Tag Archive | "Science"

'Australia's David Attenborough' posthumously honoured.

Harry Butler research centre unveiled

A new research centre for the Western Australian Museum, containing state-of-the-art laboratories and a store that houses more than 2.5 million wet-preserved specimens, has been named after the late Dr Harry Butler AO CBE.

Culture and the Arts Minister John Day today unveiled the $17.6 million centre located at the WA Museum’s Collections and Research Centre in Welshpool, acknowledging the significant contribution Dr Butler made to the museum.

“Harry was one of Australia’s best known naturalists who played a major role in the public awareness and conservation of our unique natural environment for more than 50 years,” Mr Day said.

“What is perhaps not as well-known are his decades of association with the WA Museum involving education, fieldwork collecting, advocacy and financial support.

“2016 marks the 40th year of the Butler Bequest, which enables the museum to conduct fieldwork and collect specimens that augment the research collections.”

The Harry Butler Research Centre is the first element of the new museum project, and is critical to support the development of the state’s new museum, to be built in the Perth Cultural Centre and scheduled to open in 2020.

The centre has about 10 kilometres of shelves set to house more than 2.5 million alcohol-preserved specimens.

Among these are 2500 unique and irreplaceable original type specimens used to describe new species of animals.

These include the commercially valuable western rock lobster; the Dampier Peninsula goanna, which is the smallest goanna species in the world; and the Ruby sea dragon which was discovered in 2015 and is only the third species of sea dragon ever recorded.

“This very important collection includes remarkable scientific discoveries that were made here in WA, and include many specimens collected by Harry Butler,” Mr Day said.

There are also several species in the collection actually named after Dr Butler.

These include a black scorpion he discovered in the Pilbara called Urodacus butleri; the highly venomous Spotted mulga snake Pseudechis butleri; and the rare Butler’s Dunnart Sminthopsis butleri which is a small mouse-sized mammal discovered by him in 1965 and a threatened species.

“The Harry Butler Research Centre will ensure the State’s collection is preserved for future generations and will provide unparalleled access to specimens for ongoing research, as well as new content development for the new museum,” Mr Day said.

Dr Butler was named Australian of the year in 1979, jointly with Aboriginal senator Neville Bonner.

He died of cancer, aged 85, in Perth in December last year.

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430,000 y.o. engravings smash record

STAFF REPORTER

An international team of scientists has discovered the earliest known engravings from human ancestors on a 430,000 year-old fossilised shell from Java.

The discovery is the earliest known example of ancient humans deliberately creating pattern.

“It rewrites human history,” said Dr Stephen Munro from the Australian National University’s School of Archaeology and Anthropology.

“This is the first time we have found evidence for Homo erectus behaving this way.”

The newly discovered engravings resemble the previously oldest-known engravings, which are associated with either Neanderthals or modern humans from around 100,000 years ago.

The early date and the location of the discovery in Java discount the possibility that the engravings could have been the work of Neanderthals or modern humans.

“It puts these large bivalve shells and the tools used to engrave them, into the hands of Homo erectus, and will change the way we think about this early human species,” said Dr Munro (pictured).

It is unclear whether the pattern was intended as art or served some practical purpose.

The zig-zag pattern engravings were only recently discovered on fossilised mussel shells, which had been collected 100 years ago.

Dr Munro visited the Netherlands to study the collection, gathered by the discoverer of Homo erectus, Eugene Dubois, in Java in the late 19th Century.

However, he did not notice the markings on the fossils until he examined photographs he had taken, once back in Canberra at ANU.

“It was a eureka moment,” Dr Munro said.

“I could see immediately that they were man-made engravings.

“There was no other explanation.”

After the discovery, an international team worked to establish the date of the engravings, using two different methods to arrive at the final result of between 430,000 and 540,000 years old.

The team found that Homo erectus opened the shells by drilling a hole through the shell with a shark’s tooth, exactly at the point where the muscle is attached.

Damaging muscles this way causes the valves of the shell to open, so that the contents can be eaten.

“It’s evidence that Homo erectus exploited these aquatic food resources, and fits with other evidence that they probably foraged in and around water,” Dr Munro said.

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Undergrad’s mutant trial takes 50 years

STAFF REPORTER

Fifty years after conducting an experiment as part of his undergraduate honours project, a University of Western Australia professor expects to see positive results in 2015.

