By Glen Nagle
The town of Parkes, NSW – home of our famous Parkes Radio Telescope – has slipped on its Blue Suede Shoes.
In the second week of January each year, Parkes marks the birthday of Elvis Presley with a massive festival celebrating everything Elvis. It started over 20 years ago as a one-day get together of just a few hundred fans. In 2015, the festival has grown to cover a week of events, shows, parades and exhibits and over 15,000 visitors more than doubling the town’s population.
Along with one of the largest collections of Elvis memorabilia on permanent display at the Henry Parkes Visitor Centre (donated by Wiggles performer, Greg Page), the Parkes Elvis Festival is one of the town’s major icons.
The other great icon of course is the Dish – our very own Parkes radio telescope – so combining these two great icons into one stellar event was always going to be, quite literally, a match made in Heaven.
On Wednesday, 7th January an inaugural concert was held at the Dish to help mark the opening night of the Festival – and to celebrate what would have been the King’s 80th birthday the following day.
Starring popular Elvis tribute artist, Shakin’ Rick Mackaway, and backed by the fabulous rock band, The Wilsonics, the dinner and show night attracted hundreds of people from across the region and as far and wide as Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Storm clouds threatened earlier in the day, but nothing was going to rain on this parade of love for the King and the Dish. The clouds almost magically bypassed the telescope and the brightest stars in heaven came out for an incredible night of songs, dancing and laughter against the impressive backdrop of Australia’s iconic radio telescope.
Continuing to observe the heavens throughout the show, the Dish even performed during the intermission with several large moves enthralling the audience and provoking questions about both the science behind, and the history of, the Dish.
As the evening came to a close with a final encore performance and the audience departed, the number one question was, “Are you going to do it again next year?!”
Hmmm? Elvis and the Dish 2! Two icons, exciting audiences everywhere with music and astronomy.
The possibilities are endless. Watch this space.
A company more traditionally associated with energy drinks has been busy making waves in the world of sports science. Red Bull recently took two top professional surfers and a team of scientists to Mexico to test a range of new performance-enhancing technologies in one of the harshest arenas possible: an overhead, barreling wave breaking only a few feet over a bed of sand and rock.
We’re all for trying out new technologies in novel conditions, but this was a particularly impressive feat – the surfers were hooked up with all sorts of electronic equipment before paddling out into the lineup and doing their thing. At one point, surfer Jake Marshall even managed to ride some amazing waves with a laptop strapped to his back.
Surfing is a sport that is usually described in terms of instinct, intuition and unpredictability – so studies like this are providing scientists with amazing insights into areas of surfing that have previously held an almost mystical status. As well as hooking up the surfers with wi-fi headsets for instant feedback from coaches on land, and pressure-sensing feet ‘booties’ to analyse and optimise how they controlled their boards, the scientists were even able to measure surfer ‘stoke’ levels using a waterproof EEG.
You can watch the video here:
We’ve done a fair bit of sports science ourselves, too. Most recently, we partnered with Melbourne company Catapult Sports to deliver a new wireless athlete tracking device using our Wireless Ad-hoc System for Positioning (WASP) technology. The device, called ClearSky, gives coaches the ability to monitor their athletes more accurately in indoor and GPS-poor environments.
It works much like a GPS, but instead of using satellites in space, ClearSky uses fixed reference nodes that are located either within or just outside of a building. You can read more about the benefits of it here.
Of course, it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out how useful this technology could be on a cloudy day at a Melbourne AFL match when traditional GPS coverage is low. But it also has great applications for other (editor’s note: wussier) sports that are played undercover, like American football, basketball and soccer.
Indeed, the Catapult client list is a veritable who’s who of the international sporting world: the New York Giants (NFL), Orlando Magic (NBA), AC Milan (soccer), the Socceroos (soccer), Brisbane Broncos (rugby league), New Zealand Silver Ferns (basketball) and dozens of others. Many of these organisations are either already using ClearSky, or are preparing to do so.
Obviously, this is a winning technology that can be applied across a diverse range of sports. Who knows, maybe one day ClearSky will even be used to track the performance of professional surfers in a wave pool in the middle of Melbourne?
But in the meantime, some mysteries of surfing – like why the waves were always better yesterday, who stole my wax, and where surfing commentators get their t-shirts from – will forever remain unanswered.
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.