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 http://www.archivefreedom.org, 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.


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.


1139th General Monthly Meeting

"TB: controlling the old scourge"

Professor Warwick Britton, Head, Mycobacterial Research Group
Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, University of Sydney

Wednesday 5 October 2005, 6 pm for 6.30
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Nine million people contract tuberculosis every year and two million die. Over 95% initially control the infection, but may develop tuberculosis later. Why some patients resist and others develop the disease is not fully understood. At least 10 different genes have been shown to influence the control of tuberculosis. This will be illustrated by our work on a purinergic receptor on macrophages, which triggers killing of mycobacteria. The current BCG vaccine is only partially effective. More effective vaccines are urgently needed. One approach is to improve the effect of BCG by expressing parts of the M. tuberculosis organism in BCG. Another approach is to create attenuated strains of M. tuberculosis which may be more effective than BCG as vaccines and are safe because of their reduced virulence. The third approach is to use genes or proteins from M.tuberculosis as sub-unit vaccines. All of these approaches will be discussed.


Warwick Britton is Bosch Professor of Medicine, Head of the Disciplines of Medicine, and Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Sydney and Head, Mycobacterial Research Group, Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology. He has made extensive contributions to the study of mycobacterial infections over the last 20 years. From 1986 to 1989, he established the Mycobacterial Research Laboratory in Kathmandu for the study of human immune responses to Mycobacterium leprae. His studies have spanned the definition of mycobacterial antigens, the cloning and manipulation of mycobacterial genes, the characterisation of human and mouse host responses to mycobacterial infections and the development of recombinant mycobacterial, viral and DNA vaccines. He has additional research interests in cellular immune responses in allergic disease and the epidemiology of asthma.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

TB has been well controlled in Australia but unfortunately not in many other parts of the world. The organism which causes TB, Mycobacterium tuberculoses, identified by Robert Koch in the 1880s, is one of the most successful and infectious pathogens. It is extremely well adapted to humans. It secretes numerous proteins to protect itself and has twelve different mechanisms to overcome our immune system. It infects a third of humanity and kills 5-10% of those infected. TB has returned to many communities and interacts with AIDS. About a third of AIDS deaths are now due to TB and a million new TB cases a year are added because of AIDS. This is because a specific type of T-cell is involved in the control of both diseases and their depletion by AIDS weakens their ability to destroy M. tuberculosis.

Genetic studies show that about 30% of TB cases are due to multiple genes, each having a small effect. The wealth of information now available on the human genome enables some of these base differences to be related to differing susceptibilities to specific diseases. Such work on relating vitamin D receptor variations to osteoporosis has proved useful in TB studies. Migrant Gujirati people in the unsunny London climate suffer a vitamin D deficiency, particularly the women whose traditional attire exposes little skin to the sun to make vitamin D, a vitamin also involved in defending against TB. This gene-environmental interaction gives these people a TB rate eighty times that of NSW.

ATP is the energy source of all cells but can have other functions. It can leave the cell and bind to the surface of other cells. Professor Britton and his colleagues have studied the role of ATP in killing TB bacteria and relating it to small genetic variations between populations and individuals. For example one snip reduces bacterial killing by 50% but two reduces it to nearly zero. This has been investigated in two independent groups, a population of refugees, who have been followed for 20 years having been screened for TB on entering Australia and a population of Australian TB sufferers. Both population studies supported the above findings. There were however some notable exceptions which are now under study. Clearly many other genes are involved in the ability to kill TB and the same is true of other diseases such as asthma.

After an extended and interesting number of questions from the floor were answered in detail by the speaker, a vote of thanks was proposed by Professor Bill Sewell and the President presented a Society Speaker's Medal to Professor Britton.


The 2005 Clarke Memorial Lecture & 1138th General Monthly Meeting

"The quickening: beginning of animal life on Earth"

Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, Monash University

Wednesday 7 September 2005, 6 pm for 6.30
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney


Four places in the world have yielded a most spectacular record of animal life prior to the time when shells and skeletons appeared - all of late Precambrian age, the time from around 700 to around 542 million years ago. Those places are the White Sea (as well as Siberia and the Urals) of Russia, Namibia in Southwest Africa, Newfoundland in Canada and the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The relationships of each of these animals found in disjunct locales are and have been under debate since the early 1900's when they were first found in Africa. These first metazoans represent the lengthy fuse that was alight well before the rather misnamed 'Cambrian Explosion' to place and clearly illustrate experimentation in body plans, lifestyles and occupation of much of the marine ecospace was well underway long before 542 million years ago, when many different animal groups began digging trenches in search of food and protection, put on armour for a number of reasons and a great biodiversification event seems to have taken place - but in many ways it is just an illusion.


Patricia Vickers-Rich holds a Personal Chair in Palaeontology at Monash University in Melbourne and founded the Monash Science Centre in 1993. She received her BA from UC Berkeley and her MA and PhD from Columbia University, New York. Her early work was on the origin and evolution of the Australiasian avifauna, then later on polar faunas from the Mesozoic of Australia. She now leads an International Geological Correlation Programme investigating the biotic, climatic and geographic changes of the late Precambrian globally. Her current field work is centred in Namibia, northern Russia and Siberia.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

After a concise introduction to the basic geological periods and the terminology Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich spoke of her work, and that of her associates, on fossils of animals in the time before the emergence of creatures with hard shells and skeletons appeared on earth in the late Precambrian. She illustrated the talk with fascinating photographs and anecdotes from her field trips to Siberia to obtain fossil remains and fossil surface trails of these earlier creatures. Some of the fossils show the internal structures of animals and some the outside, which complicates interpretation. They are also found in Namibia in Southwest Africa, in Newfoundland in Canada and the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, the world then being a single supercontinent. Strange bead like structures from WA, which at 1.66 billion years old may be the most ancient metazoans yet found, but there is still dispute about them being plant or animal. The more recent metazoans, true animals, are marine, some fixed in position and some able to move and graze. Some of the trails along which they grazed have been preserved in the fossil record. Oxygen isotope measurements reveal that the water was cold at this time. The colder the water the more oxygen it can dissolve, which was probably an advantage for the development of these animals.

