Mysterious Lithium-Producing Stars Analysed on Nectar

Aerospace - astronomy - satellites, Information and computing sciences
Dr Simon Campbell, ARC Future Fellow at Monash University, is unravelling the origin of the elements in the universe, one ARDC Nectar Research Cloud processor at a time.

Here on Earth, Lithium is used in electric cars, giant solar-storage batteries, medicine, mobile phone batteries and heat resistant glass, but little is known about how the element is created in the universe. And to delve into that mystery, we need to look at the stars.

“Almost every element in the universe is created by stars,” explains Dr Simon Campbell, an ARC Future Fellow at the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy.

“Everything except Hydrogen and Helium (and a little bit of Lithium) came from stars. To understand the universe, you have to understand how stars work.”

“Stars are real alchemists — they take Hydrogen and Helium and turn them into all the other elements in the periodic table, including gold and silver.”

stars in the night sky
The many types of stars the study looked at, from young stars to old red giant stars. The research team found Lithium in the fainter orange stars, the red giants. Credit: ESA & NASA. Acknowledgement: E. Olszewski (U. Arizona) HST

Understanding how stars create and destroy elements as they evolve helps us understand the origin of the material that makes up galaxies, planets such Earth, and even ourselves. Now back to Lithium.

“There’s a mysterious group of stars – about 1% of red giants contain huge amounts of Lithium, but we don’t know where the Lithium comes from,” said Simon.

“I met an astronomer at a conference and heard about their observations of this unexplained Lithium production in stars and said, ‘I can make a model of this to try to explain what they’re seeing in the telescope data.’”

To investigate this mysterious group of Lithium-producing stars, Simon teamed up with observers in China and India and the Australian stellar survey known as GALAH (Galactic Archaeology with the Hermes spectrograph), which uses the largest optical telescope in Australia, the Australian Astronomical Telescope, located at the Siding Springs Observatory near Coonabarabran, NSW.

Simon’s contribution to the research involved computing detailed models of red giant stars, which he analysed using the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) Nectar Research Cloud. His models show that our current theories about how stars evolve do not predict this huge Lithium production at all. In addition, on analysing the observational data more, they found that actually all the stars were producing Lithium, in varying amounts. Simon’s models could not explain this either. It also meant that our own star — the Sun — would produce Lithium in the future.

The team published a paper in Nature Astronomy in July 2020 describing their observations and models, and called for theorists to step up to try and explain why theories had not predicted that Lithium could be produced through stellar evolution.

The theorists jumped at the challenge. Immediately after the paper was published, two papers were published from Japan and the US on the theory behind how stars could produce Lithium as they evolve through this phase.

“It’s a hot topic right now,” said Simon, “There’s a lot of work to be done on the theory side to explain it.”

“Since the newly created Lithium will end up being blown off the star in stellar winds, it will also help us understand how much these stars enrich our Galaxy with Lithium, and eventually planets like Earth.”

Three-dimensional hydrodynamics simulation of a section of the inside of a star. The colour scale shows the magnitude of the velocity of the gas (stars are mainly made of hot gas). The bottom half is heated by nuclear fusion energy, causing it to become highly turbulent/convective. The top half is stable, although some gravity waves can be seen (purple layers), which are similar to water waves on the ocean. This simulation was run at Pawsey, on the Magnus supercomputer, and the image was produced using the Pawsey visualisation machine Topaz. Image supplied by Simon Campbell
Three-dimensional hydrodynamics simulation of a section of the inside of a star. The colour scale shows the magnitude of the velocity of the gas (stars are mainly made of hot gas). The bottom half is heated by nuclear fusion energy, causing it to become highly turbulent/convective. The top half is stable, although some gravity waves can be seen (purple layers), which are similar to water waves on the ocean. This simulation was run at Pawsey, on the Magnus supercomputer, and the image was produced using the Pawsey visualisation machine Topaz. Image supplied by Simon Campbell

Understanding the Origin of the Elements, One ARDC Nectar Processor at a Time

Simon began his work on investigating Lithium and stars in 2019, modelling a cluster of lithium-producing stars on Nectar to follow their nucleosynthesis — the creation of elements on the periodic table.

