Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

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A Great Leap Backwards

By Ian Lowe

Queensland’s new government has reduced support for solar energy and resolved to ban the teaching of climate science in schools.

Queensland, where I live most of the time, elected a Liberal–National Party government a few months ago. It seems to be doing a Great Leap Backwards.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

There’s Value in our Island Arks

By Justine Shaw

Investing in conservation management on Australian islands yields a great return.

Australia’s islands have biodiversity values that can be dis­proportionate to their size. Consider Barrow Island, which lies off north-west Western Australia and is home to 24 species that occur nowhere else on Earth (of which five are mammals).

Justine Shaw is a research fellow at the University of Queensland, and is part of the Environmental Decisions Group.

From Dresses to Dressings

Wine dress

Bacteria have been developed that can turn wine into a fabric that fits like a second skin. Credit: Ray Scott

By Magdeline Lum

Bacteria have been developed that can turn wine into a fabric that fits like a second skin, and the sexual health of female cyclists can be affected by cycling.

Bacteria have been developed that can turn wine into a fabric that fits like a second skin.

A multidisciplinary approach at the University of Western Australia could lead to a new generation of medical dressings made from microbes.

Homeopathy Watered Down?

By Peter Bowditch

Homeopaths are worried by changes to British and Dutch legislation, with Australia also under review.

In June the UK House of Commons issued a report entitled Homeopathy and the Consolidation of UK Medicines Legislation. It was a clarification of the effect that changes in legislation might have on the practice of homeopathy.

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

Biggest Eye on the Sky

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

Galileo would be over the Moon if he could see how his rudimentary invention has evolved! The world’s largest optical/infrared telescope has been given the initial go-ahead to be built. Called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), this long-proposed new ground based telescope will have a 40-metre main mirror and observe the universe in visible and infrared light.

We’ll be imaging exoplanets more closely than ever imagined, perhaps finding Earth-sized and even Earth-like worlds, and we’ll study the first galaxies that formed just after the Big Bang.

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

The “Good Enough” Education System

By Professor Mary O’Kane

Does Australia have the education system it needs for a vibrant economic future?

Concerns are expressed almost daily that while Australia has emerged relatively unscathed from the world economic crisis and is in the midst of a resources-driven boom, the country is facing a major challenge in the decline of its productivity growth.

Conventional wisdom tells us that for productivity growth to occur, a nation needs innovation, and a key enabler of that innovation is a strong education system.

Professor Mary O’Kane FTSE is the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer and also Executive Chairman of Mary O’Kane & Associates Pty Ltd, which advises governments, universities and the private sector on innovation, research education and development. She is also Chair of the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the CRC for Spatial Information.

The Earth Moves

By Stephen Luntz

Prof Mike Sandiford is putting recent earthquakes, and human activities, into geological context.

Moe’s June earthquake shocked many Victorians, but Prof Mike Sandiford of the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Sciences was relieved the event wasn’t larger.

“I grew up on the fault line,” Sandiford says. The Selwyn fault crosses the Mornington Peninsula from Cape Schanck to Dromana before running along the coastline to South Frankston, where it turns inland to the Dandenong Ranges. “We would hear earthquakes occasionally.”

Are We Ready for the Next Drought?

By Craig Simmons

After two La Niña summers, our level of concern about water security is inversely proportional to the water levels in our dams.

We’ve seen in the past 10 years or so that we are known as “a land of drought and flooding rains” for good reason. Over the first decade of this century, south-eastern Australia experienced its worst drought for 100 years. The reservoirs were emptying, there was daily press coverage and desalination plants began springing up across the country. And when you couldn’t water your garden every day, it felt real.

Professor Craig Simmons is Director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training at Flinders University.

A Particular Challenge

By Simon Grose

The biggest science story of 2012 poses a riddle about a particle locked in a field, wrapped in a mystery and out of the ordinary.

A golden rule for science journalism is never report or comment on something you don’t understand. So when CERN reported evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson it was time for research.

Dr Karl was quickly online to provide a ten-point explainer. He mentioned Lady Gaga, Hugh Jackman and the Loch Ness Monster, scoring high for entertainment but not so hot for physics education. Same for every other explanation that poured into cyber space.

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

Briefs

By Stephen Luntz

Brief bites of science news for subscribers only.

Soft Drinks Damage Eyes
Carbohydrate intake, particularly from soft drinks, has been correlated with narrower arteries in the back of children’s eyes. Narrowed arteries in the eyes are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure in future years.

“Children with a high consumption of soft drinks and carbohydrates had a more adverse microvascular profile compared to those who did not drink so many soft drinks or eat so many carbs,” said Dr Bamini Gopinath of Westmead Millennium Institute. The narrowing does not affect vision.