Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

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 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."


Sydney Meetings - 2005

2nd February

Rev. W. B. Clarke - 19th Century Polymath and his Scientific Correspondence

Dr Ann Moyal AM

Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre.

Dr Moyal will speak 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. As most members will also be aware, The Rev. W.B. Clarke was an early founding member of the Society and served as inaugural and an influential Vice President for seven years.
23rd February

​Four Societies Meeting: Geothermal Energy in Australia

Dr Doone Wyborn

The Four Societies Meeting is a meeting of the Nuclear Engineering Panel of Engineers Australia, Australian Institute of Energy, Australian Nuclear Association and
the Royal Society of NSW.

Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Harricks Auditorium, Ground Floor, Eagle House, 118 Alfred Street, Milsons Point.

This year the Four Societies Meeting will be separate from our February 1132nd General Meeting above and will be hosted by Engineers Australia. Dr Doone Wyborn, Executive Director, Geodynamics has agreed to be the Guest Speaker on the topic of Geothermal Energy in Australia. Geodynamics have drilled one well in the Cooper Basin of South Australia to a depth of 4.5 km, intersecting rock in excess of 240C, and have a second well underway. They expect to start production in 2006.
11th March

​The Royal Society of New South Wales Annual Dinner

Time: 7.00 for 7.30 pm
Venue: Forum Restaurant, Darlington Centre, Sydney University (City Road)

The Society's Patron, His Excellency, Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC (ret'd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, presented the 2004 Awards.
6th April

A Hundred Years after Einstein's Extraordinary Year

The Annual General Meeting and the 1133rd Ordinary General Meeting

The President, Ms Karina Kelly, will deliver the Presidential Address

Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road
4th May

Biocosmology: a New Science

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

Time: 7.00 pm (bar open from 6.00 pm)
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road
1st June

Bactrian Camels in Antiquity

Prof. Dan Potts,
Edwin Cuthbert Hall Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology, University of Sydney

Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road
6th July

Why did the Vertebrate Brain Become Lateralised?

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

Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road
3rd August

Tails of Dingoes: their Past and their Future

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

Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road
7th September

​Clarke Memorial Lecture and 1138th Ordinary General Meeting

The Ediacara and its Fauna

Professor Pat Vickers-Rich, School of Geosciences, Monash University

Time: 6.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road
5th October

TB: A New Vaccine and Some Observations on the Influence of Genetics

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

Time: 6.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road
2nd November

The Role of DNA studies in the Story of Human Evolution

Dr Sheila van Holst Pellekaan,
Visiting Senior Research Fellow, University of NSW

Time: 6.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

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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