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Articles categorized as ‘Macquarie University Science Programs’

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Macquarie scientists help develop coral reef database

With the future of coral reefs threatened now more than ever, researchers have announced the release of a new global database that enables scientists and managers to more quickly and effectively help corals survive their many challenges.

Macquarie University Science degrees

Coral reefs are changing rapidly (Photo credit: Macquarie University)

“Coral reefs are changing rapidly, and that is unlikely to slow down,” said Associate Professor Joshua Madin from Macquarie University’s Genes to Geoscience Research Centre, who led the team developing the database.

“If we don’t understand these changes, we can’t protect these species-rich ecosystems. We need to speed the science up, and to think creatively about how to do that.”

In a paper describing the database, published recently in Scientific Data, Professors Andrew Baird and Sean Connolly from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) say the Coral Trait Database will assist scientists working on coral reefs answer a multitude of questions.

“The trait database is the first of its kind for corals and will allow coral reef scientists to begin to address many significant, unresolved questions—and much faster,” Professor Baird says.

“Traits are fundamental to most aspects of the ecology and evolution of organisms,” he explains. “For example, the Great Barrier Reef is now in the grip of perhaps the largest coral bleaching episode in history, and this database can help scientists explain why some species are more susceptible than others.”

Baird, Madin and their colleagues spent thousands of hours compiling the database over the past few years. They sifted through papers published in journals, tables printed in books, and examined other resources scattered around the globe.

Some of the data had been buried in obscure, often difficult to access—but highly informative—books dating back to the 1800s. The Coral Trait Database promises to save a lot of time, money and effort across all fields of coral reef studies.

“A lot of these data were not easily accessible, and it was expensive for many to get to,” explains Professor Sean Connolly. “So much of the Coral Trait Database content was previously only available to the ‘elite.’ The existence of this tool also means the coral reef research community can cut down on redundant research efforts.”

Coral reefs remain one of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet, hosting more species than any other marine environment. Globally, an estimated 275 million people rely directly on coral reefs for food, protection from waves and storms, income, and cultural value. They are also crucial in providing protection and habitat for healthy fish populations. However, in the past 20 years, coral cover has diminished by as much as 95 percent in some locations.

Climate change and the El Niño of the recent months combined are currently contributing to a global mass-bleaching event—and on a scale previously unseen in recorded history. Added stresses from pollution and over-fishing further complicate coral reef health.

“There are hardly any questions you can’t ask of the database: its number of uses are extraordinary, but progress in these areas has been hindered by the lack of readily accessible trait data,” said Madin.

“We hope this database will support scientists trying to make a difference by providing them access to the data they need quickly, and at no cost.”

Macquarie University Department of Biological Sciences

Macquarie University has an international reputation for being innovative in the study of science. It is at the forefront of research nationally and internationally, and excels in the application and commercialization of new discoveries. Macquarie offers a unique range of interdisciplinary postgraduate degrees across a number of areas including environmental management, environmental education, environmental health, environmental planning, environmental science, environmental studies, sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, geography, geoscience, marine science, museum studies and wildlife management.

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Find out more about marine biology and marine science programs at Macquarie University. Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com or call 1-866-698-7355.

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Whales unfazed by Macquarie scientists’ mix tape alarm tunes

An international team lead by Macquarie University researchers has found that humpback whales are not only unfazed by complex alarm sounds designed to alert them to hazards like fishing gear, they have no response to these warning sounds at all.

The research team tested whether ‘complex’ whale alarm sounds, instead of previously tested simpler ones, could influence the whales to avoid potential hazards.

Macquarie University

Vanessa Pirotta with whale alarm housing (Photo credit: Chris Stacey, Macquarie University)

“We used louder sounds combined with complex tones to see if this would work to deter the whales,” explained lead author and Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences PhD student, Vanessa Pirotta.

To test their new sounds, the researchers moored a whale alarm to single unit fishing gear, such as a lobster pot, in the middle of the so-called ‘humpback highway’ off the Sydney coast during their 2013 northern migration, and used a theodolite—a surveyor’s tool—to track the animals’ movements in response to the new alert signals. However, the whales appeared not to respond, continuing to surface and travel in the same direction as normal.

“The lack of measurable response suggests that these new types of tones are not likely to be effective in alarms intended to reduce entanglements for the northward migrating humpback whales,” Ms Pirotta said.

“While we haven’t yet cracked the whale code in terms of warning sounds, we are still learning a lot about the types of alerts that these animals will and won’t react to,” she added.

