Fresh Science and fresh start for new and emerging scientists

July 16 / 184

Fresh scientist George Chen presenting his project
Fresh scientist George Chen presenting his project

Fresh Science is a national competition helping early-career researchers find, and then share, their stories of discovery.

The program takes up-and-coming researchers and encourages them to communicate their science to a wider audience, including events in pubs.

This year, three University of Melbourne staff members have made it to the finals. Not only is their work interesting, but it has great relevance to how we might solve a few tricky problems. 

These are the problems they’re tackling:

When ‘WHEY’ no longer equals waste

Ever thought what you leave behind when enjoying your Greek Yogurt? More than one billion litres of acid whey, a protein rich by-product, is generated annually worldwide from the manufacture of strained yogurt.

Its acidity makes recovery of these nutrients impractical, but Research Fellow in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering’s ARC Dairy Innovation Hub, George Chen, works in the area of dairy processing and membrane technology.

He and his team have developed a highly effective, electrically driven membrane process to turn this acid whey into a range of other products.

Never say die: sneaky, sweet talking bacteria

Some types of E coli bacteria gain the ability to cause serious disease in humans. They attach to our gut cells and use tiny needle-like structures to inject bacterial proteins into our cells that hijack our immune system – which basically allows them to hide, attack and cause disease.

Jaclyn Pearson is a NHMRC Peter Doherty Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne. She works at the Doherty Institute studying host-pathogen interactions and is investigating exactly how these bacterial proteins function, with the long-term goal of finding more effective treatments for bacterial gut infection.

Fighting sludge: Improving wastewater filtration

Wastewater treatment may not be ‘fresh’ or new but it is arguably the greatest achievement of the industrial revolution. However the final by-product, sludge, is a nightmare to deal with.  Sludge dewatering contributes a major proportion of the overall cost of wastewater treatment.  

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering PhD Candidate Samuel Skinner is building evidence that sludge filtration is improved by destroying the volatile component of sludge in upstream processes.  While his study may sound unpleasant, it is of great importance to all of us.

Story by Annie Rahilly.

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