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Tonight on Catalyst - new research suggests that face blindness is more common than we ever

JONICA: You, me, our kids could have it and not even realise until you watch this program.

Einstein causes a stir in medical circles.

Could Einstein's theory about tea-leaves revolutionise blood tests?

And we meet stargazer and Milky Way expert, Naomi McClure-Griffiths.

Face Blindness

Face Blindness

Reporter: Dr Jonica Newby

Related Info

19 July 2007

Most of us have trouble remembering names, but what if you can't even remember a face? That's the
social nightmare facing people with a condition known as prosopagnosia - also known as "face
blindness". And while we used to think it was rare, astonishing new research has revealed it's far
more common than anyone realised. In fact, it runs in families, and up to one in 50 people have
symptoms - that means one in 50 children may have hitherto unrecognised problems with face
blindness. Is your family's face recognition up to scratch? Have a pen handy to take the test on
this week's must watch report on Catalyst.


Narration: Many of us have trouble remembering names.

But what if you can't even remember a face?

Laura Schmalzl: It becomes embarrassing, it becomes frightening sometimes.

Professor Max Coltheart: A lot of people get very disturbed by it because if someone doesn't
recognise you, you take it as a personal slight.

Dr Jonica Newby: It's called prosopagnosia - also known as face blindness. And while we used to
think it was rare, new research is revealing it's suprisingly common. In fact, you - me - our kids
could have it, and not even realise until you watch this program.

Narration: But for one young woman, let's call her "Sally", it hit suddenly and disastrously -
when, at 22 she had a brain tumour removed ... and with it her memory for faces.

Sally: To begin with, I didn't notice how bad it was. But steadily it got worse and worse.

At one stage, my own face became alien, and I'd stare at myself in the mirror, moving my arm to see
if the reflections moved with it. I'd stand there and stare, and felt an utter disconnection to
this reflection.

Narration: Like many sufferers of severe prosopagnosia, Sally doesn't want to be identified ... so
we've engaged an actor to recreate her interviews conducted with ABC's radio National .

Sally: One night, I met a great boy. We sat down and talked for most of the night. At one stage, he
went to the bathroom. A few minutes later, a guy came up and sat down at my table, which seemed
very forward of him, and I put out my hand and introduced myself. He just looked at me ... and said
he was the same guy and all he'd done was go to the bathroom. I realised that wasn't all he'd done
- he'd taken his jumper off while he was in there.

Laura Schmalzl: How people explain it to us is they just look, they just look the same. They
recognise that these are all faces, they're just not able to distinguish them from one another.

Pause a beat

Professor Max Coltheart: If you've got complete prosopagnosia so you can't recognise a single
friend, you've got to adopt strategies like getting them to talk, or if they dress
characteristically you can recognise them.

Narration: "Sally" has what's known as acquired prosopagnosia - usually caused by brain surgery or
stroke. Until recently, that was the only kind known. But a couple of years ago in Germany,
researchers conducted a large survey of students. To their astonishment, one in 50 had symptoms of
face blindness.

Dr Jonica Newby: The shock discovery of what's now known as congenital prosopagnosia has prompted a
surge of research worldwide - some of it here at Macquarie University, where I've come to find out
how you tell if you've got it.

Well Professor, what makes you think I'm a good candidate for a face blindness test?

Professor Max Coltheart: Well I think you told me that you need to see people several times before
you can remember their faces. Most people only need to see faces once.

Dr Jonica Newby: They do? laugh

Professor Max Coltheart: Another thing that people often mention that gets us sensitised is that
they have difficulty following characters on television.

Dr Jonica Newby: Well, I hope you at home have got those pens ready, because soon, I'm going to do
the test, and you can do part of it with me.

Narration: So how could anyone forget a face?

From the moment we're born, we're programmed to make the incredibly subtle analyses of eye, nose
and mouth spacing necessary to distinguish faces. It's not just to know our mothers - there are
other powerful evolutionary reasons.

