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Feature article

Mining with Microbes

Sampling from acidic saline drains in Western Australia.

Sampling from acidic saline drains in Western Australia.

By Carla Zammit

High salt concentrations in Western Australian groundwater have restricted the mining industry’s use of microorganisms to extract metals from their ores. Until now.

Carla Zammit completed this study during her PhD at Curtin University and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Adelaide.

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Aluminium Production: A More Sustainable Future

Aluminium cans

Alcoa has designed a large-scale bioreactor that can degrade up to 40 tonnes per day of oxalate produced at one of its aluminium refineries.

By Naomi McSweeney

Bacteria that consume sodium oxalate have the potential to reduce the environmental footprint of aluminium production while saving the industry millions.

Naomi McSweeney is a PhD Student with CSIRO’s Light Metals Flagship.

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The Scientific Legacy of Burke & Wills

The camp site at Menindee

The camp site at Menindee where a base party remained behind for several months while an advance party continued north under Burke’s leadership.

By Bernie Joyce and Doug McCann

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the deaths of Burke and Wills. The expedition was originally considered a failure, but more recent analysis has changed that view.

Bernie Joyce works is an Honorary Principal Fellow in the School of Earth Sciences at The University of Melbourne. Doug McCann is a science historian and Fellow of the School of Earth Sciences at The University of Melbourne. This article was originally published in The Australian Geologist. As part of the 150th Anniversary Commemoration of the Burke and Wills Expedition, the Royal Society of Victoria has engaged a team of authors including surveyor Frank Leahy to produce a book on the scientific legacy of the Burke and Wills Expedition and the supporting relief expeditions. For further information see www.burkeandwills150.info

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Balancing Act

Ballerina

Moving effortlessly through the world and maintaining balance requires the use of specific areas in the brain that specialise in the processing of the information required for us to be able to do them.

By Mark Edwards and Michael Ibbotson

What can an earthquake simulator tell us about how our visual and vestibular systems communicate with each other to help us balance?

Mark Edwards is an Associate Professor at the Australian National University’s Department of Psychology. Michael Ibbotson is a Professor in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science at the Australian National University.

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Drug Labs Leave Lethal Legacy

Drug lab

Criminal gangs can rent a property briefly, cook up their lucrative brew, chuck the waste down the drain then take off – leaving others to cop harmful side-effects that can last for years.

By Julian Cribb

Mobile methamphetamine labs leave behind a deadly cocktail of contaminants in residential neighbourhoods – with property owners left to pay for the considerable clean-up costs.

Julian Cribb is a freelance science writer.

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Cryptic Clues to Species Diversity

The clawless gecko  actually consists of ten or more species.

The clawless gecko (Crenadactylus ocellatus) actually consists of ten or more different species.

By Paul Oliver

Genetic research is revealing how much we have seriously underestimated species diversity in many Australian vertebrate groups.

Paul Oliver recently completed his PhD on the evolution, systematics and diversity of Australian geckos, and currently works at the South Australian Museum.

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Ice, an Asteroid Impact and the Rise of Complex Life

Iceberg

An iceberg carrying rock debris into the Antarctic Ocean near Casey Station. Photo: David Wakil

By Victor Gostin, David McKirdy and George Williams

An asteroid impact in southern Australia is redefining the conditions that preceded the explosion of multicellular life more than 500 million years ago.

Victor Gostin, David McKirdy and George Williams are with the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide.

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Conducting Plastics for the Bionic Man

Bionic arm

Conducting polymers provide several advantages over standard metal electrodes, and in the future they are likely to be integral in the development of the next generation of implants.

By Rylie Green

Plastics that conduct electricity could bring the bionic man from science fiction to reality.

Rylie Green is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of NSW Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering.

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The Orbital Junkyard

Space junk

New technology can warn whether a piece of junk poses a threat to a spacecraft, and if so in which direction the craft should move.

By Stephen Luntz

Satellites are under threat from about 500,000 pieces of space junk, but new Australian technology can now track the orbit of debris as small as 1 cm to within 1 metre.

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A Blind Eye to Love

The eyes convey a vast range of emotional cues.

The eyes convey a vast range of emotional cues that help us get along with, and understand, each other

By Bob Beale

Lack of interest in holding a mother’s gaze may be an early indicator of problems to come, such as serious crime, violence and drug-taking.

Bob Beale is Public Affairs Manager at the University of NSW Faculty of Science.

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