Bryan Huang built a doughnut shaped blimp to guide people through the CSIRO complex
What I did on my holidays
Every summer hundreds of undergraduates get to work at CSIRO, here’s what some of them got up to.
5 July 2011 | Updated 14 October 2011
Summer vacation scholarships are just one way to get into science at CSIRO.
Run over the summer holidays, CSIRO vacation scholarships offer third year undergraduate students across Australia the chance to work on real research projects.
Just some of last year's projects
“In collaboration with experienced CSIRO scientists, students get to tackle some challenging problems using technology and systems they wouldn’t usually have access to.”
Phil Valencia, Research Engineer
Over the summer of 2010/11 students worked on projects in areas including:
Sensors and sensor networks
Lost? Let the floating doughnut lead the way!
Queensland University of Technology student Bryan Huang spent the summer building an ‘O’ shaped blimp to guide visitors from reception to various rooms and wings at CSIRO's complex in Pullenvale, Queensland.
A modified party balloon, the one-metre wide blimp cruised the corridors using three propellers for lift and forward movement and a number of infra-red sensors to detect obstacles and walls.
The blimp navigated around the complex by combining information from its own sensors with a fixed sensor network inside the building.
Bryan trialled the doughnut shape as an alternative to the more familiar football-shaped blimp to see if it offered better manoeuvrability indoors.
On-road driving simulators, like those used for playing games on your Xbox, are very advanced but only have crude models for describing the interaction between tyres and the road.
Simulations assume the car doesn’t affect the road. That’s fine for asphalt or concrete roads, but loose surfaces like gravel and dirt are much more easily deformed.
Mechatronic engineering student Timothy Pang from the University of New South Wales improved off-road driving simulations; he modelled the effect on both the car and the ground when driving on off-road terrain such as gravel.
Such simulations can be used for applications as diverse as improving military tank design or studying how a tractor driving over the ground will affect crops.
Amanda Huen from the University of Sydney spent last summer investigating hybrid vigor.
Also known as heterosis, hybrid vigor is characterised by the superior growth of hybrids over their inbred parents.
Hybrids account for a significant proportion of global crop production, which will need to increase to meet future food demands.
With her supervisor, Dr Michael Groszmann, Amanda investigated why hybrid plants grow larger, faster, and produce greater yields.
Evidence points to changes in early developmental stages of embryo and seedlings as important factors contributing to overall vigor and yield increases.
Amanda's project used both microscopy and molecular techniques to characterise early developmental differences between parents and hybrids, providing insight into how hybrids grow larger.
Results from Amanda's work have contributed to CSIRO's understanding of the mechanisms behind hybrid vigor and, using her findings, CSIRO scientists will be able to better inform plant breeders about strategies for increasing crop yields and to develop better varieties.
Glen Rees from the University of Hertfordshire escaped the UK winter to spend the summer with CSIRO astronomers studying giant water fountains in space.
Water fountains are a special class of ‘masers’ – large radio lasers caused by high-mass dying stars or high-mass star formation regions.
The high mass source spews out material including clouds of water that are travelling at a couple of hundred kilometres a second. "At this speed it would be possible to surf the outflow from Australia to the UK in about one and a half minutes," said Glen.
One of the masers Glen studied is the fastest (star-formation driven) water maser discovered to date.
Queensland University of Technology student Anneliese Dickson studies biomedical engineering and wants to work in orthopaedics.
Last summer she honed her research and engineering skills with CSIRO by studying colonic function using fibre-optic catheters.
While not a popular topic of conversation, abnormal bowel function affects people regardless of their age, gender and lifestyle.
Anneliese built a device that simulates contractions of the colon so she could test these fibre-optic catheters. The catheters can detect pressure in the colon which helps us understand how the colon functions and identify different diseases.
“Anything that will improve our understanding in this area will mean improved quality of life for many millions of people,” said Anneliese.
See more photos of what last summer's students got up to on Facebook: Summer of Science photo gallery [external link].