By Carrie Bengston
For us, Movember isn’t just about blokes growing facial hair and raising funds for men’s health – it’s a chance to collect data and muck around with technology.
Computer fluid dynamicist Fletcher Woolard is more used to animating geophysical flows like tsunamis and landslides. But this month, he thought he’d try something a little different – animating mo growth.
Using his skills in computer simulation, he photographed day by day, millimetre by millimetre, follicle by follicle how his mo was growing – and turned it into a cool time lapse video.
In just four seconds, you can see Fletcher’s facial hair growing at around 400,000 times the normal speed.
Unfortunately his efforts were still a long way off Ram Singh Chauhan, who has spent over thirty years crafting an impressive 4.29 metre long moustache. But hey, it’s not bad for less than a month’s growth.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this isn’t our first attempt at capturing hair growth data.
Back in 2008, our image analysis team developed software to count and measure hair regrowth. It was designed to test the effectiveness of hair removal products more accurately – which is traditionally a manual (and pretty boring) process.
The software took digital images from a specifically designed scanner pressed on to the skin, and used smart algorithms to automatically look for the hairs. Despite initial interest from several hair replacement studios, it sadly never made it to product stage
But all is not lost. Luckily in today’s world of mobile wireless technology, there’s an app for that – the mo tracker.
For more information or to get involved in Movember, head to Movember Australia.
They say it’s the race that stops a nation, but let’s face it: The Melbourne Cup isn’t for everyone.
If you aren’t a cup fan, you’re not a bad sport. You’re not “un-Australian” and it’s probably not that you don’t like horses in general. From Black Beauty to Mister Ed to Daenerys Targaryen’s ride Silver, there are lots of nice horses that have nothing to do with horse racing. There are also lots of other “horse” animals named for their equine appearance.
If you’re not a racing or sports fan, this special edition of Critter Corner brings you some horse-y animals to enjoy. You could even come back and read this at 3:00pm when your colleagues are busy watching race horses run around a track.
The Horse Fly
Note the biting mouth parts. Horse flies will be familiar to anyone who has been walking through wet habitats during the warmer months and felt the sharp, piercing bite of these annoying insects. It’s the female flies that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans. Although many consider them a pest, horse flies are quite important pollinators of plants. They act like hummingbirds during the day, drinking nectar from their favourite varieties of grevillea, tea trees and eucalypts.
Pipehorses differ from the Seahorses as their heads are positioned at a less acute angle to their body. Due to their straight shape, pipehorses can’t extend their snouts as far as the curvaceous seahorse. Quite sad for those times when you need to stretch a few more millimetres to reach your dinner.
Seahorses are really the curvy pin-up fish of the sea. But why are they so curvaceous? Seahorse evolved from straight-bodied swimmers like pipefish—their curved trunk, bent head and long snout help them catch their dinner. Nature wrap it all up in this video on YouTube.
The horseshoe bat
According to the Australian Museum, eastern horseshoe bats are distinguished by the horseshoe-shaped fleshy area around their nose. They hunt flying and non-flying insects and spiders, and hibernate over winter in southern Australia. A few months ago we posted how the blobfish was named the world’s ugliest animal… We may just have a contender for the 2014 title.
By Angela Beggs
Step inside an anechoic chamber and close the door. It’s an eerie sensation, floor to wall, it’s covered in foam and once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.
What’s even creepier is that no one in the outside world could hear even the most blood curdling of screams from anyone stuck inside the chamber.
This got us thinking about our favourite scream scenes from the scary movies of the past.
Our scientists, usually busy testing the acoustic properties of walls, floors and windows for commercial buildings, let us come in for a Halloween special and we brought some of our favourite screams with us to the sound testing chamber.
So which scream shattered the spine tingling frequency charts??? We’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t Arnie or the shrill heard when JAWS attacked… check this out oh, and welcome to the Scream Machine.
It’s safe to say that we’re big fans of GIFs. The funny ones, the cute ones, the downright ridiculous ones. The Graphics Interchangeable Format world was one that we appreciated from afar; at home, on the weekend. We never thought that our scientific research or any strategic goal would let itself to GIF creation.
Over our team’s morning coffee, gazing wistfully over our view of the carpark, I said, “Let’s give the people GIFs.” So here you are: A collection of the best CSIRO GIFs that will make you fall in love with our science.
Just an epic shot of a radio telescope dish (one of the many that make up ASKAP in WA).
Spot the researcher waving from the shipping crate.
A stealth robot, because we make those to monitor wildlife (among other things).
And an itty bitty kangaroo was born.
Expert use of a GoPro camera aboard the Southern Surveyor.
