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Attitudes to climate change


Robyn Williams: As Copenhagen looms in December with decisions about carbon, how is opinion
changing now that reality is biting? Lorraine Whitmarsh lectures in environmental psychology at the
University of Cardiff.

Lorraine Whitmarsh: I think what's clear is that the science is becoming more and more certain, but
in terms of the social science we still need to understand what people think about climate change
and how they're responding to it. So this is really the research I've been focusing on.

Robyn Williams: Because presumably if changes are going to be drastic you need a constituency
otherwise you can't implement them from a governmental point of view.

Lorraine Whitmarsh: That's right, yes. I think government obviously needs the support of the public
in order to enact polices to respond to climate change. So in a democratic society we need to
understand what the public wants, what they feel, what they think, and also the barriers that they
perceive to changing their lifestyles, because the government is encouraging us to change our
lifestyles but for a lot of people they perceive it to be very difficult, and in some cases it
really is very difficult.

Robyn Williams: So what did you find, in general?

Lorraine Whitmarsh: We conducted a survey towards the end of 2008, this is funded by the Tyndall
Centre for Climate Change Research. It was a follow-up survey from a survey we did five years
before. So we tracked attitudes to climate change over that five-year period, and what we find is
that scepticism certainly hasn't decreased over that time. We still see around 20% of the public
are very doubtful about whether climate change exists and indeed about whether human activities
have any impact on climate. But we also see a much higher proportion and an increasing proportion
sceptical about a lot of the claims made in the media and in general within society about climate
change, what its impacts will be and so on. So I think scepticism (and this was a surprising
finding) does seem to be slightly increasing over time.

Robyn Williams: And people think it's possibly less drastic a consequence, climate change, than
they thought before.

Lorraine Whitmarsh: I think to some extent that may be the case. I think there is a tendency within
the media to focus on some of the more extreme scenarios that climate change may bring, and I think
the public perceive that that is rather alarmist and are, perhaps rightly, sceptical about some of
the things that are said in the media about climate change, yes.

Robyn Williams: Nonetheless it's a minority, you're saying, who are sceptical.

Lorraine Whitmarsh: Yes. I think it would be fair to say that the majority of the public within the
UK but also internationally do now accept that human activities have an impact on climate. Figures
vary but it's somewhere between about 10% to 20% or so who are kind of hardened sceptics that
really reject the idea of climate change or human activities having an impact on climate.

Robyn Williams: Your survey was British based, but how do your figures compare with other

Lorraine Whitmarsh: In general they're fairly consistent, but in actual fact what we see is that
the UK is somewhat more sceptical than other European countries but still not quite as sceptical as
the US.

Robyn Williams: I see. What are the figures in the US, do you know?

Lorraine Whitmarsh: It fluctuates, but certainly a study a few years ago showed that they were
several percentage points more sceptical than in the UK.

Robyn Williams: What do you think is shifting people's attitude? Is it the flood of information
that's coming out, because I know from doing reports from the journals that especially, for
example, more recently work on the sea, on coral reefs and so on, is really dire and is on the
front pages of our newspapers. Is that the sort of thing that seems to be impacting, or are
people's attitudes being dulled by the sheer weight of the material?

Lorraine Whitmarsh: I think it's a combination of things. I think, yes, that it's partly the fact
that the news is so bad but it's also the fact that the media in general tends to focus on the more
extreme scenarios and the worst news. So for a lot of people, they do tend to switch off I think.
Once the message is repeated over and over again and it's such an unpleasant message and a fearful
message, people do tend to question it or ignore it.

The other thing is that the impacts and the implications of climate change for people's lifestyles
are rather uncomfortable, so they are I think inclined in some cases to latch onto that bit of
uncertainty that remains within climate science to say, actually, maybe we don't need to do
anything about our energy use and so on, perhaps we can carry on the way we are. So there may be a
tendency, because it's an uncomfortable truth, to focus on what's still uncertain in climate

Robyn Williams: An 'inconvenient truth' perhaps! Finally, that was 2008, so how are you following
this up?

Lorraine Whitmarsh: There's going to be a number of studies that we'll be conducting. Actually
Cardiff University will be conducting a major UK survey in the next few months. There's certainly
work ongoing that we'll follow up.

Robyn Williams: Dr Lorraine Whitmarsh at Cardiff University in Wales, and it will be interesting to
see what effect Copenhagen in December will have on those figures, and whether good news on
remedial technologies makes us think more positively about changes in store.


Lorraine Whitmarsh

Lecturer in Environmental Psychology Cardiff University Cardiff Wales


Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.

Solar thermal electricity


It will be interesting to see what effect Copenhagen in December will have on those figures, and
whether good news on remedial technologies makes us think more positively about changes in store.
Like David Mills' solar thermal venture that he's taken from here to America. It's looking good, as
Sarah Castor-Perry reports.

Sarah Castor-Perry: Solar hot water is used in many homes across Australia, but what if you could
harness the heating power of the sun to produce electricity to power everything from your fridge to
your TV? That's the idea behind solar thermal energy, the sun's rays are focused using mirrors to
heat water into steam that then drives electricity-creating turbines, so the result (electricity)
is the same as a coal-fired power station, but the water is heated using the sun's rays rather than
from burning coal. We've covered this home-grown technology a few times on The Science Show,
speaking to the Australian who invented the technology, David Mills, last year. But let's find out
how it's progressed in the last few months. Solar thermal technology is not like the solar panels
you'd have on your roof.