In the mid 1960s, as an enthusiastic whipper-snapper, now Adjunct Professor John Hamblin bred a wild type of wheat and a variegated mutant to see if the difference in chlorophyll levels in the parent plants would affect the progeny.

“The … hybrid showed high vigour – twice that of the better parent,” recalled Professor Hamblin (pictured).

“As a result of growing the plants in relatively low light, back then, I called the result the Goldilocks effect.”

By chance, Professor Hamblin came across a publication in 2011 which supported his hypothesis that reduced levels of chlorophyll might increase crop yields.

“Possible reasons include better light distribution in the crop canopy and less photochemical damage to leaves,” he explained.

With the advent of new tools that can sort genetic material and test Professor Hamblin’s hypothesis, he recently decided to repeat his student experiment.  He used the new tools to analyse the chlorophyll per unit leaf area in a range of wheat varieties.

“There were two aims,” Professor Hamblin said.

“Firstly to establish a system by which we could screen plants confidently; secondly, to identify varieties that differ significantly and consistently.”

“We succeeded far beyond our expectations.”

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WA volcanos caused first mass extinction

STAFF REPORTER

Curtin University researcher has shown that ancient volcanic eruptions in Australia 510 million years ago significantly affected the climate, causing the first known mass extinction in the history of complex life.

Fred Jourdan from Curtin’s Department of Applied Geology, along with colleagues from several Australian and international institutions, used radioactive dating techniques to precisely measure the age of the eruptions of the Kalkarindji volcanic province – where lavas covered an area of more than 2 million square kilometres in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Associate Professor Jourdan (pictured) and his team were able to prove the volcanic province occurred at the same time as the Early–Middle Cambrian extinction from 510-511 million years ago – the first extinction to wipe out complex multicellular life.

“It has been well-documented that this extinction, which eradicated 50 per cent of species, was related to climatic changes and depletion of oxygen in the oceans, but the exact mechanism causing these changes was not known, until now,” Dr Jourdan said.

“Not only were we able to demonstrate that the Kalkarindji volcanic province was emplaced at the exact same time as the Cambrian extinction, but were also able to measure a depletion of sulphur dioxide from the province’s volcanic rocks – which indicates sulphur was released into the atmosphere during the eruptions.

“As a modern comparison, when the small volcano Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the resulting discharge of sulphur dioxide decreased the average global temperatures by a few tenths of a degree for a few years following the eruption.

“If relatively small eruptions like Pinatubo can affect the climate just imagine what a volcanic province with an area equivalent to the size of the state of Western Australia can do.”

The team then compared the Kalkarindji volcanic province with other volcanic provinces and showed the most likely process for all the mass extinctions was a rapid oscillation of the climate triggered by volcanic eruptions emitting sulphur dioxide, along with greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide.

“We calculated a near perfect chronological correlation between large volcanic province eruptions, climate shifts and mass extinctions over the history of life during the last 550 million years, with only one chance over 20 billion that this correlation is just a coincidence,” Dr Jourdan said.

Dr Jourdan said the rapid oscillations of the climate produced by volcanic eruptions made it difficult for various species to adapt, ultimately resulting in their demise. He also stressed the importance of this research to better understand our current environment.

“To comprehend the long-term climatic and biological effects of the massive injections of gas in the atmosphere by modern society, we need to recognise how climate, oceans and ecosytems were affected in the past,” he said.

Photo by: Sam Proctor

 

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Milk may fight diabetes

STAFF REPORTER

Protein fragments from milk could help combat and reduce the risk of developing Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease, type 2 diabetes.

Phillip Newsholme, head of Curtin University’s School of Biomedical Sciences said recent research had several findings and direct implications for people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

“In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes insulin, but it is not produced in the amount your body needs and it does not work effectively,” Professor Newsholme said.

“Our study demonstrates how consumption of a protein found in milk called whey – a highly digestible source of protein found in many dairy products – impacts positively on the pancreatic cells, helping them to release more insulin.

“This in turn helps to regulate blood glucose levels and could aid in the management of type 2 diabetes.”

The research – conducted by Curtin, University College of Dublin, the University of Limerick and Teagasc Food Research Centre in County Cork, Ireland, involved cellular tests and an eight-week study in mice.

“We will need to conduct further studies in people with diabetes to confirm the results but the initial findings are promising and indicate that milk, or milk derived products, may be useful in type 2 diabetes management,” Professor Newsholme said.