Yes, that’s a big door. They’re trying to get into one of Australia’s highest level biosecurity labs at AAHL in Geelong.
Real early adopters. These guys are operating CSIRAC, Australia’s first computer and the 5th in the world.
A hexapod robot. The closest our research gets to SpiderMan.
If you want more, BuzzFeed have a fantastic collection of scientific GIFs.
And just a friendly public service announcement that it’s actually pronounced jiff.
If you got lost in the Queensland outback and it was days until you were rescued, the experience would be horrific. Potentially life-threatening. It’s safe to say you would be hesitant to venture into the outback again.
Unless, of course, your name is Joe. Outback Joe.
Year after year, Outback Joe strategically places himself in a pocket of the Queensland outback where he’s particularly hard to find. Outback Joe is the poster boy of the annual UAV Challenge (UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a.k.a. drones, or little flying robots). It’s an international search and rescue competition to save lost bushwalker Outback Joe by using unmanned aircraft to find him, and deliver the poor guy a chocolate bar.
The Search and Rescue prize for success is $50,000– over the competition’s seven years, the grand prize has never been won. The Challenge also features an ‘Airborne Delivery’ prize for high school students, with over $10,000 in prizes up for grabs.
This year 11 teams from QLD, SA and ACT high schools entered the Airborne Delivery challenge, battling it out to deliver supplies to Joe. The teams flew their robotic aircraft around the airfield search zone, aiming to drop a package containing a chocolate bar to Joe. First place went to the QLD team Calamvale Raptors, who managed to get the bar within 1.2 metres of Outback Joe.
This year marked a milestone in the competition as the team with the youngest team members, The HexFactor, managed to drop the chocolate bar autonomously.
“This is the first time a team has managed that and it was an exciting moment for the UAV Challenge. Their robot was a hexacopter – a six engined helicopter that they built themselves,” said Head Judge of the UAV Challenge and CSIRO’s Program Leader for Autonomous Systems, Dr Jonathan Roberts. The HexFactor didn’t come out on top, but placed sixth, as would be expected with such a team name. They will be remembered in challenges to come for their autonomous dropping milestone.
The Search and Rescue Challenge runs over two years, 2013-2014. In this challenge, international team’s UAVs must locate Outback Joe and deliver an emergency package to him. This year 80 teams from 20 different countries passed the first milestone and will continue next September, when the $50,000 prize will be on offer.
While our UAV developments improve over the next year and years to come, spare a thought for Outback Joe. It’s been seven long years that he’s been waiting to be rescued. Last year Joe tweeted, “So is that it? I saw a plane and waved but no water…”
There’s more about the UAV challenge on their website.
For some, today marks a day of great terror and fear. But is there really any proof that Friday the 13th is unlucky? Hold on to your horseshoes – we’re about to find out.
If today’s date really does freak you out, chances are you have friggatriskaidekaphobia – a fear of Friday the 13th. Millions of people claim to experience this phobia, with symptoms ranging from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks.
For those who prefer the scientific approach, what I’m about to say probably won’t surprise you. There is no real statistical proof to confirm that 13 is an unlucky number. Quite frankly, there’s no reason to believe that any number would be lucky or unlucky.
Yet still, many people have tried to prove otherwise.
A British study in 1993 found that the risk of hospital admissions from road accidents increased by up to 52 per cent during the months that the 13th fell on a Friday. While the authors concluded Friday the 13th may be unlucky for some, this wasn’t intended to be taken seriously.
For others, today can be a lucky day. According to the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics, fewer accidents and fires occur on Friday 13th – probably because people are more careful or stay at home. A superstitious couple also won $17 million after buying a lottery ticket on Friday 13th, the same day their mirror at home fell and broke.
So while there’s no real scientific proof that Friday the 13th is an unlucky (or lucky) day, it clearly doesn’t stop us from believing.
Check out more strange superstitions from around the world.
It’s a face only a mother-blobfish could love.
The raw ugliness of the blobfish is now award-winning. The unfortunate appearance of the fish, a.k.a. Mr Blobby, has been honoured with the critter winning the Ugly Animal Preservation Society’s ugliest animal competition.
Poor, ugly Mr Blobby.
Please, hold back your disgust as we take a moment to let you know where on Earth the blobfish comes from (there is some science and research behind this horrific facade). Mr Blobby is psychrolutid fish (family Psychrolutidae). Fishes in this family are called the fathead sculpins. Yes, fathead. The ‘fathead sculpins’ refers to the large, globular head and ‘floppy’ skin that is typical of these fishes. They inhabit the deep waters off the coasts of mainland Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Blobby was found off the coast of New Zealand, at a depth between 1013 and 1340 metres, on a NORFANZ voyage in 2003. Scientists on board affectionately named him Mr Blobby. The voyage was a collaboration between CSIRO, New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and the then Department of Heritage. Scientists from eleven museums and state departments around Australia, New Zealand and the world hopped on board the NIWA deep-sea research vessel, the R.V. Tangaroa for the voyage. Other than Mr Blobby, they came back with quite a bounty of deep sea critters you can check out here.
