Professor Calum Drummond, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President of RMIT University has been awarded the prestigious Victoria Prize in the Physical Sciences category, honouring his fundamental chemistry research, involving the Australian Synchrotron, that is enhancing industrial products and improving nanomedicine drug delivery for people with cancer.

Professor Drummond's research has led to design rules that were used to invent two patented drug delivery technologies, enabling drugs to be encapsulated in nanostructured material and diffused in a controlled manner to treat cancerous tumours.

The prize, one of two awarded last night at a ceremony in Melbourne, honours Professor Drummond’s contributions to understanding of key factors involved in molecular assembly in liquids, research completed in partnership with scientists on the Small and Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS/WAXS) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron.

By devising a new method of high-throughput analysis on the SAXS/WAXS beamline, Professor Drummond and his team from RMIT University and CSIRO were able to investigate thousands of liquid and liquid crystal samples a day, greatly increasing the number of known molecules capable of self-assembling in solvents to form materials with ordered 2D and 3D internal nanostructures.

Known as amphiphiles, these molecules can be used to create advanced nanostructured materials, with applications including nanomedicine, environmentally friendly off-shore oil well drilling fluids, waterproof recyclable paper coatings, household cleaning products, and specialty chemicals for the construction industry.

Professor Drummond says he is humbled and delighted to receive the Victoria Prize.

‘I have always been of the mindset that conducting excellent research is necessary but not sufficient, it is what you do with the excellent research to benefit others beyond the academic community that is most important.

‘My research is driven by the desire to innovate and make an impact, through understanding and solving problems faced by industry and the community.

‘It is a great honour for our work to be recognised. Scientific research is a team-based activity and this award also recognises my many research colleagues in CSIRO, RMIT and elsewhere.’

The annual Victoria Prize and Victoria Fellowships recognise the important role innovation plays in the state’s economic future, reinforcing the need for Victorians to be skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Victorian Minister for Industry Lily D’Ambrosio has congratulated the winners of the prestigious awards.

‘Victoria’s reputation in science innovation is truly a testament to the high quality of innovators and researchers that our universities produce.

‘The Andrews Labor Government is committed to supporting Victorians in science, engineering and technology, to research in the areas that will help create industry growth, including local jobs and a stronger economy.’

Also last night, users of the Australian Synchrotron were awarded three of the six Victoria Fellowships in Physical Sciences: Dr Daniel Gomez from CSIRO, Dr Nisa Salim from Deakin University and Alex Schenk from La Trobe University.

A world where windows doubling as TV screens and solar panels could be found in every home is a step closer today after researchers from Monash University and the Australian Synchrotron helped produce the most effective and highest frequency printable organic transistor in the world, potentially paving the way for the rapid mass-production of cheaper and more versatile electronics.

The new approach to printing thin, durable semiconductor sheets using the groundbreaking polymer P(NDI2OD-T2), revealed in Nature Communications by Italian researchers from the Center for Nano Science and Technology in Milan and which could one day see the replacement of bulky, silicon-based circuit boards, could hasten the development of translucent consumer electronics.

Associate Professor Chris McNeill from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Monash University, whose team used the Australian Synchrotron to inform a new ‘bar-coating’ printing technique, says while many research teams have attempted to realise industry-ready printed polymer electronics, they had not been able to match high-throughput printing with high performance.

‘We discovered that molecules in the polymer must be precisely aligned, leading to this new bar-coating approach, an improved approach to “roll-out” printing, in which the polymer solution is spread into a thin film, much like a mound of dough is rolled flat by a rolling pin.

‘The trick to achieving high performance was tightly wrapping a wire around the “rolling pin” bar, creating a coat of microscopic grooves 50 microns wide – one twentieth of a millimetre – which forces the molecules of the polymer into an organised pattern during printing, for much greater electron mobility.’

Using the bar-coating technique the research team achieved a printing speed of six metres per minute, up to 50 times faster than other approaches to printing that also control the polymer’s molecular arrangement.

Associate Professor McNeill says the Melbourne team provided crucial molecular analysis as the technique was developed.

‘Working at the Synchrotron’s Soft X-ray Spectroscopy (SXR) and Small and Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS/WAXS) beamlines we defined the optimal molecular structure of the polymer, enabling our Italian research partners to print a polymer transistor that is not only much larger than any predecessor, but boasts a commercially competitive frequency of 3.3 megahertz.

‘We believe the upscaling of polymer transistors will enable faster development of next-generation electronics that are flexible, malleable and more affordable, beyond the limitations of bulky silicon-based transistors.’

The first working silicon transistor, the fundamental building block of modern electronic devices, was developed in 1954.

Researchers at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) in Melbourne in collaboration with scientists at the Bio21 Institute, The University of Melbourne and the University of Oklahoma in the United States have shown how the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae) assembles an arsenal of proteins to breech the membrane of human cells.

Infection by S. pneumoniae causes a range of serious human diseases including pneumonia, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis and sepsis. These bacteria are responsible for a quarter of the deaths of young children in the developing world.

It has been known for some time that the bacteria cause cellular damage via a toxin called pneumolysin. Pneumolysin is made up of individual components that assemble into a doughnut-shaped superstructure that punches a hole in the human cell wall, causing the cell to disintegrate.

Using the Macromolecular and Micromolecular Crystallography (MX1 and MX2) beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron, SVI researchers showed, for the first time, the initial few critical steps that occur in the formation of the superstructure.

Lead author Professor Michael Parker says pneumolysin first recognises human cells by binding to cholesterol in the cell membrane.

‘Once anchored on the cell surface it interacts with nearby pneumolysin molecules to form a linear array of toxin molecules.

‘Body temperature is sufficient to cause changes in the shape of the molecules to convert the linear array into doughnut-shaped rings that cause large holes to form in the cell membrane and allow the cell’s essential nutrients to escape.’

The emergence of drug resistant pneumococci and the poor efficacy of current vaccines have prompted the search for new vaccines and drug targets against the bacteria. This research provides a framework for the design of new vaccines and drugs to combat pneumococcal disease.

The work was published yesterday in the journal Scientific Reports.