Articles on Explainer

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High pollen counts, warm weather and storms are the perfect conditions for thunderstorm asthma. Brandon LLW

Explainer: what is thunderstorm asthma?

If you suffer from itchy eyes, a runny nose, headaches and excessive sneezing this time of year, you’re certainly not alone. Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction to pollen and affects…
If you want to optimise scramjets you’re going to need the rule of the jungle. EPA/NSAS

Explainer: evolutionary algorithms

My intention with this article is to give an intuitive and non-technical introduction to the field of evolutionary algorithms, particularly with regards to optimisation. If I get you interested, I think…
The GPS on your phone couldn’t work without General Relativity. Jym Dyer

Explainer: Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

It’s the year 2100. You wake up alone in a small, windowless room. The only other thing in the room is a small ball. Maybe the room is located in your city, but maybe it’s inside that new spaceship everyone’s…
Climate models allow us to look at the planet’s future climate. Truthout.org

Explainer: climate modelling

We know the climate is changing because that’s what climate models tell us. But what exactly is a climate model, and are they cutting-edge science or modelling madness? What is a climate model? Climate…
Bird flu transmission to humans is rare and hasn’t occurred with this new strain. AAP

Explainer: should we be worried about the new strain of bird flu?

The circulation of a new strain of the H5N1 avian flu virus from China and Vietnam has prompted calls from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN for health authorities to be ready for a possible…
How long’s a piece of string? You may want to sit down for a minute. Gnu2000

Explainer: String theory

String theory entered the public arena in 1988 when a BBC radio series Desperately Seeking Superstrings was broadcast. Thanks to good marketing and its inherently curious name and features, it’s now part…
Theoretical physics strives towards a (beautiful) description of everything. Jinx!

Explainer: Standard Model of Particle Physics

The “traditional” beauty of theoretical physics is its equations. If we want to describe something, or the way something behaves, we can write down a relation between some properties we think that thing…
Gas wells are popping up across the country. AAP

Explainer: coal seam gas, shale gas and fracking in Australia

Debate is intensifying over the extraction of coal seam gas, particularly in NSW and Queensland. Farmers are protesting over safety concerns and threats to the country’s food security. The Greens and the…
Trans fats are more harmful to your health than regular fats and should be avoided. Flickr/Half alive

Explainer: what are trans fats?

Trans fats – they’re in our chips, bakery goods, popcorn and cakes. We know we should avoid them, but what exactly are they, and why are they so bad for us? First, let’s take a step back and look at how…
Standard & Poor’s could still downgrade the US credit rating, despite the debt ceiling deal. AAP

Explainer: the role of credit ratings agencies

Washington lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have passed an agreement hammered out between Republican and Democrat leaders designed to avert a US debt default. The move is a further step towards…
Alan Turing, through pure mathematics, laid the foundations for the modern computer. Leo Reynolds

Explainer: the point of pure mathematics

What is pure mathematics? What do pure mathematicians do? Why is pure mathematics important? These are questions I’m often confronted with when people discover I do pure mathematics. I always manage to…
A growing number of academic institutions are building free online databases of their scholarly output. But publication in a big name academic journal still holds cachet for most academics. Flickr/mandiberg

Explainer: Open access vs traditional academic journal publishers

As the cost of accessing academic journal articles increases, a growing number of academic institutions are building publicly accessible databases of scholarly work. But how much of a threat to the traditional…
Uncertainty about the US economy is driving investors back to the safe-haven metal. AAP

Explainer: Why gold is still precious for investors

The price of gold reached a record high of $US1607.01 an ounce on Tuesday as investors turn to the precious metal amid uncertain global economic conditions. University of Western Australian Professor of…
The Antarctic Treaty protects the continent from competing interests. AAP

Explainer: Keeping conflict on ice with the Antarctic Treaty

This year marks the 50th year of the Antarctic Treaty, a visionary document that for the first time set out a vision for an entire continent based on peace, science and co-operation. So how does it hold…
Sadly, survival of the fittest does not mean anyone will survive. Kaptain Kobold

Explainer: Theory of evolution

The theory of evolution encompasses the well established scientific view that organic life on our planet has changed over long periods of time and continues to change by a process known as natural selection…
Psammomys obesus or the Israeli sand rat provides an insight into how the thrifty gene hypothesis may work. Tino Strauss

Explainer: Diabetes and obesity – the biggest epidemic in human history

In the last few decades, the number of people with diabetes has more than doubled globally, making the combination of type 2 diabetes and obesity (known as diabesity) the largest epidemic the world has…
Workers will see a percentage increase in their pay packet from today. AAP/Greg Wood

Explainer: What the new minimum wage really means for workers

Fair Work Australia’s annual wage determination takes effect today. Importantly, we’re set to see award wages rise not by a single dollar sum, as in the past, but by 3.4%. This goes someway to addressing…

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