The study builds on previous work by the same research group, which tested whether a simple and commercially available whale alarm designed to warn whales about the presence of dangerous fishing equipment elicited a response in whale behaviour.

“In the previous study we wanted to see if whales would avoid fishing gear when a simple alarm was turned on versus when the alarm was off. Much like your mobile phone or GPS, the idea of a whale alarm is to alert whales of something, in this case the presence of fishing gear, so that they move away from danger,” explained Ms Pirotta.

“Unfortunately, the research suggested that simple alarm sounds were also not effective in preventing whale entanglement at least for single unit fishing gear such as lobster or crab pots as we tested,” explained Ms Pirotta.

While “Dory” made it look very easy to speak whale in Finding Nemo, it appears that scientists still have their work cut out for them when it comes to producing warning alerts in humpback lingo. However, the cause is an important one, with humpback whales frequently getting entangled during their northern migration in barriers such as shark nets, with the most recent case involving a humpback calf only months ago.

Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences

The Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences is a vibrant community of teachers, researchers and students working across a wide range of disciplines including animal behaviour, climate change, conservation, ecology, evolution, genetics and genomics, paleobiology and physiology.

Teaching and research assets include world-class modern digital labs for teaching, outstanding newly updated labs and glasshouses for plant growth experimentation, a new sea water facility for conducting experiments in marine systems, a large fauna park allowing observational studies of animals in natural environments, and a range of cutting-edge molecular biology research laboratories. The department also houses a large collection of biological specimens in its arboretum, herbarium and museum that are used for teaching and community engagement.

Macquarie University’s close proximity to Lane Cove National Park and the Macquarie Ecology Reserve also means that students can undertake practical work in the field, ensuring they develop valuable skills and problem-solving abilities, just a short walk from campus.

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Would you like to study biology at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 for more information.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

‘Twilight zone’ fish swim silently with forked tails

An international team of researchers has identified a way to predict which reef fish can live across a greater range of depths, from shallow depths to the mesophotic or “twilight zone,” increasing their chances of surviving natural disasters such as cyclones and coral bleaching.

Study lead author, Dr Tom Bridge from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, says the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that tail shape can help predict if a fish is likely to exist across a range of water depths.

JCU Sciences

Photo: Dr Tom Bridge

“We thought that the ability to see in deep, dark waters would influence which fish could live in both shallow and deep habitats; however, we found that the ‘caudal fin aspect ratio,’ which measures the shape of the fish’s tail, is the best predictor of which fish can live in both sun-drenched shallows and the ‘twilight zone’,” Dr Bridge says.

“In other words, fishes with more forked tails are significantly more likely to be found in both shallow and deep habitats than species with more rounded tails.”

Dr Bridge says it’s not known exactly why this is the case, though it’s suspected that the forked tail allows fish to swim more silently.

“The capacity for ‘stealth swimming’ is particularly important in deeper habitats, where light irradiance and wave energy are low and species rely on sensing changes in water pressure to capture prey and avoid predators.”

Coral reefs are typically thought to occur in shallow, sun-lit waters, but new technology is revealing that reefs in the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’—50–150 m deep—support diverse and unique communities.

However, conditions on these deep reefs can be challenging for coral reef fishes, with low light, high pressure, and low temperatures.

Study co-author, Dr Osmar Luiz from Macquarie University says species that can survive in the twilight zone may be less susceptible to population declines and extinction.

“Identifying which species can occur over a broad depth range is important for understanding which fish are more vulnerable to local population declines and extinction, particularly from disturbances such as cyclones and coral bleaching events.”

The researchers say the next step is to understand exactly what it is about the forked tails that provides fishes with such an advantage in deeper water.

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Are you interested in studying marine biology at James Cook University or marine science programs at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 for more information.

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

New biological teaching laboratories at Macquarie University

Last week saw the successful official opening of three new state-of-the-art, interconnected biological teaching laboratories in Building E8C at Macquarie University.

Macquarie University science degrees

Official grand opening of the new labs (Photo credit: Macquarie University)

The new labs, part of ongoing renovations within the Macquarie Faculty of Science and Engineering, will enable undergraduate biology students access to modern, cutting-edge equipment, bringing them up to the world-class standard of the university’s other digital learning environments.

Aside from the state-of-the-art microscopes, the three labs also sport large internal and external display windows, featuring interesting relevant teaching materials that will complement the class activities.