As for the blobfish, it now resides in the Australian Museum Ichthyology Collection. It was initially fixed in formaldehyde and is now preserved in 70% ethyl alcohol. According to the Museum, the fixation process has ‘tightened’ Mr Blobby’s skin so his ‘nose’ has shrunk and he no longer retains his ‘cute’ look. We’ll leave you to form your own conclusions about ethanol and the demise of ‘cute’ looks.
While his nose may have shrunk, the blobfish was still hot enough property that it passed off as a slimy lump of an alien in Men in Black 3. Seriously, watch the short clip below.
After reaching global stardom, the Australian Museum set up Mr Blobby’s own Facebook page and Twitter account. You can even buy a blobfish T-shirt in every colour of the rainbow. And you know you’ve really hit the big time when the Australian news outlets claim the New Zealand caught fish as ‘our own’.
After much success, it seems unfair that the blobfish has been named the world’s ugliest animal. In an animal kingdom with baby panda bears, fluffy ducklings and labradoodles, it’s certainly difficult to be adorable. The Ugly Animal Preservation Society said “It’s a light-hearted way to make people think about conservation,” for ugly animals too.
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. While the public vote may not agree, we want the blobfish to know that we still think you’re beautiful. Beautiful in your own, unique, blobby way.
To us city dwellers the start of spring marks a season of new beginnings, spring cleaning and often, hay fever. The days become longer and we happily defrost after the chill of winter. But as our supermarkets beckon to our every need, many aren’t quite sure of what fruit or vegetables are really in season.
To others who live in regional areas, or are simply more in tune with the land, seasonal changes are essential knowledge. Spring in the Northern Territory marks the impending wet season and cyclone preparation. For Larrakia people in the Darwin region, September brings the Dalirrgang season, or Build Up. In the Dalirrgang season the Cocky Apple drops a carpet of white flowers; their sweet scent signals the build-up to the wet season has arrived. Freshwater mangrove fruit signifies it’s time to hunt Gakkingga (Magpie Goose).
For the first time, detailed Aboriginal seasonal knowledge of the Darwin region has been converted into an interactive online educational resource. Researcher Emma Woodward said many Aboriginal people are concerned about the loss of their knowledge, while at the same time there is strong demand from schools for more traditional ecological information.
The online Larrakia calendar shows seven seasons in an annual cycle of climatic and ecological understanding. Emma said the Larrakia calendar could also be used to monitor future environmental change. “Aboriginal people have a deep understanding of complex connections in the environment. Their observations have revealed relationships and links between plants, animals, water and climate that we weren’t aware of before”.
By Elizabeth Yuncken
This is the story of a little plant that has connected two great nations – Australia and Germany.
Exactly 200 years ago, an explorer and naturalist was born in a far away land called Prussia (today we know it as Germany). His name was Ludwig Leichhardt, and he decided to explore the land and environment of a vast country called Australia. On one of his expeditions in Queensland he found a tall bush that had never been named or described by Europeans. He brought a bit back to Sydney, along with lots of other important and unknown-to-Western-science plants and animals.
Later that century, a German Baron called Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Müller was working as the Victorian Government botanist and as the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. He described (in scientific Latin) the tall bush, and the plant was named after Ludwig Leichhardt: Duboisia leichhardtii.
Not long afterwards, researchers starting investigating the plant for its medicinal properties. It’s high in tropane alkaloids, which do all sorts of funny things to people (actually cocaine is a tropane alkaloid, but it doesn’t come from our bush). Turns out, Duboisia leichhardtii and some of its sister species are great source of the tropane alkaloids atropine and scopolamine.
Atropine makes your pupils dilate, so ophthalmologists find it pretty useful to get access to the inside of your eyeball. Scopolamine was used to help cut down the pain of childbirth and to treat some mental disorders, and was then found to help treat bomb shock and travel sickness. That’s my kind of drug!
This is where CSIRO comes in to the story. In the 1940s and 1950s demand for scopolamine and atropine was increasing, so CSIRO started doing some research on our friend Duboisia to see if they could grow it more efficiently and encourage it to produce more drugs.
The potential of Mr Leichhardt’s bush got everyone all excited. The West Australian newspaper reported in 1953 that 100 tons of Duboisia leaf were exported that year and ‘there seems little doubt that this Australian plant will ultimately become the chief world source of atropine.’ Huzzah!
