Blog Climate 17 January 2018
The hunt is on outstanding climate change activists.
The hunt is on outstanding climate change activists.
Tobias Titz/Getty Images

The organisers of the premier Australian gathering of climate scientists and advocates — Climate Adaptation (CA) 2018 —have issued a call for nominations for this year’s Climate Adaptation Champions. The conference, set to take place in the Australian city of Melbourne from May 8 to 10, is a collaborative effort between the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) and Engineers Australia.

Nominations fall into four broad categories — individual, community, business, and government. So, if you know of a teacher, neighbourhood group, local store or non-government association working tirelessly to spread the word about the need for climate adaptation, now is the time to act.

Nominate your champion by February 28 to help promote innovative and ingenious ways to tackle the impact of climate change.

The winners will have their registration and travel costs covered for the conference, where they will be presented their awards. The event will see many national and international speakers share their expertise. Attendees will hear keynote addresses from Mark Crosweller, director-general of Emergency Management Australia, and Hallie Eakin, a senior lecturer at Arizona University whose work ranges from consultation with the World Bank to working for the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Climate scientists wishing to make a presentation at the event still have time to apply. Abstracts should be submitted by February 2.

To find out how to register, click here.

Blog Technology 16 January 2018
Chinese social media platform WeChat hosts a fresh and vibrant science publication.
Chinese social media platform WeChat hosts a fresh and vibrant science publication.
studioEAST/Getty Images

The announcement of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2018 EurekAlert! Fellowships for International Science Reporters includes a couple of firsts for science writing – namely, acknowledging an app-only news service as a solid source of journalism, and including a Balkan writer among the winners.

Xiaoxue Chen, who publishes using the Chinese mobile app WeChat to get her work out to the public, has been recognised and rewarded for her work. Chen is the editor of The Intellectual, which is based in Beijing, China. WeChat boasts more than 938 million users.

Fellowship winner Juliana Photopoulos, based in Greece, is the first writer to be honoured for covering science in the Balkan region.

The EurekAlert! prizes are given to early career journalists from emerging economies to acknowledge their contributions and help forward their work by enabling them to attend the AAAS annual meeting, which this year will be held in Austin, Texas in the US in February.

The other journalists recognised include two from India – Aayushi Pratap and Vijay Shankar Balakrishnan – whose coverage includes tackling health issues in the subcontinent.

Blog Chemistry 11 January 2018
The Leaf.
The Leaf.
Ji Soo Lee, Mac.Robertson High Girls School

While the latest issue of Cosmos magazine features the works and words of some of the world’s best science-inspired artists, we’re also inspired by the educational possibilities of the intersection of science and art. At one high school in the Australian city of Melbourne a unit called “Chemists as Artists” has students produce a piece of art representing their personal experience of science.

In doing so students at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School are expected to both understand chemical concepts and to view the world through a ‘chemistry lens’. “Chemistry is not something that occurs only in a laboratory,” says program coordinator Fiona Donohue. “We wanted our students to develop the skills to think creatively about our world and our place in it and be able to engage others with that way of thinking by expressing their ideas about science through art.

The above featured artwork – The Leaf, ceramic, by Year 9 student Ji Soo Lee – is a fine demonstration of what can result: “Many different chemical processes were required into making this art piece, including oxidation and bisque firing clay,” Lee explains. “Oxidation was needed to turn chromite into chromium(III) oxide, a green pigment used for making paint. Polar molecules were a part of this piece as water is a polar molecule and the pigment needed to be dissolved in it. Because polar molecules only mix with other polar molecules and ionic compounds, the ionic compound chromium (III) oxide was able to dissolve in it. Bisque firing, meanwhile, must allow for a slow build-up of heat, which is why it may take days to complete.”

Here are a few other outcomes from the class of 2017, explained in the words of their creators.

The Robin.
The Robin.
Sara Ahmad, Mac.Robertson High Girls School

The Robin, watercolour, by Sara Ahmad

It is quite amazing when you dive deeper into the chemistry behind watercolour painting.The water and the paint react together, mingling with weak bonds. Water is a polar substance,...

Blog Technology 10 January 2018
A page from Michael Milford's forthcoming AI guide for preschoolers.
A page from Michael Milford's forthcoming AI guide for preschoolers.
QUT Media

Queensland University of Technology robotics professor Michael Milford is creating the world’s first guide to artificial intelligence (AI) for preschool children, and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund it.

All through his career in education and robotics, Milford found plenty of information for high school children or adults. But while attempting to explain concepts involving AI to his own young children, he realised there was a dearth of resources.

Given that the current generation’s future will be inextricably intertwined with AI technologies, he saw a need for them to understand key scientific concepts and even potential problems related to introducing AI into their daily lives.

This spurred him to develop The Complete Guide to Artificial Intelligence for Kids, a comprehensive, easy-to-digest, fully illustrated book for very young children.

