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Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1163rd General Monthly Meeting

"Alzheimer's disease; the man, the discovery of the disease and
prospects for avoidance"

Dr Bruce Warren, Former Professor of Pathology, The University of NSW.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Dr Bruce Warren M.B. B.S. D.Phil. D.Sc (Oxford) was head of the Department of Anatomical Pathology at Prince Henry Hospital and Professor of Pathology in the University of New South Wales from 1980 to 1997. In these roles he developed an interest in multi-infarct dementia (i.e. vascular dementia) and in Alzheimer's disease.


Lois Alzheimer was born on 14 June 1864. His father was a notary public in the Bavarian town of Markbeit. He attended several universities and received his medical degree in 1887 at the age of 23 from Wurzberg University. In 1894 Alzheimer married a banker's widow, Cacilia Geisenheimer. His marriage to an heiress allowed him to concentrate on his research work. Following work in Frankfurt and Heidelberg, Alzheimer moved to the Munich University Psychiatric Clinic in 1903. In 1908 Alzheimer was appointed Associate Professor and Director of the clinic's Anatomical Pathology laboratory. In 1912 King Wilhelm II of Prussia signed the certificate of appointment of Dr. Alzheimer to a full Professorship of psychiatry at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). His health deteriorated and he died aged 51 as a result of cardiac failure on 15 December 1915.

Two important factors in Alzheimer's discovery of this disease were his friendship with Franz Nissl and the mentorship provided to him by Professor Emil Kraepelin. Nissl developed stains for thin sections of the brain so that structures in the brain could be observed under the microscope. Together they conducted an extensive investigation of the pathology of the nervous system, particularly the cerebral cortex.

The first case of Alzheimer's disease was a female, August Deter, who Alzheimer met in 1901 when she was admitted to the Institute in Frankfurt at the age of 51. She died in 1906 at the time Alzheimer was working in Munich. His former chief gave him access to both clinical records and the brain. Her symptoms of disorientation, impaired memory and difficulties reading and writing became more marked and there was a gradual loss of higher mental functions. His examination of the brain revealed thinned cerebral cortex and, under the microscope, neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The second case was a 56-year-old man, Johann F., who was admitted to the Munich clinic in 1907 and died in 1910. He showed cerebral changes similar to the first case. Emil Kraepelin named this illness Alzheimer's disease.

The recommendations from the recently convened panel of eminent geriatricians and psychogeriatricians led by Associate Professor Michael Woodward will be outlined. The panel surveyed the literature to identify dementia risk reduction strategies.

Copies of the Alzheimers Australia's brochure "Think or Sink" will be distributed at the lecture. These contain recommendations from the panel of geriatricians and psychogeriatricians, identifying dementia risk-reduction strategies.
- For the brain: when the brain is active the brain is protected.
- For the body: exercise regularly.
- For the diet: a balanced diet promotes brain health.
- For the social life: an active social life is good for the brain.
- Habits: stop smoking and don't abuse alcohol.

1162nd General Monthly Meeting

"An Australian ecological blind-spot: rabbit impact on native
plants and animals"

Dr Brian Cooke, Invasive Animals CRC, University of Canberra

Wednesday 2 July 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Introduced wild rabbits have long been regarded as a major almost insoluble economic problem in Australia, requiring the unusual step of introducing successive biological control agents, such as myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhage disease. Despite this, however, the rabbits' impact on native vegetation has been poorly understood, though CSIRO scientists have worked on rabbits for over 50 years. It is now clear that rabbits compete directly with many of our native animals such as the grey and red kangaroos and common wombats. It takes less than 1 rabbit per hectare to completely inhibit regeneration of many tree and shrub species in natural woodlands.


Dr Brian Cooke has worked on the management of pest animals for over 40 years. Much of this work was done within the Animal and Plant Control Commission in South Australia before he transferred to the CSIRO. He has also spent time working in other environments including the sub-Antarctic Kerguelen Islands and 2 years in the equatorial Islands. He now works with the Invasive Animals CRC in the University of Canberra, where he is carrying out an industry-funded strategic review of the long-term prospects of rabbit haemorrhagic disease as a biological control agent.

1161st General Monthly Meeting

"The Australian tsunami warning system - protecting Australia
from waves of destruction"

Dr Dale Dominey-Howes, Natural Hazards Research Laboratory, Risk Management Group, School of Safety Science, UNSW

Wednesday 4 June 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (2004 IOT) disaster, although catastrophic, only had minor effects on the coasts of Australia. Prior to this event, few had considered the risk that this hazard type might present to Australia. Since the occurrence of the 2004 IOT, the Australian Federal government has committed almost $70 million to the development and deployment of an Australian Tsunami Warning System (ATWS) to help safeguard Australia from future potentially damaging tsunamis. In addition, State and Territory Emergency Services are spending additional funds on tsunami research and community risk management. This talk outlined current state-of-the-art tsunami science being undertaken in Australia. The speaker examined the geological and historical record of tsunamis that have affected Australia, considering those regions capable of generating tsunamis that would be damaging to our coasts and exploring the current important research questions that still need to be answered.

The talk also described the structure and function of the Australian Tsunami Warning System and considered how it performed following the 2 April 2007 Solomon Island tsunami that triggered the first warning from the ATWS. The talk concluded by asking, "has the deployment of the ATWS made Australian coastal communities safe from future tsunamis?"


