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Australia's Chief Scientist Talks Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power, And Robots Taking Our Jobs

Dr Alan Finkel took over as Australia’s new Chief Scientist on January 25 this year. He is a respected neuroscientist, engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, and was the Chancellor of Monash University from 2008 to 2015 and President of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering (ATSE). He also established Axon Instruments, a supplier of electronic and robotic instruments and software for use in cellular neuroscience, genomics and drug discovery.

The Conversation asked Dr Finkel about his views on topics ranging from “techno-optimism” to renewable energy to encouraging young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).


A Short History Of The Sound Of Kanye West

Kanye West’s new album Waves is due out next week, and there’s a palpable excitement building in the media. Kanye recently tweeted it would not be “the album of the year, but the album of the life”, only to later clarify that it would in fact only be “ONE of the greatest, not the greatest”. Meanwhile Rolling Stone is speculating it could be a dud at the same time as producer Swizz Beatz declares it one of the best West albums he’s heard.


The Long Hunt For New Objects In Our Expanding Solar System

Recognise these planet names: Vulcan, Neptune, Pluto, Nemesis, Tyche and Planet X? They all have one thing in common: their existence was predicted to account for unexplained phenomena in our solar system.

While the predictions of Neptune and Pluto proved correct, Nemesis and Tyche probably don’t exist. Now we have another contender, Planet Nine – the existence of which astronomers predicted last month – but we may need to wait ten or more years for it to be confirmed.


Australian Scientists Choose Their Favourite Science Fiction Books

Tales of strange alien worlds, fantastic future technologies and bowls of sentient petunias have long captivated audiences worldwide. But science fiction is more than just fantasy in space; it can educate, inspire and expand our imaginations to conceive of the universe as it might be. We invited scientists to highlight their favourite science fiction novel or film and tell us what it was that captivated their imagination – and, for some, how it started their career.


Science Fact Versus Fiction In Star Wars: Relax And Enjoy The Entertainment

It’s a month since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and for pedants there’s much to find wrong with the Star Wars movies. Laser beams moving slower than 300,000 kilometres per second, and that sort of thing.


The Hateful Eight: A Review And Cast Interview

Quentin Tarantino has secured his place in popular culture by reaching into neglected corners of cinema for genres that are ready for reinvention and rediscovery. This approach saw the motormouth filmmaker bring postmodern panache to the gangster film with Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), mythologise martial arts movies in Kill Bill (2003), and imagine a Hollywood ending for World War II in Inglourious Basterds (2009).

This fruitful trail now brings us to the remote mountainside lodge of Minnie’s Haberdashery – the setting for Tarantino’s eighth film, appropriately titled The Hateful Eight (2015). Across his films Tarantino has built up a loyal company of actors willing to brave these uncertain cinematic detours.

This review contains some spoilers for The Hateful Eight.


Suffering For Science: Why I Have Insects Sting Me To Create A Pain Index

Over the past 40 years (but in reality since I was five years old), I’ve been fascinated with insects and their ability to sting and cause pain. In graduate school, I became interested in why they sting and why stings from such tiny animals hurt so much.

To answer these questions, we first needed a way to measure pain – so, I invented the insect pain scale. The scale is based on a thousand or so personal stings from over 80 insect groups, plus ratings by various colleagues.


Is Breakfast The Most Important Meal Of The Day?

Personally, I need breakfast. Almost every morning, I wake up early feeling hungry, and it’s only once I banish my morning hunger that I’m ready to fire. By mid-morning, I take a break and enjoy a snack.

I’ve used a personal anecdote because it’s likely that eating breakfast – or skipping it – may simply reflect a personal preference for timing food intake. Not everyone enjoys eating first thing in the morning. But your first choice of foods may contribute to an overall healthy diet.


In Australia, Even Learning About Encryption Will Be Illegal Soon

You might not think that an academic computer science course could be classified as an export of military technology. But under the Defence Trade Controls Act — which passed into law in April, and will come into force next year — there is a real possibility that even seemingly innocuous educational and research activities could fall foul of Australian defence export control laws.


We Don't Always Want Sci-Fi Movie Tech In The Real World

Our expectations of technology in the real world are often fed by our perception of science fiction content. This is the case for children in particular. More recently, researchers and designers of interactive technologies (the area of Human Computer Interaction or HCI) have been inspired by science fiction as a means to create novel devices, products and systems that change traditional ways of doing things or using technology.


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