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Two members from Curtin University’s Desert Fireball Network (DFN) team have been stationed in the South Australian outback, eagerly awaiting a capsule from outer space landing on Earth carrying secrets from Ryugu, a small asteroid located deep in the solar system.

Working under a Department of Defence agreement, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spacecraft Hayabusa2’s capsule, filled with dust and rock samples collected from the asteroid, landed in the Woomera Prohibited Area, South Australia, in the early hours of 6 December.

Using specialised camera equipment usually reserved for tracking meteorites, the team observed the capsule’s trajectory through Earth’s atmosphere.

Curtin University researchers from the Space Science and Technology Centre will now have the opportunity to analyse some of the collected pristine solar system material in the John de Laeter Centre, located at Curtin’s Perth campus.

Dr Eleanor Sansom, a planetary scientist and project manager of the DFN, along with colleagues from the Kochi University of Technology and their partners at Nihon University and Ibaraki University, deployed a large array of more than 50 instruments to capture the re-entry phenomenon.

She noted that while the team’s Japanese colleagues were unable to be there with us in person due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Australia team was deeply honoured to have been entrusted with the responsibility of helping them achieve their science goals.

The DFN currently has cameras stationed all the way across Australia taking pictures of bright shooting stars, or fireballs, which help them to predict where meteorites have landed on Earth, and then they go out and try to find them.

On this occasion, the team was not watching a meteorite fall to Earth, but instead a capsule being dropped from a spacecraft, as it passed by Earth and continued on its scheduled mission.

Dr Hadrien Devillepoix and Dr Eleanor Sansom were stationed in the South Australian outback, eagerly awaiting this special delivery from space. This is only the second time anyone has ever brought back such a special delivery of pristine, untouched material, directly from an asteroid – an exciting and rare event indeed.

Ryugu is extra special as it is thought to be the type of asteroid that carbonaceous meteorites come from. If Hayabusa2 samples match these carbonaceous meteorites, they could contain amino acids – the building blocks of life.

The Desert Fireball Network is an interdisciplinary research group looking to uncover the mysteries surrounding the formation of the solar system through the study of meteorites, fireballs and their pre-Earth orbits.

First established in 2005 as a trial of three remote-operated film cameras to observe meteors falling towards Earth’s surface, the DFN at Curtin University is now a nationally distributed network of over 50 disruption-tolerant and fully autonomous digital observatories that continually monitor 3 million square kilometres of the night sky – a third of Australian skies – all night, every night.

Using intelligent imaging systems, automated data reduction pipeline, real-time server-side triangulation and supercomputer data management system, the DFN captures the paths of fireballs in the sky, triangulating trajectories from multiple viewpoints, linking the rock’s pre-Earth orbit to its landing site for recovery.

Together with partners across the world, the DFN is expanding to become a Global Fireball Observatory with stations internationally to observe these phenomena. Recovering meteorites with known orbits help to address some of the biggest questions in planetary science: how our planetary system came into being, and how dust and gas produced a planet capable of supporting life – Earth.

Cutting-edge technology is normally associated with youth, but a group of aged care residents in Adelaide are learning how useful (and how much fun) virtual reality can be.

Recalling their past adventures and most positive memories through VR technology is helping residential aged care residents at Helping Hand to improve their mental health, thanks to a new study by the University of South Australia.

UniSA PhD candidate Jim Saredakis is using virtual reality to address widespread apathy in aged care homes, which hastens cognitive decline and can affect up to 84 per cent of older residents. He noted that lack of interest in life and loss of motivation are extremely common among people in an aged care home. Apathy contributes to a poorer quality of life and is associated with a three-fold risk of earlier death compared to those without apathy.

Music and art therapy are often used to motivate aged care residents, but virtual reality can be used as a powerful tool for “reminiscence therapy” which allows seniors to immersive themselves in happier memories from their past.

Saredakis tailored VR experiences for 17 residents at Helping Hand, interviewing each about their life history with a focus on positive memories and then sourcing content specifically for each person.

The content was viewed through a 360-degree video on head-mounted displays, allowing residents to relive autobiographical memories of travel, favourite places, jobs, family videos and other social connections.

He stated, “It’s a digital life storybook; a powerful tool which takes aged care residents away from the world they’re in and into a happier time and place with no other distractions.”

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The candidate saw a visible change in the participants. The emotional responses were varied (including happy tears) but always positive.

More importantly, the improvements in verbal fluency – a key indicator of apathy – were marked.

