Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Hunting for the Higgs Boson

By Stephen Luntz

Geoff Taylor has played a key role in the discovery of the Higgs boson.

When the world was transfixed this year with the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson, Prof Geoff Taylor had reason to be particularly proud. Taylor led the Australian involvement in the ATLAS project, which was one of the big detectors responsible for the discovery. He had also played a part in ensuring the announcement was being made in his home city.

“I started this project in 1989, bringing together Melbourne and Sydney efforts,” Taylor says. “We were involved in design work on the hardware and simulations.”

Long-Term Toxicity of GM Maize

By Compiled by AusSMC

French research published in Food and Chemical Toxicology suggests that rats fed a diet containing a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize died more frequently and earlier than control groups. The study also suggests that females developed mammary tumours more often than and before controls.

“The current paper is far from convincing from a toxicological perspective. The study was based on 10 rats of each sex per treated group, and there was no consistency to any dose–response relationship, and much variability between the outcomes in the various groups. It was difficult to determine whether any effects on health or survival (if really present) were attributable to the GM maize, to the Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) or to neither. While the results were analysed using an unusual statistical technique, I felt that the authors substantially over-interpreted the findings.”

The Living World Below Us

The cave amphipod (Norcapensis mandibulis) is an endemic genus known from only four caves at an altitude of about 200 metres in Cape Range, WA. Photo: Bill Humphreys, Western Australian Museum

The cave amphipod (Norcapensis mandibulis) is an endemic genus known from only four caves at an altitude of about 200 metres in Cape Range, WA. Photo: Bill Humphreys, Western Australian Museum

By Mandy Thoo

Researchers are revealing the astonishing life in Australia’s underworld, leaving many intrigued about its role in the health of our groundwaters.

Beneath the very feet of Australians lives a mysterious group of animals known as stygofauna. Named after the River Styx, where dead souls cross from Earth to Hades in Greek mythology, these little creatures dwell in perpetual darkness in groundwater, and were long thought to be rare in Australia. Only in the past two decades has the startling richness and strangeness of this sub­terranean life come to light.

Mandy Thoo is a freelance science writer.

Don’t Always Trust What You See


There isn’t just one area in the brain devoted to vision.

By By Isabelle Mareschal & Colin Clifford

Recent behavioural tests reveal that patterns we can’t even discern can deceive us into seeing things differently from how they really are.

Although most people think that we see with our eyes, most of the hard work is actually performed by our brains. The eyes themselves simply transmit information, via nerve impulses generated in the retina, to the part of our brain at the back of our head devoted to “seeing”.

Colin Clifford is a Professor and Australian Future Fellow at the School of Psychology, University of Sydney and a Chief Investigator of the Australian Centre of Excellence in Vision Science. Isabelle Mareschal is a Research Fellow at the School of Psychology, University of Sydney and a research member of the Australian Centre of Excellence in Vision Science.

Sewage in Antarctica: A Drop in a Frozen Ocean?

The Davis Station wastewater outfall. Photo: J. Stark

The Davis Station wastewater outfall. Photo: J. Stark

By Jonathan Stark

Human activities are impacting Anatarctica’s once-pristine environment, with evidence of antibiotic resistance genes and sewage-related contaminants entering its food chain.

Most Antarctic research stations are situated on the coast, including all three of Australia’s stations. The simplest solution to sewage and wastewater disposal in coastal regions around the world is to discharge effluent into the sea. But how is this regarded under the Antarctic Treaty, and what are the potential impacts of this activity? Is it just a drop in a frozen ocean?

Jonathan Stark is a marine ecologist at the Australian Antarctic Division.

New Blood

Researchers are now discovering unexpected activities of blood stem cells by stu

Researchers are now discovering unexpected activities of blood stem cells by studying them during infection.

By Christopher Hall & Philip Crosier

Chemotherapy takes a huge toll on the immune system, but new research into blood stem cell proliferation could improve the recovery of patients.

Blood stem cells are rare cells that maintain appropriate numbers of mature blood cell types throughout life. They are important because they can replace the entire blood system when transplanted into patients with blood disorders. Identifying new ways to increase the number of these powerfully regenerative stem cells is an area of intense research.

Recent studies have revealed that the numbers of these cells increases during infection. This has led researchers to try and understand how the body instructs its pool of blood stem cells to expand in response to infection.

Christopher Hall is a Senior Research Fellow and Philip Crosier is a Professor of Molecular Medicine at The University of Auckland’s Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology.

Magnetic Medicine

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / teshimine

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / teshimine

By Nial Wheate

Magnetic fields could soon be used to direct drugs made with nano-sized balls of iron that take chemotherapy directly to tumours, thereby completely removing the side-effects usually associated with treatment.

When I meet new people and tell them that I work in cancer, there are always two questions that I’m immediately asked: are you going to cure cancer, and how long is it going to take? The answers are not what people expect and they’re usually thrown by my response. I tell them we already have drugs capable of curing cancer – the drugs we use now work well, but we need to use them better.

Nial Wheate is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Pharmacy.

How the Marketers Stole My Brain

We can tell not what are people thinking, but how people are thinking.

"We can give an insight into the mind and emotions of the people a company is trying to communicate with. We can tell not what are people thinking, but how people are thinking."

By Virginia Millen

Emotions play a large part in our purchasing decisions, so marketers are using neurological methods to tailor advertising campaigns that influence our attitudes to brands.

How do you decide which running shoes to buy? Why do you prefer the iPhone over all other smart phones? Why did smokers crave a cigarette after watching an ad designed to turn people off smoking, while non-smokers were disgusted by it? These are the questions advertisers, marketers and market researchers are constantly faced with and Swinburne Neuroscience Professor Richard Silberstein has some of the answers.

Virginia Millen writes for Swinburne University of Technology’s Venture magazine (

The Language of Emotions in Music

The enjoyment of music differs across dementia types.

The enjoyment of music differs across dementia types and could be something important to consider in the application of music therapies.

By Sharpley Hsieh

Patients who have been diagnosed with dementia are helping scientists determine which areas in the brain are necessary for identifying emotions in music.

Music is said to be like shorthand for emotions. The power of music to convey emotion is one of the main reasons people listen to and enjoy music.

The study of music and emotions in music is currently a hot topic in cognitive neuroscience. A number of important findings have surfaced in recent years to answer some important questions.

Sharpley Hsieh is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Frontier Frontotemporal Dementia Research Group at Neuroscience Research Australia.

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Glucose Absorption Gingered Up

Ginger has been used as a traditional medicine for many diseases, but its application to diabetes has been overlooked. Both animal and cell culture studies suggest it may assist with the uptake of blood glucose into muscle cells.