Dr Dale Dominey-Howes FGS FRGS is an expert in natural hazards, risk and vulnerability and disaster management. He graduated with a BSc (Honours) from London University and was awarded his PhD in natural hazards from Coventry University (UK). He held an European Union Postgraduate Scholarship to undertake his PhD, which was on the geological and historical records and effects of tsunami in the Aegean Sea region of Greece. Dale's PhD was undertaken in collaboration with the National Observatory of Athens, Greece. Since graduating, he has worked on tsunami, volcanic hazards, tropical cyclones, earthquakes and coastal floods in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean areas. He is particularly interested in the interaction between risk and vulnerability and loss reduction and disaster management.

From 2000 to 2005, Dale was the elected Secretary and Treasurer of the International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards. In 1999, he was nominated and then selected as one of the Most Outstanding Young Research Scientists in the 1999 British Parliament, Showcase of the Best of British Science at the House of Commons London. Dale is presently a senior lecturer in Natural Hazards in the School of Risk and Safety Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Since 2005 he has also been providing scientific support to the state and federal governments in their development and deployment of the Australian Tsunami Warning System.

1160th General Monthly Meeting

"Imaging of dying cells in the body"

Professor Philip Hogg, Director of the UNSW Cancer Research Centre

Wednesday 7 May 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Professor Hogg and his team have shown that some disulphide bonds have evolved to control how proteins work by breaking or forming in a precise way. He has called these bonds 'allosteric disulphides '.

Application of this basic research has led to the development of a novel class of cancer drugs and a cell death imaging agent. The lead cancer drug is currently being trialled in cancer patients. The imaging agent non-invasively detects dying and dead tumour cells. The agent could be used, for instance, to assess the efficacy of cancer therapy. The technology has been licensed to Pharma for clinical development.


Professor Philip Hogg graduated with a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Queensland in 1987. Following post-doctoral work in the USA and Sweden, he returned to Sydney in1991.He is now Director of the UNSW Cancer Research Centre and will lead adult cancer research in the new Lowy Cancer Research Centre that is currently being built on the UNSW campus.

Annual General Meeting 2008

Presidential address: innovation

John Hardie, President of the Royal Society of NSW

Wednesday 2 April 2008, 7 pm
Darlington Centre, City Road


The past 12 months have seen a great deal of activity for the Royal Society: the publication of a volume on one of the Society's leading lights, Prof. Archibald Liversidge, the opportunity to reclaim Science House for science, the commencement of a project to compile and publish a full history of the Society, and our involvement in the establishment of the Royal Institution (Australia) and the Royal Societies of Australia, not to mention our full year of monthly lectures. Our 2008 AGM will give members the opportunity to review the year and discover more of these many interesting initiatives through the Presidential Address and discussion. We invite all members to take an active role in these initiatives either by nominating for Council or by joining the relevant committees formed to oversee progress.


John Hardie is a Chief Learning Design Officer in the Centre for Learning Innovation, a unit within the NSW Department of Education and Training. He is currently coordinating the Centre's online services and information management activity, and is responsible for the management and maintenance of its Internet and Intranet sites. He was previously a manager of learning resource development for TAFE resources, but has also managed the development of resources for schools (languages).

Originally trained as a geologist, John has spent most of his working life in the field of education, particularly distance education and open learning. From 2001 to 2004 he managed one of the three Regions of the NSW Adult Migrant English Service.

John has been an active member of several professional associations, including the Australian Society for Educational Technology and the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia. His involvement with the Royal Society of NSW dates back to 1972 when he joined as an Associate Member while still a student. He has served on Council for many years, as Councillor then Hon Secretary and Vice-President for several years. He served previously as President in 1994/5.

The Four Societies Meeting 2008

"Future prospect for large-scale solar thermal power

Dr Keith Lovegrove, Australian National University

Wednesday 5 March 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


The Australian National University has been working on paraboloidal-dish solar concentrators since the early 1970s. At ANU construction work has just begun on a new 500 m2 dish prototype that will be the basis for the commercial plans of Wizard Power Pty Ltd, the company that has an exclusive licence to the ANU technology. Dish concentrators along with trough-shaped linear concentrators and central receiver towers with heliostat fields are the basic approaches available for solar thermal power systems. The last two years have seen a major resurgence in activity in this field. This talk will give an overview of the activity in Australia and overseas and at the ANU in particular. The potential scope for solar thermal power systems to make a major contribution to energy supply will be discussed, including the longer-term potential for solar thermochemical production of fuels for transport and export.


Dr Keith Lovegrove is the leader of the Solar Thermal Group in the Department of Engineering at Australian National University. He also teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Energy Systems and Systems Engineering within the Department of Engineering.

The Solar Thermal Group works on a range of high temperature and low temperature thermal technologies. The group has continued on from the pioneering work that was begun in ANU in the early 1970's. A highlight of the work has been the completion of the world first experimental solar driven closed loop thermochemical energy storage system based on ammonia dissociation. The group operates experimental facilities centred around ANU's 400 m2 and 20 m2 paraboloidal-dish solar concentrators. (Visit for more information on the Solar Thermal Group at ANU.)

He has had a long involvement with the Australian and New Zealand Solar Energy Society, a section of the International Solar Energy Society. The society is a non-profit organization or renewable energy professionals and supporters and includes among its members most of the renewable-energy researchers in Australia. Dr Lovegrove has served in the past as Chair, Vice Chair and currently as Treasurer. During his time as Chair, he initiated the well-known 'Solar House Day', held across both countries each September. He was also Chair of the organization's Solar 2006 conference organizing committee. (Visit and for more information.)

He has authored or co-authored over 100 research papers and contributed to many media interviews and reports on the renewable energy field.

