Blog Palaeontology 09 August 2018
The Great White Shark is a huge animal, but tiny compared to its distant ancestor.
The Great White Shark is a huge animal, but tiny compared to its distant ancestor.
Peter Trusler

Not long ago, an Australian citizen scientist found buried in a boulder the rare fossilised remains of a mammoth prehistoric shark — providing the first evidence that this predator once swam in Australian waters.

The discovery was made by Philip Mullaly on a beach at Jan Juc in the Australian state of Victoria. The seven-centimetre-long teeth were identified as belonging to an extinct species of mega-toothed shark, Carcharocles angustidens, the Great Jagged Narrow-Toothed Shark.

C. angustidens, which lived during the Oligocene epoch, nearly 25 million years ago, was first identified in 1835 by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz. Subsequent fossil evidence allowed scientists to estimate the creature grew up to nine metres long, one-and-a-half times the length of today’s Great White Shark.

Mullaly’s internationally significant finding — which marks only the third time multiple teeth of this species have been found — was handed over to palaeontologist Erich Fitzgerald of Museums Victoria.

This led Fitzgerald and his team to carry out subsequent excavations of the site. They found more than 40 teeth belonging to another small species known as the Sixgill Shark (from the genus Hexanchus). These would have scavenged on the carcass of the mega-tooth, sloughing off their teeth and leaving them to fossilise by its remains.

The public can view this collection as part of The Mega Shark Fossil Find display, at Melbourne Museum in the suburb of Carlton, starting August 9. If you would like to hear more about this and other paleontological wonders, Fitzgerald and his colleague Tom Rich will speak at the museum on August 19.

Blog Biology 30 July 2018
Vitamania presenter, Derek Muller.
Vitamania presenter, Derek Muller.
Genepool Productions

Worldwide, there are more than 850,000 vitamin and dietary supplements on the market today, fuelling an obsession with health and generating revenue of more than $100 billion annually. But where is the evidence that any given potion or pill delivers the promises plastered on the bottle?

That’s the central question driving Vitamania, a new feature-length documentary made by Australia’s Emmy-Award-winning science program-makers, Genepool Productions.

Hosted by Derek Muller – who also fronts the extremely successful YouTube science channel Veritasium – Vitamania traverses several continents and a couple of centuries, investigating the roots of our fascination with vitamins, and sorting the hope from the hype buried in the claims made for their efficacy.

In a story that encompasses Nobel Prize-winning research, corporate secrecy, snake oil salespeople and, astoundingly, cases of scurvy in modern day America, Muller sets out to empower consumers to make reasoned and informed decisions about vitamins — decisions that can save money, but might also save lives. Because vitamins, we discover, are not benign. They are biologically active compounds. We need to know what they do. We need to take them seriously.

Vitamania has its worldwide launch on August 12, when it debuts free-to-air on Australia’s SBS television channel, and on the worldwide pay service CuriosityStream. It will also screen on the Arte channel in France and Germany soon after.

Host Muller and the documentary’s director, Sonya Pemberton, are currently on tour around Australia, in a series of live events hosted by science event promoters, Think Inc.

The tour kicks off on July 30 in Perth, then moves to Sydney on August 2, and Melbourne the following day. More details are available here.

Cosmos has 10 double passes to giveaway to the Perth leg of the Vitamania tour, on tonight – Monday July 30 – at the Heath Ledger Theatre.

To get your hands on one, simply email – but do it now, before they...

Scientists including Rebekah Brown (second from left) and Veena Sahajwalla (second from right) say greater integration of social and physical sciences is needed to solve the world’s problems.
Scientists including Rebekah Brown (second from left) and Veena Sahajwalla (second from right) say greater integration of social and physical sciences is needed to solve the world’s problems.
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute / Claire Denby

Physical scientists need the social sciences if they’re going to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, according to two leading Australian researchers.

Speaking at the Australian launch of a new journal that aims to integrate social sciences in research, Veena Sahajwalla of the University of NSW in Sydney and Rebekah Brown from the Monash Sustainable Development Institute in Melbourne argued that economics, social sciences and physical sciences should be combined to achieve real, practical outcomes.