“My work is very computational,” said Simon, “A laptop computer can only do so much. I use the Pawsey Supercomputer Magnus at one end of the scale and my laptop at the other end of the scale. In between is where I need more than a laptop but less than Pawsey.”

That’s where the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud plays a key role in Simon’s research. Nectar is Australia’s national research cloud, providing Australia’s research community with on-demand computing infrastructure and software.

“With Nectar I can have a machine with 10, 20, 30 processors, which means I have the power of many laptops or PCs.”

“I research the evolution of stars, so I can run 20 or 30 star models all at once on Nectar. Parallel work makes a big difference in terms of efficiency, and it’s very user friendly. I can access it all from my laptop, anywhere.”

“I make huge 3D simulations of star evolution on a supercomputer, but then I can compress them into 1D and 2D and do further analysis on Nectar,” said Simon.

It’s Australia’s interconnected national research infrastructure that makes Simon’s research possible.

Simon conducts complex simulations on the Magnus supercomputer at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth, transfers the gigantic data files via Australia’s high speed research internet AARNet to his research data lifecycle hub on the Monash University ‘Vault’ storage facility (supported by the Monash eResearch Centre), and then accesses his 100 terabytes of data via Nectar.

“The really powerful thing about Nectar is that I can mount the saved data from the supercomputer via my Vault storage and analyse it on my Nectar machines,” said Simon.

The Vault was designed to allow users to seamlessly and securely transfer data to and from the peak supercomputing facilities, and then mount their Vault storage to analyse that data on Nectar.

Another helpful aspect of using Nectar is the continuity, said Simon. He can work on his analysis at home or at the university seamlessly. Nectar also runs 24/7, so Simon can run star models overnight and they are ‘cooked’ the next morning, which makes his research very efficient.

“Nectar is a very important part of my workflow,” explained Simon.

“I’ve also found Nectar is very useful for students. I’ve put a few PhD students on Nectar.”

Learn more about how Australian researchers can use the ARDC Nectar Research Cloud.

The ARDC is funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to support national digital research infrastructure for Australian researchers.

Simon Campbell’s work was supported by resources provided by the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre with funding from the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia.

Simon Campbell received funding for this research from the Australian Research Council through Future Fellowship FT160100046 and Discovery Project DP190102431.

Dr Stuart Newman

Therapeutic Innovation Australia

Since completing a PhD in Antarctic Biology from the University of Tasmania, Stuart has built up considerable experience of science policy, pharmaceutical R&D, grant funding, IP management, business development and commercialisation in the university and not-for-profit sectors.|

Stuart joined TIA as CEO in 2017. Under his leadership, TIA has focussed investment on the gap between research and development of high-value therapeutics, including pharmaceuticals, biologics, vaccines and cell & gene therapies. He also devised an innovative infrastructure access voucher scheme. He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors

Beryl Morris

Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network

Merran Smith

Population Health Research Network

Merran is the inaugural Chief Executive of Australia’s Population Health Research Network and chairs the PHRN Participant Council. She is a past Director of the International Population Data Linkage Network (2019-2020) and current member of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre Board.

Merran has an extensive background in science, health, and economics with strengths in strategic leadership and many years’ experience in Australia’s health and research infrastructure systems.  She is well versed in data management and oversaw the WA Department of Health’s Health Information Centre for more than 10 years. While with the Department, she established data linkage as a core service and served on Australia’s peak national health information committees. 

Prof Michael Dobbie

Phenomics Australia

Prof. Michael Dobbie has worked to establish and operate Phenomics Australia since its foundation in 2007, serving as CEO since 2013. Prior to leading the development and implementation of these national research infrastructures, Michael was a biomedical research with a PhD in Neurochemistry from the University of London and gained over 20 Years’ experience at the bench in field including genetics, vascular biology, cancer angiogenesis, neuroscience, metabolism, developmental biology, malaria and oxidative stress.

