Blog Society 21 July 2017
Hiroshi Watanabe / Getty

The University of Adelaide has become the first university in Australia to gain accreditation to train students to operate drones and other remotely piloted aircraft. The course will cover all practical and theoretical syllabus to meet the requirements of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia (CASA) for a commercial drone license.

Students will be able to take full advantage of the university’s state of the art infrastructure, equipment and facilities to cover a wide range of study areas including air legislation, aerodynamics, meteorology and fight training for different types of drones

Upon successful completion of the 5-day intensive course participants are issued with a Remote Pilot License certified by CASA. This license allows the operation of drones weighing over 2kg to be used for commercial purposes.

As drone technology evolves, the equipment is increasingly being used in a range of industries with endless possibilities for inventive, exciting applications. The accreditation of this training course is an important step to contribute to Australia’s highly skilled workforce as we look toward a future focused on innovation and knowledge-intensive industries.

The first courses are being run for current students and stuff of the University of Adelaide, with open courses scheduled to begin in August. For information on how you can take part, visit

Blog Society 19 July 2017
Krystle Wright / Getty

Scientia Professor Matthew England from the University of New South Wales has taken home the prestigious Tinker-Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica this year. The annual US$100,000 international prize, awarded by the Tinker Foundation and administered by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, is designed to honour an individual whose work has enhanced the understanding and/or preservation of Antarctica.

UNSW Scientia Professor Matthew England

According to the Tinker-Muse prize citation, Professor England has ‘consistently shown a rare ability to translate global issues to local impacts, and in and engaging and accessible way to the general public’.

He was honoured with the award primarily for his ‘sustained and seminal contribution to Antarctic science through profound insights into the influence of the Southern Ocean on the continent and its role in the global climate change system’.

The award also recognised his significant leadership roles in several international programs where he has demonstrated a strong commitment to collegiality, capacity building and the global impact of Antarctic Science.

Professor England said: “I am delighted to receive this award and I wish to pay tribute to my research team and collaborators – past and present – for inspiring my work in Antarctic and Southern Ocean science.

“Antarctica plays a crucial role in regional and global climate. This award will further focus my efforts to better understand Antarctica's climate as well as the ocean circulation around the continent, aiming to improve our knowledge of the region's vulnerability to climate change.

“Preserving the Antarctic environment requires limiting carbon emissions to keep global warming below 1.5–2 degrees Celsius. We need to ensure this commitment is met. Every fraction of a degree of warming poses a greater risk for Antarctic ice sheet stability and catastrophic sea-level rise.”

According to the Australian Academy of Science, Professor England is...

Blog Society 10 July 2017
Denis Scott / Getty Images

Chase Bishop, winner of the 2016 NCSAS science fair has done it again with his new research project exploring the possibility of growing spirulina on Mars. Bishop has been fascinated with the idea of human settlement on Mars throughout his high school education, and it turns out he’s pretty good at coming up with innovative yet simple projects to explore the possibility.

Last year, Chase Bishop and his partner James Thompson, both high school freshmen from North Carolina took on a project to re-invent how power could be produced on Mars. They won the grand prize in North Carolina’s TIME program and were inducted into the American Junior Academy of Science.

This year, with new partner Alex Eberhardt by his side, Bishop has explored the possibility of spirulina, a high protein ‘superfood’, becoming an effective food source for sustaining long term life on the red planet.

In light of the fact that water is a rare commodity on Mars, future colonies will need nutritionally dense food that doesn’t require much water to thrive. Spirulina is a cyanobacteria with those qualities. Bishop and Eberhardt decided to see if they could mimic Martian regolith conditions to grow spirulina by hydrating it with urine. That’s right, urine.

By varying elements of Martian soil and urine to gauge any differences in results, the boys were able to determine the optimal growth pattern. The results showed that spirulina is, in fact, a great candidate for a food source for Martian colonists. The elements of zinc and iron contained in Martian regolith in combination with the high concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus in human urine make the conditions viable for growth.