Sydney Meetings - 2007

28th February

"A tale of two infrastructures:
the future of water and energy use in our cities"

The Four Societies Lecture

Professor Stuart White, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney.
9th March

​The Royal Society of New South Wales Annual Dinner

Forum Restaurant, Darlington Centre, Sydney University
2nd May

"World Heritage inscription of caves and karst"

A/Prof. Julia James, University of Sydney
6th June

"Embryonic stem cell research in Australia: insights from the Lockhart review"

Prof. Peter Schofield, Director, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute
26th June

"Electro-mechanics of living cells and cell membranes in intense electric fields"

Prof. Hans Coster,
School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Sydney

A joint event with the Australian Institute of Physics, at the Slade Lecture Theatre, School of Physics, University of Sydney.
1st August

"From the crime scene to the courtroom: removing the Hollywood hype, what is forensics all about?"

Prof. Claude Roux,
Director, Centre for Forensic Science, University of Technology Sydney
5th September

"Recent progress in quantum electronics: control of small electronic circuits by quantum rather than classical physics"

Prof. Alex Hamilton,
School of Physics, University of New South Wales
3rd October

"The life science revolution: how engineering, cell biology and IT intersect"

Prof. Keith Williams,
co-founder of Proteome Systems, formerly Professor of Biology at Macquarie University
7th November

"New earths, dark energy and giant telescopes: the future of Australian astronomy"

Prof. Matthew Colless,
Director, Anglo-Australian Observatory

1148th General Monthly Meeting

"The cervical cancer vaccine"

Professor Ian Frazer, Director of the Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research, University of Queensland and Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, and 2006 Australian of the Year

Wednesday 1 November 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


About 25% of cancers are initiated by infections, and therefore potentially preventable. Immunotherapy already plays a significant role in cancer control: innate immunostimulators (e.g. imiquimod), passive immunotherapy (e.g. Herceptin) and active specific immunotherapy (e.g. Dendreon's prostate cancer therapeutic) are demonstrated effective, and many further therapies are in late stage clinical trial. Uniquely amongst human cancers, cancer of the cervix can be entirely attributable to an infectious agent. A subset of about 10 human papillomaviruses, termed high risk, are responsible, and two types (HPV16 and HPV18) account for more than 70% of cancers. Infection with high risk human papillomaviruses is extremely common, with up to 50% of women becoming infected during the first 5 years after commencing sexual intercourse. Up to 98% of these infections regress without intervention. Persistent infection conveys substantial risk of cervical cancer . Prevention of cervical cancer at present relies on screening programs. Future programs will likely be based on vaccines, to prevent HPV infection, now licensed in the USA, and Australasia. If administered prior to sexual activity, they will prevent up to 70% of cervical cancer in an unscreened population.


Professor Ian Frazer is the Director of the Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research at the University of Queensland. He was trained as a renal physician and clinical immunologist in Edinburgh, before emigrating to Melbourne in 1981. In 1985 he moved to the University of Queensland and now holds a personal chair as head of the Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research. His current research includes immunoregulation and immunotherapeutic vaccines for papillomavirus-associated cancers. He is on the board of the Queensland Cancer Fund, is Vice-President of the Cancer Council of Australia and advises WHO on papillomavirus.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by William Sewell

The lecture on 1st November was delivered by Prof Ian Frazer, Australian of the Year for 2006, and Director of the Centre of Immunology and Cancer Research at the University of Queensland. He presented a fascinating overview covering not only his work on the development of the cervical cancer vaccine, but also the role of microbial infections in human cancers in general. The papillomavirus or wart virus is the cause of cervical cancer, which leads to about a quarter of a million deaths per year worldwide. In the early 1990s, Ian Frazer and colleagues developed a mechanism of producing non-infectious virus-like particles from papillomavirus. They were able to use these particles in a vaccine, which leads to long-lasting immunity against papillomavirus infection, and confers protection against cervical cancer. As a result of Ian Frazer's pioneering work, cervical vaccines will shortly become widely available. Cervical cancer is only one example of a cancer caused by a virus. About 25% of cancers worldwide are caused by viruses or bacteria. Ian Frazer highlighted the work of the Australian researchers Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who discovered the link between Helicobacter pylori and stomach ulcers, which are a major cause of stomach cancer. The excellent lecture concluded with an overview of prospects for the future control of cancer.

1147th General Monthly Meeting

"Pandemics, bird flu and the globalisation of fear"

Professor Peter Curson, Macquarie University

Wednesday 4 October 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Currently, the world is experiencing two defining events - a panzootic or global outbreak of bird flu, and a pandemic of human reaction and panic. H5N1 is spreading from country to country largely following the fly-paths of migratory birds. No-one really expected the virus to race around the world so quickly. After remaining entrenched among wildlife in parts of Asia, suddenly the virus has moved further afield. No-one really knows why, and there is still much we not understand about the infection. Like the SARS experience, however, the animal infection is at danger in being swamped by the outpouring of human reaction, panic and hysteria. The world press is having a field day, the word pandemic is on everyone's lips, and governments and individuals have been stockpiling antivirals. Pandemic planning has become an industry, and wherever you look, there are dire predictions of millions of deaths and widespread social and economic disruption. The line between responsible precautionary behaviour and alarmist fear mongering has become increasingly blurred. There are two fundamental issues involved. One is the threat to animal life and the related implications for those whose livelihood depends on such animals; the other is the potential threat to humans. They are not the same thing and need to be separated. This talk considers human reaction and behaviour when confronted by pandemic crises.


Peter Curson is Professorial Fellow in Medical Geography and Director of the Health Studies Program at Macquarie University. A former Head of the School of Earth Sciences and Dean of the Division of Environmental & Life Sciences, he is a medical geographer interested in infectious disease and human behaviour, climate change and human health, infectious disease and national security. He has written seven books and many papers on historical epidemics of infectious disease, environment, population health interactions, climate change and infectious disease and international security. Among other things he writes extensively for the Australian and New Zealand national media and is currently working on a book on infectious disease in 20th century Australia.

