the conversation

What Cold War Nuclear Weapons Can Tell Us About Art Fraud

The identification of fakes and forgeries is a basic issue that has always raised controversy. This is unsurprising, of course — the enormous sums garnered by top paintings would turn to dust as soon as a question as to their authenticity arose.


Mission To Mars: How Scientists Are Living On A Simulated Red Planet To Prep For Real Missions

According to Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, establishing a permanent presence beyond Earth is the first step humans will take towards the “divergence into a new species”. Plans to visit and even colonise Mars are no longer the subject of science fiction novels. But before we can do that, we need to understand how humans can survive and thrive on Mars. Some of that we can do right here on Earth by simulating Mars-like conditions. In the most recent such experiment, I was the crew commander of such an expedition in the high-altitude desert of Utah, the most Mars-like place on Earth. The crew were comprised of seven – two scientists, two engineers, a medical doctor, a journalist and a humanoid robot.


Teleportation Just Got Easier, But Not For You

Whether or not you’ve ever been on a long-haul flight, you’ve probably fantasised about being able to magically disappear from one place and reappear in another. And a natural question for a physicist is whether there is any way to achieve this in practice. Thanks to two studies published in Nature last Thursday, the chance of successful teleportation has considerably increased. Which is a good thing, right?


Software Is Officially A Rip-Off In Australia, So What Can You Do?

It’s official: Australia isn’t the “lucky country” in the IT sector. Consumers, government and industry down under are charged typically 50% more for software and hardware compared to their American counterparts.


Why Your Phone Should Be Turned Off During Flight

It’s a fact of life for anyone boarding a plane: all electronic devices need to be turned off during take-off and landing. Most airlines have had this rule in place for more than a decade now, even though there has been no definitive documented instance in which passengers leaving their devices on caused a plane crash. So why are we forced to stop listening to music or reading a Kindle during take-off and landing?


How Big Is The Universe? How Australian Scientists Are Measuring The Impossible

How many electrons are there in the universe? That may seem nigh on impossible to calculate — let alone comprehend — but the discovery of a new population of astrophysical events called Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), published in Science by my colleagues and I, could help provide a solution to this fundamental cosmological question.


How To Dig Melbourne's Metro Tunnel Without Killing Anyone

According to a report out today, the Labor government is set to announce funding for Melbourne’s A$9 billion metro rail tunnel, in addition to the A$40 million it has already contributed towards getting the project “shovel-ready”. Sounds good? We’ll see. Before any shovels have broken earth, the rail tunnel is facing a series of engineering challenges. Here’s how to build it without killing anyone.


Smacking Down Online Piracy – Does New Zealand Know Best?

We know online piracy exists; we know governments want to stop it – but what are the options?


Cyberlinguistics: Recording The World's Vanishing Voices

Of the 7,000 languages spoken on the planet, Tembé is at the small end with just 150 speakers left. In a few days, I will head into the Brazilian Amazon to record Tembé – via specially-designed technology – for posterity. Welcome to the world of cyberlinguistics.


NASA Puts New Spin On Black Holes

Scientists in the US have successfully used a new NASA telescope to help improve our understanding of how black holes and galaxies evolve. Using data taken by the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray satellite, scientists were able to measure the spin rate of a black hole with a mass 2 million times that of our Sun.