Lightning is one of the scariest forms of energy in nature. What Halloween movie isn’t complete without a sudden thunderous bolt from the heavens right when the bad guy emerges from the shadows?
But lightning isn’t all just theatrics. It also contains a lot of power which, if it could be harnessed, could be of great use. This week’s dramatic electrical storms in Melbourne and Adelaide (storm photo gallery, ABC News) got us thinking… if we could capture lightning, what would we do with it?
In the 1931 film Frankenstein, the eponymous scientist used lightning-like bolts of electricity to create a monster. In the 1990’s film Back to the Future, Doc used lightning to power his DeLorean to travel in time.
While it is fair to say we’re not quite ready to raise the dead or travel in time, using lightning to power our homes – or even a simple appliance like a toaster – could one day be a possibility.
Tall buildings like The Sydney Tower are regularly hit by lightning. According to recent reports, a million volts can charge through the Sydney Tower’s metal frame countless times per storm. Depending on which reports you read, there are about 500 megajoules in the average bolt. This could easily power a 1000 watt two-slice toaster for over a year.
Capturing the energy in a lightning bolt has been tried but with limited success. Other ideas have included conducting electricity using rods, or using the energy to heat water which could then be used to generate electricity. This is similar to solar thermal technologies which use the sun to heat water and then generate electricity.
For now, we’d say you’d be mad to try and power your toaster with lightning (unless you like it really burnt); but if we can find an efficient way to capture, store and distribute this energy, then one day it may form a small part of our energy mix.
Learn more about how we’re already harnessing nature’s power to produce energy with supercritical steam.
As the mercury rises and our focus turns to hitting the gym and shedding those cuddly winter kilos, we thought we’d take a look at a few ways we could be making our workouts really count.
While the idea of working up a sweat and electricity might sound like a recipe for disaster, you’d be surprised how people and businesses are using sport and exercise to create electricity – with a conscience.
Giving light to rural communities
A company in the US has created a soccer balled called Soccket which can generate three hours of light with just thirty minutes of play. The ball is being used in rural off-grid areas of Mexico. Soccket stores the kinetic energy built up while you play using a pendulum-like mechanism.
Creating greener stadiums
At the Homes Stadium in Kobe City, Japan, the floorplan has been designed to harness vibrations made by cheering fans to create electricity. The electricity generates is fed back into the stadium’s power supply. The more fans cheer the less power the stadium needs to take from the ‘grid’.
Building safe places for kids to play
Soccer superhero Pele recently teamed up with global energy company Shell to launch a new type of pitch in a Rio. It is made from tiles which capture kinetic energy created by the movement of the players. The light is being used to power the pitch at night, resulting in a safe and secure community space.
Keeping your gym green
A gym in the UK made history by becoming the first self-powered gym using the energy of bikes, cross trainers and ‘vario’ machines to power its lights. Each machine feeds around 100w per hour back into the gym’s power supply. Treadmills also generate enough energy to power their own information screens.
And for those of us who may not be able to book a round the world trip purely for exercise purposes, why not try signing up for our new Total Wellbeing Diet online trial? Visit the website for more information and to sign up.
We collect things. Lots of things.
You might have heard about our major collections – the National Wildlife Collection, National Fish Collection, National Insect Collection, National Herbarium. You might even have heard of the Cape Grim Air Archive. But what about the National Soil Archive? Let alone the Fungus Collection or the Algae Collection.
The National Soil Archive contains more than 70 000 soil samples from nearly ten thousand sites across Australia. They’re not just bits of dirt picked up from anywhere. Not only are the samples representative of soil types throughout Australia, they’re a time capsule of sorts as well. Quite a lot of the samples date from the early 1920s, before widespread pesticide use.
Having these old samples gives us an historical record of soil carbon, so they’re an important resource for our work on climate change. They also provide an interactive key to Australian soil classification, which is a handy tool for landcare advisors, agronomists, environmental consultants, ecologists, foresters, geomorphologists, land use planners and catchment managers, and they form the backbone of our SoilMapp tool. Who’d have thought?
And there are actually three different fungi collections. There’s the Wood-Inhabiting Fungi Collection, which is self-explanatory. Then there’s the WA-based Mycology Herbarium, which deals with fungi as parts of ecosystem biodiversity.
The third is a little more off-putting. It’s the FRR Culture Collection. It’s a comprehensive archive of filamentous fungi and yeasts of the kinds associated with processed food spoilage. To put it simply, the national mould collection is a real thing. It’s not in a student share house fridge, but carefully stored and catalogued at CSIRO.
