Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

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Feature article

I ❤ Lizard Venom

Dr Bryan Fry with a desert spotted monitor.

Dr Bryan Fry with a desert spotted monitor.

By Stephen Luntz

Toxins found in lizard venom can reduce blood pressure, opening the possibility of developing them as drugs to treat heart disease.

If “snake oil salesmen” is a term used to describe people who make false claims, what should we make of those who advocate the health properties of lizard venom? While such medicines are a long way from being approved, it is possible that recently discovered lizard venoms could indeed one day be used to treat heart disease.

Something Kind of Awesome

An elevated view of four of CSIRO’s new ASKAP antennas at the Murchison Radio-As

An elevated view of four of CSIRO’s new ASKAP antennas at the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory, October 2010. Credit: Ant Schinckel, CSIRO

By Brian Boyle

This month Australia and New Zealand join forces to submit their bid to host one of the biggest science projects ever – the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.

Radio astronomy provides us with a unique view of the universe – a view of the cold hydrogen gas between the stars, a view of exotic objects such as pulsars and quasars, a view through the obscuring dust, and a view of cosmic magnetic fields. This is a view that complements those obtained with optical, X-ray, microwave and gamma-ray telescopes, completing the electromagnetic symphony of the universe.

Brian Boyle is anzSKA Director.

The Big Twist

By Zheng-Xiang Li

Fossil magnetic needles in ancient Australian rocks have revealed that the continent underwent a 40° twist that split apart its most famous mineral provinces.

Everyone knows that the Australian continent is old and flat. Being such a vast and flat continent means there has been little tectonic activity within the continent for a very long time. In fact, the last major mountain-building event in Australia occurred more than 100 million years ago (Ma) along the continent’s younger east coast.

Zheng-Xiang Li is professor in geology and geophysics at the Institute for Geoscience Research, Curtin University.

Chiro for Kids?

Paediatric patients form a significant part of chiropractic care.

Paediatric patients form a significant proportion of chiropractic patients.

By Loretta Marron

Why is a university running a paediatric chiropractic clinic that targets the vulnerable parents of sick children?

I will never forget my early days at university, feeling both proud that I was clever enough to be there yet humbled to be part of an institution associated with “the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence”.

But now that’s all changed. With universities offering chiropractic degrees, my pride has turned to shame.

Loretta Marron was named Australia’s Skeptic of the Year in 2007.

Baby Blues

Mother and foetus

Studies of environmental risk factors, and the specific timing of these insults, is beginning to provide a better understanding of why schizophrenia develops in some individuals and not others.

By Desiree Dickerson

A mother’s immune response to influenza and other infections during pregnancy increases the risk of schizophrenia in her unborn child.

Schizophrenia is a chronic and disabling mental illness characterised by disrupted thoughts, emotions and behaviours. While affecting approximately 1% of the population, it also places a significant burden on family and friends, and commandeers a disproportionate share of mental health services.

Desiree Dickerson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

First Ladies of Science

Cathy Foley is President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technolo

Cathy Foley is President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies.

By Bill Mackey

Australasian Science profiles 12 women who have made outstanding contributions to science and technology in Australia. What are the secrets to their success, and what barriers did they have to overcome?

Lyn Beazley AO FTSE Chief Scientist of Western Australia
Lyn Beazley was appointed Chief Scientist of Western Australia in 2006 and was reappointed in 2009. She is also Professor in Zoology at the University of Western Australia, where her research career has spanned 30 years.

Beazley graduated from Oxford University before undertaking her doctorate at Edinburgh University.

Gender Barriers In Science

Studies of women scientists show that many consider their workplace to have an u

Studies of women scientists show that many consider their workplace to have an unfriendly culture.

By Stephen Luntz

Australia is losing a huge proportion of potential scientists as women drop out of science at a disturbingly high rate.

While similar numbers of women and men are studying science at university, women are less likely to maintain careers in science.

The obstacles to female scientists and engineers were thrashed out at Parliament House in April during the Women in Science and Engineering summit. More than a talkfest, the summit announced a number of initiatives to tackle the problem.

Droughts? Floods? Or Will We Run Out of Fuel First?

By James Ward & Simon Beecham

Does the impending arrival of “peak carbon” mean that alarming climate change scenarios need to be revised downwards?

For Australia’s water resource managers, one of the hottest topics is the impact of long-term climate change. Are Queensland’s floods and cyclones a sign of the future? Will there be more droughts in the Murray–Darling Basin?

The stakes are certainly high when it comes to the impacts of long-term climate change on water resources, and some of the predictions are indeed dire. But have you ever considered that there may not be enough carbon fuel available to burn to generate such severe changes in climate? Most people, it seems, have not.

James Ward is a Lecturer in Water and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Australia. Simon Beecham is Professor of Sustainable Water Resources and Head of the School of Natural and Built Environments at the University of South Australia.

Rig Recycling

Two tugboats pull the Perdido spar from Texas shore to Alaminos canyon, where it

Two tugboats pull the Perdido spar from Texas shore to Alaminos canyon, where it was secured to the seafloor in ~2450 metres of water. Photo: Shell

By Ashley Fowler, Peter Macreadie & David Booth

Some 6500 oil rigs are due for decommissioning by 2025 at a cost of $100 billion. Would they be more useful as artificial reefs?

Ask anyone whether obsolete oil industry structures should be left in the ocean, and the answer would likely be a resounding “Absolutely not!”. These large mechanical structures, including platforms, rigs and pipelines, are an unnatural intrusion into a pristine environment. Add to this the potential for active rigs to cause environmental catastrophes such as the Deep Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year and it’s no wonder they are considered necessary evils.

Ashley Fowler, Peter Macreadie and David Booth are with the Fish Ecology Laboratory at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Undervalued, underfunded, undermined… How science fared in the Budget

By Rod Lamberts

Once again the Federal Budget treated science as discretional spending rather than a key to the nation's competitiveness.

Anyone expecting undying gratitude from scientists should think again. MacGeekGrl/Flickr
The post-budget political rhetoric to me reinforces the underlying, ongoing, disdain that this, and indeed many previous, governments have for science-related matters in Australia.

Minister Carr is reported as saying that finding the “record” $3 billion to keep CSIRO going for the next four years “wasn’t easy".

While I applaud him for fighting the good fight to secure this cash, I’m still left feeling bewildered that a fight was even necessary.