Out with a blaze: The Grand Finale of a lifetime

The night of the 16th of September 2017 saw the end of a 13-year long mission for the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft end. With the final transmission received at 9:54pm AEST by the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, the space craft was no more as it burnt up within Saturn’s atmosphere.

Originally slated to end in 2008, the extended mission lifetime of the Cassini spacecraft has seen our knowledge of about Saturn and its moons grow substantially. Our only knowledge about the outer planets was from Voyager 1 and 2. Cassini was the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, gathering information about the planets itself but also the Saturn’s moons. However, scenes like this make you wonder why the end was so full of emotions.

Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

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Makers take on the world in solar car challenge

Today we celebrated the launch of Sol Invictus, ANU’s very first solar car. The car has been a collaboration between 30 students from faculties across the university.

We caught up with Dominic D’Castro, engineering student and long-time ANU MakerSpace user. Dom has been utilising the MakerSpace to build everything from steering wheels to miniature solar cars. Continue reading

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Crocodile Hunting with the Science Circus

When you’re performing science shows in schools, you get to meet so many interesting people. It’s one of the best things about touring with the Shell Questacon Science Circus. You visit communities in ways you’d never be able to if you were just there for a holiday.

We (Maddy and Ellen) had one such adventure on the final day of our four week Far North Queensland tour.

The trickiest part of going to school shows is navigating your way there.  Maddy started the day with an absentminded drive up a winding tropical road that, as it turns out, was not the way to the school. Ellen eventually got us back on track and we headed for Babinda, a beautiful town near Cairns.

It was the last day for a lot of things – our last school show, the students’ last day of school and our last chance to sightsee. We wanted to find some crocodiles before we left Queensland. We thought this could be the day.

While Ellen prepared slime for the show, Maddy got talking to Jamie, a parent who attended our public exhibition the night before. He worked on the sugar cane fields, but he had the day off because it was pouring with rain.

We told him about our quest for crocodiles and he said he knew a spot where they hang out. If the rain kept up, he might even be able to take us there. We were keen.

Three schools came to watch our show. The audience helped Maddy write a song about elephant’s toothpaste, Ellen got children covered in slime and the rain pattered away on the roof.  As we packed up, Jamie confirmed he had the day off.  Ellen checked with the principal that he was a good type, and we jumped in his truck.

Jamie drove us through the sugarcane fields where he worked every day. It was good to learn more about the crops we’d spent the last month driving through. And it was great to actually get onto a farm – we had to stick to sealed roads in our hire cars.

We hit up a few crocodile hotspots but couldn’t see any.  Jamie’s boss told us they were probably hiding in the river. This was not a hugely comforting fact.

The road was starting to get too muddy for the truck, so we decided to drive around Babinda. After a spot of fishing, Jamie showed us his tractor and a sugarcane harvester. We were learning that sugarcane harvesting involves a lot more work than we would have guessed.

Next we returned to that winding tropical road which led to the Babinda Boulders. Jamie showed us the notorious spot on the river which has claimed the lives of a mysteriously large number of young men.

We had a walk in the rainforest, and by then we all had the local bakery on our mind. We thanked Jamie over lunch for the most interesting final day of tour we could have hoped for. It didn’t even matter that we didn’t spot any crocodiles in the end.

Travel is always exciting, whether or not you find the reptiles you’re looking for. But we think science outreach is one of the most exciting ways to travel. You never know who you’re going to meet.

Madeleine Parker and Ellen Phiddian

Maddy and Ellen are travelling all over the country delivering science shows as they gain their Master of Science Communication Outreach. This one of a kind programme provides students with specialist training in science communication, using science media across platforms, engaging varied publics with science and managing science events and outreach operations.

Applications to enrol in next year’s programme are now open. Students are supported by a stipend, and are eligible for Commonwealth Supported Places.