Bob Matthews: Most people when you mention the world 'solar', the first thing they think of is
those photovoltaic, those PV cells that you see on the rooftops of homes, and that's pretty well a
very good application for that technology. Our technology certainly is not suitable in a domestic
environment, it's utility scale, so we would be talking about a plant the size of an existing
coal-fired power station, for example, so very, very big.

Sarah Castor-Perry: So unless you've got space for a power station in your backyard, this is not
something you can install at home. That was Bob Matthews, CEO and president of Ausra, the
Australian company that pioneered the technology. And it's already in use. The Liddell Power
Station in the Hunter Valley in NSW is a hybrid power station that uses solar thermal or CLFR
technology, to reduce its use of coal. Colin Duck from the plant explains how CLFR technology works
at Liddell.

Colin Duck: The CLFR stands for Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector. This was a process that was
actually developed by a scientist by the name of Fresnel many, many years ago where he determined
that you could concentrate the sun's rays into a central point and actually create a higher
intensity heat source that way. What we've built at Liddell is rows of mirrors that reflect the
sun's rays onto a central collector that's about ten metres above the mirrors, and in that way we
can concentrate the heat into one spot. We then run water through that collection point, which is
heated up and converted to steam which we can then use in our power station. As part of the normal
power station operation we would bleed some of the steam off the turbines and instead of using it
to turn the turbines, to heat our feed water. With our solar plant we can utilise the steam from
the solar plant to do that job and that frees up the steam that we would have taken out of the
turbine to actually produce electricity directly rather than used in a pre-heat process.

Sarah Castor-Perry: So at Liddell the steam produced using the solar thermal technology helps to
make the rest of the plant more efficient, and it's also reduced the amount of coal the plant needs
to burn. In the next three years they hope to be able to reduce their annual CO? output by up to
3,000 tonnes. But the technology can also be used on its own to actually produce electricity by
heating steam to drive the electricity turbines directly. Last year when we spoke to David Mills,
the founder of Ausra, he estimated that eventually up to 92% of Victoria, Queensland and NSW's
energy could be supplied by using these solar arrays. Is that still a realistic goal? Bob Matthews
believes it is.

Bob Matthews: I'll go even further to say that you take a little dot in Australia, an area perhaps
50 kilometres by 50 kilometres square, and that would be an area large enough to power all of
Australia's energy needs, not just up the eastern seaboard.

Sarah Castor-Perry: Efficiency has now increased further with only a 35 kilometre square being
needed. Cost is a major issue when it comes to alternative energies, but Bob Matthews argues that
the costs of solar thermal to the consumer are not as great as many people claim.

Bob Matthews: The way to look at this...quite often we compare the cost of a solar facility,
perhaps an Ausra solar thermal facility, with coal-fired power stations which have been on the
ground for the last 30 or 40 years, and when we talk about the cost of power from a coal-fired
power station we're largely talking about the cost of burning the coal plus the operating and
maintenance costs, we're not talking about the capital cost. If we look at what it would cost to
put a new coal-fired power station on the ground today which included, say, carbon capture, for
example, and some gasification system upfront and all the environmental requirements that would be
needed, then you will find that our technology would in fact be less expensive than coal.

Sarah Castor-Perry: And this is the key point. Yes, initially it would cost more to install
stand-alone solar thermal plants, but that's because new infrastructure needs to be put in. But
once it's built, this sort of plant uses very little water. The water used for the steam is in a
closed system and none is needed for cooling, and the source of the energy, the sun, is free,
unlike coal or gas. But it may not be a case of needing to build new plants. Existing power
stations could be upgraded, initially as hybrids like Liddell and then the use of solar thermal
technology scaled up until the coal or gas is no longer needed. Colin Duck believes this is a real

Colin Duck: Where a power station has the land available and is in the right climatic area,
obviously where there's fairly sunny days as a rule, there can be benefits for a power station to
be involved in that process, and it does have the advantage that you don't have to build all the
other plant associated with it to generate the electricity. So for a power station in the right
area with the right lands, there is definitely potential to build a solar plant adjacent to it. But
there's also a potential to build a stand-alone plant.

Sarah Castor-Perry: The Hunter Valley is known for wines and mines, so if solar thermal technology
increases efficiency and means less coal will be used, will it face opposition from local people
who work on the coal mines? And how about globally where there may be plants where the use of coal
is phased out altogether? Is there a solution that also involves the continued use of coal but in a
new way? Well, stay tuned to The Science Show to find out more in our upcoming series on the future
of coal.

We've seen that solar thermal technology has made significant advancements in the last few months,
with Ausra claiming a 250% increase in efficiency in their Californian plant. With the thoughts of
the world turning to reducing carbon dioxide output at the Copenhagen summit in December, the need
for efficient alternative energies is growing. Solar thermal technology, along with other renewable
energy sources, could offer us an efficient and environmentally responsible solution.

Robyn Williams: Sarah Castor-Perry who is back next week with a report on wines and climate change.
By the way, David Mills' Deakin Lecture is on next Tuesday in Melbourne, Federation Square.


Bob Matthews

CEO Ausra

Colin Duck

Liddell Power Station Lambton NSW


Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.

Getting the noise out of electric motors


I saw the first ever electric motor two months ago. I saw it at the Royal Institution in London and
it was designed by Michael Faraday.

Greg Hynes: Right, well, and you're going to wonder how much has happened since he designed that

Robyn Williams: Well, I'm simply concerned with the fact that given 200 years roughly, nearly 200
years of electric motors, I would have thought that working out how and why they make noise and how
to reduce it would have been pretty well solved. But you're telling me there's lots to do.