Soirée at the Nicholson Museum (2006)

Thursday 28 September 2006, 4.30 - 8.30pm

Flushed with success, the Council of the Royal Society decided it was time for a bit of a heels-up - or rather heads-down - to look at treasured items from our wonderful collection. The occasion? A soirée at the Nicholson Museum in The University of Sydney to celebrate the achievements of the previous twelve months.

In that time, the Council managed to win two grants. The first, a State Government grant of $30,000 to be used for the publication of the journal over the next three years, was the work of past president Karina Kelly and her team. The second was $5,500 through one of the Federal Government's Community Heritage Grants organized by the National Library in Canberra.

It was through this grant that our consultant historians, Dr David Branagan and Dr Peter Tyler, assessed the Society's collection of books, journals, maps, drawings, painting, photographs, lantern-slides and medals to be highly significant both historically and scientifically. Selected items were displayed in the facilities offered by the Nicholson Museum. Staff and guests donned cotton gloves to leaf through some of the precious books, which included works by the American archaeologist and naturalist Charles C. Abbott, and Opuscula, one of the most significant books in the Society's collection, written in Latin by Georg Bauer, better known by his Latin name, Georgius Agricola (1494-1555). He is considered the founder of geology as a discipline. Another book, Cyrillus in Johannem et Leviticum una cum thesauro eiusdem, was published in 1508. It is the only one held in Australia. There was also the first volume of Curtis' Botanical Magazine, beautifully illustrated by the artist Sydenham S. Edwards and published 1787. The Society holds the complete set (Volumes 1-14) and many other volumes of the Botanical Magazine by various other publishers.

Also on display were Lawrence Hargrave's aeronautical and other papers, together with some of the drawings and lantern-slides of his first flying machine, and a very rare edition of J.D. Dana's Geology, written when he accompanied W.B. Clarke around the Sydney Basin. Hand-written letters from Society member Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur were a great attraction. Many of the medals on display were from Clarke's collection. These are kept in the care of the Mitchell Library together with some 20 boxes of books and other items belonging to the Royal Society. These are to be the target of our next round of assessment and listing.

Undeniably the Society is the custodian of a remarkably important collection. It is imperative that we take every step to preserve it and to make it available to all.

Guests at the soirée included the university's Vice Chancellor, Professor Gavin Brown and his wife, Diane, the former Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University, Professor Di Yerbury, acclaimed photographer-astronomer, Professor David Malin, Scientia Professor Eugenie Lumbers from the University of New South Wales, the ABC's Robyn Science Williams and many others.

The soirée was not without its formalities. President, Professor Jak Kelly set the scene, explaining the grounds for the celebration and thanking Professor Brown for so generously arranging premises for the Royal Society. He also thanked Professor Di Yerbury for her help in housing the Society and its collection at Macquarie University for some years. Councillor John Hardie spoke about the work that had been done on the collection through the funding, and outlined some of the recommendations from Peter Tyler's report. These included the urgent need to house the collection suitably so that it could be properly conserved and made available to researchers and the public alike. He also suggested that the Society should initiate a long-term project to "return Science House to Science". He reminded guests that Science House won the first Sulman Medal for Architecture for its architects, Peddle, Thorpe and Walker, in 1932.

Society member and former president, David Branagan, who was also one of the assessors, described some of the "treasures" he had examined and the insight they give to the development of our intellectual and scientific history from Colonial times. Professor Gavin Brown thanked the Royal Society for inviting him and his wife and congratulated the Society on its achievements in recent years.

It was after the formalities that guests were free to peruse the displays to the sounds of restful chamber music from the trio, Sound of Melody, adding to the already splendid atmosphere of the museum itself. David Branagan and members of the Council's grant committee were on hand to assist with enquiries and to point out items of special interest.

The evening finished on a high note when Society received an unexpected accolade from the Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum, Michael Turner, who said that he had really enjoyed having so erudite and enthusiastic a group of people at the museum.

Robyn Stutchbury

1146th General Monthly Meeting

"The frontier of measurement: leading-edge standards for length and time"

Dr Bruce Warrington, Head, Time and Frequency Group, National Measurement Institute, Lindfield, Sydney

Wednesday 6 September 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Metrology, the science of measurement, is a dynamic field of research. Advances in understanding and technology extend our ability to measure to ever higher levels of precision, and this capability in turn stimulates new applications. The ability to precisely measure time, or its counterpart frequency, underpins modern technology. Frequency is the physical quantity we can measure most accurately, and implements standards for many other physical units, including the metre and the volt. The SI definition of the second presently has an accuracy approaching 1 part in 1012 for commercial standards, and better than 1 part in 1015 for research-grade standards. The relatively recent development of optical 'frequency combs' will further extend this frontier of measurement. These new capabilities at unprecedented levels of precision have the potential to revolutionise our understanding of the physical world and lead to applications previously undreamt of.


Dr Bruce Warrington is the head of the Time and Frequency group at the National Measurement Institute in Lindfield, Sydney. A graduate of the University of Otago, he has a DPhil from Oxford on atomic and laser spectroscopy and fundamental physics. After postdoctoral appointments in Oxford and at the University of Washington in Seattle, he joined the CSIRO National Measurement Laboratory in 1998. He has led the time and frequency area since the formation of the National Measurement Institute in July 2004.

1145th General Monthly Meeting

"The overshadowed centenary - the discovery of the pinch effect in 1905"

A/Prof. Brian James, School of Physics, Sydney University.

