Crowd-funding and meteorite hunting – a success story!

By Eleanor

My former research group has just done something amazing…  and today, ended up on ABC news!

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The photo above is my friend Alastair holding a particularly nice looking meteorite. Alastair and I both spent our honours year researching meteorites under the guidance of Dr Andy Tomkins at Monash University. Associated with that work, we were lucky enough to be part of several meteorite-hunting field trips to the Nullarbor Plain. These trips were not only an amazing experience (desert, flies, heat, dingoes, camels, and finding pieces of rock that record information about the earliest solar system), but they have been very successful. Over 20% of Australia’s meteorite collection has been found on the Nullarbor by the team from Monash.

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A meteorite that I found on the Nullarbor Plain in 2013. This is a chip off an asteroid that has made its way through the solar system and fallen to Earth. The small round spots on the surface are ‘chondrules’, which formed before the planet Earth even existed.

However, with limited funding, for a while it looked liked they wouldn’t be able to run the trip at all this year. So they tried something different: crowd-funding.

They launched a Pozible campaign asking for $4000 which would be enough to run one trip. Within ten days they reached that target. The campaign still has two weeks to go, and so far they have raised close to ten thousand dollars.

Here is a short update about what they plan to do with the extra funds:

I am absolutely blown away by the response and so proud of my friends for their enthusiasm and hard work in putting together such a successful campaign. I wish them the best of luck and hope they find loads of interesting meteorites!!

Check out the Pozbile campaign… and please help support space science in Australia!

Hilarity ensues – Part I

Or: Why you should do fieldwork

By Tanja

Just under a week ago I came back from a two-week long fieldwork in the bush area of Western Australia. Not sure if that area really counts as the outback as the nearest town (Esperance) was ~300 km from where we were and we were around ~800 km from Perth… I know it can get way more isolated up in the Kimberleys apparently. So anyways… before I tell you a few short stories about interesting things that happened let me tell you something about this fieldwork itself and why we went there and back again.

In seismology we collect our data by downloading a bunch of seismograms and then processing them in some way – which varies depending on what you need to extract from them. In order to have seismograms you need seismometers that will record earthquakes from around the world. There are plenty of these distributed around the globe and data is readily available.

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Figure 1: Project area and the array in question. On this particular trip we serviced/installed all the stations shown in either half-red or full-red symbols.
Courtesy of Christian Sippl.

But sometimes you maybe want to study a specific region or a particular structure within the region – this is when you need a seismic array (usually in some shape – elongated, circular, L-shaped, spiral…). There are a lot of global arrays (one of the most popular being the moving USArray) but sometimes you don’t have arrays where you need them. And that is when you have to physically install them. One such array has been installed around ~2013 in remote regions between Esperance and Kalgoorlie in WA (Figure 1). Since then those stations needed to be serviced and occasionally more needed to be added to the array.

On this particular fieldwork I was in the role of a little (literally) helper – my job was mostly to service the already existing stations, but I was also shown how to install them. This involves fun cardio activity that is sure to get you out of the gym, out into the sun to around 40 degrees where you then dig ~1.5 m deep holes.

In the gravel!

Sand if you’re lucky.

Being already involved with a gym and several different cardio activities I had to pass on this brilliant opportunity and was required to service the stations (Figure 2) only.

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Figure 2: Recorder of seismic data. The big, black, enclosed, bulky thing is the battery. Plugged into the recorder are seismometer (buried in the ground) and a GPS antenna.
Courtesy of Christian Sippl.

This means I have to change the battery in the seismic recorder, to assure it keeps running. I have to collect the data from the recorder – in the form of an SD card, check them on the spot and make sure they are recorded correctly (for example, you can observe an earthquake on them, no components are acting strangely and are active and such) and then close the station, hide it – wrap it into green tarp and cover it in branches so the animals won’t chew on it (Figure 3) and lost humans wouldn’t mistake it for a water cooler. Then you move to the next station.

This whole service usually takes around ~15 mins in total. If something is wrong with the data you have to additionally change the entire recorder. Recorders weigh around ~12-15 kg (I think, at least that’s how it felt) and carrying them back and forth through thick bush is another brilliant cardio activity.

So anyways – that is what I have been doing for the two weeks of my stay in WA. A lot of driving on 4WD tracks (think bumps, holes, sand, fallen trees, salt lakes), traipsing through the bush with a heavy recorder (but I had a helper of my own! I will get to that shortly), trying to find the hidden station by means of a precise GPS, servicing the station, checking the data, potentially changing the recorder, traipsing through the bush back to the car and then some more driving.

It was mostly driving.

