Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events
JAN
26

Sydney Meetings - 2007

​Friday
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.
​Friday
9th March

​The Royal Society of New South Wales Annual Dinner

Forum Restaurant, Darlington Centre, Sydney University
​Wednesday
2nd May

"World Heritage inscription of caves and karst"

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

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

Prof. Peter Schofield, Director, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute
​Tuesday
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.
​Wednesday
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
​Wednesday
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
​Wednesday
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
​Wednesday
7th November

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

Prof. Matthew Colless,
Director, Anglo-Australian Observatory
NOV
02

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

OCT
05

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

SEP
30

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

SEP
07

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

AUG
03

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

JUL
06

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

JUN
08

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

MAY
04

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

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

APR
06

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

MAR
18

Pollock Lecture 2006

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

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.

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

FEB
23

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

BIOGRAPHY

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.

ABSTRACT

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.

JAN
01

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.

​Wednesday
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.
​Friday
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
​Friday
17th March

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

2006 Pollock Lecture

Prof. Brian Josephson FRS, Nobel Laureate
​Wednesday
5th April

​"Cold fusion, the alchemists' dream?"

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

​"The genetics behind our drinking water turning toxic"

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

"Global evolution of ocean basins"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Pandemics, bird flu and the globalisation of fear"

Prof. Peter Curson, Director Health Studies Program, Macquarie University.
​Wednesday
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
NOV
03

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

OCT
06

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

SEP
08

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

AUG
04

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

JUL
07

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

ABSTRACT

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.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

JUN
02

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


ABSTRACT

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.


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

MAY
05

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


ABSTRACT

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.


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

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.

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.

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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