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Green at work

Bernie Hobbs: Green at Work is doing two things. First of all it is exposing what we are doing
'reality show'- style for all of Australia to keep track of us and make sure that when we say we're
going green at the ABC we've got the stats there for everyone to look at and they can check up on
us. So that's one thing, we're just exposing ourselves. The other thing is we thought, well, while
we're going through it, while we're looking at all the things that are hard, the things that could
be done easier, the things that help along the way, let's put together a bit of a toolkit for
anyone else who wants to go green at their work. So if you want to go green at work you can go to
our site and everything you need is there, whether it's just simple things you can do or whether
it's how to change the culture of your organisation, or if you want to know how to get that guy in
accounting to turn his computer off, send us your question, we'll send an answer, we'll track down
the experts and get onto it for you. So all the dirt is there, a little bit of fun on the side.

Robyn Williams: We'll come to the dirt and the fun...first of all, the structure. As you walk
around the ABC do you get the kind of palpitations that I do about how really decrepit this place
is, with hundreds of lights on all the time, with lashings of material just wasted?

Bernie Hobbs: It's appalling. My mother grew up in the Depression so I was brought up recycling
margarine containers from 1965, so I can't stand waste. But I think our building isn't decrepit,
we've got some absolutely beautiful features of it, but it does blow me away that people leave a
studio, leave the lights turned on, people leave work at night, and I think it's partly because all
of the switches operate a vast past of a floor and you don't know if you're going to turn one off,
if someone from Background Briefing is going to come yelling at you at any second.

Robyn Williams: Do you know that's why I actually took the lights out of the socket. I don't have
any.

Bernie Hobbs: You have been a leader in this field for some time, Williams, because not only that,
you've established your own compost heap in that disgusting plant that you can barely see for the
fruit flies in one corner of your office, underneath the stuffed turkey or whatever it is. But you
are an exception, you were an early adopter here, but I think it's not that people are setting out
to do wrong or do bad, it's just that people take the easiest path. And because things haven't been
set up and there hasn't been a focus on cutting energy in the culture of the place, it hasn't been
on everyone's minds, and that's just starting to change now, because what you really need to change
the way people think is you need a strong message coming from on top. You really need it to
infiltrate the culture from top down. So we've got that now, we've got a commitment from Mark Scott
to cut the ABC's emissions.

Robyn Williams: He's the boss.

Bernie Hobbs: He is the managing director. He's the one that set us on the green path. Although,
having said that, he's the one who said that because we're a government organisation, for the last
ten years we've had to undertake the same efficiency measures that everyone else has. Not that any
of us know about it, but our engineers, those guys who ferret around down on the lower ground
there, they've managed to cut our emissions by nearly 27% in ten years, without any of us even
knowing. None of us have noticed a thing. Certainly they've done that just by making things happen
more efficiently. So the ABC along with other government buildings has been doing this great thing
without us knowing.

All that easy stuff has been done just about now, so now it's down to the rest of us to get off our
arses and start switching lights off, start turning computers off, doing those things that are so
basic and you get so sick of hearing, but it takes Earth Hour to realise...I was here Saturday
night, left at 7.55pm, trying to finish this website, and I left because I thought I can't be
sprung for having lights on at the ABC during Earth Hour. You know, I tried to set off one set of
lights down the corridor and I couldn't find the bloody switch. There is no way of knowing who
operates or where the lights are operated from for Background Briefing.

Robyn Williams: Astonishing, yes. There's a tiny touch of the Gestapo about this. You've given me a
card which enables me to dob someone in. How does this work?

Bernie Hobbs: It's a part of the site called Busted, and it really is just trying to do it in a fun
way, rather than just nagging someone, rather than doing what other people do and put sticky tape
over the power button on your colleague's computer to annoy the hell out of them. It's just a
light-hearted way of busting someone for doing the wrong thing. So we've set the tone a bit by
busting a few ABC celebrities. You may or may not be on the list of subjects in coming episodes,
Robyn.

Robyn Williams: You can't give me names?

Bernie Hobbs: We've already busted Margaret Pomeranz who I think looks as though she'd be
absolutely delightfully green, but that women has got a sea of styrofoam cups underneath her desk
that would float a Pacific island.

Robyn Williams: And I think her earrings probably run on about 25 megahertz.

Bernie Hobbs: There could be an issue there, but you can watch me busting Margaret on the website.
We also got those gorgeous Good Game boys, the little 20-year-olds who run three computers to
charge their little Play Station or something, I don't know what's going on up there, but they were
the power sink on level nine. So with Busted we're just trying to take that Nazi element out, make
it a bit of fun, and we've made these postcards and you can just tick a box and say whether it's
because they've got more frequent flyers than Neil Armstrong or what have you and leave it on their
desk, and then on the back, five things they can do right now to make a difference.

Robyn Williams: Yes, I must say I do a tiny bit of that myself, but don't look! How will viewers
and listeners and people who look at the website follow this, track it, the public?

Bernie Hobbs: The way to track it, if you go to the website right now you'll see that we've got
records of what the ABC has been doing for the last two financial years. So you'll go to a map of
Australia...so The Green Room is the ABC section of it, you go to the map of Australia, you click
on any site and you can see the energy, waste, water, transport stats for that, and you can see
whether it's gone up or down. So we're doing it by financial year, which means in August this
year...now that we're all actually trying to do something about it, we're going to see what kind of
a difference we can make in this financial year. That data will go up in August. So nothing in
those stats is going to change between now and August but the stories about what's happening will
be updated a couple of times a week in The Green Room as well, so you'll be able to see the latest
there.

