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New wave technology a potential major source of energy

New wave technology a potential major source of energy

The CETO process consists of hundreds of underwater buoys, each attached to a pump. Movement of the
buoys sends pressurised water to shore for use in generators or desalination plants. Tim Sawyer
estimates 35% of Australia's energy needs is practically and economically extractable now.


Robyn Williams: First stop the west, Fremantle, where the Carnegie Corporation launched its new
wave energy plant last Monday. The technology promises to provide a huge proportion of our needs in
the most unobtrusive fashion. Let's join oceanographer Tim Sawyer.

Let's just describe the devices, because I always thought with wave power you had something on the
surface, like duckies bobbing up and down. What you've got are buoys underwater. Could you describe

Tim Sawyer: Essentially it's a buoy that's about one to two metres underwater which is then
attached via a flexible tether to a positive displacement pump, essentially like an inverted bike
pump really. As the buoy moves around with the inertia of the waves, so with the water particles it
follows that elliptical motion. On the upstroke, as the buoy is going up, it pulls the flexible
tether, drives the pump and pressurises sea water to shore for subsequent power generation and/or
reverse osmosis.

Robyn Williams: And do you have some actual buoys in the water here off Fremantle?

Tim Sawyer: There's two at the moment, marked with special markers. They're instrumented up to
measure pressure and flow, and then that's compared against the wave rider buoy which is also in
our lease area so we can work out how much energy we're extracting, improve the design. The
president site is only eight metres, so it's very shallow, you get a 3.5-metre swell but which
creates a lot of energy in that environment. It's not ideal for us but it's good for survivability
as well.

Robyn Williams: And to demonstrate. Would there be anything above the water that you look at when
they're all installed?

Tim Sawyer: On the devices themselves there'll be nothing above the water, but as far as maritime
safety concern then the lease area will no doubt be marked by lighting and marks so that people
know it's there and that it's a potential hazard.

Robyn Williams: What about the power itself from the waves? Obviously the southern hemisphere has
got a special endowment because you've got nothing in the way of great big blocks of land impeding
the southern currents, so off W.A. you'll have a huge amount, won't you.

Tim Sawyer: There's a large amount...a lot of the storms come through the Southern Ocean from the
south-west into W.A. hitting the coast. Where we're standing now in Fremantle, it's obviously
protected by Rottnest Island, so people have an impression that this is the wave energy, whereas if
you could just go to the other side of Rottnest Island it's quite a different proposition. Rottnest
Island I think is very rarely recorded below one metre, even on the calmest of days when there
looks like there's no swell.

Robyn Williams: One metre bobbing up and down, and that's good for you, is it?

Tim Sawyer: That's where we generate from, one to four metres, and that's significant wave height
as well which is the top third of the highest waves.

Robyn Williams: Do you have sufficient power around the coast of Australia?

Tim Sawyer: In terms of wave energy there's a large resource. There's 171,000 megawatts is the
theoretical wave energy, that is all the way round the southern coastline of Australia. Of that we
believe 10% is economically and practically accessible. So we're talking around 17,000 megawatts or
17 gigawatts.

Robyn Williams: What about the project demonstration in Albany, what's there?

Tim Sawyer: Albany has got a fantastic resource, it's a very open, exposed location. It's always
above one metre, it's never gone below, it's frequently above two, three, four metres, so it's
large wave energy.

Robyn Williams: 100% generation, in other words.

Tim Sawyer: 100% availability of resource, and then from that we'll extract a proportion, and of
that proportion we'll lose a certain amount of energy efficiency. But we should be generating nigh
on 100% of the time.

Robyn Williams: Okay, so, project; if you've got this sort of system, the buoys around Australia
installed, what percentage could you provide of our needs, our energy needs, in the future?

Tim Sawyer: Of the current energy consumption in Australia we estimate 35% is practically and
economically extractable now and I say that because there are certain sites around Australia which
just aren't accessible, there's no towns nearby, there's no grid infrastructure. So if we just take
into account where the existing grid is around W.A. along the south coast, it's where we can
practically deploy, get the power back to shore, with minimal environmental impact as well. So,
around 35%.

Robyn Williams: So a third of our needs, that's a pretty impressive claim. Going back to the
technology, what you're doing essentially is producing high pressure water which comes ashore from
your buoys, turns a turbine, may actually get some sort of desalination going as well, and it's as
simple as that.

Tim Sawyer: That's the idea. The idea is to keep everything in the water, simple, no electronics,
no external moving parts, rotating blades or anything similar, keep it with standard materials and
then bring sea water to shore. So we've got no lubricants, sea water is the lubricant. Sea water is
also the energy fluid, if you like, that we're using to drive the power.

Robyn Williams: And once it's come aboard, turn the turbine, and it's out to sea again.

Tim Sawyer: That's right, the same sea water is put straight back out to sea, nothing is added to
it, nothing is taken away. In fact we're also working on a closed loop system as well.

Robyn Williams: There's all those buoys, you've got the pilot plant more or less set up, when's it
going to happen?

Tim Sawyer: We will have the first full-scale test device off Rottnest or Garden Island next year,
that's what we're working on now, and then following on from there very quickly by 2011 we'll be
generating power in our first five-megawatt demonstration plant.

Robyn Williams: And the interest from the politicians?

Tim Sawyer: It's been very high and increasing constantly. We've a lot of support in terms of the
facility we've put down at Fremantle, a lot of support from the Albany City Council in terms of the
land lease, D.P.I. obviously have gone to our licence area as well so we can have a look at the
resource. So it looks promising and I think Australia is also getting more encouraged by
renewables, deploying more as we speak.

Robyn Williams: And those buoys themselves, as they're lying there, can they last for a long time?

Tim Sawyer: We're working on 20 to 30 years lifetime. One of the issues is storm survivability, and
what we're looking to do is make sure that they cope themselves, they need no human interaction.
Operation maintenance is a big issue for us, making them survive those types of storms, those seas
that we might see.

