Hilarity ensues – Part II

Or: Why you should do fieldwork

By Tanja

After last weeks post covered “why you should do fieldwork” this weeks post covers “why you should do fieldwork”. As promised – a sort of daily account of all the fun and action.


Figure 1: A bit of Rottnest island. Still haven’t booked it? How will you ever see the adorable quokka?! Google images just won’t do it justice!
Source: AustralianTraveller.com

Day 0

Free day before the actual work. Spent it on the Rottnest Island (Figure 1). Beautiful place, highly recommended for a 2-3 day vacation. Lots of cute quokkas (Figure 2), two amazing lighthouses, scenery galore and – oh my god – the beautiful beaches.

Go. Book it.

You can cycle the entire island in one day and you will still have more to see.


Figure 2: Artist impression of a quokka.

Day 2

After servicing a station with the rest of the crew (three guys) somewhere in the red bush outside of Esperance, I had to quickly pee before proceeding. So I moved away from the cars and squatted. As I was relieving myself, from the bush across from me (~2m away) a snake crawled out and started moving towards me. First I cursed silently and since that didn’t stop the snake and didn’t minimize the chances of it crawling right past my backside I had to throw away my pride and modesty, risking the guys to see me – and I stood up.

The snake stopped. I looked at it. It looked back at me as it caught me (literally) with my pants down.

I guess it decided “Daymn I don’t want to bite THAT” because it turned around and crawled back where it came from. After visually inspecting the area around me I squatted back and finished my business.

Coming back to the car (the guys luckily didn’t witness this brave battle) I told the rest of my party what happened. Christian (the trip leader, and the person who actually needs the seismic array) had this to say: “Figures, I’ve been here so many times, never saw a snake and you get to see one on your second day”.

Day 3

After installing a station I touched onto my pants pocket where I could feel the outline of my camera and asked my trip leader if he needs a photo of the location. We needed some before because we installed two in the Cape Arid National Park and the park ranger asked us to take and later send her photos so she knows what they look like. The trip leader said this wasn’t necessary as we’re not in the park anymore. Leaving my camera in the pocket I walked back to the car, where I remained until we reached our next camping spot in the middle of nowhere. As I sat down on the camping chair and popped open a can of EMU beer I asked “where is my camera?”. Searched everywhere in the car, in and around it and the camping gear, everywhere on the camping spot – camera was nowhere to be found. We weren’t that far away from the station we just installed and the guys assured me it is probably still lying there. Umar and I will go and look for it in the morning.

In the middle of the night something wakes me up. Through the opening of my swag I observe a dark outline of something grazing next to Umar’s swag. It looked like a camel or a horse. I fall asleep.

Day 4

First time that our party separates into two groups (one car in each group, two people per car). According to our trip leader Umar and I had three easy stations to service. Not very far away, easy to reach… we will be finished by 2 o’clock, three at the latest.


Figure 3: Fraser range station. This photo taken from the logo of www.fraserrangestation.com.au features the cottage where we stayed

Umar and I started very early to get my camera and start this easy service as quick as possible. We wanted to reach Fraser Range station (our stay for the night, Figure 3) as soon as possible as it was our 4th day without a shower. Went back to the station, looked everywhere – couldn’t find a camera. And you’re wondering why there are no photos in this post that I shot myself? The camera is still somewhere out there. The guys reckon it might be found when someone comes to service the station next time (3-6 months from now). It is game on for all the fieldies in WA now.

Anyways… It took us around two and half hours to reach the station we had to service. It was a really shit road with lots of obstacles and holes and bumps. When we finally reached an approximate location of the station, the GPS informed us that the station is now 560m from the car. In the bush. Through the very thick f***ing bush. And so Umar and I started through the bush, him hauling a heavy recorder. Found the station and replaced the battery. Walked back to the car (we exited about 200 m to the right of it, as stupidly we didn’t take its position – it is easy to get lost in the bush). At the car, I check the data on the laptop – no good. We have to change the recorder entirely. This time we took the position of the car and walked back through the bush, exchanged the recorder and then again got back to the car. This whole endeavor of servicing took just over 45 mins. By the time we were ready to go to the next station it was lunchtime and we knew – we are not finishing by 2 o’clock.

Took us another hour and a half to reach the second station. We had a flat tire on the way there. When that happened, Umar started freaking out about all the smushed crackers in the back of the car. They got smushed because of all the holes, bumps and bush bashing. Which is also what caused our flat tire. I said something like “so this tire”“Nevermind that, look at these crackers!” Umar interrupted. “They’re all over the place! How am I supposed to eat them now?! Don’t worry about the tire, that’s no biggie”. True to his word, he changed the tire in 15-20 mins, all the while cursing the crackers.

The second station was around 200 m into the bush, after another bumpy track. Also required a change of recorder.