Robyn Williams: And other firms can watch us or help us?

Bernie Hobbs: Oh help, yes! We're certainly not out there saying we're one of these leading
corporations who've really taken this challenge and there are plenty of organisations in Australia
who are at the leading edge of this. We're not one of those, we're one of the also-rans, the whole
arse-elbow confusion factor, but we're trying to do our bit, just trying to show these are some of
the mistakes we made, please don't make the same ones, and these are some of the things we wish we
knew earlier, please know them. So any help gratefully accepted.

Robyn Williams: Saves waste, worth doing anyway. If I were to bust you, Bernie, what might be your
secret indulgence?

Bernie Hobbs: I have to say, try as I might I can't edit things on screen, I just need paper. So I
do print on the back of other things and we do have it set to duplex, but I have got an appalling
amount of paper and just general rubbish in fact accumulated on my desk. Having said that, I don't
think you should be casting the first stone, because I've seen your desk, man, and it's no picnic.

Robyn Williams: It's a compost, we said, it's a compost. Thanks Bernie, you'll be back to keep us
in touch.

Bernie Hobbs: Absolutely. See you then.

Robyn Williams: Bernie Hobbs. See her on The New Inventors, ABC television. And see the website at
abc.net.au/greenatwork.

Quantum dots and nanowires

Chennupati Jagadish: We are focusing on two main areas, Robyn, one is quantum dots and another one
is nanowires. These quantum dots are small particles which are of nanometre scale which behave
quite differently with respect to their bulk form.

Robyn Williams: So how small is a dot?

Chennupati Jagadish: Typically they are about ten nanometres in diameter, and where the classical
physics fails and the quantum physics starts coming into the picture, that's where these quantum
dots behave quite differently, that's why we call them quantum dots.

Robyn Williams: Okay, describe what happens at the normal classical physics level and how does it
change, what do the dots then do?

Chennupati Jagadish: Whenever we take a particular material, it has got a certain property; for
example, light emitted by a particular material, it should not be affected by the size of that
material based on the classical physics. It will emit the same colour of light irrespective or
whether it is a huge piece of material or otherwise a tiny spec of that material. But whereas
quantum physics tells you that whenever you go to the dimensions of a few nanometres to a few
tenths of nanometres then they start emitting light of different colours. For example, you can take
the same material, you can make that material to emit blue light for a particular size, and if you
increase the size of the same particle a little big bigger, it starts emitting green light, and if
you make it slightly bigger it starts emitting the red light. So that means now you've got an
opportunity to be able to use the same material of different dimensions, to be able to emit three
different primary colours, so that opens up a lot of new opportunities.

Robyn Williams: I'll bet it does. I'll come to the opportunities in a minute. What about the
nanowires?

Chennupati Jagadish: These nanowires are like one-dimensional structures, they are like cylinders
and length-wise they could be a few microns long but the diameter is a few tenths of nanometres to
a few nanometres. Again, these nanowires will act like the laser cavities, for example, to get
light out of these particular nanowires, and they have unique properties.

Robyn Williams: Is this carbon based?

Chennupati Jagadish: No, these are particular...the ones which we are working on are based on
gallium arsenide and indium arsenide, these are the group three and group five elements of the
periodic table.

Robyn Williams: I heard that you can in fact use carbon to make many of these very, very small
devices.

Chennupati Jagadish: Yes, carbon nanotubes have found many new applications in terms of modifying
the chirality of these nanotubes.

Robyn Williams: That's left or right.

Chennupati Jagadish: It could be both ways, and the way you try to fold this graphene sheet, it can
be conducting or otherwise it is semi-conducting, so that means it can act like a metal or it can
act like somewhere between a metal and an insulator. So in the process they end up providing unique
properties.

Robyn Williams: You've established the kind of weird world it is down there, what with colour and
flexibility and the conducting that it can do, and you talked about the applications that might
stem from this sort of work. What have you in mind for yourself?

Chennupati Jagadish: In my own case we are developing the technologies using these quantum dots,
making quantum dot lasers which could be used for ultra-fast optical communications through using
optical fibres, because the smaller the size of the dots the faster the switching on and off you
can get from these devices, so that means you can really send information much faster than current
devices. In the case of the same quantum dots we can also use them as infrared detectors, which can
be used for medical imaging implications, say, for example, cancer detection, bush fire detection
and night vision. And even if you are using your computer chip and you want to figure out while you
are operating that computer chip where it is getting hot, by using these infrared cameras you'll be
able to really tell where these hot spots are taking place in these chips.

Robyn Williams: That's a range of application and variety, isn't it. Have these been established?
Have you got devices already made?

Chennupati Jagadish: Yes, in the laboratory we've already demonstrated working quantum dot lasers
and quantum dot infrared photo detectors, and we are now trying to integrate these multiple quantum
dots operating at different wavelengths, so in other words on the same chip you can have different
colours so that you can simultaneously send information to the optical fibre.

Gene Radar

Robyn Williams: Anita Goel has an Indian family but lives in Boston. Her work underlines the
international nature of nano.

Anita Goel: I was actually born in America, my parents came from India as immigrants. I was born in
Massachusetts, grew up in rural Mississippi, went to Stanford for undergraduate and then came to
Harvard and MIT to do my MD, PhD, and never quite left.