Robyn Williams: And the cost of manufacture, is it fairly straightforward?

Tim Sawyer: It is at the moment. They'll be high to start with as a first demonstration, but as we
increase the amount that we're producing, as we deploy more projects, those costs will come down
and we expect them to be cost competitive with wind, is the hope.

Robyn Williams: Wind?

Tim Sawyer: Current offshore low penetration wind is where we're aiming for, so that sort of price
to make them competitive around the world.

Robyn Williams: And what about similar sorts of technology elsewhere? Anything like it in other
parts of the world?

Tim Sawyer: There are a number of wave energy devices under development. The vast majority are on
the surface. Of those, most of them generate electricity at sea, which is one way of doing it. Our
take on it is that having electronics and rotating parts, that sort of stuff, at sea in that
environment is a complication, is an added factor to consider for operation and maintenance. So we
keep it very simple below the surface, reduce our operation and maintenance and reduce our overall

Robyn Williams: Brilliant, thank you.

I might introduce myself, Robyn Williams from The Science Show, and you're the federal member for

Melissa Parke: Yes, Melissa Parke.

Robyn Williams: And you sir, the mayor?

Peter Tagliaferri: Peter Tagliaferri, mayor of the city of Fremantle.

Robyn Williams: And you'd both know very well whether this has become a famous technology around

Melissa Parke: I am at least, and I know that many of my colleagues are. In fact I referred to this
wave power technology in my first speech to the federal parliament in February this year, and this
is about my sixth visit to the site. I brought the federal Labour caucus infrastructure committee
here to visit, and Penny Wong was just here a few weeks ago. All of them have come away extremely
impressed with the clean simplicity of the technology, with the minimal impact upon the marine
environment and the negligible noise and visual impacts, and of course with the fantastic potential
of this wave power project to provide zero emission base load power.

Robyn Williams: 35% of our needs potentially, that sounds extraordinary.

Melissa Parke: Yes, it is extraordinary, and I'm certainly very happy to continue to provide
support in any way I can for this project.

Robyn Williams: Given those things, one would have thought the Prime Minister and various other
people in parliament would think this then is a good reason for going for rather more adventuresome
levels of commitment to reducing carbon. Is that likely?

Melissa Parke: I think the government has indicated very strong interest and commitment to
developing renewable energy sources, whether it's geothermal or solar or wind, and I think that now
wave power definitely has to be figured into the mix.

Robyn Williams: Peter, are the local people here in Perth and in Fremantle behind this?

Peter Tagliaferri: In Fremantle in particular, and as you can hear from the federal member, she's
very, very supportive, used it in her maiden speech, and also our new senator used it in his maiden
speech two weeks ago. This technology is obviously cutting edge, 35% of our energy use across the
country could be accommodated with this used up and down the coastline, and it's up to a major
policy shift from government to capture it.

Robyn Williams: Thank you very much.

The mayor of Fremantle Peter Tagliaferri, with federal member Melissa Parke, at the Carnegie wave
power facility, opened this week. Before them you heard Tim Sawyer, oceanographer and site
development manager. There's a big spread on all that in this month's first Australian edition of
Popular Science magazine.

Ketone bodies - an important new fuel source for the human body

Ketone bodies - a new food on the way

Kieran Clarke is working on a new fuel source for the human body, ketone bodies. These chemical are
present in our bodies already, made by the liver from fat when glucose is in short supply. But
until now they have not been considered a food. When properly prepared, it is chewed and provides
energy for athletes as well as fuel for brain function, even helping, it is hoped, Alzheimer's and
Parkinson's disease patients.


Robyn Williams: Now let me bring you energy from a novel kind of food that will enable you to run
30% further and run your brain efficiently, though you're starving. It's a food of such interest to
the American defence department they've actually put millions of dollars into the project, run by
Australian Kieran Clarke at Oxford. The new food has the unappetising name Ketone Bodies. Professor

Kieran Clarke: The other one is actually found naturally in the body and it's ketone bodies. And
ketone bodies are produced when you're not eating, so when you're starving or when you're on the
Atkins diet you just produce them normally from fat. So the liver makes them from fat and produces
them because you need some sort of substrate for the brain to think. The brain usually uses glucose
but you can run out of glucose really quickly if you're not eating anything, and so this is the way
the body has to keep the brain going. So we've developed this diet that is based on ketone bodies.
Ketone bodies are actually the most efficient fuel you could have.

Robyn Williams: Ketones are obviously something that you learn about in chemistry, but they're also
something that when I am doing a measurement of whether a cat or a human being has got diabetes,
you measure for ketones. Is that the same sort of thing?

Kieran Clarke: That's the same sort of thing but you don't need them nearly as high when you eat
this diet. If you become ketotic, they can be 10 to 20 millimolar in the blood, and we're aiming
for about one millimolar. We've used it in rats quite often.

Robyn Williams: Okay, so you actually have this as part of a diet. You get this chemical, or is it
a food that you can chew and enjoy?

Kieran Clarke: It's a food that you can chew, but whether you enjoy it or not is another thing,
they don't taste too good at the moment, so we're working on that. We can mask the taste.

Robyn Williams: And where do you get it? Do you get it down the shop?

Kieran Clarke: Hopefully in the end we will have it in the shops but at the moment we are actually
producing it. We've got a food manufacturer making it for us.

Robyn Williams: How did this story start in the process of research?

Kieran Clarke: We'd been studying ketone bodies for years and looking at the effect on heart
function and things like that, and then the US army put out a call for a way to send what they call
war fighters into a battlefield without giving them anything to eat for five days and they wanted
them to maintain cognitive function. We said, well, you can't actually do that, it's not possible,
but we can invent a food for you to give them that will make them far more efficient than they
normally are and will help them to think better. And so they gave us money to produce this.

Robyn Williams: Is it a general food that is good for you for energy and other activities that you

Kieran Clarke: Yes. What they wanted was a maintenance of physical function, and so we did that.
The ketone bodies are actually used by all the organs in the body except for the liver itself.
They're used by skeletal muscle, by the heart, by the brain, by every organ in the body.

Robyn Williams: Okay, so this is research. What's going to happen next? Apart from people in
desperate circumstances in the army, who's going to use this?

Kieran Clarke: We're actually hoping in the end, even though we can't make claims for it because
then you have to do huge trials, but we're hoping that we will able to use this for treatment of
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease as well as for runners.

Robyn Williams: This is a bit of a jump. Let's start with the Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. How will
that help them, this particular diet?

Kieran Clarke: Well, we believe that these diseases are metabolic diseases and that by providing an
alternative form of energy for the brain that circumvents their metabolic defect, then you may be
able to rescue the brain.

Robyn Williams: So you haven't done the tests on mice or rats yet?

Kieran Clarke: No, we haven't, but we do know that people with Parkinson's disease, when they're
given a ketogenic diet, which is very high fat diet without any carbohydrate, they actually do
improve, just the same as the ketogenic diet has been used for people with epilepsy for hundreds of
years. So we know that it does work in certain types of people.

Robyn Williams: It's sounding a little bit like one of these miracle diets that are going to lead
to all sorts of consequences. Who would want it, and who should be cautious about taking it too

Kieran Clarke: I imagine runners or athletes of some sort would want to try it. Indeed, maybe
people with mild cognitive impairment would try it, and certainly people with children who have
epileptic fits would want to try it I think. People should be able to dose themselves. You can
measure ketones in the urine just with ketone sticks.

Robyn Williams: Can you eat too much?

Kieran Clarke: I have no idea. So we've tried it but we haven't eaten it as a diet because we're
still waiting to do the first studies.

Robyn Williams: And what does it taste like?

Kieran Clarke: It's tastes terrible, really terrible.

Robyn Williams: You're not encouraging me now!

Kieran Clarke: No, we can mask the taste and we've worked out how to do that, but that took ages to
do. We also had to work out which form of the ketone that we wanted to make was the best form and
that tastes the best. But it still tastes terrible, it's awful stuff.

Robyn Williams: Oh dear, I won't rush to it myself. From your accent clearly you come from
Australia. Have your colleagues in Australia got any enthusiasm for this line of research as well?

Kieran Clarke: I doubt whether they actually know about it.

Robyn Williams: So what's going to happen next if we watch this space?

Kieran Clarke: Well, we're going to try it in humans, just to see dosages and the pharmacokinetics
of the actual ketone itself, and then we're going to try it in athletes in Oxford and see whether
it works in the athletes.

Robyn Williams: What will it make them do, run faster?

Kieran Clarke: We're hoping so, we're hoping it will make them run further. It certainly makes rats
run further. Rats run 30% further than rats on a high carbohydrate or a high fat diet.

Robyn Williams: What makes them run? To get away from the diet?

Kieran Clarke: Yes, you would think so. In fact in the end they eat it. Rats don't like a change of
diet very much and so it doesn't matter what you do, they won't eat it for the first few days and
then they do eat it. So they will eat it, and I think that humans will eat it as well.

Robyn Williams: So I can expect it to be banned for the London Olympics, can I?

Kieran Clarke: Oh I hope not, I hope everybody will be using it.

Robyn Williams: You genuinely hope other people will be using it?

Kieran Clarke: Oh yes.

Robyn Williams: Why?

Kieran Clarke: Because I think it will be good. Not only does it do this, it makes you also feel
like you don't want to eat, so it's going to be good for obesity as well, I think. You feel full
when you eat it.

Robyn Williams: A diet the US army are so keen about they've given Oxford $12 million to look into
its effects. Kieran Clarke is a professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford. Ketone bodies;
cure your brain, get slim, run further and last longer in the battle field, all in one. Seriously.
Something perhaps for our new Chief Scientist to look into.

Penny Sackett appointed Australia's Chief Scientist

Penny Sackett appointed Australia's Chief Scientist

Penny Sackett discusses her background and how she found it easy to pursue a path in science. An
excerpt from an earlier appearance on The Science Show.


Robyn Williams: Astronomer Penny Sackett has just replaced Jim Peacock as the nation's top boffin.
She's done great work in Canberra, not least in rebuilding Mt Stromlo after the terrible fires of
four years ago. We'll let her introduce herself.

Penny Sackett: Hello, my name is Penny Sackett, and I'm now an astronomer. Before that I probably
would have called myself someone who was interested in science generally, and before that I was
just a child who was interested in everything, and it's my view actually that all children are
natural scientists because they're curious and they want to know why. And they will not stop asking
the question until they understand why, and that's really I believe what a scientist is; someone
who is willing to use whatever tools are available, whether they be observation, mathematics,
literature studies, whatever is required to understand why.

I would say that I started thinking about why then at a very young age. I had the advantage of
parents who were not afraid of numbers. My mother was an accountant and my father repaired business
machines, things that we now call computers. And so because of that they viewed mathematics as
simply one of the languages that you can use to describe things, which I think was an advantage to
me in my youth. When I was in high school I had a teacher in physics who really changed my life and
it was at that point that I decided to spend less time on biology, which had been my previous love,
despite the fact that my father told me that physics was about the study of levers and pulleys,
which should have frightened me off. And then I went into college to study more physics still, not
even knowing at that moment what a physicist did, having no idea, only knowing that I loved

And physics is a wonderful study on which you can base further effort in science in many
disciplines, and the one that I've eventually found my way through in a very circuitous path is
astronomy and I'm very happy to be here indeed. And at this moment I have the pleasure of being the
director of one of the greatest research schools in the world in astronomy and astrophysics and
that's the Research School at ANU on Mount Stromlo.