“We need to shift the way we think, act and organise, which is only possible by bringing together expertise from across the physical sciences, social sciences, humanities and the arts – which are historically significant divides in universities,” said Brown.

Brown is studying whether green infrastructure can provide clean water, flood protection and sanitisation in 24 slums across Indonesia and Fiji.

“The project works at the interface of green infrastructure and preventative medicine and spans medicine, science, engineering, art design & architecture, and business & economics,” she says.

“We’re trying to find out whether green infrastructure can have a material impact on people’s gastro-intestinal health.”

Veena Sahajwalla, the inventor of ‘green steel’, said she conducts all her research with the end user in mind. Her green steel technology uses waste tyres to replace some of the coal in steel-making, and offers an affordable and sustainable product to manufacturing companies.

“Manufacturing uses a lot of energy, so if you can find a solution that reduces the carbon footprint, and does it in a way that’s affordable, then it makes green manufacturing feasible and affordable in any part of the world,” said Sahajwalla.

Her research is now being used in Bangladesh to reduce coal consumption and lower the carbon footprint.

At the journal launch, held at the University of Melbourne on 17 July, Sahajwalla and Brown said they design their research...

Blog The Future 23 July 2018

An exciting future lies ahead for Cosmos at a new home.
An exciting future lies ahead for Cosmos at a new home.
Nimit Nigam / EyeEm

Australian-based science magazine Cosmos (that’s us) will have a new home, with the Royal Institution of Australia taking over as publisher later this year.

Substantially expanding its science outreach and educational programme, the Royal Institution of Australia will welcome our big digital presence as well as our quarterly print magazine. This adds to an already impressive suite including: Australia’s Science Channel, SCINEMA International Science Film Festival, Ultimate Careers for students, and the teacher resource-focused Education Platform.

With the addition of Cosmos the organisation will have an audience of more than 750,000 on websites, more than 600,000 on social platforms, and a print readership in excess of 80,000.

“To add one of Australia’s most respected publications in Cosmos magazine to our activities is an exciting prospect,” said Peter Yates, Chairman of the Royal Institution of Australia.

“As a publication with such history and standing in both the general and scientific communities, Cosmos magazine will allow us to significantly broaden our reach of audience in pursuit of our mission to promote public awareness and understanding of all things STEM to the Australian community.”

Cosmos Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Finkel said that the Royal Institution of Australia was the natural choice as new home for her magazine.

“We share the same values around accurate and accessible science reporting, journalistic excellence, and passing on this craft to the up-and-coming generation of science journalists.

“As Australia’s only charity solely dedicated to communicating science, the Royal Institution also has the critical mass and funding structure to offer a sustainable model for quality science journalism into the future.

“We thank our readers and contributors from around the world, and we look forward to seeing Cosmos continue its mission to tell the great stories from...

Blog Technology 18 July 2018
In theatre, at least, the first depictions of robots were humanoid, not mechanical.
In theatre, at least, the first depictions of robots were humanoid, not mechanical.
Donald Iain Smith / Getty Images

In a wonderful collision between science, science-fiction and art, actors and researchers from the BioFab3D laboratory at St Vincent’s Hospital in the Australian city of Melbourne are set to perform a 100-year-old play that gave the world the word “robot”.

BioFab3D is Australia’s first biomedical engineering and robotics centre. It gathers together researchers, clinicians and engineers in a quest to meld cell science and materials science to create a new generation of prosthetic cartilage, muscle, bone and organs for use in the treatment of trauma and disease.

As part of National Science Week, the lab staff have teamed up with self-described “play-making collective” PlayReactive to present an adaptation of a 1920 science-fiction themed play called R.U.R, by Czech writer Karel Capek.

The play’s title is short for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti, or, in translation, “Rossum’s Universal Robots”.

Unlike the mechanoid interpretation of the word that came to dominate popular culture, Capek’s roboti were made in a factory from a soft jellylike substance. Distinctly humanoid, they were much more akin to the modern sci-fi concepts of androids or cyborgs than tin-can machines.

