Research that changed the world

Australian and New Zealand universities offer a wide range of research opportunities for suitably qualified students to become part of an innovative, exciting and unique research environment. Just take a look at some of the life-changing research that has been undertaken at Australian and New Zealand universities to inspire you to join them!

Monash University: World’s first IVF pregnancy

Two researchers at the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development, Professors Alan Trounson and Carl Wood, achieved the world’s first IVF pregnancy in 1973. Although the pregnancy did not reach full term, the work they undertook lead to the world’s first IVF baby being born in the UK in 1978.  The team went on to achieve Australia’s first (and the world’s fourth) successful IVF birth in 1980. The pair, along with gynaecologist colleague John Wood, also became world pioneers of using fertility drugs that could then be frozen. This had a huge impact on the success rate of IVF and their achievements continue to make a huge impact in reproductive science.  Read more from The Guardian website.

The University of Melbourne: First bionic ear

In 1978 Professor Graeme Clark, based at the University of Melbourne, pioneered the development of the world’s first bionic ear – a device that literally lets deaf people hear. More than 80% of the world’s 50, 000 cochlear implant patients use technology manufactured in Australia. 

UNSW Australia: World record for conversion efficiency for silicon solar cells

In December 2014, researchers at the University of New South Wales converted over 40% of sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever recorded.

The university has a 40 year long history of notable achievements within the field of solar research. Researchers at the university produced the first solar cell in 1975. A solar cell is an electrical device that converts energy from light into electricity.  The impact of their research into this area extends globally across the solar power industry and indeed some of the world’s largest solar companies have been established by researchers and alumni from UNSW’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering. Find out more about this innovation here.

The Australian National University: Discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe

Australian National University researcher Professor Brian Schmidt was a key part of the team that won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through observations of distant supernovae.” The ANU academic’s ground-breaking research revealed that the universe is expanding at a much faster rate than previously realised. Before this intriguing discovery, many assumed that the expansion of the universe was slowing down, or indeed petering out. According to the Nobel jury, the research conducted by Professor Schmidt, therefore completely changed humanity’s understanding of the universe. 

You can read more about this discovery here and here.

The University of Queensland: Making mining safer

The University of Queensland’s GroundProbe Slope Stability Radar (The SSR) is a world-first combination of radar and visual information, allowing miners to build a full picture of slope stability which has since changed the face of open-cut mining, improved safety, productivity and profitability.

The GroundProbe SSR is now the world’s best practice technology for monitoring slope stability and is used by the largest mining companies in the world at more than 150 sites in 19 countries. Open-cut mines are inherently risky and unstable slopes can be challenging to monitor and collapses difficult to predict. The GroundProbe SSR that the University of Queensland developed means that mine managers can now build a complete picture of slope movements and make correct operational decisions. It has also allowed mines that were once considered too risky to be operated safely. The GroundProbe SSR was developed in the mid-1990s.

Read more about this research on the University of Queensland's website.

The University of Western Australia: Developed the most accurate measure of time

Physicist Michael Tobar, based at the University of Western Australia in Perth, developed the world’s most precise clock, the sapphire oscillator, which is most exact measure of time and date ever manufactured. It measures time with unprecedented accuracy – plus or minus a second every 60 million years. This measurement technique is used in radar, telecommunications, fundamental physics and defence. 

You can read more about this research here and here.

The University of Queensland: Cervical cancer vaccine

Research conducted at the University of Queensland in Brisbane by Professor Ian Frazer lead to the development of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer – the world’s first cancer vaccine. This vaccine is now available in 120 countries, including the UK, and is helping to eliminate cervical cancer – the second most common cancer in women. This vaccine is estimated to save a quarter of a million lives annually.

University of Otago: Oral vaccine breakthrough

The University of Otago’s commercial arm, Otago Innovation Ltd, developed a world-leading oral delivery method for vaccines for commercial use. Oral vaccines are important, especially in developing countries, as it makes vaccine delivery easier and there is less need for refrigeration. Researchers developed ‘The Liporale’ oral delivery system that delivers the vaccine directly to the gut. The system encapsulates the vaccine in a lipid that protects it from the acidic environment of the stomach and allows it to pass through the small intestine where it can be absorbed. In the past the problem with oral delivery systems has been that vaccines would get broken into small fragments which are not recognised by the immune system – the Liporal overcomes this problem.

Rad more about this development on the University of Otago website.

The University of Melbourne: Discovery of the first gene linked to epilepsy

At least 70% of epilepsy has a genetic component and in 1995 a research group at the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, identified the first gene associated with epilepsy. Since this first discovery more than 30 genes that are linked to epilepsy have been discovered. The impact of the research first started at the University of Melbourne has changed the way that the disorder is researched and treated and has also opened the way for predictive testing in families. Professor Ingrid Scheffer, who was part of the team at Melbourne, won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2014 for her outstanding contribution to this field.

You can find out more about this discovery here and here.

The University of Adelaide: Ground-breaking treatment for sinusitis

In 2011, an international team, led by the University of Adelaide, developed a gel that controls bleeding, improves healing and prevents scarring following sinus surgery – a world first. Chronic sinusitis causes significant facial pain and pressure to millions worldwide and for many, surgery to enlarge the nasal passages is the only solution. But in around a third of cases this fails, with scar tissue reforming and re-blocking passages. The gel, developed by the University of Adelaide, is placed into the sinuses immediately after surgery and is extremely effective in controlling bleeding, forming a coating over the wound that dissolves slowly over a period of two weeks, to allow the sinuses time to heal properly without the formation of scar tissue. The gel is derived from a polymer which is extracted from crab shell and squid and was purchased by Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company. It will benefit millions of sufferers around the world.

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