Robyn Williams: Penny Sackett on The Science Show a little while ago. And our new Chief Scientist
on why youngsters should think of doing science these days, because it's stimulating and because we
need folk who can think scientifically.

Penny Sackett: I think two reasons come immediately to mind. One I would say is because it is...I
was going to say fun...fulfilling maybe is the word I would really want to use, it's fulfilling. So
if I use an example from my own discipline, why should it be that one human being on this small
planet could imagine, and occasionally even get right, how something works on the other side of the
universe? Why is it that the other side of the universe even obeys the same rules of physics and
science as we have here on Earth? When you think about it that's already an amazing statement. And
the second amazing statement is that somebody that's in school right now will discover even
something more amazing about the universe than we now know. So I think that's one reason.

And the second reason is the world needs you. I think that as we can see in our daily lives year
after year that more and more we rely on people that can give reasonable, considered answers, that
are curious and that can help us solve some of the challenges that we will have as a society going
forward. So it's fulfilling, you have a chance to do something that very few others will have done
up to that point and the world needs you.

Robyn Williams: Professor Penny Sackett, Australia's new Chief Scientist, and something tells me
it's going to be a lively ride. The word needs you.

Daylight saving and energy use

Daylight saving and energy use

Does daylight saving mean less energy is used by a community? Or more? Nicky Phillips reports.


Robyn Williams: Do we need daylight saving? It starts in most places around the country this
weekend and it's nice having longer evenings and not being woken up by the dawn at 5am, but does it
really save energy? Nicky Phillips reports.

Nicky Phillips: The original idea behind daylight saving was to conserve energy. It was first
introduced during WWI to save fuel. Many countries adopted the practice; The US, Australia and in
Europe. But after the war, clocks returned to standard time. The same thing happened during WWII.
It was in the middle of a drought in 1967 that Tasmania became the first state in Australia to
introduce daylight saving to save power. They believed it would save water too. Daylight saving was
so popular in Tasmania that the rest of the country, except WA and NT, followed with a trial
period. In 1972, NSW, SA, the ACT and Victoria made daylight saving permanent.

But recently questions have been raised about daylight saving. Does it really save energy? Last
year a paper published by two American economists, Ryan Kellogg and Hendrick Wolff, reviewed energy
consumption in Victoria and SA during the Sydney Olympics. During that time Victoria extended its
daylight saving hours by two months, while SA did not. So was energy saved in Victoria during those
extra months? Apparently not. Even after correcting for changes in behaviour and weather, the study
found that energy consumption increased.

Since the report by Kellogg and Wolff, several other studies have measured energy consumption,
comparing standard and daylight saving time. They too have found a nonexistent or negligible
difference as the clock changes. Several studies have found that energy use actually increases
during daylight saving. The obvious savings from evening lighting are being offset with morning
lights and air conditioning. Despite this evidence, in 2007 as part of its energy policy, many US
states began to trial an additional month of daylight saving. Many believed this would conserve
more energy. It was even predicted that by 2020 America will have saved $329 million on energy
because of daylight saving.

A report by the US Department of Energy, due out in the next week or so, will determine whether or
not the daylight saving extension has actually saved energy. Here in Australia NSW, the ACT,
Victoria and SA also decided to trial an extension of daylight saving. The main reasons for the
trial weren't to conserve energy but to increase leisure time and align the east coast states. The
trouble is, Queensland still won't join in. On the upside, people in the south will have an extra
hour for outdoor activities in the evening.

Last year was also the year Western Australia decided to give daylight saving a go with a
three-year trial. Their reasons for switching to daylight saving, despite three referenda deciding
against it, are both to conserve energy and reduce the time difference with the east.

The effects of the US Department of Energy study, due out shortly, will be significant whatever the
outcome. It could further fuel the growing number of studies that show daylight saving does
anything but conserve energy and lead to a re-evaluation for using daylight saving at all, or it
could be exactly what daylight saving supporters are looking for; proof that it does really save
energy and that the one-month extension should become permanent. We'll keep you posted.

New ideas about circadian rhythms

New ideas about circadian rhythms

A mouse was engineered without the photo receptors, rods or cones in the eye. But it could still
use its eyes to regulate its circadian physiology. This suggests there is something else in the eye
regulating the body clock and that a whole class of receptor had been missed! It turns out to be
the ganglian cells, where 1% are light sensitive. They send messages about daylight cycles to the
brain's super clock.


Robyn Williams: Does daylight saving affect your body clock? Not very likely with just one hour
difference. But if I now go to Oxford it's nine hours or even more, so I need to adjust by exposing
my eyes to the daylight sun. The signal then gets transmitted to the brain and the clock is reset,
eventually. But here's the big question; what is it in the eyes that responds, and what happens if
you're blind? Here's Russell Foster, who does eye research both in Oxford and Western Australia,
with stunning results.

Russell Foster: We got interested in mice with hereditary retinal disorders some decade ago, and
what was extraordinary about these animals with a single gene defect is that they could lose all
their rod photoreceptors, their dim light vision, and yet their ability to regulate their circadian
system seemed completely unaffected. So we thought it must be the residual cones, the colour vision
cells, that were regulating the clock. So we then engineered a mouse by combining the naturally
occurring retinal mutation where the rods were gone or the transgenic animal where all the cones
were gone. And to our intense pleasure and real surprise is that these animals were still able to
regulate their circadian physiology using their eyes to the light-dark cycle. So there was
something else in the eye that was picking up the dawn-dusk cycle and regulating the body clock.

Robyn Williams: This is amazing. If you've got the main two collectors, as you said, knocked out,
how is the light sensitive reaction coming to be and how is it connecting to the body so that the
24-hour cycle is maintained?

