IGCAR work may allow doctors to ‘see’ a fever

IGCAR - Ferrofluid-Optimized

Zaibudeen (left) and John Philip have developed a thermally tunable ferrofluid grating to measure body temperature.

Visual, non-invasive monitoring of body temperature of patients in hospitals without using a thermometer may become a reality thanks to the work carried out by a team of scientists led by Dr. John Philip, Head of the SMART section at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam near Chennai. The concept is based on ferrofluid emulsion contained in a thin film that changes colour with rise in temperature within a narrow range — 30-40 degree C. The results were published in the journal Optical Materials.

The emulsion has iron oxide nanoparticles-containing oil droplets dispersed in water. The stimuli-responsive materials change in their properties to stimulus such as stress, temperature, moisture, or magnetism. “Till now ferrofluid was used as a magnetic stimuli-responsive material and we have come up with several applications such as hermetic seal, optical filters and defect detection. We now found that in the presence of a temperature-sensitive polymer — poly(N-isopropylacrylamide or PNIPAM) — the ferrofluid emulsion can be used as a thermally tunable grating to produce different colours,” says Dr. Philip.

“Recently, we were looking at the interaction forces between droplets covered with thermoresponsive polymers. To our surprise, we found that the adsorbed polymer swells and collapse upon changing the temperature between 32 and 36 degree C. This change was clearly manifested as colour change. From this observation came the novel idea of using PNIPAM-stabilized emulsions as a multistimulii grating. This is a first-of-its-kind approach where the grating spacing can be tuned either by changing the temperature or by changing the magnetic field strength,” says Dr. Philip.


When the temperature rises, the monomers come closer together, changing the colour from orange to yellow.

Up to about 34 degree C, the polymer is highly hydrated and swollen due to repulsive interaction between individual monomer segments. But when the temperature crosses 34 degree C, the polymer becomes dehydrated leading to a collapsed state (due to inter and intra attractive forces between monomers). The polymer can once again become hydrated and swollen when the temperature falls below 34 degree C. “By using certain additives, we can tune the collapse of the polymer to higher temperature to reflect fever conditions,” clarifies A.W. Zaibudeen, senior research fellow and the first author of the paper.

Using magnetic field, the scientists first achieved a particular ordering (spacing between the arrays of emulsion droplets) of emulsion and got a specific colour. When the polymer is added as a stabiliser and the temperature is increased the grating spacing of the polymer changes and gives rise to a different colour or spacing.

“The colour given off at normal temperature can be fixed by changing the emulsion property and magnetic field strength,” Dr. Philip says. If yellow is chosen to represent normal temperature, it will change to green when the temperature increases. Colour with higher wavelength is produced at lower temperature and colour of lower wavelength at higher temperature.

The researchers see numerous applications for their gratings — visual manifestation of environmental conditions (temperature and humidity) and selection of a particular colour from white light. In addition, there other potential specialised applications such as calorimetric sensors, photonic materials, optical devices and drug delivery systems. “I believe that once the proof of concept is demonstrated, the scientific community would come up with many more new ideas for practical applications,” Dr. Philip says.

Published in The Hindu on April 11, 2017

IIT Bombay uses mango leaves to make fluorescent graphene quantum dots


The quantum dots that Mukesh Kumar Kumawat (left) and Rohit Srivastava have fabricated can be used for bioimaging and temperature measurement.

Using mango leaves to synthesise fluorescent graphene quantum dots (nanocrystals of semiconductor material), researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay have been able to produce cheap probes for bioimaging and for intracellular temperature sensing.

Unlike the currently used dyes, quantum dots synthesised from mango leaves are biocompatible, have excellent photostability and show no cellular toxicity. The results were published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

To synthesise quantum dots, the researchers cut mango leaves into tiny pieces and froze them using liquid nitrogen. The frozen leaves were crushed into powder and dipped into alcohol. The extract was centrifuged and the supernatant evaporated in an evaporator and then heated in a microwave for five minutes to get a fine powder.

Using mice fibroblast cells, a team led by Prof. Rohit Srivastava from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering at IIT Bombay evaluated the potential of quantum dots for bioimaging and temperature sensing applications. In mice cell in vitro studies, the graphene quantum dots were able to get into the cells easily without destroying the integrity, viability and multiplication of the cells. The quantum dots get into the cytoplasm of the cell.