Capek’s vision for the wondrous mass produced neo-humans was a dark one. In the play, the roboti revolt and humanity is destroyed.

The latest revival is nowhere near as apocalyptic. Adapted by Melbourne playwright Rohan Byrne, the new R.U.R takes place in and around the real bio-fabrication machines inside BioFab3D. It will focus on the ethical questions that surround the manufacture of consumer organs.

“Science fiction is becoming reality,” says facility manager and Cosmos contributor Cathal O’Connell.

“Our BioFab3D laboratory is focused on literally 'building body parts' using living cells – and the perfect venue to reimagine Capek's vision in a modern context.”

The show will be performed eight times between August 9 and 19, including Sunday matinees. For more details and tickets, click here.

Blog Biology 04 July 2018
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson displays Boaty McBoatface, the end result of a public naming competition. The CSIRO hopes you can do better. (At naming something, not at being Foreign Secretary, although that probably shouldn't be ruled out.)
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson displays Boaty McBoatface, the end result of a public naming competition. The CSIRO hopes you can do better. (At naming something, not at being Foreign Secretary, although that probably shouldn't be ruled out.)
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Scientists at Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, want your help to name a new gene they have discovered which plays an important role in regulating human immunity.

The new discovery is called C6orf106, or C6. Evolutionarily, it has been a part of living things for 500 million years, being passed along from simple to complex organisms. But only now has its function in humans been demystified.

A team led by Rebecca Ambrose studied the gene, and results have been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The researchers found that C6 is responsible for turning off the production of small proteins called cytokines. These are known to perform a variety of functions, including harmful ones.

The cytokines controlled by C6 have been shown to instigate abnormal cell division and have thus been implicated in lung cancer. They are also understood to cause inflammatory reactions seen in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Understanding this gene and the proteins it regulates could lead to the development of targeted therapies for numerous diseases.

The researchers feel that the community can help them come up with a less dry name than the current one, which denotes the position of the gene in the human genome.

Innovate names seem to be becoming more common. For example, a new wasp species was dubbed Dolichogenidea xenomorph, due to macabre similarities between its lifecycle and that of the fictional monster in the Alien movie franchise.

So, if you think you can capture the function, importance and novelty of this gene, or just come up with a cool name, give it a go. If shortlisted, your nomination will be presented to the Human Genome Nomenclature Committee, which will make the final decision.

Your suggestion is constrained by certain hard-and-fast rules that govern the business of gene-naming. This one must start with the letter “C”, for instance. Other terms and conditions can be found here.

Blog Physics 02 July 2018
Queensland Museum, Brisbane.
Queensland Museum, Brisbane.
Courtesy of TripAdvisor

The Queensland Museum, situated in the Australian city of Brisbane, is set to throw open the doors to its new interactive science gallery named SparkLab on Monday September 17.

This $9.4 million venture is a rejuvenated version of the museum’s existing science centre and promises to be an unparalleled experience for children and adults. It boasts 40 flexible displays and exhibits, spread across three zones that allow visitors to explore and experience how science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) form an integral part of our daily life.

SparkLab was born from a strategic partnership with Science Museum London, and took its inspiration from the hands-on Wonderlab galleries housed there.

It aims to promote inquisitiveness and inspire awe about the world we live in, and ultimately prepare young people to adopt STEM jobs in the future. It will encourage visitors to employ techniques used by scientists and innovators to create and evaluate their own experiments and answer their own questions in the “maker space”. There is a “science bar”, which will allow demonstrations. Also featured will be new, ongoing science shows.

There are plans to build similar interactive science centres in other parts of Queensland, including Ipswich, Townsville and Toowoomba. According to Jim Thomson, the Queensland Museum Network acting CEO and director, this will occur in collaboration with the electricity company Energy Queensland and its affiliates.

SparkLab is a timed exhibit, and tickets can be purchased online.

There are special discounted tickets for schools and groups that include children aged six to 13 years, with teacher and supervisor previews also available.

