It is voting time again

17 08 2010

That’s right, I am crawling back to blog about important happenings this week in Australia.

It’s National Science Week.

It seems I’ve missed out on alerting you to vote for your favourite Aussie scientist for the Eureka prize (I would have been supporting Evans and Smith for proving the intellectual and communicative exploits of chickens).

But it is not too late to start voting for your favourite new Aussie species discovered this past year. Given that this year’s theme is biodiversity it’s a pretty appropriate poll.

Place your vote here.

Nominees are:

  • Opera House Barnacle (Calantica darwinii)
  • Kimberly Froglet (Crinia fimbriata)
  • Sea Spider (Paranymphon bifilarium)
  • Steve Irwin’s Tree Snail (Crikey stevirwini – I kid not!)
  • Spinifex Ant (Camponotus triodiae)
  • Pink Handfish (Brachiopsilus dianthus)
  • Cape York Amber Fly (fossilized) (Chaetogonopteron bethnorrisae)
  • Bacchus Marsh Wattle (Acacia rostriformis)
  • The Bandalup Buttercup (Hibbertia abyssa)
  • Truffle-like Mushroom (Cribbea turbinispora)

More new species and biodiversity stuff at the bushblitz website including a free teacher booklet (just in case your school somehow missed out, or your from another country).





Taking the buzz out of life

28 07 2010

Nature has an interesting article exploring the ramifications of a world without mosquitoes.

Overall the benefits appear to outweigh the negatives – but they are still given their credence. Mosquitoes, and their larvae, may be physicaly miniscule, but they are big players in the scheme of things. Their removal would have effects on food chains containing birds and fish, plus wider ecological effects – such as plants losing pollinators and changes to deer migration, and also possibly cause over-population in already stretched human communities.

Image: mosquito by tanakawho (CC by A from Flickr)





It could the premise of a good movie…

5 07 2010
…or even a good book.

Bringing back into existence extinct animals through the use of genetic and reproductive technologies. I wonder where that idea came from, researchers at Scripps & San Diego Zoo?

Well, okay, it’s not quite extinct, but the Drill Monkey from equatorial Africa is pretty darn endangered, which might be a redeeming factor for this story. Instead of creating a whole range of new endangered species, we should be working on protecting the ones we already have. And we definitely should be trying to avoid resurrecting giant reptilian predators that will eat all our goats.





Surely a ball of string is cheaper

27 05 2010

I’ve seen some videos circling about the place of children using the iPad but this is just silly.

Actually, you know what I would like to see: those talking/language proficient non-human apes getting a spin on this device. That might actually be some productive. (Not the only one who thought about this apparently).





Clown science

18 05 2010

Misconceptions and wonder can be a great way to teach science.

Last year I had a thirteen year-old doubt me when I said that grasses were plants, which was surprising, but was a good place to start a discussion.

It’s all about asking questions, rather than making statements. The student didn’t tell me I was wrong, and I didn’t do the same for that. I was asked  something like “Is grass really a plant?” and I responded, “Well, what have we discussed plants are? Does grass match the description? If it’s not a plant what is it?” Perhaps to many questions at once, but I was only starting out.

Problems can happen when the questions are treated as the answer. “What is up with that?” is treated as “Whatever.” It’s enough to make a clown’s head hurt.

If this doesn’t make sense you may have to check the ICP original.





Jim’s Story: Engine bodies and body engines

15 05 2010

This is taken from my Science Education textbook, The Art of Teaching Science. Is this a science lesson gone wrong? or a science lesson gone right?

Snapshot 10.1

Jim (not his real name) was explaining homeostasis to his Year 12 biology class. Homeostasis is the process where bodily inputs and outputs are balanced to maintain a constant internal environment. To model body temperature regulation, Jim used a car engine’s cooling system to show how heat input and output are balanced. Read the rest of this entry »





HDH: Quolls pass training test

15 04 2010

This weeks Hump Day Happy via DaveTheHappySinger

Cane toads were a bad idea. A very bad idea. An insanely bad idea. But anyway, Australia is now stuck with rampaging toxic amphibians threatening almost all our native wildlife. Amongst those threatened are native carnivores. Aside from birds and snakes, there is a whole range of little superficially rodent-looking marsupials, and quolls.

Quolls are awesome. Just from having an awesome name like “Quoll” (and providing more ‘q’ words in scrabble). They aren’t wimpy like “possums” and “sugar gliders”, these critters eat MEAT. Sadly, toads are made from meat, so quolls will naturally try to to eat toads. And then they die. Which is sad.

So the happy news at ABC is that scientists at University of Sydney have been successfully training small groups of quolls to resist the urge to eat cane toads using aversion therapy. The quolls were exposed to small toads sprayed with a nauseating compound which made trying to eat the delicious grenouilles quite unappealing.

“The toad was hopping around. It looked like something good to eat, but once they sniffed it they got that signal saying, ‘Hey, we’re not good to eat’ and they ignored it.” – Dr. Jonathan Webb

A video of the training process is also up on the ABC.

When released into the wild and monitored, trained quolls had higher survival rates than untrained quolls.

The scientists hope that toad training can be initiated ahead of the toad invasion front, so that by the time the toads reach that area the quolls (and other animals) no better than to try and eat one.

The actual scientific article can be found at the Journal of Applied Ecology (you’ll need a Wiley InterScience subscription) DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01802.x