Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

conSCIENCE

conSCIENCE article

Reinventing the Lucky Country

By Ian Lowe

The challenges facing Australia in the 1960s have not been addressed, and a new challenge will need to be overcome before we can really become a lucky country.

A recent Academy of Science project found strong consensus for “a future Australia that is more caring, community-focused and fair than present-day Australia”. That would be a truly lucky country, a wonderful legacy to future generations.

Donald Horne described Australia in 1964 as “a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck”. The phrase “the lucky country” quickly became part of the language, though its message was often misrepresented by people who had not even read the book, or who had certainly not grasped its ironic meaning.

A Toxic Legacy from Firefighting Foams

By Mark Taylor and Isabella Cosenza

Australian communities and environmental systems adjacent to Defence sites, airports and firefighting training centres have been contaminated by toxic chemicals.

Over the past 12 months there has been a significant rise in awareness in Australia of the impact of perfluorinated chemicals on ground and surface water, soils, food and human health.

Myths about Carbon Storage in Soil

By Robert White and Brian Davidson

Goals of sequestering carbon in agricultural soil ignore the law of diminishing returns.

The idea that an increase in the carbon content of the world’s soils could substantially offset greenhouse gas emissions has been enthusiastically promoted by politicians and environmental groups. It arises because the amount of organic carbon in the world’s soils is impressive – some 1500 billion tonnes to a depth of 1 metre, which is about twice the amount of carbon in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Chemistry: 21st Century Science for the Global Economy

By Paul Mulvaney

It’s time for public recognition of the fact that, in a country where almost all of the 92 natural elements can be found, chemistry offers Australia sustainable economic prosperity.

Stem Cell Industry Must Tread a Fine Line

By Richard Harvey, Martin Pera and Megan Munsie

The emerging stem cell industry needs to be able to fast-track therapies into clinical trials without clearing the way for clinics to offer unproven therapies to vulnerable patients.

Mega-Banks Unleash an Infrastructure Tsunami

By William Laurance

The rise of investment bank lending for infrastructure projects in developing countries is driving a “feeding frenzy” of developments with lower environmental controls.

“If we don’t do it, a Chinese corporation will – and they’ll make a horrible mess of things.”

That is a direct quote from a biologist working for an environmental non-government organisation (NGO) in Cambodia. The German Development Bank had come to the NGO with a proposal to fund a paved road that would slice through the heart of the one of the most important protected areas in the country. They wanted the NGO to help them design the road in a way that would limit its environmental impacts.

Defence Takes Control over Australian Research

By Brendan Jones

A new law comes into force this month that puts scientists at risk of imprisonment and businesses at risk of losing their intellectual property.

On 2 April the Defence Trade Controls Act (DTCA) comes into force. This new law controls research into technologies that, in theory at least, could have military applications.

The Department of Defence’s 353-page list of such “dual-use” technologies (www.tinyurl.com/jcsm9ro) lays claim to just about every field of research, including infectious diseases, biotechnology, high-performance computers, robotics and artificial intelligence, encryption, electronics, manufacturing, and software for these applications.

Confucius Was Not a Qualified Career Adviser

Credit: Sunny studio

Credit: Sunny studio

By Kieran Carmichael

Turning your hobby into your job may not necessarily lead to happiness.

We have all heard the Confucius quote: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Steve Jobs told us all a similar message in his moving Stanford Commencement address.

The reasoning behind this is very intuitive. Most of us work around 38 hours per week – at least that’s all they pay us for – so if we could spend 38 hours per week being paid for doing the things we love doing, we would live a happy life. The problem is that it might not be so simple after all.

Bridging the Divide between Academia and Industry

okalinichenko/Adobe

Credit: okalinichenko/Adobe

By Derek Richard

The Science Next Collaborative is helping early- and mid-career researchers to make the leap from research to commercialisation.

In 2015, life sciences company Sigma-Aldrich approached a number of Australian academics, including myself, with the broad question: “How do we better equip our early- and mid-career researchers with the skills and resources that will allow them to bring their innovations and technical expertise to industry?”

This was an interesting question, as Australia is a global academic leader. Our research publications account for 3% of the world’s output even though we only have 0.3% of its population.

A Game-Changer for Nuclear Safety

By Tony Irwin

Nuclear energy modules are getting smaller and safer, making them viable options for remote communities.

Many people equate nuclear energy with the Fukushima disaster, and therefore consider it too dangerous to consider. But perhaps we should ask some questions before we dismiss what is an important source of low emissions electricity generation for many countries.

While modern nuclear reactors are much safer than the 1960s-designed reactors that were damaged at Fukushima, a recent advance in nuclear reactors is set to become a game-changer for safety.