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ATSE column

When Gold Loses Its Glitter

By Denise Goldsworthy

The Gold Rush left behind thousands of mines that remain toxic to the environment. The mining sector needs to develop a national abandoned mine initiative to regain public trust.

Tens of thousands of forgotten mines puncture Australia, some even dating back to the Gold Rush. Some of these abandoned mines have become toxic to the environment, eroding the public’s trust in miners and regulators.

Unrehabilitated legacy mines number more than 50,000, including structures like shafts and tailing dams. While some are now protected as historically significant, others capture rainfall in pit voids and can leak acidic water into the ecosystem.

3D Printing of Bone

Credit: belekekin/Adobe

Credit: belekekin/Adobe

By Naomi Paxton

Hospitals are establishing 3D printing facilities that will make patient-specific bone tissue substitutes widely available.

Over the past decade, 3D printing has been making waves in many industries, from 3D printing mechanical parts for rockets and aircraft to large-scale 3D printing of low-cost housing and on-demand 3D printing of food and form-fitting fashion. The ability to extrude, deposit, bind or melt materials layer-by-layer into 3D structures offers a range of benefits over traditional subtractive manufacturing methods and injects personalisation and customisation into automated manufacturing.

The Rise of the Drones

By Jackie Craig

Drones were a military initiative but their widespread civilian adoption is outpacing efforts to regulate their use.

Last year I was starkly reminded of the rapid development, ease of accessibility and wide adoption of drone technology. I was rock climbing in the Italian Alps when a drone, operated by a hobbyist, appeared just above me, no doubt taking video footage of my efforts.

Driverless Cars Will Not Solve Traffic Congestion

By Graham Currie

Driverless cars are yet another lie we’ve been told about reducing congestion in our cities.

In 2005, Australian traffic congestion cost $9.4 billion, and by 2020 it will grow to $20.4 billion. Melbourne’s current population of five million will increase to eight million by 2050.

The pressure this places on transport is untenable. To my mind the solutions we have been sold are lies. Almost all of our investments have been roads, largely because most of us drive. We have invested billions in upgrading freeways, but did we ever solve the congestion problem, or did the problem get worse?

Biomimetics Draws from Nature’s Genius

By Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering

Nature is inspiring simple solutions to complex engineering problems.

In the days of Industry 1.0, nature was there to be tamed and conquered. It was external to humanity and reducible to an inexhaustible source of profit.

English poet William Blake’s “dark satanic mills”, which characterised the Industrial Revolution, were imposed on the landscape and blighted the environment. Waste was simply dumped into rivers and streams. Burning sea coal produced choking smoke to the extent that backed-up chimneys suffocated people in their beds.

Science Can Leverage Soft Power

By Kaye Basford

Australia is well-placed to use the expertise, networks and infrastructure of our science, technology and innovation sectors to leverage international influence.

American political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” in the 1980s, a term that helps explain how China quietly became a dominant global force. Soft power refers to the ability for a country to cement its position as a global leader – without force or coercion.

But unlike “hard power”, which we think of in terms of military might, soft power cannot be singularly measured. Nye splits it into three categories: cultural, ideological and institutional. And this is where science diplomacy comes in.

Solving the Gender Equation

Credit: momius/Adobe

Credit: momius/Adobe

By Bruce Godfrey

The SAGE program aims to engender balance in STEM professions.

We know that the engineering, technology and science professions have a very serious problem with gender balance – or rather the absence of anything approaching equality.

Australian women obtained more than 60% of undergraduate degrees in 2013. However, fewer than 10% of those employed in this country as engineers are women. There is change, but the rate is glacial.

Worldwide, women accounted for less than one-third of those employed in scientific R&D in 2014. In Australia, the science and technology picture for women is no better.

Risky Bias in Artificial Intelligence

By Mary-Anne Williams

Machine learning is intrinsically biased, but what can be done about it?

Why does the digital assistant Alexa giggle and speak of its own volition at random times throughout the day and night? Alexa is clueless as to why it is doing it, and Amazon cannot explain this bizarre – some say creepy – behaviour either.

Welcome to your AI-enabled future.

Artificial intelligence that can enhance and scale human expertise is profoundly changing our social and working lives, controlling how we perceive and interact with the physical and digital world.

The Energy Trilemma

By Hugh Bradlow

Clear direction is needed to direct the transition to cheap, reliable and carbon-neutral energy technologies.

We have three goals for our energy supply, two of which are uncontroversial: deliver electricity at the lowest cost to consumers and businesses, and ensure that the supply is reliable and secure. The latter implies that enough electricity is available instantly when required, and the former that an event on the grid – such as a wind turbine shutting down due to a lack of wind – does not cause the grid to become unstable.

Mineral Exploration Malaise Uncovered

By Robert Smith

The UNCOVER Initiative aims to revive Australia’s minerals exploration efforts.

Australia’s global mineral exploration spending has plunged by half in the past two decades. New discoveries have become rare, and of the 12 tier-one discoveries made globally in the past decade, none were Australian.

With the right technology and commitment from the Australian government, industry and research sectors, we can create new opportunities.

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