Robyn Williams: The reason I ask you about that is because there's a link to India in this story,
the way in which people in India in the villages have started to use mobile phones, this modern
technology, when all around them there's something far less technological. Give us the picture.

Anita Goel: Well, it's remarkable to see villagers and rickshaw wallahs and even beggars using cell
phones in India today. I think it's an example of if you can bring the price of a technology cheap
enough and affordable enough and there's a huge unmet need in a population...for example, in India
there's north of a billion people and there's a desire to communicate. The landline infrastructure
is not there the way it is here in the western world, so when things like mobile technology came
along and if you can drive down the price enough you actually open up a huge market.

Robyn Williams: Which brings in something called Radar, which is not the kind of device that they
use in aeroplanes developed during the war in Britain, but something for healthcare. Describe it
for us. How small is it?

Anita Goel: This is a technology called Gene Radar that my company has developed where...imagine a
future cellphone-like device in which you could put a drop of blood or saliva in a little
disposable strip, stick it into the device and within a few minutes be able to read out what
disease or infectious disease a person has.

Robyn Williams: How does it do it?

Anita Goel: I can't tell you all the secrets right now, but it basically involves our ability to,
at the very nano scale and at the single molecule level detect the signatures of DNA and RNA. At
the molecular level you get essentially a biological fingerprint of the organism very quickly.

Robyn Williams: This is where you come in again because your qualifications are in medicine and in
physics.

Anita Goel: Correct.

Robyn Williams: Was that an advantage?

Anita Goel: Definitely. Without being a physicist and also looking at some of the biomedical
problems from that context, I don't think it would have been possible to develop such an approach.

Robyn Williams: Were you actually directly involved in the research to make this object?

Anita Goel: Yes. For over 15 years I've been working in this area which now people call
nanotechnology, and it really began over 15 years ago when I fell in love with this idea of
molecular machines or nano-motors that read and write information in DNA and really learning how
they can be precision controlled. That's where my intuition for looking at these biological
machines from a physics context developed.

Robyn Williams: Does Radar exist now?

Anita Goel: We have a first generation version that's under product development and the later
generations are still under prototyping.

Robyn Williams: Will it be developed in America and India, because you talked about a 750-acre
plant near the Himalayas that you're going to be involved with.

Anita Goel: Sure, absolutely. Actually, the vision is to do it symbiotically. In the US we are
doing certainly the prototyping and a lot of the innovation of the basic thing. In India we plan to
do scaled-up manufacturing, some of the clinic testing for the local markets, and other advanced
R&D around the platform as you start to customise it to different diseases, for example, because in
principle it's a platform technology that can be used for any kind of bug or virus. Then that
information can be used to not only drive down the cost of production but also to tailor it to
local markets, to build an emerging market, to harness the local population, for example, in India,
but also you have a test bed ecosystem in which you can deploy a disruptive technology platform,
figure out how it would work in the healthcare system, bring it back to the developed world where,
for example, at Mass General the IT infrastructure is not as good as it could be because the
switching costs are too high.

Robyn Williams: What do you mean by switching costs?

Anita Goel: If I go to one of the best hospitals here in Boston today, one of the Harvard Medical
School hospitals, there is a lot of history and infrastructure that's already been existing for
many years. If there is a brand new technology such as our hand-held device...there are a lot of
pipelines of infrastructure and hospital administration that's already established along the old
technology, there are a bunch of jobs that depend on it, and then to completely disrupt that with a
new technology is sometimes threatening.

Robyn Williams: Switching to the new way of doing things, it's disruptive, as you say, totally
disruptive. Picture a village, and there are millions of them in Asia, how will this new technology
be used, do you imagine?

Anita Goel: Imagine in a village where there's a problem with sanitation, hygiene, there are kids
dying of infectious disease, high infant mortality, and there's a huge unmet need. There's no
hospital, there's no pathology lab in the village. There may be a social healthcare worker who
comes once a month to check if somebody has some nasty deadly disease and transports blood samples
back to some city facility that maybe in the scorching desert heat get damaged along the way or
they never get the information back. So imagine getting rid of all that overhead infrastructure and
just having a simple hand-held device that you could take with you to the village that a minimally
trained person who is not sophisticated in their training could use to get some feedback as to
whether they're infected with some nasty disease.

Robyn Williams: It's a portable laboratory.

Anita Goel: That's right.

Robyn Williams: And then they presumably take it to a doctor or some healthcare system and say
'this is what we've got'?

Anita Goel: It empowers people to have information about their own health, and then they can use
that information to seek out the right medications or the pharmaceutical therapies, but at least
when you have that information you can go and seek the therapy.

Robyn Williams: Where is this gigantic plant, 750 acres in India?

Anita Goel: Well, 500 acres are near this area called [Budhi 18:28] which they're dubbing the new
Bangalore in India, and 250 acres in the upper Himalayas, in a beautiful paradise-looking place
with mountains and lakes where we would like to establish a medical resort with the best of western
and eastern medicine with a focus on nanomedical application can be developed.

Robyn Williams: Is it slightly poignant for you, being from India yourself originally?

Anita Goel: My parents came from India, I was born and bred in the USA, but yes absolutely, I've
always lived in the juxtaposition of these two cultures, the US and India, and believe very
strongly that there is a tremendous synergy when we can harness talent from both the eastern and
western world. I think there's a tremendous amount of energy in these developing emerging economies
and there's a tremendous amount of expertise and wisdom in places like the US and a lot of focus on
innovation, at least traditionally. So if we can harness the best of both of these worlds we can
together build a better world.