These new look labs allow teachers and students to work together using the latest integrated technologies. The microscopy instruments’ integration system give students the opportunity to develop critical, analytical, and integrative thinking through their investigations—turning their laboratory sessions into targeted, intelligently explained, and purposeful learning experiences.

Macquarie University science degrees

Study biological sciences at Macquarie (Photo credit: Macquarie University)

The new labs were launched by Daniel Mehring, Marketing Director for industry partner VWR International, with more than 100 staff members and friends of the Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences in attendance. The launch event was a celebratory interactive welcome function enabling guests to preview the new labs and experiencing the sample displays set up on the new digital microscopes.

“One thing that surprised me was that staff and guests couldn’t quite get enough of looking through the microscopes at the displays,” Rekha Joshi, Senior Technical Manager commented.

“They were all thrilled to see what they were not expecting to see, which in many ways is what these new labs are all about.”

Macquarie University has an international reputation for being innovative in the study of science. It is at the forefront of research nationally and internationally, and excels in the application and commercialization of new discoveries.

The Faculty of Science and Engineering at Macquarie is broken down into the following departments:

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Are you interested in science and engineering programs at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com for more information.

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Macquarie researchers say humans are changing ocean ecosystems in fundamental and surprising ways

Humans are changing the ‘landscape of fear’ in oceans in many more ways that previously thought, and the effects of these changes can ripple through ocean ecosystems in a wide variety of surprising ways, research by Dr Elizabeth Madin from the Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences and colleagues from Simon Fraser University, Canada and the University of California and Florida International University in the United States has found.

Macquarie University sciences

Blacktip shark (Photo credit: Dr Elizabeth Madin via Macquarie University)

Where predators, such as sharks and other big animals, have largely disappeared due to overfishing, for example, changes in their prey’s behaviour have led to clear impacts on coral reef ecosystems.

“What we now know is that when predators are removed from coral reefs through overfishing, the behavioural responses of the prey fish alone are enough to fundamentally change what the physical reefscape looks like.”

The research collectively shows that as humans continue to change predator numbers in the ocean—by eating them as seafood and changing where they live through climate change—other parts of the ecosystem are affected simply by changing predation risk.

“We are removing predators from marine ecosystems at unprecedented rates, and we are doing so with very little knowledge of the full range of potential consequences,” said Dr Madin. “What our work shows is that there are many more consequences, through a fundamentally different pathway, than we’ve generally recognised up to now. These really need to be considered in conservation and ecosystem management.

“One thing that we can all do to lessen our impact on the oceans is to carefully consider our seafood choices. In particular, we can check web-based seafood sustainability guides to make sure that the seafood we buy in the store and order in restaurants is sustainable. In other words, it doesn’t contribute to overharvest or habitat destruction,” said Dr Madin.

Macquarie University Department of Biological Sciences

Macquarie University has an international reputation for being innovative in the study of science. It is at the forefront of research nationally and internationally, and excels in the application and commercialization of new discoveries. Macquarie offers a unique range of interdisciplinary postgraduate degrees across a number of areas including environmental management, environmental education, environmental health, environmental planning, environmental science, environmental studies, sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, geography, geoscience, marine science, museum studies and wildlife management.

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Are you interested in marine biology and marine science programs at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Macquarie researchers study Earth’s crust in Western Australia

New research has found that the Earth’s crust in Western Australia may provide a model for understanding how crusts are formed elsewhere in the world.

The crust, the outmost solid shell of the earth, is distinctive in the old and stable regions of Western Australia. This so-called Archaean (older than 2.5 billion years) crust in WA holds the oldest direct samples of Earth’s crust, and hosts Australia’s world-class mineral resources.

Macquarie University Science degrees

Macquarie researcher Dr Yuan is using seismic techniques to study the Earth’s crust (Photo credit: Huaiyu Yuan)

Lead researcher Dr Huaiyu Yuan from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluids Systems at Macquarie University uses seismic techniques to study the crust in the Western Australian craton and determined that the different forming models responsible for the old crust of Western Australia may also be ubiquitous for other crust.

“How this crust formed is controversial, as some advocate it originated in a style analogue to the modern plate tectonics, and others argue the formation was dominated by hot upwelling rocks or plumes that were ubiquitous to the Archean time,” said Dr Huaiyu Yuan.

The long tectonic history of the Archean era in Western Australia provides a window to study the origin of the WA crust using earthquake seismology.

