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Feature article

A Matter of Taste

Image of tongue

While food preferences vary quite substantially in different cultures, hedonic responses to pure tastes in isolation are relatively independent of culture or diet in adults.

By John Prescott

Newborn babies will smile when they first taste sucrose and wrinkle their noses at the bitter taste of quinine. What is the adaptive significance of such innate responses to taste?

John Prescott is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Newcastle.

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It’s a Wiggly, Wiggly Universe

Image of cosmic microwave background

Figure 1. The Cosmic Microwave Background as revealed by NASA’s WMAP satellite. This is a picture of the whole sky in microwaves, and shows the fluctuations of matter in the Universe only 400,000 years after the Big Bang. The sky is covered in little hot and cold spots of size ~1°, corresponding to the distance sound can travel in the early Universe. Image: NASA / WMAP Science Team

By Karl Glazebrook

A map of the universe as it existed six billion years ago is close to completion, and may provide new insights into the physics of dark energy.

In the Beginning there was Light. But there was also Sound and Fury...

13.7 billion years ago our universe began in the Big Bang, when the whole of infinity was compressed to a singular point. While we do not yet understand the moment of singularity, cosmologists such as Stephen Hawking see that as their ultimate quest.

The Biggest Losers

An artist’s reconstruction of some extinct Australian animals (clockwise from top left): Genyornis newtoni, Diprotodon optatum, Procoptodon goliah, the thylacine (which survived in Tasmania until 1936), Thylacoleo carnifex (the biggest marsupial carnivore) and the giant lizard Megalania prisca. Image courtesy of the artist Peter Trusler and Australia Post

An artist’s reconstruction of some extinct Australian animals (clockwise from top left): Genyornis newtoni, Diprotodon optatum, Procoptodon goliah, the thylacine (which survived in Tasmania until 1936), Thylacoleo carnifex (the biggest marsupial carnivore) and the giant lizard Megalania prisca. Image courtesy of the artist Peter Trusler and Australia Post

By Richard “Bert” Roberts & Barry Brook

New evidence tightens the noose on humans as the decisive factor in the extinction of the last of the megafauna in Australia and North America.

Prof Richard ‘Bert’ Roberts is an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow in the Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Wollongong. Prof Barry Brook is the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change in The Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide.

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In Space No One Can Hear You Sneeze

Image of astronaut

Space is a harsh environment that presents several serious health risks to astronauts

By Elizabeth Blaber, Helder Marcal, John Foster & Brendan Burns

The altered gravity conditions of space can have serious detrimental effects on the health of astronauts. Understanding the cellular basis of this phenomenon could lead to better medical treatments on Earth.

Humans have gazed into the night sky for thousands of years and wondered what the billions of twinkling spots were that they could see. Different cultures have assigned their own meaning to the universe throughout the millennia, but rapid advances in research and technology are only just beginning to further our understanding of the nature and mysteries of the cosmos.

Fresh Water Using Geothermal Heat

By Hal GurGenci

Geothermal heat can provide cheap fresh water to homesteads and small townships in the outback by removing salt from brackish aquifers.

Hal Gurgenci is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Queensland, and the Director of the Queensland Geothermal Energy Centre of Excellence, which was established last year by a $15 million grant from the Queensland government.

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Freaks of the Sea

Image of freak wave

In 1978 the German cargo vessel MS München was struck by a freak wave 24–30 metres high. Image from Horizon – Freak Wave courtesy of BBC Worldwide. © BBC/Monkey Experiment

By Murray Rudman

Once the stuff of maritime legend, rogue waves up to 30 metres high have been detected by satellites, posing a significant threat to shipping and oil rigs. Now computational scientists are smashing virtual rogue waves into virtual oil and gas platforms to help design stronger, safer structures.

Dr Murray Rudman is Program Leader of Computational and Mathematical Modelling at CSIRO Mathematics, Informatics and Statistics in Melbourne.

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Reef Emissions Affect Climate

Image of reef

Reefs produce aerosols that affect rainfall locally.

By Graham Jones & Zoran Ristovski

Coral reefs produce a natural aerosol that creates clouds over the ocean and keeps sea surface temperatures stable – with implications for both reefs and rainforests.

Graham Jones is an Associate Professor in climate science at Southern Cross University, Lismore. Zoran Ristovski is an Associate Professor in atmospheric science at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

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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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