Dr Rowena Ball

PhD, BSc Hons I + University Medal
ANU College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • Applied Mathematics 0102
  • Physical Chemistry (Incl. Structural) 0306
  • Other Chemical Sciences 0399
  • Chemical Engineering 0904
  • Interdisciplinary Engineering 0915
  • Other Earth Sciences 0499
  • Evolutionary Biology Not Elsewhere Classified 060399

Research interests

The origin of life, Nonlinear and complex dynamical systems, Indigenous science, Endex thermoreactive systems, Thermochemical instabilities, Exergy analysis, Entropy generation analysis, Carbon sequestration via charcoal, Global carbon cycles, Railways and trains, Country pub lunches.


  • PhD (1997), BSc Hons I + University Medal (1993) Macquarie University
  • ARC Future Fellowship 2010–2016
  • Lagrange Fellowship in Complex Systems, ISI Foundation Italy 2005
  • ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship 2000–2003
  • APA, Energy Research Priority Area  1993–1996   

Researcher's projects

I am an applied mathematician and physical chemist with broad research expertise in nonlinear and complex dynamical systems. 

Current research is on the origins of life. In a series of papers we have elucidated the role of hydrogen peroxide in mediating the RNA world, proto-metabolic systems and the development of biological homochirality.

Rowena Ball, John Brindley
Anomalous thermal fluctuation distribution sustains proto-metabolic cycles and biomolecule synthesis
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, January 2020, DOI: 10.1039/c9cp05756k
In this paper we report an extraordinary fluctuation distribution of time-varying states in stochastic reactive media that may reflect transient non-Boltzmann populations of internal quantized modes. This result has far-reaching implications with respect to the physical chemistry of complex nonequilibrium molecular systems. It says that such systems must be dynamically far from equilibrium in order to sustain net synthetic capability and chemical evolution.

Rowena Ball and John Brindley (2015). The life story of hydrogen peroxide III: Chirality and physical effects at the dawn of life. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, in press, accepted 21 Aug 2015, https://www.academia.edu/15066653/The_life_story_of_hydrogen_peroxide_III_Chirality_and_physical_effects_at_the_dawn_of_life 

Rowena Ball and John Brindley (2015). The life story of hydrogen peroxide II: a periodic pH and thermochemical drive for the RNA world. J. R. Soc. Interface 12: 20150366. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2015.0366. https://www.academia.edu/13671496/The_life_story_of_hydrogen_peroxide_II._A_periodic_pH_and_thermochemical_drive_for_the_RNA_world

Rowena Ball and John Brindley (2015). Thiosulfate-hydrogen peroxide redox oscillator as pH driverfor ribozyme activity in the RNA world. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, in press, https://www.academia.edu/13671679/Thiosulfate-hydrogen_peroxide_redox_oscillator_as_pH_driver_for_ribozyme_activity_in_the_RNA_world. 

Rowena Ball and John Brindley (2014).  Hydrogen peroxide thermochemical oscillator as driver forprimordial RNA replication. J. R. Soc. Interface 11: 20131052. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2013.1052. https://www.academia.edu/6327988/Hydrogen_peroxide_thermochemical_oscillator_as_driver_for_primordial_RNA_replication 

My ARC Future Fellowship FT0991007 project involed a suite of applications of thermochemical instabilities and oscillations, and second law thermodynamic analysis of such systems. 

The next 50 years will be the era during which the world's fuels must be decarbonised. Endex thermoreactive principles, which I co-invented in the mid 1990s, are providing a novel technology for separating carbon from fuels and flue gases. I am developing a suite of Endex decarbonation technologies in collaboration with an industry partner, Calix Ltd, and with collaborators from Imperial College London, and the FP7 ASCENT Program. 

Endex principles also underpin carbon capture from the atmosphere and have been used by nature for millions of years: the mechanism behind thermal decomposition of biomass is an Endex thermochemical oscillator that governs the distribution of carbon between the global solid black carbon reservoir and the atmospheric CO2 reservoir. My research is elucidating this mechanism.

Oscillatory thermal instability can also initiate thermal explosions. A grave threat to security is the use of liquid peroxide bombs by terrorists, and it seems grimly inevitable that their use as mass murder weapons will increase. My research on Endex systems has found that oscillatory thermal instability is the initiator of thermal runaway in liquid peroxides and also was the primary cause of the Bhopal disaster.

Keywords: Nonlinear and complex dynamical systems, Origin of life, Decarbonation of fuels and flue gases, Endex thermoreactive systems, Thermochemical instabilities, Exergy and second law analysis, Charcoal, Fire, Global carbon cycles, Quasi two-dimensional flows, Country pub lunches, Railway heritage.


Available student projects

  1. The origin of life: dynamical modelling of the RNA world
  2. The fundamental equation of life.
  3. Second law thermodynamic analysis & optimisation.
  4. The role of vegetation fires in global carbon cycles.
  5. Topics in applied dynamical systems, stability, and chaos.


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  26 March 2023 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers