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Feature article

How Australia Dried Out

Image of ancient lake

Sediments of the ancient Lake Bungunnia near Rufus River in western NSW. The white horizon is the dust layer marking the start of arid climatic regimes. Photo: Richard Stanaway

By Sandra McLaren & Malcolm Wallace

Lake Bungunnia, a megalake that existed 1–2 million years ago in today’s Murray–Darling Basin, reveals the story and timing of the onset of arid climatic conditions in south-eastern Australia.

Dr Sandra McLaren and Dr Malcolm Wallace are from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. This article is based on their research published recently in the journal Global and Planetary Change.

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The First Breath

Image of lungfish ribs

The cranial ribs in the Australian lungfish Neoceratodus forsteri are needed to anchor the pectoral girdle, allowing the fish to raise its head to gulp air. Image adapted from Johanson et al. 2005.

By Alice Clement

A new fossil find shows that a global decline in oxygen millions of years ago drove the evolution of air-breathing in lungfishes.

Alice Clement is a PhD student at the Research School of Earth Sciences of the Australian National University and Museum Victoria, where she is studying lungfish evolution and anatomy.

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Entropy Theories in State of Disorder

Image of Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking in freefall flight on board a modified Boeing 727 jet that completes a series of steep ascents and dives to create short periods of weightlessness due to freefall. During this flight Hawking experienced eight such periods. Now one of his theories about entropy is in freefall too. Photo: NASA

By Stephen Luntz

Australian researchers have found that there is more disorder in the universe than previously realised – and that one of Stephen Hawking’s assumptions is probably wrong.

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Neutrino Hint from Radioactivity Puzzle

By Peter Pockley

The discovery that the decay rates of radioactive isotopes may not be immutable "constants of nature" could open fresh ways of detecting neutrinos and protecting astronauts and satellites in space.

Read this article in Australasian Science Magazine (print only).

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A Mystery of Astronomical Proportions

By Christine Nicholls

At least one-third of all red giant stars have a mysterious variation in brightness that has astronomers stumped.

Read this article in Australasian Science Magazine (print only).

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Rise of the Machines

By Trevor Lithgow

The cells in our body work because of the many "molecular machines" within them – but where did these machines comes from?

Read this article in Australasian Science Magazine (print only).

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Sea Slugs Turn up Heat on Bleaching

By Ingo Burghardt

Symbiotic sea slugs employ similar zooxanthellae species as corals, offering fresh insights into why heat-stressed corals bleach.

Read this article in Australasian Science Magazine (print only).

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NASA's Uncharted Future

By Morris Jones

What does the scrapping of NASA's plans to revisit the Moon mean for space exploration?

Read this article in Australasian Science Magazine (print only).

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Can Mimicking Nature Quench Our Thirst?

African Stenocara beetle

photo: Hans Hillewaert

By Stuart Thickett, Chiara Neto and Andrew Harris

Patterned polymer surfaces based on the African Stenocara beetle could be applied to our roofs to collect drinking water from the atmosphere.

Maintaining a stable supply of drinking water in Australia is a continual challenge. In 2006 the drought that gripped most of the Australian mainland was termed “the worst drought in 1000 years”, with the once-ferocious Murray River receiving only 5% of its average inflow.

A Matter Of Time

image of woman holding her bowed and bald head in hands

photo: iStockphoto

By Martin Ashdown and Brendon Coventry

Successful treatment of cancer may depend on the accurate timing of chemotherapy or vaccine therapies to match fluctuations in each patient’s immune system.

Not all cancer patients are cured by chemotherapy, biological therapies, radiotherapy or surgery. Some patients can have complete regression of all cancer, while others do not appear to be responding or show some level of clinical response but not enough to overcome the tumour.

This variability has remained unexplained for many decades, and at the end of this week about 800 Australians with cancer will be dead. In the US the numbers will be close to 12,000 per week.