The residents with higher levels of apathy recalled a lot more words immediately after the immersive sessions than beforehand, possibly activating specific regions of their brain.

The researchers believe that being in the immersive environment stimulates the brain areas involved in verbal fluency, Saredakis said. The team found that people with high levels of apathy said more words after the experience, triggering something in their brain. It was an immediate effect and we don’t know how long it lasts.

Some negative side effects of the virtual reality experience were reported, including dizziness and nausea-like motion sickness – and some eye strain. However, all participants endorsed the project and said it was their favourite activity in the home.

The fact that residents with the highest levels of apathy showed the most improvements tells us that virtual reality could help improve the lives of older adults in residential aged care, Saredakis noted.

This research is currently being expanded to directly examine apathy and compare virtual reality to traditional forms of reminiscence therapy and a usual care group.

According to the paper, the objective of this feasibility study aimed to assess whether VR using HMDs could be used to deliver tailored reminiscence therapy and examine the willingness to participate, response rates to measures, time taken to create tailored content, and technical problems. In addition, this study aimed to explore the immediate effects between verbal fluency and apathy after exposure to VR.

The study provides initial evidence that it is feasible to use VR with HMDs for therapy to treat symptoms of apathy in older adults in residential aged care. However, there is a need to closely monitor the side effects of HMD use in older adults. Further research is needed using an active control group to compare the use of VR with traditional forms of reminiscence therapy.

The NSW Government has helped to bring together four Sydney universities to promote the harbour city as an international centre for excellence in quantum technology, supporting jobs, research and education. Sydney Quantum Academy is working to create thousands of well-paid, high-tech jobs building on the city’s quantum strengths.

At an online forum officially launching the Academy on Monday, the Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, joined representatives from academia and industry to discuss plans to grow the city’s quantum economy, creating new jobs and attracting investment.

Sydney is already home to one of the highest concentrations of quantum research groups in the world and there is a burgeoning quantum tech industry with start-ups like Q-CTRL, government-backed enterprises like Silicon Quantum Computing and global tech giants like Microsoft.

The newly formed Sydney Quantum Academy – a partnership with four world-leading universities Macquarie University, UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney and UTS, backed by the NSW Government – has been tasked with supercharging the sector’s growth.

The Minister stated that the NSW Government is investing heavily in the infrastructure required to build a world-class technology precinct. This includes investing in support networks for emerging technologies where we have credible expertise.

The Academy will keep the region at the forefront of quantum technology by developing the future employers, entrepreneurs and the workforce required to sustain the industry’s growth.

Future quantum leaders

The newly appointed CEO of the Sydney Quantum Academy spoke of the Academy’s plans to grow the talent pipeline through education and training programs, industry partnerships and internships. He noted that the potential for quantum is enormous, significant increases in effort and investment around the world are being seen.

Quantum technologies will fundamentally change areas like computation and sensing. They will help researchers solve problems that can’t simply be solved with classical information technology.

The Academy’s unique model means scientists have the ability and the infrastructure to deliver work-ready graduates and leaders who can help translate quantum research into real-life applications. There are jobs already there with the technology maturing rapidly, but there are many more to come.

There is a need to boost the talent pipeline and anticipate what skills will be required for the future. This can only be done by working closely with industry in Australia and beyond.

The University of Sydney’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) stated that the foundation the academy is a tribute to the many years of foundational quantum research done by scientists across the city and means a great future for jobs, research and education in quantum technology.

The quantum economy

CSIRO’s Chief Scientist and Australia’s incoming Chief Scientist spoke on how Sydney will play a central role in developing the nation’s quantum technology sector.

She said that the investment by the NSW Government in the Sydney Quantum Academy is a great example of the steps that are needed to create and accelerate a quantum ecosystem that will allow the whole of Australia to come together behind an industry that will create jobs and prosperity.

Quantum is an industry that is going to do more than create new products and services – it will also catalyse a broader capability that will be transformational for all industries, similar to the effect of the digital revolution. It is going to allow us to do new things and accelerate our ability to solve challenges that seem unsolvable today. Moreover, she said that it is fortunate that these global tech industry and government leaders involved. It demonstrates the significance of what’s happening in the quantum space in Sydney.

The NSW Information Commissioner will chair a new information and privacy advisory committee set up by the state government. The committee will ensure that the public sector complies with information governance in the digital age where technology, service delivery and consumer expectations are rapidly changing, she said.

The Committee has the expertise to assist public sector agencies in access to information rights, information protection principles and implementing privacy management plans in ways that account for these challenges, the Commissioner said in a statement.

