Mantis shrimp eyes use polarized light to locate objects underwater (2 min read+audio: scientific discovery)


Recently, a group of scientists from Australia and the US used a special camera, which mimics the eyes of a mantis shrimp, to show that polarized light can be used underwater to determine the geolocation of an object.

The team took recordings at depths of 2-20 meters underwater at locations all around the world and showed that they could then relocate the camera from the recorded images. They managed to get to within 61 kilometers, or 6 metres of error for every 1 kilometer travelled. This is about the same as the desert ant, which also uses polarized vision.

While this might seem like a large error, marine creatures don’t travel in straight lines or follow fixed compass points. Rather, they make adjustments to their route, changing direction along the way, as you would in a boat. So for the mantis shrimp to have only 6 metres of error per kilometer is actually quite significant.

Until now, it was believed that polarized vision was only used by marine animals to detect predators or for covert communication, such as in cuttlefish. This new study shows that, similarly to many terrestrial animals, marine animals have the ability to utilise polarization-sensitive vision for navigation and geolocalization.

Underwater polarization patterns are the result of mainly two optical phenomena; refraction and scattering. This model didn’t allow for the Sun to be lower than 40 degrees above the horizon, due to the colour of the sky. The colour blue refracts at 40 degrees, therefore was removed due to the large amount captured by the camera when the Sun coincidently dropped below the 40 degree angle.

Despite the many environmental factors that challenged this study, such as wind, waves and the colour blue, there is room for more research to help explain this very interesting scientific development.


Picture: Schematic of in-water polarization patterns. (A) The cylinder shows the polarization states that the detector observes, in false color. (B) Polarization states predicted by the single-scattering model, in false colour (see key at right), for Sun elevations of 10°, 45°, and 80° above the horizon. For clarity, lines oriented at the polarization angles are overlaid on the graphs. Neutral points in the polarization occur where the polarization state of the scattering event cancels that of the refraction (Powell et al., 2018).

Journal article:

  1. B. Powell, R. Garnett, J. Marshall, C. Rizk, V. Gruev, Bioinspired polarization vision enables underwater geolocalization. Sci. Adv. 4, eaao6841 (2018).



Associate Professor Alan Duffy interview (4 min videos+47 min audio)

I was lucky enough to catch up with the very busy Associate Professor Alan Duffy yesterday at Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn, Melbourne.

As always, it was a diverse and interesting conversation, with many laughs and questions from a live audience! We talked about his change in title since our chat last year, as well as my new hair, where I was able to communicate the science of our curly hair!

Other topics covered were Alan’s favourite music and interests, motivations and failures, the recent science march, science communication, experts, politics and opinions!

Check out the full interview in the podcast below.

Climate for Change (1 min read+vid+audio: opinion)

On Saturday 18th February 2017, I attended a Climate for Change facilitator training day. Immediately,  I could tell that I was onto a winner!

In my experience, when it comes to communicating anthropogenic climate change there are two extremes, and I’ve worked with both ends of the spectrum. At one end, there’s the emotional environmental activists who gets labelled as ‘hippies’ and may not have a lot of scientific experience or credibility. Then at the other end there are the conservative scientists, knowledgeable, factual and practical.

Climate for Change is right in the middle and perfect for achieving the results needed to protect our habitat in a timely manner. They’re goal driven, results focused and have specifically chosen the best way to get positive action on a complicated topic.

They use a combination of psychology and direct marketing backed by climate science and strategy to have meaningful conversations about the pragmatic steps that YOU can take to have an impact. The plan for exponential growth means that political traction will occur, leading to social change and a safer future for life on Earth.

I’m so excited to have found them and to be a part of this movement in it’s early days. If you would like to know more, please feel free to ask me, check out their website or subscribe to Climate for Change for their fortnightly updates.


Happiness (1 min read+podcast+vid: info)

Retailers are wrong! Buying stuff won’t make you happy or healthy!

Being rich and famous won’t help you either…So what’s the secret to happiness?

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier”- Robert Waldinger

The longest running study on happiness has shown that it all comes down to quality relationships, whether they are friends, family or lovers.

The key message is to make an effort to connect with someone- your time is more valuable than any “stuff”. Buying less things will have a positive side-effect on the environment too! It’s not about romantic relationships- just be a friend- that in turn will reward you with health and happiness!


