CSIRO Snapshot

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A breath test for malaria

It may not have the ferocity of a lion or the killer instinct of a shark, but there’s a fair argument to be made that the humble mozzie is the world’s top killer. In 2013 alone, half a million people died from malaria. Thankfully, a collaborative team working with our scientists have identified a distinct chemical in the breath of malaria sufferers, making future detection as easy as a breath test.

Read about this new detection method on our blog.

Chocolate bunny

Nanotech prize a first for women in science

A nanoparticle is one billionth of a metre. It might be hard to appreciate how small that is but our resident nanoscientist Amanda Barnard understands this “invisible” world. So it’s no wonder that the Foresight Institute announced Amanda as this year’s awardee of the prestigious 2014 Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (Theory) – it’s like the Nobel Prize of the nanoscience world. Not only is Amanda the first Australian in the Prize’s 22-year history to win the award, she’s also the first woman, shining a much-needed spotlight on the achievements of women in science.

Read about Amanda’s outstanding achievement on our blog.

Science Stuff May 2015

Extreme weather

Sydney storm

Sydney storm

How can we predict extreme weather events like the Sydney storm in Australia last week?

The wild storm that hit Sydney was the result of a weather system called an east coast low.

East coast lows are intense low pressure systems that form off the eastern coast of Australia. They can bring intense winds, flooding events, severe thunderstorms and unusual inland snowfalls. They can cause damage to coastal infrastructure and wreck or beach ships.

The problem is that these systems are hard to predict. They can form very rapidly and they will often form at night.

Lloyds Register Foundation funded research to help predict these extreme events by looking at ocean temperatures.

They supported researchers to study these events, including the east coast low that brought the massive coal ship, the Pasha Bulker, to ground at Newcastle in 2007.

Chris Chambers works on the project, and says ocean eddies are large features in the ocean that contain huge amounts of warm water. “They rotate and move gradually southward down the coast bringing warm water in huge pockets to the regions just offshore. Each of these pockets provides an enormous source of heat and water vapour to the atmosphere.”

“Next to one of these warm eddies there might be a cold eddy. This means that the ocean temperatures might change very quickly over a short distance. This also has an effect on the atmosphere and can strongly affect the rainfall.”

Researchers are now working on improved models of ocean eddies. Simulations of these eddies might tell us when to expect an east coast low.

Name Pluto

Pluto

The New Horizons spacecraft has begun sending back images of the much loved dwarf planet. As it gets closer, we will see features on Pluto’s surface for the first time. Craters, canyons, mountains will appear in New Horizons’ images. But what shall we call them?

A crowd-sourced naming campaign held by NASA and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) let people vote on a long list of possible names.

Space archaeologist Dr Alice Gorman from Flinders University says, “It’s a wonderful way to get people involved in space exploration.” She believes that “it’s kind of opening it up and making the solar system more democratic.”

As Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld, so the themes for its names are exploration and the underworld.

Alice says there are some good options to choose from including a Yolngu word, Baralku. “It’s the name of the island of the dead in Yolngu culture, which is in northern Australia in Arnhem Land” she says.

“I’m impressed with the more than 40 000 thoughtful submissions,” said Mark Showalter from the SETI Institute, which is hosting the naming website, www.ourpluto.org. “Every day brings new lessons in the world’s history, literature and mythology. Participation has come from nearly every country on Earth, so this really is a worldwide campaign.”

On 14 July, New Horizons will pass Pluto at a speed of around 50 000 kilometres per hour. It will take thousands of images and then beam them back to Earth. At a distance of around 6 billion kilometres from Earth, it will take approximately 4.5 hours for data to get back home.

Scats track quokka cuisine

Quokka

Even though it has the cutest smile in the marsupial world, quokkas still need a good supply of food, water and rest spots to survive.

The biggest population of these adorable marsupials live on Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth in Western Australia.

To help these furry friends, researchers from Western Australian have mapped the plants they like to eat and the places they like to sleep on the island.

“The Rottnest Island population is resource limited,” says researcher Patricia Fleming. “It is likely that loss of a key plant species will alter the carrying capacity of the island.”

Quokkas eat grass, leaves, seeds and roots. To find out the exact plants they eat, researchers collected quokka poo from 210 places on the island and took it back to the lab to dry out and be studied.

After a close look, they found that the quokka diet has changed since it was last studied, 50 years ago. Fire, human influences and the quokkas themselves have all changed the plants that grow on the island.

Patricia also found out where quokkas like to rest – they prefer dense, abundant shrubs for shelter. These comfy spots are especially important at the end of summer when the cold nights arrive – a tough time of the year for a quokka.

This information will help land managers make sure Rottnest Island remains home for quokkas by planting what they like to eat and protecting the places they like to rest.

