Media bulletins

Science in Public’s occasional bulletins to journalists with an interest in science.

 

Is plastic threatening our oxygen supply; a silicon path to quantum computers; Mars, wildlife, and trash talk: a first taste of Science Week

Today: it’s not just fish, plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help us breathe—scientist available for interview

Ten per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one kind of bacteria in the ocean. Macquarie University scientists have shown that these bacteria are susceptible to plastic pollution.

Study published in Communications Biology overnight; scientist available for interview and images available. Details below.

Today: Australia’s silicon quantum computer will add up accurately!

Yesterday Nature published the latest paper from this UNSW team. It’s their third in three months and reinforces that Australia is leading the race to invent a silicon-based quantum computer. This paper demonstrates that if we invent a silicon computer it will be able to do its sums accurately, which apparently wasn’t a foregone conclusion. UNSW media have all the details. More below.

Mars, wildlife, curious climate and trash talk: a first taste of National Science Week—coming up in August

Mimicking Mars missions on Earth, plastic-eating bacteria, Star Wars science, and hunting wildlife with an app (in a non-lethal way)—just some of the activities planned for National Science Week. Now’s the time to start planning your coverage of Australia’s biggest festival with an anticipated 2000+ events and activities. More below.

Kind regards,
Niall

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Promiscuous females and their role in evolution

Today: How female promiscuity changes male behaviour

Scientists genetically manipulated female fruit flies to make them more promiscuous, and then observed what impact this had on the male fruit flies’ sexual behaviour.

  • Saturday 19 January: watch out for a story about some shady behaviour from cane toads. It’s being published in Scientific Reports and is under embargo until 9pm ADST tonight. Contact us if you’d like an embargoed copy of this release.
  • We’ve found a lot of sawfish: Last week we asked for public help to track sawfish—amazing but endangered fish that can grow to eight metres and use their saw to detect the electrical impulses of their prey, then slice and dice them. The response has been amazing with 200 reports already.

You can read more about the fruit flies story below, including contact details of the scientist to interview.

Kind regards,

Niall

Promiscuous females and their role in evolution

Males have to make less of an effort to mate with promiscuous female fruit flies, making the quality and quantity of their semen all the more important in the competition to fertilise the females’ eggs.

This also leads to male flies repeatedly mating with the same female, according to a paper published overnight in Nature Communications, by researchers from Macquarie University, the University of Oxford and the University of East Anglia, who looked into the eyes of thousands of fruit flies.

Over the last 50 years, biologists have realised that females in most animal species mate with multiple males during their lifetimes, in contrast to the Victorian-era fairytale of the monogamous female. However they didn’t know how this behaviour influences how fruit flies and other species evolve.

Macquarie’s Dr Juliano Morimoto and colleagues from the UK wanted to test the theory that increasing female promiscuity would reduce male competition before mating, while increasing their competition to fertilise the female’s eggs after mating.

To do this, they first genetically manipulated female Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies to increase their promiscuity.

By deleting a sex peptide receptor, they reduced the time the females weren’t sexually receptive after mating and therefore led to them mating more frequently.

Hundreds of the more promiscuous females were marked with paint and their interactions with male flies monitored. The researchers painstakingly counted the thousands of offspring produced and identified their fathers based on eye colour.

“We found that when females mate promiscuously, male attractiveness is less important,” says Juliano. “Instead, having a large ejaculate might be what males need to win the war.”

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Predicting firestorms; what we don’t know about rice; and have you seen a sawfish?

We’re back this week with three stories:

You can read more about each of these stories below, including details of scientists to interview.

Kind regards,

Niall


The shape of a perfect storm: saving lives by predicting firestorms

 

Scientists available for interview – details and photos below.

Correction: an earlier version stated the tool is being formally trialed by the NSW Rural Fire SERVICE. It is currently in use, but formal trials ended in 2016.

A fully developed pyrocumulus cloud, formed from the smoke plume of the Grampians fire in February 2013. Credit: Randall Bacon

Firestorms are a nightmare for emergency services and anyone in their path. They occur when a bushfire meets a ‘perfect storm’ of environmental conditions and creates a thunderstorm.