Wednesday 2 August 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Attempts to harness the enormous nuclear energy available from fusing hydrogen into helium have gone on for half a century. To achieve fusion the hydrogen has to be massively compressed for a sufficient length of time for the reaction to occur. Most of the efforts have been concentrated on confining and compressing a gas discharge in hydrogen. Pulsing a massive current through such a discharge produces a magnetic field that "pinches" or constricts the discharge sufficiently to produce fusion. The problem is to engineer such a fusion reactor so that more power comes out than is required to run it. A new multi-billion-dollar machine, to be built in the south of France, is hoped to achieve this aim at last.

It is a little-known fact that the theory of the Pinch Effect was first published in our journal over 100 years ago, "Note on a Hollow Lightning Conductor Crushed by the Discharge" published in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of NSW 39 (1905) 131-8.

Come and hear how an investigation of a crushed hollow rod from a lightning conductor at a kerosene refinery in Hartley Vale in NSW led in 1905 to the first description of the Pinch Effect by James Pollock, Professor of Physics, University of Sydney and Henry Barraclough, Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, University of Sydney. With a few diversions along the way, this talk will look at the investigation of the crushed conductor which lead to explaining the Pinch Effect and its subsequent relation to the history and current developments in nuclear fusion research.


Associate Professor Brian James is a graduate of the University of Sydney, where he obtained a PhD in plasma physics. His research area is plasma diagnostics, particularly those methods based on the use of lasers. He has held visiting appointments at the Culham Laboratory UK, UCLA, Kyushu University and Dublin City University. His current research interests are dusty plasmas and atomic beam diagnostics of fusion plasma. In relation to the latter he collaborates with the National Fusion Facility at the ANU. He is currently Head of Physics at the University of Sydney.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

We are indebted to Brian James for bringing to our attention a seminal paper "Note on a Hollow Lightning Conductor Crushed by the Discharge" published in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of NSW 39 (1905) 131-8. It was by James Pollock, Physics and Henry Barraclough, Mechanical Engineering, both of the University of Sydney. In 1905 a copper tube from a lightning conductor at a kerosene refinery in Hartley Vale in NSW was mysteriously crushed by a lightning strike. Their paper solved the mystery as due to the crushing effect of the powerful magnetic field generated by the massive current through the pipe. This 'pinch' effect has over the last century been of importance in a number of fields, particularly the technology for generating power from hydrogen fusion. Starting from Hartley Vale we were taken on a lucid and interesting tour of the basic physics involved and on to current fusion research and its historical development.

1144th General Monthly Meeting

Asian honey bees: biology, conservation and human interactions

A/Prof. Ben Oldroyd, School of Biological Sciences, Sydney University.

Wednesday 5 July 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


The familiar European hive bee, Apis mellifera, has long dominated honey bee research. But in the last 15 years, teams in China, Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand began to shift focus to the indigenous Asian honey bees. Benjamin Oldroyd, well known for his work on the genetics and evolution of worker sterility, has teamed with Siriwat Wongsiri, a pioneer of the study of bees in Thailand, to produce a new book, recently published by Harvard University Press, synthesizing the rapidly expanding Asian honey bee literature. The talk will provide a synopsis of the book including evolution and speciation, division of labour, communication, and nest defence.

Oldroyd will underscore the pressures colonies face from pathogens, parasites, and predators – including man – and detail the long and amazing history of the honey hunt. He will also discuss directions for conservation efforts to protect these keystone species of Asia's tropical forests.


A/Professor Ben Oldroyd obtained his PhD from Sydney for a thesis on bees. He returned to the University of Sydney in 1995. He previously worked in the Victorian Department of Agriculture, the bee laboratory of USDA at Baton Rouge and La Trobe University. He has published over 100 papers on bee genetics, evolution and behaviour.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

The familiar European hive bee, Apis mellifera, has long dominated honey bee research. Our speaker described the recent change in emphasis by researches in China, Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand away from the European and towards the indigenous Asian honey bees. Professor Oldroyd and Siriwat Wongsiri, a pioneer of the study of bees in Thailand, have recently published a book [Harvard University Press] which synthesizes the rapidly expanding Asian honey bee literature. This lecture was based on material from the book and dealt with the Asian bee's evolution and speciation, division of labour, communication, and nest defence against pathogens, parasites, and predators - including man. Honey has always been a prized food for both animals and man and there were fascinating pictures and descriptions of how local people have developed methods of harvesting the honey. As with an increasing number of natural resources, some of the keystone bee species of Asia's tropical forests are threatened. Some of the conservation efforts to protect these bees were described. A fascinating lecture on a subject which few of us knew much about. Not a good research topic for people allergic to bee stings.

1143rd General Monthly Meeting

"Global evolution of ocean basins"

A/Professor Dietmar Müller
Geosciences, University of Sydney

Wednesday 7 June 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


The large-scale patterns of mantle convection are mainly dependent on the history of subduction. Hence some of the primary constraints on subduction models are given by the location of subduction zones through time, and of the convergence vectors and age of subducted lithosphere. This requires the complete reconstruction of ocean floor through time, including the main ocean basins, back-arc basins, and now subducted ocean crust, and tying these kinematic models to geodynamic simulations. We reconstruct paleo-oceans by creating "synthetic plates", the locations and geometry of which is established on the basis of preserved ocean crust (magnetic lineations and fracture zones), geological data, paleogeography, and the rules of plate tectonics. We have created a set of global oceanic paleo-isochrons and paleo-oceanic age grids, providing the first complete global set of paleo-basement depth maps, including now subducted ocean floor, for the last 130 million years based on a depth-age relationship. We show that the mid-Cretaceous sea-level high-stand was primarily caused by two main factors: (1) the "super-continent break-up effect", which resulted in the creation of the mid-Atlantic and Indian Ocean ridges at the expense of subducting old ocean floor in the Tethys and (2) by a changing age-area distribution of Pacific ocean floor, resulting from the subduction of the Pacific-Izanagi, Pacific-Phoenix and Pacific-Farallon ridges. These grids provide model constraints for subduction dynamics and represent a framework for back tracking biogeographic and sediment data from ocean drilling and for constraining the opening/closing of oceanic gateways for paleooceanographic models.