Customer Service Minster stated that the committee will provide strategic advice to government, and facilitate collaboration across government, industry and academia. It will also advise the Information and Privacy Commission, the Minister for Customer Service, the Attorney General and the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

The committee will include experts from data science, technology, business and law, including the Privacy Commissioner and NSW Chief Data Scientist. It will provide the government with information, advice, assistance and training to deliver world-leading information and privacy management practices the Chief Data Scientist said in a statement. The committee will also be able to invite experts with relevant knowledge to contribute their expertise.

According to another article, in addition to the core members, the NSW government said experts in relevant areas may also be invited to attend and contribute as required by the committee. The committee has the expertise to assist public sector agencies in adopting and complying with information governance in a contemporary public sector context, including access to information rights, with information protection principles, and implementing privacy management plans in ways that account for these challenges.

The launch of the committee will add to ongoing efforts the state government has been making when it comes to addressing information privacy.

In June, the state government announced its intentions to stand up a sector-wide cybersecurity strategy, which would supersede the cybersecurity strategy that was last updated in 2018.

The plan to create a new security document followed an AU$240 million commitment to improve NSW’s cybersecurity capabilities, including investments towards protecting existing systems, deploying new technologies, and increasing the cyber workforce. With that funding, it announced plans to create an “army” of cyber experts.

In a vow to keep customer data safe, the state government set up a dedicated cyber and privacy resilience group in October. The NSW Department of Customer Service Secretary, who is the chair of the new group, said at the time that setting up the task force was in response to the cyber-attack the state government suffered earlier this year.

The breach resulted in 73GB of data, which comprised of 3.8 million documents, being stolen from staff email accounts. The breach impacted 186,000 customers. Budget papers revealed in November the cyber-attack would cost Service NSW AU$7 million in legal and investigation fees.

However, this is not the only cyber incident that the state government has suffered. In September, it was revealed information on thousands of New South Wales driver’s licence-holders was breached, with reports indicating a cloud storage folder that had over 100,000 images was mistakenly left open.

Thus, a robust cyber infrastructure is imperative; along with this, the government must develop a comprehensive understanding of information and privacy risks in an era that is growing increasingly digital as a result of COVID-19.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) is enhancing the Information Security Registered Assessor Program (IRAP) to strengthen the cybersecurity assessment framework. The agency has released an updated IRAP policy and a new IRAP Assessor Training module following an independent review of the program.

The enhanced program has been designed to help develop the capabilities of industry partners, increase the number of cybersecurity assessors and bolster national cybersecurity efforts. It has been developed in consultation with government and industry representatives.

Changes include increases to the standard and consistency of cybersecurity advice provided by IRAP assessors by requiring these assessors to maintain and demonstrate ICT security knowledge.

Other changes include a minimum requirement for IRAP assessors to maintain a Negative Vetting Level 1 Security Clearance, and enhanced governance arrangements in place for assuring IRAP assessors are performing their roles as independent third parties.

The ACSC has also established a revised five-day IRAP training course, which covers both IRAP and Information Security Manual fundamentals. The new policy will apply to all assessments initiated going forward, and current IRAP assessors will have 24 months to meet new requirements outlined in the policy.

Pushing better government cybersecurity measures

In October 2020, OpenGov Asia reported that the federal government of Australia was establishing a new industry advisory committee to help guide the implementation of its Cyber Security Strategy 2020. The Industry Advisory Committee will provide advice to the government through regular meetings and report directly to the Minister for Home Affairs.

The 2020 Cyber Security Strategy is firmly focused on protecting families and businesses, especially as they spend more time online, both at home and in their workplaces, the Minister for Home Affairs said. The Committee brings a wealth of experience from both the public and private sector that will build on the success of the Industry Advisory Panel and ensure the industry will continue playing a vital formative role in shaping the delivery of actions set out in the Strategy.

The work of the committee will be essential in light of the key role connected technologies are expected to play in Australia’s post-COVID recovery. While daily life is increasingly connected by digital technologies, more abundant and better-resourced cybercriminals and cyber-activists and increasingly sophisticated and emboldened state actors mean Australia is quite literally under constant cyberattack.

More recently, the Australian and US armies signed a joint agreement to develop a virtual cyber training range for real-world defensive missions.

The two nations have signed a Cyber Training Capabilities Project Arrangement, a bilateral, international agreement that will enable US Cyber Command to incorporate Australian Defence Force feedback into USCYBERCOM’s simulated training domain PCTE (the Persistent Cyber Training Environment).

