Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

SKA – Something Kinda Awesome and a tremendous telescope

// May 12th, 2011 // No Comments » // How Things Work, Recent Research

The Australian Government just announced it will spend 40 million dollars over the next four years to support Australia’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA.) If, like me last week, you’re not really sure what the SKA is and Google seems to think it’s some kind of music – here’s the lowdown based on the RiAus event I went to on Thursday hosted by Professor Peter Quinn.

The SKA is a radio telescope 10,000 times more powerful than any other, a single scientific instrument comprised of individual dish antennas 15 metres wide working together.

Artist impression of SKA

Artist's impression of dishes that will make up the SKA radio telescope. Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions/ SKA Program Development Office.

From a central, densely packed core, receiving dishes will spread outward an area of over 3,000 kilometres. Combining their signals creates a telescope with the collecting area equivalent to a single dish one square kilometre in area.

Where will this massive instrument live?

The shortlist has been whittled down to two: South Africa and Australia. If in South Africa, the dishes will reach onto islands in the Indian Ocean. If in Australia, they will extend into New Zealand.

The final decision will be announced next year. Being Australian, naturally I’m hoping we’ll get the honour.

Murchison SKA candidate location

The candidate core site in Murchison Shire, WA. Credit: Ant Schinckel, CSIRO.

Our bid puts the SKA core in the Western Australia desert, Murchison Shire.

From here, the dishes would spiral out in five long arms across Australia and New Zealand.

The proposed core site is a space the size of the Netherlands, it contains 110 permanent residents.

With low population comes low radio interference. CSIRO scientists are working on innovative solutions to keep the site radio-quiet.

For example, trains in the region currently communicate by radio, and there’s dialogue to come up with an alternative that will work for trains without interfering with the SKA.

What will we find out there with our powerful telescope? Well, if ET phones home within our galaxy, with the SKA, we’ll hear it. In the next post, I’ll talk more about finding first light, when the galaxies began to glow.

Here’s more about the SKA: Australian site and International site.

Ferrofluid patterns and dancing art, fun with magnets

// April 29th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // How Things Work, Just for Fun, Science Art

Behold ferrofluid, nanoparticles of iron coated in a surfactant and suspended in a solution of oil or water.

The surfactant can be citric acid or soy lecithin, among other things, and is used to stop them sticking together

It’s like magnetic dust.

Put a magnet under some ferrofluid and the particles align themselves in patterns to show the field.

The magnetic attraction is so strong, the ferrofluid will stick to a magnet and then you’ll never get all the iron particles off it. They’re stuck for good.

To prevent that happening, people usually play with ferrofluid inside a sealed container.

And play it is, this stuff is fun.

Usually.

A friend of mine put a magnet above some ferrofluid with the lid off, and was abruptly COVERED in black gunk which stuck to him despite three showers. He wasn’t too happy, I think it smelled pretty bad. Hardcore.

Like most hardcore stuff, it’s been turned into kickass art. This video pretty well blew my mind.

Sachiko Kodama and Yasushi Miyajima created the piece, two ferrofluid sculptures which move synthetically to music. The two towers are iron cores of electromagnets sitting in a pool of ferrofluid. Etched with a helix pattern, the ferrofluid can move up the tower if the magnetic field is strong enough, stretching out in spikes as it goes.

The strength of the electromagnet is linked to metadata in the music controlling the voltage and AC pattern. To correct for the time delay, the electromagnet controls starts early so the maximum size of spikes coincides with beats of the music.

The result is a choreographed pattern that dances and winds like a living thing.

You can buy ferrofluid from Emovendo.

Hat tip to @DrSkySkull, who bought some ferrofluid as a classroom demo and supplied the picture at the top of the article.

A Schooner of Science turns two

// April 22nd, 2011 // 2 Comments » // Just for Fun

Today marks the second anniversary of A Schooner of Science. ‘Tis a time to reflect, to appreciate, to eat cake.

pirate cake

Thanks to all who read this, ’tis great to have you on board.

Introducing Open Lab 2010

// March 22nd, 2011 // No Comments » // Science Communication

Open Lab 2010Containing the best of science writing on the web, Open Lab 2010 has been published and printed. Inside are 50 blog posts, 6 poems and a cartoon – including my very own blog post How Aqua Regia Saved Nobel Prizes from the Nazis. The book was edited by the thoughtful animal, Jason Goldman.

You can buy it as a file download or as a real, old-fashioned paperback. A known aphrodisiac, having this book on your bedside table WILL increase your attractiveness and intelligence. The cool nerdy goodness spirals out of it and is soaked up through your pores by osmosis. It’s guaranteed to be delightful for reading, displaying, or simply cuddling.

I’m beyond excited to be included in the anthology. Although I’m published online, in magazines, in newspapers, in zines, this is my first time with a real book. Strike me down with a feather, I feel like a proper writer!

May Open Lab 2010 be the first of many books with my words inside.

Buy a copy of this highly intellectually arousing book here.

Filming the invisible world – 3D documentaries

// February 28th, 2011 // No Comments » // Science Art, Science Communication, Science in the Movies

We are at a very disturbing point in film production, where we assume the audience has no imagination and no intelligence. Stories are spoon fed and wrapped up with explosions and effects to sell the same tired old plot.

Such is the opinion of Douglas Trumball, who has spent his career in science fiction animation and visual effects. He spoke on Sunday afternoon at the RiAus about the problems with the film industry and how science can save it.

What’s really lacking is immersion, a story that draws people in and the technology to make it hyperreal.

The technology is certainly improving, there’s no doubt about that. Take the infamous Avatar, which I was completely entranced by. The 3D was so subtle and authentic I honestly felt like I was there, and clapped like an idiot when it finished (much to the chagrin of my friends.)

But apparently, that’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Douglas is experimenting with cameras that capture at 120 frames per second (rather than the 30 they do now), and a projector that displays it at the same rate. For the audience he says it’s like opening a window to a different world. It’s a whole different feeling.

He envisions a cinema with a screen that curves around beyond 120 degrees, so it extends past the corners of your eyes.

And what does he want to do with this set up? Explore space. Vast, infinite and complex, space lends itself to immersive film like nothing else. It quite simply matches big content with big delivery. It needs a story to go with it too, something that captures the imagination of the audience, where they can fill in the blanks and have their own “ah ha” moment of discovery.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and science has some pretty cool stories of its own. Tim Baier is a stereographer who worked on feature films like King Kong and Lord of the Rings, and spoke on the panel about his recent work making science documentaries. I watched a preview of his work “Standing in Amazement” on Sunday, and it was breathtaking.

Image by Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary

In 3D, he captured still pictures and stop-motion of Arkaroola and the Flinders Ranges.

The sun rose on mountain tops encrusted with quartzite. Macroscopic photographs showed the indentations on a snakes head which sense heat, and the pads on gecko feet which let them hang upside down on glass.

It wasn’t just a film, it was a presentation. During the movie, Tim talked about the geology of the Ranges and how the mountains had formed.

He described the van der Waals forces that work on gecko feet. It was visually breathtaking AND intellectually stimulating. The full film lasts for 90 minutes, and is playing at the RiAus this week, Tuesday to Saturday. Session times here.

He thinks there is a lot of untapped potential in 3D science documentaries. I’d agree, particularly in talking about geology. I’m thinking right now about David Attenborough’s Cave episode on Planet Earth, and combining it with Sanctum 3D.

Sunday night I watched a doco with Sir Attenborough (he is EVERYWHERE!) and they showed a stadium-sized machine that could see inside fossilized embryos in 3D. Now that’s my kinda movie!






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