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Figure 3: What happens when animals (cows in this case) investigate you recorder – the tarp is scattered in the background and the cables are chewed through. This is why you need to properly hide the recorders and wrap them snugly in a tarp.
Courtesy of Christian Sippl

In the car with me was a member of our project partners called Umar. Umar is the greatest. There I said it – let’s move on now. He was the one who hauled this heavy recorder through the bush while I was carefully stepping and navigating in front of him with my GPS trying to find the station. Thanks to him and his sense of humor I had an excellent time and every time I found something hilarious – so did he. This resulted in a lot of laughs and giggles.

Let me share some of the stuff that happened in the remote areas of WA. I will try in chronological order, but what happened on which day exactly is a bit of a blur – I mean when camping in the bush (mostly) you wake up with the sun (around 6 a.m. if you have trees above you) and go to your swag around 8 p.m.

9 p.m. if you feel very lively.

Days soon become one long stretch.

So … Come back for a meticulous account of the days in the field next week.

Stupid hoodies

By Thomas

Sometimes you come across things that leave you speechless for a moment. Then you consider short whether it is worth the trouble to get upset about it. You shake your head and walk off. But then you come across this thing again …

The “thing” I am talking about in this case are hoodies soled by a group called “ANU Graduates Community”, not to be confused with the ANU Alumni community (I hope).

The first hoodie I came across said “I graduated from ANU. To save time, let`s just assume I`m always right” (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: If you wear this I will assume something, it will have nothing to do with you being right though.
Source

I shook my head and walked away from the idea of writing a post about it. After all, if people wanted to display their ignorance and the fact that they had not learned some essentials they should have learned at university, so be it. I was a bit worried that (some) ANU graduates might not understand that in an (ideal) academic discourse the formulated argument is what counts, not some authority you build up (e.g. by graduating from a certain institution). I was a bit more worried about the snobbish picture these hoodies would display to the general public. But hey, maybe the whole thing was some insider joke, or it was a good piece of irony that I just had failed to grasp.

Then I came across another hoddie this morning. It says “I graduated from ANU. I solve problems you don`t know you have in ways you can`t understand” (Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Are you sure you graduated from ANU?
Source

What the f … I mean … Really?! This hoodie raises the same problems as the first one: What did the person wearing it actually understood during the time at ANU and how is this message received by other people?

But there is another alarm clock that went off when I saw this one. But before I come to this let me make one thing clear:

I can totally understand that people are proud of graduating from ANU (or from any other institution for that matter) and there is no problem with that. But why do you have to use this pride to elevate yourself above others and be condescending towards them (“you don`t know […] you can`t understand”)?

In the best case that makes you an insensitive … person-I-don`t-want-to-have-anything-to-do-with.

In the worst case it is a sign that you get your self-esteem by belonging to a group of people which you elevate above others.

A human trait that accompanied us through all ages and has many facets.

A trait that can only bring forth misery and harm.

You might think I am a bit dramatic here. Yes, it is only a minor case. But in my eyes the well educated people coming out of university are (and have an obligation to be) the forefront of a modern society that ever pushes to get closer to the utopia of a world with equal rights and equal opportunities.

How can we ever get there, if even the graduates of a world leading university slip back into the old ways of group (i.e. “us against them”) thinking?

Rant is over.

Writing for the Reader

By Thomas

This is going to be a short blog post, because I actually want you to read a rather long article*. But I think every minute spend on reading it will be worthwhile your time. That is, if you do scientific writing (or going to do so).

The article explains how readers perceive a text and at which position in a sentence and/or paragraph they (i.e. all of us) expect to find which kind of information. If a text doesn`t concur with these expectations it will be really hard to understand for two reasons: (1) The reader puts emphasises on parts of the text that the writer didn`t inteded to emphasis and (2) the reader will “not get” the main point if it is hidden in a syntactically un-emphasised area of the sentence. To avoid these dilemmas the article gives tips on how to structure your sentences and paragraphs and illustrates these tips with different examples.

So without further ado:

The Science of Scientific Writing

Hope you will find it as helpfull as I did.


*Thanks to my supervisor for calling this one to my attention.

 

First Words

By Thomas

Six times the Apollo missions landed on the Moon (Yes, they did!).

Six times “first words” were spoken on the lunar surface. Most of them are not well known though.

What were they and how do they compare to each other? I put them into a sort of ascending (subjective!) order from “good” to “great”.

I`m sure your order will be different – let me know in the comments.


And it’s been a long way, but we’re here.
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. , Apollo 14

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Apollo 14 – The first golf swing on the Moon (by Alan Shepard)
Source

The space race was won and the “successful failure” of Apollo 13 was probably still prominently in people’s minds. Therefore – when landing safely on the lunar surface again – this simple, down-to-Moon sentence set a good baseline for what was becoming more and more the focus of the Apollo missions now: Exploring and understanding the Moon.


Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.
Charles Conrad, Jr. , Apollo 12

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Apollo 12 – The first landing on the intended landing site on the Moon
Source

Well, what could you have said being the next in line and only 121 days after the “giant leap”? You would have had no chance to “beat” it. So why not use the occasion to prove that the first words on the Moon weren`t scripted by NASA. Conrad had made a 500 US$ bet with journalist Oriana Fallaci that he would make exactly this joke about his height while stepping from the ladder. Thus he showed that the astronauts were free to say what they wanted as their “first words”. He won the bet – but never got the money.


… as I step off at the surface at Taurus-Littrow, we’d like to dedicate the first step of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible.
Eugene Andrew Cernan, Apollo 17

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Apollo 17 – The first geologist on the Moon (Harrison Schmitt)
Source

Flying and landing on the Moon is not easy. It needs a lot of woman- and manpower. The Apollo program employed up to 400000 people that made the whole enterprise possible. And they had to be paid. So every US-taxpayer was involved in making it possible too. And someone had to get the ball rolling to make it possible. I think it is fitting that the first words of the last Apollo mission were dedicated to all these people.


There you are: Mysterious and Unknown Descartes. Highland plains. Apollo 16 is gonna change your image.
John Watts Young, Apollo 16

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Apollo 16 – The first landing in the lunar highlands
Source

Prior to the mission the expectation was that the main geological units at the Apollo 16 landings site (the Cayley Plains and Descartes Highlands) were of volcanic origin. The mission showed that this expectation was wrong: The Cayley Plains as well as the Descartes Highland are large ejecta features, formed by rocks which were thrown to the location by gigantic impacts early in the lunar history. The first words on the surface during this mission therefore were quite prophetic. Although, you have to mention that short after landing John Young had already observed that something was strange with the rocks.1 So it was an “informed prophecy”.


As I stand out here in the wonders of the unknown at Hadley, I sort of realize there’s a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.
David Randolph Scott, Apollo 15

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Apollo 15 – The first car on the Moon
Source

In my opinion the best first words due to their poetic quality.

“There is a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.”

Could as well be the entry quote for a Star Trek movie or any other utopian works on the human strive “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”


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Apollo 11 – The first bootprints on the Moon
Source

Of course, missing in this little collection of quotes are THE first words. That is because you can`t really compare them to the others. Even if they would have been “This Moon landing is brought to you by Coca Cola” they would stand out, simply because they are THE first words. But of course I have to list them here, though not in competition with the other “first words”.

That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.
Neil Alden Armstrong, Apollo 11

If mankind ever leaves this planet before annihilating itself, then these words will be carried with our collective consciousness to other planets, other stars or even other galaxies2. In a distant future, when all fairy tale books assigning humans a special place in nature by supernatural means will gather dust in the fantasy sections of libraries, this sentence will still be taught as a shining example for what really sets us apart – our will and ability to cross frontiers no one else3 could cross before.

The perfect line for the first “first words”!

Period.


1 “I wish I could tell you what kind of rocks those are Houston. But some of them are very white; and, doggone, if I could see…I’m not close enough to them, but…And I see one white one with some black…Can’t tell whether that’s dirt or not on it. But it could be a white breccia, if you believe such a thing.” Apollo Lunar Surface Journal

2 I`m sticking my neck far, far out here

3 “No one else” in this case means not other species. On this planet. As far as we know.

The Kardashian Index: A not so scientific measure

By Kate

How might you measure a scientist’s ‘scientific worth’?

Today I will cover three indices developed to rank just how effective scientists are! In alphabetical and best to last order.


The h-index

This index attempts to capture both the productivity and citation impact of a researcher by measuring the number of papers and number of citations these papers have. To calculate, ‘h’ is the number of papers h that have at least h citations (the other papers (total papers – ) have no more than h citations). See figure below.

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The h-index


The i10-index

This is an index created by Google Scholar for Google Scholar – only they use this measurement. It is simple: ‘i10’ equals the number of papers with at least 10 citations.

An example of these first two indices in use can be seen in a screen shot of the Google Scholar Alfred Wegener – who had a mighty nice theory about continental drift (which forms a substantial basis of today’s understanding of plate tectonics). Unfortunately Alfred never made it to see how he would rank on the last index.

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Alfred Wegeners i10- and h-indices


The k-index

Here ‘k’ stands for Kardashian.1 An index defined as “a measure of discrepancy between a scientist’s social media profile and publication record based on the direct comparison of numbers of citations and Twitter followers”. To find ‘k’, divide twitter followers by total citations. Kim Kardashian is the highest ranked in the system for being one of the most followed people on twitter (with very few scientific publications).