The quantum dots, 2-8 nanometre in size, were found to emit red luminescence when excited by UV light. “Even when the excitation wavelength was 300-500 nanometre, the emission from the quantum dots was at 680 nanometre. The quantum dots exhibited excitation-independent emission,” says Mukeshchand Thakur from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering at IIT Bombay and one of the authors of the paper.

Since the quantum dots get into the cytoplasm of the cell, they can be used for cell cytoplasm labelling applications.The quantum dots have smaller and larger fluorescent units. When the excitation is at lower wavelength, the smaller units transfer energy to the larger units and there is red emission. And when the excitation is at higher wavelength, the red emission comes directly from the larger units, thus remaining excitation-independent.

“Since the quantum dots get into the cytoplasm of the cell, they can be used for cell cytoplasm labelling applications,” says Mukesh Kumar Kumawat from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Bombay and the first author of the paper.

The quantum dots found inside the cells showed intense florescence at 25 degree C. As the temperature rises to 45 degree C, the intensity of fluorescence tends to decrease. As a result, the researchers found up to 95% reduction in fluorescence intensity when the temperature was increased by 20 degree C. “So quantum dots can be used for detecting temperature variation in the intracellular environment,” says Thakur.

“The graphene quantum dots can be used as a nanothermometre. Besides measuring intracellular temperature increase, they can be used for measuring temperature increase in cancer cells and when there is inflammation,” says Prof. Srivastava. “We are seeing interest by companies making imaging probes. There is also interest to use it as temperature probes.”

“Since the quantum dots emit red light, they can be used for making organic light-emitting diodes as well,” says Kumawat.

Published in The Hindu on April 8, 2017

IISc designs a novel graphene electrical conductor


(From left) T. Phanindra Sai, Amogh Kinikar, Arindam Ghosh have produce single- to few-layers thick graphene that conducts current along one particular edge.

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Benagluru have been able to experimentally produce a new type of electrical conductor that was theoretically predicted nearly 20 years ago.

A team led by Prof. Arindam Ghosh from the Department of Physics, IISc successful produced graphene that is single or a few layers thick to conduct current along one particular edge — the zigzag edge. The zigzag edge of graphene layer has a unique property — it allows flow of charge without any resistance at room temperature and above.

“This is the first we found the perfect edge structure (zigzag structure of the carbon atoms) in graphene and demonstrated electrical conductance along the edge,” says Prof. Ghosh. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

A few-layers thick graphene that conducts current along one edge does not experience any resistance and so can lead to realising power-efficient electronics, to quantum information transfer, even at room temperature.

Many groups over the world have been trying to access these edges since the emergence of graphene in 2004, but have been largely unsuccessful because when current flows through graphene, it flows through both the edge as well as the bulk. “We succeeded in this endeavour by creating the bulk part of graphene extremely narrow (less than 10 nanometre thick), and hence highly resistive, thus forcing the current to flow through the edge alone,” he says.

The edges conduct current without any resistance as long as the edges don’t come in contact with any chemicals.“While the bulk is totally insulating, the edge alone has the ability to conduct because of the unique quantum mechanics of the edge. Because of the zigzag orientation of carbon atoms [resulting from the hexagonal lattice], the electron wave on each carbon atom overlaps and forms a continuous train of wave along the edge. This makes the edge conducting,” explains Prof. Ghosh. The edge will remain conductive even if it is very long but has to be chemically and structurally pristine.

In the past, others researchers had tried making narrow graphene through chemical methods. But the use of chemicals destroys the edges. So the IISc team resorted to mechanical exfoliation to make graphene that are single- and few-layers thick. They used a small metal robot to peel the graphene from pyrolytic graphite. “If you take a metal tip and crash it on graphite and take it back, a part of the graphite will stick to the tip. The peeling was done slowly and gradually (in steps of 0.1 Å),” says Amogh Kinikar from the Department of Physics at IISc and the first author of the paper.

The exfoliation was carried out at room temperature but under vacuum and the electrical conductance was measured at the time of exfoliation before the pristine nature of the edge was affected. The unsatisfied bonds of the carbon atoms make them highly reactive and they tend to react with hydrogen present in the air. “The edges conduct without any resistance as long as the edges don’t come in contact with any chemicals,” says Prof. Ghosh. “It is very easy to passivate [make the surface unreactive by coating the surface with a thin inert layer] the edges to prevent contamination [when narrow graphene is used for commercial purposes].”

