Unsung Australian Tech Ideas That Transformed The World

You've heard thousands of times about how Wi-Fi, the Hills Hoist, the ute and the good, old-fashioned jar of Vegemite were all invented in Australia. Those products are great, and all revolutionised the way the world worked, but is that it? Let's explore some other major, yet perhaps lesser known, Australian inventions shaping and changing the world in the 21st Century?

Presented by Telstra, powering innovation through collaboration. When FOX SPORTS wanted a more immersive broadcast experience, Telstra and FOX SPORTS adapted Telstra Globecam to become FOX SPORTS Ref Cam. Watch below and visit telstra.com/innovation.

Polymer Banknote

Image: iStock

Money makes the world go round, and Australia makes money better than anyone else. No, like the actual bills in your wallet: those are made out of strong stuff that's uniquely Australian. It's called the polymer banknote, and it's what stops your crisp pineapples from turning into mushy sludge when your mate pushes you into the pool.

The very first notes Australia had were made of paper, but the Reserve Bank wanted more. Scientists from the University of Melbourne, Professor Solomon along with the CSIRO and the Reserve Bank of Australia pioneered the polymer note for the first time.

The original polymer banknote issued was the trusty $10 bill back in 1988. In a rare departure from the traditional blue design we know today, the purple-hued, Bicentennial note featured on it an image of the ship Endeavour arriving in Botany Bay, as well as a picture of Captain James Cook in the transparent security window. The new banknote also introduced new security features for Australian legal tender, meaning you’ll need more than just a photocopier to print your own cash. In fact, the new notes were developed specifically to fight a multi-million dollar forgery ring operating out of Melbourne in the 1970’s.

Current notes (such as the updated “Next Generation” $5 and $10 notes that were recently minted), include security features such as “holographic” birds that move when you tilt the note; a “rolling colour” effect when viewed at an angle, and fluorescent ink (among many other features). Even the polymer it’s printed on acts as a security feature: the Reserve Bank says that fourth series banknotes should return to their original form when scrunched up thanks to the nifty polymer substrate. Grab a bit of folding out of your wallet now and see how many of the new security features you can spot.

Australia has been churning out nothing but polymer notes since 1996, and since then seven other nations have completely converted to the so-called plastic money, with 18 other countries experimenting with a hybrid paper and plastic circulation.

How Polymer Banknotes Were Invented

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and CSIRO’s 20-year “bank project” resulted in the introduction of the polymer banknote — the first ever of its kind, and the most secure form of currency in the world.

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The Frazier Lens

The Frazier Lens system being used on a RED One camera. Image: Dylan Reeve.

Wondering how James Cameron got the Titanic to look so vast and incredible? Or how David Attenborough and his team rewrote the history of the animal kingdom by recording such beautiful video? You can thank Aussie inventor and cinematographer Jim Frazier and his eponymous lens for that.

The Frazier Lens System allows for a vast depth of field, and brings the foreground and background in focus simultaneously — a technique most recognisable from documentary filmmaking. It all started when its inventor became frustrated at the quality of lenses on the market at the time while out shooting footage in the wild with Sir David Attenborough.

What started as a mirror and a camera lashed to a pole went on to earn its namesake inventor a technical Academy Award way back in 1997, and Frazier — now 76 years old — isn’t done revolutionising the way we use glass to capture art. He’s built lens systems that require a single lens to capture a a 3D image, and he creates glass art by exposing sheets of glass to voltage and other energy waves to create unique designs.

Synroc

As the country (nay the world) grapples with renewables like wind, solar and battery storage to secure our energy future, advocates of nuclear power are quietly working away in the background to make their technologies safe for the environment once the rods have reached the end of their life and become hazardous.

But as advocates for both sides squabble on a way to safely secure nuclear waste, did you know an Australian invention you've likely never heard has been containing spent fuel rods since the late 1970's. It's called Synroc (short for Synthetic Rock), and it's ingeniously designed to absorb dangerous nuclear waste and keep us safe.

Synroc is a waste platform designed to handle both solid and liquid radioactive waste. It was built back in 1978 by a team at the Australian National University and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. It’s a synthetic, smooth black substance, that is literally as hard as a rock, and it’s made by combining three types of titanium oxides with a small amount of radioactive waste, and compressing the resulting powder into a shape so it can be stored safely and effectively.

How Nuclear Waste Storage Will Benefit South Australia

For years Australia has been at the forefront of nuclear storage technology through it’s world-renowned Synroc program at the Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation, ANSTO.

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Spray-On Skin

It's not sci-fi: it's a revolutionary way of healing burn victims pioneered by plastic surgeon Dr Fiona Wood and scientist Marie Stoner is hopefully just around the corner. It’s spray-on skin, also known by its commercial name of “CellSpray”.

The longer a burn victim goes without treatment, the greater risk of infection and other secondary sicnkesses. Skin grafts can take up to 21 days to grow and cover a victim's injuries. Spray-on skin lowers that to just five days, and the potential live saving applications of it are unparalleled. The invention recently received funding and approval in the last two years, allowing the team of inventors to start saving a lot of lives, real fast.

Like many incredible scientific advances in medicine, Spray-On Skin received its first road test in a time of tragedy, with Dr Fiona Wood using it on victims of the Bali nightclub bombing back in 2002.

The jury is still out on the medical viability of CellSpray, as many physicians point out that it still hasn’t been subjected to formal trials. Two attempts at clinical trials — one by the US Food and Drug Administration and one by the US Department of Defence — were both suspended after fewer than expected subjects enrolled in the tests.


Telstra powers innovation through collaboration. When FOX SPORTS was looking for a technology partner to help deliver a more immersive broadcast experience, it worked with Telstra to create FOX SPORTS Ref Cam. Watch below and visit telstra.com/innovation.



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