Greg Hynes: It depends on why the noise is being created. It's possible to design and create an
electric motor well so it is quiet, but say you want to make lots of them and make them very
cheaply, then they're probably going to make noise because they're not so perfectly made. And so
our goal, if we can come up with the control systems that can compensate for imperfections in
electric motors, then we can make them more cheaply and deal with the imperfections later.

Robyn Williams: That's Greg Hynes in his lab in Darwin. He's keen on electric cars as well as quiet
motors, and he's making good progress in getting the noisy ones under control. But it's a
surprisingly tricky process.

Greg Hynes: The main goal is that we'd run the motor once and measured the torque coming out of it,
and this torque is like a force in a rotary direction.

Robyn Williams: A twist.

Greg Hynes: Yes, a twist. And the noise is actually high-frequency variations in that torque. So we
run it once and we measure the torque that's coming out, and we split that torque ripple up into
the components that was creating it. The main things we found that were creating this torque was
either an inaccuracy in the current measurement or there's a cogging torque, which is the tendency
of the magnets to want to connect to the steel poles of magnet rather than the copper windings. So
those, if we can measure the torque and then split it up into those separate components, we can
then compensate for those.

Robyn Williams: And it's worth economically doing so, is it?

Greg Hynes: We're not sure at the moment.

Robyn Williams: In other words, you said 'mass production', if you take the trouble to design them
so that they don't have those two deficits, presumably that accuracy costs money in design.

Greg Hynes: Certainly, yes, but it also depends on what sort of applications you're going to use
it. Say if you were to drive a vehicle, we're all quite familiar with the sound an engine makes and
expect it to be quite noisy. And so in that case it's not really worth trying to get the last bit
of noise out of it, whereas if you were to put it into maybe an air conditioning duct or something
where people traditionally do expect to have a nice quiet motor, then it will be worth putting that
effort in. So what we're looking at is to use an electric motor, such as the ones that were
originally developed here for solar cars which were optimised for different things, in particular
high efficiency and high torque, and see if they can be used in other applications that do require
this quiet.

Robyn Williams: I would imagine that if you take the noise out...the noise is somehow an indication
of inefficiency, and presumably that would have its own costs as well. So if you make it quieter
and more efficient surely that's a saving as well.

Greg Hynes: Possibly, but the gains to be made for that inefficiency, the analysis we've done at
least shows that that's very minimal, you're getting very small increases in efficiency. So I
wouldn't like to suggest that getting rid of the noise will make it that much more efficient,
that's not why we're after it.

Robyn Williams: Give me some examples of the sorts of things that you've done and what kind of
noise reduction can you hope to get?

Greg Hynes: The motor we were working on here for my research was originally for an electric bike,
and for that sort of application noise isn't too much of an issue, it's a lot quieter than many
things. So we were able to get...normally we were getting about 9% just to do the standard control
system, and we were able to get that down to about 1%. So, sort of a nine-fold reduction.

Robyn Williams: That's fantastic.

Greg Hynes: That was two things. That was both some of it, we got down to 3% just using traditional
methods for compensating, but those traditional methods needed very good information about the
parameters I was discussing, about the cogging torque and the accuracy of the current. So we were
able to get the further three-fold reduction by using our methods to get those accurate

Robyn Williams: And what will it be used for?

Greg Hynes: Either you can look at it from the noise perspective where you want things to be quiet.
So the examples I was giving were the air conditioning duct or something like that where
traditionally it's a very quiet application. The other possibility is where you want a smooth
torque application. So you're not worried about the acoustic noise, the noise you can hear, but
you're more worried about actually applying this twist in a smooth way. So if you were to use it in
robotic drives or something where you want to be able to have a very smooth application, if you're
using it in a milling application where you want a surface finish, your mill is defined by how
smoothly you can move the milling cutter across the face.

There are other applications. Other examples are if you go to steering by wire in a vehicle, you
probably don't want your steering wheel just to feel like a joystick, that you could spin it with
no reaction. So you want it to feel like as you turn it more there's more resistance against it.
But the thing that's giving you this resistance is going to be an electric motor, and you want that
to feel nice and smooth as you turn, you don't want to feel like your steering wheel has gravel in
it or something.

Robyn Williams: By the way, on the gossip front, I've just been to Cambridge and I met the
professor of aeronautics who is a woman and surprisingly young actually, and she told me that their
work on the silent aircraft is going extremely well and they have various parts that they're
testing as we speak. So the silent aircraft, which will have a fantastic role to play in the
future, is going very nicely. Are you at all in touch with them?

Greg Hynes: No, I'm not unfortunately, I don't know...

Robyn Williams: But what about your own electric car? I hear rumours that you're very keen.

Greg Hynes: Yes, I am building my own electric car at the moment. I'm converting a Mazda 121 bubble
car into an electric vehicle.

Robyn Williams: What's the main aim; hobby or what?

Greg Hynes: Just a hobby, there's nothing particularly groundbreaking in any of the components or
anything that's going into the electric vehicle, but it's just good fun to be able to see the real
practical applications. I spent months down here in the lab playing with maths, effectively, trying
to make these electric motors work better, and it's nice to have some practical applications of
these things.

Robyn Williams: And I see that Australia's first national electric vehicle festival is on in
Canberra this long weekend. Greg Hynes in mechanical engineering, University of Darwin the Top End.


Greg Hynes

Lecturer Mechanical Engineering Charles Darwin University Darwin Northern Territory


Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.

Water found on the Moon.


Robyn Williams: Which takes us to Moon, which is wet, and Jonathan Nally.