Scientists revive Brontosaurus

Brontosaurus

The history of the Brontosaurus is long and colourful. Over 100 years ago, there was a race to discover new dinosaurs, known as ‘the bone wars’. Paleontologist O.C. Marsh found many new dinosaurs during this time – in 1877 he described the Apatosaurus and in 1879, the Brontosaurus was greeted as a newly found dinosaur.

Several years later, Marsh’s evidence was revised. Scientists compared both dinosaurs to a new skeleton. They came to the conclusion that all three dinosaurs were the same species. Since Apatosaurus was named first, the name Brontosaurus was relegated to the dustbin.

For 100 years, scientists thought Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were the same dinosaur. But recently, old information regarding the Brontosaurus has been formally re-assessed.

The researchers studied the evolutionary relationship of different dinosaurs using their remaining fossil bones. They found conclusive evidence that Brontosaurus is distinct from Apatosaurus and can now be reinstated as its own unique genus.

Science is a constantly changing subject, not just a dusty pile of old facts. The Brontosaurus’ resurrection is an example of how new research can change previously accepted science.

Biggest ever asteroid impact found in Australia

asteroid_impact

Deep underground in the centre of Australia is evidence of the biggest asteroid impact in the Earth’s history

It wasn’t just a single impact, but a twin strike from a meteorite that may have split into two as it plummeted towards Earth.

Researchers unexpectedly found signs of the collisions in the middle of Australia, at the tripoint where South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory meet. They were drilling almost two kilometres into the Earth’s surface, investigating the geothermal energy in the area.

The drill core they pulled out contained traces of rocks that had turned to glass, a sign of the extreme temperature and pressure caused by a major impact.

The exact date of the event remains unclear. The surrounding rocks are 300 to 600 million years old.

The researcher who found the craters, Andrew Glikson, says it’s all very much a mystery. “We can’t find an extinction event that matches these collisions. I have a suspicion the impacts could be older than 300 million years,” he says.

“There are two huge deep domes in the crust, formed by the Earth’s crust rebounding after the huge impacts, and bringing up rock from the mantle below,” says Andrew.

The two impact zones total more than 400 kilometres across, in the Warburton Basin in Central Australia. “The two asteroids must each have been over 10 kilometres across,” says Andrew.

Robots explore underwater volcano

Pumicerock

When mysterious lumps of pumice stone washed up on beaches in Tasmania, Australia, Rebecca Carey knew that they must be coming from an underwater volcano.

Rebecca is a Tasmanian volcanologist (someone who studies volcanos), and she had been tracking the travelling pumice for more than a year. She knew these large chunks of floating solidified magma were coming from a huge underwater volcanic eruption around 1000 kilometres north of Auckland.

The eruption was first noticed by a plane passenger who saw large rafts of pumice floating on the water.

Rebecca is now travelling to the volcano that produced the pumice, aboard US ship Roger Revelle, to find out more about its eruption. Researchers are keen to take a closer look as we know little about deep underwater volcanic magma eruptions.

“We are interested in how those pumice particles are transported once they leave the vent,” says Rebecca.

Rebecca says the team will use two robots to find out more about the Havre volcanic eruption. One is an autonomous underwater vehicle, called Sentry. The other is a remotely operated vehicle, called Jason.

Sentry is equipped with sonar, cameras, and chemical and magnetic sensors. It will float around, mapping the site and keeping itself out of trouble.

Jason will allow scientists on the ship to access the seafloor remotely. Scientists will pilot Jason down to the ocean bed to collect samples of rock, sediment and marine life.

While the scientists are learning about volcanos, they want you to follow the exploration, and ask questions along the way.

“We have a website which will report our activities and findings in real time, by posting photos of everyday life on the ship and videos of the footage the robots recover.” says Rebecca. “School children are encouraged to follow our voyage online and they will be able to ask the scientists questions.”

Space weather on Friday the 13th

Weeather_space

A minor geomagnetic storm was forecast for around midday (Australia time) Friday the 13 of March. The storm is a result of three solar flares from the Sun that occurred earlier this week.

The coronal mass ejections from these solar flares may strike a glancing blow to the Earth this Friday, according to scientists from the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.

Coronal mass ejections are bursts of gas and magnetic fields that are released from the Sun. It takes a coronal mass ejection, on average, 98 hours to reach the Earth.

We don’t feel the effect of a solar flare here on the Earth’s surface because we are protected by the atmosphere and the Earth’s magnetic field. But intense solar flares can disturb high altitude satellites, including geostationary communications satellites and the GPS constellation.

Will these solar flares disrupt our technology and leave us without our Friday night plan? Probably not, as the solar flares observed this week were a tenth of the size of the most intense flares.

They may, however, produce a strong aurora near the North and South Poles. So if you are anywhere near the poles, Friday night could be a good time to turn your head towards the sky.