Professor Max Coltheart: Thousands of years ago, it was fairly important if someone popped out of
the bushes to know if they were part of your tribe, in which case they were likely to be benign, or
some stranger who's likely to kill you. If the brain doesn't do that quickly, then you're dead.

Narration: So important are faces to our survival, we've evolved a special part of the brain to
process them. Its called the Fusiform Face area. It sits mainly in the right temporal lobe - quite
separate from the circuits used to recognise objects.

In "Sally"'s case, the surgery removed her right temporal lobe, disrupting her face recognition
completely. With congenital prosopagnosia, the deficits are often far more subtle ... which is why
you need a test.

Dr Jonica Newby: You ready at home? OK what do I do?

Laura Schmalzl: OK, the first test I'll get you to do is a face memory test.

Narration: There are two main parts to face recognition - face memory, and face perception.

In this first test of face memory, I have to name these famous faces without the benefit of hair

OK now you try. Write down the name of this celebrity.

And this one? And this one?

Laura Schmalzl: So this next task actually looks at how you perceive faces.

Narration: In this face perception task, I have to tell if these faces are the same or different.

Now you try - are these faces the same or different? Write s for same, d for different.

How about these faces - same or different.

So here are the answers.

Did you find either of these tasks difficult?

Well, that was only a quick indication - but my tests have taken over an hour, and I'm about to
find out how I scored.

Dr Jonica Newby: So how did I do - have I got face blindness?

Professor Max Coltheart: There are some hints of it there. Your test of recognising really well
known people vs unknown people, you were fine. However, when you were learning new faces, you were
right at the bottom of the normal range.

Dr Jonica Newby: At the bottom of the normal range?

Professor Max Coltheart: But not outside. So that does suggest that when you see a new face you
don't form a representation of it immediately - it takes a few times.

Narration: For people at the mild end of the spectrum, it's just a minor inconvenience - and adults
with severe prosopagnosia learn strategies to cope.

But what if face blindness is affecting your kids, and you have no idea what's going on? That's
what happened to a young mother we'll call Helena.

Laura Schmalzl: From very early on both kids were very anxious in social situations. In the
playground they would refuse to play with other kids. The children were avoiding eye contact.

Narration: These are not symptoms you'd want your kids to show, because when she took them to the
doctor, Helena got the diagnosis she'd most feared - autism.

Laura Schmalzl: That was obviously a very difficult moment for Helena - not the diagnosis any
mother would want to receive. But still observing the children she just had a feeling that was not
exactly what was going on.

Narration: And one odd incident stood out ... when all she'd done was take a shower.

Laura Schmalzl: As she came out of the bathroom, her hair was obviously different from before so it
was wet so it was a different colour and it was all tied to the face.

And the little girl just had a screaming fit cos she had no idea who she was. And that's when it
hit Helena that there must be something with her not being able to recognise her.

Narration: And that's how Helena came to bring her girl to Sydney ... to see Laura ... and start a
barrage of tests.

This machine tracks eye movements as we scan a face. Normally, we focus on eyes and mouth. But the
little girl's gaze went everywhere but.

And when Laura went on to test the rest of the family - amazingly nearly half had some degree of

Laura Schmalzl: So this confirmed our suspicion face blindness might have a genetic component to

Narration: But it also offered a unique opportunity. Here was one of the youngest prosopagnosics
ever discovered. Could they retrain her still developing brain to better recognise faces?

Laura Schmalzl: So this is before training and this is after training - look - beautifully focusing
on the eyes which is what we were aiming for.

Dr Jonica Newby: You must have been pleased. Laura: Yeah, definitely.

Professor Max Coltheart: Given that it seems this is much more common than we thought - if its
really true that it occurs in one in 50 people, that's one in 50 newborns - its worth knowing about

Narration: So the next time someone fails to recognise you, don't be offended - give them the
benefit of the doubt.

While some people never forget a face, others never remember one.