Jonathan Nally: Despite 40-plus years of on and off exploration, it's taken until now for
scientists to spot one of the things they have most wanted to find; water on the Moon. In the last
couple of weeks they've released data collected by three space missions that show unequivocal
evidence for water across the entire lunar landscape and particularly near the poles. Data from a
NASA instrument aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft (now sadly defunct), plus data collected
earlier this year by a mission called EPOXI on its way to a comet, and still more data gathered way
back in 1999 by the Cassini Saturn probe all reveal the spectral signature of water.

That's not to say there are lakes or rivers on the Moon, but mixed in with the lunar soil are
traces of the water and hydroxyl molecules, the latter being water with one hydrogen atom missing.
But there's not much of it. One tonne of lunar soil might hold, at most, about one litre of water.
Still, even that amount could come in handy for future Moon bases. Water can be used for drinking,
for growing food, and for splitting into oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and rocket fuel.

But how did it get there in the first place? Analysis of the Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo
astronauts suggests that the Moon was actually bone dry, at least inside. But it has long been
speculated that pockets of ice might exist deep into the permanently shadowed craters near the
lunar poles. Impacts by comets, which are made largely of ice, could have deposited water into
these craters. It's also been suggested that protons or hydrogen nuclei streaming out from the Sun
in the solar wind could spray the lunar surface and react with oxygen in the soil to form water

The ice in the polar craters idea is going to be tested this coming Friday night by LCROSS, the
Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. At about 9.30 Eastern Standard Time, NASA will send
LCROSS into a death dive into a crater called Cabeus A nears the Moon's south pole. In fact it will
be a double whammy. First the spacecraft's empty booster rocket, which weighs just under 2.5
tonnes, will crash into the crater at 9,000 kilometres an hour and cause an explosion that should
hurl about 350 tonnes of lunar soil high above the surface. Only minutes later LCROSS will fly
through the debris plume and 'smell' and 'taste' it using it delicate instruments, looking for
signs of water. Then LCROSS itself, which only weighs less than a tonne, will also hit the ground
causing its own debris plume. Telescopes back here on Earth will monitor both plumes to see what
they can find too.

It might seem crazy to spend all that money on a space craft only to have it deliberately crash,
but the alternative, sending one that could safely land in a permanently dark crater and then dig
up and test samples of frozen rock, would have been far tricker and much more expensive. No, it's
much better to get a big bang for your buck.

Robyn Williams: Thanks Jonathan Nally. The crash onto the Moon is coming up next Friday.


Jonathan Nally



Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.

Birds - smarter than we ever realised


And so to that Cambridge fellow who studies clever birds, following up the revelations about Betty
the crow who turned out to have engineering skills far beyond what seemed possible. And what's the
name of our Cantabrian bird man? Why, Chris Bird! So, was his line of work predetermined?

Chris Bird: There's a series of studies about nominative determinism which does actually show that
people with their surname are actually more likely to go into a profession that's related to their

Robyn Williams: Like 'Chris Barber' should have been a hairdresser instead of a jazz player, but in
general the Tailors become tailors. We've covered corvid research, that's crow family research,
magpies and so on, many times on The Science Show, and they're incredibly bright. Betty the crow
being one of the most famous examples of using a wire fashioned by itself rather than prepared by
humans, to get its food out of tube. How have you taken that kind of research further with other
kinds of tests?

Chris Bird: We gave some of the tasks to rooks. So exactly the same task as Betty had, a tube with
a bucket in the bottom with a few worms, which was out of reach of the bird, and we gave the rooks
straight pieces of wire. And just like Betty, all of our rooks fashioned hooks out of that wire and
used those hooks to remove the bucket from the tube. So what's remarkable about that is that while
the New Caledonian crows use tools habitually in the wild, so they might have evolved tool use
specifically to solve their ecological problems, rooks don't appear to use tools in the wild. So
when they solved these types of tests in captivity, we can say that they're perhaps tapping into
some sort of general cognitive ability, some sort of general intelligence that they may have
evolved for some other purpose. But it's not something that's just specific to tool use, it's
something more general than that.

Robyn Williams: It implies that they are problem solvers and they can do so almost from no
background, and that's really demonstrating insight in a way that many people would find

Chris Bird: Absolutely. I mean, we hand-rear these birds, so we know exactly what previous
experience they've had, and when we give them the tests and they solve it on the very first time,
you're exactly right, we can say they're solving these through some sort of insight rather than
just simple trial and error learning, which is absolutely remarkable, and particularly remarkable
because they're performing comparatively to the great apes, chimpanzees.

They perform much better at some of these tasks than chimpanzees, which is amazing considering they
have a brain that's the size of a walnut. It might be that their brains are just maybe more
efficient, but it's interesting to compare the ways that they solve the problems given that they
have such completely different brain architecture. So the cognitive part of the human or the
mammalian brain is called the neocortex. Birds don't have that area of the brain at all, so when
they're solving these tasks it's quite interesting to look at, well, how are they solving them with
such a completely different brain? They actually have an area of their brain called the nidopallium
which is probably an area that evolved from the same area as the neocortex evolved from and is
doing a similar job in birds but with completely different neuronal wiring.

Robyn Williams: Interesting, but why should the birds in your experiment want to do something? What
exactly are they getting as a reward? Is it food, and in what circumstance?

Chris Bird: Sure, we give them food rewards for their tasks. In the experiments that I've done we
use waxworm larvae which is their favourite food and they're really quite motivated to work for
this food. So in one experiment we had a little bit of water in the bottom of the tube with waxworm
larvae floating on the surface of the water. So the water was too low in the tube and the birds
couldn't reach the worms directly with their beak. We gave the birds a bunch of stones beside the
tube, and they would drop those stones into the tube to raise the water level up to get access to
the worm. So they're really quite motivated to do this. It's reminiscent of Aesop's fable where the
thirsty crow was really motivated to raise the water level up so they could drink. Obviously it's a
bit unethical to make our birds really thirsty, so we had to give them some sort of other reward in
place and the waxworm was perfect for that.

