Concrete: a thoroughly modern material

Concrete and cement. Words synonymous with solidity and well, staidness. Cement is probably the most ubiquitous building material of the late 20th century – yet it may provide some very 21st century surprises. Researchers at the University of Alicante have developed a cement material incorporating carbon nanofibres in its composition, turning cement into an excellent …

Schrödinger’s cat: the quantum world not so absurd after all?

Since Erwin Schrödinger’s famous 1935 cat thought experiment, physicists around the world have tried to create large scale systems to test how the rules of quantum mechanics apply to everyday objects. Scientists have only managed to recreate quantum effects on much smaller scales, resulting in a nagging possibility that quantum mechanics, by itself, is not …

Pluto’s new moons named: Spock still homeless

The dwarf planet, Pluto, can still generate plenty of public interest – if the naming of its two recently discovered moons is anything to go by. After their discovery, the leader of the research team, Mark Showalter, called for a public vote to suggest names for the two objects. The on-line contest, aptly named ‘Pluto …

Shenzhou 10: another step in China’s ‘Long March’ into space

The colorful and polished launch of Shenzhou 10 confirms that China has come of age as a spacefaring nation.  At 19:40 AEST on Tuesday June 11 (17:40 local time) three ‘yuhangyuan’, Chinese astronauts, embarked on China’s sixth crewed space mission. This second mission to Tiangong 1, the Chinese space station, is a credible step in …

Do animals have minds?

Animal Wise: the thoughts and emotions of our fellow creatures, by Virginia Morell, Black Inc. Books, 2013. Laughing rats, name-calling wild parrots, archer-fish with a sense of humour, and educated ants; the naturalist Charles Darwin would have loved this book. The philosopher Rene Descartes would equally have found it deeply troubling. Both with good reason. …

New light on dark matter: space station magnet attracts praise

Nobel prizewinner Samuel Ting, early Thursday morning (March 4, 2:00 AEDT), announced the first results from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) search for dark matter. The findings, published in Physical Review Letters, provide the most compelling direct evidence to date for the existence of this mysterious matter. In short, the AMS results have shown an …

Postcard from Spitzer: weather on 2M2228 is hot and cloudy

Long distance weather reports are now a commonality. The report for 2MASSJ22282889-431026 is somewhat unusual. It forecasts wind-driven, planet-sized clouds, with the light varying in time, brightening and dimming about every 90 minutes. The clouds on 2MASSJ22282889-431026 are composed of hot grains of sand, liquid drops of iron, and other exotic compounds. Definitely not the first …

Science Weekly Picks

Being responsible for picking the week’s most interesting science stories is a fun and fascinating challenge. It pushes to me to look beyond my own interests and explore what others find compelling. So I trust you find my ‘science making news’ selection of interest and delight; explore the quantum, human, off-world and mathematical highs of …

Interstellar travel: how to spot a ‘starman’ going by

Massive objects moving at near light speeds do not occur naturally in the universe as we know it. If we detect such objects it is a reasonable to assume they are artificial artifacts from advanced intelligent life. This according to Garcia-Escartin and Chamorro-Posada, authors of a recent paper, is a low-cost, sure-fire way of searching …

Ediacara: a “failed” evolutionary experiment?

The Ediacara Hills, north of the city of Adelaide in South Australia are a tumbling mass of ancient rocks. Sunbaked now, 580 million years ago they were a sea alive with soft-bodied organisms. These organisms varied greatly: from millimetres to metres in size; from “blob-like” to intricate in complexity; and from sturdy and resistant to …

Ahead of his time: the genius of Nikola Tesla

There is a dominant theme in the life of Nikola Tesla. His undoubted genius. Tesla pioneered, if not invented; AC motors, AC power generation and transmission, high voltage generation (Tesla coil), wireless transmission of power and information, radio controlled boats, cold discharge fluorescent lighting, and the ‘death-ray’. It also meant that he was ahead of …