This week at Science in Public

This Week

 

Talk to media, business, government: sessions in Cairns and Townsville this week

Other

We’re holding a series of courses at JCU in Cairns and Townsville.

Meet working journalists from TV, radio and online, learn what they need, and how to keep it accurate – Cairns on Tuesday 17 September, Townsville on 19 September and Monday 23 September.

Find out how to talk to business, government and the community: Cairns on Wednesday 18 September, Townsville on Friday 20 September.

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Immune response depends on mathematics of narrow escapes

Macquarie University, Media releases

The shape of immune cells plays key role in recognising invaders.

The ruffled surface of a T cell means only very small areas make close contact with potential enemy cells. CREDIT: Blausen Medical

The way immune cells pick friends from foes can be described by a classic maths puzzle known as the “narrow escape problem”.

That’s a key finding arising from an international collaboration between biologists, immunologists and mathematicians, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The narrow escape problem is a framework often applied in cellular biology. It posits randomly moving particles trapped in a space with only a tiny exit, and calculates the average time required for each one to escape.

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There’s no place like home: butterflies stick to their burbs

Macquarie University, Media releases

Members of at least one species choose mates and egg sites based on where they were born, research reveals

Two American passionfruit butterflies, Heliconius charithonia, part of Dr Darrell Kemp’s research cohort.
Credit: Darrell Kemp.

Birthplace exerts a lifelong influence on butterflies as well as humans, new research reveals.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Macquarie University ARC Future Fellow Associate Professor Darrell Kemp reveals that the American passionfruit butterfly, Heliconius charithonia, selects its mate and egg-laying site based on the species of plant that hosted its own egg.

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And then there was light: looking for the first stars in the Universe

Media releases

Researchers hunt for a 12-billion-year-old signal that marks the end of the post Big Bang “dark age”.

In this image of the Epoch of Reionisation, neutral hydrogen, in red, is gradually ionizsed by the first stars, shown in white.Credit: Paul Geil and Simon Mutch

Astronomers are closing in on a signal that has been travelling across the Universe for 12 billion years, bringing them nearer to understanding the life and death of the very earliest stars.

In a paper on the preprint site arXiv and soon to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, a team led by Dr Nichole Barry from Australia’s University of Melbourne and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) reports a 10-fold improvement on data gathered by the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) – a collection of 4096 dipole antennas set in the remote hinterland of Western Australia.

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Blue Carbon Horizons team wins Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

Eureka Prizes, Macquarie University, Media releases

Collaboration investigates the link between changing sea levels, global warming and the health of marine wetlands.

Blue Carbon Horizons Team Eureka Prizes 2019 © Salty Dingo 2019 CRG-7409

Carbon dioxide capture by coastal ecosystems operates in direct relation to the speed of sea level rise.

That was the conclusion of extensive research conducted by a team of scientists from Macquarie University, University of Wollongong and ANSTO – work that has now won the scientists the NSW Environment, Energy and Science (DPIE) Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

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Riding the nurdle wave to a Eureka

Other

Science In Public’s Michael Lucy wins a Eureka Prize

Michael Lucy, winner Finkel Foundation Eureka Prize for Long- Science Journalism. 2019 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes © Salty Dingo 2019 CRG

Michael won the award – presented at a glittering ceremony at the Australian Museum in Sydney on Wednesday, August 28 – for a feature he wrote on plastic pollution. The story was published in Cosmos magazine.

At the time of publication, Michael was also features editor of the magazine, working alongside editor Andrew Masterson – who is now editor-in-chief at Science In Public.

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Pioneering collaboration between Indigenous communities and Macquarie wins Eureka Prize for STEM inclusion

Macquarie University, Media releases

The NISEP program has helped almost 1000 Indigenous school children enter leadership roles.

National Indigenous Science Education Program Eureka Prizes 2019 © Salty Dingo 2019 CRG-7382

The National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP), based at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Sydney’s Macquarie University, won the inaugural the Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion at the 2019 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

The awards were held in Sydney on Wednesday, August 28.

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Searching for insight? Maybe get into nature

ABC projects, National Science Week

Early results from Australia-wide experiment suggest being outdoors can be a good way to trigger “aha” moments.

People are most likely to have a sudden bright idea when out in the bush – or lying in bed.

That’s one of the early observations arising from The Aha! Challenge, the month-long Australia-wide science experiment that kicked off during National Science Week and runs until the end of August.

The experiment, which revolves around a series of online brainteasers, aims to explore sudden bursts of clarity and insight, and their role in problem-solving. In effect, it’s a nationwide quest to find the things that make you go “aha!

And so far the results have been very revealing.

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A New Hope for Coral Reefs: Largest-Ever Study Unlocks Global Solution to Save Coral Communities

Macquarie University, Media releases

Scientists urge priority action on hundreds of surviving reefs.

Image credit: Jeremy Bishop

The majority of 2500 reefs surveyed in a major international exercise retain the coral species that give them their distinctive structure.

More than 80 marine scientists, including several from Australia, contributed to the study, which is published in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution.

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Antiseptic resistance in bacteria could lead to next-gen plastics

Macquarie University, Media releases

Australia-UK researchers identify ancient protein pumps that make bacteria tough to treat – but could be key to new green polymers

The molecular machinery used by bacteria to resist chemicals designed to kill them could also help produce precursors for a new generation of nylon and other polymers, according to new research by scientists from Australia and the UK.

“Resistance to artificial antiseptics appears to be a lucky accident for the bacteria, and it could also be useful for humans,” says Professor Ian Paulsen of Australia’s Macquarie University, one of the leaders of the research group.

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National challenge seeks to get inside your head

ABC projects, Media releases, National Science Week

Researchers set up Australia-wide experiment to explore why and when the pennies drop.