Mark Stickells

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

Mark is a research executive with more than 20 years’ experience working at a senior level in innovative research and business development roles in complex, multi-stakeholder environments. Through national and international programs and joint-ventures, Mark had successfully led initiatives to accelerate the impact of research, development and education programs for Australia’s key energy, mining and agricultural sectors.
He is a former Chief Executive of an LNG research and development alliance of CSIRO, Curtin University and UWA, partnering with Chevron, Woodside and Shell. Prior to his appointment at Pawsey Mark led the innovation and industry engagement portfolio at The University of Western Australia. In addition, Mark is the current Chair of the Board of All Saints’ College and was appointed an adjunct Senior Fellow of the Perth USAsia Centre (an international policy think tank) in 2017.

Craig Humphrey

National Sea Simulator

Craig Humphrey has worked at AIMS for more than 25 years. He presently serves as the Director of the National Sea Simulator, a position he has held for the last two years. During the ten years preceding his directorial role, Craig was instrumental in the initial conceptualisation, creation, and implementation of the SeaSim. Prior to joining the SeaSim team, Craig worked as an experimental scientist at AIMS for 15 years, where he conducted research on various projects including fish ecotoxicology, inshore reef biological indicators of water quality, and coral reef climate-related studies.

Wojtek Goscinski

National Imaging Facility

Prof Wojtek Goscinski, with over two decades of leadership in research and innovation, heads the National Imaging Facility (NIF), Australia’s premier imaging network. As CEO, he oversees NIF’s collaboration among universities, research institutes, and government agencies. An Adjunct Professor at Monash University, he contributes to the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. Prof Goscinski’s notable past roles include founding MASSIVE, a high-impact national analytics facility. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Committee for Euro Bioimaging ERIC and has led significant international neuroinformatics programs.

Prof Sean Smith

National Computational Infrastructure

Sean Smith commenced as Director of the NCI in January 2018 and is conjointly Professor of Computational Nanomaterials Science and Technology at ANU. He has extensive theoretical and computational research experience in chemistry, nanomaterials and nano-bio science and technology.

Dr Lisa Yen

Microscopy Australia

Lisa is currently Microscopy Australia’s Chief Operating Officer and has over 15 years of experience in university administration, strategic research management in Centres of Excellence, and operations and management of national collaborative research infrastructure. She has been with Microscopy Australia since 2019. Lisa has a doctorate in cognitive science and a first–class honours degree in psychology.

Tamin Darwish

National Deuteration Facility (ANSTO)

Tamim leads the National Deuteration Facility at ANSTO, managing its operations and scientific advancements. With a Ph.D. in Chemistry, his expertise spans deuterium labeling, NMR spectroscopy, and organic synthesis. Tamim’s research focuses on creating deuterated molecules for advanced analytical techniques. His career includes postdoctoral fellowships and contributions to the field as a member of prestigious science communities and committees. His dedication to chemistry and material science is evident in his extensive work and achievements in the field.

Michael Steer

Southern Coastal Research Vessel Fleet

Professor Mike Steer is the Research Director at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), with over 20 years of expertise in marine science. He specialises in fish biology, fisheries science, cephalopod ecology, and fishery reform. Dr. Steer has led numerous research initiatives that have significantly advanced Australia’s seafood industry. He is known for fostering collaborations between academia and industry to address challenges in aquatic ecosystems. Prof. Steer holds a PhD from the University of Tasmania and serves on several national committees, including the National Coastal Research Vessels Working Group and the National Marine Science Committee.

Toni Moate

Marine National Facility (CSIRO)

Toni Moate is Director of the Marine National Facility and Director of CSIRO’s National Collections and Marine Infrastructure business unit. 

Toni is responsible for ensuring CSIRO’s national collections and marine infrastructure programs and research areas are effectively positioned, managed and utilised for long term financial sustainability and support science delivery in the national interest. 