Russell Foster: That's what is so extraordinary, and when we first presented the idea that there
could be something else in the eye, I think our retinal colleagues were absolutely mortified. You
can appreciate their concern; we've been studying the eye sensibly for 150 years and there we were
saying, 'Actually guys, we've missed a whole class of receptor.' What this receptor turns out to be
is a group of ganglion cells. These are the cells in the eye that send their projections into the
brain and form the optic nerve. Now, 1% of these ganglion cells are directly light sensitive and
project to the master clock in the brain which is called the suprachiasmatic nuclei.

Robyn Williams: So that is the main thing that responds when I arrive in Britain off my jet, that's
the one that's been scrambled and that has to adjust in about three days. By they way however, is
it not the case that these days people are saying that every cell of the body is somehow regulated
to the cycle?

Russell Foster: That's, again, so fascinating because we used to think that the S.C.N. was the
clock of the body dictating 24-hour rhythmicity to every cell in the body. Our understanding has
changed fundamentally I suppose in the past five or six years with the discovery that every cell in
the body has the capacity to generate a circadian rhythm. So what this clock is rather like is the
conductor of an orchestra producing a regular temporal beat from which all of the component parts
of the orchestra, the cells of the body, take their cue and align their physiology accordingly. If
you shoot the conductor, destroy the S.C.N. or the rhythmic components of the orchestra start to
drift apart and so you've got a cacophony rather than a symphony. So I think that's the way that
the circadian system is organised.

Robyn Williams: So much for the mouse. Any people like that?

Russell Foster: Oh yes, we were very fortunate to work with a glorious lady who we'll have to call
S.C. she was a fantastic individual and she was extremely kind and generous with her time, and she
was born with a condition whereby all of her rods and cones had degenerated so she had absolutely
no image detection vision whatsoever. She was picked up by one of my clinical colleagues and he
mentioned this. So we then said, well, does she have any ability to regulate her body clock to the
light-dark cycle? And he said he's never asked her. We studied this in some detail, and of course
she was beautifully aligned. She could regulate her clock to the light-dark cycle perfectly well.
So the broad principles that we discovered in a mouse seemed to be absolutely duplicated in a

Robyn Williams: What about blind people in general who can't see at all? How are they affected?

Russell Foster: It very much depends on the nature of the blindness. If you have no eyes, they've
been lost in an accident or, for example, they've been damaged in some other way, a tumour for
example, then you have no ability to lock your body clock onto the light-dark cycle, and that's an
extremely important point because these receptors that we're talking about are only within the eye,
no other structure in the brain, unlike birds for example, which have photoreceptors in the pineal,
mammals don't, not even marsupials, and we've looked at that.

So it depends very much on the nature of the blindness. If you have no eyes then you've lost any
ability to regulate the body clock with light. If you have a disease whereby the rods or the cones,
dim light vision and colour vision, has been affected, chances are you'll probably find you can
regulate your body clock by light. If you have a condition like glaucoma where the ganglion cells
are damaged because of raised pressure within the eye, then of course it's the ganglion cells, it's
1% of light sensitive ganglion cells that are required to regulate the clock. So then your ability
to regulate your body clock will be affected. So very much depends upon the disease.

But what's very interesting is that until recently the advice of ophthalmologists has never really
taken this into account. So your ophthalmologist may explain what it would be like to go blind and
not be able to see. But let's say in glaucoma, you'll also have the chance of losing the ability to
regulate your body clock, and then you not only can't see but you have unremitting jetlag for the
rest of your life, you're drifting through time. Clinical guidelines need to take these sorts of
things into account.

Robyn Williams: So people who don't have a body clock that's working on a regular basis, you say
they've got continuing jet lag. But is there really a major health problem for people like that?

Russell Foster: We're beginning to appreciate the impact of disrupting the circadian system and
simply driving physiology outside of its normal range, and a classic example would be shift work.
About 20% of the working population are involved in some form of shift work, and increasingly of
course in Western Australia with the 24-hour mining, very large group of workers are involved in
shift work. Even after 20 years of working on the night shift, your body clock does not shift to
the demands of working at night. You're locked on to the light-dark cycle like everybody else. You
can take a night shift worker, hide them from light during the day and they will actually shift,
but most people don't want to hide from light during the day.

So they're essentially driving against internal physiology. To override the effects of the clock
saying 'go to sleep' you're going to activate the stress axis. Continual activation of the stress
axis has been associated with a whole range of pathologies. It's quite interesting. Cardiovascular
disease is higher in night shift workers, cancer is high in night shift workers, and we think the
link there is because of course if you're stressed you've got high cortisol, we know that cortisol
will suppress the immune system, and of course if you're immune suppressed you're more vulnerable
to diseases, even like cancer. So yes, there are real consequences of working against internal

Robyn Williams: Now you've found it's the ganglion part that's sensitive, what next as a result?

Russell Foster: One of the big questions we're addressing at the moment is we know these ganglions
are light sensitive and we even know that melanopsin seems to be the pigment, but how does
melanopsin actually convert light energy into an electrical response that then travels down the
axon of the cell and regulates the body clock? We've got some cunning ways of teasing apart the
signalling pathway, and we had some success last year identifying a new protein which we knew
existed in the eye but nobody knew what it was doing. Again, using transgenic technology you can
turn that gene off, look at the impact of its ability to regulate the clock, and we found that when
you turn that gene off, the ability to regulate the clock by light has gone completely.

Robyn Williams: How are you applying some of these new ideas, from Brasenose College in Oxford
where we're sitting, to Western Australia?

Russell Foster: I'm absolutely delighted to be a visiting scientist at UWA, and we've been doing a
range of different projects. First of all, how do the marsupials detect light and regulate their
body clocks, and there's been some great progress there with Julia Shand and Lyn Beazley and we had
a paper published on that last year. But also we're interested in applying the basic understanding
of circadian biology to a whole range of areas. We talked about shift work. With all the mining
going on in and around Western Australia we're trying to develop better guidelines for the mining
industry and how they should be regulating their shiftwork schedule. So, for example, we know that
the digestive tract doesn't work very well at night, so what are we going to give our workers in
the middle of the night shift. Well, food that is going to be much easier to process by the gut.

