Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cover Story

Cover Story

The Olympic Dam Story

Olympic Dam image courtesy BHP Billiton

It’s easy to think that the sheer size of Olympic Dam made its discovery inevitable. Image courtesy BHP Billiton

By David Upton

The discovery of the Olympic Dam mine is a story of innovative geologists who defied conventional thinking, and the corporate leaders who maintained faith in them.

Aircraft were an unusual sight on the strip at Roxby Downs pastoral station, more than 500 km north of Adelaide. In fact, the only real flight activity all year was during livestock musters around March and September, when station owner Tom Allison would be up and down several times a day in his single-engined Cessna.

David Upton is author of The Olympic Dam Story. This is an extract.

Bloody Battle

Image © Commonwealth of Australia Department of Defence

Image © Commonwealth of Australia Department of Defence

By Geoffrey P. Dobson

Soldiers suffering catastrophic blood loss often die on the battlefield before they can be evacuated, but emerging science is targeting new ways to stabilise the heart and circulation to buy time and save lives.

Imagine that you are leading a special unit in pursuit of enemy insurgents along a mountainous track in low light conditions. You step onto a pressure plate buried just beneath the surface.

The explosion is massive. You hit the ground hard with both legs blown off. Your life has changed in a footstep.

After the dust and smoke clears, your mate arrives to assist. He sees your body rapidly bleeding out and going into shock, and notices the heel of your boot imbedded into a gaping hole in your abdomen. What can he do?

Geoffrey P. Dobson is Personal Chair of the Heart Research Laboratory at James Cook University. He is the founding director of Hibernation Therapeutics Global Pty Ltd ( and is the sole inventor on nine patents (issued and pending) relating to adenocaine. The research described here was recognised at the American Heart Association’s Resuscitation Science Symposium last year when he and MSc student Hayley Letson were awarded the best-of-the-best abstracts (trauma), and this year he was invited to present the resuscitation research at NATO’s Operations Medical Conference.

The Mouse Is Not Enough

The invasive nature of embryo retrieval has necessitated the use of a mammalian

The invasive nature of embryo retrieval has necessitated the use of a mammalian species that reproduces rapidly and is inexpensive to house – the mouse.

By Peter Pfeffer and Debra Berg

Fundamental differences in embryonic development mean that research using mice may not be reliably applied to other mammals, and that cattle embryos may be a better model for stem cell studies in humans.

New research has found that mice may not be the best model system for understanding early mammalian embryogenesis. Our study, published in Developmental Cell in February, identifies important differences in the timing of cell fate commitment during the development of mouse and cattle embryos.

Peter Pfeffer and Debra Berg are Senior Scientists at Agresearch in Hamilton, New Zealand.

It’s Evolution – But Not As We Know It

Cane toad

Perhaps some other process, not natural selection, is responsible for the evolved acceleration of the toad invasion.

By Rick Shine

The accelerating pace of the cane toad’s advance through tropical Australia has revealed a new mechanism of evolution.

Big ideas can appear when you least expect them, especially when you are busy working on some straightforward research project. That’s exactly what happened to me and my colleagues, Greg Brown and Ben Phillips, in the course of our ecological studies on the invasion of cane toads.

Rick Shine is a Professor in Biology at the University of Sydney.

The Evolution of the Inadequate Modern Male

The weak have inherited the Earth.

The weak have inherited the Earth.

By Peter McAllister

The superior strength, endurance and eyesight of ancient humans reveals that the weak have now inherited the Earth.

Very early in my career as an anthropologist I stumbled across a curious report about an mid-19th century Aboriginal man, a whaler called Thomas Chaseland, who was said to have extraordinary physical capabilities – particularly eyesight. Chaseland’s shipmates claimed he could see land from

Peter McAllister is an archaeologist and lecturer at Griffith University, and author of Manthropology (Hachette Australia).

A Nation of Creationists

Most Australian adults believe in divine creation over Darwinian evolution.

Most Australian adults believe in divine creation over Darwinian evolution.

By David Wilson

A survey of beliefs in the origin of life and the universe has found that the majority of Australians believe in creationism and theistic evolution.

Questions about the origins of our existence are among the most significant that a person may face. From where we came is, for many of us, crucial to understanding who we are and where we are going.

David Wilson is Head of the Surveillance and Evaluation Program for Public Health at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, University of NSW. He carried out this study while at the University of Newcastle.

Tiny Climate Changers

Marine plankton

Ecological processes among microscopic marine plankton can influence chemical cycling processes that ultimately control climate at the global scale.

By Justin Seymour

Marine microorganisms have profound impacts on the chemical cycling processes that influence global climate. Now their behaviours and preferences have been captured on video.

They may not be as conspicuous as fish, sharks and whales, but microbes are by far the most abundant organisms in the ocean. A teaspoon of seawater typically contains more than one million bacteria, which equates to more than 1028 bacteria across the global ocean. These bacteria are also extremely diverse, with recent estimates suggesting that a single bucket of seawater will host more than 25,000 different bacterial species.

Justin Seymour is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney.

The Truth About Impact Craters

Wolf Creek crater

Wolf Creek crater

By Fred Jourdan

The Earth is scarred from meteor impacts, but how old are they and do these ages match the dates of mass extinction events?

Asteroid and comet impacts have been central to the formation and evolution of our solar system, and represent one of the most important elements shaping planetary surfaces. Throughout their history, the solid planets of the inner part of the solar system have been intensely bombarded by meteors. The number of impacts has drastically decreased since the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago, but impacts have nevertheless played a crucial role throughout its history.

Fred Jourdan is a Senior Research Fellow at Curtin University.

How Does a Black Hole Eat Its Breakfast?

A large black hole

A large black hole located at the centre of an active galaxy. An accretion disk forms as matter falls inwards from the galaxy. The matter forms a spiral disc that is compressed and heated so that it begins emitting photons. The accretion disk becomes so hot that its radiation physically pushes matter away from the black hole, and accelerates gas into the jets that emerge from its poles.

By David Floyd

The bending of space–time by mass allows astronomers to peer deep into the universe, and they have begun to use this to probe one of the most enigmatic phenomena in the universe: the explosions of light surrounding black holes known as quasars.

Einstein postulated that all mass bends space–time, and that enough mass placed in a sufficiently small space will break it.

David Floyd is an Australian Astronomical Observatory “Magellan Fellow” and researcher at the University of Melbourne.

The Risky Business of Being Male


Male and female babies may need to be treated differently in the neonatal intensive care unit.

By Vicki Clifton

Female babies are more likely to survive a stressful pregnancy.

The earliest known English report of sex specific differences in foetal and neonatal outcomes was reported by Dr Josef Clarke in 1786. Clarke examined birth outcomes at the Lying-in Hospital in Dublin from 1757–84, recording the outcomes of more than 20,000 deliveries. He reported that male babies were more likely to die than females before and after birth.

These findings have been reported consistently in the literature to the present day. Males are 20% more likely to experience a poorer outcome during pregnancy than females, but we still don’t know why this occurs.

A/Prof Vicki Clifton is NHMRC Research Fellow at the Robinson Institute, University of Adelaide.