An interesting aim of this field is to explain the so-called 'Cambrian Explosion', when a host of different animals appear in the fossil record over a (geologically) short time. It is easier to understand sudden mass extinctions, due perhaps to an asteroid strike, than the sudden emergence of many complicated new life forms. Some of the earlier soft shelled animals, that were the subject of this talk, have body plans like later Cambrian forms. The implication is that their soft bodies didn't fossilise as easily as the hard shelled, or with teeth and bones, descendents of those of them that survived into the Cambrian. The explosion of metazoan life, some 542 million years ago is hence probably an artefact of the fossil making processes rather than a sudden "explosion" of new life forms.

After many questions and additional discussion from the floor a vote of thanks was moved by Karina Kelly and Prof. Vickers-Rich was presented with the Society's Speaker's medal.


1137th General Monthly Meeting

"Tails of dingoes: their past and their future"

Dr Alan Wilton, School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW

Wednesday 3 August 2005, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


When dingoes arrived in Australia 5,000 years ago they were the domestic dog of the day. Only a limited number of related animals can have been introduced as all current dingoes have very similar DNA types for the mitochondria. The dingo is an example of the early stages of the domestic dog and is more closely related to the Asian dog breeds of today than European domestic dogs.

We have exploited this to identify genetic markers, similar to those used in DNA fingerprinting, that can differentiate dingoes from European dogs. The dingo is an Australian icon that is under threat and disappearing from the wild where it is being replaced by hybrids with domestic dogs. The close relationship of dingoes and dogs means that there are no barriers to interbreeding. The process is difficult to stop and is well advanced along the east coast where most populations contain ~80% hybrids. Isolated populations like the dingoes on Fraser Island may be the only way to preserve the dingo. But first we have to ensure that any population of dingoes we conserve is genetically pure.


Alan Wilton was born in Sydney in 1953. He got his BSc (Hons) at Sydney Uni in 1976 and PhD in population genetics on Drosophila in 1980 also at Sydney University. He did 5 postdocs over 11 years in North Carolina State, UC Davis, Univ WA, Adelaide and Macquarie, during which time he moved to doing human molecular genetics and disease gene mapping. He has been at University of New South Wales since 1991 and is a Senior Lecturer in genetics in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. His current research is in disease gene mapping in humans, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. He collaborates with researchers in Norway, Sweden and the US. He has used the information from the dog genome project to identify the genetic cause of a nerve degenerative disease in Border Collies, patented it, and set up DNA testing for the disease allele. He is also working on other dog diseases. His dog disease work has led him to do research into the plight of wild dingoes and the origins of these unique, wild Australian dogs. In 2004 he was awarded the Unsung Hero of Australian Science by the Australian Science Communicators for his work on dingoes. He is Patron of the Border Collie Club of NSW, the Australian Dingo Conservation Association, and the Dingo Sanctuary. He is a member of one of the UNSW Human Ethics Committees. He has 45 scientific publications.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

Dr Alan Wilton in his talk "Tails of Dingoes" at the 1137th OGM, described how he and his colleagues at UNSW used gene mapping to find the genetic cause of a nerve degenerative disease in Border Collie dogs and how this led him to study the origin of dingoes, which has been a matter of dispute for decades. Are they wild dogs or once-domestic dogs that have gone wild? When and how did they arrive in Australia? Did they walk here over a land bridge, float in on logs, or come in boats? The oldest dated dingo remains are about 3500 years old but bones with characteristic dingo teeth marks on them go back to about 4000 years. There are none in Tasmania so they were not here 12000 years ago. In New Guinea evidence for dogs goes back only 2000 years but it is difficult finding such evidence in tropical forests. Most present-day dingoes are dog-dingo hybrids but it has been difficult to determine from morphological measurements the degree to which this has occurred in particular cases. Genetic analysis by Dr Wilton and his associates has solved this problem.

The dingo has been both a national icon and an agricultural pest with a price on its head. Fortunately, unlike the Tasmanian thylacine, it has not been driven to extinction and it is now realised that poisoning and trapping the dingo can be a retrograde step for farmers. The social structure of dingoes allows only the dominant female in a pack to breed - thus limiting population growth. Random killing of dingoes breaks down their social structure and the dingoes then breed with any dogs that come along. An intact dingo social structure minimises this and they also kill foxes and feral cats and dogs that enter their territory. This is much better for native wildlife and even farm animals. Dingoes have a large territory which they hunt in sequence and thus do less damage to wildlife than feral cats and dogs that tend to kill indiscriminately.

A kangaroo parasite has been found on dingoes and Asian paria dogs, which suggests dingoes moved back and forth between Australia and Asia on boats as domestic pets and reserve food supplies. Many Asian paria dogs look like dingoes, further reinforcing the idea that they were originally Asian domestic dogs which went wild here after arriving on Asian boats.

Genetic analysis, in particular, on a section of mitochondria which can mutate without damaging the body, as it does not make a protein, can be used for dating. The larger the number of mutations the older it is. Amplification of selected sections of DNA, to make millions of copies, enables DNA sequencing which shows relationships between species. For example, it has shown that whales come from cows. It the case of dingoes it shows that they are more closely related to domestic dogs than to wolves and closer to Asian dogs than European dogs. These results also indicate that dogs were domesticated in Asia at an earlier time than they were in Europe.

Because of cross-breeding with domestic dogs, few pure-breed dingoes are left, particularly along the east coast. The UNSW team have used genetic markers, like those used in paternity checks, to find that there is not much genetic variation between all dingoes, thus indicating that they are all descended from a small number of ancestors who probably escaped from the boats of Asian traders about 5000 years ago.