Robyn Williams: I see, so the gut has it's own circadian rhythm. Of course the gut is just about
the last thing to catch up after you've landed, maybe three or four days later.

Russell Foster: Yes, and of course gut disturbance is very common in night shift workers. Classic
studies have been done on taxi drivers. They have a fairly stressful job anyway and if they're
driving at night you find large numbers of night shift taxi drivers, particularly if they're in
middle age, have ulcers.

Robyn Williams: That's why they're so bad tempered.

Russell Foster: I wouldn't dream of commenting.

Robyn Williams: Russell Foster chairs the Department of Ophthalmology in the University of Oxford
and is also at the University of Western Australia.

Brains change structure with use

Brains change structure with use

Parts of London taxi drivers' brains have been shown to get larger as the drivers learn and absorb
all the information required to be efficient taxi drivers. The brains' structure changes.


Robyn Williams: Let me just reflect on something that Susan Greenfield often says about the ways in
which taxi drivers seem to have a larger hippocampus because they've got such knowledge of usually
London, an incredible knowledge, and in fact before they become taxi drivers the idea is that the
hippocampus is smaller, and as they learn the information it gets bigger. Is that story more or
less accepted these days?

Hugo Spiers: That's what the research is showing. So Eleanor Maguire and her colleagues in the year
2000 discovered that when she compared the structure of taxi drivers' brains to match control
subjects, that within their brains only the hippocampus was different. And the posterior end of it
seemed to be bigger and the anterior end of it seemed to be smaller. So it wasn't just that it got
bigger, it was actually the structure changed, and intriguingly the right posterior hippocampus got
bigger the longer they had spent being taxi drivers. So it seemed to be linked to their experience
in the job.

Following up on that study, Eleanor has carried on doing a number of studies, one I was lucky to be
involved in with Katya Willett comparing these taxi drivers' brains to London bus drivers. London
bus drivers are a wonderful group to compare taxi drivers to in that they also have to drive and
navigate through London streets but they don't really have to think about the multitude of possible
routes, they have to follow a set route. But they also have to deal with enraged customers, the
roar of the traffic and the pollution of London streets.

So compared to these bus drivers, the group found the same effect that the taxi drivers'
brains...the posterior hippocampus was again bigger in this other new sample of the taxi drivers.
So it appears to be a robust finding that there is some sort of structural change in taxi drivers'
brains, and following up on it is an intriguing question. My own research has been looking at how
they use the hippocampus, what happens to the activity within that region and other regions around
it as the taxi drivers navigate.

Robyn Williams: Of course as the taxi drivers navigate it would be a pretty hazardous thing to have
it while they're driving through London. So how did you solve that problem?

Hugo Spiers: That was a huge challenge. So to get brain activity you have to use magnetic resonance
imaging, M.R.I. scanners, and those are huge big devices that you can't take any metal into, so you
certainly can't put one of those in the back of a London cab. So you have to take the world of the
London cab and the streets of London inside the brain scanner. We used a commercial videogame The
Getaway that had been developed by Sony in 2002 where they'd simulated in a high degree of accuracy
London's vast number of streets using ordinance survey maps and all sorts of digital capture
software and so on. But we were able to then, using this video game, have subjects, our taxi
drivers, drive through this virtual simulation of London and capture in our scanner their fleeting
brain activity as they drove through the city.

Robyn Williams: So what were you trying to find out exactly? You already established that the
hippocampus is bigger, what else did you try to establish?

Hugo Spiers: With these subjects, because they're experts we were able to verify they would
navigate well through these streets with a high degree of accuracy, so we were able to for the
first time then really look at what happens as individuals navigate in a familiar setting. And what
happens from moment to moment...prior to the study we really didn't know anything about what
happens as you navigate from second to second. So I was able to pull apart the brain activity, what
was happening in taxi drivers' brains, from second to second, and to do that was another technical
challenge because how do we know what's going on, what's happening to them? And the trick we came
up with was after the taxi drivers had navigated through the virtual simulation, take them out and
supply them with lots of tea and coffee and interview them with a video replay of exactly what they
had been doing inside the scanner.

In this video replay I asked them to describe what they remember thinking during the original
navigation episode, and from these descriptions of their thoughts, across a set of 20 taxi drivers
we could see consistent recurring types of thoughts. And then once we'd identified these we could
look back and find what was the pattern of brain activity that accompanied those thoughts. So, for
example, thinking about your destination, how you are going to get there, we saw just in those
moments increased activity in the hippocampus but at no other time in navigation. So this bit of
the brain that that changes in these taxi drivers is very active for a very brief moment of
navigation in the city but otherwise silent.

Robyn Williams: So they set that in the beginning and they've got that navigation set and that's
done, and the rest is sort of automatic and they think about beer and sex and whatever else

Hugo Spiers: Yes, we didn't capture a lot of thoughts about beer and sex unfortunately in our
scanner, I think they were so focused on getting to the destination. We did capture all sorts of
thoughts. So, for example, when they spot something they didn't expect to see we see activity in
the right prefrontal cortex, another part of the brain very active during these moments. But
conversely when they saw what they were expecting to see, the landmark that was going to lead them
there, we saw another bit of the brain, the retrosplenial cortex and other regions active. So those
are just some of the examples.

