Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Feature article

How much free will do we have?

By Tim Wetherell

Quantum mechanics may be even spookier than we thought.

Quantum mechanics is inherently statistical in that it can tell you the probability of something like a nucleus emitting an alpha particle in a given time, but it can’t tell you exactly when or how. In the early days of quantum mechanics this caused great consternation for many scientists, including Einstein whose dislike of this apparent randomness prompted him to protest “God does not play dice!”

Source: ANU

What’s Missing from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

By Robert White

How can up to 30% of the Murray-Darling Basin's water allocations be recovered?

There is no doubt that one of the most crucial issues for water management in Australia today concerns the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), a region where most of our irrigated agriculture occurs and which accounts for 39% of agricultural production.

Nuclear Spring?

Nuclear power station

Australians would prefer renewable energy sources over the nuclear option, but seem likely to accept nuclear power stations if it will help tackle climate change and improve energy security

By Deanne K. Bird, Katharine Haynes, Rob van den Honert and John McAneney

New research shows that the Australian public may accept nuclear energy if it will help tackle climate change.

In contrast to many other countries, and despite having large uranium reserves, Australia does not generate power from nuclear fission.

Deanne K. Bird, Katharine Haynes, Rob van den Honert and John McAneney are with Risk Frontiers, Natural Hazards Research Centre at Macquarie University.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Drought Away

The fruit industry used 2.6% of water extracted from the Murray-Darling Basin.

The fruit industry used 2.6% of water extracted from the Murray-Darling Basin.

By Geoff Russell

Think twice the next time you see fruit trees portrayed in media reports about diminishing water allocations in the Murray–Darling Basin.

I imagine that most people have seen eco-footprint figures about the number of litres of water needed to produce a kilogram of this or that food. Or figures about how much energy is consumed during the production of meat, coffee, chocolate or rice.

Yet some significant aspects of the environmental footprints of different foods are rarely considered. A recent University of Queensland study has connected the current problems in the Murray–Darling Basin with the production of large per capita quantities of animal products.

Geoff Russell is a member of Animal Liberation and author of CSIRO Perfidy, in which he argues that The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet is the most environmentally destructive diet on the planet. This article is a reworking of a piece originally published on

A Bonsai Black Hole in Our Own Backyard

Radio image of Fornax A

Radio image of Fornax A, an iconic radio galaxy with extended lobes (orange). The grey region between the lobes is stellar light from the much smaller host galaxy. Fomalont et al. 1989, Astrophysical Journal Letters, 346, 17.

By Robert Soria

The discovery of powerful jets from a nearby black hole reveals new clues about the behaviour of massive quasars in the early universe.

Black holes are popularly portrayed as a place of darkness and gloom, but to astronomers they are the cleanest and most efficient source of energy in the universe. The recent discovery of a very large glowing bubble of ionised gas inflated and heated by a black hole in the nearby galaxy NGC 7793 helps us to understand their role as cosmic powerhouses.

Roberto Soria is a research fellow at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and will join the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy in Perth this year.

Forest Phoenix

Tree ferns were producing new fronds within months of the fire.

Tree ferns were producing new fronds within months of the fire. Credit: Forest Phoenix (CSIRO Publishing)

By David Lindenmayer, David Blair, Lachlan McBurney and Sam Banks

How well have animals and plants recovered after Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires 2 years ago?

The February 2009 wildfires were devastating for Victoria and its people – the worst in the nation’s history in terms of lost life and damage to property. The environmental impacts were also profound, and many spectacular stands of forest were burnt, including ones like the giant mountain ash forests where we have worked for more than 27 years. These forests were portrayed in the media as “destroyed”, but they weren’t. They have begun to recover, often in quite spectacular and unexpected ways.

How the Plants Recover

David Lindenmayer, David Blair, Lachlan McBurney and Sam Banks of The Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society are authors of Forest Phoenix: How A Great Forest Recovers After Fire, which is published by CSIRO Publishing and available at

Ancient Genes Reveal Our Precambrian Ancestor

The Amphimedon sponge

The Amphimedon sponge (shown here inside a pink soft coral) is the first sponge to have its genome sequenced. Photo: Maely Gauthier

By Claire Larroux

The genome of a sponge found on the Great Barrier Reef is helping scientists to reconstruct the 600 million-year-old ancestor of the entire animal kingdom.

One of the great questions in evolution is how complexity evolves. How does one go from a single-celled organism to a complex animal?

Fossils appear to tell us that most animal forms we know today arose in a short window of time during the Cambrian explosion approximately 540 million years ago. Creationists use this sudden appearance of complex animals to deny that evolution occurs.

Claire Larroux completed her PhD at the University of Queensland, and is now a Humboldt postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Palaeontology & Geobiology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.

In Deep Guano

Christopher Wurster digging a guano pile in Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Malaysia.

Christopher Wurster digging a guano pile in Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Malaysia.

By Christopher Wurster

Deep deposits of guano are revealing why South-East Asia is a biodiversity hotspot.

We arrived at mid-day after following an obscure dirt track somewhere in the middle of Sonora, Mexico. The plan was to find the cave with the help of some coordinates I had grabbed from a scientific paper.

After arriving at the spot using the latest in technology at the time, a bulky hand-held GPS, the three of us looked around. We were standing on flat, low ground containing desert scrub, and could see around us fairly well. The nearest hill rose just a little above the horizon.

“Well, the coordinates are wrong,” Matt smiled as he spoke.

“Let’s get looking,” I said.

Christopher Wurster is a Senior Research Associate at James Cook University.

Resurrecting a Wonder Drug

African clawed frog

Eggs from the African clawed frog have enabled scientists to determine how malaria parasites developed resistance to chloroquine.

By Tegan Dolstra

As the malaria parasite pits its all against the only treatment still standing, award-winning research has revealed the secret to reviving the most successful antimalarial drug in history.

More than one million people die from malaria every year, but this figure could be about to expand dramatically. The parasite responsible for 95% of fatal malaria cases has begun to develop resistance to artemisinin, the only undefeated treatment available. In the absence of a vaccine, the spread of artemisinin resistance through the parasite population will spell disaster.

Tegan Dolstra is a PhD student in the Australian National University’s Research School of Biology.

The Fish Cleaners

Tropical fish the sailfin tang visits a cleaner fish.

Tropical fish the sailfin tang visits a cleaner fish.

By Stephen Luntz

Not all cleaner fish are trustworthy, so why don’t more of them get eaten?

Cleaner fish provide a fascinating insight into the workings of evolution. Dr Lexa Grutter of the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences has pioneered research into this vital component of coral reef ecosystems. She has now added these stunning images to her insights, many of which have been reported in Australasian Science in the past.