In making efforts to conserve the dingo, we should be sure we are saving the pure-bred strain. Everywhere they are becoming less afraid of man and indeed attracted to parks and resorts as a food source. One of the few remaining pure groups is on Fraser Island, as genetic analysis confirms, but how long they will remain so is a matter of concern.


1136th General Monthly Meeting

"Why did the vertebrate brain become lateralised?"

Lesley Rogers, Professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University of New England

Wednesday 6 July 2005, 7 pm for 7.30
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road, University of Sydney


Until recently it had been thought that specialization of the hemispheres to carry out different functions (i.e. brain lateralization) was a unique characteristic of humans, apparently explaining our ability for language and other superior cognitive abilities. We now know that lateralization of the brain evolved very early in vertebrates. Why did it evolve? This question is particularly pertinent when we consider that several species have been shown to detect an advancing predator more rapidly, and escape more readily, when the approach is from the left side (under the control of the right hemisphere). Predators could take advantage of this side bias. This obvious disadvantage must be counteracted by some advantage(s), and the latter may be found in social behaviour. This will be discussed and evidence for social species being lateralized at group level will be presented. The individual benefits from having a lateralized brain when several tasks have to be carried out at the same time (e.g. being vigilant for predators and searching for food) will also be discussed. In addition to these questions of function and evolution, the talk will cover the interactive influences of genes, hormones and experience on the development of brain lateralization.


Lesley Rogers is Professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour at the University of New England, and coordinator of the Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour. She obtained her first degree (with Honours in zoology) at Adelaide University and her D. Phil. at Sussex University. Subsequently Sussex University awarded her a Doctor of Science. She is well known nationally and internationally for her research on the development and evolution of brain and behaviour, with a focus on hemispheric specialization (lateralization), and has published close to 200 scientific papers and 14 books. In fact, her discovery of lateralization in the brain showed that it is not a unique characteristic of humans and this work was among the few studies that established the now large field of research on lateralization in animals. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and serves on its council. In addition to her interests in brain and behaviour, she is interested in higher cognition in animals and has played an active role in animal welfare, as Chair of her university's Animal Ethics Committee for a number of years and then as a member of the NSW Animal Research Review Panel. In 2004 the Royal Society of NSW awarded her the Clarke Medal for research in zoology.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

It has been believed for centuries that our lateralized brains made us different from all other animals. A mounting body of field work and laboratory experiments over the last thirty years however indicates that the specialised lateralized brain evolved much further back in history than humans or even primates. Primates show hand preferences in feeding and tool use related to brain lateralization. It occurs in fish and is at present even being sought in invertebrates. Professor Rogers discussed her ground-breaking work on chickens. She found that they could be lateralized by exposing one eye to light, which they do naturally by turning their heads at day 18 to occlude the left eye and expose the right to light penetrating the translucent shell. Manipulating the chicken to reverse the eyes' exposure reverses the brain lateralization and hatching in the dark removes it. Injecting hormones into the shell also affects lateralization. The lateralization is thus a combination of genetics, hormones and training, with males being more asymmetric than females. Experiments with birds, and lizards and toads, show a clearly divided visual field with a tendency to attack if approached from the left. In general the right hemisphere [left eye] is used for rapid reaction events, such as escape from predators and the left hemisphere for activities that require more consideration, such as choosing food and prey capture. Species which have strong social interactions, such as fish which school and birds which flock have the same hemispheric bias. In many solitary animals bias tends to be randomly distributed. Why such asymmetry? It enables two tasks to be handled simultaneously with greater efficiency, as experiments show, and there are social advantages in having your companions react more predictably.


1135th General Monthly Meeting

"Bactrian camels in antiquity"

Dan Potts, Edwin Cuthbert Hall Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology
Curator of the Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney

Wednesday 1 June 2005, 6 pm for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, Sydney University


If the Silk Road may be described as 'the bridge between Eastern and Western cultures', then the Bactrian camel should rightfully be considered the principal means of locomotion across that bridge. And yet there is a great deal of misinformation concerning the Bactrian camel and its relatives, particularly in the ancient Near Eastern literature. With the aim of investigating some of the problems surrounding Camelus bactrianus and the little-known Bactrian-Arabian (dromedary, Camelus dromedarius) hybrids Prof. Dan Potts launched himself into the zoological and historical literature on this important animal last year with some unexpected results, as reported on in his lecture.


Professor Dan Potts is Edwin Cuthbert Hall Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology and Curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney. He is Academic Director of the Near Eastern Archaeological Foundation and has a PhD from Harvard and a DPhil from Copenhagen. He has held academic positions at Harvard, Ben Gurion University, Oxford, Copenhagen and Berlin and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Society of Antiquaries, London. He is Founding Editor of several archaeological publications and on the editorial board of a number of others. He has been frequently interviewed in the media and has an extensive list of well-regarded publications.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting
by Jak Kelly

The camel has been important to the peoples of Asia for millennia. Images of two-humped camels have been found going back to Neolithic times. It has been asserted that parts of Siberia and the inner high plains of Mongolia would not have become inhabited but for the camel, which is happy operating at altitudes up to 4000m and capable of carrying loads of 220-270 kg for 30-40 km a day. Camels live for up to 40 years and start work at the age of four.

Archaeological evidence from rock art, shards, carvings, coins, seals and even large Chinese tomb figurines attest to the long historical social importance and value of the camel to many Asian civilisations. They were the main means of transport along the Silk Road joining east and west with the camel trains travelling in winter.

Aristotle wrote that there were two types of camel, the Bactrian with two humps, and the Dromedary, with one. Bactrian is probably a misnomer as the camels probably spread west from near China and not in the reverse direction, as has been suggested by some. The Greeks probably knew about camels from their interactions with the Persians. The Palace of Darius showed camels being presented as gifts to the king.