There was one hiccup in the results, however. All test samples that had been fertilised with urine experience lysis, a breakdown of their cell structure. This happens quite often in lab experiments, but it does mean that further research is needed to determine the long term viability of spirulina as a part of a...

Blog Society 07 July 2017
Black Valley Films / Food Evolution

The GMO food debate continues with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new film, Food Evolution. The provocative yet upbeat feature documentary follows experts, activist, farmers and scientists around the world to delve further in to the ever-polarised debate on GMOs, food and their place in our society. Directed by Academy Award-nominated Scott Hamilton, Food Evolution separates the hype from the science to attempt to unravel the debate around food.

The GMO debate is a heated one driven by emotions, fear and distrust often in place of objective truth. Cosmos itself published a feature article back in 2014 about how we perceive the risk of GMOs based on feelings more than just facts alone. In a world more desperate than ever for safe and sustainable food, the team behind Food Evolution want to lay down the facts for a better informed public and a more secure future.

Food Evolution is screening at venues throughout America this month. You can also arrange a screening for your own organisation or event by getting in touch with their publicity team.

Blog Society 05 July 2017
Elosoenpersona Photo / Getty

A team of researchers from the University of Tasmania and other interstate universities and organisations have won the 2017 Peer Prize for Women in the category Earth, Environment and Science. The esteemed prize is voted by fellow researchers from around the world and attracts a $20,000 award. The annual competition is designed to highlight women in science and encourage an open knowledge exchange and cross-disciplinary innovation. This years’ winning team brings together researchers from around Australia working together in a field of research that has profound implications for industries, communities and ecosystems worldwide.

Species on the Move

The women honoured with this award were brought together with the Species on the Move project. The team have made a significant contribution to research into the way that species around the world are responding to climate change, and how these changes will impact on humans now and into the future. The winning entry was based on a publication in Science Magazine titled Biodiversity redistribution under climate change: impacts on ecosystems and human well-being. See the video below for a summation of the study.

Blog Society 03 July 2017
Monty Rakusen / Getty

Fusion power is the energy source of the future. It’s the perfect carbon free energy source and one of the few sustainable options to replace fossil fuels on a global scale. The conditions for fusion have been reached, but what scientific questions still need to be resolved to bring it in to the mainstream? How can we hasten the first fusion electricity?

Professor Steven Cowley will address these very questions in an upcoming lecture at the University of Sydney this Thursday, 6 July.

Professor Cowley is a theoretical physicist and international authority on nuclear fusion and astrophysical plasmas, and is President of Corpus Christi College Oxford. He will be attending the School of Physics at the University of Sydney as a guest of the Professor Harry Messel International Science School (ISS) to discuss fusion power and the potential challenges, opportunities and solutions we are likely to face in the future.

With the need for carbon free energy more pressing than ever before, this presentation will provide a valuable and challenging insight to the future power sources and sustainability of our society. Visit the event page for more information or to register online.

Blog Society 30 June 2017

Interronauts, a quirky podcast from the team at CSIRO, is presenting the latest science news to their audience with a positive spin. Putting their ‘rose-tinted magnifying glass’ to science news from around the world, hosts Jesse Hawley and Sophie Schmidt provide insightful and funny banter in each fortnightly episode.

From the antimicrobial properties of dragonfly wings to how our brains can store and remember thousands of faces, Interronauts delves into the latest scientific research to make it accessible, interesting and amusing to consume without coddling listeners.

If you’re looking for an easy and enjoyable way to stay up to date with the most interesting scientific breakthroughs and updates, Interronauts is a good choice. With a range of topics from around the world, Australia and from inside CSIRO, there’s something for everybody.

Visit the Interronauts page on the CSIRO blog or subscribe on iTunes for your listening pleasure.

