SoT 349: Our Favourite Science Stories of 2019

December 17, 2019

Hosts: Ed Brown, Penny Dumsday, Lucas Randall, Ass/Prof Mick Vagg

[00:00:48] The switch to agricultural societies 12,000 years ago may have changed how we talk, introducing the ‘f’ and ‘v’ sounds.
[00:04:58] The cane toad is an introduced pest in Australia, with no real natural predators. Until recently, when a small group of water rats learned how to eviscerate them with surgical precision!
[00:06:38] The search for Planet Nine continued this year, and a new hypothesis was proposed: it might not be a planet, but a tiny primordial black hole.
[00:11:28] The first ever image of a black hole’s accretion disk was revealed this year. xkcd made a graphic showing the size of M87 compared to our solar system.
[00:15:30] NASA’s InSight lander has been trying to drill a heat probe into the Martian surface, but it’s been a heartbreaking story of progress and setbacks.
[00:19:38] DNA testing has found that the same variety of grapes used 9,000 years ago to make wine are still being used today by some winemakers in France.
[00:25:29] Researchers painted cows to look like zebras to find out if they were less likely to be bitten by flies. They were!
[00:28:47] Scientists found that rats who had been taught to drive tiny electric cars were ‘happier’ and less stressed.
[00:31:34] Australian scientists have developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that developed a new flu vaccine.
[00:36:59] Some people can smell when other people have early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Thanks to the help of one of these “super-smellers”, researchers were able to identify volatile compounds produced by sufferers.
[00:40:39] A crater on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has begun to fill up – but with water, not lava.

Associate Professor Michael Vagg is a consultant in rehabilitation and pain medicine.