Dietmar Müller graduated from the University of Kiel in 1986. His PhD, in 1993, is from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. His work is focussed on global and regional Earth system problems by linking onshore and offshore observations based on geophysical/geological data and kinematic/dynamic process modelling, exploring the possibilities of the emerging area of e-geoscience. He was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2006.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

No brief review such as this can do justice to Professor Müller's impressive computer simulations of the movement of the continents and particularly the changes in the floor of the oceans over the last 130 million years. Accustomed as we are to computer animation, the fact that the motions of the Earth's crust depicted here are based on the best current geological information puts them in another league. We see India racing north [geologically speaking] pushed from behind and dragged by subduction forced to eventually pile up the Himalayas with attendant ocean floor developments. The forces are such that, in spite of these massive mountains, India is still moving north. Australia, moving north at about the rate that fingernails grow, has lagged behind. It will be some time before we crash into Asia and start our own serious mountain building. Most of us knew about this in general but what was new was the detailed information on what has happened over time to our oceans, which have been almost completely reconstructed. Using the rules of plate tectonics and geological data from preserved ocean crust, the paleo-oceans were constructed and their development over time followed. In the Tethys, old ocean floor has been subducted to form the mid-Atlantic and the Indian Ocean ridges. In the Pacific, the Pacific-Izanagi, Pacific-Phoenix and Pacific-Farallon ridges have been subducted to produce the present ocean floor. The impressive computer simulations which encapsulate all this information convey the changes more memorably than could have been achieved by any other method.

1142nd General Monthly Meeting

"The genetics behind our drinking water turning toxic"

Professor Brett Neilan, School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW

Wednesday 3 May 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Professor Brett Neilan was a member of the team who won the Royal Societies of Australia 2004 Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Research.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Eveline Baker

Professor Brett Neilan commenced his lecture with the statement that, in a presentation to members of our Society 15 years ago, blue-green algae were a problem that may have a cure. He believes that this is the case in more ways than one. Improving water quality is a process not only in engineering but also in discovery of natural products. Knowledge of the toxins could lead to knowledge of anti-cancer agents. The environment dictates evolution and adaptation. Survival is achieved at the molecular level. The diversity of life on earth and all things biological derives from molecular diversity. Vast stromatolite reefs have survived for about 2.5 giga-years, before the origin of eukaryotic life. Found in selected coastal areas of the world, including Western Australia, these are sedimentary, calcium carbonate based formations, fossils of blue-green algae, not all of which relied on photosynthesis. Interestingly, blue-green algae have a mechanism for surviving in high salt media and even produce calcium carbonate in the laboratory. Secondary ion mass spectrometric data indicate that some of the larger stromatolites may have grown about 10,000 years ago. The Antarctic has melt-water hyper-saline ponds in which "mermaid's hair" proliferates. Toxins have been found in these and similar slime layers. Interestingly, some Africans eat blue-green algae as food. In other areas of the world liver cancer is prevalent in those who drink 'green' water. It is a worthy question to ask why some people survive and others become ill and die. Pathogenicity has been found to be determined by the DNA cluster, not the organism. The level of light determines which promoter is used to transcribe the toxin genes. Toxins have been found to become harmful to animal and human life when they move outside of the cell. The chemical structure of several of these neurotoxins has recently been determined. It is interesting to observe that the toxin molecules are relatively small and similar in structure to some of the currently known natural and synthetic drugs that influence neural activity.

1141st General Monthly Meeting

"Cold fusion, the alchemist's dream?"

Annual General Meeting & Presidential Address by Professor Jak Kelly, President of the Society

Wednesday 5 April 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


A brief history of cold fusion and where it fits into conventional physics will be given, leading up to the most recent results. Cold fusion remains a controversial subject. There are more theories than theoreticians working in the field, none of which are universally accepted. The original objective of the field was the release of thermal energy by fusing hydrogen isotopes into helium with simple apparatus and without producing the dangerous amounts of radiation normally associated with conventional fusion and fission.

Many laboratories now routinely produce excess heat from cells developed from the original Fleishman and Pons cells at the University of Utah. One of the most interesting development is low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) in which elements are transmuted into other elements, the alchemist's dream. A potential application of LENR is the conversion of radioactive waste into nonradioactive isotopes.


Professor Jak Kelly is a former head of the School of Physics and Chairman of the Faculty of Science at UNSW. He is at present Honorary Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney and President of the Royal Society of NSW. A graduate of Sydney, he has a PhD from the University of Reading (UK) and a DSc from UNSW. He has been Professor of Electrical Engineering at Arizona State University, Professor of Applied Physics at the Technical University of Vienna, Senior Scientific Officer in Metallurgy at the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment and Senior Research Fellow at Sussex University.