Robyn Williams: And so how did they get the waxworm closer to the surface so they could get at it?

Chris Bird: Basically they dropped the stones into the tube one by one, thereby raising the level
of the water up so that the worm moved to within reach of the bird's beak, and they did this from
the very first trial, which is absolutely remarkable.

The other most similar study was performed with orang-utans, and the orang-utans were given a tube
with the peanut in the bottom, and the orang-utans had a water drinker in their enclosure, and what
they would do is they would go to their water drinker, take a mouthful of water and then spit that
into the tube to raise up the water level.

And I'm not sure I should say this, but one of the orang-utans actually drank all of its water and
didn't have any left to spit into the tube, so instead it just weed into the tube and raised the
level of the peanut up. It didn't seem to mind eating the peanut afterwards, but there you go!

Robyn Williams: What is this telling you overall, Chris, about the ways in which these intelligent
animals can use their brains that 20, 30 years ago was thought unlikely?

Chris Bird: It certainly shows that animals aren't just instinctive creatures, they're not just
using simple trial and error learning to solve problems but rather they're capable of insightful
reasoning, causal reasoning and understanding about the structure of the world and the usefulness
of objects in the world. So our rooks would use stones and sticks as tools and they are obviously
using these objects in other useful ways in their environment. So rooks build really complex nests
and really quite structurally sound nests because they have to be quite high up in the treetops. So
they're perhaps learning about the useful properties of sticks for that purpose, and then
transferring that knowledge to how can they use those sticks in other useful ways, like using them
as tools and fashioning them into hooks, for example.

So it seems to show that they're really flexible in their reasoning, and flexibility and insight is
something we've long thought has been unique to humans, not only social intelligence and physical
intelligence but recently magpies, another member of the corvid family, were shown to be able to
recognise themselves in mirrors, which is something that is limited to quite a few species, like
chimps, dolphins and elephants. So these select few species...these corvids are now joining those
in this intelligence ranking. It's amazing considering people thought the whole idea of 'bird
brain' was an insult to people who did something stupid, but that's not the case anymore, 'bird
brain' should be a compliment really.

Robyn Williams: And you may like to see Chris Bird's rooks doing that clever raising of the water
level by going to The Science Show website. That's Chris Bird in Cambridge.


Chris Bird

PhD Researcher University of Cambridge UK

Further Information

Video: Rook uses stones to raise water level and get food 1


Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.

Australia's Royal Institution opens in Adelaide.


Lawrence Bragg was also in Cambridge and led one of the brightest teams of scientists in the
history of the known universe, but Lawrence came from Adelaide, and next week with the opening of
the Royal Institution Australia his name is celebrated with the Bragg Initiative. Here's Tanya
Monro to talk about it, a professor of physics at the University of Adelaide, on why this genius,
son of William, is not so well known as he should be.

Tanya Munro: I think it's a few factors. One of them is that as part of an amazingly powerful
father/son team in the scientific fields we tend to just know them as the Braggs or Bragg's law,
for example, and we don't tend to distinguish or realise the contributions that Lawrence uniquely
made. I think it's also because in Australia we don't tend to have a culture of holding up our
great science and our great scientists and celebrating it the way we do with sport and other
things, and for me that's partly what the RI is about.

Robyn Williams: About the RI, the Royal Institution Australia, RiAus, what is the Bragg Initiative
going to achieve?

Tanya Munro: I believe the Bragg Initiative will show people what science is really about. I hope
it will infect them with enthusiasm about science and how it can change our lives and make them
realise it's not something esoteric, people in white coats.

Robyn Williams: Even though it's royal and it know, the top down, the great is it going to be democratic?

Tanya Munro: I think something like the RI is going to be held up for what it does, not for what
its name is. I think if it gets out there and it shows people, it enthuses kids, if it shows
parents that careers in science are something to do, it will have achieved its goal.

Robyn Williams: Why are you excited about the RiAus at all?

Tanya Munro: Personally I'm very excited about the RiAus because it's a way for scientists like
myself to be able to get messages out to the general public about what our science is about. For
me, while I love what I do and I love making breakthroughs and working with brilliant scientists,
if we can't make outcomes that change the way we live, then why are we doing it? And for me that
stage of getting that message out and also getting the input of people into the choices you make in
your science is critical, and the RI provides a new way of doing that which is outside the usual
university or academic context.

Robyn Williams: Yes, it's going to be nationwide, isn't it, and also international.

Tanya Munro: I think that will work beautifully in today's age of being able to do things across
broadband links and with teleconferences. It's a really nice way of stitching together the
fantastic happenings in the RI in London with Australia, that's a great link to build on. But
science increasingly is very international, and if we can just show people that, then I think we
will have achieved a lot with the RiAus.

Robyn Williams: But some people would ask why Adelaide?

Tanya Munro: I think Adelaide is the perfect spot for the RI, it's got some fantastic world-class
universities, it's small enough that people know people and can make real connections to make
something like the RI work. It's got a lot of fantastic science that's looking to connect better
with the community, we've got some fantastic programs for developing our youth. I think it's the
perfect way to marry all of that together to triumph a new way of communicating about science that
probably wouldn't work so well if started in some of the bigger cities. And I think if we do it
really well in Adelaide we can become really a national body.