Dr Rachel Badlan and Associate Professor Jason Sharples are part of a team of experts from UNSW Canberra and ACT Emergency Services that has found the shape of a fire is an important factor in whether it will turn into a firestorm.

Fires that form expansive areas of active flame, rather than spreading as a relatively thin fire-front, are more likely to produce higher smoke plumes and turn into firestorms, the researchers found.

This finding is being used to underpin further development of a predictive model for firestorms. The model was trialed in the 2015 and 2016 fire seasons by the ACT Emergency Services Agency and the NSW Rural Fire Service, and now forms part of the national dialogue around extreme bushfire development.  

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Oxygen halving child pneumonia deaths; accessing health data; plus Nobel laureate in WA and other physics stories

Today: improving access to oxygen for children wins CSL Florey Next Generation Award

We take oxygen therapy in hospitals for granted in Australia – but increasing access to it, and training in how to use it, has been halving child pneumonia deaths in Nigeria.

Dr Hamish Graham (of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and The University of Melbourne) was awarded the inaugural $20,000 CSL Florey Next Generation Award for top PhD candidate in health and biomedical sciences at the Australian Institute of Policy and Science dinner last night.

More on Hamish below.

Runner-up prizes of $2,500 were also awarded to two finalists, selected from more than 90 applications:

  • Naomi Clarke, Australian National University, for her work towards eradicating intestinal worms
  • Dean Picone, Menzies Institute for Medical ResearchUniversity of Tasmania, for his work developing better ways to measure blood pressure.

They’re also available for interviews, and we’ve got photos.

Contact Tanya Ha on 0404 083 863 or tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au

Thursday: Flying Blind 2 in Sydney

Join the Digital Health CRC for the launch of Flying Blind 2, a report that will outline how we can improve the health of all Australians and save $3 billion, just by more effectively providing researchers with access to health data.

If you’d like to come along, contact Marisa on marisa@scienceinpublic.com.au 

Thursday 29 November, 5pm to 8pm, at the CMCRC offices, level 4, 55 Harrington St, The Rocks.

Next week: Nobel laureate in WA at Australian Institute of Physics Congress 

This year’s Australian Institute of Physics Congress will run from December 9-13 at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Highlights will include:

  • 2017 Nobel laureate for gravitational wave detection and MIT professor Rainer Weiss
  • ‘active matter’ and the physics of life: Oxford expert Julia Yeomans
  • China’s quantum internet chief, Pan Jianwei.

More information can be found at www.aip2018.org.au

We’re not handling the media for it, so if you’re interested in finding out more send Niall an email on niall@scienceinpublic.com.au and we’ll put you in touch with the right person.
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The breathing Earth, light beams, frogs, crystals, and guidewires: Prime Minister’s Prizes 2018 announced

Tonight, from Parliament House in Canberra: 

The recipients of the 2018 Prime Minister’s Prizes are:

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Turning coffee waste into coffee cups; Aussie citizen scientists unite to help the Reef; and thanks for supporting National Science Week

Today

Australians drink six billion cups of coffee each year but have you ever thought about what happens to the coffee grounds used to make these coffees—which are used only once and then discarded?

A Macquarie University PhD student believes he’s come up with a way to turn this coffee waste into biodegradable plastics.

“You could use such plastics to make anything from plastic coffee cups to yoghurt containers to compost bags to sutures in medicine,” says researcher Dominik Kopp.

Contact Suzannah Lyons on suzannah@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0409 689 543 for more.

Full media release below.

Also:

Citizen scientists from around Australia are helping scientists and reef managers get a much better picture of the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

So far, they have looked at over 2.7 million points on more than 180,000 underwater images of the Reef and told us whether they can see coral, algae or sand.

They’re all taking part in Virtual Reef Diver—the ABC’s online citizen science project for National Science Week.

“The response we’ve had from citizen scientists has been amazing,” says spatial scientist and project leader Dr Erin Peterson from Queensland University of Technology. “We couldn’t collect this volume of data without their help.”