My inspiration with this idea is my Dad- he ignored the statistics about men over 30 loosing friends and descending into damaging-loneliness by having regular dinner parties and a strong connection with my Mum. And again at retirement he skewed the data that suggested men die after 3 years by actively engaging in social groups and hobbies.

Thanks Dad! –  Love Si



Prof Brian Cox: science miscommunication (2.5min read+vid: opinion)

On Monday 15th August 2016 renowned scientist and science communicator Professor Brian Cox confronted One Nation senator-elect Malcolm Roberts on the facts of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) on the ABC program Q and A.  As Roberts kept asking for empirical evidence on ACC, Cox finally succumbed to the urge that most scientists probably have, and literally threw data at him to a round of applause from the audience. Despite the theatrics and weird applause for a graph, it failed to address the specific misinformation in Robert’s mind and made Cox out to be overly emotional.*

Roberts was also damaged by the exchange, coming across as an ignorant conspiracist looney who believes that NASA manipulated the ACC data! By that logic, it means that they must have somehow changed all 30 000 independent research reports used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)!

Anthropogenic climate change evokes strong emotions from most people, especially those scientists who understand the vast quantities of data and predictive models with potentially dire outcomes for humanity. Unfortunately, scientists can’t keep throwing data at people if they don’t understand something, and this applies to all complex scientific subjects, not just ACC.

Oh, what’s that, you don’t get it? Here: have some more data!

It’s the scientist’s role, as well as science communicators, educators and journalists alike to then use effective communication methods to translate the scientific publications into plain English for politicians, decision makers and the general public. Mass communication is not the answer, as it fails to answer the individual’s questions and actually reinforces their misunderstanding. Person to person is a great way to correct misinformation.

As scientists, we need to understand the intricacies and nuances of in-person communication to help the public understand the valuable and complicated knowledge. For example, being able to withstand or deflect a personal attack when explaining something, as happened to Cox. This will allow us to determine if the person is genuinely misinformed, or something more sinister.

ACC is a significant and complicated topic that affects us all and needs politicians to understand the information to then collectively act in a timely manner to slow the severe impacts. There are people trying to disrupt this action by causing doubt. It’s important to understand that personal attacks on scientists, institutions and logic are part of this effort by the fossil fuel industry. The challenge is now to point this out to the public and raise awareness about the credibility of information, as it’s easy to put opinions on the Internet!


*For the record, I have full respect for Professor Brian Cox and would like to take this moment in time as an example of what NOT to do in communicating the science of ACC. There are many examples where he is a great science communicator and a small Internet search will show many results! Learning from our individual and collective mistakes is part of being a scientist. Thank you for all of your work Professor Brian Cox and please keep up the good work!

**Disclaimer: My opinion is based on scientific research on the subject of Communicating the Science of Anthropogenic Climate Change. I work independently and am not paid by any institution or organisation for this research.

Full program:

Publish or perish (1min read+vid: opinion)


I struggle with my own perfectionism which delays publications on this blog, so I want to take this opportunity to express my opinion on the mantra of getting your research/thoughts/opinion/whatever out there or risk falling behind!

I am tutoring science communication at Swinburne University of Technology this semester and I strongly believe that if students can not communicate effectively, then they will potentially fail the subject and possible future job opportunities. Engagement is key to learning and growing professionally and personally.

On the other hand, we are all different! After watching The Man Who Knew Infinity I wonder whether the worlds greatest scientific mind may be completely inept at basic human interaction. During my week of hosting the Twitter account I Am Sci Comm, which is an American based science communication page, I spent all of my time communicating and not actually researching! I made videos to try and engage the global audience who were awake while I was asleep:

So where is the line between doing science and taking time to communicate it? Should there be an organisation in charge of communicating research, published or other? Is there a difference between being published and being self-published?

Please tell me your thoughts and leave a comment here or on  Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. Thanks!


*Reading time is based on a 200 word per minute average with 60% comprehension from

Scientific help (1min read: info)

Why should you never trust an atom? Because they make up everything! Science jokes! 😀

Here are some fundamental science facts to help you with life. Like the dual realities post, this information is valuable and can help you decipher the constant noise that exists in our modern world of digital communication.