Robyn Williams: Dr Anita Goel, the CEO of Nanobiosym, and her business cards says 'Where little
things make a big difference'. She's in Boston.

Nano technology in energy generation and use of resources

Chennupati Jagadish: Robyn, as you know, the energy is becoming really an important global issue,
and there are two issues one needs to really understand in terms of energy; one is the energy
generation where the nanotechnology plays a very important role, and the other area is the
efficiency at which we are using these energy resources. For example, solid state lighting, where
again we are using nanotechnology where we can make these solid state white lights which will be
more efficient than our incandescent lamps, thereby they will reduce power consumption, in turn
will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. Also more importantly these solid state lamps are
expected to last for about 20 to 25 years, indicating that you don't need to go and keep changing
the bulbs.

Robyn Williams: We've talked before about the potential of places in Asia leapfrogging the
smokestack economies of the 19th and even 20th centuries and going straight to this very, very
appropriate technology level. Is that happening already?

Chennupati Jagadish: There are some things happening, as you mentioned earlier, India, for
example...India never had very good telephone infrastructures and when the technology developments
are taking place and Indians haven't gone and then tried to put in large copper wire networks,
they've straight away gone to the mobile phones. An average Indian, when I go and see people and
they have got two or three mobile phones and even an autorickshaw driver is using his mobile phone
and then telling the customers at what time he will come and pick them up.

Robyn Williams: And presumably you're keeping in touch so you can share the potential of the
technology when you are working here at the ANU.

Chennupati Jagadish: Yes, and we do have very strong contacts with India and also at the moment we
have got the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund which is supported by the federal government,
and then it also tries to provide some research project funding to enhance for the links between
Australian researchers and the Indian researchers. You can imagine a person who is living in a tin
shed and may not have all the luxuries which we all have here, but at the same time this person
could potentially have a small solar panel made out of the nanotechnologies, and then use a white
light LED-based light source for lighting his or her own home without having to go and pay large
electricity bills for the corporate sector.

Robyn Williams: Let me just ask you a question that arose from a program on The Science Show a few
weeks ago involving Ray Kurzweil. Now he's an engineer, and he seemed to be saying something that
was almost outrageous, and that is when you apply nanotechnology to the solar cell of the future,
you could get the same sort of progress as you have in information technology where the multiplying
effect means that the sheer power of the technology goes up exponentially but the cost goes in the
opposite direction and becomes less and less. He was saying that in 20 years time, if it followed
that pattern, you could have even up to 100% of our needs being realised from solar technology. Do
you think that's an outrageous promise?

Chennupati Jagadish: It is probably a little bit of an optimistic prediction, but at the same time
the nanotechnology is making a significant impact in terms of the solar energy sector. Just to give
an example, whenever we used to talk about the silicon solar cells technology and we used to talk
about the pay-back time in terms of energy and then the cost of the silicon solar panels is
estimated to be something like 10 to 12 years or so. Of course these panels can last for 20 to 25
years, so that means still you're able to use these panels for a long time.

But recently we were discussing about the dye (sensitized) solar cells which have been discovered
by Michael Graetzel at Ecole Polytechnic in Lausanne, and he has been giving some numbers where he
is saying that these solar cells could potentially give a pay-back time of one year. Even I was
surprised that the pay-back time is so short. And then he told me that those numbers were not
generated by himself but these numbers were generated by a Dutch energy institute which
independently came up with the various solar cell technologies, what is the energy pay-back time
for each one.

Solar cells

Nicola Phillips: Australia is one of the hottest and driest nations in the world, perfect
conditions for skin cancer, drought and solar cells. There's certainly no shortage of skin cancer
and we have had our fair share of droughts, yet less than a tenth of 1% of households or businesses
use solar cells to generate power. In light of global warming you'd think we would be embracing
this renewable technology.

Let me describe a solar cell. Imagine a small disc made from silicon that looks a lot like a CD.
They work by capturing photons, energy-carrying particles from the Sun's rays. Photons release
electrons, and when you've got enough of them you've got electricity. The beauty of this technology
is that photons are free. No fuel or resource is consumed, no emissions are produced.

Not only does Australia have perfect conditions for solar technology, but it has also produced some
of the world's best photovoltaic engineers. Last year Zhengrong Shi, a former student at the
University of NSW became the richest man in China with his solar cell company Suntech. It is Shi's
former teacher Martin Green who currently holds the world record for the most efficient silicon
solar cells.

The most obvious advantage of solar power is its limited impact on the environment. While everyone
may not agree on the cause of global warming, the fact is the Earth is heating up. With climate
change being blamed on increased emissions of greenhouse gases, scientists are looking to renewable
energy sources to power our lives. At the moment in Australia you can receive an $8,000 rebate for
installing solar cells in your home or business. Another great bonus of these cells is their
25-year warranty. What else but a saucepan has that kind of guarantee?

A common idea about solar power is that your house will only have electricity while the sun is
shining. This simply isn't true. Any energy you don't use during the day is stored for use at night
or when the sky is overcast. But if, for argument's sake, it rained for a month, you'd still be
connected to the mains power grid for backup electricity. Professor Green, who has had solar cells
powering his house for the last seven years, says that while he's never been without electricity
since their installation, he certainly pays more attention to the weather report.

