Category Archives: News

Fast and fit

boys runningThe London 2012 Olympic Games took place in July and August. During two weeks of competition a total of 117 Olympic records were broken, some by only hundredths of a second. Having superfast reaction times helps athletes to start and finish first.

Aussies kids’ reaction times were collected as part of the 2012 CensusAtSchool questionnaire. Students did an activity to test how quickly they could react with their hands: their dominant hand, and their non-dominant hand. Your dominant hand is the one you like to write with.

The mean (average) reaction time for all students who completed the activity was calculated for each year level. Why not check out data for your year level in the National Summary Tables? Continue reading Fast and fit

Breakthrough in Mental Disorder Treatment – How Skin Cells Can Help Improve Mental Health

skin cellsWithout a doubt, the skin is one of the most important organs in the human body. Among the numerous reasons why the skin is an important organ is because it allows for sensation, acts as a waterproof shield and provides effective protection against bacteria and germs; recently, however, researchers have formulated a theory that skin can also be successfully converted into functional brain cells.

Scientists at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California claim that they have developed a method for transforming skin cells into fully functional neurons. This could mean a breakthrough in mental disorder treatment as it is a much more noninvasive and personalized approach to the old, conventional methods. Many believe the current approach to treating mental disorders is flawed, and for good reason. Continue reading Breakthrough in Mental Disorder Treatment – How Skin Cells Can Help Improve Mental Health

NASA announces discovery of extraterrestrial life

The National Aeronautics and Space (NASA) of America today, Thursday, will announce an astrobiology discovery that could prove the theory that there is extraterrestrial life.

The findings will be presented at a press conference on Thursday at 13:00 in NASA headquarters in Washington by experts in astrobiology, described as science which studies the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in universe. Continue reading NASA announces discovery of extraterrestrial life


WA: Celebrate International Year of Biodiversity

If you live in Western Australia, it’s time to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity. Head down to the Western Australian Museum to hear Andrew Hosie, the curator of aquatic zoology, talk about what species have been discovered in Western Australia over the last ten years. Find out what lives in the Dampier Archipelago, Northwest Atolls and the Kimberley.

  • When: 6 pm, Friday 7 May 2010
  • Where: NWS Shipping Theatre, Western Australian Maritime Museum , Fremantle

Entry by gold coin donation. Bookings essential on (08) 9427 2845.
More information on this lecture and a range of other lectures at the Western Australian Museum’s website.

Did you know?

Batteries often use potentially toxic chemicals such as nickel and cadmium to create electricity. It is estimated that around 94 per cent of dead batteries end up in landfill, which could lead to water pollution and damage soil microorganisms.

The National Solar Energy Centre (NSEC) in Newcastle is the only multi-collector facility of its type in Australia and home to the largest high-concentration solar array in the Southern Hemisphere.

Be aware of your water footprint. It can take as much as 16 000 litres of fresh water to produce one kilogram of beef.

Of all of the rubbish that makes it to the ocean, 15 per cent floats on the surface, 15 per cent remains near the shore and the rest sinks to the floor.

Of the 8000 animal-related insurance claims made to NRMA in NSW during 2008, over 6000 were caused by kangaroos. Motorists should drive carefully in country areas at dusk and dawn to reduce these casualties.

Shredded tyres contain metal and can not be reused as rubber without substantial expense. This problem is a key reason for the low percentage of tyres currently used for rubber recovery, despite worldwide demand.

One in four Australians buys a new television each year. If current trends continue, by 2020 the energy used by televisions in this country will double that used by refrigerators.

Places on the Earth’s crust that conduct heat from below are called ‘hot rocks’. Australia has some of the richest sources of hot rocks in the world, in the form of high-heat producing granites. These could prove to be useful energy sources in the future.

Buy recycled paper. Every tonne of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 32 000 litres of water and enough electricity to heat a house for six months.

There is clear evidence that feral cats have had a heavy impact on the fauna of many Australian islands, and have probably contributed to the extinction of a number of native species.

Kangaroos use 5000 kilojoules per day while sheep require 15000 kilojoules. Lower energy requirements mean that kangaroos have less environmental impact and therefore may be better for human and pet food. Continue reading Did you know?

Try this: Open, shut them

What’s happening?

Pine cone with one red scale labelled dry.Pine cones respond to humidity. The scales open when the pine cone is dry because the outer half of the scale shrinks more than the inner half. This causes the scales to pull away from the cone. When the pine cone is wet, the scales swell shut.
In dry air, pinecones open their scales and disperse the seeds inside. When it’s warm and dry, the conditions are favourable for seeds to scatter away and grow. Continue reading Try this: Open, shut them

Cloud crystals packed with life

Next time you’re outside, look up. Is there a cloud in the sky? You might know that these clouds are made of drops of water or ice, but that’s not all. Scientists in the US have now directly measured the biological material and mineral dust in the ice crystals found in clouds.
When the temperature is just right, clouds form around aerosols such as dust, smoke, salt, bacteria, plant matter and even the spores of fungi. Water and ice in the atmosphere grow around these aerosols and eventually this leads to rain or snow.
The scientists sampled clouds while flying at high speeds in an aircraft to find out more about these aerosols. They had a scientific instrument onboard called a mass spectrometer. This allowed them to measure the chemicals that make up ice particles in the clouds.