Camels supplied meat, hides and milk to the tribes who herded them but were mainly pack animals. They were highly prized gifts and commonly taken as booty in wars and raids. Selective breeding almost doubled the load-carrying capacity of the animals. Evidence of hybrid camels has been found in Roman Troy and early Islamic Pella in Jordan. The preferred hybrid was between a female Dromedary and a male Bactrian which produces a much larger good-tempered animal, a practice which persists to the present day.


1134th General Monthly Meeting

"Biocosmology: a new science"

Dr Charley Lineweaver, Senior Fellow
Planetary Science Institute, Australian National University

Wednesday 4 May 2005, 7 pm (bar open from 6 pm)
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, Sydney University, City Road


As we learn more about the origin and evolution of the universe and about the prerequisites for the emergence of life, the connections between cosmology and biology are becoming more obvious and more quantifiable. Where and when in the universe did the first molecules form? Where and when did the first stars and terrestrial planets form? Where is the liquid water in the universe? Since life emerged early in the history of the Earth, does that mean that life is common in the universe? I will summarize our knowledge and speculations about the origin of life in our galaxy and in the universe.


Dr Lineweaver is an American permanently resident in Australia, and has been a Senior Lecturer at the University of NSW since 2002. He received his PhD in Physics at Berkeley, University of California in 1994, after studying at Berkeley and the Ludwig-Maximillian Universität, München.

In addition to working at Berkeley, he was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg, France, from 1994 to 1997 and a Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow at the University of NSW from 1997 to 2000.

Dr Lineweaver was a Eureka Prize finalist for Science Journalism in 2001 for his article "The Origin of the Universe" — the 13 billion year history of the Universe, published in 2000. He has published numerous papers and has set up a course teaching Astrobiology entitled "Are We Alone?" — the most popular General Studies course offered by the School of Physics at the University of NSW. His research interests include cosmology, astrobiology and statistical analyses of extrasolar planets.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

Dr Charles Lineweaver of the Australian National University gave an extremely interesting talk, basically on where we came from and why we are here, in this part of the galaxy. How did life emerge from the hydrogen and helium that constituted, and still does, the main part of the universe in the beginning? Early cosmology was based on speculations with little experimental evidence but over recent decades has become a much more exact science as measurements of what is out there have accumulated. The study of the origins of life in the cosmos is in its early speculative state, like early cosmology, but progress is likely to be much more rapid as relevant information increases.

There is only a limited habitable zone around a star for water-based life. It must be liquid, not ice or steam. Earth is in this fortunate position. Living organisms also need heavier atoms such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and others. These atoms are made in stars and widely distributed when the stars end their careers in the massive explosions of supernova. The heavy atoms, quaintly called metals by astronomers, are spread throughout the galaxy; so will life be likely to emerge on planets around the hundreds of billions of stars throughout our galaxy? Dr Lineweaver and others speculate that there is a life-friendly zone in the galaxy, just as there is about a particular star. This zone is defined by the presence of enough "metals" and the absence of too many stellar explosions, which produce doses of radiation lethal to life on nearby stars. This gives us a spherical shell about the massive black hole at the galactic centre. The inner radius is far enough out to avoid the lethal turmoil of frequent star birth and death in the more crowded inner reaches of the galaxy and the outer radius is limited by the diminished supply of "metals".

Again we are lucky. Our sun is in this zone. Has life also made it around the millions of other nearby stars? Perhaps we will soon know. Planet-finding is a growth industry with over a thousand so far, although most are unsuitable for life as we know it. Finding small rocky earth-like planets is more difficult but when we do we won't have to wait for SETI to decipher radio signals. An analysis of the atmosphere will tell us if life is on its way, although we may have to wait the odd billion years or so to have meaningful conversations with them.


AGM & 1133rd General Monthly Meeting

"A hundred years after Einstein's extraordinary year"

Ms Karina Kelly, President of the Society

Wednesday 6 April 2005
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney, City Road


It's been a hundred years since Einstein's extraordinary year known as his Annus Mirabilis. In 1905, he published four remarkable papers and finished his doctoral dissertation. Any one of these papers would have established him as one of the new century's greatest scientists but what made this such an achievement was that each paper spawned a completely different branch of physics. Kelly's talk ranged from the Einstein centenary to other areas of science that have caught her interest in her nearly two decades of reporting on science for ABC TV. These include the chaos being experienced in the Nutrition discipline, mass species extinction, the demise of the Superconducting Supercollider, the effect of Post Modernism on Science and the notion that we may be living in a psychopathic society. Time will pass quickly because, as Einstein knew only too well, time is relative.


Karina Kelly is the retiring President of the Royal Society of New South Wales; a position she has held for two years. It is a long-standing tradition of the Society that each retiring president gives a presidential address on a subject of their choice and this is one such. Karina has worked in television since 1981, first for the news department of SBS television, then Channel 7 news before joining ABC's TV science program Quantum in 1986. She left ABC in 1996 and spent five years at home with her children before re-joining ABC's Catalyst program in 2001. She has won numerous international awards for her television work (including a World Gold Medal at the New York Film and Television Festivals), but her real claim to international fame is not as a science journalist but as the narrator of the renowned children's program, Bananas in Pyjamas.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

The 138th Annual General Meeting and the 1133rd Ordinary General Meeting were held at Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, Sydney University, 174 City Road, Darlington on Wednesday 6th April 2005. 37 Members and guests attended. Election of Council Members for 2005/2006 was held during the Annual General meeting. The Council's new President is Prof. J.C. Kelly, who was formerly Hon. Sec., and Ms Jill Rowling is now Honorary Secretary. Alan Buttenshaw is now Honorary Treasurer. Karina Kelly as the immediate past President joins the Vice Presidents. The Annual Report of Council and the Annual Financial Report by the Auditors for 2004 were presented and accepted by the Members.

