Stories that challenged our thinking in 2021

21 December 2021
From bad oranges to Jane Austen
Although COVID-19 again dominated the headlines this year, our people continued to test our preconceptions across a range of areas.

1. Mushrooms for the sole

Students from the School of Architecture, Design and Planning were asked to apply natural processes to real-world challenges. 

They developed a smart insole made from mushroom spores, containing electronic microprocessors to monitor foot health. 

2. Consumption costs lives

Microscopic PM2.5 particulate matter is responsible for more than 4 million premature deaths a year.

A study co-written by Professor Manfred Lenzen shows half of those deaths are caused by consumption-induced pollution from the world’s 20 biggest economies.

3. Paracetamol may not stop your pain

The largest review of paracetamol for pain relief, led by Dr Christina Abdel-Shaheed from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, found only four conditions where it was shown to relieve pain. 

Paracetamol only had evidence of modest effectiveness as a pain reliever for four conditions studied: knee or hip osteoarthritis; tension headache; perineal pain after childbirth; and craniotomy (removal of part of the skull).

4. The financial sector pays lip service to human rights

Twenty-two ASX-listed financial companies, including the ‘big four’ banks and popular consumer credit provider Afterpay, are largely failing to manage the risk of potential human rights breaches.

Written by researchers at the Sydney Law School, the 2020 Financial Services Human Rights Benchmark Report, the first of its kind worldwide, assessed the performance of 22 financial companies against six human rights categories: privacy and information; anti-discrimination; economic security; health and safety; voice and participation; and right to remedy.

5. Jane Austen is best read out loud

Jane Austen read her novels aloud to her family and friends. 

In her PhD thesis, Ruth Wilson proposed we do the same in our classrooms, so students learn to savour the feel of the words in their mouths and the sound of the words in their heads.

6. Don't throw out those rancid oranges

Faculty of Engineering PhD researcher is developing a cancer and serious disease-detecting biomedical probe that can be made from the juice of rancid oranges. 

The nanobiosensor – a tiny probe that uses fluorescence to signal cells' pH in terms of their acidity or alkalinity –  detects whether cells are at risk, or in the early stages of cancer or other serious diseases.  

7. The Milky Way sent out strange signals

International PhD candidate Ziteng Wang from the School of Physics was part of a team who detected unusual signals from deep inside the Milky Way. 

Astronomers are now searching for more evidence of what type of object could be emitting them.

8. Good gums during pregnancy could reduce premature birth risk

Professor Joerg Eberhard from the School of Dentistry’s research highlighted the importance of regular dental checks, dental cleaning and treatment of any gum inflammation during pregnancy.

His research found the treatment of common gum inflammation during pregnancy was linked with reduced risk of preterm birth and low birth weight in babies.

9. We may one day hug from a distance

The ability to see and hear family, friends and colleagues using digital devices is now part of our daily lives. 

Dr Zhanwei Hou from the Faculty of Engineering is going one step further by developing ultra-fast communication that facilitates Tactile Internet, a technology he hopes might one day allow users to touch via the internet. 

10. Refugees are an untapped source of talent

Dr Betina Szkudlarek from the Business School published a guide for employers wanting to tap into the refugee recruitment pool. 

Co-sponsored by the Crescent Foundation, the guide drew on her earlier research showing refugees, once settled at work, had high productivity and low turnover rates.



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