Sheep Smart

Sheep Smart

Reporter: Dr Paul Willis

Related Info

19 July 2007

Sheep are not often thought of as smart creatures - behaving like a flock of sheep is a cliché for
acting as a mob without thought. Perhaps because sheep have been assumed to be dumb, no one had
previously thought to find out just how smart sheep are and if their intelligence can be used to
improve their care and productivity. Now researchers at the University of New England have been
putting sheep through simple intelligence tests and it turns out they are smarter than we expected.
But just how do you measure the intelligence of a sheep and does it do them any good?


Dr Paul Willis:If you're like me you've probably never thought of sheep as being particularly smart
creatures. But research conducted here at the CSIRO in New England not only suggests they're
smarter than we previously thought, and that they've got better memories, but these are features we
can use to better manage them into the future.

NARRATION:It must be the ultimate metaphor for unthinking, instinctive and stupid behaviour.

These animals are, after all, "behaving like a flock of sheep".

Dr Caroline Lee:Sheep actually have a very strong flocking instinct because that's developed for
them to survive in the wild and protect them from predators. So when we try and take a sheep away
from the flock, it doesn't do what we want it to do, so it comes across as being stupid.

NARRATION:Always questioning the sheep dogma, Caroline Lee wondered just how smart sheep really

And what sort of IQ test do you devise for a sheep?

Dr Paul Willis:Cow is to moo as sheep is to...


Dr Caroline Lee:Well we wanted to measure cognition and learning in sheep using the maze, and we
measure them and then over subsequent days, we normally do three consecutive days, it actually
measures how quickly they learn and remember.

Dr Paul Willis:So it's just like putting rats in a maze in a laboratory just that we're in a
paddock and we're using sheep?

Dr Caroline Lee


Dr Caroline Lee:Well sheep have a really strong flocking instinct, so we've used that motivation to
enable them to get through the maze.

When they enter the maze they can view their flock-mates up one end and see through the see-through
fence panels and then it navigates its way and is motivated to join them.

This sheep has actually gone through and this is its third occasion and you can see it actually
doesn't make any errors at all and goes straight through without entering any cul-de-sacs.

Dr Paul Willis:That's amazing!

Dr Paul Willis:And what have you found out? Are they actually smart?

Dr Caroline Lee:We've found that sheep have excellent spatial memory ability. They're able to
improve their performance over three consecutive days of testing. And then they can actually, when
we've tested them a year later, we've found that they've actually retained their memory of the maze
for a whole year.

Dr Paul Willis:And in your testing so far, have you come across an Einstein sheep, one that's just
a sheep genius?

Dr Caroline Lee:We've come across sheep that perform very well in the maze, and some of them can
actually complete the maze, I think the record was 12 seconds for one sheep.

Dr Paul Willis:I don't think I could do it in 12 seconds!

Dr Paul Willis:Complete the phrase, to improve standards is to raise the ...


NARRATION:Nicky Roberts wanted to know how readily sheep could learn a specific task. And to do so,
she had to apply a little heat.

Dr Paul Willis:It's really hot in here!

Nicky Roberts: It is hot yes, we've actually got the temperature set at 35 degrees with 70%

Dr Paul Willis:And why do you need to do that?

Nicky Roberts: Well what we're actually doing is, we can change the temperature, that's our
hottest. We're going to put the sheep in here where this pen is at 20 degrees and see how much they
want to move from the hot to the cold.

Dr Paul Willis:So the sheep can actually choose to get comfortable?

Nicky Roberts: They can, yeah.

NARRATION:Time to stand back and watch the experiment unfold with fellow researcher Andrew Fisher.

Dr Paul Willis:So the sheep now has the opportunity to get into that room but it.. how many times
has it got to press the pad to get in there?

Nicky Roberts

She's going to have to press it ten times.

Dr Paul Willis:That's some effort on its behalf.

Nicky Roberts: It is yeah, but it's pretty hot in that room and she should really want to get into
the cool.

Dr Andrew Fisher: What we've found, like this sheep, because it's 35 degrees it really wants to get
in there, but at lower temperatures the sheep doesn't want to get in there quite as much.

Dr Paul Willis:And there's ten times, there she goes.

Dr Andrew Fisher: Well done!

Dr Paul Willis:Clever Sheep!

Dr Paul Willis:Which is the odd one out? Rosemary, Mint, Lamb?

