Our energy system is based on a rickety 19th century concept, but a revolution in energy storage is changing that.

IT WAS THE YEAR the Soviet Union collapsed, Osama bin Laden founded al-Qaeda, and the lauded American physicist Richard Feynman died. Murphy Brown debuted on U.S. television, while at the cinema, Rain Man battled it out with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Crocodile Dundee II.

And while it doesn’t have quite such a recognition factor, 1988 was also the year Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, an Australian professor of chemical engineering, obtained a U.S. patent for inventing the vanadium redox battery, or VRB.

VRBs are quite something. Unlike traditional lead-acid batteries of the time, or the lithium-ion wonders of today, they store and…


New research explains how exposure to the wilderness makes us healthy.

EVEN ON A BLUSTERY winter’s afternoon, Mount Lofty flaunts its splendour as a bushland oasis, one of the last vestiges of the original forests and woodlands that once dotted the Adelaide Plains of South Australia. As you meander down the narrow tracks from the summit, you feel invigorated by the scenery, the silence, and the smell of wet earth after a light shower. To a city dweller like me, the air itself seems therapeutic.

Which, as it turns out, is not an illusion.

Every time you walk through wild spaces that are replete with biodiversity and breathe the air, microbes…


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. …


For decades forgotten in a warehouse, one of the grandfathers of modern computers — and only the fifth to go live — has been restored.

THE WORLD WAS a different place in 1949: vinyl LP records had just been invented, the now-iconic Volkswagen Kombi van debuted on the market, the world’s first jet-powered airliner took its maiden flight, and the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao Zedong.

But behind the scenes, it was also the beginning of a powerful technological revolution: the dawn of the computer age. Within months of each other, scientists and engineers had created the first stored-memory electronic computers: large, lumbering machines weighing several tonnes and packed with vacuum tubes and miles of copper wiring. …

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