The Presidential address "A Hundred Years After Einstein's Extraordinary Year" was delivered by Karina Kelly. The speaker began by stating that in 1905, Albert Einstein published three extraordinary papers which established him as one of the greatest minds humanity has produced and earned him the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. To celebrate the centenary of Einstein's 'Annus Mirabilis', 2005 has been declared the International year of Physics. We were given a brief summary of the significance of some of this work, including the fact that E=mc2 does not appear in this form in his paper on the equivalence of mass and energy. There were many splendid, little-known photographs of Einstein. I can see now why once, when asked by an official, he gave his profession as "Photographer's model".

A quotation, attributed to him, "Only two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity and I am not sure about the former", led on to a discussion of some more recent examples supporting this contention. The Superconducting Supercollider, abandoned after $2 billion had been spent excavating the site in Texas, which is now used for anti-terrorism firearm training instead of hunting the Higgs Boson. War however can always be afforded. The website http://www.costofwar.com shows that the Iraq war has so far run up a bill of some $160 billion.

Although science has recently come under attack in the media, many fields seek to support their activities by copying what they see as the scientific method of translating everything into numbers. Economists particularly are prone to this, but usually leave out the costs to the environment and to society. It works because it is easier to count than read. Einstein again stated "It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure."

The speaker went on to consider the psychopathology of large organizations, global inequality, ecosystem collapse and the support for research in Australia. We do not have space for here for all the details but the full text of the talk will be published in our Journal in the near future. Let us close with another of her quotations: "it is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a man in a chaotic period." Ending on a controversial note, most of us, including the Speaker, would disagree with the Chinese on this. Bringing order out of chaos is what science is all about and for which there is a greater need now than ever, and it will have to be done by men and women, not mad dogs.


The Four Societies Meeting 2005

"Geothermal energy in Australia"

Australian Institute of Energy
Australian Nuclear Association
Engineers Australia (NUC Engineering Panel)
The Royal Society of New South Wales

The meeting was hosted by Engineers Australia and the speaker was Dr Doone Wyborn.

Wednesday 23 February 2005, 6 pm
Harricks Auditorium, Eagle House, 118 Alfred Street, Milsons Point


Geodynamics Limited is nearing the completion of its "Proof of Concept" hot fractured rock (HFR) program to extract superheated hot water for electricity generation from granite buried beneath the Cooper Basin. In 2003 the Habanero-1 well penetrated permeable sub-horizontal fractures at more than 4,000 m depth. The well was completed at 4,421 m with overpressures in the fractures around this depth exceeding pressures projected from a hydrostatic gradient by more than 5,000 psi. The static rock temperature at the bottom of the well is approximately 250°C.

The overpressures assisted in the development of the world's largest artificial underground heat exchanger, a volume of rock more than 0.7 km3 defined by more than 11,700 microseismic events located on-site during the injection of 23 million litres of fresh water into the granite fracture network.

The second well (Habanero-2) was located 500 m SW of the first. It intersecting a major fracture, interpreted to be an extension of a dominant fracture in Habanero-1, at a depth of 4,325 m. During the operation the lower 245 m of the drill stem was irretrievably lost, and the well was subsequently sidetracked to a total depth of 4,358 m, just below the major fracture.

Flow and circulation testing between the two wells in early 2005 is designed to demonstrate the economic potential of the discovered far-field geothermal system and the heat exchange volume between the two wells.


Dr Doone Wyborn is Executive Director (Science and Exploration) of Geodynamics Limited, and one of the founding Directors of Geodynamics. He is an internationally known geoscientist specialising in granitic rocks. He obtained his PhD on granite research in 1983, and served more than 25 years with the Bureau of Mineral Resources and the Australian Geological Survey Organisation, including research in Antarctica and other overseas locations.

Dr Wyborn has been working on the potential of HFR geothermal energy for the last 12 years and is recognised as a leading Australian expert authority on this subject. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Energy Agency Geothermal Implementing Agreement and has studied HFR geothermal projects in Japan, Europe and the USA. The topic of his talk will be Australian Geothermal Project nearing completion of "Proof of Concept".

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jill Rowling

Dr Doone Wyborn introduced his talk by explaining that Geodynamics Limited is nearing the completion of its "Proof of Concept" hot fractured rock (HFR) program to extract superheated hot water for electricity generation from granite buried beneath the Cooper Basin. In 2003 the Habanero-1 well penetrated permeable sub-horizontal fractures at more than 4,000m depth. The well was completed at 4,421m with overpressures in the fractures around this depth exceeding pressures projected from a hydrostatic gradient by more than 5,000psi. The static rock temperature at the bottom of the well is approximately 250°C.

Dr Doone Wyborn went on to explain that so far, Geodynamics had confined their drilling to the far north of South Australia's Cooper Basin. The geological structure they are working on to extract heat is unique in that it is possibly the closest and hottest granite body to the earth's surface. The heat is maintained partly by a relatively insulating sedimentary layer over the granite, keeping in some of the heat that was present during the emplacement of the granite, and a little heat retention by the radioactive decay of elements naturally present in the granite. Fractures have developed in the rock as a natural part of cooling, and these are naturally filled with hot water under pressure. The fractures in the granite are uniquely horizontal in nature.

Dr Wyborn explained some of the problems and surprises they have encountered due to the heat and pressure, and how Geodynamics have two wells, both in hydraulic communication with each other based on pressure tests in one measured in the other. These two wells, Habanero-1 and Habanero-2, are being used to test the production of geothermal heat and then hopefully electricity generation.

Some of the tests involve pumping water down into one of the wells, under pressure, and carefully recording the microseismic activity in order to estimate the productive fractured area. The audience was treated to a visual presentation of these tests measured over time as well as fracture and heat models at various depths over time.