The PCTE, which delivered its first production version this year, is designed as a distributed, secure, reconfigurable environment for conducting independent cyber operations training activities.

The long-term goal is to provide the US Department of Defense cyberspace workforce the capability to build and conduct full-spectrum, combined and joint cyberspace training, exercises, certification and mission rehearsal in a training environment.

The Australian Army Maj. Gen., Head of Information Warfare at the ADF stated that the agreement marks the first cyber-only arrangement established between the US Army and an allied nation. He noted that Australia and the US have a strong history of working together to develop their cyber capabilities and train people to fight and win in cyberspace. This arrangement will be an important part of the ADF’s training program, and the Australian government looks forward to the mutual benefits it will bring.

The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey is like a Google Maps of the universe where most of the millions of star-like points on the map are distant galaxies – about a million of which we’ve never seen before.

The CSIRO Chief Executive said ASKAP brought together world-class infrastructure with scientific and engineering expertise to unlock the deepest secrets of the universe. The ASKAP is applying the very latest in science and technology to age-old questions about the mysteries of the universe and equipping astronomers around the world with breakthroughs to solve their challenges.

It is enabled by innovative receivers developed by CSIRO that feature phased array feed technology, which see ASKAP generate more raw data at a faster rate than Australia’s entire internet traffic. In a time when the teams have access to more data than ever before, ASKAP and the supercomputers that support it are delivering unparalleled insights and wielding the tools that will underpin our data-driven future to make life better for everybody.

The telescope’s key feature is its wide field of view, generated by new CSIRO-designed receivers, which enables ASKAP to take panoramic pictures of the sky in amazing detail. Using ASKAP at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia, the survey team observed 83 per cent of the entire sky.

The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology stated that ASKAP is another outstanding example of Australia’s world-leading radio astronomy capability. ASKAP is a major technological development that puts the nation’s scientists, engineers and industry in the driver’s seat to lead deep space discovery for the next generation, he added.

The initial results were published on 2 December 2020 in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. This record-breaking result proves that an all-sky survey can be done in weeks rather than years, opening new opportunities for discovery.

The new data will enable astronomers to undertake statistical analyses of large populations of galaxies, in the same way, social researchers use information from a national census. This record-breaking result proves that an all-sky survey can be done in weeks rather than years, opening new opportunities for discovery.

The new data will enable astronomers to undertake statistical analyses of large populations of galaxies, in the same way, social researchers use information from a national census.

The lead author and CSIRO astronomer Dr David McConnell stated that this census of the Universe will be used by astronomers around the world to explore the unknown and study everything from star formation to how galaxies and their supermassive black holes evolve and interact.

With ASKAP’s advanced receivers the RACS team only needed to combine 903 images to form the full map of the sky, significantly less than the tens of thousands of images needed for earlier all-sky radio surveys conducted by major world telescopes.

For the first time, ASKAP has flexed its full muscles, building a map of the universe in greater detail than ever before, and at record speed. The team expects to find tens of millions of new galaxies in future surveys, Dr McConnell said.

The 13.5 exabytes of raw data generated by ASKAP were processed using hardware and software custom-built by CSIRO. The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre’s ‘Galaxy’ supercomputer converted the data into 2D radio images containing a total of 70 billion pixels, the final 903 images and supporting information amount to 26 terabytes of data.

The Pawsey Executive Director stated that the supercomputing capability was a key part of ASKAP’s design. The images and catalogues from the survey will be made publicly available through the CSIRO Data Access Portal and hosted at Pawsey.

ASKAP’s advanced technologies are providing insights for the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an international mega-science project to build the world’s largest radio telescopes. CSIRO will host the low-frequency SKA telescope at the MRO.

From stress, burnout, career disruption and social isolation, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed similar challenges for many people including one special subgroup—that of elite athletes.

Athletes are unique in their mental health problems but also their resilience, according to Dr Luke Balcombe from the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention, whose review of the most up-to-date mental health literature has been published in JMIR Formative Research.

He noted that elite athletes are an at-risk population for mental health problems compared to the general population. And 2020 has posed significant challenges with worldwide disruptions to athletes’ training and competition. The team found that digital mental health platforms including the use of smartphones and online behaviour analysis could help improve the mental health of athletes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Balcombe and colleague, Emeritus Professor Diego De Leo, report that accumulative stress can manifest into more intense and severe symptoms compounded by ongoing stigma and non-recognition of issues.

