Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Quirky experiments and conclusions

A Piece of String is Better to Check for Body Fat than BMI

By Magdeline Lum

Body Mass Index may not be the best measure of obesity and risk of cardiovascular disease.

New research published at this year’s European Congress on Obesity in Prague suggests that a piece of string can provide a more accurate measure of weight gain than the Body Mass Index (BMI). Currently most doctors use BMI to determine whether a patient is at risk of disease, but the use of BMI is becoming contentious as there is evidence that it can overestimate the danger posed to people who have a large muscle mass or a heavy bone structure.

Why We Can’t Resist Puppy Dog Eyes

By Magdeline Lum

Looking into the eyes of dogs activates the hormonal response that bonds adults to babies.

Dogs are renowned for their ability to interact with humans. There is an unspoken understanding between dogs and humans that is not matched by other human animal interactions.

For example, if you point at an object a dog will intuitively look at where you are pointing in an understanding that you are trying to show it something. This communication is not picked up by chimpanzees, which share 98% of the same DNA with us.

People and dogs also look into each other’s eyes while interacting. A wolf, the closest relatives of dogs, views this as a potential threat.

It’s Not How Big It Is, Is It?

By Guy Nolch

A review has determined the average penis length in men, while those with erectile dysfunction may benefit from a treatment using a by-product of liposuction. Meanwhile, there is a link between corruption and antibiotic resistance.

Urban legend has it that men are somewhat preoccupied with the size of their penis. While penis length and girth can be the subject of much snickering, some men can become so distressed by feelings of inadequacy that they may even be diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder.

Despite this there have been no formal systematic reviews of penis size measurements, and no attempts to graph the distribution of the size of a flaccid or erect penis. Until now.

New York Subway Home to Bubonic Plague and Anthrax

By Magdeline Lum

Traces of DNA sampled across New York’s subway have revealed a trail of anthrax, bubonic plague and drug-resistant microbes.

An extensive survey of the traces of DNA left behind by New Yorkers include a trail of anthrax, drug-resistant microbes, cheese and sausage throughout the network of the New York City subway.

Humans are home to a diverse variety of bacteria. The average person is home to approximately 100 trillion microbial cells. This outnumbers human cells by a ratio of 10:1. They make up 36% of active molecules in the human bloodstream, and some life processes we take for granted would not happen without them. We need the bacteria as much as they need us to live.

An App Knows You Better than Your Real Life Friends

By Magdeline Lum

Facebook “likes” can profile your personality more accurately than your friends and co-workers.

An app on Facebook has proven to be a better judge of personality than close friends and family. A study led by a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University recruited 86,220 volunteers who provided access to their Facebook “likes”.

The Unromantic Truth About Kissing


Credit: purmar/iStockphoto

By Magdeline Lum

When couples kiss intimately for 10 seconds they transfer 80 million bacteria.

Up to 80 million bacteria are transferred during a 10-second kiss, and couples that kiss up to nine times a day have similar communities of oral bacteria according to research published in Microbiome.

This number pales in comparison to the 100 trillion microbes that live in our bodies and are essential for digesting food and preventing disease. The human mouth is home to around 700 varieties of the bacteria living in the human body.

How Slippery Is a Banana Peel?

By Magdeline Lum

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes had a focus on weird science involving food.

The 2014 Ig Nobel Physics Prize has been awarded to a team led by Kiyoshi Mabuchi of Kitsato University. The team studied the “Frictional coefficient under banana skin” to answer the age old question of how slippery a banana skin is.

Banana skins were placed on a plate to measure the coefficient of friction that results from an applied force. It was found that the banana skin with its interior side facing down on the plate was six times more slippery in comparison to a plate without being treated with a banana skin.

How a Chip Packet Can Sterilise Water

By Magdeline Lum

Chip packaging is providing a cheap material for a water purification system in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and a “salmon cannon” is helping salmon swim upstream.

A group of University of Adelaide mechanical engineering students and staff have designed a low-cost water treatment system that is easily constructed in remote communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG). This water treatment system consists of foil chip packets and a length of glass tubing.

The low-tech water treatment system exploits UV-A radiation to kill pathogens in water in a continuous feed set-up. The materials chosen are readily available in PNG. The team’s motivation for design and implementation was to avoid what is known as a “white man solution”.

Like OMG!!! Texting Isn’t Ruining Grammar

By Magdeline Lum

The use of text slang does not correlate with bad grammar and spelling in young people.

The use of non-standard English in text messaging – such as “to” or “too” written as “2”, or “people” written as “ppl” – is considered a risk that alternative spellings will creep into formal writing, but new research is showing the opposite. In fact, texting is associated with better literacy skills.

Researchers at Coventry University in the United Kingdom examined the text messages of 243 participants from primary school, high school and university, and analysed them for violations of standard English grammar. There were three most common types of violation:

The Bee Sting Pain Index

By Magdeline Lum

A PhD student has subjected himself to repeated bee stings over 38 days to compare the most painful places to be stung.

Research published in PeerJ has produced the first preliminary bee sting pain index to compare the severity of pain between sting sites. PhD candidate Michael Smith of Cornell University subjected himself to bee stings over 38 days to compile the index.