In Adelaide I've found that you can do things that might not be so easy in other places, and I
think it's got a real 'can do' attitude, it's willing to try new things and take risks, and I think
there's a lot of people in universities, government, industry, who all brought together in
something like the RI could make a really big difference.

Robyn Williams: Professor Tanya Munro who won a Prime Minister's Science Prize last year for her
work on photonics. And the RiAus, the Royal Institution in Australia, opens next Thursday and, to
declare an interest, I'm involved.


Tanya Munro

Professor of Physics University of Adelaide

Further Information

Royal Institution Australia


Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.

Lawrence Krauss - untangling entanglement


Photonics, just mentioned, is comprehensible. You use light for communications. What isn't so clear
are parts of physics like entanglement. We've had this on before, entanglement; take an atom, split
it, send one part to the Earth and the other to the restaurant at the end of the universe, and yet
they still interact as one, somehow. And I don't begin to understand this. Lawrence Krauss does.

Lawrence Krauss: First of all quantum mechanics is totally weird and you can't understand it,
that's part of the deal, as Niels Bohr said. But the way to really think about it is that it's an
illusion to think that you have a particle over there and a particle over here, they're really part
of the same system. If you carefully prepare them in an initial state and you don't allow them to
interact with the rest of the universe when they're moving to either end of the galaxy, you
carefully isolate them, then the fact that they're entangled really means that they're not separate
particles, they're just a single particle or a single quantum mechanical state. So therefore it's
not too surprising that if you play with part of it then the other part is affected. But that
doesn't make it any less weird, I suppose.

Robyn Williams: Now, obviously with entanglement and various other things to do with quantum
mechanics you've left me behind, but I take you on trust, you know what you're talking about,
you've got the apparatus to prove it. Have we got to a point...and I'm thinking about the Large
Hadron Collider and everyone chasing the Higgs in various ways, when they get the apparatus going,
that is...that you are looking for things...if you don't find the Higgs you'll something that
completely amazes you and you don't know what it is. Have you, in other words, reached a point
where the limits of knowledge have been reached?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, the example used I think is actually probably the opposite, it would be
wonderful. In fact it's the norm whenever we turn on a machine like that that we see things we
didn't expect. That's what so great about nature, every time you open a new window on the universe
you're surprised. So actually turning on the Large Hadron Collider and seeing something we didn't
expect would be delightful. In fact that's what physicists would really want, we want to be wrong.
I guess it means there's a lot more left to learn.

What would be worrisome is if we turned it on and didn't see anything. Actually from a theoretical
perspective that would be fascinating because it would mean almost all of our current ideas are
wrong. But if we didn't see anything we wouldn't have any guidance where to go next, and that's
where we're getting to the limits of knowledge perhaps. And it could be, if nature is particularly
perverse, that we won't see anything with the Large Hadron Collider and it may be that in order to
get empirical information which will lead us in new, real directions in elementary particle
physics, it may require machines that we simply can't build.

But the other place where it really occurs, and we're much closer to it I think, is in the
universe, in the cosmology. Our picture of the universe has changed dramatically in the last
decade. We discovered dark energy, everything has changed. But we're now coming to grips (because
dark energy is so weird) with the question; is it out there because it's an environmental accident
because there are many universes and our universe happens to have this weird stuff in it but other
universes wouldn't? Well, when you have a sample of one, it's pretty hard to know the answer to
that question.

And there are questions like that that are so fundamental that we're coming up against where simply
because we live in our universe and we only have one of them to test, we may literally never
empirically be able to resolve them. And the only way we may make progress is with new ideas, but
good ideas are hard to come by. The point is that with experiments you can sort of predict progress
but with ideas it could come today, tomorrow or in a millennium.

Robyn Williams: Do you actually need other universes? To give you an idea of the scale...I don't
have to give you the idea of the scale, but the minister, Kim Carr, who you know, helped launch
something the other week where we send a message to our nearest similar like-Earth object. That's
going to take 20 years to get there, and when you think that the galaxy is 100,000 light years, it
would take 100,000 years to reach the edge of the galaxy, let alone another galaxy, it's so
gigantic that you wonder whether some of the scale of things in our own universe is enough.

Lawrence Krauss: It's more than enough for us to ever manage. We'll never make it outside our
galaxy, much less another galaxy. As I've argued, to some people's dismay, we're not going to be
sending rocket ships around at light speed in our galaxy, it will just cost too much. That's the
bad news. The good news is the aliens aren't coming here to snatch you. The wonderful thing is with
our minds we can go further, and there we're not limited.

And whether we need other universes or not is a fascinating question because the question is in
order to understand our universe, do we need to know that there are other universes or not? And
that was not even a sensible scientific question I think until a few years ago, but now because of
various ideas, at least more people are asking it.

It may sound like metaphysics, but here's a way that it could turn into science. If there's another
universe out there that we'll never see directly, then why is it science? Let's just say we had a
really good idea for a fundamental theory of elementary particles that explained the mass of the
proton, the mass of the electron, why there are three generations of elementary particles,
explained everything we saw, but one of its predictions was that in the early universe there should
be some periods that would create these other universes. Well, if it explained everything we saw,
and every bit of data we can measure, then we'd accept the predictions for things we can't measure,
just like we accepted the existence of atoms long before we could ever see them.

Robyn Williams: It's not simply a 'get out of jail' card where the physics doesn't work and so you
need another universe to cover yourself.

Lawrence Krauss: For a lot of people it is. Actually it's like a Star Trek episode. You know, every
time there's an impenetrable plot problem they just call up some techno-babble and get out of it,
and in some senses unfortunately it is, when you open up all that extra flexibility, theoretically
with extra universes or whatever else, it becomes a lot easier to try and find new and
unfortunately invisible ways to solve problems.