But there's a whole range of different thoughts and brain activity patterns being covered,
including when they, for example, thought about their customers' thoughts. They're not just
navigating looking at the streets, they're sometimes thinking about other things, and activity
during these periods was associated with an area called the posterior superior temporal sulcus, a
bit of a mouthful, but it's a part of the brain known to be part of a region of networks involved
in social cognition, which neuroscientists are currently obsessively trying to understand, social
cognition, and we could see it active in these fleeting moments in our taxi drivers' journeys, they thought about customers' thoughts, this superior temporal sulcus was very

Robyn Williams: What about the difference between taxi drivers and the rest of us in terms of
navigation? Is there anything you can tell us about how effectively to use our brains navigating so
that we don't get lost and get mucked up?

Hugo Spiers: Surprisingly there's not a lot...we didn't really compare in this study the taxi
drivers directly to non taxi drivers. I checked that the approach I'd taken worked and we got the
same sort of thoughts with non taxi drivers. To all intents and purposes it seems that you get the
same sorts of thoughts in people who aren't taxi drivers, it's just that with taxi drivers; boy,
can they bring a lot of information to hand when they need to navigate!

They spend two to four years training to pass an exam in London called The Knowledge, and they
drive around on little mopeds trying to learn it. They have all sorts of little techniques for
imagining moving in their mind's eye through all the streets, picture all the places along the
routes, that helps them learn. So there are established ways taxi drivers have developed to try and
help them learn, but there is nothing like hard graft, getting out there and doing it day after day
after day, driving through those streets and picking it up.

One thing our research did show that intrigued me about the taxi drivers is the minimisation of
effort. Really a lot of them don't want to waste too much of their time thinking and obsessing
about their routes. They become very efficient at optimising, just making sure that they think
first about which direction they need to go in getting the car in the right direction, then
worrying about which major points they need to go through. It's something that I'll have to look
into in more detail later.

Robyn Williams: Final question, a question of animals, I'm thinking of the godwit that flies from
New Zealand 12,000km though the most amazing distances, obviously, and also knows when to turn left
in the North Pacific, and then flies all the way back again and manages to land within just a few
kilometres of where it's supposed to be, doing some weather predictions at the same time and
surfing on the lows. That's an incredible feat.

Hugo Spiers: There are some incredible and remarkable navigational feats that animals can do around
the world. Yes, some of them use the magnetic fields of the Earth to help navigate, others can
sense the current waves under the sea. Sea turtles use the currents in the sea to help them
navigate vast distances in straight lines. So above the skies, on the Earth and beneath the oceans,
animals are all making their way vast distances doing remarkable things. We use our eyes and our
ears predominantly to help us navigate around, I guess.

Part of the lecture I'm going to give today at the British Association Science Festival
lecture...I'm going to talk a little bit about how desert ants navigate because they are absolutely
fantastic. These little ants, Cataglyphis, can travel half a kilometre over a featureless desert,
scurrying all around in different directions, but then once they find their food they can return in
a nearly dead straight line back to their nest. It's the kind of thing that scientists marvel at
and spend their painstaking time trying to capture little ants and chase them. Well, I've spent my
time chasing taxi drivers who are also quite hard to get to convince to come inside a brain
scanner. So yes, there's a certain parallel there, I think, between trying to capture ants and
trying to capture taxi drivers.

Robyn Williams: Huge Spiers is a research fellow at the University College London, and a you heard
he gave a lecture on navigation at the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool.

Origin of scientists

Origin of scientists

Richard Holmes - An except from In Conversation 9th October 2008.


Robyn Williams: Here's the question I posed last week: What happened at the B.A. meeting in
Cambridge back in 1833 involving the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge? You know, Rime of the Ancient
Mariner. What happened then that's affected scientists ever since? Richard Holmes tells the story.

Richard Holmes: The story's very interesting, it's the third meeting of the British
Association, and the history of that, how it begins, how the Royal Society don't like it, how they
have a different attitude to women taking part and how they're going to do the regent. They won't
go to London. They started in York and this one was in Cambridge, it was a great triumph to capture
Cambridge. So they had this meeting which shapes the story in an extraordinary way.

Everybody is there, the young John Herschel, the son of William Herschel, is going to become
possibly the most famous public Victorian scientist, the young Michael Faraday is there, Whewell is
there, the geologist, and among this group is the aging Coleridge, now in his 60s. There's a
wonderful account...he says, 'I'm back in Trinity. They know how to make a bed here. I lay down as
a man and I got up as a bruise.'

He gets on very well with Michael Faraday, very interesting, and he writes this note about Michael
Faraday saying; I see the liniments of genius in this young man because he has this thing that all
great writers have, is this part of him that has never grown up. It's not childlike but it's that
very, very youthful spirit of enquiry that just goes on and on bubbling up. It's very interesting
he writes that, a thing that he said earlier, probably of Wordsworth as well.

So there is a great meeting, presided over by the rather stern Reverend William Whewell, later he
becomes president of Trinity and he's famous because he bans (this is relevant) from Trinity...he
says, 'No dogs, no cigars and no women.' But he's actually also a very interesting man.

They have this discussion about bringing together all the various forms of the physical sciences
and therefore the question arises; Is there some general term by which we can refer to people who
are either mathematicians or astronomers or geologists or botanists? Is there some general term?
The old 17th century term was 'natural philosopher', and 'philosopher' is often used (it's quite
confusing) in many texts of this period, you have to reread it.

There is a discussion, and Coleridge says you can no longer use 'natural philosopher', it's
confusing, and what you're doing is something quite different now, you're opening up a different
world, a different way of looking at the world. I think it's Whewell who says, 'What about the word
'scientist'?' And then there's a bit of growling about this. I think Coleridge quite likes it. And
one of the clergymen there says, 'Well, it reminds me of the word 'atheist'.' And then of course
there's general seizure, but in fact it sticks, and it's in the Oxford English dictionary by about
1840. Suddenly the history of the word is itself interesting because its relationship to atheism is
very important. What is science? What effect will it now have on religious belief?