“Western Australia is like a treasure box full of structural jigsaw puzzles. Distinct crustal units, as seen in seismic observations, imply different tectonic forming processes at different times. A correlation was found between the age of these elements and their seismic properties: the oldest crust is thin and light, while the youngest is thick and heavy,” said Dr Yuan.

This phenomenon is attributed to the secular cooling of Earth: when Earth loses heat its dominant operating mechanism changes from vertical plume tectonics to horizontal plate-tectonics.

This change seemed to occur gradually, as inferred from seismic observations, suggesting both mechanisms may have operated in the same time period through the long tectonic history of WA.

Dr Yuan is currently working on expanding this research to other areas of the world, and it is hoped that the change through time in the dominating crust-making processes found in Western Australia may also be characteristic in other old cratons.

Dr Yuan’s research is supported by CCFS at Macquarie, the Centre of Exploration Targeting at University of Western Australia and the Geological Survey of Western Australia.

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Are you interested in science and research programs at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com for more information.

Monday, August 10th, 2015

New lizard named after Sir David Attenborough

A research team led by Dr Martin Whiting from the Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences recently discovered a beautifully coloured new species of flat lizard, which they have named Platysaurus attenboroughi, after Sir David Attenborough.

Flat lizards belong to a lizard family, the Cordylidae, which is found only in Africa. While the majority of species in this family are live-bearing and most are brown or black (with some exceptions), the flat lizards stand out: they lay eggs and all are colourful. In fact, many of them are spectacularly coloured.

Macquarie University science degrees

Platysaurus attenboroughi (Photo credit: M. Whiting via Macquarie University)

This species is appropriately named Platysaurus (flat lizard) because they are incredibly flat—designed to fit into the narrowest of crevices where they refuge from predators and hot or cold weather.

“We thought it fitting the lizard be named after the world-famous naturalist after he made famous a closely related flat lizard species in the BBC series Life in Cold Blood,” said Dr Whiting.

Dr Whiting along with colleagues at the Australian National University spent time with Sir Attenborough in the field at Augrabies Falls National Park in South Africa where the BBC filmed Augrabies flat lizards in action.

“Flat lizards attracted my attention some years ago, and since then we have been working on understanding their social system, how colour functions in communication, and how the various species are related.

“It was during this process that we realised there were more species than currently described and there was a real need to uncover or build a ‘family tree’ for flat lizards. This is something our team is currently working on,” said Dr Whiting.

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Would you like to study biology at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 for more information.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Macquarie biological sciences researchers find antibiotic resistance spreading to wildlife

Researchers have found antibiotic resistance genes are spreading to bacteria of Australian wildlife, including captive sea lions and rock wallabies, and the little penguins of Sydney Harbour.

Dr Michelle Power, from the Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences, presented the findings at the International Conference of the Wildlife Disease Association, held in Queensland on the Sunshine Coast from July 26 – 30.

Macquarie University science degrees

Captive Australian sea lions have been found to carry bacteria with antibiotic resistance genes, ultimately derived from bacteria of humans (Photo credit: Prof Rob Harcourt)

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing health issues. The spread of antibiotic resistance is commonly attributed to overuse of antibiotics in both human health and animal production,” said Dr Power.

“It is worrying that we are seeing antibiotic resistance in bacteria of wild animals that have never been treated with antibiotics. Resistance genes from bacteria in humans and domestic animals are being spread through the environment to the naturally occurring bacteria of those wild animals,” she said.

Dr Power said one way the transfer of genetic resistance genes was happening was through naturally occurring mobile genetic elements called integrons, which were first discovered by Australian researchers in the late 1990s.

Integrons are able to pass genes between different species of bacteria, and can be spread through water, allowing antibiotic resistance to spread from land to marine environments. They are not deactivated by normal sewage treatment processes.

“We found the closer the contact between the wildlife with humans, the more animals within a population were carrying the antibiotic resistant bacteria. Some animals even in wild populations were carrying antibiotic resistant bacteria, a case being the little penguins of Sydney Harbour,” she said.

The Macquarie biological sciences professor said the research findings meant that if we continue to see antibiotic resistance spreading into wildlife, that antibiotic treatment of sick wild animals may not work as well.

She said there were wider implications of the research that were of concern.

“We know that the normal bacterial flora of an animal can influence its growth, development, behaviour, and even mate selection. What we don’t know is what impact we are having on wildlife through the introduction of antibiotic resistance genes to their bacteria. We also need to be asking what else wildlife is picking up from human and domestic animals in terms of bacteria or other disease agents, and if that is hurting our efforts to conserve biodiversity,” she said.