As the carbon atoms have a hexagonal structure, exfoliation is by default at 30 degree angle and one of the edges has a zigzag property. “The steplike changes observed for small values of conductance when other variables were changed were surprising. Through theoretical work we were able to link this to edge modes in graphene,” says Prof. H.R.Krishnamurthy from the Department of Physics, IISc and one of the authors of the paper.

There are currently several chemical methods to produce very narrow graphene nanoribbons. If the chemicals are non-destructive to the edges then it is possible to have a perfect quantum circuit at room temperature. “So the challenge is to produce graphene nanoribbons using chemicals that do not destroy the edges,” Prof. Ghosh says. “We believe that this successful demonstration of the dissipation-less edge conduction will act as great incentive to develop new chemical methods to make high-quality graphene nano-ribbons or nano-strips with clean edges.”

Published in The Hindu on April 8, 2017

Weighing the risks and benefits of CT scans in childhood

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A study found children are at greater risk of developing later cancers from radiation from CT scans. – Photo: www.shutterstock.com.au

John Mathews, University of Melbourne

As a parent, should you be worried if your child needs to have a CT scan? The Conversation

CT (computed tomography) scans are special medical X-rays that make three-dimensional pictures. These are very useful in the diagnosis and management of health conditions and injuries. Their potential downside is, the kind of radiation from CT scans (ionising radiation), causes DNA damage that can increase the later risk of cancer.

Scientists have known for a long time higher doses of radiation, as from the atom-bombings in Japan in 1945, lead to increases in cancer in later years. However, it has not been clear whether the much lower doses of radiation from CT scans could also be harmful.

It’s important to answer this question because low-dose radiation from CT scans now makes very substantial contributions to overall radiation exposures in most populations. A single CT scan gives a dose of radiation that is roughly equivalent to a whole year of exposure from natural (background) radiation sources.

In a recent study of almost 11 million young Australians, we showed that those exposed to a CT scan before the age of 20 had a small increase in cancer risk in the years after exposure, with one additional cancer for every 1,400 to 2,000 CT scans.

So this means one CT scan would increase the possibility of a later cancer, but only by a very small amount – the absolute risk of an “extra” cancer for an exposed person is presently about one in 1,400 to one in 2,000. And it would not be possible to say, in a person who does get a cancer in the years after a CT scan, whether it was due to the CT or whether it would have occurred anyway.

We can only calculate a probability of it having been caused by the CT. For those with a cancer after a CT in our study, the average probability was 0.16 (so a one in six chance) it was caused by the CT. However you look at it, the risk of cancer at young ages is small, and therefore the increase in risk due to CT, while real, is also small.

Doctors will now observe children who may have injured their heads, rather than recommend a CT scan. – Photo: http://www.shutterstock.com

Children exposed at the youngest ages were more vulnerable and experienced a greater proportional increase in risk. Our more recent findings, reported at a public health conference and not yet published, indicate most of the excess cancers in these age groups occurring more than two years after exposure have been caused by the radiation.

If cancers appeared within two years of the CT scan, the more likely assumption is that early symptoms of cancer prompted the CT scan, which led to the cancer diagnosis.

Most radiologists now accept the cancer risks are real, though very small. However, because of the value of CT scans as a diagnostic tool, it would not be rational or feasible to abandon CT technology because of the risks, just as we have not abandoned motor cars because of deaths on the roads.

Nevertheless, the wide variations in CT use from country to country and from place to place indicates there is some overuse of CTs without corresponding clinical benefit.

Changing CT use

In childhood, the most frequent scenario is that of head injury: the attending doctor is likely to order a CT scan of the head to look for signs of a fracture or of bleeding around the brain that would be life-threatening if undetected and untreated. In past years many doctors have “erred on the safe side”, and ordered head scans for minor head injuries that were very unlikely to have such serious consequences.

We now know that a small increase in later brain cancer is the typical risk following a CT scan of the head in a child. To reduce future risks, guidelines have been developed to allow minor head injuries to be managed by observation, and without the need for a CT scan.

More generally, CT scans tend to increase the risk of cancer by a small amount in the organs examined, while CTs of the spine and abdomen can cause a small increase in leukaemia risk. Wider adoption of the relevant clinical guidelines which outline when a CT scan is really necessary, and when observation, or other tests are more appropriate will lead to a welcome fall in the number of unnecessary CT scans, especially in childhood. Advances in CT technology and practice will continue, allowing each CT scan to be done with the minimum radiation dose.

