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'Tonight on Catalyst - probing the ocean bed for signs of earthquakes.'

Japan is due for a major earthquake. But can scientists predict when?

'Aircraft inspired by insects.'

Can we design a machine to fly like an insect?

'And the enthusiasts out to rescue Outback Joe.'

Who will win the unmanned aerial-vehicle challenge?

G'day. Welcome to Catalyst.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes (04/03/2010)

TRANSCRIPT

NARRATION

The land of the rising sun. Rich in tradition and rituals intertwined with contemporary living.
Japan is spoilt with mountainous landscapes and peaceful gardens. But it's here where mother nature
has for millennia, unleashed her fury. Wreaking havoc. A tirade of tsumanis and earthquakes leaving
a path of destruction, with little warning.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

There will definitely be another earthquake at some point. It's just a question of when.

NARRATION

Aboard this vessel, I meet up with scientists working on the edge of earthquakes zones. They hope
they can predict when the next big one will strike.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

In the distance is the Chikyu. An engineering marvel, it's the largest scientific drilling vessel
in the world. On board are a group of international scientists who've been exploring one of the
largest, most earthquake prone regions on earth. The Nankai Trough.

NARRATION

Just 900 kilometres south of Japan's island of Honshu, the Nankai Trough lies along the Pacific
Ring of Fire, where 90 per cent of the world's earthquakes occur.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

From a scientific point of view, I think it offers us the best chance to really understand
earthquake mechanics, what causes earthquakes to happen.

NARRATION

Japan is near the intersection of four tectonic plates. Deep beneath the ocean in the Nankai
Trough, the Philippine plate subducts the Eurasian plate. The movement and collision of these
plates is both unpredictable and loaded with potential seismic activity.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

Because there's a large surface area of contact between the two plates, they generate the world's
largest earthquakes. We're talking about magnitude eight, magnitude nine earthquakes. Those giant
earthquakes um like the Sumatra quake of 2004. The plates are moving together at some very slow
rate, usually about the rate that fingernails grow, a few centimetres per year. Ah but if the fault
is kind of stuck together then those ah, those far field motions build up stressors around the
fault zone and those stressors continue to build until they finally overcome the strength of the
rock and then it breaks catastrophically.

NARRATION

In Japan, early warning systems have been in place for over a decade.

Dr Eiichiro Araki

More than 1000 sensors are distributed on land and the seismic wave data collected from
seismometers produce the early warning occurrence of an earthquake.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

We are not very good at predicting earthquakes.

Dr Gary Huftile

Early warning systems are a very poorly effective at the moment. We are always looking for ways to
do this better.

NARRATION

The only way to improve early warning systems is to get closer to the epicentre of earthquake
zones. Here, geologists sample rock layers in order to reveal secrets to the timing of the next big
earthquake.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

So the Chikyu is one of the um one of the ah most advanced tools that we have to study earthquakes.
Because it provides access to these deep parts of the fault zone that otherwise we would never be
able to ah to sample or to monitor.

Dr Maryanne Demasi

Just the sheer size of the ship catches your breath. It's over 200 metres long and the total length
of the drill pipe is 10 kilometres.

NARRATION

The drill can reach the earth's mantle, a depth no other ship of its kind has ever achieved. This
Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme (IODP) has instruments built to survive searing heat, crushing
pressures and corrosive fluids. Boreholes are subject to enormous pressure and can cave in. To
prevent this, riser-drilling technology uses mud within the hole instead of the usual seawater. The
mud's greater viscosity helps to resist the pressure.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

In riser drilling one of the real advantages we have is the use of something called the blow out
preventer. And this is basically a large device that's like a giant valve that goes on the seabed
and actually allows us to control the pressure in the blowhole and keep it stable.

NARRATION

GPS-guided thrusters hold the 57 thousand tonne Chikyu in position through harsh weather conditions
and heaving seas.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

You need some way to allow the ship to move without pulling the drill plate in and out of the
ground. And that's what this ah big yellow thing in the derrick it's called a heave compensator.
That's exactly what it does. It acts as a basically a giant shock absorber. So the ship can move up
and down and the pipe stays still.

NARRATION

Soft rock layers are pierced by a hydraulic piston corers. Sharp and tough, it takes just one
second to penetrate ten metres. A rotary corer is used for harder geological layers. Once collected
the samples undergo CT scans and are analysed for density, heat conduction and sound velocity. Dr
Huftile looks for active faults in the rock to assess the size of earthquakes.

Dr Eiichiro Araki

And this layer is a fault that is entirely parallel to the bedding layers within the rock.

NARRATION

Testing the strength of the rock reveals just how much stress the geological layers can endure
before they break. To learn more about future earthquakes, scientists must look at the past. The
chemical properties of geological layers also hold clues to how the earth's climate has changed
over time. To improve early warning systems, scientists will also place monitors in the bore holes
to get real time information.

Dr Gary Huftile

You actually have a drop in fluid pressure right before an earthquake. That's the theory, and so by
monitoring fluid pressure it may very well be predictive.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

These monitoring systems are really critical to being able to in a sense take the pulse of the
earth and in a sense measure the build-up of those stressors is a huge step toward, toward
predicting in the longer term.

Dr Eiichiro Araki

Currently we have almost no observatory on seafloor so if we have the sensors in there we can ask,
issue early warning maybe ten seconds earlier.

NARRATION

Currently, they can issue a 10 to 30 seconds warning. Adding another 10 seconds doesn't sound like
much, but every second counts when it comes to saving lives.

Assoc. Prof. Demian Saffer

This research is right on the cutting edge of marine tectonics and geology. Combination of drilling
deep bore holes and the instruments that we're trying to put in for real time and long term
measurements, nobody else is really doing it.

Fly Like An Insect

Fly Like An Insect (04/03/2010)

TRANSCRIPT

NARRATION

History shows that for a human-powered machine to fly with flapping wings takes courage, clever
invention, and a sheer disregard for safety. But to build a machine that can fly like an insect
needs a complete rethink of aerodynamics. The wings of insects work in unique ways, unlike any
other flying animal.

Dr John Trueman

At one extreme you've got things like houseflies and they've got one pair of wings, it's rigidly
attached to the side of the body and they make it fly by a pair of muscles which pull from front to
back and the whole thorax just pings out, and that pinging mechanism makes the wings go down.

NARRATION

At the other end of the spectrum is the manoeuvrability and control of damselflies and dragonflies.

Dr John Trueman

Dragonflies use the big muscles that go from north to south, to actually power the wings. They
control each wing individually, they control each vein in each wing individually.

Mark Horstman

Now this may look a little like a dragonfly, and it does have four wings - but that's where the
similarity ends. In fact, the way it flies is unlike anything that you can find in nature.

Dr John Trueman

There's nothing like this. Nothing like this in the insect world with the wings one on top of the
other like that. You never get that.

NARRATION

While building an exact copy of an insect may still be beyond us, we can use the best ideas their
evolution has come up with. Locusts are the Boeing 747s of the insect world, able to fly
efficiently for long distances for days at a time. We can read their flight secrets from the smoke
patterns in this wind tunnel. They provide hard data to build a computer model - and that's the job
of aeronautical engineer John Young.

Dr John Young

One of the great things about doing flow dynamics, computational flow dynamics, is we can do things
we can't actually do in nature. So we can make some changes to the wings and see what effect they
have.

NARRATION

The simulations aim to capture every detail, right down to the veins in the wings.

Dr John Young

You can see all the wing folding, the veins here and the sort of corrugations in the rear wing and
you can see some slight curvature in the forewing.

NARRATION

The colour coding shows air pressure, blue for low pressure to red for high pressure. Simplifying
the complex wing into a flat plate shows a larger blue area, which means lower air pressure over
the wing.

Dr John Young

That generates a lot of lift, in fact more lift than the real insect. But the downside is it comes
at about twice the power requirement. So the efficiency of the animal has gone down by about 50 per
cent or more when you have this flat plate model.

NARRATION

That's crucial information to know if you want to use the locust as a model for a micro-flying
machine.

Dr John Young

We need to put all the details in, we need to put all these veins, all this folding, we need to
precisely control what the wing is doing.

NARRATION

The trick is how the wing changes shape.

Dr John Young

The locust is controlling the shape it needs to throughout the wing beat and it's not necessarily
doing that by thinking about it. It's doing it by passive mechanisms that are built into the wing,
with the elasticity of the wing elements in just the right size, just the right way, such that the
wing takes up the form it needs to in response to the airflow over it.

NARRATION

Other insects like hoverflies, moths, wasps and dragonflies are being studied to learn their tricks
- and build machines that mimic them.

Dr John Young

As you go to these smaller animals, smaller sizes or smaller speeds, the animal feels the air quite
differently to the way we feel the air. If I move my arm through the air there's not really much
resistance. But for a tiny little hoverfly, the airflow feels a lot thicker, a lot stickier. It's
almost a bit more like swimming or sculling than we would think of as flying. And so the
aerodynamics changes quite a bit.

NARRATION

That's why some researchers simulate airflow over insects by moving scaled-up wings through tanks
of oil. It all has to do with what's known in fluid mechanics as the Reynolds number - the ratio
between inertial forces and viscous forces, or in this case, the drag of the wing and the
stickiness of the air.

Dr John Young:

For a large aircraft, a passenger aircraft, the Reynolds number is very large, like a million. For
an insect like this, the Reynolds number might be a thousand or several hundred. And that means the
flow, the airflow seems maybe a thousand times stickier, maybe a thousand times more viscous for
the insect than it does for us or a large aircraft.

NARRATION

Decoding the secrets of aerodynamics at this tiny scale unlocks the potential for micro airborne
vehicles - and that's got the military's attention.

Dr John Young:

Anything that's useful for search and rescue, anything that can fly into a building, or peer
through a window, will also be very very useful for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism work
as well. These vehicles are being built and particularly in the US with the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) they're quite well advanced.

NARRATION

And this is it - a remote controlled prototype that hovers with flapping wings, and weighs less
than ten grams - a bit more than a big dragonfly - while able to carry a tiny camera.

Dr John Young

I would say these would be in field trials within ten years. We look to build up I guess a range of
techniques, a bag of tricks if you like that we can apply and it could do something that any given
single insect may not be able to do but taken together it, there's the potential to do better than
nature.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (04/03/2010)

TRANSCRIPT

NARRATION

Kingaroy. A small farming town in south east Queensland. Famous for pumpkin scones, peanuts and
navy beans. Home of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Challenge. Ladies and Gentleman, start your
engines.

Dr Paul Willis

Competitors have come from all around the world to compete in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Challenge. It's a challenge of technical skill and engineering prowess and it's a lot of fun.

NARRATION

The man in charge is CSIRO roboticist Dr Jonathan Roberts.

Jonathan Roberts

This is the third year of the UAV Challenge. We're interested in UAVs for civilian uses. We can do
it well and the military can do it well, but it's all still quite expensive. Having the privateers
and the students and the hobbyists in, gets new ideas, thinking outside of the box.

NARRATION

And the Challenge is to rescue this guy... Outback Joe. He's lost in the bush and desperately needs
help.

Jonathan Roberts

We've given them co-ordinates of a square where they're actually going to search. They then
actually move the plane in a pattern around that and they've got a camera on board to find Jo and
then deliver him a water bottle.

NARRATION

But, first things first, I ask Richard Glassock - a research engineer from the Queensland
University of Technology - to give me a introduction to the world of UAVs.

Dr Paul Willis:

So this is looking inside a UAV, what is it that makes a UAV, what components do you need?

Richard Glassock

The airframe and the aerodynamics is all the same as any other manned airplane. You need to have a
wing, obviously fuselage, and propulsion.

Dr Paul Willis:

I gather you've got an autopilot?

Richard Glassock

We need to have a navigation system and a stability control system in order for it to fly itself.
And we can program that to fly when we want it to.

Dr Paul Willis:

I have to confess some of the groups that I've seen out there, it looks like anybody can have a go.

Richard Glassock

We've seen over the last ten years the price has come right down, the capability's gone up at the
same time. And so this enables a lot of people to use this technology.

NARRATION

However in the three years the challenge has been going, no one has ever made it more than 10
metres out of the airfield. Even in the last few weeks, the competitors have been dropping like
flies.

Dr Paul Willis

This is the big off!

Jonathan Roberts

Sure is.

Dr Paul Willis

You seem to be as nervous as the pilots.

Jonathan Roberts

I'm very nervous!

NARRATION

First onto the airstrip are Victoria-based team, Melbourne UAV. Team leader, Scott, is optimistic.

Scott

I can't believe no one's done it yet.

NARRATION

Melbourne UAV are cleared for take-off in their attempt to rescue Outback Joe and claim the $50,000
prize. But the wind is getting up...

Scott

Come back little buddy!

NARRATION

After take-off, the pilot hands over control to the ground station.

Scott

Have you got it?

NARRATION

The team have pre-programmed in a route to the search area so the plane can fly autonomously. The
UAV's destiny relies on the performance of it's software. Its motion sensors that measure and
report on the plane's position, keeping the UAV on course.

Dr Paul Willis

Their plane... how do you rate it?

Jonathan Roberts

Ah, pretty good chance I think, it looks like a neat package. And they seem very confident.

Dr Paul Willis

Breaker breaker, what's it doing now? It's sort of zigzagging from side to side.

Jonathan Roberts

I think it's having issues with the wind there.

NARRATION

Wind can be a huge problem for UAVs due to their small wingspan.

Melbourne UAV team members

It's gone. It's failsafed.

Scott

Oh that's crap.

Dr Paul Willis

What happened?

Scott

The wind might have flipped it and the fail-safe kicked in, and that's basically the end of the
plane, it just does a death spiral.