Dr Power said her research was a great illustration of the One-Health concept—that the health of humans, domestic animals and wildlife is interconnected.

She said efforts to reduce the overuse of antibiotics in humans and domestic animals were important and must be continued.

Macquarie University Department of Biological Sciences

The Macquarie Department of Biological Sciences is a department of integrative biology that integrates research and teaching across all levels of biological organisation as well as across a diversity of taxa. The department’s work links structure with function and processes that influence the evolution and ecology of organisms, using models ranging from microbes through to fungi, plants and animals. They offer comprehensive undergraduate and postgraduate education in the full range of biological disciplines, from molecules to ecosystems and the biosphere.

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Would you like to study biology at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 for more information about science degrees available at Australian universities.

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

My robot is better than your robot

FRC is a robotics competition, not a robot-fighting contest… everyone asks.

Macquarie University is hosting a regional FIRST Robotics Competition from March 12 – 14 at Sydney Olympic Park. Expected to attract more than 1,000 students from Australia, Asia and the USA, students with an interest in science and technology will design and build robots, and then put them to the test in the competition challenges.

FIRST Robotics is an internationally acclaimed robotics program that inspires a passion for science, technology, engineering and maths in young people.

Founded in the USA in 1989, FIRST Australia was established at Macquarie University in 2006. Since then, FIRST Australia has partnered with schools and universities across Australia with teams and competitions held in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

Australian teams have enjoyed remarkable success attending the FIRST World Championship Tournament each year from 2006 to 2014.

Worldwide there are 32,600 teams made up of 350,000+ students from nearly 80 countries; 64,000+ Mentors and 66,000+ event Volunteers and Affiliate Partners donate their time to make FIRST possible.

Macquarie University has an international reputation for being innovative in the study of science. It is at the forefront of research nationally and internationally, and excels in the application and commercialization of new discoveries.

The Faculty of Science and Engineering at Macquarie is broken down into the following departments:

  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences
  • Department of Chiropractic
  • Department of Computing
  • Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Department of Engineering
  • Department of Environment and Geography
  • Department of Mathematics
  • Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Department of Statistics

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Are you interested in science programs at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admission Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 for more information!

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Macquarie Science VegeSafe initiative recognised with Green Lifestyle award

The Macquarie Faculty of Science’s community soil-testing program, VegeSafe, has been highly commended in the Garden – Company category in the annual Green Lifestyle Awards.

VegeSafe was established in 2013 by a group of passionate environmental scientists, keen to inform the community about metal and metalloid contaminants in their garden soil.

Macquarie University Sciences

What’s in your garden soil?

When Vegesafe was first launched, Professor Mark Taylor explained the program’s significance: “This is especially important information for parents and keen urban gardeners,” he said. “As more inner-­city and suburban families start sustainable vegetable gardens, it’s crucial that they know what’s in the soil before eating their produce, or exposing their children to soils.”

Through the free soil-sampling program, community participants receive a formal report with their soil results and are provided with links to information and advice about what to do next in the event of soils containing elevated concentrations of metals and metalloids.

“Our motto is ‘carry on gardening’,” says VegeSafe team member Marek Rouillon, “because this is exactly what we want people to do, in the knowledge that their soils are metal free, as is the produce from their gardens.”

The principal VegeSafe team includes Professor Mark Taylor, Associate Professor Damian Gore, and PhD students Marek Rouillon, Paul Harvey, Louise Kristensen and Steven George.

“We’ve also had fantastic help from Olympus via their technical sales specialist for mining, Sam Habib” says Professor Taylor.

The Green Lifestyle Awards showcase the companies, people and products working to minimise impact on the environment, to help make a green lifestyle easy, and set an example for other organisations.

The awards were an opportunity to share with great minds in the industry, according to editor of Green Lifestyle magazine, Caitlin Howlett.

“VegeSafe’s free soil metal testing program is to be highly commended for its ability to inform and empower residents about growing their own safe, fresh veggies. There is very little public awareness about contaminated soils, but Professor Mark Taylor and the team at Macquarie University are doing a great job at educating the community about the risks, and what to do about the problem,” says Howlett.

The annual Green Lifestyle Awards recognise leading green initiatives from a range of industries in the environmental scene. Other people to be recognised by the awards include Bob Brown, India Naidoo, and Olivia Newton-John.

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Receive more information about science and environmental sciences programs available at Macquarie University! Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 for more information about how you can study in Australia!