But what about the environment? All this talk of money makes you forget why we should install solar
cells in the first place. Besides the no-consumption, no-emissions advantage, one of the ingenious
features of solar cells is if you produce more electricity than you use the excess will go back
into the power grid to power someone else's home. You'll also get a credit on your next electricity
bill. Not only are you saving money but less electricity is being produced from burning coal. It's
a win-win situation.

So why haven't solar cells taken off in Australia? For one thing, most people know little to
nothing about them. Solar cells and the $8,000 rebate have had minimal publicity. But even if solar
cell technology were splashed over every available media outlet, there is only a limited pool of
money to reimburse those who take the plunge. Why is there no money? Part of the reason has been
the limited government support of this growing industry. Big companies have had little incentive to
invest in the technology.

Australia should look to countries like Germany for direction. Professor Green explains that their
rebate scheme isn't a one-off payment like Australia's but a continued payment per unit of
electricity, placed back into the power grid. Essentially you can continue to make money from your
solar system for the lifetime of the cells. According to Professor Green, for solar cells to have a
substantial impact in Australia's energy supply, the government needs to get behind it. Because our
former government's priority was with coal, one of our biggest exports, more focus was placed on
transforming coal into a clean energy source than investing in new, non-established renewable
energy systems.

However, times they are a changing and the federal government's announcement for plans to build
Australia's largest solar power station in South Australia is a step in the right direction,
because what would be better than a technology that is clean, green and infinitely renewable.

Robyn Williams: And increasingly nano. That was Nicky Phillips who graduates this month in science
at the University of NSW.

Regeneration of nerves

Robyn Williams: This is The Science Show where small is very big, like the nano work of Professor
Yanik at MIT. He's Turkish, by the way, putting a nano worm in a chip to operate.

I'm rather surprised by the fact that you, an electrical engineer, are working on the nervous
system of an animal, so you're doing biological work. How did that come to be?

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: That was a long-standing interest I had in biology. I didn't want to do biology
the usual way it is done because I thought there are enough people doing it, and I tried to bring
new technologies to solve some of the challenging questions.

Robyn Williams: These new technologies are really astonishing. I've just been to your lab and I've
seen the way that you have a kind of chip into which you put the nematode worm, these tiny, tiny
microscopic worms, which is difficult enough in the first place, but then you can use various
techniques to have a kind of glowing nervous system, you can actually see the nervous system
illuminated in a kind of bright green, you can see the wiring. And then you can use tiny pulses of
laser light in incredibly short bursts to cut the nervous system and then watch it regenerate.
That's an amazing process, getting it really down to the nano scale. Was it very difficult to
develop this technology?

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: To be able to manipulate the animals we developed microchip technologies. These
are used for the fabrication of the chips that we use in our computers but they are modified
versions of them, and to be able to cut individual nerve processes at such a high precision we
basically applied femtosecond laser pulses.

Robyn Williams: Femtosecond is unbelievably fast, isn't it. It's a zillion billionth of a second.

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: It's true, it's about 10-15 second.

Robyn Williams: And you can actually cut a chromosome, you're actually operating, doing surgery at
the molecular level.

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: With this technology we can cut individual nano scale connections that connect
individual neurons to each of them. For example, we can nick out synaptic junctions, we can nick
out axonal connections. These are connections that neurons use to communicate with each other, and
we can study various questions. We can, for example, ask the question how they regenerate after
such a physical injury, or we can ask the question how the nervous system works by basically taking
out pieces of a lego then you can start decrypting how it works.

Robyn Williams: And when the nematode worms' cut nervous system regenerates, does it do so in a
short time?

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: Yes, it is amazingly short, it's about in 12 hours, and that is very powerful
because with this technique we can study neural regeneration on a large scale very rapidly. The
reason it regenerates so fast is not because its biology is much different than ours but because
the distances they need to generate is a lot shorter than our neural system.

Robyn Williams: I see, and so it regenerates automatically, it rewires automatically, you don't
have to do anything.

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: We don't have to do anything, but the nice thing is it neither generates
perfectly or it doesn't generate at all, it's partial. So what we are trying to do now is trying to
understand whether we can enhance its regeneration or discover factors that inhibit its
regeneration.

Robyn Williams: I see, the big puzzle was that if you want to study regeneration in a nervous
system...and I see that you had a picture of Christopher Reeve, Superman, and the figures of the
number of people who...I think it's 400,000 people in the United States who are injured in this way
and they've got nervous systems which doesn't work, they're paraplegic or quadriplegic, but our
nervous systems are different. They're bigger, they're insulated with myelin, so you've got a
different kind, you've also got a bigger wire to look at. Do you think that what you find in the
nematode worm will be enough to give you clues about how our system works?

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: That's an excellent question. First of all, like you mentioned, C. elegans
doesn't have this myelin sheath, it has some sort of sheathing but it's not like the myelin that
our system has. But there are several questions that we haven't been able to discover in high
organisms. For example, we don't yet understand the full mechanism of intrinsic factors that
control neural regeneration, and we can study those questions very easily in C. elegans . The other
things that our lab is doing, we are also developing high-throughput screening technologies using
microchips again, by using human embryonic stem cell derived neurons. This way we are basically
able to transfer our findings in C. elegans and test them very rapidly on a human tissue very
quickly.

Robyn Williams: I must say, C. elegans is the good Latin name of the worm, isn't it?

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: Yes.

