Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


A round-up of the latest science and news from Australasia.

Quantum Tunnelling in an Instant

The discovery that quantum tunnelling is an instantaneous process could lead to faster and smaller electronic components and a better understanding of electron microscopy, nuclear fusion and DNA mutations.

“We have modelled the most delicate processes of nature very accurately,” says Prof Anatoli Kheifets of The Australian National University. “Time scales this short have never been explored before.”

Particles such as electrons have wave-like properties, and their exact position is not well defined. This means they can occasionally “tunnel” through apparently impenetrable barriers.

Tonsil and Adenoid Removal Resolves Sleep Apnoea Issues in Children

Children experiencing sleep difficulties continue to suffer health problems even during periods of so-called “normal” sleep, but new research has found that surgical removal of adenoids and tonsils reverses these problems and may lead to improvements in brain development and behaviour.

Supernovae Dust on Ocean Floor

Scientists examining heavy metals on the ocean floor have made a surprising discovery that could change the way we understand supernovae.

“Small amounts of debris from these distant explosions fall on the Earth as it travels through the galaxy,” explained Dr Anton Wallner of The Australian National University. “We’ve analysed galactic dust from the last 25 million years that has settled on the ocean and found there is much less of the heavy elements such as plutonium and uranium than we expected.”

Decaf Coffee May Be Good for the Liver

Researchers from the US National Cancer Institute report that decaffeinated coffee drinking may benefit liver health. Results of the study, published in Hepatology, show that higher coffee consumption, regardless of caffeine content, was linked to lower levels of abnormal liver enzymes. This suggests that chemical compounds in coffee other than caffeine may help protect the liver.

Optical Sensor Detects Trace Amounts of Explosives

A novel optical fibre sensor can detect minute concentrations of explosives in only a few minutes, according to research published in Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical.

“Traditionally explosives detection has involved looking for metals that encase them, such as in land mines,” says project leader Dr Georgios Tsiminis of the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing.

Star Formation Reduced in Galactic Groups

By Stephen Luntz

Galaxies in groups lose hydrogen gas as they move through the intergalactic medium, making it harder for them to form stars.

The process has previously been known in large galactic clusters, but has now been extended to galaxies in groups similar to our own.

Galaxies are formed out of huge clouds of gas, much of which gradually forms into stars. However, in clusters and groups of galaxies there is intergalactic medium stretching between the galaxies.

Burial Site Reveals Pre-history

By Stephen Luntz

A burial site in Vietnam provides insights into a hunter-gather population that inhabited South-East Asia more than 4500 years ago and is closely related to indigenous Australians and Melanesians.

More than 140 bodies are buried at Con Co Ngua in squatting positions with their hands clasped in their laps and their chins resting on their knees. Dr Marc Oxenham of the Australian National University’s School of Archaeology and Anthropology says the numbers indicate a substantial population for the area.

Turkey-Sized Dinosaur Found in Ancient Log-Jam

A dinosaur species discovered a decade ago in south-eastern Australia is giving fresh insights into the diversity of dinosaurs that inhabited the Australian–Antarctic rift valley.

The species, described in Peer J, was identified from fossilised tail and foot bones found in 113-million-year-old rocks that form a sea platform near Cape Otway in Victoria. The dinosaur has been named Diluvicursor pickeringi, meaning “Pickering’s flood-running dinosaur”. The species name honours the late David Pickering of Museums Victoria.

Introduced Megafauna Are Rewilding Ecosystems

Researchers have called for a reassessment of conservation values and attitudes surrounding introduced species following a study suggesting that large herbivores introduced to new regions are rewilding modern ecosystems.

When Neanderthals Walked with Modern Humans

Archaeologists at The Australian National University and The University of Sydney have opened a window into one of the most exciting periods in human history – the transition between Neanderthals and modern humans.