We mustn’t forget the algae. We have a comprehensive collection – the Australian National Algae Culture Collection – stored in Hobart: more than 1000 strains of over 300 species. It’s an important resource for two reasons. The first is that the nutrient value of algae is of growing scientific interest. The second is – and this might come as a surprise – it’s aligned with CSIRO’s Microalgae Supply Service. This provides microalgal strains for ‘starter cultures’. They go to industry, research organisations and universities in more than 50 countries. We also supply starter cultures to the Australian aquaculture industry: microalgae are the essential first foods for larval and juvenile animals. They’re also the basis of our Novacq™ prawn food additive.
We think the contents of our cupboards are pretty interesting. They’re certainly unusual.
Nearly 40 years ago, on 5 January 1975, the 135m bulk ore carrier MV Lake Illawarra was heading up the Derwent River in Hobart to offload its cargo of 10 000 tonnes of zinc ore concentrate. It was off course as it neared the Tasman Bridge linking Hobart’s eastern suburbs to the rest of the city.
There was a strong current running at the time, and the ship was travelling too slowly. It became unmanageable. Several unwise decisions by the captain added up to disaster: the ship drifted towards the eastern shore of the Derwent, striking two of the bridge pylons. Three spans of the bridge and a 127m section of roadway came crashing down into the river and onto the vessel’s deck.
Twelve people died as a result. Five were in cars that were on the bridge at the time and drove over the gap, falling 45m into the water below. The others were trapped crew members of the MV Lake Illawarra, which sank almost immediately after the impact in 34m of water. It was never salvaged, and remains there to this day.
The Geophysical Survey and Mapping (GSM) Team on our new research vessel, RV Investigator, works on mapping any part of the ocean floor to any depth. They recently took delivery of a new EM2040c, a High Resolution Multibeam Echosounder (shallow water sonar) that can map the sea floor to 500 metres. To calibrate it, they took out a support vessel and had a closer look at the wreck of MV Lake Illawarra.
With this new sonar equipment, mapping the whole wreck took about an hour. It’s just an example of its capabilities. The EM2040c is mobile, can be lifted by a single person and can fit on almost any vessel. The beam can be up to four times the water depth and it’s able to send and receive signals at a rate of 50 times per second.
And there’s a lot to use it for. Only about 12 per cent of Australia’s ocean floor has been mapped: there’s a great deal to find out yet.
We asked, and you surely delivered. We put out a call for your photos of the lunar eclipse, and got so many that for a moment we were afraid we might break Facebook. Here are some of our favourites.
It was a little cloudy in Melbourne, but Rhonda Baum still managed to sneak a shot through the gloom.
Clear skies in Port Lincoln helped Peter Knife get this.
Meanwhile, in Albury, the eclipse really turned it on for Petra de Ruyter.
And Tamworth lived up to its claim to be Big Sky Country.
Some managed to catch the purple tones.
Others managed to catch tones we found a little surprising. There’s always one, isn’t there, Peter Feeney?
We got images from Japan.
We got spectacular montages.
But for some of us, the weather didn’t co-operate at all. Kim Cook was able to remind those of us who missed out that clouds can be beautiful too.
But if we’re honest, we have to admit that Ali Ceyhan spoke for all of us who didn’t get to see it.
Next time, next time … And our sincere thanks to all of you for your photos.
- No one knows when Ned Kelly was born (see page 29)
True. What we do know is that Ned was the third of 12 children born to Ellen Kelly (from three different fathers). There is no clear evidence of his actual birth, but it was most likely 1854 or 1855, near Beveridge north of Melbourne, meaning he was just 25 or 26 when he died.
- Ned Kelly was illiterate (see page 222)
False. There are enough surviving examples of Ned’s handwriting to know that he could write. This myth most likely evolved from the belief that fellow Kelly Gang member, Joe Byrne, penned the famous Jerilderie letter. This letter has been described as Ned Kelly’s ‘manifesto’ and is a direct account of the Kelly Gang and the events with which they were associated.
- How did he wear such a heavy helmet? (see page 135)
If you have ever seen or tried on a replica of one of the Kelly gang’s helmets, you’ll be struck by how heavy they are and how much they cut into the collar bone. The fact is that the weight of the helmet was not meant to be borne on the collar bones at all. The helmets have holes punched on front, back and sides of each helmet, through which leather straps were strung, meaning most of the weight was felt on top of the wearer’s head. Ned Kelly is reported to have worn a woollen cap to pad his head.