“One of the keys to making it accessible to kids was to simplify complex concepts without removing the core meaning,” he says. This includes using real-life examples to explain how AI makes decisions and actively learns.

Not only is this guide going to accessible in its content, but the aim is to also make it affordable.

“We’ve gone with a full-colour, 50-page mini-booklet rather than a more expensive hardcover book, so we can get the price down to as little as $1 per guide,” he says.

Milford’s Kickstarter target is a very modest $3000. To help him out, and secure a copy, click here.

Blog Biology 09 January 2018
A cat flea. Coming soon to a wild species near you.
A cat flea. Coming soon to a wild species near you.

A study led by the University of Queensland, Australia, has found that fleas from domestic pets are infesting numerous wildlife species globally, affecting animals on every continent except Antarctica.

The study looked at the distribution of two species of fleas – Ctenocephalides felis and C. canis – which favour cats and dogs, respectively, as hosts.

Led by Nicholas Clark and published in the journal Parasites & Vectors, the research findings illuminated the risk and magnitude of the transmission of pathogens carried by the insects from domestic to wild animals, and the potential hazards of continued, unchecked infections.

The authors built a comprehensive worldwide database to gauge the extent of interactions between the two flea species and wild hosts. They used statistical modelling to determine the risk factors of wildlife infestations, and they performed genetic analyses to ascertain whether fleas preferentially infect wild hosts closely related to their domestic ones.

The dataset revealed that the risk of flea infestation and the subsequent spread of diseases from domestic to wild animals was widespread in scale and geographical range. The main predictor of flea conveyance was the proximity between human and natural habitats.

Of greater concern was the finding that fleas could also be transferred to wild animals if they came in contact with feral animals such rats, foxes and rabbits. Interestingly, the evolutionary and genetic analyses indicated that the dog flea was more selective, infesting around 31 different wild mammalian species, whereas the cat flea was found on a broad variety of species — more than 130.

The researchers hope that the findings will show there is an urgent need for limiting contact between wild and domestic animals to stem the spread of dangerous infections and maintain the health of wild populations.

Blog The Future 22 December 2017
Happy Holidays – or should we say Hppy Holidys (we're making it a new thing).
Happy Holidays – or should we say Hppy Holidys (we're making it a new thing).
Cosmos Magazine

Here's some of our favourite print magazine content from 2017, collected for your reading pleasure:


Closing in on dark matterDogged physicists are methodically sweeping through all the places where the elusive particles may be hiding. Cathal O’Connell checks their progress.

Time to pop an anti-ageing pillIt’s no longer snake oil. Scientists have a pipeline full of promising anti-ageing compounds just waiting for human trials. Elizabeth Finkel reports.

Where will the next wave of space exploration take us?One epic period of space exploration has come to an end. Richard A. Lovett looks forward to the next.

The bad science of medical cannabisMillions of people use cannabis as a medicine. That’s not based on clinical evidence, nor do we know which of the hundreds of compounds in the plant is responsible for its supposed effects. Elizabeth Finkel reports.

The next generation of weapons against antibiotic-resistant superbugsFor the past 70 years, antibiotics have given us the upper hand against microbial invaders. Now the bugs are fighting back. Dyani Lewis takes a look at the next generation of ‘evolution-proof’ weapons being developed.

How Extremely Large Telescopes will reveal exoplanetsFor astronomers, size matters. The new generation of Extremely Large Telescopes will show us, for the first time, what exoplanets are really like. Fred Watson takes a closer look.

'Locked, loaded and ready to roll': San Andreas fault danger zonesBlind faults, missing links and ever-building stress – Kate Ravilious finds out what keeps seismologists in California up at night.

How big is the universe? There is no bigger empirical question in astrophysics than how big space is. Cathal O'Connell provides a brief history of ideas about the size and shape of the universe.

Einstein, Bohr and the origins of entanglementTwo of history’s greatest physicists argued for decades over one of the deepest mysteries...

Blog Space 22 December 2017

Science has chosen as its 2017 Breakthrough of the Year the first observations of a neutron-star merger, a violent celestial event that transfixed physicists and astronomers.

As the two neutron stars spiralled together 130 million light years away, they generated tiny ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, sensed by enormous gravitational wave detectors on Earth. This merger also triggered an explosion studied by hundreds of astronomers around the world.

Researchers first picked up on gravitational waves over two years ago, when two massive black holes crashed into each other. This space tremor was detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a discovery that landed Science’s Breakthrough of the Year for 2016 and won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The discovery showed that gravitational waves offer a new way of observing the universe and a major tool for astronomers.

“Gravitational waves are the gift that keeps on giving,” explains News Editor Tim Appenzeller. “Observers not only detected gravitational waves from a collision of two neutron stars; they also saw the event at all wavelengths of light, from gamma rays all the way to radio. Being able to get the full picture of violent events like this promises to transform astrophysics, and that made this year’s observation the clear Breakthrough for 2017.”