Sheep: Baaaa!

NARRATION:OK, so sheep can learn and they can let us know when they're feeling hot. Who cares? It's
not like we want to breed Mensa Merinos!

Dr Andrew Fisher: It's really well known that if you actually place an animal in an optimal
environment then it grows better, it reproduces better and the quality of the wool or the meat or
the milk that results from it is also better. So we know that if we can identify the temperatures
that are good for the sheep, that the sheep feel good about, then we know that there'll be a
productivity spin-off for the producer as well.

NARRATION:And, if sheep can learn, that also allows for the development of new technologies like

The sheep have learnt that if they go through this walkover weigh station they'll get a food

So the sheep weigh themselves without any human intervention, saving quite a bit of labour for the

Dr Paul Willis:Mutton dressed as lamb. Discuss.


Dr Paul Willis: Are we looking at the idea of maybe breeding smarter sheep, selecting for smarter
sheep to make husbandry even easier?

Dr Andrew Fisher: I think it's better off to design the system to suit the animal than to try and
re-design the animal to suit a particular system.

NARRATION:In the end it's all about better management of sheep, because a contented flock is a more
productive flock.

Einstein's Tea Leaves

Einstein's tea leaves

Reporter: Dr Maryanne Demasi

Related Info

19 July 2007

Many have indulged in a good old fashioned cup of tea, but few would've noticed that stirring their
tea leaves would cause them to settle down at the centre of their cup. But according to basic
physics, the centrifugal force cause by stirring your tea should for the leaves to the edges of the
cup - So how do we explain this?

Well, it took the brilliant mind of Albert Einstein to propose a theory which has led to the
development of technology for a new medical test kit which could revolutionise blood testing.


Dr Maryanne Demasi: According to basic physics, when you stir you're your cup of tea, the tea
leaves should be forced to the outside edges of the cup, by centrifugal force.

But Albert Einstein had a theory as to why this isn't so.... And it could have some important medical

Einstein explained that stirring a cup of tea establishes two forces.First, the tea leaves are
pushed outwards by centrifugal force.But then, friction at the base of the cup creates an opposing
force, which pushes the tea leaves towards the centre.

Now you may think so what! But this theory has caused a stir with one Melbourne engineer. Dr Leslie
Yeo has used Einstein's theory to develop technology for a new type of medical test kit.

Dr Leslie Yeo: We're trying to develop a device that can be used to measure your blood cholesterol
or glucose or immuno-deficiencies. Currently, blood testing requires a large sample from the
patient and it takes days for results. A large centrifuge like this one is used to separate the
blood cells from plasma.

Narration:But Leslie's technology does this with only a microscopic amount of blood in less time
than it takes to brew a cuppa!

Dr Leslie Yeo: Here's the micro-device that we use.

Dr Maryanne Demasi: It's a small device isn't it?

Dr Leslie Yeo: That's right. Once the blood goes in there, we put a tiny needle close to it and
turn on the electric field. Its going to create an air flow away from the needle that actually
pushes the liquid around in the micro chamber.

Dr Maryanne Demasi: So the blood actually swirls around?

Dr Leslie Yeo: That's right.

Narration: This reaction happens within seconds. But Leslie's computer shows, in slow motion, how
red blood cells become separated from plasma.

Dr Leslie Yeo: This is what you would actually see down the microscope, these red blood cells would
spiral all the way down the bottom.

Dr Maryanne Demasi: What 'forces' cause the blood cells to gravitate towards the centre?

Dr Leslie Yeo: Well, its a combination of the air flow at the top and a stationary base which
exerts friction on the bottom layer of the liquid and the combination of that will actually funnels
the red blood cells down like a whirlpool and they collect at the bottom stagnation point.

Dr Maryanne Demasi: So that's just like the tea cup with the tea leaves.

Dr Leslie Yeo: Exactly.

Dr Maryanne Demasi: The next step is to incorporate this technology into a portable device - no
larger than a credit card - which can be used to test blood anytime, anywhere.