After the presentation, the audience asked numerous questions from a variety of areas to which Dr Wyborn was able to respond superbly. The questions and discussions continued out the door, up the street and over dinner which was held nearby.


1132nd General Monthly Meeting

"Rev. W. B. Clarke - 19th century polymath and his scientific correspondence"

Dr Ann Moyal AM

Wednesday 2 February 2005, 6.30 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre.


The Rev William Branwhite Clarke, Australia's pioneer geologist, Anglican clergyman, scientific savant and pioneer, was one of the key figures of Australian nineteenth-century science. He flourished at a time when science was both the province of the independent and private investigator and as it moved towards a growing professionalism and institutionalisation. He served as an influential Council member of the Philosophical Society from its foundation in 1850 and as its Vice-President in 1858. In 1866, he was a key mover behind the foundation of that Society's successor, The Royal Society of New South Wales, and served as its inaugural and influential Vice-President for seven years.

Clarke took a striking role in the reception of Darwin's Origin of the Species in Australia. Like the majority of British scientists in 1860, colonial scientists admired Darwin as a naturalist, but detested the implication of his evolutionary ideas. The Clarke-Darwin correspondence is a testament to Clarke's open-mindedness. In turn Darwin absorbed Clarke's notes in later editions of The Origin, and served as one of Clarke's sponsors in his election to The Royal Society in 1876.

One of Clarke's lasting memorial remains with the Royal Society of New South Wales. Late in 1878, The Royal Society of New South Wales struck the Clarke Medal as the first scientific medal to be issued in the Colonies. The annual award honours work in the natural sciences in Australia.


Dr Moyal is a leading historian of Australian Science, a graduate of the University of Sydney and a Doctor of Letters from the Australian National University. She is the author of many books and papers. Dr Moyal spoke on the topic of her book that was recently launched at the State Library: The Scientific Correspondence of the Rev. W B Clarke, Australia's Pioneer Geologist.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting

Dr. Moyal remarked that the Rev. W. B. Clarke would have been delighted that the Society he did so much to establish had survived to its 1132nd monthly meeting. The full text of her address will appear in a coming issue of the Society's Journal, and an extensive abstract appeared in the last Bulletin, so a brief note will suffice here.

A strong sense of history, which led W B Clarke to carefully preserve all his voluminous correspondence, has established him as a very important figure in the development of science in Australia. It also shows that far from being a parochial outpost of empire we were doing scientific work of international significance even in the 19th century.

He supported young scientists at the period when science was making the difficult transition from amateur to professional and was influential with Governors and the Establishment.

His creed for the society is perhaps even more needed today than it was then: "We must strive to discern clearly, understand fully, and report faithfully, to adjure hasty theories, and unsupported conjectures; where we are in doubt, not to be positive."


2009 Sydney Lecture Series

25 February

​The Four Societies Lecture. Hosted by Australian Nuclear Association, Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia, Australian Institute of Energy and The Royal Society of NSW

An Industry Update on Global Nuclear Power and the Opportunities for Australia

Dr Selena Ng, Areva NC, Australia
This meeting will also be our 1168th Ordinary General Meeting

Venue: Engineers Australia Lecture Theatre, 8 Thomas St, Chatswood
Time: 5.30pm for 6.00pm
1 April

​Presidential Address: Constancy Amid Chaos: Defining our Place in the World

John Hardie, President of the Royal Society of NSW 2007-2009

142nd Annual General Meeting
and 1169th Ordinary General Meeting
30 April

​The Pollock Memorial Lecture, presented by the University of Sydney and the Royal Society of NSW.
The Universe from Beginning to End

Dr Brian Schmidt, Federation Fellow, Mount Stromlo Observatory, ANUThe Pollock Memorial Lecture 6.30 pm, Eastern Avenue Auditorium, Sydney Uni
6 May

1170th General Meeting

A Scientist vs. the Law

Professor Brynn Hibbert, Chair of Analytical Chemistry, University of NSW​
3 June

1171st General Meeting

New Environmentally Friendly Approaches to Cooling Buildings

Professor Geoff Smith, Professor of Physics, University of Technology, Sydney​
1 July

​1172nd General Meeting

Accurate Measurement: the Vital Backbone of Australian Science & Industry

Dr Laurie Besley, Chief Executive & Chief Metrologist, National Measurement Institute
5 August

​1173rd General Meeting

What Will Coral Reefs Look Like in 2050?

A/Professor Peter Ralph, Head, Aquatic Photosynthesis Group, University of Technology, Sydney
2 September

​1174th General Meeting

Weird Animal Genomes and Sex

Professor Jenny Graves, Head, Comparative Genomics Research Group, Australian National University
7 October

​1175th General Meeting

The SKAMP Project - A Telescope Reborn to Look Back in Time

Professor Anne Green, Head of School of Physics, University of Sydney
30 October

​Clarke Memorial Lecture

Climate Change through the Lens of the Geological Record: the Example of Sea Level

Professor Kurt Lambeck, AO, FAA, FRS, Distinguished Professor of Geophysics at the Australian National University, President of the Australian Academy of Science

Venue: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, University of Sydney at 5.30 pm
4 November

​1176th General Meeting

Hominid Biogeography in South East Asia: the real significance of Hobbits

Professor Mike Morwood, Professor of Archaeology, University of Wollongong
2 December

​Studentship Awards

Studentship Awards 2009, in conjunction with our Christmas Party

2010 Sydney Lecture Series

17th February

​The Four Societies Lecture. Hosted by Australian Nuclear Association, Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia, Australian Institute of Energy and The Royal Society of NSW

