As I have said many times scientific breakthroughs often follow many years of effort. Here is a great example of a scientist putting in great work for years and it looks like it is about to payoff for hundreds of millions of people.
Now as I said, Scott’s been pushing this idea of using Wolbachia to control dengue for decades, for a most of that time without any success. I asked Scott what it takes to stick with something for that long.
“I think being obsessive,” he replied. “Being maybe a little ill in that regard. And it’s just that I seem to have focused my obsession onto Wolbachia instead of on to postage stamps or model trains.”
And even though his obsession has brought him to the point where he’s shown he can get his Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to spread in the wild, that’s not the success he’s ultimately after. “Success for me is having a significant impact on dengue disease in communities,” he says.
To do that, he’ll have to release his mosquitoes in a place where there’s a lot of dengue, and then see if that brings down the number of cases of the disease in humans. Those studies are being planned now.
The stakes are high. By some estimates, more than a billion people around the world are at risk for getting dengue. Even if it doesn’t kill you, I’m told a case of dengue can make you feel so bad, wish you were dead.
But Scott says it’s not yet time to celebrate.
“We’ve got some good preliminary data, and we’re on the path. And it’s looking good. But you know I am a realist. It could fall over at any day,” says Scott.
Graeme, a cat in Melbourne, Australia, walks to the train station with its owner in the morning and then goes off to play (and probably lots of sleep, it is a cat) and then returns in time to meet its owner at the train station after the work day.
The pampered cat cannot get enough of attention, with scores of regulars calling him by name as they stop for a chat and give him a pat on the head. Safety conscious, the sociable moggie is meticulous about using the subway to cross to the city-bound platform, rather than take a dangerous short cut across the tracks.
When the evening peak comes around, Graeme puts on an encore performance, arriving at the opposite platform in time to greet owner Nicole Weinrich as she returns home from work. “He always seems to know which train carriage I am on and will be sitting there behind the yellow line when the doors open, because he is all about safety,” Ms Weinrich said.
But sometimes Graeme can take his desire to be close to his fans a bit too far – he has been known to jump on the train and get off a station or two later. “He doesn’t do it often, but we do worry about that,” Ms Weinrich said.
She said Graeme, believed to be about 12, had roughed it on the street before being saved from the RSPCA’s “death row” six years ago, so his love of people is tempered by his survival instincts.
Sea lions fitted with GPS trackers and a National Geographic Crittercam are taking scientists on amazing journeys to previously unknown marine ‘hot spots.’ These areas are important not only for providing the sea lions’ food, but also for maintaining fish populations.
The Crittercams were deployed at Dangerous Reef in Spencer Gulf, a rocky island the size of a football field, and home to the biggest Australian sea lion colony.
Dr. Page says, “One important discovery is that the sea lions always feed on the sea floor” and they don’t eat open ocean fish, known as pelagic. “This is critical information because the marine parks are being set up to protect sea floor habitats,” a move that the scientists can now confirm will protect critical sea lion resources.
In one of the more spectacular pieces of Crittercam video so far, we can see this female working hard to handle a challenging prey item – a large octopus. Too big to swallow in one gulp, she drags it to the surface where she can breathe while she works at breaking it down into bite-size pieces.
It’s being described as a plague. More than 1 million wild camels are wreaking havoc in huge parts of Australia, eating the vegetation, destroying property, fouling and consuming water sources, desecrating indigenous sites and causing road accidents.
About 170 years after being introduced to the continent as a pack animal to open its arid interior, Australia’s feral camel population is the biggest in the world. The camels double their numbers every nine years and continually expand their domain.
There are proposals to build a halal abattoir in Australia and send packaged camel meat to Muslim countries. Another proposal is to turn camel meat into pet food. Although most people who have tried the meat pronounce it as tasty, similar to beef but leaner, attempts to get the Aussies to add camel to their precious “barbie” have gone nowhere.
“Australians are pretty conservative in their choice of meat,” Mr. Edwards said. “Kangaroo meat hasn’t penetrated the market; camel meat is in the same basket.” Everyone agrees that the solution should be as humane as possible.
“In their natural habitat they are wonderful,” Mr. Burrows said. “But they don’t belong here and they are causing great damage. We want to reduce their number, not eradicate them.”
The problems caused by invasive species are often much less obvious (and the species much smaller) but invasive species are a serious problem worldwide.
James Friend, of Monash University, said that such devices could enter previously unreachable brain areas, unblocking blood clots, cleaning vessels or sending back images to surgeons. “The first complete device we want to build would have a camera,” Professor Friend said.
Professor Friend said they had shown the motor, which is a quarter of a millimetre wide, had enough power to navigate this type of nanorobot through the bloodstream of a human artery. Tests of their prototype device in a liquid as viscous as blood were also promising. “It swam.”