The overall professional response has been to question the need for a CT scan for each child case, and to make the radiation dose as low as can be achieved while still giving a good diagnostic image. Concerned parents can inform themselves by consulting guidelines endorsed by professional bodies and governments, by asking their doctor whether the CT scan is really needed for their child, and whether there might be an available alternative diagnostic test.

For adults and older patients, CT scans are used more frequently than for children, and cancer rates increase with age, even without radiation. This suggests that for older individuals the benefit to risk ratio for CT scans is better than for children.

Nevertheless, because of the relatively high usage rates of CT scans in Australia, there is scope to reduce the numbers of unnecessary scans for adults as well as children. Accordingly, adult patients should also query whether each and every suggested CT scan is justified by the relevant clinical guidelines.

Current approaches, involving patients and families, professional and regulatory bodies are helping to achieve a better balance between the risks and benefits of CT scanning as they are currently understood. Over time, new research evidence will support improved guidelines that can better optimise the balance of risks and benefits for each and every patient.

John Mathews, Honorary Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indian researchers use graphene sieves to turn seawater into drinking water

Desalination 2-Optimized

(From left) Dr. Vasu Siddeswara Kalangi, Jijo Abraham and Prof. Rahul Nair produced molecular sieves by using two techniques to prevent graphene oxide membranes from swelling when in contact with water.

Producing potable water through desalination may become more efficient and less energy intensive if researchers at the University of Manchester are able to successfully use graphene oxide (GO) membranes to filter common salts present in seawater on a commercial scale. When the spacing between two successive graphene oxide sheets was nearly 10 Å (1 angstrom is 0.1 nanometre), more than 97% of table salt (NaCl) was removed from seawater. The removal of salts will be even better when the spacing between two successive sheets is reduced to below 8 Å.

The use of grapene oxide as a molecular sieve to filter common salts from seawater while allowing water to pass through it is already known. But grapene oxide membranes have a tendency to slightly swell when immersed in water and this results in increased spacing between successive sheets (akin to increasing the pore size of a sieve). The increased spacing allows smaller salts to flow through the membrane without being filtered.

A team led by Prof. Rahul Raveendran Nair from the National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester has addressed this problem by developing graphene oxide membranes that do not swell when immersed in water and are able to sieve common salts. In a paper published on April 3 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers were able to achieve a desirable interlayer spacing by storing the membranes in high humidity and then physically restraining the membranes from swelling by embedding them in epoxy. “The grapene oxide sheets adjust their interlayer spacing according to the humidity of the air (hygro-responsive property),” Prof. Nair says in an email. Embedding the membranes in epoxy did not alter the rate at which water permeated through the membranes.

Alternative technique

The researchers also tried an alternative technique of adding graphene flakes to graphene oxide to prevent the membranes from swelling. “Though the epoxy coating gives better control over swelling, large area membrane fabrication may be difficult and time-consuming. Producing scalable membranes for desalination application will be possible by adding graphene flakes to graphene oxide instead,” he says.

The higher the ion charge, the stronger it attracts water molecules. So ions with higher free energies have water molecules that are strongly bound. The salt ions with water molecules strongly bound have larger diameter and experience larger barriers to enter the tiny space between the sheets. On the other hand, water molecules have weak hydrogen bonding and need very little energy to strip the surrounding water from the water molecules before entering the tiny space between the graphene oxide layers. So water is able to pass through the membrane more easily.

Making use of energy barriers

“Both KCl and NaCl have similar energy barriers and the [rejection] increases with decreasing spacing. Similar to the case of KCl, even the channel with a spacing of 10 Å has a finite energy barrier, but that barrier increases nearly three fold when the spacing is reduced to below 8 Å,” Prof. Nair says.

In the case of graphene oxide membranes that have graphene flakes (Gr) added to it, the ion permeation rate was suppressed by two orders of magnitude compared with graphane oxide membranes embedded in epoxy. As a result, salt rejection was as high as 97% in the case of Go-Gr membranes when the spacing was nearly 10 Å. There was about 20% reduction in water permeation rate across the membranes.

Treating wastewater

The graphene oxide-graphene flakes membranes are not mechanically strong and are ill-suited for conventional reverse osmosis process. Instead, they can be used for treating wastewater using forward osmosis (and where hydraulic force is not applied).

