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Bioperversity in the Plantation

By David Salt

A narrow focus on carbon in commercial plantations could yield a number of unwelcome surprises.

Like it or not, the carbon economy is coming to town. No one can predict exactly what it will look like, but the bottom line is that emitting or capturing carbon is going to have a price.

One of the expected consequences of this is that income from carbon offsetting will drive major land management changes. Land owners will be shifting land to higher carbon storage states by transforming the vegetation cover. Many people say this is a good thing, with the potential to restore degraded land and better protect biodiversity.

David Salt is a science writer at the Australian National University and is part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions.

When Religion and Medicine Disagree

By Peter Bowditch

Should doctors be able to overrule parents who refuse life-saving treatments for their children due to religious beliefs?

Many people would be aware that members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith reject blood transfusions on religious grounds. While it must be distressing for doctors to have to withhold a transfusion when it would save someone’s life, we generally allow adults to make decisions that affect their own lives.

In the case of children, however, we take a different attitude. Courts in Australia have ruled as recently as June this year that transfusions can be given to the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite the objections of the parents, if they are done to save the child’s life.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

Black Holes Grow Fat by Eating Stars

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

Black holes are objects in space so dense that not even light can escape their gravity, although powerful jets of light and energy can be emitted from a black hole’s vicinity as gas and stars are sucked into it.

Small black holes result from the collapse of individual stars, but the centres of most galaxies – including our own Milky Way – are occupied by supermassive black holes with masses between one million and ten billion times that of our Sun.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Costly Copulation

By Magdeline Lum

Wasps and bats upsize their meals when they catch prey that are in the act of mating.

In 2010 Australian plague locusts (Chortoicetes terminifera) descended on farming land and communities throughout Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria after a decade of drought had been broken by rainfall. While the locusts were feeding and damaging grazing areas and gardens in agricultural areas, Dr Darrell Kemp from the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University was observing parasitoid digger wasps (Sphex cognatus) entombing mating pairs of locusts.

Let’s Get Positive about Innovation

By Alan Finkel

Recognition and acceptance that we will fail from time to time is a necessary part of belief that we can succeed.

Research and innovation – converting money into knowledge and then knowledge into money – is a virtuous circle that we aspire to in Australia, but the process often ends up as a virtuous arc with a gap at the innovation step.

Research and innovation are tightly coupled. If we concentrate just on one or the other we won’t enjoy the best possible outcomes for the country.

Dr Alan Finkel AM FTSE is Chancellor of Monash University, President-elect of ATSE, former CTO of Better Place Australia and Chairman of the Australian Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics. For 20 years Dr Finkel ran Axon Instruments, an American company that made electronic instruments used by pharmaceutical companies. He established the Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience to provide advanced training to young scientists and the STELR secondary school science program, administered by ATSE, which is currently running in nearly 300 secondary schools around Australia.

Early Autism Diagnosis

By Stephen Luntz

Josie Barbaro has pioneered a new method of autism diagnosis, and many children are already reaping the benefits.

Thousands of autistic children are deprived of the chance to reach their potential as a result of not being diagnosed sufficiently early. Dr Josie Barbaro’s PhD thesis explored using maternal and child health care centres to address this problem, and the awards she has won in the process confirm the excitement her work is generating.

Not long ago only one American child in 10,000 was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but that rate is now one in 88. The shift is largely a result of alterations to the definition and better diagnosis, but the increase has caused alarm.

A Critical Juncture for Intellectual Property

By Christoph Antons

Efforts to establish a global IP authority have provoked debate over where intellectual property becomes theft and piracy becomes community action.

In early July, the European Parliament voted against the ratification of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which had triggered demonstrations in various countries. The treaty intensified a debate in the media about the reform of intellectual property in general and copyright in particular. This reform has also become a primary agenda of the Pirate Parties that recently entered several parliaments at local, state and European level.

Professor Antons is a Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at Deakin University’s School of Law.

Two Tales from the City

By Simon Grose

The Nobel Laureate and the Minister choose different drinks at the Australian Innovation Bar.

Recently Canberra’s inner halls heard two divergent takes on Australia’s ability to translate research into commerce.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

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By Stephen Luntz

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GPS Signal Bending Improves Weather Forecasts
A new way of measuring atmospheric conditions is proving particularly valuable in Australia, increasing the accuracy of weather forecasts and climate modelling.

The world has become accustomed to the use of satellites for weather forecasting, but the infrared measurements used over the past few decades only provide part of the picture needed for accurate predictions.

Briefs

By Stephen Luntz

Chocolate, mango and blueberry benefits, forensic advances and more.

An Atom’s Shadow
For the first time the shadow of a single atom has been photographed, an event recorded in Nature Communications.

“We wanted to investigate how few atoms are required to cast a shadow, and we proved it takes just one,” said Prof Kielpinski of Griffith University’s Centre for Quantum Dynamics. An ytterbium atom was chosen because lasers with the appropriate frequency for absorption are relatively cheap.

“If we change the frequency of the light we shine on the atom by just one part in a billion, the image can no longer be seen,” Kielpinski said.