He is co-author of two books, on Ion Implantation and Defects in Solids, in addition to numerous publications on metals, ion optics, radiation damage, electron sputtering, thin films, channeling theory and cold fusion.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting

"Cold fusion: the alchemist's dream?" was the title of the Presidential Address, following the AGM. Professor Kelly gave a brief history of the developments in cold fusion since the Pons and Fleishman announcement in Utah in 1989. Many remain sceptical of the existence of such a fusion reaction, because of initial difficulties in reproducing their excess heat results and prolonged attacks on the field in the media and by the hot fusion community. Successful electrochemical anomalous heat experiments have however been carried out in many laboratories in numerous countries. Similar results have been obtained using different methods, such as diffusing deuterium through thin films of palladium and other metals. Tritium has been detected in many such experiments, clear evidence of a nuclear transition. There is still no universally accepted theory but there is now general agreement that CF is a near-surface phenomenon and the lack of the expected significant amounts of radiation is probably associated with slow resonance reactions. A more recent and surprising development is the detection of numerous other elements in the metal films used. They cannot be explained as impurities because their distribution is much different from that found in control experiments and in addition, some isotopes have been detected which differ from those found in the normal element. These low-energy nuclear reactions are under intense study in a number of laboratories and there is a trend towards calling the field LENR rather than the unfortunate name cold fusion, to which so much emotion is attached. There is, as yet, little promise of turning out significant amounts of gold, so the alchemist's dream remains a dream; however a more significant potential application of LENR is to the conversion of radioactive waste into more stable non-radioactive elements. This paper will be published in the next issue of our Journal.

Pollock Lecture 2006

"Can the physicists' description of reality be considered

Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Josephson, Cambridge University

Friday 17 March 2006, 6.30 pm
Eastern Avenue Auditorium, Sydney University

The Pollock Lecture is jointly organised about every three years by the Royal Society of NSW and the University of Sydney. It is given in memory of James Arthur Pollock who was Professor of Physics at Sydney University 1999-1922. This year the lecture was in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Physics and was delivered by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Professor Brian Josephson of Cambridge University. It was to have been held in the Eastern Avenue Lecture Theatre at Sydney University but the audience of over 400 so far exceeded expectations that the venue was shifted to the larger Auditorium. A group of about 30 went on to dinner with Professor Brian Josephson and his wife Carol.


In his book Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, Niels Bohr argued that, because of the uncertainty principle, quantum methodology might not be applicable to the study of the ultimate details of life. Delbruck disagreed, claiming that biosystems are robust to quantum disturbances, an assertion that is only partially valid, rendering Bohr's argument still significant even though normally ignored. The methods of the quantum physicist and of the biological sciences can be seen to involve two alternative approaches to the understanding of nature that can usefully complement each other, neither on its own containing the full story. That full story, taking into account the biological/cognitive/semiotic perspective, may involve anomalies that are incomprehensible from the standard physicist's point of view. It provides a fascinating challenge for the future of physics.


Professor Brian Josephson FRS is Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge. While a graduate student he predicted that currents could tunnel with no resistance through an insulating barrier between two superconductors, for which prediction he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973. Since then he has been mainly concerned with the question of the logic of brain functioning, as well as being interested in a number of topics that have become the subject of "pathological disbelief". He was one of the instigators of the web site, which publicises cases of the bureaucratic censorship of research that does not fit in with conventional thinking.

Four Societies Meeting 2006

"A cradle-to-grave concept for Australia's uranium"

The February meeting of the Royal Society of NSW was the annual meeting of the four Societies: The Royal Society of New South Wales, The Australian Institute of Energy, Australian Nuclear Association and Engineers Australia (NUC Engineering Panel).

Speaker: Dr Clarence Hardy, Secretary ANA, Vice-President Pacific Nuclear Council

Wednesday 22 February 2006


Dr Clarence Hardy retired in 1991 after a 35-year career in nuclear science and technology in senior positions in the UK, USA and Australia. He worked for 20 years as a Division Chief and Chief Scientist at the Lucas Heights Research Laboratories in Sydney and his history of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission was published in 1999.


Dr Hardy discussed the advantages of an Australian [involving international partners] integrated nuclear fuel complex for the world's nuclear power programs, for Australia and international non-proliferation. It would take Australian uranium right through to the production of nuclear-reactor fuel elements which would be leased to nuclear power programs, with the spent fuel returned to Australia. After reprocessing, the unused uranium and plutonium would be reprocessed into MOX fuel for reuse. The high-level waste, in Synrock, would be stored in Australia. This international initiative would place Australia at the leading edge of the nuclear industry, earn enormous export revenue and be a major contribution to non-proliferation. The scale of the enterprise would make it the 21st-century equivalent of the Snowy Mountains scheme.

Report on the Four Societies Meeting by Jak Kelly

Dr Hardy's proposal is that, as we have 37% of the world's useful deposits and 22% of the world's uranium production, we should do more value-adding instead of just exporting the raw material as we have done and still do with many of our materials. The full project would cost some seventeen billion dollars but although this seems prohibitively expensive, recent mining projects have involved comparable expense. International involvement would be essential, not only financially, but to ensure continued viability for any project fraught with such emotional, political and military implications as the enrichment of uranium.

A large part of the world's enrichment capacity is still based on the original diffusion methods. These plants, half a century old, are reaching the end of their life in Russia, France and America, which, combined with the proposed building of many new power reactors, will lead to a serious shortage of processed fuel in the next few years. The project involves enriching the uranium, making it into fuel elements and leasing them to reactor operators. The depleted elements would then be returned to Australia for further processing, to extract remaining fissionable materials for reuse, and the residual radioactive waste, encased in Synrock, would be buried in a geologically stable site in Australia. The considerable heat generated by radioactive material could be used to power a desalination plant. Modern small-centrifuge separation technology is now mature and would be available for this project. The project could be developed in stages with the first stage, the enrichment of uranium hexafluoride, starting to pay for itself in three yeas.

