The science must go on! From caring for algae to monitoring the skies, our scientists will be working as hard as Santa's elves this Christmas.

While most of us enjoy a break over the festive period, these amazing teams will ensure our science never stops.

Keeping everything shipshape over Christmas

A large research vessel pulls into harbour.

Our research vessel (RV) Investigator will be docked in Fremantle over the festive season. Image: Deanna Shanahan.

With a super science ship that delivers research year-round, Christmas can be a busy time for our Marine National Facility team. While Santa is delivering presents, they’re often out at sea delivering marine science.

This year however, RV Investigator will spend Christmas in Fremantle between voyages. This doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do though. The ship’s crew will be busy undertaking essential maintenance. This will keep the ship in prime condition and ready it to head to Antarctica in January.

Stef Stimson, our MNF Operations Group Leader, said Santa won’t forget the crew on Christmas Day.

“While it’s a normal working day for those onboard, the menu in the galley will reflect the festivities and they’ll get a good spread of Christmas fare,” Stef said.

Likewise, members of the team will continue with voyage planning and mobilising equipment and stores over the break. All in a Christmas Day’s work for a team that always goes the extra nautical mile to deliver great science.

CS29 Phaeodactylum are seen at x1000 magnification against a grey background.

The oldest strain in ANACC is CS-29, the diatom Phaeodactylum. It was isolated in 1910 and we acquired it in 1961.

Our microalgae strains must go on

Over the Christmas break, staff at the Australian National Algae Culture Collection (ANACC) in Hobart will be keeping an eye on cultures of more than 1000 strains of microalgae plus some macroalgae (seaweeds) and copepods. We store them in controlled temperature rooms in flasks and test tubes or grown on agar plates.

Our microalgae strains are used for research into harmful blooms and purchased by prawn and oyster farmers to culture feedstock. Their unique oils and pigments are being investigated for a myriad of different bioproducts, from novel proteins to bioplastics.

Depending on the strain, our microalgae need to be transferred to new culture media every 2 to 24 weeks. Some of these cell lines have been growing in culture since the early 1900s. The seaweeds only need a water change once or twice per year. The copepods (tiny crustaceans) need feeding twice per week and a water change every two weeks.

Staying vigilant to guard your health

Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) is our national biocontainment research facility. Most of our people will head home over the break and ACDP will run with a skeleton staff. But they won’t have much of a chance to put their feet up.

They’ll have to be ready in case there’s a need for urgent diagnostic testing for animal disease outbreaks. For instance, earlier this year, we did more than a thousand tests in a month when Japanese Encephalitis broke out in piggeries across several states. State laboratories sent their samples to ACDP for confirmatory testing.

Our people will also maintain tissue cultures and tend to any animals on the site involved in research projects.

A scientist in full protective gear looks through a microscope.

Our scientists have been heavily involved in infectious disease work.

Star (and Santa) gazers

The Australian Telescope National Facility also keeps operating over the holidays, continually providing radio data for research teams all over the world. On Christmas Eve, our astrophysicists Simon Johnston and Marcus Lower will use the Parkes radio telescope, Murriyang, to observe pulsars.

On Christmas Day, a team of Italian astronomers will use the Australian Telescope Compact Array to observe Proxima Centauri, the nearest star outside our Solar System. Every year space tracking stations and air traffic control centres join forces to track Santa’s journey. Radio telescopes also pick up signals from satellites and planes. The below video by Emil Lenc of the ASKAP radio telescope detecting overhead satellites gives you a glimpse.

We might see a similar signal from Rudolph’s nose as Santa visits the telescope operators!


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