Nine scientists, divers and science communicators are available for interviews. Contact Suzannah Lyons on suzannah@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0409 689 543.

Full media release below.

And: thank you!

National Science Week wrapped up on Sunday, finishing a fortnight in which we learnt that:

  • the Andromeda Galaxy is rushing towards us at 400,000 kilometres an hour
  • pond scum (algae) could provide future foods, fuels and medicines
  • artificial intelligence is expected to equal human intelligence by 2062
  • most of the world’s vitamin D supplements are made from the greasy wool of Aussie sheep
  • ‘carcinology’ has nothing to do with cancer—it’s the study of crustaceans, who have complicated sex lives
  • NASA’s Kepler mission planet hunters have discovered 3,774 exoplanets, and their new TESS spacecraft is set to find thousands more
  • 100 years ago, CSL facilities in Melbourne made three million doses of vaccine to help combat the Spanish flu
  • Australia has a rich history of using wine as medicine
  • music is powerful for maintaining the memories of people with dementia.

These are just some of the stories told in Science Week events, posts and media coverage. There’s more stories and scientists among our highlights for media.

Thank you once again for your support of Science Week. National Science Week 2019 will run from 10 to 18 August.

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Frozen fossils, superbugs, humans 2.0, and the Ultimate Drone Challenge

Today: Highlights from day five of National Science Week

422 events and exhibitions, 22 online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

Sydney

  • Bob Brown’s battle for the planet, from the Franklin River to Federal Parliament
  • Will coral reefs survive climate change? Ask the scientists
  • Superbugs: what we need to do to become resistance fighters

Melbourne

  • Humans 2.0: what’s the future look like for humanity?

Toowoomba

  • The world’s most powerful laser. Meet Ceri Brenner, the UK physicist pressing FIRE

Canberra

  • Frozen fossils: palaeontologist reveals unseen footage of 1970 Antarctic Fossil Expedition

Darwin

  • Drone enthusiasts compete for a place in the Ultimate Drone Challenge finals

Adelaide

  • Young scientists with healthy advice for senior Australians

Perth

  • The science, songs and stories of the night sky and Indigenous astronomy.

Read on for more on these, including event contact details.
Also today:

More than 2,000 events and activities are registered throughout Australia—from Corals in the Outback in Queensland, to events at our Antarctic bases, and from STEM meets dance in Perth to The Innovation Games at Sydney Olympic Park—with everything from science festivals, music and comedy shows, expert panel discussions, interactive hands-on displays, open days and online activities.

National Science Week runs until 19 August. Media kit at www.scienceinpublic.com.au. Or visit the National Science Week website for the details of events in your area: www.scienceweek.net.au.

For general Science Week media enquiries:

Tanya Ha: tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0404 083 863
Niall Byrne: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au or 0417 131 977

Have you missed our highlights for specialist rounds?

Here they are for The Arts, Environment, Indigenous and Health reporters.

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Merlot-making microbes, health tech, hangry, and fifty shades of cray

Today: Highlights from day four of National Science Week

347 events and exhibitions, 20 online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

Adelaide

  • How do microbes turn grape juice into wine?
  • The secrets of the success of giant cuttlefish in the waters near Whyalla

Canberra

  • How are mobile devices and apps affecting our mental health and how can they be used as a force for good?
  • How will climate change affect whisky?

Albany

  • Fifty shades of cray: what does a male fiddler crab do with his enlarged claw?

Sydney

  • Quantum computing making problem-solving take minutes instead of years—Michelle Simmons
  • Stargazing over wine with Fred Watson

Melbourne

  • Hangry? How hunger affects your behaviour
  • How will apps, mobiles and sensors change healthcare? Harvard professor in Melbourne

Darwin

  • Pulse check for politicians at Parliament House

Read on for more on these, including event contact details.