Anxious Angry Depressed Thriving

I have what is termed a ‘depressive personality’ and that sometimes go with the introverted territory. I have felt at times I had mild depression but perhaps it was just fatigue. In any case my real challenge has been the escalation of survival choices in development. Born with an anxious temperament, the choices around a volatile family life meant becoming angry, separated, and, eventually, arrogant. I call it the 4 ‘A’s”: Anxious, angry arrogant, a#$*. The dissonance around anger and arrogance vs anxiety and guilt are the feeders for depression and fatigue. I was too twitchy to keep the anger and other emotions in, and I suspect that thwarted developing deep depression. As my life has turned towards dance and other training in Being, I have found a gradual lessening of anger, separation and maybe I’m even less arrogant. And in a number of arena’s the complaint and the arrogance has lead my contribution in the world. Now I live closer to the anxiety or the basic temperament, in the expectation that it is possible to complete the past and reconstruct the Being with a whole new set of choices that is not about surviving as a response to anxiety but thriving with it.

Depression is normal. With about 15% of the population in depression that makes it normal. Not nice. But normal. Parker J Palmer, author of “Darkness Before Dawn” says,”redefining depression from something taboo to something that we should be exploring together in open and vulnerable ways; from something that’s purely biological to something that has dimensions of spiritual and psychological mystery to it; and from something that’s essentially meaningless to something that can be meaningful—all of this seems to me to be important.” And in a sense I think the question it is asking of society is “How many masks are we gonna hide behind to protect ourselves from each other’s vulnerability in the world?” And perhaps if some of the masks come off, we find ourselves at greater ease and depression becomes lessened among us. For Parker J Palmer, coming out of depression provides a great hollowing out that “makes space inside you for the suffering of other people”.

THE 20% – TAKERS, DESTROYERS, INHIBITORS, WASTERS.

“Be an admonisher to the rich..” Bahá’u’llah

In a recent community argument, it was offered that consultation would be favourable. I agree. However, consultation requires that both parties come to the table. In this case, one of the parties, a developer, has taken an attitude of ‘we want you to give us what we want, and we aren’t going to talk about what you want”.

There is an idea in the west that a thing, called capitalism, belongs to a western way of doing things. Capitalism is a term used by Karl Marx in the 19th century to describe a macroeconomic dynamic he was seeing. However that dynamic is a fractal social dynamic that can be observed since the agricultural revolution and, therefore, has its roots in prehistory.

Global_Distribution_of_Wealth_01Community research in the 1970’s in third world and first world communities, of all races, found that 20% of the community (usually certain families) tend to own 80% of the wealth. Zooming in on this, 20% of that 20% own 80% of the 80% of wealth I.e 4% own 64% of wealth and that fractal continues down to the most wealthy people on the planet. In line with this tendency, a recent report in “The Guardian” showed that 1% of the global population owned 48% of the global wealth.

Widespread poverty exists where there are no checks on the fundamental cause of this bias. For the fundamental cause lies in the shameless audacity of the few to assert their right to that wealth by any means available. There seem to be few internal ethical checks among this group and so only external checks in the form of human rights laws and taxes, maintains some favour in community. In countries where these laws are missing or malleable, poverty and injury is endemic.

Nonetheless, in all communities and nations as a whole, the economic bias exists, driven by the anti-community attitude.

Thomas Picketty (2013) has shown that only when heavy taxes apply to this 20%, does the whole community or nation thrive both economically and socially. Meanwhile it seems that, in every community and nation, it is important for the welfare of the community, to be mindful of those families who are organised to harvest the assets of the community for themselves. Without being mindful of these and creating community methods for redistribution, the gathering of the community assets, the destruction of the environment and the resources of the future, and the frittering of social capital, will continue until all is lost.

In the solution to poverty in the world, even if all the middle class people gave all their money to the poor, 80% of that money will end up in the hands of the wealthy 20%. In first world communities, the community spirit, the social capital, the aspirations, and the possibilities for improving welfare, continues to diminish so long as these groups remain unchecked.

Even of those who, having amassed incredible wealth and who then decide to provide some of that wealth to community through philanthropy, the question might be asked, “If your product, your profit, was more modestly priced, might not that product have been accessible to more, inspired more, opened more to the possibility of contribution, and therefore created vastly more innovation than the philanthropy that comes late to the growing problems.

The Radical Forgiveness of Abdu’l-Baha

A conversation today had me thinking about the idea of radical forgiveness as exemplified by the Truth and Justice Commission of South Africa, and Justice. It seems that the society that doesn’t move in Justice is not able to get over it’s past, not able to forgive. However, the greatest example of radical forgiveness of the modern era must belong to Abdu’l-Baha. Having spent a lifetime from childhood in exile, imprisonment and house arrest, having been under threat of murder or execution, having guided the infant Baha’i community in Persia, peacefully, through a period of loss of hundred of lives by the hands of the Persian authorities, Abdu’l-Baha stood as comfort to a man who was at the heart of that lifetime of attacks. The story was told by a man who facilitated this chance meeting between Abdu’l-Baha and the Prince (brother of the Shah) in France in 1911.

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