Robyn Williams: You've just published the paper in The Proceedings of the Academy of Science in
America, what's the next stage? Having done so much with the worm, how are you going to enhance
this work?

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: Our first publication was a demonstration of the technology. The next stages,
we are going to start performing very large scale screens. So we are going to basically turn off
every single gene one by one and ask how neural regeneration is affected by different genes. Then
we are also going to perform similar screens using drug libraries, for instance. With this
technology we will be able to for the first time on an animal we will be able to perform a screen
that involves hundreds of thousands or even millions of compounds very rapidly.

Robyn Williams: Just imagine a picture, because genetic systems, they're maps of fuses turning
things on an off...I should imagine that if you find ways in which you can turn on and off
particular genes that connect to the nervous system in this nematode worm and also understand the
chemical systems involved you could then look at other animals like us.

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: That's correct, that's exactly what we are going to do next. So, as you say,
once we discover something in C. elegans , which is actually an animal model, very rapidly then we
can test those candidates on this human tissue very quickly.

Robyn Williams: It's very exciting. Congratulations.

Mehmet Fatih Yanik: Thank you.

Robyn Williams: It really is incredible technology; nano surgery on a microscopic worm. Mehmet
Yanik is a professor of electrical engineering at MIT.

New smart materials

Richard Kaner: So we've developed a material basically by taking a transition metal and putting in
short covalent bonds, rhenium diboride, and it's quite hard...in fact it's sufficiently hard that
it scratches diamond. We were challenged on that recently and we used the modern tools of atomic
force microscopy to actually show the indentation as we came across it. So you can find that
actually in Science magazine, and about six months previously we had shown the original scratching
of diamond with this material. There are very few materials that do that.

Robyn Williams: When you don't want to scratch diamond, what would you use this ultra hard material
for?

Richard Kaner: We're hoping it can be used as scratch resistant coatings, ultra hard coating for
materials. It turns out that rhenium is a bit expensive, and so we either have to find another
material to substitute it or just use small amounts, as in coatings.

Robyn Williams: That's Rick Kaner at UCLA. Apart from the hard stuff, he makes intelligent
materials in a hook-up with Wollongong. Two kinds of marvellous stuff, including, would you
believe, artificial muscle.

Richard Kaner: That's right. I work on making new materials. So we both have an interest in
conducting polymers. These are plastics that conduct electricity. And we developed a very simple
way to make nano-fibres or nano-wires of these, and because of that they go into water, and one of
the problems with conducting polymers is they're not very useful because they don't disperse and
they don't melt. But we can put them in water, we can deposit them on substrates and then just with
an ordinary camera flash we can cause them to melt. By doing that we can melt the top surface but
not the bottom.

So imagine having a bottom surface that's nano-fibres, a top surface that's welded and then if you
put that in acid the bottom will pick up the acid and expand, the top cannot, so the object must
bend. So a three-centimetre length piece of film will rotate around itself twice, so 720 degrees,
and if you put it in base it unwinds. So imagine your hand closing and opening. So essentially what
we've done, we've made a mechanical actuator which is really an artificial muscle.

Robyn Williams: Fantastic. What do you use an artificial muscle for?

Richard Kaner: Hopefully in the future if people need limbs fixed up that this would be one way of
doing it, or things that respond to an electrical signal or an optical signal where you could
remotely control something. So there are a lot of actuators in use, but one would like to be able
to do this with plastics, because they're cheap.

Robyn Williams: And better than doing it with pulleys and levers and that sort of thing rather less
subtly.

Richard Kaner: That's the idea, to replace more expensive metals with cheaper plastics.

Robyn Williams: That was one example, what's the second?

Richard Kaner: The second is single-layer graphite known as graphene. So graphite is the stuff in
pencils that you can write with because the layers slide off. A couple of years ago it was
discovered that if you kept taking a piece of graphite with Scotch tape and pulling layers off that
eventually you're going to get to a single layer, and that single layer had very special electronic
properties. You can make transistors out of it. Except the trouble is imagine trying to scale up
these transistors using Scotch tape and peeling one after the other, it may take you days or weeks
to actually get a decent piece to make a transistor.

So we started working with the group in Australia on methods for scaling this up, and we actually
found a method where we can take graphite, large amount of it, we can intercalate different ions,
put them between the layers. We can then blow the layers apart in water, we can reduce the material
back to sheets of graphene. And one of my post docs, Dr Dan Li, has joined Gordon Wallace's group
and he's an expert in colloid science, basically particles dispersed in water.

Robyn Williams: A bit like milk.

Richard Kaner: Exactly, milk is a colloid between fat and water. So imagine that but now having
individual sheets of graphite. And so we've made these dispersions of graphite in water, we can put
them on any surface, and basically a paper describing this will come out in the next couple of
weeks in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Robyn Williams: And what can you see that being used for in 10, 20 years time?

Richard Kaner: I mentioned transistors, so the hope is that some day in the not too distant future
silicon chips are reaching the limit of how small they can get, and so if you could replace some of
the silicon based electronics with carbon based electronics they could shrink even further. So
that's the hope. But probably more realistic is these carbon could be put down as conducting pads,
conducting wires, and if they're thin and fairly transparent you can start thinking of using them
to help solar cells, because with solar cells you need a conducting material, and it would be nice,
instead of using metal wires, to use a carbon based film that was highly transparent. So these are
some of the applications we hope to see in 10 or 20 years.