About one million Australians have been diagnosed with diabetes. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes, in particular, rises with age and is higher in men than in women.

The total annual cost for Australians with type 2 diabetes is up to $6 billion including healthcare costs, the cost of carers and Commonwealth government subsidies.

Photo: Stefan Kuhn, Wikimedia Commons

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280 more craters on the moon

STAFF REPORTER

Perth researchers have identified what could be an additional 280 craters on the moon.

Curtin University professor Will Featherstone said that identifying such a large number of moon craters came from using computer modelling of lunar gravity and topography data.

Regional features were removed from the data to reveal more detailed basins that would otherwise be obscured using other techniques.

“Our curiosity-driven work initially focussed on the identification of two basins on the … far side [of the moon] but was extended during the peer-review process of scientific papers so as to cover the whole moon,” Professor Featherstone said.

“The dark side of the moon is particularly challenging because moon-orbiting satellites cannot be tracked from Earth when they are over the far side.”

Professor Featherstone said the Curtin research team was optimistic about further discoveries after applying their techniques to the new gravity data collected by NASA’s GRAIL mission.

The GRAIL mission ceased when its two satellites – named Ebb and Flow – were deliberately crashed on the moon on December 17 last year.

Beyond the moon and Earth, the team has also developed an ultra-high resolution gravity map of Mars.

Photo: ‘阿爾特斯’, Wikimedia Commons

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Wax on, wax off

STAFF REPORTER

Karate masters can anticipate how an opponent will strike even before the opponent has moved a muscle, a study by Murdoch and RMIT University has found.

The study compared novices, state-level competitors and international-level competitors.

Competitors’ vision was blocked at three different stages of an opponent’s attack: the stance position; during preparatory head movement; and after the strike was initiated.

Results supported the hypothesis that experts and near-experts gathered vital visual information earlier than novices.

However, the sheer level of mastery by experts was unexpected.

“Expert Karateka, but not near-experts, had a unique ability to use information from an opponent who was completely still in the stance position, even before the preparatory head movement,” said Murdoch’s Sean Müller.

“Their blocks were successful at a level above what you’d see from guessing alone, showing that expert competitors gather visual cues earlier to block an attack than near-experts.”

Dr Müller said further research was needed to locate the subtle cues in the stance position used by experts, which may include small variations in limb positioning.

He said understanding how such visual information was gathered by elite athletes could provide an enormous advantage in training.

“In the world of professional sports, the difference between standing on the podium and being on the sidelines comes down to milliseconds and centimetres, so athletes need every advantage they can get,” Dr Müller said.

“I’ve also been working with Cricket Australia to look at how, and at what point, a batsman recognises the bowler’s delivery, with the results showing differences between expert and less skilled players.

“If we can understand how an elite cricketer can recognise, say, a bouncer, we can arm coaches with methods to help up-and-coming batsmen reach their maximum potential.”

Dr Müller is also working with the Perth Heat baseball team.

Photo: Toni Dietl, Wikimedia Commons

 

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$100,000 for national rock garden

STAFF REPORTER

A national rock garden set to feature 100 “iconic” rocks has been funded to the tune of $100,000 by the Australian National University.

The garden will be established on six-hectare site across the road from the National Arboretum which has started growing in Canberra.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Young said the National Rock Garden would showcase 100 “iconic” rock specimens ranging in age from 4000 million years to a few thousand years old.

Professor Young recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the garden and said his institution would contribute $100,000 toward the project.

Rock by rock the garden will be added to over the next decade.

“In Australia, we owe much of our national prosperity to our geological resources,” Professor Young said.

“The National Rock Garden is a great way to communicate to the public about Australia’s geological heritage.”

National Rock Garden chair Brad Pillans said the garden would be a world-class educational and tourist destination.

“Each rock will have a fascinating story to tell,” Professor Pillans said.

“Rocks are more than mineral resources and building stones.

“They are also important for tourism, indigenous culture and agriculture and have formed a spectacular backdrop for great Australian films, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock.”

Photo: Professors Young and Pillans seal the deal.

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Form follows function

STAFF REPORTER

Shifting the focus from appearance to function will help promote better body image among girls, a Murdoch University researcher has found.

Findings from a four-year project by Bree Abbott of Murdoch’s School of Psychology and Exercise Science have dispelled several popular misconceptions.