The team plans to conduct animal tests of a nanorobot driven by their motor later this year or early next year. But Professor Friend cautioned that many technical hurdles needed to be overcome.
Their miniature motor was connected to an electricity supply and a way would need to be found to power it remotely. The construction of the flagella also needed refinement.
In a recent study 20 individuals from the great ape species were unable to transfer their knowledge from the trap-table and trap-tube or vice versa, despite the fact that both these puzzles work in the same way. Strikingly the crows in The University of Auckland study were able to solve the trap-table problem after their experience with the trap-tube.
“The crows appeared to solve these complex problems by identifying causal regularities,” says Professor Russell Gray of the Department of Psychology. “The crows’ success with the trap-table suggests that the crows were transferring their causal understanding to this novel problem by analogical reasoning. However, the crows didn’t understand the difference between a hole with a bottom and one without. This suggests the level of cognition here is intermediate between human-like reasoning and associative learning.”
“It was very surprising to see the crows solve the trap-table,” says PhD student Alex Taylor. “The trap table puzzle was visually different from the trap-tube in its colour, shape and material. Transfer between these two distinct problems is not predicted by theories of associative learning and is something not even the great apes have so far been able to do.”
Four fifth-year students from the electrical and mechanical departments won a national innovation competition and are now in preliminary talks with oil and gas behemoth Shell for a propeller design that is more efficient, watertight, pressurized and powerful than other models. “The motor housing creates drag (on other models),” said electrical engineering student Dave Shea. “So we integrated it into the propeller itself. There’s no drag, there’s no dead zone. It’s also much bigger and more powerful.”
Most propellers have a body encasing the motor. There’s air inside, which can cause the body to collapse when submerged in oceanic depths. The casing also creates drag, slowing the machine down and making it difficult to move backward.
But Shea, along with Brian Claus, Peter Crocker and Toren Gustafson, devised a way to build the motor in the casing that surrounds the propeller blades. The parts are assembled in a ring shape then encased in epoxy, making the motor waterproof. The propeller is fastened inside the ring, allowing it to easily move forward or backward.
When societies invest in science, they are investing in their own future. They are entitled to expect a fair return on that investment.
They’re entitled to know we are using the country’s intellectual and technical capacity to deliver outcomes that matter to them – stronger communities, more good jobs, a cleaner environment, better public services, a richer culture, greater security for themselves and their children. Everybody here knows the rules of professional scientific conduct – think independently, put emotion aside, reject received authority, be faithful to the evidence, communicate openly.
These are good rules – rules I wholeheartedly endorse – but there’s one more I’d like to add – remember your humanity. Remember you’re part of a wider society – one that you have a special ability and therefore a special duty to serve. This doesn’t just apply in the physical sciences, but in the humanities and social sciences as well. When I say science I mean knowledge in all its forms.
The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities provides another estimate of the top universities. The methodology is far ideal however I still find it interesting. The various attempts to rank schools can provide a general idea of impact of various institutions (though the measures are fairly crude). Still a sensible picture (especially at the country level) can emerge. And the various rankings should be a able to track shifts in the most influential institutions and relative country strength over time. How quickly those rankings track changes will vary depending on the measures used. I would imagine most will lag the “real” changes as it is easy to imagine many measures that would lag. Still, as I have said before, I expect the USA will lose in relative ranking compared to China, India, Japan, Singapore, Mexico…
The ranking methodology used here weighed rankings in: Jiao Tong academic rankings, Essential Science Indicators, Google Scholar, Alexa (a measure of web site visits to universities) and The Times Higher World University Rankings.
Country representation of the top universities (number of top schools in each country):
In Australia Enviromission looking to build a 1,600-foot tall “solar tower” that can power 100,000 homes.
The tower will be over there,” Davey says, pointing to a spot a mile distant where a 1,600-foot structure will rise from the ocher-colored earth. Picture a 260-foot-diameter cylinder taller than the Sears Tower encircled by a two-mile-diameter transparent canopy at ground level. About 8 feet tall at the perimeter, where Davey has his feet planted, the solar collector will gradually slope up to a height of 50 to 60 feet at the tower’s base.
Acting as a giant greenhouse, the solar collector will superheat the air with radiation from the sun. Hot air rises, naturally, and the tower will operate as a giant vacuum. As the air is sucked into the tower, it will produce wind to power an array of turbine generators clustered around the structure.
The result: enough clean, green electricity to power some 100,000 homes without producing a particle of pollution or a wisp of planet-warming gases.
Since 1979, the proportion of scientifically literate adults has doubled—to a paltry 17%. The rest are not savvy enough to understand the science section of The New York Times or other science media pitched at a similar level. As disgracefully low as the rate of adult scientific literacy in the United States may be, Miller found even lower rates in Canada, Europe, and Japan—a result he attributes primarily to lower university enrollments.
While the 17% figure does not amaze me I am surprised that the scientific literacy has doubled since 1979.