By the time we reached the third station it was five o’clock, and we were still around ~1.5 hours drive from Fraser Range. Since we were in government vehicles and they are not really allowed to drive in the dark (it is frowned upon) we didn’t have much time (WA doesn’t have daylight savings). The third station was installed on an ants nest. Umar didn’t take his gloves with him that one time and payed for it. Everything that could have been wrong with this station was wrong – in other words, it didn’t work at all. Whenever we turned it on, it turned itself back off. We exchanged three different recorders and two batteries to try and correct for this but nothing happened. This means around 6 trips to and from the car through the bush. Eventually we didn’t know what to do and we took the recorder with us and left. Meaning there was no station there when we finished.


Figure 4: A part of Eyre highway that I have actually seen. This bit of road turns into an airstrip if needed. Umar tells me that what happens is you see an airplane descending towards you and you wildly swerve over to the side to let it land. Cursing everything and everyone as you do that. Straya.
Source: bonzle.com

On our way back when we finally reached a wide enough dirt road we pushed our side mirrors out again (we kept them in for bush bashing of course). In my mirror – horror – we see one of the flaps on our car broke and a seismic recorder is hanging over the side. Emergency stopping – quick check, everything seems to be ok and not missing. Keep going. Almost hit a kangaroo. After about 45 minutes of bush bashing and another ~40 minutes on Eyre highway (Figure 4) we reached Fraser Range station exhausted and pissed off around 7 o’clock. Luckily showers were available.

Aftermath: In the fridge my bacon was marinated in Corona beer that spilled all over because of bumpy tracks. Cherry tomatoes were smushed all over the fridge. Fatigue. And the necessity to go back to that last station again to put any recorder there sometimes later in the trip. Comfortable bed.

Day 5

Staying at trailer park in Norseman because total fire ban and 40+ degrees. Unexpected shower and bed.

Day 6

Camping in the bush again. While setting up camp I realize I have no idea where my sleeping bag is. Did you guess it? Fell out of the back of the car when our flaps broke.

Day 7

Returning to the station that was left empty – traveling back on the same road. And what do you know? In the middle of the road (about ~30 minutes from the spot where we realized our flaps broke two days before) lies a big, blue bulge of my sleeping bag. So much win!

Day 8

Fraser Range station again. Showers and bed again (yay!) Doing the laundry (yay!). Cleaning the smushed tomatoes in the fridge (yay!).

Apparently Billy the python (yes, the python) sleeps in the roof of the cottage where we are staying.

Days 9-13

Various hilarity. Moments worth of a photograph, but no camera in sight.

Towards the end of the trip, one of the last stations to serve…. We are very close to private property, farms and paddocks. We stop at a supposed location of our station, right next to the dirt road and the fence of someone’s farm. The GPS tells me I’m basically standing right where the station should be!

But it’s not there.

Umar observes the tracks on the side of the road leading straight to where I’m standing and with Sherlock-like precision breaks down the events: Someone brought a heavy vehicle (of bulldozer type) and pushed dirt and branches and whatnot to the side of the road, right where our station had been. Our station was hence buried a few metres beneath the visible pile of dirt I was standing on. Why would this happen? Maybe there was a reason. And maybe the farmer thought ANU is spying on him. Be as it may – as Umar put it: that station is half-way down to China bro.

Today we finish early. Obviously. 

Day 13

Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Showers and bed (yay!) Mining town, seems a bit dead but otherwise it’s good. I have phone reception!

Day 14

Visit to the Super Pit (Figure 5) – it is big. It is mind-boggingly big.

Super Pit_0

Figure 5: Kalgoorlie Super Pit.
Source: kalgoorlietourism.com

A tour of one of the last still working brothels in Kalgoorlie. Yes, you read that correctly. Mind you – and I have to stress this – we did this at our own expense. University or government were not involved in this. It was an… interesting… experience. A middle-aged madame was telling us stories while sitting next to a few massive…. Toys. Enough said.

Skimpy bars. The only type of bar you get to see in Kalgoorlie. Enough Said.

Taking all of this into account – this was probably the best Valentines day ever (and yes, it was Valentines).

Day 15

Flying Kalgoorlie-Perth-Canberra.

Moral of the story? You should do fieldwork, because you don’t just learn something. You get to laugh out loud, visit dodgy places, visit beautiful places and you get to lose your camera. Don’t take your camera.

Fieldies of WA – I get you a crate of beer if you find my camera and no photos end up on the internet! Game on.

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 … if you are up for a daily account of my adventures in WA, you can find it here.

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).


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

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).


Figure 2: Are you sure you graduated from ANU?

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


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

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

as12-46-6777 thru as12-46-6780

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

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


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

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

as16-116-18573 thru as16-116-18581

Apollo 16 – The first landing in the lunar highlands

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


Apollo 15 – The first car on the Moon

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.”


Apollo 11 – The first bootprints on the Moon

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”!


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.


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.


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).


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?


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?


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