“Instead of hydraulic pressure, naturally occurring osmotic pressure due to the concentration gradient of salt/molecular solution present on both sides of the membrane is used to drive water molecules across a membrane,” he says. “If we separate wastewater (something needs to be filtered) and sugar solution by using a membrane, then, water from the wastewater solution will flow towards the sugar solution if the concentration of sugar solution is higher than the wastewater solution. This process enables the dilution of sugar solution by pulling the pure water from the wastewater solution to the sugar solution. This technology can be used to separate clean water from the wastewater including sea water. Currently, forward osmosis is mainly using as a pre-treatment to RO process to reduce the energy consumption.”

Preliminary experiments by the team found clogging of the membranes with salt was negligible and the membrane can be recovered to the original state by a simple washing process. They do not anticipate any significant fouling due to the inertness of graphene surface. More studies are needed before the membranes can be commercialised.

Published in The Hindu on April 3, 2017

IISc researchers’ novel, eco-friendly way of recycling e-waste


Prof. Mahapatra (left) and Prof. Chattopadhyay took advantage of cryo-mill’s ability to crush e-waste into individual components — polymer, oxides and metals.

Indian Institute of Science (IISc) researchers have found a novel way of recycling the mounting pile of electronic waste more efficiently and in an environmentally friendly manner. According to the United National Environmental Programme, about 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated annually across the world.

The new approach is based on the idea of crushing e-waste into nanosize particles using a ball mill at very low temperature ranging from -50 to -150 degree C.

When crushed to nanosize particles for about 30 minutes, different classes of materials — metals, oxides and polymer — that go into making of electronic items get physically reduced into their constituent phases, which can then be separated without using any chemicals. The use of low-temperature grinding eliminates noxious emission. The results of the study were published in the journal Materials Today.

“The behaviour of individual materials is different when they are pulverised at room temperature. While metal and oxides get mixed, the local temperature of polymer increases during grinding and so the polymer melts instead of breaking,” says Dr. Chandra Sekhar Tiwary from the Materials Engineering Department at IISc and the first author of the paper. “The polymer starts reacting with the rest of the components and forms a chunk. So we can’t separate the individual components.”

“The deformation behaviour at low temperature is very different from room temperature. There are two processes that happen when milling. The polymer material breaks but metals get welded, some sort of solid-state welding resulting in mixing; the welded metals again get broken during milling. At low temperature mixing does not happen,” says Prof. K. Chattopadhyay from the Materials Engineering Department at IISc and the corresponding author of the paper.

Tiwary 2

Dr. Tiwary designed the cryo-mill.

There is also a lower limit to which materials can be broken into when e-waste is milled at room temperature. The maximum size reduction that can be achieved is about of 200 nanometre. But in the case of low temperature ball milling the size can be reduced to 20-150 nanometres.

The low-temperature ball mill was designed by Dr. Tiwary. The cryo-mill grinding chamber is cooled using liquid nitrogen and a small hardened steel ball is used for grinding the material in a controlled inert atmosphere using argon gas. “The interface remains clean when broken in an inert atmosphere,” says Prof. Chattopadhyay.

“One of the main purposes of ball milling [at room temperature] is to mix materials. But in the case of ball milling at low temperature we did not observe any mixing; the individual components separate out really well. We wanted to use this property more constructively. So we took two printed circuit boards from optical mouse and milled them for 30 minutes,” recalls Dr. Tiwary, who is currently at Rice University, Houston, Texas.

The polymer becomes brittle when cooled to -120 degree C and ball milling easily breaks it into a fine power. Metals and oxides too get broken but are a bit bigger in size.

Separation of individual components

The milled e-waste powder was then mixed with water to separate the components into the individual classes of materials using gravity. The powder separated into two layers — the polymer floats at the top due to lower density, while metals and oxides of similar size and different density settle at the bottom. The bottom layer when diluted further separated into oxides at the top and metals at the bottom. The oxides and metals were present as individual elements.

“Our low-temperature milling separates the components into single phase components without using any chemicals, which is not possible using other techniques,” says Prof. Chattopadhyay. “Our process is scalable and is environment friendly though it uses higher energy.”

The technology has been patented and transferred to a Bengaluru-based company.

Published in The Hindu on April 2, 2017

How to keep your mobile phone connected when the network is down

Paul Gardner-Stephen, Flinders University

When Tropical Cyclone Debbie hit Queensland this week, one of the casualties was the region’s mobile phone network. The Conversation

Phone towers can stop working because they have been damaged by the wind, or because they have run out of diesel to run their generators.

