The Best of Australian Science: June 2013

This month, we’d like to welcome our new writer Elizabeth Howell, who’s brought us some fascinating contributions about space and astronomy. She joins us for another month filled with a plethora of interesting things! A wonderful variety of science and technology stories, covering astronomy, education, technology, health, environmental, and more.

Stay curious and scientifically passionate and innovative!

For those interested in science blogging and contributing to Australian Science – contact us and check out the Editor’s note.

From fables to Facebook: Why do we tell stories? by Lauren Fuge

Throughout human history, stories have existed across all cultures in all forms, from ballads, poems, songs to oral history, plays, novels. Some narratives have evolved along with the human species—we are consistently drawn back to ancient parables, fables and fairytales, constantly reworking them into modern contexts.

Narrative is a gift unique to the human species, but how as it survived for so long? Is it a by-product of evolution or essential to survival? What drove us to painstakingly inscribe portraits on rocky walls in ochre and charcoal, to compose and listen to lengthy ballads of heroes’ tales, to nosily read people’s Facebook statuses about their day, to devour novels and films like we’re hungry for fictional worlds? Read more>>


Could The Next Australian In Space Be A Paying Tourist? by Elizabeth Howell

A flurry of press articles went out this week after NASA announced its eight new astronaut candidates. The agency touted these people, who range from doctors to fighter pilots, as a generation of astronauts that will at last be trained for missions beyond Earth’s orbit. The agency is eyeing the moon, and Mars, as eventual destinations for astronauts in the coming decades. The long-term plan for NASA keeps shifting every few years, but right now it is embracing a sort of “flexible destination” approach that is intended to bring humans further into space.

Australia, of course, does not have an astronaut program of its own. Read more>> 

What do Mars and Australia have in common? by Markus Hammonds

It’s possible that people may have mused on the similarities already. After all, with its strikingly rich colours, the Red Centre (more often known as the Outback) certainly looks like few other places on Earth. Without any vegetation, the colour of the soil and rocks in the region could easily resemble Mars in places. But evidently, this resemblance is more than just skin deep. The clue that lead to this fascinating realisation? Another of Australia’s most beautiful and iconic of things – opals. Read more>>

Middle East Coronavirus by Charles Ebikeme

Since the summer of last year, the perennial talk of epidemics and pandemicshas focused on a novel coronavirus. A virus that belongs to a diverse group of that affects many animal species — from bats to humans. At the time the public health risks were unknown. How many could eventually possibly become infected or die? How does the virus spread? Is Human to human transmission possible? During the summer of 2012, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the unknown coronavirus was isolated from the sputum of a patient with acute pneumonia and renal failure. To date, 55 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported to the World Health Organisation. Read more>>

Shenzhou 10: another step in China’s ‘Long March’ into space by Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

This second mission to Tiangong 1, the Chinese space station, is a credible step in mastering the art and engineering of space exploration. It was also a public relations success. Announcing in early April, that Wang Yaping, a 33 year old Major in the PLA Air Force, was one of the 3-person Shenzhou 10 crew, silence then descended on the identity of the other crew members. Wang was named as the in-flight instructor. She becomes China’s second female and 9th astronaut to have flown. As the in-flight instructor Wang will give lectures to middle and elementary school students from orbit. Read more>>

What Animals Will Go Extinct During Our Lifetime? by Kelly Burnes

The sheer size of a blue whale (30 metres) or a sperm whale (15 metres) is astonishing. Several skeletons were on display at the museum. A model of the sperm whale’s heart – about the size of a Mini Cooper – serves as an indication as to what these giants of the sea need to survive from an anatomical and physiological perspective. What they don’t need to survive was evident in photos showing the flesh of whales sliced through from the blades of a shipping container’s propeller. The mysterious mass beach strandings, fishing nets, oil spills, the Japanese “Research”, all these things make living in the deep ocean hard for whales and other sea life. Read more>>

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2013 by Jessie MacAlpine

As a five-time alumnus of the Canada-Wide Science Fair, I believed I had a thorough understanding of young scientists and their capabilities. However, my previous STEM experiences could not prepare me for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. As the largest pre-college competition for young scientists, this event brings together over 1600 students from 70 countries. Setting aside language and cultural barriers, students are brought together through their shared insatiable curiosity and passion for science and innovation. Read more>>

When a mind goes awry by Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

The stories are from patients that the neuropsychologist author, Jenni Ogden, has worked with over her career in New Zealand, the USA, and Australia. Ten of the 15 patients portrayed in this book featured in Ogden’s 2005 textbook Fractured Minds. Trouble in Mind is neither text, nor assessment, nor treatment book. There are other books on the market that describe patients with a variety of neurological conditions. Many written by clinicians such as Ogden. Most I find fall short because the clinician writer is excited by the condition and fails to connect the human to that condition. In other examples non-clinicians often focus complete cures, without any reference to the many that underwent similar treatments – without success. Read more>>

 Curious case of armadillo leprosy by Charles Ebikeme

Texans love all things armadillo. It is the state animal and Texas has become somewhat of a haven for hunting the small creature. In Louisiana and Texas, people hunt, skin and eat armadillos. Nothing exemplifies this all-things-armadillo attitude quite like the fact that barbecued armadillo and armadillo chili are popular delicacies in Texas. During the Great Depression Texans went as far as to stock their pantries with armadillos.

Every year, a significant number of people in southern United States walk into emergency rooms presenting with lesions of unknown origin. Read more>>

Is That Satellite Junk? Or An Important Piece of Australian History? by Elizabeth Howell

Please don’t go all Chicken Little on us, but do be aware: there’s thousands of pieces of metal orbiting above your head. Many of these satellites are dead (read: out of fuel and uncontrollable.) And if one happens to smash into another, the results could be catastrophic. Humans depend on satellites for everything from the Internet, to weather forecasts, to ATMs.

This is a growing problem that is preoccupying entities such as NASA, which has an Orbital Debris Program Office. The Europeans recently had aspace debris conference where experts estimated there is 1 billion Euros of infrastructure that must be protected. They called for some sort of retrieval solution as soon as possible. Read more>>


Printed solar cells as easy to produce as t-shirts! by Markus Hammonds

Australia is really taking the initiative in alternative energy production. The latest news is that a consortium of Australian researchers have succeeded in producing printable solar cells, in a process which might just have the potential to revolutionise solar power production across the continent. Perhaps, we can only hope, the world.

Succinctly, a new printer which has been installed at CSIRO is capable of printing solar cells the size of A3 sheets of paper – the largest ever created. Read more>>


Don’t forget to check the Weekly Science Picks #33Weekly Science Picks #34Weekly Science Picks #35,  and Weekly Science Picks #36.