Blog Space 27 June 2018
The Siding Springs Observatory.
The Siding Springs Observatory.
DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

From July 1, the Australian National University (ANU), based in Canberra, will lead a conglomerate of 13 institutions to run the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), located in Coonabarabran in the state of New South Wales.

Australia’s largest optical telescope, the AAT has been operational for more than four decades. When it began operating, the 3.9 metre device was the first of its kind to map the southern hemisphere skies.

Housed at the picturesque Siding Spring Observatory, it has taken part in a multitude of missions that have added to humanity’s knowledge of the dark expanse out there.

These include one named Galactic Archaeology with Hermes (GALAH), which involved mapping hundreds of thousands of stars in the Milky Way. Another, the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey, measured changes in the light emitted by bodies in the northern and southern galactic hemispheres.

The current restructure allows the ANU to take over operation of the telescope from the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

This will allow Australian astronomers and universities to have unprecedented access to the highly sought-after advanced instruments, including a spectroscope capable of simultaneously observing 400 cosmic bodies. The move will also enable Australian scientists to access high-tech optic telescopes situated in Chile operated by the European Southern Observatory.

The academic partnerships will include universities from Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia.

Blog Biology 20 June 2018
Last year's National Science Week featured dinosaurs roaming through a Sydney park. This year there will be even more more wonders to behold.
Last year's National Science Week featured dinosaurs roaming through a Sydney park. This year there will be even more more wonders to behold.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

This August, National Science Week, Australia’s annual celebration of discovery and inquiry will be upon us. It involves science and technology themed events for adults and children, running in every state and territory between August 11 and 19.

Now in its twenty-second year, the carnival attracts upwards of a million curious minds to nearly 2000 events happening in every corner of the country.

This festival is part of the Federal Government’s Inspiring Australia initiative to boost appreciation and engagement in the sciences. It also has the support of Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, and the backing of media heavyweights including the ABC and Cosmos.

Each Australian city has myriad events on the menu, and there is plenty happening in the regions, too. In the capital, Canberra, there will be free workshops to encourage girls to take up careers in the earth and marine sciences on August 15, and the STEM fields on August 18.

Also on offer will be the Mission to Space events, held at local libraries, in which children aged seven and over will be able to learn about orbits, space programs, and how objects get launched, all while helping build a LEGO model of the International Space Station.

The state of Victoria has everything from learning how to make bath bombs, to 3D printing workshops, and conducting experiments with static electricity held at libraries all over the city of Melbourne.

There are 13 venues around the state running Immersive Science II: Revealing the Invisible Universe. With astronomers Alan Duffy and Rebecca Allen for company and with the aid of a virtual reality headset, attendees will learn about how Australian scientists are making significant contributions to space research.

In the run-up to the week, South Australia has Science Alive! on August 4 and 5 at the Adelaide Showgrounds. This large science and technology expo allows interaction with native animals, features a walk-through replica of the...

Blog The Future 14 June 2018
Dr Frankenstein and his monster, still inspiring people two centuries on.
Dr Frankenstein and his monster, still inspiring people two centuries on.
CSA Images/Printstock Collection/Getty Images

The Australian state of Victoria invites you to attend Humans 2.0, the focal point of its National Science Week festival, on August 15, at Flinders Event Space in the city of Melbourne.

National Science Week is an annual event, sponsored by the Federal Government and a range of other benefactors, including Cosmos.

Humans 2.0 draws inspiration from the science fiction masterpiece, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley. First published in 1818, it has been continuously in print for 200 years.

The organisers of the show implore attendees to consider what it will mean to be human in the coming century. To aid thought processes, there are opportunities to interact with AI, become immersed in an augmented reality experience, and play with high-tech prototypes.

In addition, you can hear about what the future holds in terms of communications, transportation and sports from experts in the field, and even pose your own questions to them.

There are other issues that will be discussed, such as humanity’s place is in a mechanised world, how to develop sustainable communities of the future, and the best way to feed the growing population.

So, come along to this free event and immerse yourself in science. Register here.