Scientists want to know the things that make you go “aha!”.

Throughout August, researchers from the University of Melbourne are conducting a country-wide citizen science project to better understand how the human brain works.

The focus of the project, dubbed The Aha! Challenge, is to investigate the kind of sudden problem-solving insight that makes you spontaneously exclaim “yes!” or “at last!” or, indeed, “aha!”. It’s the ABC’s community project for National Science Week.

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Using quantum dots and a smartphone to find killer bacteria

Macquarie University, Media releases

Australian scientists develop cheap and rapid way to identify antibiotic-resistant golden staph (MRSA).

Researchers Anwar Sunna (right) and Vinoth Kumar Rajendran with their smartphone-enabled MRSA detector.
Credit: Sunna Lab

A combination of off-the-shelf quantum dot nanotechnology and a smartphone camera soon could allow doctors to identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria in just 40 minutes, potentially saving patient lives.

Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph), is a common form of bacterium that causes serious and sometimes fatal conditions such as pneumonia and heart valve infections. Of particular concern is a strain that does not respond to methicillin, the antibiotic of first resort, and is known as methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA.

Recent reports estimate that 700 000 deaths globally could be attributed to antimicrobial resistance, such as methicillin-resistance. Rapid identification of MRSA is essential for effective treatment, but current methods make it a challenging process, even within well-equipped hospitals.

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Gender bending: baby turtles influence their own sex

Macquarie University, Media releases

Chinese-Australian research finds climate change good news, and solves an evolutionary mystery

Chinese Pond Turtle (Mauremys reevesii)
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Baby turtles influence their gender by moving around inside their eggs, research has revealed.

The idea that an embryo reptile can act in a way that affects its chances of developing as male or female has long been thought impossible, but findings by scientists from China and Australia have now provided clear proof of the process.

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, solves a long-standing evolutionary mystery – and offers hope that at least some species thought especially vulnerable to effects of climate change will prove more robust than thought.

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Anaemic star carries the mark of its ancient ancestor

Media releases

Australian-led astronomers find the most iron-poor star in the Galaxy, hinting at the nature of the first stars in the Universe.

A visualisation of the formation of the first stars. Credit: Wise, Abel, Kaehler (KIPAC/SLAC)

A newly discovered ancient star containing a record-low amount of iron carries evidence of a class of even older stars, long hypothesised but assumed to have vanished.

In a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, researchers led by Dr Thomas Nordlander of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) confirm the existence of an ultra-metal-poor red giant star, located in the halo of the Milky Way, on the other side of the Galaxy about 35,000 light-years from Earth.

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Aussie sharks still at risk from industrial fishing, despite protections

Macquarie University, Media releases

Macquarie University’s Professor Rob Harcourt urges Oceania-wide action to safeguard several species.

Sharks in Australian waters are well protected but are at risk as soon as they leave them, a new international study reveals.

The North Atlantic blue shark shares much of its territory with longline fishing fleets. Credit: Neil Hammerschlag

The study compiled by 150 scientists around the world – including 26 with ties to Australia – has found that even in the most remote parts of the world’s oceans migratory sharks are in severe danger from commercial fishing fleets, new research reveals.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, more than 150 scientists, including Professor Rob Harcourt from the Department of Biological Sciences at Australia’s Macquarie University, report that the sharks – which include iconic species such as the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus)  and the great white (Carcharodon carcharias) – congregate in food-rich areas that are also prime hunting grounds for commercial longline fishing fleets.

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Astronomer flies high to spy on star formation

Macquarie University

Dr Stuart Ryder is venturing into the stratosphere on a NASA jet to study the birthplace of massive stars.

Macquarie University astronomer Dr Stuart Ryder is in New Zealand to hitch a ride on a NASA jet and take a closer look at how stars are born in one of the most active stellar nurseries ever seen.

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Baby blue-tongues are born smart

Macquarie University

Australian research finds little lizards learn very quickly.

Young Australian eastern blue-tongue lizards (Tiliqua scincoides) are every bit as clever as adults, researchers have found.

Life is hard for baby blue-tongues. As soon as they are born, they are on their own, with neither parental support nor protection. Adults of the species can grow to 600 millimetres long and enjoy the benefits of thick scales and a powerful bite, but the young are much smaller and thus more vulnerable to predation.

And that means they have to box clever if they are to survive.

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Exiled moons may explain astronomical mysteries

Macquarie University

Australian and South American researchers posit wandering “ploonets” as unseen actors in distant solar systems.

Moons ejected from orbits around gas giant exoplanets could explain several astronomical mysteries, an international team of astronomers suggests.

Researchers led by Mario Sucerquia, from the Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia, and Jaime Alvarado-Montes from Australia’s Macquarie University, modelled the likely behaviour of giant exomoons predicted to form around massive planets – and discovered that they would be expelled and sent packing.

Roughly 50% of these ejected moons would survive both the immediate expulsion and avoid any subsequent collision with the planet or the star, ending up as quasi-planets travelling around the host star, but in eccentric “Pluto-like” orbits.

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Fresh Science now open; $3.8M for young researchers and students; ARC Linkage grants announced; Science Week and science prizes

Fresh Science, Science stakeholder bulletins

Encourage your early-career researchers to talk about their results and discoveries by getting them to nominate for Fresh Science – a national competition that helps emerging scientists who have results that deserve attention.

Fresh Science, now in its 22nd year, provides a day of media training, followed by a traditional pub test. More below.

Westpac has endowed a new perpetual suite of fellowships and scholarships. Nominate your top early-career researchers, social innovators and students now. Read on for details.

Other prizes and opportunities:

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