The Highlights of 2013

This year our writers churned out a host of fantastic articles, including a series of posts dedicated to women in space, written by Sharon Harnett. One of the most notable of the series was all about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman astronaut. This year was the 50th anniversary of her historic spaceflight. We also had a few great interviews, including one with Henry Reich, creator of the YouTube series Minute Physics.  We’ve managed a number of achievements. We’ve helped several science writers gain exposure and reputation world wide, we’ve appeared on ABC’s Newsline, and we’ve been listed in TED’s top 10 science and technology websites.

So, in no particular order, here are ten of our favourite articles from 2013. We hope you’ll enjoy these stories. Stay curious and scientifically passionate!

A Tale of Two STEM Women by Buddhini Samarasinghe

When I first read this story, I was struck by how often we focus on happy stories like Marie Curie’s, and how the story of someone like Clara Immerwahr remains largely forgotten. She had a tremendous amount of potential, as evidenced by her being the first female to receive a Ph.D at the University of Breslau, an endeavor that is certainly not for the faint-hearted even now. One can only wonder at the ‘might-have-beens’ if she had had the same support and encouragement that Marie Curie did, if she had not married Haber, or if Haber had been a different kind of person. These examples highlight that talent alone is not enough; we need to encourage that talent by promoting equality and recognizing our own biases when it comes to women in STEM. Read more>>


Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman (in science) by Amy Reichelt

Obtaining a senior academic position for any aspiring young academic is one of those uphill struggles with roads lined with self doubt, setbacks and sacrifice. Some call it the way to tenure-track, in my mind it’s one of those ill-defined paths through a potentially haunted forest inhabited with monsters, gigantic poisonous spiders and creepy people who communicate by screaming. It can be harder still to even reach that point, particularly for young women. While the number of women professors in Europe, N. America and Australia has increased over the last decade, universities still have a disproportionately small number of women in senior professorial positions. Read more>>


Spiders on Mars? No, An Australian Radio Telescope! by Elizabeth Howell

The MWA is a powerful telescope in its own right, but what is even more exciting is it will form part of a larger project in the coming years. The Square Kilometre Array will link radio telescopes on two continents — Australia and Africa — to get a fine look at the sky in radio wavelengths. MWA is just one part of this array. There will also be dish receptors in eight countries in Africa, with the core and some mid-frequency aperture arrays in South Africa’s Karoo desert. Read more>> 


Hopeful results in latest HIV vaccine trial, but many hurdles to overcome yet by David Borradale

A HIV vaccine, known as SAV001-H has shown promising results in an early clinical trial, with no adverse effects reported and importantly, a significant increase reported in HIV specific antibodies in participants who received the vaccine. In this trial, 33 HIV positive participants were randomly allocated to one of two groups: half into a treatment group receiving the vaccine and half into a placebo group who did not receive the vaccine. The participants were followed up at regular periods, testing safety of the vaccine and antibody response over a one year period. Read more>>

Are Australians Really Getting Dumber? by  Magdeline Lum

The Australian Academy of Science has found that when it comes to science Australians are getting dumber in its latest report on science literacy. Compared to three years ago, less people in Australia know that the Earth’s orbit of the sun takes one year. Among 18-24 year olds 62% surveyed knew the correct answer, a fall from 74% three years ago. Other results would also send scientists into a tail spin of despair, with 27% of respondents saying that the earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs, though an improvement from 30% of respondents in 2010 who thought this. What does this all say? If you take the face value of the press release and the ensuing media coverage, Australians are getting dumber. Read more>>

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

Storytelling is one of our most fundamental communication methods, for an obvious reason: narrative helps us cognise information. Telling intelligible, coherent stories to both ourselves and others helps our brains to organise data about our lives and our world. But when we askwhy stories are so effective at helping us cognise information, the answers are surprising: it seems that somewhere in the otherwise ruthless process of natural selection, evolution has wired our brains to prefer storytelling over other forms of communication. Read more>>


Plastic’s Reach by Kelly Burnes

Plastic. Seems it has extended its reach into the farthest corners of the universe. An earliest post described how plastic has changed our lives, for better…and for worse. ADD link to earlier post. That post largely reflected on the growing problem of plastic in the oceans and the effect on plant and animal life. Now, it seems that plastic threatens our freshwater lakes now too. Read more>>


Postcard from Spitzer: weather on 2M2228 is hot and cloudy by Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

Long distance weather reports are now a commonality. The report for 2MASSJ22282889-431026 is somewhat unusual. It forecasts wind-driven, planet-sized clouds, with the light varying in time, brightening and dimming about every 90 minutes. The clouds on 2MASSJ22282889-431026 are composed of hot grains of sand, liquid drops of iron, and other exotic compounds. Definitely not the first place to spend a summer holiday. Not that 2MASSJ22282889-431026 (or 2M2228 as it is known in The Astrophysical Journal Letters) will appear on a travel itinerary anytime soon. For 2M2228 is a brown dwarf, 39.1 light years from earth. Read more>>


The bacteria that live inside hurricanes by Charles Ebikeme

Seven miles above the Earth’s surface, where the weather is born, lies the troposphere – the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere. Up there, where the clouds dance around, are bacteria that can make it rain, and are important for the formation of clouds. The atmospheric microbiome is a concept and field of study that is gaining importance. As we come to grips with a changing climate and environment, understanding more and more our Earth ecosystem remains vital. With hurricane damage in the US and elsewhere seemingly on an exponential increase in recent decades, it is important to mitigate for the worst. Read more>>


Quantum computing: Australian researchers store data on a single atom! by Markus Hammonds

Computing is also an incredibly fast moving field of technology, and research is finally taking us towards the exciting world of quantum computing! Quantum computers will work using quantum bits, or qubits for short, which are analogous to the digital bits used in computers like the one which you’re using to read this article. Recently, a team of engineers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has successfully demonstrated, for the first time ever, how a single atom can be act as a qubit, effectively showing the first step in building an ultra fast quantum computer. And they might just have created the best qubit ever made. Read more>>

Happy 2014 from Markus, Charles, Kevin, Kelly, and Danica!