Dr Leslie Yeo: The people who would benefit most would be the little kids for example who hate
taking blood samples , and people who have regular blood tests and you could do it really quickly
without having to go to the doctors office and you could do it really cheaply as well.

Narration: Leslie predicts it'll take 5 to 10 years before Einstein's theory revolutionises blood
testing, so until then, sit back and enjoy your cuppa.

Astrophysicist Naomi McClure-Griffiths is more than your average stargazer. Her discovery of a new
spiral arm in the Milky Way forced astronomers to redraw the galaxy. Let's meet Naomi. NAOMI: I'm
an astrophysicist and also a radio astronomer. So I use radio telescopes to study our galaxy. An
astronomer makes measurements of the sky and an astrophysicist interprets those measurements in
terms of what we know about physics. So I'm trying to understand how things work rather that just
what I see. Neither of my parents are scientists so... My mum is an artist and my father is a
rehabilitation counsellor. But they both encouraged me to just follow my passions. There aren't a
lot of women in physics and astronomy. For me, I was the only woman graduate in my undergraduate
year and I used to refer to the women's toilet as my office. Uh, so I certainly felt a bit alone
early on. As a kid, I played on the all boy's baseball team so I think it set me up right for being
in the male-dominated astronomical profession. I came to Australia originally as an undergraduate
for my honours year studying radio astronomy and then I continued coming to use the telescopes
here. My first experience when I went to Parkes was overwhelming. I went straight up onto the edge
of the telescope. Sat there, looked over, shook a little bit in fear and observed all night. If you
want to study the Milky Way - which is what I do - Australia's the place to be. In Australia, we
look straight into the centre of the galaxy and there's no better place to see the Milky Way. Dave
does quite similar work although he would call himself an astronomer and a manager rather than an
astrophysicist. I've known Dave for many, many years professionally and came to know each other
slowly but eventually got to know each other well and it all followed from there. There's a pile of
dogs over there. One of the things that Dave does for me is give me confidence in myself. He
believes that I can do anything and through seeing him believe that, I start to think that. (Both

Had you worried then.

I recently discovered a new spiral arm on our galaxy. This is a diagram of what we think the galaxy
look likes and it's like a pinwheel. And out on the very far edge of it, we have found a new
gaseous arm - just made up of gas. We can see it better if we look at just the actual data and this
is a movie of the data as we're stepping further away from the sun. And, as I was looking through
these data, looking side-on into the galaxy, I noticed that as we get further and further away,
there was a feature which came shooting across from the left to the right and that's the spiral arm
that caught my attention.

ANNOUNCER: Congratulations to Dr Naomi McClure-Griffiths.

DAVE: It was wonderful when Naomi got the Prime Minister's Physical Sciences Prize. I guess I'm
biased, I knew she deserved it.

Finally, I'd like to thank my husband, Dave, who's sitting out there beaming at me and sharing his
unfaltering confidence in me. Thank you all. We had a pretty good party when we found out from the

We had a great party and several, in fact. A series of parties. We've still got some of the wine
under the bed.

My next big project is to study all of the hydrogen gas in the galaxy. And this is a movie of all
of the data that we have for the entire Southern sky. And here we're looking at hydrogen as we move
further and further away from the sun and we hope to turn this into a full atlas of what the galaxy
looks like. How much hydrogen gas there is, how it's structured and how it came to be there. And
hopefully that will tell us something about how our galaxy formed.

There's a lot of stars up there, aren't there?

There are a lot of stars. I wonder how many other people are lying on their backs looking up?

What, you mean on their own planets, out there on some of those stars?


What do you reckon they look like?

(Laughs) Well, they're little green men with a single eye in the middle, of course. GRAHAM: Next
week on Catalyst - Jonica Newby travels to the US in a bid to save the great California condor.

Today is the biggest day in the life of Californian condor number 79. She's about to get her first
taste of freedom.

And how much homework can our kids really take in?

What is the most effective way to get what's in here in here?

That's it for now. If you wanna know anything more about any of the stories you've seen or you
wanna watch them online, check out our website: On behalf of the team, see you next week.