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Laser power, Frankenstein, whisky science, and more

Today

National Science Week state launch events in:

  • 10am in Launceston with the Minister getting experimental at QVMAG
  • 11.30am in Canberra with the announcement of the ACT Scientist of the Year, at Kingston Bus Depot
  • 5.30pm in Melbourne with the Lead Scientist, and the volcanic roots of Frankenstein
  • 6pm in Darwin with dramatic weather at Brown’s Mart Theatre
  • 7pm in Adelaide with astrophysics and the announcement of the Science Excellence Award winners at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

More below.

Plus, dozens of MPs and senators will join CSIRO Scientists in Schools to launch Science Week locally in their electorates or regions.

See our state highlights for New South WalesQueensland and Western Australia.

We’ll have daily highlights each day of the Science Week’s nine-day ‘week’ at www.scienceinpublic.com.au/science-week and on Twitter at @SciWKMedia.

Scientists and event organisers are available for interview throughout the week – contact Tanya Ha on tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0404 083 863 or (03) 9398 1416.
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Manufacturing a cell therapy peace-keeping force, and more

Today

It’s Day 3 of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) 2018 Annual Meeting at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre: more than 2,500 stem cell scientists from 50 countries will hear from 150+ speakers, including:

Lab-grown mini-brains make new connections
Fred ‘Rusty’ Gage (USA) is making mini-brains from human stem cells in the lab. But in order for these new tissues to function, they need to become well-connected.

Fred is pioneering research to explore how transplanted human neural organoids (mini-organs) can mature into tissues with blood vessel and nerve connections. This work could lead to methods of replacing brain tissue lost to stroke or disease, and repairing spinal cords damaged by trauma.

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Treating diabetes; turning skin cells into brain cells; hearts in a dish

Today

It’s Day 2 of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) 2018 Annual Meeting at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre: more than 2,500 stem cell scientists from 50 countries will hear from 150+ speakers, including:

Treating type 1 diabetes with stem cells
A Harvard team has shown they can control glucose levels in mice using a transplant of insulin-producing cells made from human stem cells. Doug Melton presents his research today.

His effort to fight diabetes involves a 30-person lab at Harvard and a start-up company, Semma Therapeutics, which he named after his children. His son Sam and daughter Emma both have type 1 diabetes.
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Cells, salamanders and what’s wrong with US ‘right to try’ laws

Today:

  • Could you regrow an arm or a leg? Salamanders can.
  • Should you be allowed to try unapproved treatments—without the FDA tick—when you’re terminally ill? President Trump says yes.

It’s Day 1 of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) 2018 Annual Meeting at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre: more than 2,500 stem cell scientists from 50 countries will hear from 150+ speakers, including:

Taking stem cell science from the lab to the clinic, and what’s wrong with the US ‘right to try’ legislation—Roger Barker, UK

ISSCR is concerned about ‘right to try’ legislation just signed into law in the US, which allows terminally ill patients to try risky, unproven treatments without regulation or oversight. Doctors and scientists are alarmed. They say current compassionate use provisions allow access.

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Stem cell invasion: 2,500 researchers in Melbourne

Mending broken hearts and burnt eyes, and much more

  • Stem cells are saving lives today—through bone marrow and cord blood transplants
  • There are trials making new skin, restoring sight, treating diabetes, repairing the brain
  • But we’ll also hear of the dangers of risky treatments, snake oil merchants, and new Australian and US regulations.

More than 2,500 stem cell scientists from 50 countries are in Melbourne this week for the massive International Society for Stem Cell Research 2018 Annual Meeting. It’s taking place from 20-23 June at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Here are some highlights and we’ll have daily alerts for you with more people and ideas through the week.

Media are welcome.

Developing a stem cell product to cure blindness from burning—Michele De Luca and Graziella Pellegrini, Italy

Italian innovators Graziella Pellegrini and Michele De Luca have seen their work lead to patients regaining eyesight after 20 years of blindness. And it’s led to the world’s first non-blood-related commercial stem cell therapy.