Robyn Williams: And from that time on we've had the word 'scientist' with, from the start, its
slightly Godless association, thanks to the poet Coleridge and the Reverend Whewell. Richard
Holmes, who joins me on In Conversation next Thursday evening at 7.30 ABC Radio National.

Gold nanoparticles

Robyn Williams: And so we end as we began, in the west, with some of those jetlagged miners. In
fact a search for gold like no other; nano-gold. Yes, found for the first time in a way that also
dates back to the times of Faraday and Whewell. Here's Rob Hough of CSIRO Exploration and Mining.

Rob Hough: It's very interesting, Faraday found these things in 1850 and found that if you had a
gold chloride solution and reacted it with something that you'd get these gold colloids. They were
used for stained glass windows because the gold nanoparticles make the solution go red. And the
manufacturing industry over the last decade in particular has been having a massive push around
developing gold nanoparticles to use for superconductors because they have really interesting
properties because they're so tiny, they conduct better, they do all kinds of interesting things in
terms of biological applications, so drug delivery systems into the body.

The gold nanoparticles have been shown to find to things like cancer cells and then so the medical
industry has been interested. So we were looking at these things and thinking, well, okay...also if
you look in the natural environment, people have talked about colloidal gold moving around, and
then we looked at those papers and saw that actually nobody has actually seen the stuff. They've
talked about it but not actually seen it. So we decided that we'd go looking for it.

Robyn Williams: Can I just tell you that at the Royal Institution in London, Faraday's colloidal
solution is still there and I saw it last year, and if you go back that's where you can, even now,
come across what he used, the great Michael Faraday. It just shows you, it's so stable. It was kept
there during the refurbishment. Quite fantastic. Okay, so they'd never seen these particles. How
big are they? Are they unbelievably small?

Rob Hough: If we go back a step, we've got a population of gold crystals in this particular sample
that I've been working on where you can actually see it. So I could show it to you now and you'd
see what looks like glitter on this surface and there's loads of it, it's all gold, it's pure gold.
What we did was we're looking at the surfaces of those gold particles, the ones that we can see,
using a high-powered microscope at the University of Western Australia, and that enabled us to look
at the real surface of those crystals. And when we looked there we found this completely separate
population that was...the maximum size of those crystals was about 200 nanometres, and a nanometre
is a thousandth of a thousandth of a millimetre, and the smallest population were around 20
nanometres, which is amazing.

Robyn Williams: And this is occurring naturally?

Rob Hough: This is in the natural environment, actually just south of Southern Cross in Western
Australia in an area where you've got salty ground water, three times the salinity of sea water,
slightly acidic, and that's reacting with a gold deposit to get the gold into solution to form gold
chloride, so the salty water reacts with the gold, and then that forms this colloid. So you start
to get this colloid, and then through evaporation that colloid gets deposited on surfaces and
that's where it actually gets deposited, and that's where this nanoparticulate gold comes from.

Robyn Williams: Getting it free from nature, would that save a million bucks in manufacture?

Rob Hough: I've been asked this a fair bit and it's really interesting...well, could you actually
harvest this population? At the moment we don't think we have the technology or the method,
certainly we haven't worked it out. It might be there somewhere, to pull out that kind of material.
Can you pull it out of the groundwater, for instance, while it's there in the solution or as a
colloid? I'm not sure whether you can. But also, out of the rocks...and people have been asking can
you actually separate out this really, really ultra fine population? We don't have filters or
things like that to do that. So we need to find some other way and I think that's something we'll
work on because we want to be able to go into other environments and go looking for this population
where it might be there as very, very small, very dilute, and how do we actually extract and
isolate that material, and that's something that I think we'll try and do over the next few years.

Robyn Williams: Is this the first time in history that people have found the nanoparticles of gold
occurring naturally?

Rob Hough: Occurring naturally, yes. So, people have gone looking for it and there have been a
couple of papers talking about it as a mechanism of moving gold around, especially during
weathering which is a really important thing in Australia, but not actually found the population
before, not actually been able to really see it. And I think it's a function of the fact that we
have new technologies these days that have come online in the last two or three years that enable
us to see it at those kind of scales, but also to be able to see surfaces like we haven't been able
to see before, and that's why we've been able to see it.

Robyn Williams: They used to tell me way back that in ordinary sea water you get tiny, tiny amounts
of gold occurring, but of course it's far too expensive to extract that on dilution scales that
occur in the sea. With the new technology it might, who knows.

Rob Hough: I think it's there in very, very low concentrations, and if you go looking like, say, in
the ground waters of Western Australia around gold deposits, then we find reasonable levels of gold
actually in the water. When I say 'reasonable levels' we're still at the parts per billion, parts
per trillion type levels, but we consider those something that's...sometimes they're quite high.
And we use that as an exploration tool because if you find a really, really high number you'd say,
well, where's that gold coming from? It's probably coming from a gold deposit that's weathering
nearby. So there's still plenty of gold out there, it's just a question of finding it. And one of
the challenges that we have is increasingly it's more difficult to find new gold deposits and so we
need these new methodologies, these new understandings to actually be able to go looking in more
complex environments, more complex terrains to find deposits.

Robyn Williams: All those applications that you mention from super conductivity, the miracles of
electronics and the medical applications, how does gold actually have an effect as it does at that

Rob Hough: I think it's really interesting because it's a metal and so it has some really
interesting properties in terms of physical and chemical properties anyway, and all that's
happening is that when you're down at those scales things are reacting far more than they would at
coarser scales and you have a really high surface area from having what looks like a small solution
but in actual fact the amount of surface that's in there in real terms, because you've got all
these tiny, tiny particles means that it's very, very reactive. So gold is a lot more reactive than
people would think it is, because everybody thinks of gold as something that's just inert, doesn't
really change over time, whereas in actual fact it has some really interesting properties, which
means that it does behave differently.

Robyn Williams: Rob Hough in the west with CSIRO Exploration and Mining and with nano-gold, hope
you find some.