Check it out here: http://cpas.anu.edu.au/study/degree-programs/master-science-communication-outreach


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Impacts, benefits and challenges of UK-Australia research collaboration

The Performance Review of the Australian Innovation Science and Research System report that was presented by Innovation Science Australia in 2016, found Australian universities to have low levels of both domestic and international intersectoral research collaboration. Whilst the Australian Research Council is currently undergoing ways of tracking the impacts of Australian universities’ research through its Engagement and Impact Assessment scheduled for 2018, work is yet to be done on comprehensively mapping the entire Australian ISR system, particularly when it comes to intersectoral research.

This report presents a preliminary mapping of the key collaborations in the UK-Australian innovation, science and research (ISR) system, as well as a description of the perceived benefits, challenges and impacts of Australian universities to collaborating with universities and businesses in the UK.

The mapping showed that research collaborations between universities contain significantly more overlap in collaborations then compared to the collaborations with other sectors – where often research partnerships were unique.  Furthermore, Australian universities see great benefit in collaborating with the UK and its global reputation for high quality research, and see international and intersectoral collaboration as a key part of the knowledge transfer process from academic to other sectors.

The findings also describe significant challenges faced by universities when engaging in international and intersectoral collaborations. Smaller universities reported difficulties in establishing connections with research institutions due to the high costs of communicating across the long distance and time-differences associated with the UK, as well as a lack of knowledge in how to formalise research agreements across the differences in legal systems between Australia and the UK.

Brody Hannan ANIP Report June 2017

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Can we “science away” palm oil?

Credit: Permaculture (magazine)

Yes, we can.

Activist groups have been campaigning against palm oil for decades. What is less known though is that science has also been quietly working away, trying to find solutions to the myriad of issues that palm oil production creates… and it’s happening right here in Australia.

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The Australian Housing Crisis: Possum Edition

Just like Australians looking to get into the property market, possums are facing their own unique housing problems.

Possums rely on large tree-hollows to make their homes, but these hollows can take over 100 years to form.  Combine this with habitat clearing and possums are finding it even harder to find the perfect home.

With possums in peril, organisations like WIRES advocate for people to install nest-boxes to keep them safe and out of our own homes. Helping our fellow Aussies find a home is great, but what if nest-boxes are doing more harm than good?

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Watching mammoths go extinct

A new study of mammoths has discovered startling amounts of mutations accumulated in the DNA of a small population isolated on Wrangel Island off Siberia.

This research has important ramifications for current critically endangered species. It is an unusually long term example what happens to animals as they go extinct. This is a warning example of what happens to animals as they slowly go extinct.

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A new solution to acid mine drainage

If your tap water looked like this, would you drink it?

Acid mine drainage can have severe effects on the health of our waterways.

Image credit: USGS

No? Then you may be surprised to hear that water like this exists in many places across Australia. The reason the water looks so unhealthy is because it has been affected by acid mine drainage, also known as AMD.

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Don’t have a cow, man: Ditching dairy, beef and lamb aids in global transition to sustainability

Time to put down your meat pie and double caramel mocha decaf frappuccino – unless you ordered it on soy.

New research out of Chalmers university in Sweden suggests giving up beef and dairy will allow the energy system to transition to sustainable sources slower while still meeting global climate targets.

Ruminant production is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the livestock sector. Image: CC0 Public Domain.

Ruminants, including cows, sheep and goats, are mammals that have multiple stomach chambers to digest foods. The study found that if we were all to ban ruminant products from our plates it would allow a slower transition to sustainable energy, like wind and solar power.

You may be scrambling to think of meals that don’t contain ruminant products but there’s still plenty to enjoy: eggs, pork and poultry are still on the energy- and climate-friendly menu. Continue reading

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Water for the future. Do a reverse on reverse osmosis

Water is our most precious resource in Australia. Not natural gas, oil, coal or opals. Water. We must do everything to preserve it but sometimes, extraneous conditions make it hard.

Many will remember the millennium drought which saw harsh water restriction imposed. In response, our state governments built desalination plants to supplement our dwindling water supplies. The plants turned salt water to drinking water by a process called reverse osmosis to literally squeeze the salt out of the water.

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