1178th Ordinary General Meeting

An Industry Update on Global Nuclear Power and the Opportunities for Australia

Dr Selena Ng, Areva NC, Australia

Venue: Engineers Australia Lecture Theatre, 8 Thomas St, Chatswood

Time: 5.30pm for 6.00pm
12th March

​1179th Ordinary General Meeting & 143rd AGM with the Anniversary Address

Annual Dinner and Presentation of Awards for 2009

John Hardie, President of the Royal Society of NSW 2007-2010
7th April

Science and Scientists in the Modern World

Professor Jill Trewhella, University of Sydney
5th May

1180th Ordinary General Meeting

The Weird World of Nanoscale Gold

A/Professor Mike Cortie​
2nd June

​1181st Ordinary General Meeting

Science for Gentlemen - The Royal Society of NSW in the Nineteenth Century

Dr Peter Tyler, Historian for the RSNSW
7th July

​1182nd Ordinary General Meeting

Pluto and the Ueber-nerds

Dr Fred Watson, Anglo Australian Observatory
4th August

​1183rd Ordinary General Meeting

The Dynamic Brain: Modelling Sleep, Wake, and Activity in the Working Brain

Professor Peter Robinson, University of Sydney
1st September

​1184th Ordinary General Meeting

Long-term Changes in Solar Activity - Including the Current "Grand Minimum"

Dr Ken McCracken, Senior Research Associate, University of Maryland
6th October

​1185th Ordinary General Meeting

Is the Climate Right for Nuclear Power?

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, ANSTO
3rd November

​1186th Ordinary General Meeting

Powering the US Grid from Solar and Wind

Dr David Mills, Chief Scientific Officer and Founder of Ausra, Inc.
26th November

1187th Ordinary General Meeting

2010 Liversidge Lecture in Chemistry

Professor John White CMG FAA FRS, Australian National University​

​Studentship recipients

2011 Sydney Lecture Series

24th February

​The Four Societies Lecture. Hosted by Australian Nuclear Association, Nuclear Panel of
Engineers Australia, Australian Institute of Energy and The Royal Society of NSW
1188th Ordinary General Meeting

Geothermal Energy - Current State of Play and Developments

Dr Stuart Mc Donnell, Chief Operating Officer for Geodynamics and
Mr Stephen de Belle of Granite Power.

Venue: Hamilton Room, Trade & Investment Centre, Industry & Investment NSW,
Level 47, MLC Centre, 19 Martin Place, Sydney. Time: 5.30pm for 6.00pm
22nd March

​The Two Societies Meeting - Australian Institute of Physics and Royal Society of NSW.

1189th Ordinary General Meeting

Searching for Nanosecond Laser Pulses from Outer Space
Dr Ragbir Bhathal

Venue: Slade Lecture, Theatre, School of Physics, University of Sydney.
6th April

1190th Ordinary General Meeting & 144th AGM

Belief and Science: the Belief/Knowledge Dilemma

Join David Malouf and Barry Jones discuss the Belief/Knowledge Dilemma.​
29th April

​Dirac Lecture 2011

Beauty and truth: their intersection in mathematics
and science

Lord May of Oxford.

Presented in conjunction with the University of New South Wales.

View the 2011 Dirac Lecture

4th May

​1191st Ordinary General Meeting

Heading Towards the World's Largest Telescope: The Square Kilometre Array

Professor Michael Burton, School of Physics, University of New South Wales
1st June

1192nd Ordinary General Meeting

Variation of Fundamental Constants from Big Bang to Atomic Clocks

Professor Victor Flambaum, School of Physics, University of New South Wales​
6th July

​1193rd Ordinary General Meeting

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine: Prospects for Realising the Prometheus Myth

Professor John Rasko, Centenary Institute, University of Sydney and RPA Hospital

6.30 pm at the New Law Building, University of Sydney
3rd August

​1194th Ordinary General Meeting

Schizophrenia: from Neuropathology to New Treatments

Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert, Macquarie Group Foundation Chair of Schizophrenia Research,

NeuRA, SRI and UNSW, and Professor, School of
Psychiatry, UNSW

6.00 for 6.30 pm at the New Law Seminar Room 102, New Law Building, University of Sydney
7th September

​1195th Ordinary General Meeting

Distributed Small-Scale Production of Chemicals - Why and How

Professor Brian Haynes, Sydney University

6.00 for 6.30 pm at the New Law Seminar Room 102, New Law Building, University of Sydney
5th October

​1196th Ordinary General Meeting

Sex in the Sea: How Understanding the Weird and Bizarre Sex Lives of Fishes is the First Step to their Conservation

Prof. William Gladstone, University of Technology, Sydney

6.00 for 6.30 pm at the New Law Seminar Room 102, New Law Building, University of Sydney
2nd November

​1197th Ordinary General Meeting

Grid-Connected Energy Storage: the Key to Sustainable Energy?

Professor Tony Vassallo, Sydney University

6.00 for 6.30 pm at the New Law Seminar Room 102, New Law Building, University of Sydney
7th December

​1198th Ordinary General Meeting

Studentship Awards and Christmas Party

6.00 for 6.30 pm at St Pauls College, University of Sydney
13th December

​Clarke Memorial Lecture
with a cocktail reception following.

5.30 pm at Eastern Avenue Auditorium, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney.

2012 Sydney Lecture Series

Meetings are held at various venues in Sydney (be sure to check the web-site a few days before the event for final venue details). Unless indicated, booking is not necessary. All welcome. Entry is free for RSNSW members. There is a charge of $7 for non-members. Meetings usually commence at 6:00 pm for 6:30pm.

5 December 2012

1206th Ordinary General Meeting & Christmas Party

Venue: St Paul's College,
University of Sydney,

Time: 6:30pm.
20 November 2012

The Jak Kelly Award

In conjunction with with the Australian Institute of Physics

Venue: Slade Theatre, University of Sydney

Time: Student presentations from 2:30pm to 5:00pm
Lecture by Dr Stephen Bosi at 6:30pm.
19 November 2012

The Liversidge Lecture in Chemistry

"Low carbon technologies: from brown coal and biomass to solar hydrogen"

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer FAA FTSE FRACI CChem ARC Future Fellow

Venue: New Law Lecture Theatre 101, New Law Building, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney.