Robyn Williams: That's carbon in the traditional sense. There's also another kind of carbon called
Bucky balls, you know, Buckminster Fullerene. Do you have anything to do with that stuff?

Richard Kaner: There's a superconducting form of Buckminster Fullerene if you put it in potassium,
and so the superconducting form was originally discovered at Bell Labs, but we had the ability to
make the first pure samples of that superconductor and characterise it. So the structure is
actually over in my office made up of soccer balls...

Robyn Williams: Oh I can see it up there, the yellow soccer balls one on top of each other.

Richard Kaner: I'll tell you a funny story. In order to make that structure, the unit cell has 14
soccer balls in it, and so I wanted to make a life-size model so when I'm teaching class I can show
the relationship of the balls and their ordering. So I went to the local toy store and I picked out
14 soccer balls and filled my shopping cart with it. While I was waiting in line to check out, the
person in front of me kept looking back and he said, 'I just have to ask you one question, are you
the coach of a Little League soccer team?' And I said, 'No, actually I'm doing a science project.'
But what I didn't tell him is that I was a university professor at a public university because I
figured he'd wonder what his tax dollars were going to pay for.

Robyn Williams: I can imagine. The potential there is amazing, but looking forward really, as
Gordon Wallace has often done, to a world that's somewhat different in ten-odd years time. If you
imagine intelligent materials, say, here in your office which can respond both to the chemicals
around and also the light, the pollution, who knows what, and adjust things, have you been thinking
in those bigger terms about what the home, what the city, what the world might be like in a few
years time once these intelligent materials and responsive materials are displayed all around?

Richard Kaner: I think the first applications of smart materials are really essentially passive
materials. If you think about your windows and if you embed particles in that as light shines on it
during the summer it will reflect the light and during the winter it will let it in, so during the
winter it will keep you warm and during the summer it will keep you cool. Those are the kinds of
things that are beginning to be done, and those are smart materials, in a sense. Even putting
fibres of conducting polymers or carbon into carpeting so one doesn't get a shock from the static
that builds up is an advance. But I think what people are hoping to see is that you'll have
materials that will tell you when they're fatiguing, you'll have materials that will tell you
they're in need of service, and so that's active response materials rather than a passive response.

Robyn Williams: Richard Kaner, a professor of chemistry at UCLA, who tells me Gordon Wallace in
Wollongong is now working on nano-connections for the bionic ear.

Surface chemistry

Erica Wanless: We usually take a dry, pristine surface, like some mica or some silica wafer, so
that's very smooth. With mica it would be atomically smooth, with silica wafer it's very, very
smooth, less than one nanometre roughness. Then depending on which instrument we're studying that
interface with we will immerse that surface in a solution where water is the solvent always, in our
case, and the solution also will contain surfactant molecules, where surfactants are like your
everyday detergent molecules.

Robyn Williams: I've got them in my lungs.

Erica Wanless: You have them in your lungs. In fact all of our cell membranes are made of lipids
which are the biological equivalent molecules, but they all have the same characteristic in that
they're driven to congregate at phase boundaries. So we expose the solution containing these
surfactant molecules to that surface and we use optical reflectometry, basically to count the
number of molecules that are sitting at the interface.

Robyn Williams: You can actually count molecules?

Erica Wanless: You get a concentration of molecules at the interface.

Robyn Williams: So you're making a package which is designed to perform a particular function.

Erica Wanless: Yes, we're looking to coat the surface with these polymeric surfactants in solution.
They have pockets of oil-loving core material surrounding by a much more water-loving...we call it
the corona. And what that means is that if you have also in the solution a molecule that would
rather be in an oil-containing environment, it would be driven to the core of these nanometre-sized
objects.

Robyn Williams: So you've got something in a little container hidden there and it's formed almost
like a pill.

Erica Wanless: Yes, it's partitioning of the oil-loving material into the core or encapsulated.
That oil-loving material could be something ultimately like a drug, it could be something
ultimately like a topical cosmetic for controlled release of moisturiser. Anything that really
doesn't like to be in water can be micro-partitioned into these little zones.

Robyn Williams: So you put it on and put it in and at a particular time you give the signal and
it's released.

Erica Wanless: Yes, so in our case the signal is usually a change in pH, not a very big change in
pH.

Robyn Williams: Acidity, alkalinity.

Erica Wanless: Yes, and the core can open up and release then those molecules that have been
entrained back into the solution.

Robyn Williams: Why do you want to smuggle them in like that? Why not just put the killer drug or
whatever it is where you want it?

Erica Wanless: In that whole zone of drug delivery, oftentimes, for example, the drug might be very
toxic, so if you can have it encapsulated until it gets to the site of interest then you can use a
lower dose, which is much better for the patient. It also can mean that it's released slowly rather
than getting a huge spike in concentration of that drug which isn't necessarily useful for the
treatment of that disease, and the same thing applies if we're not talking about drugs, if we're
talking about cosmetics or if you look at a lot of...there's a lot of capsules in shower gels or
conditioner to slowly release onto your hair some other material, it's really about delivery from
one place to the next in a controlled fashion.

Robyn Williams: Instead of a blunderbuss.

Erica Wanless: That's correct.

Robyn Williams: When will you have it on the market?

Erica Wanless: This has been quite fundamental studies that we've been working on, but I am talking
with, for example, paint companies. Modern paints are quite high technologies, and in order to have
water based paints that have got ultimately the right gloss and all of these things, you often have
coatings of this type.