NARRATION

To make matters worse, the Melbourne UAV's plane caught fire when it hit the deck, and the team had
to watch their months of hard work go up in smoke.

Dr Paul Willis

It's eight o'clock in the morning and things are getting really exciting. We were down to four
contenders, one's been wiped out in the preliminary round, one's just crashed and started a grass
fire, we're waiting for the radio transmitter to come back off the crashed plane and then we can
launch the next entrant - which is the Queensland University of Technology.

NARRATION

The stakes are even higher for this team, because their degrees are depending on their plane being
a success. But all too soon, the QUT plane is out of sight, and out of power.

Dr Paul Willis

What happened?

Emma

There was a strong wind and we think that the autopilot was trying to change some gains and
unfortunately it's gone down. It's disappointing because we know it can do better than that.

Dr Paul Willis

So it must be time for commiseration drinks?

Emma

Definitely!

NARRATION

So it looks like it's all over.

Dr Paul Willis

But then at the last minute we had a re-entry, a team we thought was scratched when the pilot
accidentally sprayed petrol in his eyes while refuelling. I present to you, Team Galah.

NARRATION

Team Galah are a father and son team who design agricultural machinery. Their dream is to create a
UAV to increase crop yields and it certainly looks like they know what they're doing. They've even
drafted in an autopilot specialist from America.

NARRATION

We have lift off.

Dr Paul Willis

Team Galah are up and away, off on a task, looking for Outback Joe. Good luck!

Geordie Milne

We are in the search area.

NARRATION

But just when it was all going so well, the plane starts to lose altitude and crashes just metres
from Outback Joe!

Geordie Milne

We were having telemetry problems and motor problems. I think it just lost engine power and started
coming down. Once it got down low enough it lost its heartbeat signal, and terminated itself.

Dr Paul Willis

But you guys achieved more than anyone else, you must be very proud of that.

Geordie Milne

There was a lot of pressure getting here, a lot of hours, but I am pretty happy.

NARRATION

So another year, and Outback Joe remains unrescued in the outback. However, in the high schools'
competition, it's a whole different story.

Jonathan Roberts

This year it's been a very successful competition. We have had three teams who have got one hit the
target and two got incredibly close.

NARRATION

Jonathan is very keen to encourage the kids to get involved in the Outback Challenge - and has seen
several teams develop over the years.

Jonathan Roberts

We've had some high school students who have entered each year, and next year, they won't be in
high school anymore. We hope they'll go to a university and form a team and go out to the open
search and rescue challenge and actually rescue Outback Joe.

NARRATION

So what have this year's teams actually learnt from their experience?

Emma

From maintenance of engines to the importance of teamwork and passing on knowledge of your
sub-systems you are working on, you need to account for every situation.

Dr Paul Willis

There aren't many opportunities for the general public and school kids to become involved with the
cutting edge of technology. The UAV Challenge is one of those chances. And winners or losers, we
are looking at the nursery for the next generation of Australia's aeronautical engineers.

Fundamentals: Hotter Than Hot

Radio and TV science reporter Bernie Hobbs has a way of breaking science down into easily digested
bite-sized pieces. Here's her take on the difference between hot and cold.

That's hot. THAT'S hot. (LAUGHS) That's hot! That's not. Hot and cold are two of the most basic
things we learn about. But only one of them actually exists. Heat is real. It's pure energy. When
you heat something up, you're just adding energy to it. And you make its atoms move around a bit
faster or a lot faster. But there's no such thing as cold. Cold is just a lack of heat. So when you
cool something down, you're not adding cold to it. You're just sucking heat out. 'That's how
fridges work. They suck the heat out of food and spit it out the back.' You can add as much heat as
you like to something. Matter can get, almost, infinitely hot. But nothing can ever get colder than
minus-273 degrees Celsius or absolute zero. 'When you cool something down its atoms move slower and
slower, because they've got less and less heat energy. But at minus-273 degrees you've sucked all
the heat energy out of every atom in existence.' And if atoms have got no energy, they can't move,
nothing happens, chemistry stops. And everything in the universe would grind to a complete halt.
Luckily, there's a little paragraph in quantum theory that says matter can never stop moving
completely. So we know we'll never reach absolute zero. Which is just as well. Cos I don't think
this beanie would cut it.

Next week on Catalyst - why these children have high arsenic levels.'

How kids' toenails have revealed a toxic legacy from the gold rush.

'And why NASA wants a new spacesuit for its astronauts.'

Spacesuits are unwieldy, exhausting, and they can make your fingernails fallout.

Well, that's it for now. Don't forget, you can watch this episode in its entirety on iView. The
link for that's on the Catalyst website. Thanks for watching. I'm Graham Phillips. See you next
week.