Time: 5:45 for 6:00pm, followed by a reception at 7:00pm.

See Liversidge for further details regarding Prof Maschmeyer and an abstract of the lecture.
7 November 2012

1205th Ordinary General Meeting

"The unexpected nuclear renaissance: nuclear techniques benefiting mankind"

Speaker: Dr Adi Patterson

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club,
25 Bent St (cnr Bent and Phillip Sts),

Please note dress code: jacket and tie.

Time: 6:30pm. Enjoy a welcome drink from 6:00pm.
3 October 2012

​1204th Ordinary General Meeting

"Outsmarting superbugs"

Speaker: Professor Liz Harry

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club,
25 Bent St (cnr Bent and Phillip Sts),

Please note dress code: jacket and tie.

Time: 6:30pm. Enjoy a welcome drink from 6:00pm.
5 September 2012

1203rd Ordinary General Meeting

"Climate change, regional drought and forest mortality:
are we seeing a new global phenomenon?"

Speaker: Professor Derek Eamus

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club,
25 Bent St (cnr Bent and Phillip Sts),

Please note dress code: jacket and tie.

Time: 6:30pm. Enjoy a welcome drink from 6:00pm.
1 August 2012

1202nd Ordinary General Meeting

"Photonic circuits for the new information age: faster, smaller, smarter and greener"

Speaker: Prof. Benjamin Eggleton

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club,
25 Bent St (cnr Bent and Phillip Sts),

Time: 6:30pm.
​​Thursday 19 July

The Dirac Lecture

"The accelerating universe"

Speaker: Professor Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Laureate for Physics

Presented in conjunction with the University of New South Wales and the Australian Institute of Physics.

Venue: Tyree Room, Scientia Building, University of New South Wales

Time: 2:00pm

View the 2012 Dirac Lecture.
4 July 2012

1201st Ordinary General Meeting

"Autoimmune diseases: obesity, nutrition, exercise and eating disorders"

Speaker: Prof. Ian Caterson AM

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club,
25 Bent St (cnr Bent and Phillip Sts),

Time: 6:30pm.
6 June 2012

1200th Ordinary General Meeting

"Transit of Venus 2012 - what we and others saw."

Speaker: Dr. Andrew Jacob

Venue: Sydney Observatory, Observatory Hill

Time: 6:30pm (doors open at 6:20pm)

Click here for the flyer.

(Please be advised that parking is not provided.)

Our thanks to the Powerhouse Museum for hosting this meeting.

For more information on this rare and important astronomical event, see
2 May 2012

​1199th Ordinary General Meeting

Topic: "Understanding multidrug-resistant cancer and how to treat it"

Speaker: A/Prof Mary Bebawy, Associate Professor of Pharmacy at the Graduate School of Health, The University of
Technology Sydney.

Venue: LT024, New Law Building, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Time: 6:30pm.
4 April

The Royal Society Forum 2012

Topic: "The media and scientific research:
impact and influences"

How is science presented to the general public and is the
community at large well served? The rapid expansion of digital media has meant for the average consumer more and more choice, but is there a temptation to simply gravitate to those outlets that reinforce your own world view? Are your horizons expanding or shrinking?

What does this new media environment mean for the communication and dissemination of science?

MarkScott AO, Managing Director of the ABC and Professor Jill Trewhella FRSN, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Sydney University, will discuss the influence of the media on research.

Moderated by the ABC's Robyn Williams AM.

Venue: The Powerhouse Museum

Time: 6:30pm.

Click here for the flyer. The Forum was broadcast on ABC Radio National's BigIdeas on Thursday 17 May 2012: click broadcast to download the programme.
4 April

Annual General Meeting

Venue: The Powerhouse Museum

Time: 5:00pm to 5:30pm
7 March

The Four Societies Lecture

Hosted by the Royal Society of NSW, the Australian Nuclear Association, the Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia, and the Australian Institute of Energy.

Topic: "Counting atoms for a living - tales of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry".

Speaker: Dr Andrew Smith, Senior Principal Research Scientist , ANSTO.

Venue: Hamilton-Parkes Room, NSW Trade & Investment Centre, Industry & Investment, Level 47, MLC Centre,
19 Martin Place, Sydney.

Time: 6:00pm

Proudly sponsored by NSW Trade & Investment and ANSTO.

Click here for the flyer
24 February

Annual Dinner

Guest of honour: the Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, Professor Mary O'Kane.

Several of the Society's awards were presented on this occasion.

Royal Society Events

The Royal Society of NSW organizes events in Sydney and in its Branches throughout the year. 

In Sydney, these include Ordinary General Meetings (OGMs) held normally at 6.00 for 6.30 pm on the first Wednesday of the month (there is no meeting in January), in the Gallery Room at the State Library of NSW. At the OGMs, society business is conducted, new Fellows and Members are inducted, and reports from Council are given.  This is followed by a public lecture presented by an eminent expert and an optional dinner.  Drinks are served before the meeting.  There is a small charge to attend the meeting and lecture, 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.

Since April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face meetings have been replaced by virtual meetings, conducted as Zoom webinars, allowing the events program to continue uninterrupted.  It is hoped that face-to-face meetings can be resumed in the latter half of 2021. 

The first OGM of  the year, held in February, has speakers drawn from the winners of the Royal Society Scholarships from the previous year, while 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 — the Australian Academy of Science, with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia
  • The Dirac lecture — with UNSW Sydney and the Australian Institute of Physics
  • The Liversidge Medal lecture — with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute

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