Blog Society 28 June 2017
Mint Images - Frans Lanting / Getty

The construction of Australia’s new icebreaker has finally begun with a steel cutting ceremony in Romania. Scheduled to be delivered to Hobart in mid-2020, the new ship will play a central role in the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan launched in April 2016.

Having been in the planning and design phase since the projects’ inception in 2008, the steel cutting is momentous as the first tangible step of the construction process. The new icebreaker will replace the Aurora Australis which has been serving the Australian Antarctic Program since 1989.

According to Australian Antarctic Division Modernisation Manager Rob Bryson, ‘the ship has been designed to deliver a greater icebreaking and cargo capacity, it will offer increased endurance and operational flexibility and provide us with state of the art research, rescue and resupply capabilities’.

The port of Hobart will become the home of the new vessel upon completion in 2020, giving many opportunities to Tasmanian businesses to deliver a range of support services over the 30-year life span of the vessel.

Australian school children have been given the opportunity to name the new ship. Open to children in years 5-8, the winning entry will receive a flight to Antarctica. The competition has been extended, and will now close on Friday 7 July.

Blog Biology 27 June 2017

We’re nearing the end of the antibiotic era. Ever since penicillin became widely available after 1945, people stopped worrying about infections. Sore throats or infected cuts were quickly sorted out by antibiotics from a kindly doctor followed by a few days in bed. Later generations quickly forgot that simple infections could be deadly.

Antibiotics were such a wonderful cure-all that doctors prescribed them with abandon, like sweets. They weren’t just good for curing infections in people: they also had a surprising side effect as growth accelerators for chickens, pigs and cows. As a result, antibiotics have flooded our environment. This has killed off a lot of microbes, but left room for their antibiotic-resistant relatives to thrive. It’s a textbook example of evolution: when the environment changes, the fittest individuals gain the upper hand and multiply.

The ranks of antibiotic-resistant microbes have now swelled dramatically. You might encounter a resistant strain of golden staph during routine surgery in an Australian hospital, or a trip to New Guinea might land you with a multidrug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.

In 2016, the UK government commissioned economist Jim O’Neill to measure the scale of the crisis. He found 700,000 people die each year due to infections by drug-resistant microbes. By 2050, that figure will rise to 10 million if nothing is done.

One response is to try to turn the tables on the enemy by taking away its selective advantage. By slowing the tap that drips antibiotics into the environment, particularly into farm animals, we can make life easier for antibiotic-susceptible microbes, which should slow the advance of the resisters.

Meanwhile, we are in dire need of a new generation of weaponry. Our lead story this issue takes a look at what’s in the pipeline. One approach looks back in time.

Penicillin was developed in response to the crisis of the Second World War. But the First World War had led to another antibacterial...

Blog Society 26 June 2017
The 2017 ARC Laureate Fellowship was awarded this June to recognise excellence in research
Deakin University / Australian Research Council

The Australian Research Council (ARC) have named the 2017 ARC Laureate fellows this month. Designed to reflect Australia’s commitment to excellence in research, this prestigious award celebrates pre-eminent scientists and their leadership and mentoring contribution to Australia’s research community.

Professor Svetha Venkatesh
Deakin University
The Director of Deakin University’s Centre for Pattern Recognition and Data Analysis (PRaDA), Professor Svetha Venkatesh, was among those honoured. Professor Venkatesh is one of Australia’s leading experts in pattern analysis for accelerating scientific innovation. Her work has led to the development of several programs whose benefits span a range of industries. With significant financial incentive, the Fellowship will help Professor Venkatesh and the team at Deakin University to continue their important work.

Among Professor Venkatesh’s achievements is the development of a health analytics program to help doctors predict suicide risk in patients. The outcomes of this program have been spun out to create iHosp, a start-up that promises to improve efficiency and patient care in hospitals around the world.

Professor Venkatesh also played a key role in PRaDA’s development of the TOBY Playpad app, a program that is providing life changing therapy for children with autism.

To read more about the ongoing achievements and work of PRaDA, visit the Deakin University website.