Geoffrey Setswe realised he would have to step out of the safe confines of the Impala Platinum mine hospital in Rustenburg, South Africa, where he was working as a nurse.These were early instances of an indiscriminate disease that would soon reach pandemic proportions in his native South Africa, where 5.6 million people are infected – 11 per cent of the population. “Many people that I grew up with died before they could reach the age of 30, others before they could reach the age of 40,” says Professor Setswe, now a prevention specialist and head of the School of Health Sciences at Monash South Africa.The spread of the disease among his miner patients in the 1980s alerted Professor Setswe to the possibilities of finding a way to interrupt the cycle of transmission.In the case of Impala Platinum, many of the miners were visiting the same local sex workers, and condom use was sporadic at best. With colleagues, the young nurse started an informal program to promote condom use to these sex workers, and – in contravention of the health authority’s policy of distributing condoms only from clinics – began handing them out where miners congregated. Then, as now, his focus was on healthy people

  • POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES: A PLUS FOR ENERGY

    By Feb 15, 2013

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    POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES: A PLUS FOR ENERGY

    Salts that exist in a liquid state at room temperature could soon change the cars we drive, improve our renewable energy sources and help wean industrial chemistry off petroleum.Hybrid vehicles constitute a significant part of the automotive market. But safety concerns about the technology that powers these cars – their batteries are more likely than standard ones to ignite – is a major hindrance to reducing the carbon emissions of road transport. For Douglas MacFarlane, Professor of Chemistry at Monash University, the tendency of such car batteries to explode if damaged is a practical problem that he believes can be remedied by harnessing a remarkable conductive material that is much more stable. Ionic liquids, consisting of salts that have a low melting point, can be turned to diverse applications through the manipulation of their positive and negative molecules and atoms, components known as ions. Thanks to an Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council (ARC), over the next five years he will continue an ambitious research program of refining these ionic liquids, leading about 30 research chemists and materials engineers

  • THE SEARCH NARROWS FOR EARTH-LIKE PLANETS

    By Feb 15, 2013

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    THE SEARCH NARROWS FOR EARTH-LIKE PLANETS

    Our galaxy is 120,000 light years in diameter. It contains up to 400 billion stars – and astrophysicists are getting closer to knowing where, in this vastness, to look for other life.One of the more improbable aids for exploring far distant space in the hope of locating extraterrestrial life is a map: a chart that, give or take a few hundred million kilometres, says ‘this is where the aliens live’.Given that any sign or signal sent from prospective neighbours in our Milky Way galaxy could be a billion or so years old by the time we saw it, the map would more likely be telling us where the aliens used to live. But such a map would still be a leap forward for astronomers searching for signs of other life, which is why astrophysicists in Melbourne and the UK are drawing one.The project is a collaboration between the University of Central Lancashire’s Professor Brad Gibson and the director of the Monash Centre for Astrophysics, Professor John Lattanzio, along with Monash University honours student Kate Henkel. It arises from a wider investigation of galaxy evolution, particularly chemical evolution, seeking knowledge about where and when in space and time stars similar to our sun have evolved with the capability of supporting Earth-like planets.The trio’s work is creating a scientific basis not only for pondering the existence of other life, but also for pointing to where it might be. In a galaxy 120,000 light years in diameter and home to between 200 billion and 400 billion stars, that is no mean feat.Professor Lattanzio explains that the key to what they are doing is the improving knowledge of our own Milky Way’s evolution: its origins in stellar explosions called supernovae; how the stars produce different elements from nuclear fusion in their centres; and how this matter is returned to the galaxy when the star dies and is subsequently incorporated into the next generation of stars.

  • OILING THE WHEELS OF DEMOCRACY

    By Feb 15, 2013

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    OILING THE WHEELS OF DEMOCRACY

    The power of the consumer boycott is turning some major corporations into unlikely champions of a new form of political bargaining.Not so long ago, eating a biscuit or chocolate bar, or applying lipstick, meant, in all likelihood, that you were helping to deforest entire tropical landscapes. Today, just as unwittingly, you may instead be helping to drive a social and political revolution that is redefining the rules of international corporate behaviour and even giving democracy a passing fillip.At the centre of what was an emerging environmental crisis and has now become a benchmark for people power, is palm oil.It sounds innocuous enough but this simple agricultural product, mostly from South-East Asia, has become the focal point for a new tier of global governance, or rule making. Palm oil continues to catch nation states by surprise with its capacity to break through political inertia or corporate intransigence by harnessing – or threatening to harness – the power of the world’s consumers.It is a phenomenon still running its course and an enthralling spectacle for political scientist Associate Professor Helen Nesadurai from the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University’s Sunway campus, near Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is one of the largest producers of palm oil, giving Associate Professor Nesadurai a front-row seat to this seismic shift in the way non-governmental communities, often working with corporations, are setting rules that were once the province of corporate and political privilege.Associate Professor Nesadurai, who also collaborates with scholars from the University of Warwick in the UK (which has a formal alliance with Monash) and has consulted for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations secretariat and the Asian Development Bank, researches the politics and political economy of governance by non-state, civil society groups and private firms.

  • EYES ON NEW HORIZONS

    By Feb 15, 2013

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    EYES ON NEW HORIZONS

    Some of the country’s greatest minds are meeting in a space custom-built for collaboration – and the possibilities are endless.Humans have asked what matter is for millennia. Today’s researchers are heirs to the accumulated answers to that question and can dream of advanced new materials that will help realise extraordinary technological advances.Among possibilities being explored by engineers in a new complex in Australia are solar cells so thin they can be printed onto plastic in a reel-to-reel printing process, putting solar energy on tap for all sorts of surfaces. There are materials that allow the human body to regenerate worn or diseased bones and organs. Physicists can create an entirely new state of matter with unusual properties, with a vast range of benefits including atomtronics that would help locate mineral deposits.The leadership at Monash University is well aware its engineers can make massive contributions to medicine, and that physicists are learning to build machines with implications for all research and development. To further fuel such collaborative ventures, it decided to build the New Horizons Centre (NHC), where researchers from multiple departments can cohabit and mingle to exploit radical new possibilities.

  • FORGOTTEN VOICES REVEAL HISTORY IN BLACK AND WHITE

    By Feb 15, 2013

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    FORGOTTEN VOICES REVEAL HISTORY IN BLACK AND WHITE

    Long-lost interviews and the stories of sidelined individuals have come to light in a project designed to unsettle the accepted understanding of one of the most significant chapters of African-American history.In 1929, a young African-American social scientist named Ophelia Settle Egypt began interviewing former slaves in the southern states of the US, recording their harrowing tales of being sold, beaten and torn from their families. Much of what we know today about the slave experience derives from the work of Mrs Egypt and other interviewers who followed her lead. She was part of a wave of oral history efforts that developed during the 1920s and 1930s, and which took on greater momentum in 1936 with the instigation of a mass ethnographic project by the Depression-era Works Project Administration (WPA).

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