In this issue

Issue 59

At last, the universal smog meter
A new instrument predicts smog levels and pinpoints pollution sources.
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Burning to save lives
We can construct buildings that cannot be burned down. But fitted out with modern furnishings, they can, in the worst cases, still be gutted by fire, fatally, in 10 minutes. Understanding how fire grows indoors - in enclosed spaces - is the first step in limiting its potential for death and destruction. A special 'burn room' has been set up in which furniture, interior fittings, and linings can be systematically set alight under controlled conditions.
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S.O.S. - Save our species
Extinction is forever - a good reason for two botanists to have worked for the past 11 years on compiling and refining a list of Australia's rare or threatened plant species. The list was first published in 1979. The updated list is the only comprehensive catalogue of all the nation's botanical jewels in need of special attention, although most of the States, and the Northern Territory, have lists for their own domain or are currently preparing them.
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When a tick takes hold
One of the less pleasant aspects of walking in many parts of the bush, or indeed strolling in some woody suburbs of our coastal cities, is the chance of later finding a tick or two latched onto your skin and busy sucking your blood. About 70 species of ticks live in Australia, but only 13 of these are known to bite humans. Five may cause serious effects in their victims. Scientists have devoted a considerable amount of research to one particular dangerous but common species of Australian tick - the so-called Australian paralysis or scrub tick, which has the distinction of being one of the most toxic in the world.
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'Warm' superconductors: getting down to tin-tacks
Like magic, a magnet floats serenely in mid air, invisibly suspended above a black grainy disc that sits in a smoking pool of liquid nitrogen. You are witnessing a startling demonstration of superconductivity. That rough disc is a sample of the new generation of ceramic superconductors, a specially concocted mixture of oxides of rare earth, barium, and copper. Resistance to the flow of electricity completely vanishes after they're chilled with liquid nitrogen.
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Cholera in Australia - no cause for alarm
Cholera is a disease with a frightening reputation. The very name sounds fearsome, and in our minds is often associated with filth, excrement, and squalid medieval conditions. Since the development of modern medicine and knowledge of the existence of bacteria and their transmission, most countries that can afford it have generally succeeded in banishing cholera by means of efficient sanitary engineering, and education in basic hygiene for the population. Little comma shaped bacteria called vibrios cause the disease.
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Statistical problems in the nuclear industry
One of the biggest problems the nuclear age has brought with it is keeping track of plutonium. Only 6 kilograms of the radioactive material is required to form a crude atomic bomb. Reprocessing of spent reactor fuel-rods separates out plutonium, some of which is already being stockpiled for possible future use as fuel in a new generation of nuclear power stations utilising 'fast breeder' reactors. Statistical methods offer ways of determining whether any plutonium is being 'diverted' for nefarious purposes.
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How much petrol does your car use?
Many conscientious motorists keep a log-book in which they record the number of kilometres their car has covered since the last fill-up. They can keep an eye on their car's performance this way, allowing them to tell immediately when a tune-up is needed. A study has been published in which 704 car log-books were analysed statistically, and showing factors which influence petrol consumption.
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Ozone hole: a new twist
The ozone hole that appeared over Antarctica in the spring of 1988 was the smallest since 1982. Nobody is sure why, and scientists are left with a lot of questions still needing answers. Close monitoring of the 1988 hole showed that ozone levels reached a minimum about mid September and, rather than continuing to decline as in previous years, stayed constant. In another turn of the cards, instruments detected unusually high ozone levels in surrounding regions. The total amount of ozone in the Southern Hemisphere during September and October was the highest recorded since satellite observations began in 1979.
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