Begun as curiosity-driven research, it is now accelerating advances in everything from computing to medicine and finance.

BBELOW THE SIZE of atoms, the world functions strangely: particles can be waves, waves can be particles, and particles can jump vast distances without traversing space. Yet, these strange phenomena, known as quantum mechanics and discovered just over a century ago by academics, are now embedded in technologies we take for granted, like computer memory, lasers, and solar cells.

Now that same research field — thanks to decades of persistent work by scientists and engineers — is ushering in what has been called the ‘second quantum revolution’. …


They should have died out with the dinosaurs, but their seedlings are now being nurtured back from oblivion.

IT HAS BEEN CALLED the botanical find of a century: a lonely stand of conifers, the last of their kind and thought to have been extinct for aeons — until three bushwalkers came across them one sunny winter afternoon.

The 23 odd-looking pines, stretching up to 40 metres through the canopy of a deep and inaccessible gorge in Australia’s Wollemi National Park, are from a group that once covered the southern supercontinent of Gondwana.

Now known as ‘Wollemi Pines’, the trees were thought to have disappeared long before humans walked the Earth — until David Noble and his companions stumbled…


A decade ago, when the first man to walk the Moon called for a new age of space exploration, it was inspiring but fanciful. That’s no longer the case.

WHAT DO YOU ask a man who walked on the Moon, and has never been able to live it down? All because he happened to be the first human being to set foot on another world?

This is the thought that had me brooding a decade ago this week, as I nursed a glass of red wine and peered across the vast hall of men and women in business attire who shuffled to and fro, anxious to enter the Parkside Ballroom at the Sydney Convention Centre in Darling Harbour, where Neil Armstrong was to make what would become — unbeknownst…


When wild weather hammered Australia’s east coast, researchers leapt into action, collecting the most detailed data ever — and creating powerful tools to predict future storms.

MITCHELL HARLEY doesn’t believe in monsters. But on arriving in the office on a crisp Monday morning in May 2016, what he saw made his hair stand on end — a monster of a storm was on its way.

“Just seeing the extremity of what was being predicted — waves of up to seven metres from an east to northeast direction — then I looked at the tide charts, and realised the waves were going to coincide with the highest tides of the year. …


At pains to downplay Facebook’s power and influence, CEO Mark Zuckerberg actually proved both — then lost the battle.

IT CAME SUDDENLY and without warning: on Thursday 18 February 2021, Australians woke up to find news stories gone from Facebook; not just links to Australian news, but news as a category. From anywhere.

Links to news content were blocked to all 13 million users in Australia, as were the local and international Facebook pages of media sites. Users were not only prevented from sharing news content, but any old posts they’d shared, from any news outlet around the world, disappeared.

In true Facebook fashion, the blanket ban also had unintended consequences: hundreds of charities, sports clubs, community groups, arts…


Artificial intelligence can mimic human decisions — but also drastically amplify hidden biases.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is increasingly creeping into everyday life, from Google searches and matching singles on dating sites to Siri recommendations and detecting credit card fraud. But how much can we trust the computer algorithms that drive it?

“People fear AI and machine learning because they think it’s about a shift of power from the human to machine,” Dr. Suelette Dreyfus, a lecturer in the University of Melbourne’s School of Computing and Information Systems, said in a panel discussion [see video] on artificial intelligence (AI) between academic and industry experts in November 2020.

“But actually, it’s also a shift in power…


A new space race is unfolding, driven by commerce and permanent bases on the Moon. To succeed, they’ll need to be self-sustaining.

WHEN SOPHIA Casanova was 10, her parents bought her a telescope, and she fell head over heels for all things space. She’d spend lazy summers in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, in the late 1990s revelling in the stars and watching the haunting phases of the serene, implacable Moon.

“That was the tipping point, really,” says the young Australian geologist, who’s now busily designing missions to prospect for — and eventually mine — water ice on the Moon and Mars. “It’s absolutely incredible to see through a telescope,” she says of the Moon, which she still views through a bigger…


A lack of diversity in Australian newsrooms remains a stubborn feature of modern life. For me, this not academic: it is lived experience.

HOW’S DIVERSITY coming along in the Australian news media? Not so much.

A study by the non-profit Media Diversity Australia, entitled Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories? and released August 2020, details just how white Anglo-Celtic the Australian news media is. But it was not surprising — not for someone from a non-English speaking background who’s been a journalist in Australia for 34 years: everywhere I’ve worked in the country, it’s been a wall of white Anglos as far as the eye could see.

The key metric in the study was a person’s ethnicity and ancestral background, relying on methodology…


In the milieu of the Cold War, a roadside accident three generations ago led to Sputnik 1, and the beginning of a new era: the Space Age.

HAD IT NOT BEEN for a collision with a tree by a vodka-sodden driver on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia would not have put Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit around the Earth when it did. Sadly, history does not record the driver’s name.

It was 1957, and the Soviet Union’s brilliant but secretive rocket genius, Sergei Korolev — known to the West for decades only as ‘the Chief Designer’ — had been struggling against a lack of interest from the military and the Politburo in making the Soviet Union the first to launch ‘a little Moon’, as…


Working late one night, Alan Guth struck upon a solution to the birth of the cosmos. Until then, he’d had trouble holding down a job.

ALAN GUTH still finds it amazing that he can understand anything about the first few moments of the Big Bang. But he shouldn’t — he was there.

About 13.8 billion years ago, when the universe was a hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, it underwent an incredible growth spurt, doubling in size more than 60 times in a split second. This cosmic fireball quickly slowed, then — after about 380,000 years — cooled enough for electrons to combine with nuclei and form atoms. …

Wilson da Silva

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store