The Science for Science Fiction Conference is being held in Melbourne on Sunday September 10, 2017
The Royal Society of Victoria

Through a partnership with Aurealis, the Royal Society of Victoria are running a conference called Science for Science Fiction. Backed by the Emerging Writer’s Festival, the event is designed to explore the relationship between hard science and the fantasy worlds of science fiction novels.

The program features presentations from some of Melbourne’s top authors, editors, publishers and scientists to help current and aspiring authors hone their craft. From scientific principles in genetics to the science of cloning and the nature of time, keynote speakers will aim to dispel common misunderstandings and build a foundation of solid science for writers.

There will also be an opportunity for writers to brush up on their sales skills, with publishers and other industry professionals on hand to give tips and advice on how to refine their pitches.

The RSV hopes this will be the first of many similar conferences. It is due to be held in Melbourne on Sunday 10 September, 2017. You can find more information and reserve your seat here

Henrik Sorensen/Getty

With stimulation coming from left, right and centre in today’s fast paced world, pleasure and satisfaction is not hard to come by. But could an excess of pleasurable activities change the course of our future? New research suggests it could.

Whether you’re a die-hard foodie, hard-core gamer, or social media addict, recent research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that these hobbies aren’t as harmless as we might have thought. Scientists have found strong similarities between the brains of those addicted to drugs and those addicted to pleasurable behaviors.

UK scientists are concerned that we’re all turning into “pleasure junkies”, allowing our desire for the next dopamine hit to influence our decisions toward short-term, pleasure maximizing goals instead of long term plans. It turns out simply checking social media gives us the right amount of consistent positive reinforcement that is the key ingredient for addiction.

Luckily, scientists have shown that rehab for this particular addiction isn’t too hard to come by. There have been suggestions by researchers that simply indulging in creative activities can combat your brains’ desire for immediate pleasure. So turn off your gadgets and get in touch with your artsy side. Your future self will thank you.

Hero Images/Getty

The new A$35 million agreement will see Australia become the largest Boeing research and development operation outside the United States. Researchers will be working together in a range of fascinating areas from space sciences to advanced materials and manufacturing.

Scientists, engineers and researchers from CSIRO have been working closely with Boeing for almost 30 years on technologies that have made real differences to the aerospace industry. In the words of CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall, “our relationship is a real success story of science partnering with industry to create impact, and we’re looking forward to growing that impact even further in the coming years”.

We’re proud to see Australian scientists of the forefront of groundbreaking research, and look forward to hearing about the discoveries that this partnership with undoubtedly produce.

Blog Society 22 May 2017
The 14th annual Science Film Festival will be held Australia-wide during June, 2017
SCINEMA Festival

The world’s best scientists, filmmakers and artists are about to come together again for the southern hemisphere’s largest science film festival.

SCINEMA, sponsored by BBC Earth, will present a showcase of features, shorts, documentaries, animated and experimental films that celebrate our world and how it works. The program features a range of expertly crafted films that explore science in new and engaging ways, exploring its place in our lives and in our imaginations.

Award-winning films are being shown on the big screen across the country, with festival locations at Palace Cinemas in all major Australian cities during June, 2017. With leading female filmmakers in the spotlight for the 14th annual event, you don't want to miss this years' event. Click here to find out what’s showing near you.

Male wasps can hardly resist the convincing pheromones released by spider orchids
Oxford Scientific/Getty

Pollination is key to the survival of plants. But how do they do it? Scientists at the University of Western Australia have discovered the chemical breakdown of sex pheromones used by spider orchids to seduce male wasp pollinators.

This particular species of spider orchid, Caladenia, is known to mimic the sex pheromones of female wasps to lure males with the false promise of sex. The specific chemicals involved in this complex process of sexual deception have, until now, remained elusive.

Researchers have uncovered that it is a unique system of Sulphur containing chemicals that is simply irresistible to male wasps. Incredible footage even shows a male wasp abandon its partner for the extreme sexual attractiveness of a spider orchid.