Richard Feynman, who I'm writing a book about now and I'm happy to be almost done with it, he's an
amazing physicist, he said that science is imagination in a straightjacket. And that's the point.
We can imagine lots of things and that's's easy-ish. That hard part is to imagine a lot
of things that are consistent with what we can measure. And if we don't have those measurements to
constrain us then it's not good for science, certainly it's not science. So I am a little worried
that people are resorting at times to these fixes that really have no implications, and they
usually smell wrong to me.

Robyn Williams: So, does it smell wrong to you? Lawrence Krauss is at Arizona State University, and
you can also read him in Scientific American magazine.


Lawrence Krauss

Professor of Physics School of Earth and Space Exploration Arizona State University Arizona USA


Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.

Frank Close - getting closer to nothing


[excerpt from Angels and Demons]

Noisy lot. Dan Brown's latest frolic in the movies. The baddies pinch some antimatter from the
Large Hadron Collider and try to nuke the Vatican with it, which seems rather peevish. Frank Close
has taken an interest in Angels and Demons, as we'll hear, and in the limits of knowledge. But he's
also just written a book about nothing, which is an achievement, and it's not just blank pages.

Frank Close: Aristotle said there was no such thing as nothing. He is the reason why this phrase
'nature abhors a vacuum' came to be. We use it all the time but people probably don't know quite
why nature does abhor a vacuum. Of course it doesn't abhor a vacuum, it was just that that's what
people thought, because whenever you try to make one nature seemed to stop you. A simple thing like
trying to suck the air out of a straw and the result is that the straw collapses. Of course we know
the reason why now, it's because of air pressure that is like ten tonnes of air pressure on your
body all the time, and if you try to suck the air out, everything collapses.

I actually as a kid used to wonder what would happen if you took all the stars away and the Moon
and the Earth and everything away, including you and me and everybody, so that there would be
nobody at all. And then I started wondering what was left. This nature of nothing with nobody to
know that there was nothing I sort of found quite eerie, and I thought either I was on the edge of
true enlightenment or madness, I was never quite sure which, so I took up theoretical physics.

Robyn Williams: That's a very good answer. I was talking to another theoretical physicist the other
day about how much 6.5 billion people would amount to if you squashed them down to
other words, took out all the nothingness, the space, and 6.5 billion people would amount to a
sugar cube in size. That's an awful lot of nothing, isn't it?

Frank Close: Yes, I think it would even be smaller than that because a neutron star is what happens
when you take all of the space of the atoms away and just leave the nucleus behind, the neutrons
behind. The atoms that we're made of are pretty well empty space. That's me rapping my empty head,
and yet it's solid. That's one of the great mysteries; how can it be that stuff that is so empty
appears completely solid. And the answer is it's empty as far as stuff is concerned, as far as
particles are concerned, but there are fields of force in there.

The whole universe is full of gravity. You see these beautiful pictures of spiral galaxies and you
can feel the stars whirling around the centre like a huge catherine wheel, and yet the stars on the
left of the picture are hundreds of thousands of light years away from those on the right, and
somehow they know about each other because gravity fills the space between them. And you say, well,
what's gravity? We know it works, we know Newton's laws and we can work out the force of gravity
between things, we can make space craft arrive on cue in the right place, but what actually is this
gravity that fills all of the space? I don't know.

Robyn Williams: Before I ask you the biggest, most difficult question...

Frank Close: Already?

Robyn Williams: is it that you can have sound going through air, which is something, and
yet light waves and electromagnetic waves going through a vacuum, going through nothing, with no
problem at all?

Frank Close: That was the question that really hung them up in the 19th century, that the moment
that Maxwell had said that electromagnetic radiation are waves, the question was; waves in what?
The idea that sound waves is the air molecules bumping into each other, that's how molecules bump
away and they eventually bump into the ones in the microphone which then sends the signal through
to the receiver into your room which bumps a few more air molecules which eventually hit your ear.
So there's something that is carrying the message, the wave. Electromagnetic waves, waves in what?

And they invented the idea of the ether, and this was a very bizarre substance that on the one hand
must have been incredibly tough to be able to transmit waves at 300,000 kilometres each second and
yet at the same time be so transparent that the Earth and planets could go through it as if it
wasn't there. And of course it was Einstein that eventually made the great leap in saying it isn't
there, there isn't any such stuff. There is truly nothing, and electromagnetic waves are
oscillating away in nothing.

Robyn Williams: There was a suggestion of ether making a comeback the other day, wasn't there?

Frank Close: In a profound way the ether has never really gone away. Today the idea of what we call
the Higgs Boson, the Higgs field, one way of thinking of that is that space is completely full of a
strange ether but it's an unusual ether, it's what's called a relativistic ether, in a very
profound sense designed such that you cannot possibly know that it is there except by the way that
it provides a resistance to things, an inertia which we interpret as mass. That is the theory
anyway. Whether it's true or not, we don't yet know. Hopefully in the next two to three years at
CERN we will know the answer to this, but at the moment that is the frontier.

Robyn Williams: Now for the most meaningful question. Are you ready?

Frank Close: Yes.

Robyn Williams: I once asked a mate of yours called Alan Guth this question. If you've got an awful
lot of nothing and you want to make a universe, I said to him, 'Where does it come from?' Many
people have asked this question before. And his answer was; a quantum fluctuation. Do you agree?