“Society constantly tells us teenage girls worry about their appearances and boys worry about how their bodies function, but I discovered that wasn’t the case at all,” Dr Abbott said.

“Young women value the function of their body more than their appearance, and they invest more time in it [than appearance], and are consistently more satisfied with that aspect than their looks.

“In reality, the more an adolescent’s focus moves from function to appearance, the unhappier they become.”

Dr Abbott said that while this may seem like common sense, the message was not being communicated or put into practice.

“A lot of people are trying to improve body image for adolescent girls, but they almost exclusively focus on telling them to love what they have – ‘this is beautiful, that is beautiful’ – when it turns out they should be saying your looks are not all your body has to offer,” she said.

One study within Dr Abbott’s research looked at body self-esteem in relation to physical activity, and involved 1824 year 9 and 11 students from 34 urban and rural high schools.

Participants were divided into three categories: sedentary (no exercise), structured exercise (sports, gymnastics), and unstructured exercise (walking, jogging, gym).

“We found girls who did any form of exercise – structured or unstructured – felt better about their appearance than girls who were inactive,” Dr Abbott said.

“Sedentary girls were more focussed on their appearance, yet were unhappier with both their looks and the way their bodies functioned.

“We concluded that exercise provided that link to function and gave these young women another tool to evaluate their bodies, one much more tangible than appearance, which is subjective and dependent on environment, friends and popular culture trends.”

Dr Abbott said her work had become very real thanks to her three-year-old daughter, Charlotte (pictured with Dr Abbott).

“I watch my daughter – she’s just learned to spin and jump at the same time and she thinks it’s amazing,” Dr Abbott said.

“It would be terrible to see her lose that sense of wonder about what her body can do.”

 

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Indian Ocean centre makes a splash

CHRIS THOMSON

A $62 million Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre proposed by the University of Western Australia is progressing through the state’s planning process, in spite of concerns over parking and the size of the structure.

The six-level building (elevations pictured) is ready to rise at the fringe of the university campus – on the northeast corner of Fairway and Myers Street, over the romantically-named Car Park 14.

The centre will include offices for researchers, technicians and postgraduate students. Wet and dry laboratories, flexible collaboration spaces and a ground level lecture theatre with external courtyard are on the drawing board.

Up to 240 scientists and lab rats, and 100 students, will use the building – 60 per cent of whom will relocate from other parts of the university.

The centre is a joint venture of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, CSIRO, the WA Department of Fisheries, and UWA’s Oceans Institute.

On the campus side of the centre, the building will be surrounded by single to four storey buildings.

UWA Indian Ocean CentreHowever, the centre’s 30.1 metre height will be more than twice as tall as adjacent private housing. And the disappearance of Car Park 14 will leave a net car bay shortfall of 219 bays.

And there lies the rub for the project’s only formal objector.

“Parking is a nightmare now,” writes the objector who owns four units on the southeast side of the Fairway/Myers intersection.

“We have enough development now.

“My family has 14 properies [sic] around that location & because of the university precinct and future planned development all around there property prices are falling greatly & prospective buyers & tenants are now deciding to head to other areas.”

The objector then makes a racist comment – which shall not be repeated here – about the number of Asian students now frequenting Crawley.

“Many of the people around here are unhappy with the university proposed development – but because many units and dwelling [sic] are rented out – apathy reins [sic] as owners have another property to live in,” the objector laments.

“I intend living in my place until I am carried out in a wooden box!”

Compensating to an extent for the parking shortfall will be the centre’s 47 bicycle bays, 70 lockers and five showers.

In a report to their political masters, Subiaco council staff have also raised concerns about parking and the centre’s height – but conclude the building is generally in keeping with its surrounds.

The plans are set to be considered by the state government’s Metropolitan West Development Assessment Panel some time soon.

A two-storey centre for Co2 research of a similar architectural style is undergoing separate planning approval for another part of Car Park 14.

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Cheats busted at first sight

STAFF REPORTER

University of Western Australia researchers have found a kernel of truth in the idea that unfaithfulness can be judged just by looking at a stranger’s face.

And it is women who have the knack, according to Professor Gillian Rhodes, Professor Leigh Simmons and researcher Grace Morley.

The trio asked study participants to look at the faces of unfamiliar people for three seconds and rate them for traits, including faithfulness and trustworthiness.

The people whose faces were rated had already told researchers in an anonymous questionnaire whether they had a history of cheating on their own partners or poaching a partner off another person in the past.