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Starving superbugs in your schnoz; Beatrix Potter the scientist; a hearing aid you’ll want to wear; a year of Days

Starving superbugs in your schnoz;
Beatrix Potter the scientist; a hearing aid you’ll want to wear; a year of Days

Today: starving superbugs, media call 11 am in Adelaide

Scientists are tricking superbugs into gobbling up the bacteria-equivalent of poisonous chocolate.

Dr Katharina Richter and colleagues from the University of Adelaide have begun the first human trials of the treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

They’re looking for patients with antibiotic-resistant sinus infections.

More below.

Thursday: Beatrix Potter, Vera Rubin, Elizabeth Gould and other forgotten women of science

Celebrate them this International Women’s Day, 8 March

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Chicken for 100 million; instant results for every major medical test; and more Stories of Australian Science

Today:

Adding whole grains to chicken food boosts meat production efficiency and could improve global food security. It’s also likely to be good for backyard chickens, says Sydney scientist Amy Moss.

Amy’s research at The University of Sydney’s Poultry Research Foundation showed that replacing some of the ground grain in chickens’ feed with whole grain both improved their digestion and how efficiently they produced meat.

More below.

Amy is available for interview and is presenting her research at the 29th Australian Poultry Science Symposium, which starts in Sydney on Monday 5 February.

She’s the NSW winner of Fresh Science 2017—our national competition helping early-career researchers find, and then share, their stories of discovery.

We’ll be sharing the other winners’ stories via this bulletin in the coming weeks.

On Friday:

Nobel Laureate Steven Chu launches new institute at UTS – 9.30 am Friday 2 February 2018, UTS Great Hall (Building 1).

Instant results at home, at the surgery, and at the bedside for every major medical test. That’s the vision for a new research institute at UTS.

They plan to use quantum dots and other nanotech to make small, inexpensive diagnostics as simple to use as a pregnancy test and as ubiquitous as smartphones.

And with their technology the human eye can now watch a single molecule at work inside a living cell.

More below.

Want more Stories of Australian Science?

Using drones to protect swimmers (and sharks); tracking space junk; detecting toxic algal blooms in Tasmania, China, and France; using silk to repair damaged eardrums; stopping people going into floodwaters; and more.

Each year we pull together a publication with some of the highlights in Australian science from the year. We’ve just published all the stories from 2017 online (along with our previous collections) at www.scienceinpublic.com.au/stories.

You can filter by state, discipline and organisation, as well as search by keyword. If you’d like to speak with any of the scientists, feel free to contact them directly or we can help you make contact.

If you’d like a hard copy of the publication let me know and I can post some to you.

Do your colleagues like science stories too?

Please feel free to share this bulletin with your colleagues, or they can subscribe at: www.scienceinpublic.com.au/category/bulletins/media-bulletin

We send updates like this every couple of weeks with science news and talent from around Australia.

Kind regards,

Niall [continue reading…]

Using viruses to restore sight—CSL Florey Medal winner announced in Canberra tonight

Using viruses to restore sight by turning eye cells into biofactories

Perth researcher Elizabeth Rakoczy led the world’s first human gene therapy trial for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the elderly, which affects 112,000 Australians.

Elizabeth has developed a process to turn eye cells into bio-factories, making their own medication on the spot. This gene therapy uses a modified virus to carry a gene into cells in the eye, replacing the need for frequent, painful and costly eye injections (~$2,000 each; six to eight per year).

She will receive a $50K prize and the CSL Florey Medal for lifetime achievement at the annual medical research dinner at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.

Contact Tanya Ha to arrange interviews on 0404 083 863 or tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au

Media release below.

And we’ll have stories on our Fresh Scientists from SA, WA, NSW, and VIC in January/February.

Using viruses to restore sight:

Researcher restoring sight wins $50,000 CSL Florey Medal for lifetime achievement

Award presentation: 9 pm (Canberra time), 6 December in the Great Hall, Parliament House

Full profile, photos, and HD footage available at: www.scienceinpublic.com.au/floreymedal

Professor Elizabeth Rakoczy has developed a process to turn eye cells into bio-factories, making their own medication on the spot.