“By determining the chemical composition of the very cores of individual ice particles, they discovered that both mineral dust and, surprisingly, biological particles play a major role in the formation of clouds,” says Anne-Marie Schmoltner of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences. Previously this could only be predicted from laboratory experiments and measurements on the ground.
The team of scientists found that biological matter made up 33 per cent of the particles in ice crystals and mineral dust made up 50 per cent.
It was impossible for the scientists to determine whether the plant matter, fungal spores and bacteria they found were alive. This is because the mass spectrometer they used ionised the samples, smashing the samples to bits, in order to work out what chemicals were in the ice crystals.
Working out the exact composition of clouds will help scientists produce more accurate predictions about climate change. It may also lead to new ways of producing rain clouds to lessen drought.

Article and photo source: CSIRO Science by Email

The squeaky sounds of city living

Nature never feels further away than when you are in the middle of a city. Growling traffic, expanses of hot concrete and the countless tall buildings seem like another world far away from lush rainforests or tranquil mountain streams. You’d never think of a city as an ecosystem. Yet many animals have adapted to the hustle and bustle of the urban environment.
Birds and frogs use complicated songs to communicate with one another, usually to mark their territory or to attract a mate. Birds of the same species will often sing in different dialects just as we learn to speak in different languages. A study conducted in the US city of San Francisco has found the range of dialects sung by the white-crowned sparrow has changed over the past thirty years, while a study conducted by the University of Melbourne has found a similar change in frogs.
In both cases, the researchers wondered if the noise of the city influenced the species’ calls. Traffic, building construction and the effect concrete has on sound means the loudest noises in the city are low-pitched. Therefore high-pitched songs can be heard much more clearly.
In the American study, three different types of sparrow dialect were studied over three decades. The one with the lowest pitch disappeared by 1998, while the other two not only became more common, but seemed to increase in pitch when compared with their country cousins.
It’s unusual for bird dialects to change on their own so quickly, leading the researchers to believe the increasing noise of the city favoured white-capped sparrows who sang in higher pitches.
For frogs, the distance over which they can communicate can be reduced to as little as twenty metres if there’s noisy traffic around. To compensate, the males being studied seem to be croaking in a higher pitch to get the girls to listen. The question now is: do the ladies like the squeakier sounds?
Cities are important landscapes not just for humans, but for the animals who share it. While many species will adapt, and even thrive, others won’t do so well. It’s important to remember that nature isn’t always about forests, oceans and fields, but is often about what happens in our own backyard.

News: Dino sores wreck Rex

Tyrannosaurus rex might be well known as the ‘tyrant lizard king’, but it seems not even this royal reptile was immune to nature’s tiniest organisms. Once thought to be caused by the bite of a fellow T. rex, holes in the jaws of a number of skeletons around the world are now suspected to be caused by a type of microscopic parasite.
Modern day pigeons can suffer from mouth infections caused by a single-celled organisms called Trichomonas gallinae. If left untreated, this microbe can move through the body and shut down major organs, killing the bird. This bird illness has been a major concern for pigeon racers in the past.
Serious infections caused by trichomonas parasite can often cause degeneration of nearby bone, which has led some US and Australian palaeontologists to question if such markings on the jaws of Tyrannosaurus rex remains could be caused by a similar parasite. Given that birds share a branch of the family tree with dinosaurs, this similarity could be rather significant.
This is not the first time bones have provided clues on a possible disease. Contagious diseases such as syphilis, leprosy and even tuberculosis have left marks on human skeletons, helping anthropologists gain a better understanding of the lifestyle and health of people who lived during ancient times.
Discoveries such as these can tell us a lot about how dinosaurs lived and died. As with pigeons, a T. rex with an infected jaw would find it difficult to eat and may starve to death. No other dinosaurs have been found with similar markings, and it has been proposed that it may have been spread via direct contact between fighting tyrannosaurs or even through cannibalism.
When studying extinct species, scientists typically have very little to go on other than a couple of bones or an occasional footprint. Even a tiny hole or mark on a bone can tell an interesting story.

Galactic Suite Space Resort on Target

space suit

The Galactic Suite Project is a unique combination of commercialization and exploration. Directors Xavier Claramunt and Marsal Gifra have combined the expertise of three Spanish firms and one American company to bring this project to fruition. The Spanish firms are Equip XCL, Aerospace Research and Technology Center, and Global Business Technologies. The American firm, 4 Frontiers Corporation, brings with it the technology they are developing for the exploration of Mars. Headquarters of Galactic Suite is in Barcelona.

There are three phases which must be completed. First is the development of a spaceport on a yet-to-be-named Caribbean Island. The spaceport will feature a magnetic catapult to provide the initial supersonic boost to the spacecraft. There will be a runway for landing the spacecraft as the Space Shuttle does. Also on the island is a luxury hotel which will house the space travelers and their guests during the 18 week training period.

The spacecraft will be powered by hybrid rocket engines in two stages. After the catapult launch to supersonic speed, the rockets will accelerate the craft to its orbital speed of 18,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft will then maneuver to an orbital height of 300 miles, where the Galactic Suite module will be waiting. Crew on the ship will be four guests and two pilot/astronauts.

The Galactic Suite orbital hotel will have four modules joined to a central common area. Each “bedroom” module will feature a large window providing fantastic views of the earth and the stars. Floating in weightless conditions, the guests will enjoy 15 sunsets on each of the trip’s four days. At the end of the trip the crew and guests will board the spacecraft for the return to earth. The spacecraft will remain docked to the orbital hotel during the entire stay to provide an additional measure of safety and security.

The Galactic Suite Project’s initial goal of first flight in 2012 has been pushed back to 2015. The ownership continues to remain optimistic, though, and the bulk of the financing is already in place. A three billion euro initial investment by an undisclosed space enthusiast has the whole organization moving briskly toward success. Prices are expected to hold steady at four million dollars per guest, which includes the luxury accommodations at the spaceport and the training. The future of commercial space tourism has never looked brighter than it does today.