Hence, tailored screening and tracking of psychological protective and risk factors are needed to better understand the association with psychological symptoms, disorders and abnormal behaviour. While sporting bodies and athletes have largely embraced mental health awareness and made efforts to address the barriers to help-seeking, promotion of a holistic approach is needed including prevention and early intervention framework. There should be more specific awareness of the range of mental ill-health through to positive functioning.

The researchers recognise collaboration between humans and machines will be critical to the innovation of mental health care in the future.

The team’s vision is a hybrid model of care, combining traditional face-to-face approaches as well as innovative digital technologies that may be used in promotion, prevention and early intervention strategies.

Mental health app market expected to grow

The global mental health apps market is expected to gain a significant lift over the forecast period due to increasing awareness regarding the importance of mental health. In terms of revenue, the global mental health apps market is expected to reach US$ 3,918.40 million by 2027 owing to increasing levels of stress among societies due to addiction to different substances and lowering social interactions

Nowadays, mental health issues and illnesses are considered an important health condition, by the World Health Organization (WHO), hence, various mental health-related campaigns and awareness campaigns are being held all across the globe.

For instance, in January 2020, the Luxembourgish League for Mental Health launched a new awareness campaign in Luxembourg to assist individuals who feel they cannot take the steps to treat their mental health issues. The campaign, titled ‘And if I were to talk to a therapist?’ was designed to introduce the network of help and treatment for various mental health issues.

Increasing use of smartwatches and smart screens has become a new norm for monitoring mental health and well-being. This is expected to help growing adoption of mental health apps offering seamless internet of things (IoT) connectivity.

Every month, companies and researchers launch new smartphone apps, smartwatches, and sensor technologies for the healthcare market. This has led to increased adoption of technological solutions for the management of clinical, administrative, and financial functions of mental health care practices. This in turn is augmenting the growth of the mental health apps market.

According to the World Health Organization, Mental health action plan 2013-2020 report, neurological disorders affect millions of people worldwide. Approximately, 50 million people have epilepsy and 47 million people are suffering from dementia globally. Common neurological disorders include epilepsy, headache, Parkinson disease, dementia and neurological problems.

Thus, to lend a hand in treatment, the Minister for Health for Victoria, on 15 December 2020, unveiled the $8 million gamma knife at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Victorian patients with brain tumours and cranial disorders will now have a greater chance of survival and improved quality of life thanks to the region’s first-ever gamma knife.

The equipment was funded by the Government and donors to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation. The world-leading intra-cranial stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy machine is only the third in Australia. It delivers high-intensity cobalt radiation therapy as a non-invasive way to treat lesions inside the skull.

The machine uses gamma rays to deliver a precise dose of radiation to the target in the brain to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours while avoiding damaging healthy brain tissue.

Gamma knife radiosurgery and radiotherapy have revolutionised the management of patients who in the past had very limited treatment options and is widely accepted as the gold standard in radiosurgery for adults and children with brain tumours.

Up to 500 patients, a year are expected to benefit from the new equipment – ensuring they receive the very best care they need closer to home.

The device may also provide new treatment options for a range of other non-cancerous conditions, such as painful trigeminal neuralgia, cranial vascular disorders, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

The installation of the gamma knife further entrenches Peter Mac as a place of the world’s best cancer care for Victorian patients.

The Minister for Health for Victoria stated that the state has always been at the forefront of cutting-edge medical treatment and the installation of the gamma knife at Peter Mac ensures Victorian patients continue to receive the best care close to home.

The gamma knife is set to save the lives of patients with hard-to-reach tumours, where other treatments may not have been able to be safely carried out and improve outcomes for many others. The team of dedicated doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers and researchers at Peter Mac are world-leading and the government is ensuring they continue to have the equipment they need to give Victorian patients the very best care.

Recent market research forecast that the global gamma knife market is set to witness a substantial CAGR of 7.2% in the forecast period of 2019-2026. The rise in market growth is attributed to the growing cases of cancer, brain tumours, neurological disorders, growing geriatric population.

Gamma knife is a radiation technology which is used to treat the tissues of the brain tumours during radiosurgery; it is also used to treat epilepsy, trigeminal neuralgia and nerve disorders which cause chronic pain, arteriovenous malformations and other neurological conditions.

The key market drivers are an increasing number of invasive surgeries, government insurance plans, the rising prevalence of cancer and obesity among people and the technological advancement which will aid in the adoption of this new technology.

The main market restraints include the equipment’s high cost, potentially stringent regulations and the side effects and risks of treatment.

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