Released By: Australian Synchrotron
Release Date: Fri 31 October 2008

South Australian PhD student Audrey Beaussart is the 1000th person to conduct her experiments at the Australian Synchrotron.

Audrey is using the synchrotron to develop a substitute for the lubricants in joint fluid that, like oil in a car, protect our joints from friction and damage.

The PhD student from the Ian Wark Research Institute at the University of South Australia walked into the facility on 1 October 2008 to find that she was the 1000th person to come through the doors to conduct experiments since it opened for business in April 2007.

"It was my first time at the Australian Synchrotron and it was such a surprise to find out I was the 1000th user," Audrey says.

She was presented with a certificate and a showbag of Synchrotron souvenirs by the facility's Head of Technical Services, George Borg before using her time on the infrared spectroscopy beamline to examine the behaviour of lubricants on mineral surfaces.

Audrey is working with her supervisor David Beattie on potential replacements for the naturally occurring lubricants that protect the surfaces of the joints between our bones and cartilage, like the knee joint. The molecules of particular interest to Audrey and her colleagues are polymers, long molecules consisting of repeated units of smaller molecules such as sugars or the amino acid lysine.

Audrey used the infrared beamline to see how the lubricants interact with surfaces. "We are looking at the way these polymeric lubricants behave at the interface between two surfaces when we subject the interface to pressure. By putting our lubricants on silica surfaces that mimic bones and joints, we can see whether they are adsorbed into the surface, and how much the friction is reduced," she says.

Ultimately, Audrey and her colleagues hope to understand the relationship between the shape of the lubricant molecules and the way the lubricants modify the surface to create less friction.

It's part of a larger study of lubricants on mineral surfaces with applications in industry and mining that has been the focus of Audrey's PhD research. She is expecting to complete her PhD in six months.

"Since the first users started their experiments in April 2007, over 500 users have collectively visited us more than 1000 times, and we are currently only running at 30 per cent of our capacity" says Robert Lamb, the Director of the Australian Synchrotron. "In November this year applications opened for three new beamlines so we expect to see even more users sign up for beamtime."

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