Whatever the cause, the end result is the same: a number of people will find their mobile phones not connected to the network, leaving them without communications for an extended period of time.

It’s not just tropical cyclones that can affect mobile communications. Bushfires and other disasters can also lead to a break in the network.

This loss of communication is extremely isolating, and potentially very dangerous. Whether it’s the inability to call an ambulance or the absence of regular safety warnings, a lack of communications can be life-threatening.

The sensation of being cut off from the rest of the world also brings with it a danger of a different kind. Severe isolation can cause concern for our loved ones. This very human problem is what led me to start my research in this area.

So how can we let people communicate using their mobile phones, when the phone network isn’t available?

All about networking

For nationwide communications, you really do need phone towers and their supporting infrastructure. There currently just aren’t any good alternative solutions to providing communications on such a large scale.

But if you change the scope of the solution to focus more on internal communications within smaller communities, alternatives suddenly begin to present themselves.

A Mesh Extender prototype, during a test exercise in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, in outback South Australia. – Photo: Dr. Paul Gardner-Stephen

I have spent the past seven years designing low-cost devices and free software to try to solve this problem. From this research and design process emerged the Serval Project. The concept is simple: we create Mesh Extender devices that act as communications hubs.

Mobile phones connect to Mesh Extenders using ordinary Wi-Fi. The Mesh Extender devices then relay communications between other mobile phones using an app that can be downloaded from the Mesh Extender itself. No internet or cellular network is required.

Compatibility is currently limited to Android devices with the hope of expanding to other providers as the project grows.

Installation of the app is all that is required to connect a mobile phone to the Mesh Extender system, and all communication that takes place on the network is encrypted, so the user’s privacy remains secure.

They system currently operates within a closed network, only connecting with mobile phones that already have the app installed. To connect with existing phone networks, partnerships with existing mobile operators would need to be formed in the future.

The advantage of using Wi-Fi is that it is already in almost every mobile phone on the planet. Its range, however, it still quite limited.

So to make our system work over useful distances, the Mesh Extenders have a second radio installed. That radio can communicate over several kilometres, as long as there are no significant obstacles.

The Mesh Extenders can also automatically relay among themselves, moving messages like a bucket brigade. This fully automatic operation makes it easy to build larger networks quickly, and also lets the network connect around obstacles, such as hills, that might prevent a direct link.

A pilot study

At the moment, this idea is still experimental. We have built prototype devices and apps, but they have not yet been widely tested.

This is starting to change. In 2016, the Serval Project was selected as one of five winning innovators to take part in the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge, a program by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) InnovationXchange that aims to rethink the Australian response to humanitarian disasters in the Pacific.

We are now getting ready to test our technologies in Vanuatu later this year. Our goal is simple: to understand how useful our solutions are today, and to identify the areas where we can improve them.

The pilot is an important step in our quest to provide effective communication alternatives.

Not only will it help us to meet the needs of vulnerable Pacific Island populations during times of disaster, but it will also help us to better understand how this technology could be used locally in Australia.

Its use in cyclones and bushfires here immediately come to mind. But our technology could also be used to assist remote, isolated Australian communities with little to no communication options.

If you can make something simple and robust enough to use during a natural disaster, then it’s going to be able to handle a variety of other uses as well.

No internet required

These technologies can be used to create an internet-less system, similar to the “Internet of Things”, but one that connects a range of devices without the need to be online.

Farmers, for example, in regions where connection to the internet is impossible, could use this system to remotely control water pumps or monitor feral dog traps, saving time and vehicle wear.

Checking on your property can be expensive and time consuming for farmers in remote areas. Photo: Dr. Paul Gardner-Stephen

More efficient land management increases the capacity and productivity of the land. The end result is more profitable farms.

Unlike some existing farm automation systems, our technologies are cheap and simple enough for the smallest of family farms to use.

Being able to help family farms is important. It is these farming families that build the heart and soul of our remote communities, through the need for schools, shops, hospitals and other services.

If we can make their lives easier, safer and more productive through better local communications, we stand a chance of improving the long-term financial prosperity of farms

So what started out as a foreign aid project has evolved to incorporate the needs of Australians into its design.

Paul Gardner-Stephen, Senior Lecturer, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.