Friday, November 28, 2008

101 things to do whilst completing your PhD - #1

In the spirit of every procrastinating PhD student that Hugh Kearns (speaker at our postgrad conference) was talking about, here is a new semi-regular segment! So, #1 is... enter an international dance contest in which PhD students must dance their thesis. Yes, this really exists!

Sue Lynn Lau, a University of Sydney PhD student has won this competition ("Dance your PhD"). Her entry was entitled “The role of vitamin D in beta cell function”. View it here. Her prize is a trip to Chicago, where she'll see her winning entry performed by professional dancers.

The competition is run by Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. So who's entering next year?!!!

Thanks Lee for tipping us off about this!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

SciFi poll

Over the past few months, New Scientist has been running a poll asking readers to vote for the best science fiction book and movie of all time. The winners are revealed here. All you scifi fans out there- do you agree? If you're not a fan and want to be (who doesn't want to join the glamorous world of SF fandom?!), here are some suggestions.

Top five films
1. Blade Runner
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
3. Serenity
4. Forbidden Planet
5. The Matrix

Top five books
1. Dune
2. Foundation series
3. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
4. Ender's Game
5. Hyperion series


Friday, November 21, 2008

Lemmings under threat

You know lemmings. The small furry rodents that supposedly arrive in plague proportions and then suicide en masse as the food runs out. Incidentally, does anyone else remember the game “Lemmings”, which was released in the 1990s? The obsession of a generation of kids, you can play it here if you are in the market for some time wasting or nostalgia… But I digress! Some new research has revealed that global warming is threatening the lemmings in a most peculiar way. No, these little critters haven’t been driven to suicide by frustration about the lack of human action to prevent climate change…

In fact, the idea that lemmings commit suicide is a myth. What really happens is that in some years they become superabundant (because more young than usual survive- female lemmings can have up to three litters of 12 young per year!), which means that food becomes scarce. During these times they can become so hungry that they disperse in large numbers and to find food. Occasionally, large groups will leap into the sea (sometimes from a cliff!) and swim off to find food, which led to the myth that they commit suicide.

But where does climate change fit in? The new research, published in Nature this month, has shown that lemming numbers are declining because the ‘wrong’ type of snow has been falling in Norway. During winter, lemmings live in the subnivean space that forms between the top layer of snow and the ground. Here, they can remain protected from predators and insulated from cold weather, feeding on the exposed herbage, until the end of winter. Recently, though, this type of snow has not been forming, and worse still, freeze-thaw cycles have meant that a layer of impenetrable ice has been forming over the moss. This has led to a decline in lemming numbers, which will of course have knock-on effects up the food chain on populations of predators such as Arctic foxes and snowy owls. This is just another example amongst many showing that we humans must change our ways if we are going to ensure the survival of the planet.

A lemming- the real kind!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Profile: Meg Donahoo

Meg is a second year PhD student investigating the immune responses to vaccination against an intestinal disease in pigs. If she can find immune cells in the pig that are linked to vaccine protection then it might be possible to use these in the pig industry to determine whether vaccinated pigs are protected against future infection.

I was born... in the baby factory in Melbourne- that's right, I'm not a two headed Tasmanian

At school I… got picked on for being rosey in the cheeks, apparently I looked like a tomato

My first relationship was... with the floor, I couldn't walk until i was 3 so I polished the floor with my bum

Friends say I'm... feral because I could happily go a week or two without a shower, and showering when you go camping is sacrilege in my books!!

If I wasn't me I'd like to be... one of those hot looking tv presenters who gets to travel to cool places for free.

At the moment I'm reading... a quirky book about horsie people.

My worst job was... cleaning old people's toilets!!

At the moment I'm... playing with lots of poo, blood and intestines- it's fun, really!

... which is interesting because... you can find out a lot of information about someone (pigs) from their poo!

Meg facing her fears and making friends with a chook


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sheep disappears in shock murder mystery

In a world exclusive, The Appendix today uncovers a hoax that will shock the nation. After five years, we reveal the unthinkable… Dolly the sheep is alive and well, and living in the Faculty of Veterinary Science.

Dolly, a Finn-Dorset sheep, was catapulted to fame after her birth fifteen years ago as the first animal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell. At first, she enjoyed the attention she garnered as she held press conference after press conference on the media circuit and dazzled fans lining the red carpet. However, her enthusiasm faded in the wake of a series of cruel smear campaigns implying that she had an eating disorder reported after a series of wild fluctuations in her weight. After a brief period of respite in the Betty Ford Clinic, Dolly returned home and quickly fell pregnant to a bad-boy Welsh Mountain Ram known only as Sanchez.

Five years after the birth of her triplets, she had disappeared into obscurity. Compromising photos of her dancing naked in a notorious Soho nightclub precipitated a second media frenzy. Dolly’s behaviour grew increasingly erratic. Unable to cope with the glare of the spotlight, Dolly cut her hair shockingly short and then disappeared into seclusion again. Shortly afterwards, she was reported dead from ‘progressive lung disease’.

However, a chance encounter in the sheep unit prompted intrepid investigative work by the Editors of The Appendix. “When I saw that woolly coat and yellow eyes, I just knew it had to be her. She has aged a little, but there’s no hiding a face that famous.” Dolly is, in fact, still alive, and currently living in hiding in the Faculty of Veterinary Science (Camperdown). Dolly refused to comment on this story, but sources close to her suggest that “She just wants to live her life as a normal sheep. After her disastrous relationship with Sanchez, Ryan [a merino ram, the love of Dolly’s life] really grounds her, and they have made their home here together.”

Dolly herself seems unaware of the implications of her choice. When we delved deeper into the “official story”, the truth became increasingly sinister. Not only was Dolly’s death faked, but the body displayed in the Royal Museum of Scotland may be that of a victim of this foul conspiracy. We have little doubt that this is the body of a sheep that tried to tell the true story.

The body of an unknown sheep was substituted for Dolly at the Royal Museum of Scotland.