- A film about Ned Kelly was the world’s first feature film (see page 111)
True. It is often reported that Charles Tait’s 1906 film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was the world’s first full-length feature film. Its first screening was at the Athenaeum Hall on 26th of December 1906 and is alleged to have prompted five children in Ballarat to hold up a group of schoolchildren at gunpoint! This resulted in the Victorian Chief Secretary banning the film in towns with strong Kelly connections. And for many years the film was thought to be lost, but segments were found in various locations, including some found on a rubbish dump.
In 2007 the film was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for being the world’s first full-length feature film.
- Ned Kelly’s last words were ‘Such is life’. (see page 8)
Many believe that the last utterance by Ned Kelly just before his hanging were three simple word, ‘Such is life’. Whether uttered with weary resignation or an acceptance of misfortune, the notion that the quote is attributed to Ned Kelly survives today (even inspiring one or two tattoos!)
But what Ned Kelly actually said as his last words is uncertain. Some newspapers at the time certainly reported the words ‘Such is life’, while a reporter standing on the gaol floor wrote that Ned’s last words were, ‘Ah well! It’s come to this at last.’ But one of the closest persons to Ned on the gallows, the gaol warden, wrote in his diary that Kelly opened his mouth and mumbled something that he couldn’t hear.
We will never know exactly what Ned’s last words were – such is life.
- Ned Kelly courtroom curse killed the judge (see page 204)
It is true that judge Sir Redmond Barry died 12 days after Ned Kelly was executed. The two men, Kelly and Barry, had been antagonists for some time, so after being sentenced to death at his trial, Ned Kelly famously replied to Sir Redmond Barry, ‘I will see you there where I go’ or a version of that quote.
Ned Kelly was executed on the 11th of November 1880 and Sir Redmond Barry died on the 23rd of the same month. However Barry’s certificate did not list the cause of death as “curse”, rather it is more likely that the judge died from a combination of pneumonia and septicaemia from an untreated carbuncle.
- If you have a Ned Kelly tattoo you are more likely to die violently (see page xvi)
Depending on how you interpret the forensic data, wearing a Ned Kelly tattoo can be very dangerous! A study from the University of Adelaide found that corpses with Ned Kelly tattoos were much more likely to have died by murder and suicide. But it was a pretty small sample size.
Ned Kelly: Under the Microscope, edited by Craig Cormick, available now, in book shops and online $39.95. Meet the author and Dr Richard Bassed from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine at Discovery Centre on 19 November. For more information visit: http://www.csiro.au/Portals/Education/Programs/Discovery-Centre/Whats-on/Ned-Kelly.aspx
The winners of the 2014 IgNobel prizes have just been announced, and there’s an Australian among them. Peter K. Jonason from the University of Western Sydney shared the IgNobel for Psychology with Amy Jones and Minna Lyons, for providing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.
We are filled with admiration.
CSIRO wasn’t among the winners this year, but we’re going to take the opportunity to boast about our earlier winners.
In 2011, David Rentz (formerly of CSIRO) and Darryl Gwynne shared the IgNobel Prize for biology, for their groundbreaking discovery that a certain kind of Australian beetle attempts to mate with stubby bottles. Specifically, that male Buprestid beetles (jewel beetles or metallic wood-boring beetles) had a particular attraction to brown stubbies – none of this fancy craft beer in clear glass for them. In true scientific spirit, having noticed this occurring, they took steps to confirm the mating hypothesis. They ruled out the beetles being attracted by beer residue – the stubby bottles were completely dry. Nor were the beetles interested in a discarded wine bottle nearby – suggesting the colour of the bottle was the source of the attraction.
They then placed several more stubby bottles within range of the male beetles, and found that these too were extremely appealing to the beetles. So appealing, in fact, that they didn’t give up of their own accord, but had to be physically dislodged from making their amorous advances.
This, of course, provides a valuable lesson about the unintended consequences of littering. Throwing away a stubby can cause grave disappointment for beetles.
But these are not our only IgNobelists.
In 2006, Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes took out the IgNobel in mathematics for working out the solution to a problem that has confounded photographers for many years: how many photos do you need to take to be sure no-one is blinking.
They managed to reduce it to a (fairly) simple rule of thumb. For groups of less than 20 people, take the number of people in the group and divide that number by three. If you take that number of photos you can be virtually certain one of them will be blink-free. If the light is bad, divide the number of people in the group by two, because there’s a greater chance people will be blinking whilst the shutter is open.
This doesn’t work as well when the groups get larger: the number of photos grows so large that the group is likely to lose patience. But as they point out, the more people in a photo, the less it matters if one of them is blinking. And you’ll be pleased to know this was all experimentally tested in the canteen at lunchtime.
So congratulations to this year’s winners, commiserations to the losers, and onwards and upwards for the spirit of inquiry that drives improbable research.
Next year, next year …