Aside from the considerable problem of public resistance to importing radioactive waste, several state and federal laws against it would have to be repealed. The major political parties would have to agree, to avoid a change of government sinking the long-term project, as has happened in the past. The International Atomic Energy Authority would favour such an internationally run project in a politically and geologically stable country like Australia. The hazards of shipping uranium, fuel rods, and radioactive waste between many distant sites, which occurs at present, would be greatly reduced as would the opportunities for theft of fissile material. Such a high-tech industry would also provide employment and development for Australian science and engineering in a way that being an efficient quarry does not.

Sydney Meetings - 2006

The venue for all meetings was, unless otherwise indicated, Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney (City Road). Meetings commenced at 7 pm.

22nd February

"A cradle-to-grave concept for Australia's uranium"

The Four Societies Meeting

Dr Clarence Hardy, Secretary ANA, Vice-President Pacific Nuclear Council.
10th March

​The Royal Society of New South Wales Annual Dinner

Held at the Forum Restaurant, Darlington Centre, Sydney University

Dr Tim Entwisle, Executive Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was the guest speaker
17th March

"Can the physicists' description of reality be considered complete?"

2006 Pollock Lecture

Prof. Brian Josephson FRS, Nobel Laureate
5th April

​"Cold fusion, the alchemists' dream?"

Annual General Meeting and Presidential Address, Prof. Jak Kelly
3rd May

​"The genetics behind our drinking water turning toxic"

Prof. Brett Neilan, School of Biotechniology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW.
7th June

"Global evolution of ocean basins"

A/Prof. Dietmar Muller, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney
5th July

"Asian honey bees: biology, conservation and human interactions"

A/Prof. Ben Oldroyd, School of Biological Sciences, Sydney University
2nd August

"The overshadowed centenary - the discovery of the pinch effect in 1905"

A/Prof. Brian James, School of Physics, Sydney University.
6th September

"The frontier of measurement: leading-edge standards for length and time"

Bruce Warrington, Head of Time and Frequency, National Measurement Institute
4th October

"Pandemics, bird flu and the globalisation of fear"

Prof. Peter Curson, Director Health Studies Program, Macquarie University.
1st November

"The cervical cancer vaccine"

Prof. Ian Frazer, Director of the Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research, University of
Queensland and Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, and 2006 Australian of the Year

1140th General Monthly Meeting

"The role of DNA studies in the story of human evolution"

Dr Sheila van Holst Pellekaan, Visiting Senior Research Fellow
School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW

Wednesday 2 November 2005, 6 pm for 6.30
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


In the unfolding story of human evolution, DNA studies have provided powerful and prodigious banks of information that have challenged many aspects of what has been interpreted from the fossil record. Skeletal morphology indicates divergence from our nearest hominid relatives some 5─7 MYA (million years ago) in Africa. Around 1.5─1.8 MYA, some `early' hominids, known as Homo erectus, left Africa and spread into Europe, Asia and as far as Indonesia. There has been much debate concerning two main models for how the process may have occurred. `Modern' homo sapiens eventually spread into Australia, the Americas and the Pacific region. DNA studies directed at understanding human history began to emerge in the 1980s and exacerbated contention about human dispersal by positing that another wave of humans left Africa around 200─100 KYA (thousand years ago) giving rise to all modern populations, thus contending that existing populations were replaced by the newcomers. Our ability to analyse observed DNA variation is impressive but raises questions about our interpretation. The Australian continent, and its earliest inhabitants, offers a fascinating context in which to explore what we know and do not know about human dispersal.


Dr Sheila van Holst Pellekaan is currently a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW. She has a multidisciplinary background, having started her career in nursing, especially operating-theatre work, and then moved into medical research with positions at the Howard Florey Institute at the University of Melbourne, the Royal College of Surgeons, London and the Kanematsu Institute in Sydney. After some years devoted to family life she obtained undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Anthropology at the University of Sydney and developed a strong interest in human evolution, Australian archaeology and anthropology. The transition to molecular anthropology followed and she completed a PhD in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney in 1997. The project explored the mitochondrial variation in Aboriginal Australians. At the same time she was also a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Nursing, University of Sydney, where she taught human biology and Indigenous Australian studies and was closely involved with Indigenous health and education issues. Research work continued on mitochondrial DNA variation and health related nuclear markers, some of which was published, confirming the long-time depth for a human presence in Australia evidenced by archaeological deposits. Throughout this research, she has had a strong commitment to working closely with Aboriginal communities in western New South Wales, maintaining frequent contact, and involving participants and Elders in the writing of community reports.

Royal Society events

The Royal Society of NSW organizes a number of events in Sydney throughout the year.  These include Ordinary General Meetings (OGMs) held on the first Wednesday of the month (there is no meeting in January).  Society business is conducted, new Fellows and Members are inducted, and reports from Council are given to the membership.  This is followed by a talk and optional dinner.  Drinks are served before the meeting.  There is a small charge to attend the meeting and talk, and to cover refreshments.  The dinner is a separate charge, and must be booked in advance.  All OGMs are open to members of the public.

The first OGM in February has speakers drawn from the Royal Society Scholarship winners, and the December OGM hears from the winner of the Jak Kelly award, before an informal Christmas party.  The April or May event is our black-tie Annual Dinner and Distinguished Fellow lecture.

Other events are held in collaboration with other groups, including:

  • The Four Societies lecture (with the Australian Institute of Energy, the Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia [Sydney Division] and the Australian Nuclear Association)
  • The Forum (with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia)
  • The Dirac lecture (with UNSW Australia and the Australian Institute of Physics)
  • The Liversidge Medal lecture (with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute)
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