Toni has extensive experience in strategic, financial, project and stakeholder management and has worked for CSIRO for over 30 years. In 2015 Toni was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in Australian marine and atmospheric science, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. This was followed in 2017 when Toni was awarded the Tasmanian Telstra Business Woman of the Year. 

Dr Michelle Heupel

Integrated Marine Observing System

Michelle Heupel, with over two decades in marine science, leads Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) at the University of Tasmania. Her work, pivotal in deploying oceanic observing equipment, supports marine and climate research. Heupel’s expertise in marine predator ecology, especially sharks, is recognized globally. She has a BSc in Zoology and a PhD in Marine Science, contributing to over 160 scientific papers. Her roles have included Vice Chair of Strategy for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and advisor for the Ocean Tracking Network. Heupel’s dedication to marine conservation and management reflects her profound impact on the field.

Thomas McGoram

Heavy Ion Accelerators

James Whisstock

European Molecular Biology Laboratory Australia

Professor James Whisstock is based at Monash University, where he is currently an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, an Honorary National Health and Medical Research Council Senior Principal Research Fellow and Deputy Dean Research in the Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences.

Ceri Brenner

Centre for Accelerator Science (ANSTO - Nuclear Science Facilities)

Andrew Gilbert

Bioplatforms Australia

Andrew Gilbert has been Bioplatforms Australia’s general manager since its inception in 2007.
He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Andrew oversees the investment of $300 million in Commonwealth Government research infrastructure funding in the discovery sciences of genomics, proteomics and metabolomics.
Andrew has an extensive network of contacts from Commonwealth and State Governments, along with prominent universities, medical research institutes, agricultural research institutes and commercial entities. The Bioplatforms Australia network now supports 4500 users per annum across the spectrum of pure research to commercial production. In addition to managing the national infrastructure network, Andrew has also catalysed the formation of a series of strategic national scientific collaborations.
Each of these projects is by design multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional and contain both discovery implications and pathways to end use.

Prof Pascal Perez


Professor Pascal Perez is a specialist of Integrative Social Simulation, using Multi-Agent Systems technologies to explore complex infrastructure systems. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (MSSANZ). 

Professor Perez has published 200 refereed articles and book chapters. In 2002, he received an ARC-International Linkage Fellowship to develop social modelling research at the Australian National University. In 2006, he co-edited with his colleague David Batten the book ‘Complex Science for a Complex World’ (ANU E Press).

Rosie Hicks

Australian Research Data Commons

Rosie has 20 years’ experience working in Australia’s research infrastructure sector. With a career spanning every aspect of scientific instrumentation from product development and technical marketing to managing multi-user facilities, she works across academic and industry domains to drive innovation and research translation.

Richard Dichmann

Australian Plant Phonemics Facility

Richard is committed to advancing Australian agriculture through strengthening sustainable industry partnerships and creating new business opportunities which capitalise on innovation. His career with Bayer spans more than 25 years and five countries in roles ranging from marketing, technology scouting and sustainability. Hailing from rural Victoria and educated in Melbourne, Richard obtained an honours degree in Forestry from Melbourne University and a master’s degree in Agriculture, focusing on satellite remote sensing, from the University of Sydney. Richard is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. As Head of Public and Government Affairs ANZ for Bayer Australia and New Zealand, Richard is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding among political stakeholders of the critical role innovation plays in meeting the food supply and health challenges of the future. Richard is a proud ambassador for Australian agriculture and is married with four children.

Dr Jane Fitzpatrick

Australian National Fabrication Facility

Jane led ANFF’s Queensland node for a number of years, joining the HQ team as its Chief Operating officer in 2012, before becoming CEO in 2021. Her responsibilities include ensuring the network performs as a cohesive and collaborative community, and maximising ANFF’s ability to support projects from academia and industry.