Robyn Williams: Give me an idea, if you've got everything from paints to pharmaceuticals, it could
be this area of nano-chemistry, if I may call it such, is a really huge industrial potential.

Erica Wanless: Yes, I'm part of a very big field which is in surface and colloid science, and that
does range in everything from mineral processing, particularly in this country, through to
foodstuffs and cosmetics and drug delivery. So we're not about making new molecules, we're about
harnessing molecules that other people have synthesised and getting them to where they need to be.
If it's in, say, the food industry, making products that have got longer shelf lives. So you don't,
for example, want the fats in your milk to separate, you don't want the solid particles in your soy
milk to separate, you don't want your mayonnaise to separate, and it's the same sort of technology
that we're using here to control interfacial energy.

Robyn Williams: A few weeks ago I had a physical chemist from Friends of the Earth in Europe
warning against nano-particles that seem to be part of the package these days and which might not
be as benign as some people hoped. Have you been looking at that?

Erica Wanless: No, I haven't been. I'm aware of those arguments and, like with any technology, you
have to have all your checks and balances in place, but a lot of the things I'm talking about, it's
nothing new. We're not making nano-particles, we're just possibly controlling how stable they are
in a dispersion. So while, say, the drug industry is going to have very careful checks and balances
through to clinical trials, we need to do that with a whole range of products.

The reason the argument is there is that materials on the nano scale are not necessarily the same
as their bulk parent material, so the reason for that is that very small particles have got a very
high surface area to volume ratio. That means there are many more surface atoms than bulk atoms,
and those surface atoms have got strains in their bonds which mean they're at higher energy. And so
when you get more of those in the population of atoms, even if it's something that might normally
be a rock that's very benign that's sitting out there in nature, if it's in very tiny particles you
have to understand its physical chemistry and surface chemistry to know how it will behave because
it is a slightly different material.

Robyn Williams: Erica Wanless is a professor of chemistry at the University of Newcastle, making
chemical packages at the nano scale.

Calicivirus delivers vaccines in humans

Sarah Young: The virus infects rabbits, that's the natural host, and it causes a haemorrhagic
disease. So basically they bleed out of orifices and they die very quickly. But we are using it in
our own research in humans, and humans aren't a natural host of calicivirus so it doesn't cause a
productive infection in humans but we can use it as a vehicle to introduce different antigens for
infectious diseases and tumours into the human host.

Robyn Williams: I don't look like a rabbit but mammals are pretty much the same. I'm rather
surprised that you can tell me that a calicivirus, which you use as a sort of Trojan horse to get
another kind of vaccine into my body, won't affect me in any way. How do you know?

Sarah Young: We've tried it in cells. So it doesn't cause an active infection and cause killing or
lysis of cells in a culture. It doesn't do that with human cells, and that's the way we know. And
we also know obviously the farmers that released them in Otago in New Zealand here, none of them
got a productive infection or got any sign of disease and they were introducing huge virus titres
into the environment.

Robyn Williams: And of course what you need to do is get the vaccine to the right place in the
human body, and I've heard of some people who've used even a denatured AIDS virus.

Sarah Young: Yes, people are using attenuated viruses, so denatured or heat-killed viruses. So
they're viruses and they're used in routine...for example, the influenza vaccine. Denatured viruses
are used a lot in vaccines, so they can't infect a cell but they can provide all the proteins that
you might make an immune response to.

Robyn Williams: And they can get in.

Sarah Young: They can get into your body when you inject through a needle. However, it's your
phagocytic cells, certain cells that will pick it up and eat them, and that's how they get into the
cells.

Robyn Williams: What would happen if you just squirted the vaccine in without that carrier?

Sarah Young: We've tried this with the virus-like particle. We have a project looking at
transcutaneous vaccination and also vaccination across the mucosa, so up the nose for example, and
we know that we need some sort of adjuvant to help it get across that layer of skin or the mucous
membrane.

Robyn Williams: And what sort of vaccines are you taking into people?

Sarah Young: The main thrust of our research a the moment is to use these virus-like particles as
carriers for tumour proteins, and we're trying to make tumour therapies and also vaccines against
tumours, so to prevent tumours. So we've got those in pre-clinical trials at the moment where we're
using them in vitro cultures, but the idea is that we'll use them eventually in humans. So we'll
initially make tailor-made vaccines. So I've got a collaboration with my old work in the UK, Cancer
Research UK, where a patient will come in, we'll [recept] out the tumour, we'll load those tumour
antigens onto the VLP and then we'll use that to reinject back into the patient to try and tickle
their immune system along and generate a strong immune response to that particular tumour that
they've got.

Robyn Williams: And by their extract of tumour they'll kill the tumour themselves in the end.

Sarah Young: Yes, that's exactly right. So we're trying to make the immune response seem like an
infectious disease, so normally you get quite tolerised to your own tumour, and tumours have ways
of dampening down the immune response. So you need something to really kick the immune response
into gear, and this is the way that we do that.

Robyn Williams: Is it working?

Sarah Young: We haven't tried in vivo yet, but it's certainly looking good in the animal models
that we've got of tumours. We've got it working very nicely in a melanoma model, and we are trying
it in some colorectal models as well, but we've just got another lot of research money to do
exactly that. So basically if you were to ask me this question in another two years time, I might
be able to answer it.

Robyn Williams: That's a date! Dr Sarah Young is a microbiologist at the University of Otago in New
Zealand.