Frank Close: It is actually an interesting point that in principle Alan's answer could be correct,
that apparently empty space, space where all of the air and stuff has been taken out of, is still
full of virtual particles and anti-particles bubbling away, this sort of quantum froth that is
there all the while. We're not aware of it in normal experience but you can do experiments which
show that it is there, if you like, behind the scenes. So the vacuum is actually full of stuff,
it's like a medium, and just like a medium can take on different forms, like liquid water or frozen
snowflakes, so the vacuum can.

And the current ideas in science are that the very early universe, when it was very, very hot, the
nature of the vacuum was different than it is now, that it suddenly froze, that we, the structures,
the matter, solid form, particles and forces are the frozen form of nature today. The original
universe was in this very hot phase which we are now trying to see if this is really true at CERN.

Could it have erupted as a quantum fluctuation out of nothing? Bizarrely, maybe. You see, the idea
of the quantum is that you cannot simultaneously know where something is and how fast it is moving,
there are complementary things. You can borrow energy for a very brief moment. If you borrowed no
energy you could borrow it forever, and the remarkable thing in the universe is there's a lot of
positive energy trapped in stuff like you and me, but there's gravity around everywhere, and it
turns out that gravity is like negative energy. You're trapped in a gravitational well. So you and
me and everything in a universe full of gravity, the sum of all the energy in the universe could
add up to nothing, in which case, according to quantum, you could borrow it forever or at least 14
billion years.

So the universe could have erupted as a quantum fluctuation out of nothing. Where this leaves me
though is the great conundrum, so the night before the Big Bang happened, who or what, where was
encoded the quantum that says a universe can fluctuate out of it? And somehow I feel I've come full
circle. Yes, we know things that the ancient Greeks never did and we've passed a lot of interesting
things along the way, but I am still as far from the point where the rainbow touches ground as I
think they were 3,000 years ago.

Robyn Williams: Well, a much more straightforward and clear question, that of antimatter. I once
remember you attending a conference and I think the main star of the press conference hadn't turned
up, and one of the journalists said, 'Frank, go do a presentation for us on something you'll think
of in the next 14 seconds,' and you talked about the value of a certain substance for space
travellers in a space ship where there is no other source of fuel. And you said what you've got is
a constant source of urine because the crew will pee, and therefore if you had anti-urine then the
spaceship could be propelled. Was that your inspiration for antimatter?

Frank Close: That was indeed what I regret having said once in the past, and in principle it is
true. In fact I should have copyrighted it and now go to Dan Brown's lawyers and say, 'Just a
minute, I want my take on this.' Yes, and what I've done this year is written a book Antimatter
which is trying to separate the fact from the fiction. People at the moment have got quite enthused
because of Angels and Demons, it's a great fictional story, and with a bit of luck it might inspire
a lot of kids to take up science and learn the reality and the excitement of the reality of
antimatter, because what I do in my book Antimatter is show the wonderful things we've done.

Medics are using antimatter to save lives, PET scanners, positron emission tomography is used all
the time to save lives. In particle physics we use antimatter, property of annihilating matter and
antimatter in a flash of energy to recreate that flash of energy that we call the Big Bang. In the
laboratory we can make mini versions of just after the Big Bang and see how the basic seeds of
stuff emerged. So antimatter in science is incredibly exciting. And I end with the punch line,
'With so much excitement in fact, who needs fiction?'

Robyn Williams: Did Dan Brown get it half right or nearly right or what?

Frank Close: He got it half right in that it said that one gram of antimatter would be equivalent,
when you annihilated it, to the strength of the Hiroshima atom bomb. In fact he was half right
because you only need half as much, I regret to say, because the other half is given to you in the
form of matter that you annihilate against. Thankfully (or regretfully, I'm not sure which the
right word is) there are too many ways to make bombs far more easy than making antimatter, and that
is, I'm afraid, the way of the world.

The other bad news I think is...well, that's good news that you will not make an antimatter bomb,
the bad news is that his other question 'Could it be used to solve the world's energy problems?'
that is completely impossible because there isn't any antimatter out there, you have to make it,
atom or anti-atom by anti-atom. And the energy it costs you to make it is the same as you could get
back if later on you used it, and that is called the first law of thermodynamics or energy

The second law of thermodynamics is you can't even break even, that you waste a lot of energy, like
heat and things, friction, just disappears, it's useless. So you would actually use thousands of
times as much energy making your antimatter as you would ever be able to get back by using it. So a
source of the solution to the world's energy problems antimatter will never be, that's the bad
news. The good news is you will never make a bomb with it either.

Robyn Williams: My final question is if it's not out there, antimatter, how come it is likely to
happen anyway? Why should it be? Why isn't there just matter on its own?

Frank Close: That is, in my mind, the big question that we really are trying to find the answer to,
that everything in our experiments has shown how matter and antimatter emerge symmetrically in
perfect balance out of energy, and so presumably that is what happened after the Big Bang, and they
annihilate each other when they come in contact again. And yet today it seems the universe, as far
as we can observe it at large, is made of matter to the exclusion of antimatter. If there is
antimatter out there in bulk it is hiding itself away where we haven't managed to find it yet. So
what is the cause of this great asymmetry, we don't know. Why it is therefore there is something
rather than nothing is indeed the big question of the moment. Where did all that antimatter go and
why didn't it take us with it?

Robyn Williams: Frank Close, professor of physics at Oxford, has a book called Nothing: A Very
Short Introduction.


Frank Close

Professor of Physics Exeter College University of Oxford


Title: Antimatter

Author: Frank Close

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Title: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction

Author: Frank Close


Robyn Williams


David Fisher

Radio National often provides links to external websites to complement program information. While
producers have taken care with all selections, we can neither endorse nor take final responsibility
for the content of those sites.