Professor Simmons said female participants had a much higher strike rate than their male counterparts in accurately choosing whether strangers of the opposite sex were likely to be cheaters. Women got it right 62 per cent of the time while men were right 23 per cent of the time.

“What was really surprising was that women were able to do that above chance,” Professor Simmons said.

“They were able to look at a face and rate it for faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

“There was a correlation between their ratings for faithfulness and the actual behaviour of the individuals they were rating.

“Now men couldn’t do that, or the relationship was much weaker.”

Professor Simmons said the gap may be due to any number of reasons.

“It may be that women have evolved the greater ability to make accurate assessments than men because the costs of making mistakes, for women, are greater,” he said.

“On the other hand, the men were making mistakes a lot.

“One potential reason could be that males of most animals, including humans, tend to be less discriminating of their partners because they have less to lose if that partner is unfaithful.

“Obviously they could end up being cuckolded in human terms, but they don’t have all the physiological costs of gestation, child bearing and child rearing that women have.

“And males have greater opportunities for reproducing with other individuals.”

The authors said their research provided the first evidence that impressions of unfaithfulness made from the faces of opposite-sex strangers contained a kernel of truth.

“Previous studies have focused on accuracy of impressions from samples of behaviour,” they wrote.

“Our results demonstrate that accurate judgements of unfaithfulness can be made from the face alone, in the absence of behavioural cues.”

The authors also found a high correlation between attractiveness and perceptions of trustworthiness, with more attractive people judged more likely to be trustworthy.

“There might be some sort of attractiveness halo effect going on there,” Professor Simmons said.

“What was also really interesting is there was no correlation between peoples’ rating of sexual faithfulness and trustworthiness.

“So they’re obviously very different tasks and people are looking for different things.”

He said that even though women might have a radar more finely attuned to unfaithfulness, there was more to relationships than first impressions.

“We don’t go into relationships based just on those sorts of visual cues,” he said.

“We have long periods of courtships and we get to know individuals and learn more about them than your first impressions might convey.

“Nevertheless we make errors even then.”

Photo by: ‘Matt’, Wikimedia Commons

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Wine snobs beware

KEN HOLMES

How much influence do your taste buds have on your appreciation of a fine wine? Not quite as much as you’d think, according to the head of psychology at Curtin University.

Professor Adrian North recently examined the impact of background music on the perceived taste of red and white wine.

Study participants were invited into a room and asked to drink a glass of wine while four different genres of music were played. After consuming the wine, participants completed a questionnaire on the wine and then the music.

Using four descriptors, applicable to both the music and the wine, such as ‘powerful and heavy’ and ‘subtle and refined’, researchers found participants were more likely to describe wine based on the emotional connotations of the background music.

“Whatever type of music was playing, the participants regarded the characteristics of the wine in the same way,” Professor North said.

“What you perceive with one sense can impact another sense.

“In this case if you hear soothing, subtle music, the wine is interpreted in the same way.”

Professor North has been looking at the psychological connection between the senses for several years, in particular how music can impact the other senses such as taste.

A study conducted by Professor North in 1997 showed that French music played in a supermarket encouraged people to buy French wine.

“French music primes thoughts about France, so you tend to buy French wine and the same results were seen with German music and German wine,” he said.

“It shows how sounds can influence consumers’ decisions.”

Many of these effects rely on the perceived impact of the music, such as playing classical music at a restaurant where consumers tend to associate the food with luxury or high-end goods, and are thus willing to spend more money.

So if our perceptions are so easily manipulated by something as simple as music where does that leave our free will?

Professor North says human senses are interpreted in the higher part of the brain and rely on people’s preconceived stereotypes about sounds.

“All the information from the senses is interpreted in the cortex and assembled into a single, cohesive idea …,” he says.

“If your palate is telling you one thing and your ears are telling you another, all this information has to be assembled to make a judgment.”

While Professor North’s research has real-world application for the wine industry, two Swan Valley wineries told oneperth.com.au they did not rely on music to create new taste sensations.

Instead the wineries are trusting the flavours of their wine to do the job.

Denise Holufa from Jane Brook Estate Winery says wine tasting can be a subjective experience and many descriptors used by the average consumer are not the same as those used by wine connoisseurs.

“We play jazz lounge music in our cellars and tasting rooms, but often people are talking amongst themselves, or talking with the staff about the wine,” Ms Holufa says.