Prof Andy Hogg

Australian Earth System Simulator (ACCESS-NRI)

Professor Andy Hogg is a distinguished climate scientist leading the ACCESS-NRI, where he oversees the development of Australia’s advanced climate models. As a key figure in COSIMA, he contributes to ocean-sea ice model research. His role as a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes underscores his commitment to understanding climate dynamics and extremes. His work is pivotal in shaping Australia’s approach to climate science and modeling, reflecting his dedication to environmental research and innovation.

Jamie Schultz

Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering (ANSTO - Nuclear Science Facilities)

Dr Debbie Eagles

Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (CSIRO)

Debbie Eagles is currently the Director of CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP). Prior to this, Debbie’s roles with ACDP included 4 years as ACDP Deputy Director and 3 years as the Research Director for the Diagnosis, Surveillance and Response (DSR) Program.

Debbie is a veterinarian by training and a World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Reference Laboratory Expert on Bluetongue Virus. She is also enrolled as a WOAH and Australian Qualified Expert on the UN Secretary-General Mechanism’s (UNSGM) Roster for investigations of Alleged Use of Chemical, Biological or Toxin Weapons, has postgraduate qualifications in veterinary public health and has a special interest in interactions at the field/laboratory interface. Debbie has extensive experience in working in the Asia Pacific region, including in laboratory capacity building projects, in field investigations and through the provision of training courses.

Heath Marks

Australian Access Federation

Heath Marks was appointed by the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT) in July 2009 to head a team to deliver the sustainable operations of Australia’s Trust and Identity services for Research and Education. This includes the national trust authentication framework the Australian Access Federation (AAF), and the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) Consortium Lead for Australia. He is an IT professional with a wealth of management experience in the successful delivery of transformational Information Technology within the tertiary education and research sector supporting the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Heath participates in many national and international committees and working groups on trust, identity, cyber security, and company strategy. 

Tim Rawling


Tim Rawling is the CEO of AuScope Limited. AuScope is Australia’s provider of research infrastructure to the national geoscience community working on fundamental geoscience questions and grand challenges — climate change, natural resources security and natural hazards. Prior to this role, he was Director of Infrastructure Development for AuScope’s Australian Geophysical Observing System (AGOS). His recent research has involved the development of regional/crustal-scale 3D and 4D geological models as well as new exploration methodologies involving 3D modelling and finite element simulation. Tim’s background is in structural geology and IT and he has previously worked as a consultant exploration geologist, as the manager of the 3D modelling and simulation programs at GeoScience Victoria (DPI), as the MCA funded lecturer at the University of Melbourne, a commercial programmer and as a researcher at Monash University and the University of Arizona.

Dr Andre Zerger

Atlas of living Australia

Dr. Andre Zerger is the Director of the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). The ALA is Australia’s national biodiversity database, harmonising the nation’s biodiversity data to support world-class science and decision-making.  The ALA is hosted by CSIRO and supported by the Commonwealth Government’s NCRIS program. Andre’s background is in the spatial sciences, environmental modelling with a focus on the ecological sciences, and spatially explicit hazard risk modelling. His career has focussed on establishing high-performing teams to deliver national data infrastructure transformations that support research, environmental management, and major government policy initiatives. He has previously led similar programs and held academic positions at the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO Ecosystems Sciences, The University of Melbourne, and the University of California.

Andre holds a Bachelor of Science with Honours (Geography, Monash University), a Master of Applied Science (Spatial Information Systems, University of Melbourne), and a PhD (Environmental Science, Australian National University). He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Mark McAuley

Astronomy Australia

Mark McAuley has worked for thirty years in research and development environments, with responsibility for securing investments, facilitating collaborations, and executing projects. As CEO of Astronomy Australia Limited, he is responsible for the NCRIS astronomy programme. Mark has previously worked for CSIRO, and in private industry, including six years in computer-aided engineering. His experience ranges from explaining science to young children to leading financial strategy discussions concerning billion-dollar research infrastructure projects.

Mark holds a Master of Business Administration, Master of Arts (Ancient History), and Bachelor of Science with Honours (Astrophysics). Upon completion of his MBA, he received the Vice-Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Notre Dame, Australia.