As one of the first successful studies pinpointing the communication between a flower and its pollinator, this discovery holds much promise for the world of pollination chemistry. Bad news for the male wasps however, as they continue to be deceived by the ever-alluring and intelligent spider orchid.

Blog Society 09 May 2017

Tough times ahead for environmental science.
Hero Images / Getty

New US research showing cancer rates nearly 9% higher than the average in areas with polluted air, water, soil or other factors confirms the importance of a healthy environment to healthy humans.

Gaining a clearer understanding of the health costs of environmental degradation would therefore seem like a good idea – a matter of significance not just to researchers but policy makers and legislators grappling with the burgeoning cost of health care as well as endemic budget deficits.

Yet ironically this study, credited with being the first of its kind in the US, assessing the impact of cumulative environmental exposures on cancer incidence in populations, may also be the last.

Dr Jyotsna S. Jagai, of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and colleagues derived their results by mapping county-level information from the Environmental Quality Index maintained by the US Environmental Protection Agency, against cancer statistics from the National Cancer Institute.

Access to such geospatial information would be extremely curtailed by a Republican-sponsored bill ostensibly intended to protect local zoning decisions from federal government interference.

Under the bill proposed by Representative Paul Gosar, of Arizona, and Senator Mike Lee, of Utah, no federal funding could be used to “design, build, maintain, utilise or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing”.

Such a prohibition would jeopardise the future of research projects such as that by Jagai and her colleagues, argues an editorial accompanying the results, published in the journal Cancer.

The study, using county-level environmental measures and cancer rates, is an excellent example of the value of geospatial data in cancer control research, the editorial says: “These data are fundamental to documenting which...

Blog Mathematics 05 April 2017

Get ready to discover how mathematics can be tasty! It’s a way of thinking, and not just about numbers.

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada is beaming a live webcast of the public lecture "How to Bake Pi" by Eugenia Cheng on Wednesday 7pm ET (11pm UTC, 9am Thursday April 6 AEST).

Through unexpectedly connected examples from music, juggling, and baking, Cheng will demonstrate that math can be made fun and intriguing for all. Her interactive talk will feature hands-on activities, examples that everyone can relate to, and funny stories. She will present surprisingly high-level mathematics, including some advanced abstract algebra usually only seen by math majors and graduate students. There will be a distinct emphasis on edible examples.

Dr. Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician and pianist. She is Scientist-in-Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and won tenure in Pure Mathematics at the University of Sheffield, UK. She is now Honorary Fellow at the University of Sheffield and Honorary Visiting Fellow at City University, London. She has previously taught at the universities of Cambridge, Chicago and Nice and holds a PhD in pure mathematics from the University of Cambridge.

Alongside her research in Category Theory and undergraduate teaching, her aim is to rid the world of “math phobia.”

And if you're reading this after the lecture's done and dusted, or have other plans when it’s on, don't worry – it will be recorded, and you can catch up on the Perimeter Institute’s YouTube channel.

Welcome to the first quarterly issue of Cosmos magazine. I hope you’re sitting down, because there’s a lot of head-spinning stuff in here. So many things you thought you knew that just ain’t so.

Here are a few samplers.

At high school you probably learnt the Solar System had nine planets. Eleven years ago, with the banishment of Pluto, we were down to eight. Now astronomers believe there’s almost certainly a ninth after all. Quaintly, they are using the same logic that led them to search for Pluto a century ago.

Pluto’s existence was deduced from the skewed orbit of Uranus; now it’s oddities in the orbits of objects in the Kuiper belt (where Pluto resides) that point to a lurking lone giant up to 1,200 times more distant from the Sun than the Earth. Ten teams are training giant telescopes on its likely orbit and expect to nab it within the year.

So you may soon be learning new planet mnemonics along with the kids. You’ll also be discussing our new sister solar system: that of the red dwarf star Trappist-1, just 8% the size of our sun, and its seven “Earth-like” planets.