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The k-index: Twitter followers versus number of scientific citations for a sort-of-random sample of researcher-tweeters

The inventor of the k-index (Neil Hall) declares “those people whose K-index is greater than 5 can be considered ‘Science Kardashians’”. These so called Kardashians are highlighted on the graph below. Hall advises that these Kardashians should get off twitter and get back to paper writing!!


So who are some of the greatest Science Kardashians?

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The Science-Kardashians

This k-index portrays science communication as a negative. But some would think, is it not the ultimate goal of science to be able to communicate it with peers and the broader community? I mean how else will you get those citations up? Social media and science can (and should) overlap in a Venn diagram’s space. The exchange of ideas and communication of results should be the goal!

What’s your K-index?

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1 For the full k-index article ‘The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists‘ visit: http://genomebiology.com/2014/15/7/424

 

AGU Part 2: Impressions.

By Tanja

At the time of writing I am sitting at LAX (in this student’s opinion THE shittiest airport I’ve seen so far) with approximately 7 more hours to wait for my connecting flight to Sydney. I am traveling back from the AGU conference, and I am content after I have stuffed myself full of 13$ pizza, sitting on a piece of floor that I call “mine” now. I have also promised Thomas a blog on impressions upon return and since I have what seems like forever time in front of me, I’ll serve them up fresh.

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Oakland Bay Bridge and a fat seagull in the foreground

The AGU conference is big. Really BIG. I will not waste a lot of synonymous words to describe how big, because none of them are sufficient enough to properly describe it. Those among you who have already been to AGU know what I’m talking about, those of you who have not…. I will put it like this: Imagine you went to a 5-day festival that spreads out over 35 stages, with headliners and your favourite bands distributed over all those stages throughout all days. Stages are sometimes more than half a kilometer away and as you are trying to catch that really good band you so wanted to hear live, there are regularly 25 000 people in your way trying to catch their favourite band.

It is something like that. Queuing for beer on the first day included.

Except it’s not a festival. It’s basically a large business meeting. It is a chance for you to present your work in form of a talk or a poster and chat to other people in your field or potentially outside your field. It is an excellent opportunity to meet people whose names you’ve only seen on papers you’ve read and to exchange some ideas and thoughts with them. For me personally it was a revelation that there are, in fact, more than 5.6 people in the world working on the inner core. It was good to see what they are working on. It was good to feel my brain kicking in action and asking these people questions, so for the first time in …. ever …. I felt like I knew what I was doing and could somehow judge what other people are doing. I can assure you this feeling will not last for long, so you can keeping breathing. As you were.

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Typical Alcatraz cell.
Not very much different from some dorms I’ve been staying at.

As jolly as it sounds there are some negative sides to such a large conference: it is exhausting. Especially if it’s your first time to San Francisco and you are determined to see EVERYTHING.

Sightseeing! Talks! Posters! All of the things!

It is nigh on impossible. I am not sure what I would feel like if I hadn’t been sightseeing at all, but I am under the impression that even so that conference is just too big and too long, no matter how good it is for your career.

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Alcatraz island

So in between running around to see all the touristy places I managed to attend some interesting talks and see some equally interesting posters. I got to talk to other students facing the same problems with their data like myself. I listened to a short talk about conducting seismic measurements at NASCAR races! I loved that one. There was an exhibition at Moscone centre as well – NASA had their stall, so I got to put Occulus Rift onto my eyes and got a good look at Mars from Curiosity’s perspective as I was spinning around.

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Shot from top of Coit tower. You can see the curvy Lombard street (second from the left) on this one

I have also seen some San Francisco :) Been to the wharves and said hello to sea lions on Pier 39. Admired Oakland Bay Bridge. Went up and down some steep streets. Went up Lombard Street and the little curvy bit on top – apparently it is the curviest street in the world. Went up Coit Tower to look at the city from up on high. Went to Golden Gate Bridge and walked on it! But most of all I’ve been to Alcatraz and took a tour around the island and the prison. It is definitely by far the most amazing thing I’ve done in this city. If you ever visit San Francisco (or you revisit it and you haven’t done this) – I highly recommend it. The island itself is beautiful, it offers some spectacular views of Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, city skyline and a scary insight into prison’s past. I had an audio tour narrated by ex officers and prisoners which makes it all the better.

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Behold! The Golden Gate bridge.

So yeah… overall impressions? I had a good time, albeit exhausting. In a week’s time I think I’ve done good in terms of both sightseeing and conference attendance. The tempo was crazy but it was worth it. The city is pretty and good to visit – has a soul to it definitely.

Flights back? Three words:

Delayed or cancelled.

Anything to declare?

Just a sore throat and a clogged nose.

Over and out.