This gene therapy uses a modified virus to carry a gene into cells in the eye, replacing the need for frequent, painful and costly eye injections.·Elizabeth led the world’s first human gene therapy trial for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

Past CSL Florey Medallists include Graeme Clarke, Ian Frazer, and Nobel Laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren.Elizabeth Rakoczy is modifying viruses to use their powers for good. She’s created a new gene therapy for wet AMD that is reversing vision loss in clinical trial patients. Her treatment means one injection instead of several per year.

Modified viruses are gene therapy’s delivery vehicles, taking genes directly into cells. Elizabeth first showed that they could carry a healthy replacement for a mutated gene that causes degeneration of the eye’s retina. She then showed they can deliver instructions for eye cells to produce their own treatment for wet AMD, a complex eye disease.

More than 112,000 Australians have wet AMD—the most devastating form of AMD—and up to 8,000 more commence treatment for it each year. Each injection of the current treatment costs about $2,000, and patients have six to eight per year. Costs will rise with Australia’s ageing population. Gene therapy offers an alternative.

Elizabeth hopes to adapt her bio-factory idea to other diseases to alleviate suffering.
The CSL Florey Medal has been presented every two years since 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS). The award recognises a lifetime of achievement in biomedical science and human health advancement. It carries a cash prize of $50,000 and has been supported by CSL since 2007.

“Professor Rakoczy is a quiet achiever, a world leader in gene therapy, and a key contributor to advancing international eye research,” says CSL’s Chief Scientist, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson.

“CSL is proud to support this award which recognises excellence in research as well as creating role models for the next generation of medical researchers. Gene and cell therapies hold the potential to significantly reduce vision loss over a patient’s lifetime which is why work in this field is so important.”

“In winning the CSL Florey Medal, Professor Rakoczy joins an elite group of Australian medical researchers who have followed in the footsteps of Howard Florey,” says AIPS director Camille Thomson.

“To quote Sir Robert Menzies, ‘In terms of world wellbeing, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia’.”

Professor Elizabeth Rakoczy is the founding Director of the Department of Molecular Ophthalmology at Lions Eye Institute, University of Western Australia.

Media contacts:

Mystery of leaf size solved – paper in Science today; caring for Country in Arnhem Land; and reinventing the laser

Friday 1 September

The mystery of leaf size solved

Rainforest leaves, Panama. Credit: Ian Wright

We’ve got scientists available for interview, plus full release, background information and high res images.

And a feature story by lead author Ian Wright for The Conversation here.

For the first day of Spring, we’ve got a global team of researchers who have cracked the mystery of leaf size. Their research was published today as a cover story in Science.

Associate Professor Ian Wright from Macquarie University, with 16 colleagues from Australia, the UK, Canada, Argentina, the USA, Estonia, Spain, and China analysed leaves from over 7,600 species.

They teamed that data with a new theory that in much of the world the key limiting factor for leaf size is night temperature and the risk of frost damage to leaves. Until now, the textbooks said it’s a balance between water availability and overheating.

More below.
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Keeping the lights on; Mayan astronomy; Whisky Academy; bull science; and more

Friday 18 August

Highlights from day seven of National Science Week:

446 events and exhibitions, 23 online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

National and international talent, researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country. Plenty of photo opportunities.

Melbourne

Sydney

Darwin

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The botany of booze; drones on the farm; wildlife forensics; plastic oceans; and more

Thursday 17 August 2017

Highlights from day six of National Science Week

448 events and exhibitions, 22 online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

National and international talent, researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country. Plenty of photo opportunities.

Sydney

Charters Towers (near Townsville)

Hobart

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The ‘Madhouse Effect’; evil weevils; the funniest physicist; the language of plants; dingo puppies; and more

Wednesday 16 August

Highlights from day five of National Science Week:

476 events and exhibitions, 22 online activities, and dozens of great stories and talent.

National and international talent, researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country.

Plenty of photo opportunities.

Canberra (10am, Parliament House)

Sydney

Melbourne

Western Australia and South Australia

Perth

Cairns

Adelaide

Read on for more on these, including event contact details.
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