  • Science is a method (not a religion) which can be repeated and tested by anyone- even you!
  • It is about building upon knowledge for the good of society.
  • Skepticism is good- it involves learning and then deciding. As opposed to denial, which ignores all information.
  • Independent thought is the difference between determining if it is sciencepseudoscience, a poorly designed experiment or just hype (e.g. only one study).
  • It is not science vs everyone else. In fact the more collaborations happen, the better. Environmental science is multi-disciplinary, but more on that later.

Science in Australia is okay, but there is always room for improvement. In the interest of science communication and sharing knowledge, here are some important websites to continue your research:

Happy to chat more about any aspect of this post- feedback welcome! Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section or on any of the social media links!

Thanks for reading! -Si

Interview with Dr Alan Duffy (4min vids+1hr podcast)

I was privileged enough to have a beer and a chat with Dr Alan Duffy at Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn, Victoria.

We talked astronomy, science communication, dad jokes, climate change, hilarious anecdotes and much, much more. Check out the playlist below and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos.


You can also hear the podcast version of the full interview here.


Reblog: A brief history of climate science (note the importance of science communication)

A brief history of climate science

Ed Hawkins, University of Reading

Climate change is often seen as a recent phenomenon, but its roots are actually far older – the effects of human activity on the global climate have been discussed for more than 150 years.

In the 1820s, the French mathematician Joseph Fourier was trying to understand the various factors that affect Earth’s temperature. But he found a problem – according to his calculations, the Earth should have been a ball of ice.

The most obvious factor, the Sun, did not seem to provide enough energy to raise the temperature of Earth above freezing. Fourier’s initial ideas, that there must be additional energy coming from the Earth’s core or from the temperature of outer space, were soon dismissed. Fourier then realised that the atmosphere, which at first seemed transparent, could be playing a crucial role.

Tyndall’s experiment to measure the properties of various gases

Then, in 1861, the Irish physicist John Tyndall performed an experiment which changed our view of the atmosphere. Tyndall demonstrated that gases such as methane and carbon dioxide absorbed infrared radiation, and could trap heat within the atmosphere. He immediately realised the implications and remarked that these gases “would produce great effects on the terrestrial rays and produce corresponding changes of climate.”

Although this discovery would have profound consequences for understanding future climate, Tyndall, like most of his colleagues, was primarily interested in understanding the causes of ice ages, which had been discovered in 1837 by Louis Agassiz.

What was missing however was an estimate of how much these gases could warm or cool the planet. Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, provided the first numerical estimates of “climate sensitivity” – defined as the temperature change corresponding to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He suggested a value around 4°C in 1896.

While the scientists continued to debate the causes of the ice ages, the Earth was warming. From the 1920s onwards meteorologists began to realise that the climate of various regions had changed. Joseph Kincer suggested in 1933 that temperatures in individual cities had been rising. At the same time, others had started measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But it took an amateur meteorologist to put the puzzle together.

Guy Stewart Callendar, taken in 1934

Guy Stewart Callendar was a steam engineer who was fascinated by the weather. He meticulously collected temperature records from around the world, examined the carbon dioxide measurements and studied the work of Arrhenius and others. In his spare time, and without the aid of a computer, he performed the tedious calculations required to measure the temperature of the planet. These efforts produced the first evidence that Earth’s surface was warming.

Exactly 75 years ago, in 1938, Callendar delivered his analysis to the Fellows of the Royal Meteorological Society. He revealed evidence for a 0.3°C rise in global temperatures over the previous 50 years and suggested that this was largely due to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. His findings were found to be interesting, but were not viewed as conclusive by the esteemed Fellows.

Callendar’s original graph showing an increase in global temperatures.

Undeterred, Callendar continued his research, gathering additional evidence. In later years he published the first estimates of the change in carbon dioxide over time, prompting Charles Keeling to set up the first dedicated observatory for measuring gases in the atmosphere.

In 1961, Callendar updated his estimates for global temperatures with more observations, and these agree remarkably well with our current understanding. Callendar also felt that a warmer climate would be beneficial as it would “delay the return of the deadly glaciers” and allow crops to be grown at higher latitudes.

In the 75 years since Callendar’s discovery that carbon dioxide was warming the planet, much more has been learnt about the climate. But the basic picture has not changed. We are now more confident than ever of the role of human activity on global temperatures. We also have a more complete understanding of the consequences of a warmer planet.

With all the attention on the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report in 2013, the considerable efforts of Callendar and his contemporaries in advancing our understanding of the climate should not be forgotten.

The Conversation

Ed Hawkins, Climate scientist , University of Reading

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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