The Best Australian Science Writing 2012

The Best Australian Science Writing 2012 by Elizabeth Finkel Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: The Best Australian Science Writing 2012 by Elizabeth Finkel Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Finkel
flicked off, and the live specimens were taken back to a desk filled with containers of pins, killing jars and mounting boards.
    Young worked quickly, explaining the need to get the specimen pinned and its legs and wings splayed out as soon as possible after it is euthanised and before rigor mortis sets in and the limbs snap off when he positions them.
    I watched in awe as, without references, Young sorted and classified the species, leaving aside a jar full of new discoveries. At around 2.15am, in the pitch black, we finally retired to our swags for some much-needed rest.
    * * * * *
    My legs were being shaken. I was groggy from slumber, tired, and it was still pitch black when I realised that the ‘bat man’ David Stemmer, the South Australian Museum’s collection manager of mammals, was trying to wake me up. Stemmer and I had made a pact that we would head out early in the morning to check the harp trap for bats.
    The harp trap is a metal frame with a series of fishing line ‘strings’ arranged in vertical succession, and a collection trough at the bottom of the strings. When placed in a corridor of scrub, the bats don’t notice the strings with their sonar, so they hit them and drop into the soft collection trough, where they’re trapped.
    After many nights without success, this night’s haul was an exciting six bats. Each the size of a mouse and with huge rubbery ears, they clumsily tried to grip the sides of the trap as they hobbled around, looking for a darker place to hide.
    After following Stemmer for a while, I succumbed to fatigueand soon was, like the bats, clumsily crawling into the dark of my swag to finally get some rest.
    It was a successful blitz, and it could take up to a year to sort through the extensive haul of specimens and determine how many species were new or new to the area.
    By the end of the week, the group had collected 450 plant specimens, and had used various trapping techniques to acquire five native small mammal species, one bat species, over 40 reptile species and many thousands of insects. And – of course – they had a photograph of one very attractive beetle that your correspondent let escape.

    Creepy crawlies

Under the hood of the universe
    Margaret Wertheim
    What drives a man with no science training to think he can succeed where Einstein and Stephen Hawking have failed? In 1993, Jim Carter sent out to a select group of the nation’s scientists a letter announcing the publication of his book The Other Theory of Physics , in which he promised a complete alternative description of the universe. ‘Never before has any theory offered such a comprehensive explanation,’ his letter enthused. In addition to ‘shedding new light on phenomena that have long been considered to be well explained’, the book would contain solutions to ‘mysteries and paradoxes that have plagued physical science for centuries’. The ‘origin of the moon’, the nature of gravity, the structure of matter, the relationship between space and time – all these Carter proposed to clarify through a concept he called ‘Circlon Synchronicity’. This was not an extension of existing physics but a wholesale reconstruction. If his ideas were accepted it would be the greatest upheaval in science since the Copernican revolution; he would be not just the next Einstein, but the Isaac Newton of our time.
    The origin of the author was itself something of a mystery. No college or university was mentioned in his announcement but his letterhead carried the logo of the Absolute MotionInstitute, an organisation apparently located on the Green River Gorge Road in Enumclaw, Washington State. The theory had not been published before or ever presented to the public. It was, Carter stated with disarming honesty, the fruit of more than 25 years’ solitary labour. For those wishing to acquaint themselves with this work a small yellow Order

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