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Microscopy Australia: Take a closer look

Why is microscopy so important?

“Without microscopy, there is no modern science – end of story.” – Dr Alan Finkel, former Chief Scientist of Australia, Opening Address at the IMC19.

Microscopy is a fundamental scientific technique.  It reveals the structure and properties of materials and living systems at unimaginably tiny scales, down as far as individual atoms. It is these microscopic structures that shape the materials and organisms we encounter in our everyday lives. Because of this, microscopy is fundamental to the creation of new knowledge in many fields from science and engineering to art and archaeology: without microscopy, scientific knowledge as we know it would not be possible.

Microscopy Australia gives Australian researchers and industry access to the instruments and experts they need to address multiple global challenges, locally important research and industrial R&D. It is a critical part of Australia’s research landscape.

What breakthroughs have been achieved through microscopy in Australia?

State-of-the-art tools and microscopes enable breakthroughs in many emerging technologies from nano- and quantum technologies, to semi-conductors and solar for clean energy, more drought-resistant agriculture, and new medical and diagnostic devices. 38% of research that relied on Microscopy Australia for critical results, is published in the top 10% of journals, demonstrating that microscopy plays a significant role in the best Australian research.

Some of the more recent outcomes of microscopy in Australia include the success of a number of companies producing breakthrough technologies and building a sovereign modern manufacturing capability. They include:

Along with this, Microscopy Australia is supporting Australian researchers working on seven of the top ten emerging technologies identified by the World Economic Forum (Nov 2020). This includes: Microneedles for Painless Injections and Tests, Sun-Powered Chemistry, Electric Aviation, Digital Medicine, Lower-Carbon Cement, Quantum Sensing, and Green Hydrogen. These kind of advances in technology drive change in how we work, communicate and live.

Microscopy Australia is constantly enabling high impact, breakthrough research. See our most recent impact stories here.

How will Microscopy Australia meet future research needs?

Microscopy Australia is built on the principles of open access to cutting-edge instruments and expertise to drive research excellence and innovation. This proven model helps research feed into our sovereign capability in next-generation healthcare and modern manufacturing for social and economic benefit while helping Australia prepare for, and respond to, disasters.

Governments, and organisations such as the United Nations and the World Economic Forum, set priorities that help steer the direction of research. Microscopy Australia’s research infrastructure is adaptable and able to support a wide range of these existing and future priorities through its current suite of instruments and expertise, and through the development and acquisition of new and improved kinds of microscopes. For example, the research we enable is directly addressing 14 of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and supports all of nine of Australia’s Science and Research Priorities:

  1. Food
  2. Soil and Water
  3. Transport
  4. Cybersecurity
  5. Energy
  6. Resources
  7. Advanced Manufacturing
  8. Environmental Change
  9. Health

Consultations with researchers and our international team of advisors have emphasised the need for Microscopy Australia to continue building our capability in four key platform areas that will provide optimal support for ongoing and emerging research needs:

  • Atomic-scale microscopy that includes the ability to watch atomic-scale changes in materials over time. This supports national research priorities 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.
  • Techniques to correlate different types of data from multiple microscopy techniques along with automated and machine learning workflows to support this. This supports all nine national research priorities.
  • Cryogenic Electron Microscopy (CryoEM) to determine detailed shapes of biological molecules and structures in their natural states. This supports national research priorities 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
  • High-sensitivity analytical tools to understand the composition and structures of complex materials. This supports all nine national research priorities.

Alongside these instrumental platforms sit the experienced and well-trained experts, essential to operate instruments, provide training, and develop techniques and analytical tools ready to optimise support for the exciting research that will emerge in the future.

Outer circle: Pneumococcal SEM image taken during the development of a universal Pneumococcal vaccine. Second circle: Confocal image of nematodes in wheat imaged as part of a study to improve pest resistance in crops. Third Circle: SEM image of the anther of an Arabidopsis flower. Fourth circle: STEM image of an advanced aluminium alloy being developed at the University of Sydney. Inner circle: CryoEM reconstruction of a bacteriophage used to enable the creation of treatments for antibiotic resistant bacteria.