On 17 August, gamma-ray detectors and radio telescopes sensed the merging of neutron stars. Because the ripples were spotted by three widely spaced detectors, scientists acted quickly and triangulated on the pair's location in the sky.

“Within just 11 hours, several teams had pinpointed a new source on the edge of the galaxy NGC4993. The explosion was easily the most-studied event in the history of astronomy: Some 3,674 researchers from 953 institutions collaborated on a single paper summarizing the merger and its aftermath,” says Science staff writer Adrian Cho....

Blog Physics 22 December 2017
Inside the ANU Heavy Ion Accelerator – now available online.
Inside the ANU Heavy Ion Accelerator – now available online.
Stuart Hay, ANU

Scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra are searching for traces of supernovae in the ocean. They are also researching how to make new elements to add to the periodic table.

Central to both these pursuits is a massive on-campus piece of kit known as the Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility (HIAF). The installation comprises two accelerators – machines that propel elementary particles to very high levels of energy – the first of which has been in operation since 1974.

To help people understand the work done at HIAF – and perhaps to inspire some of them to one day conduct their own research inside it – the university has just released an online virtual tour of the facility.

The tour – which can be found here – allows users to access 360-degree views of various sections of the accelerator buildings, including the control room, the ion sources, the massive controlling magnet, and the interior of the main accelerator itself.

The online resource also features potted interviews with several of the researchers who use and operate the equipment. All up, it’s a rare chance to see inside one of the world’s most important particle physics facilities, without having to go through the tiresome business of getting a PhD first.

Blog Society 20 December 2017
EINSTEIN by Vincent Moloney
EINSTEIN by Vincent Moloney

To start reading, download the latest issue or subscribe here!

Science and art sit at opposite ends of the spectrum of human inquiry.

Science is objective, collaborative and continually changing, as theories are supported or refuted by evidence. It relies on a combative culture to tear down faulty logic and dodgy data.

EINSTEIN by Vincent Moloney Vincent Moloney is a partner to Cate, a father to Joni and a teacher at Parkville College. When he’s not spending time with family or the inspiring kids at his school, he likes to draw, write and paint murals. His work can be found on instagram at @vincentmoloney.
Issue 77 front cover: EINSTEIN by Vincent Moloney | Vincent Moloney is a partner to Cate, a father to Joni and a teacher at Parkville College. When he’s not spending time with family or the inspiring kids at his school, he likes to draw, write and paint murals. His work can be found on instagram at @vincentmoloney.
Art is subjective. It is the expression of an individual’s innermost space and relies on a sympathetic culture for the artist’s work to engage and resonate with an audience.

Yet there are commonalities. Both are engaged in an exploration of our world, and they have always crossed paths.

Science has traditionally turned to artwork to bring its new findings to life.

Take Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Spanish pathologist who won the Nobel prize in 1906. He turned to art to overturn prevailing views on brain science. His exquisite ink sketches showed that brain circuitry was not a series of connected wires, as thought at the time. Rather, there were mysterious gaps – synapses – between the ends of the wires.

Ernst Haeckel, another artist-scientist of the 19th century, championed Darwin’s ideas in his very beautiful drawings of plants and animals.

In the 20th century, biologists James Watson and Francis Crick were sure DNA must carry the code of life. But how? Only by building a model were they able to see. Likewise, scientists trying to understand the operations of the nanomachines we know as proteins rely on images drawn by X-rays. Palaeontologists rely on artists to put flesh on their dry bones and theories. Botanical artists are still called on to illustrate clearly...

Blog Biology 20 December 2017
A significant advance in the hunt for a dengue vaccine.
A significant advance in the hunt for a dengue vaccine.
Paul Young/University of Queensland

Scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia and China’s Zhu Jiang Hospital may have taken the first step in producing a viable vaccine against the dengue virus. The research focusses on an antibody, called 3E31, which shows great promise.

Dengue is caused by four distinct types of viral species, making it hard to develop a targeted vaccine. The dengue virus is made up of a shell of proteins, with one, dubbed the E protein, being the major site of attachment and activation. Once the virus binds to a host cell, it enters by fusing with the membrane, releasing its DNA and kick-starting the infection process.

The 3E31 antibody exhibits properties that have eluded previous iterations. It shows specificity and a great affinity for all four types of viral species by binding to a single hidden site on the E protein — a weak spot of sorts. This stops the virus from fusing with the host cell. Additionally, it does not increase the risk of secondary infection, as previous vaccines have done.

These experiments were conducted in mice cell cultures using settings that mimicked the actual disease process. The next step will be replicating these experiments in a human model to inform vaccine design using the newly developed antibody.

With 390 million people being infected world wide, these experiments could lead to a broad-spectrum vaccine that could help in combating this highly infectious disease.

The research is published in the journal, Structure.