“The music is secondary to the tasting experience, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have impact on setting or mood.”

Dorham Mann from Mann Wineries says classical music is generally played in his cellars as it reflects his personal music preference.

“We have never had comments from customers about the genre of music played,” Mr Mann says.

“The focus is mostly on the wine.”

Professor North says that experienced wine connoisseurs tend to be immune to the impact that music has on their taste buds.

He says there is limited research into the impacts of music on our tastebuds, but it is a fast growing area of academic interest, with potential to be used in marketing, gastronomy, health and psychology.

“We are currently undertaking a related study replacing wine with orange juice and the results will hopefully show similar correlations,” he says.

Photo: Jane Brook Estate Winery director Beverley Atkinson obliges a couple of customers. Ken Holmes.

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Chocolate guilt trips fail

ROB PAYNE

A recent UK–Australian study has found warnings intended to dissuade women from over-indulging in chocolate can actually prompt increased consumption.

Published in Appetite, the work from researchers at the University of Western Australia and University of Strathclyde found low restraint eaters (non-dieters) showed a strong impulse to eat chocolate when presented with negative messaging.

This includes warnings that it could lead to obesity or phrases like ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’.

According to lead author Professor Kevin Durkin, this surprising outcome is known as ‘reactance’ – when a warning has a contrary effect of releasing desire for a forbidden product.

“Reactance could be more marked among the low restraint participants because they are generally less preoccupied with regulating their food intake and thus find external attempts to intervene in freely determined behaviour more jarring,” Professor Durkin says.

Ironically, negative messaging had no effect on ‘restrained eaters’, people who regularly dieted.

However, dieters did react strongly to the visual imagery in ads.

When offered chocolate in conjunction with ads featuring thin models, dieters showed increased desire to eat chocolate, greater feelings of wanting to avoid consumption, higher consumption and ultimately more guilt.

“Among participants with high restraint, those exposed to the thin model consumed significantly more chocolate, while model size didn’t have any real impact on those with low restraint,” Professor Durkin says.

He says this may be because dieters are more susceptible to a ‘thin fantasy brought about by viewing ideal body images’.

A 2002 study by Mills et al found after looking at very thin models, restrained eaters reported not only that they desired to be thinner, but perceived themselves to be thinner.

“These women enjoy a self-enhancement or inspirational effect from the image,” Professor Durkin says.

“Because this results in feeling that they are closer to reaching their ideal form, they experience a reduction in the pressure to maintain their regimens.

“From a chocolate advertiser’s perspective, exploitation of young women’s vulnerability to the thin ideal has some attractions.”

The study involved 80 female participants between the ages of 17 and 26, categorised into low or high restraint and scored on the Orientation to Chocolate Questionnaire, developed by Professor Werner Stritzke and colleagues at UWA, and a measure of chocolate consumption.

Professors Durkin and Stritzke say they undertook the study as part of a broader interest in the complex relationship between body issues, health risks associated with the highly calorific food and chocolate’s status among women.

Story courtesy ScienceNetwork WA

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Island ‘undiscovered’

STAFF REPORTER

A University of Western Australia geologist has helped ‘undiscover’ a mysterious South Pacific island recorded on world maps for more than a decade.

Sandy Island has been shown on weather maps, Google Earth and in scientific publications going back to 2000 as sitting between the Australian mainland and the French island of New Caledonia in the eastern Coral Sea.

But when scientists on a research expedition aboard the RV Southern Surveyor sailed into the area last week, they were surprised to find nothing but empty ocean.

A team including Steven Micklethwaite, of UWA’s Centre for Exploration Targeting, was on a scientific excursion to collect submarine data and rock samples from the little explored part of the Coral Sea.

When the ship’s navigation charts showed a depth of 1400m in an area where scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island, the researchers became suspicious.

They decided to investigate and found the charts were correct:  the island shown by Google Earth as a black blob (at the coordinates 19˚14´S, 159˚56´E) simply did not exist.

“We all had a good laugh at Google as we sailed through the ‘island’,” said Associate Professor Micklethwaite, pictured.

“Then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so we can change the world map.”

He said nobody knew how the mistake had found its way into the databases used to produce maps.

“One of the sources of that map, ironically, is actually the CIA in the US so of course when we discovered this error we had lots of conspiracy theories floating around the ship,” Associate Professor Micklethwaite said.

“It certainly caused us to have a good giggle.”

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