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Scientist profiles for students

Meet Dr Madhura Manohar - Accelerator Scientist

​Dr Madhura Manohar is an Accelerator Scientist at ANSTO’s Centre for Accelerator Science. Madhura uses particle accelerators to analyse samples related to air pollution, seafood provenance, material modification for the next generation of solar cells and many other areas of research.

Madhura Manohar in the lab
Dr Madhura Manohar (centre) uses particle accelerators to study air pollution

Madhura completed her PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Sydney in 2016. During her time at university, she gained experience in various areas of chemistry including organic, inorganic and physical chemistry. She started working at ANSTO in 2016 as a Synthetic Organic Chemist in the National Deuteration Facility (NDF) before becoming an Accelerator Scientist in 2018. 

 “My job involves using a particle accelerator to assess samples for research areas such as air pollution, energy storage, archaeology, zoology and any other disciplines impacting health, environment and innovation," says Madhura.

"I love that the scope of my research is continually broadening. I learn something new everyday!”

Madhura is researching air pollution using ion beam analysis techniques on ANSTO’s 2MV STAR accelerator. Air pollution is made up of very fine particles, many times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. While the human eye cannot see these particles, high concentrations of them appear as visible atmospheric haze, or smog. These fine particles can be easily transported over long distances across international borders and around the globe.

NSW air quality
Air pollution in Australia's capital cities can become hazardous during bushfires and dust storms. Source: AAP.

It is a complex mix of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air that are released into the atmosphere when coal, petrol, diesel fuels, and wood are burned. Bushfires, such as those experienced in eastern Australia last summer, also contribute to fine particle pollution by producing black carbon.

Air pollution is a major health problem. Worldwide, an estimated 3 million people die every year because of its effects on health and it is the fifth leading cause of deaths. Particles, like black carbon from combustion sources in particular, have detrimental effects on health including cardiovascular problems, cancer, stroke and premature death.  As the human nose and throat are inefficient at filtering them out they can penetrate deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream.

Air pollution affects not just our health but also our climate. Fine particles can influence climate change on a global scale through absorption and scattering of solar radiation.

Monitoring air pollutants is crucial for identifying the causes, sources, and for identifying approaches to mitigate exposure. Madhura and ANSTO continue to measure and characterise fine particle air pollution from key sites around Australia and internationally.     

Meet Prof. Vanessa Peterson - Neutron Scattering Instrument Scientist

Professor Vanessa Peterson is a Principal Research and Neutron Scattering Instrument Scientist at ANSTO’s Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering. As the Leader of the Energy Materials Research Project, Vanessa uses the Wombat and Echidna neutron scattering instruments to research alternative energy systems and materials and has been working on lithium-ions batteries and fuel cells at the atomic scale. 

Vanessa started her career with a PhD at the University of Technology Sydney in 2004, studying the chemistry of cement and its atomic level structures. It was during this time that she discovered the benefits of using neutrons to study powders at the atomic scale.

Her work on improving cement led to her interest in carbon-free energy materials. Following her PhD, Vanessa moved to a neutron scattering facility in the US, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nist) Center for Neutron Research, where she worked on hydrogen materials for a couple of years before returning to Australia and the University of Sydney. She moved to ANSTO in 2007 as our new neutron scattering facility was being developed alongside the OPAL reactor.

Vanessa Peterson Wombat
Vanessa Peterson uses the WOMBAT neutron scattering instrument to investigate battery and fuel cell technologies.

Alternative energy sources and new materials technologies have risen as demand for cheap, safe and environmentally sustainable energy increases.  Vanessa is currently researching materials used in batteries that power laptop computers and phones, and fuel cells that store and use hydrogen to power cars as an alternative to petrol.  Neutron-scattering tools are extremely well suited for these studies.

“Creating a global energy system that is both environmentally and economically sustainable is unquestionably one of the largest challenges facing the scientific and engineering communities,” says Vanessa.

Fossil fuels have many problems but unlike most renewable energy sources, they are portable.  Vanessa is using neutron powder diffraction to study materials that store, transport and deliver energy such as batteries. One of the most common types of rechargeable battery is the lithium-ion battery, found in mobile phones and laptops. Improving lithium ion batteries will increase their storage capacity and their uses, including in electric vehicles by increasing their range, or for space or military applications. Vanessa is also investigating other types of batteries such as sodium and potassium ion batteries, which offer cheaper alternatives to lithium.

Vanessa also studies the use of hydrogen as clean energy to power transport. The benefit of hydrogen is that it releases only water as a waste product, but safely storing hydrogen has been a stumbling block that has slowed the uptake of hydrogen-powered technologies. Using neutron scattering to find out exactly how various materials absorb and release hydrogen is crucial for improving the effectiveness of hydrogen fuel cells for energy storage. This research will lead the way for efficient and portable hydrogen energy fuel cells for cars and other transport.