Trappist-1 is 39 light years or 369 trillion kilometres away – too far to travel to but close enough for space telescopes to get a good view of it while its planets whirl by, dimming its light. What is so exciting is that at least three of the seven planets are the right distance from the star for liquid water to exist. Life has a chance – especially since red dwarves, being so small, burn very slowly. Ten trillion years from now, when our solar system is long gone, Trappist -1 and its seven planets will still be around.

While we’re in space, let’s think about black holes. Hard to fathom, but at least I thought I understood one thing about them: they were the final stage of a very large star, after it had exploded and contracted its mass down to the size of something less than an atom. In other words, black holes were presumed to be the final chapter in the life of stars and galaxies.


Blog Space 27 March 2017


If you’ve ever wondered how you might urinate on the moon – and even if you haven’t – Cosmic Vertigo has the answer for you.

The new science podcast from the ABC takes you on a voyage through the universe – and who knew how side-slipttingly funny that could be.

Astrophysicists Amanda Bauer and Alan Duffy (the latter a regular on the pages of Cosmos) make for hilarious, genuine company as hosts and their explanations of the phenomenons that challenge the importance our tiny existence are clear - even for the lay listener.

Whether it’s an existential crisis, or just a general sense of wonderment, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose thoughts haven’t wandered out into the galaxy, pondering what’s out there and how it came to be. But the truth is, it’s complicated.

Thankfully Cosmic Vertigo breaks it down into bite sized pieces so even the scientific novice can understand.

Alan and Amanda’s wit, charm and intelligent banter first takes us to the moon, the seemingly constant lump of rock and iron above us that humanity has always been fascinated by, drawn in by its romance, mystery and otherworldly glow. But as I was drawn into Amanda and Alan’s cosmic vertigo, it became clear that the moon isn’t so constant after all. It was 20 times larger at the time it was formed and consequently much, much brighter.

As it moves ever so slowly away from the Earth, it slows down our orbit, making us wonder who is boss – or perhaps we’re just a primordial marble at the mercy of the solar system around us.

If, like me, you struggle to engage fully with the ever changing complexities of the world of astrophysics, this podcast is for you. From the gassy clouds of Jupiter to the crushing atmospheric pressure of Venus, you’ll uncover the quirks of the solar system and unanswered questions that keep even the most intelligent minds wondering.

Amanda and Alan approach their subject in a relatable way without the jargon but with the hard and fast facts. I, for one, am...

Blog Society 17 March 2017

Cat Sparks meets Gavin from Lockheed Martin who is demonstrating the powers of an exoskeleton
Cat Sparks/Cosmos

Founded 30 years ago, “South By” is Austin’s pride and joy, an annual technology, media, movie, music and innovation conference-come-festival that runs from 10-19 March.

This year an estimated 70,000 plus registrants and artists are participating. Speakers include former vice president Joe Biden, CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna, pop star Kesha, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, music legends Nile Rogers and Mick Fleetwood, NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet, ocean conservationist Dr Fabien Cousteau (grandson of Jacques-Yves), Yoda master Frank Oz, and experts from the Pentagon, the CIA, Microsoft, NASA and a mixed bag of bleeding edge technologies big and small.

March in Austin is supposed to be hot. A surprise cold, wet snap resulted in a flurry of hastily overlaid plastic ponchos. Demographically, the crowd ranges from 20s through to 40-somethings, all dressed in casual clothes and sensible shoes. An eclectic blend of techno hipsters sporting backpacks, backwards baseball caps, occasional man buns -- and not as many beards as you'd expect -- each juggling multiple electronic devices, wires trailing out of ears and pockets. Young guys and gals talking incessant start-ups, successive apps, embedding, messaging, backend systems and workarounds, swapping schedules for party intel in the ubiquitous, never ending coffee queues. Every available wall socket is encrusted with barnacle-like charging devices.

Too many topics to cover here, plenty for the scientifically inclined: presentations on AI, AR, VR, impacts of machine learning, military drone swarms, genetically modified athletes, synthetic biology, pattern recognition, the power of geospatial context, drone journalism ethics, space exploration, democratised data access. Hearables, wearables, cleantech innovation, flexible substrates, optical interconnects, devices that charge themselves from light &...