Although it may not have quite lived up to the hyperbole, it’s true that Australia still exports Duboisia to a major pharmaceutical company based in (you guessed it) Germany! Germany company Boehringer Ingelheim has around 990 hectares of Duboisia plantations on the east coast of Australia, and they ship the dried leaves to their plant in Germany to extract the active ingredients.
What a nicely completed circle of German-Australian collaboration. Nice work Ludwig!
Later this year the MNF will take delivery of Investigator, a new state-of-the-art, research vessel capable of carry up to 40 scientists and support staff, on voyages that can last for 60 days, to destinations like Antarctica, the Southern, Indian and Pacific Oceans and up into the oceans near East Timor.
The delivery of Investigator to Hobart, Australia, means the MNF needs more support staff, some of whom will go to sea, while others will gladly stand and the wharf and wave others off.
What do our scientists do in their spare time? Paul Shand’s expertise lies in geology and hydrogeochemistry, and he’s discovered the ‘water of life’ – whisky that is – among the rocks.
Paul is a scientific whisky buff; working to reclassify whisky according to geology. The simple classification used at present is based on numbers of distilleries in a region along with old political divides. This weekend, Paul is aiming to convince the Malt Whisky Society of Australia’s 4th Whisky Convention that geology is a much better way to classify whisky.
The link between geology and whisky
Geology’s influence on whisky is mainly due to its control on water chemistry. The chemistry of the water is believed to influence the taste of the final product. There’s little research in this area but there is a wealth of experience from seasoned distillers. Paul mentioned that the old timers certainly thought there was an effect from water chemistry, and since they developed the distillation techniques through trial and error it would be wise for us to listen. The importance of water chemistry is also a view of the people on site who actually make the whisky, but there is debate as some companies agree while other multinationals and writers don’t think it has an effect.
Essentially Scottish malt whisky contains components of the landscape, dissolved in the water via interactions with the bedrock and soil through which it has passed. Each sip contains part of that geological history which comes from the rocks ‐ it may be hundreds of millions of years old, it may be only a few thousand – that’s worth savouring and contemplating. We’ll drink to that, whether it’s a Devonian or Precambrian drop.
In search of the perfect dram
Paul was brought up in Wick in Scotland, and walked past the renowned Pulteney distillery on the way to school each day. He subsequently studied geology at Edinburgh University before completing a PhD on ancient volcanic rocks in the south of Scotland.
His baptism into malt whisky happened during an exploration for gold in the Scottish Highlands, where he not only discovered solid gold, but also sampled ‘liquid gold’ for the first time after a hard day of digging. He then worked for 15 years with the British Geological Survey travelling extensively in search of the perfect dram but under the pretense of research on ‘water for life’.
It was during a sabbatical to Australia that Paul found exciting scientific challenges and some of the world’s best Uisge Beatha, Gaelic for ‘water of life’. So he stayed, taking up a position as Principal Research Scientist in our Water for a Healthy Country Flagship. He is also an adjunct Professor in the School of the Environment at Flinders University.
It’s a proud day for us here at CSIRO. Excuse us if we get a bit emotional, but our Museum Robots have officially been named!
The two bots (pictured right) were designed to roam the halls of the National Museum of Australia, allowing remote visitors to experience the galleries for themselves.
And the winners are…
Isabelle Noble (year 1), Clare Primary School, Auburn SA - “I chose Chesster because it looks like a chess piece.”
Philip Vels (year 12), Lake Tuggeranong College, Canberra ACT – “In 1999, one of the greatest chess games was played between Kasparov and Topalov. Sure, you hear of many great chess games, but this game stands out as it comes with a queen sacrifice.”
With so many other creative entries, we just had to share a few:
‘DUGIE’ – “DUGIE is an anagram of ‘GUIDE’ and that’s his job. I think it is a cute name.” – Monique Tebeck, Lock Area School, SA.
‘Spongebob’ and ‘Grubby’ - “I called the white one Spongebob because it looks like Spongebob and I like him a lot. The black one might be dirty so I think he should be called Grubby like my hands are when I play.” - Cadel Raymond Ambrose, Bittern Primary, VIC.
‘Lovebot’ - “I chose Lovebot because it loves stuff like showing people around and making new friends.” – Kegan-Brock Phillips, Hillcrest Primary School, WA.
‘Luke Skywalker’ and ‘Darth Vader’ – “I think these are absolutely amazing names that everyone will relate to. For some it may be the reason of going to see the robots, because everyone knows Star Wars is awesome.” – Tristan Allan Van Hoof, Warwick State High School, QLD.
Learn more about the Museum Robot project and view a demonstration.
Happy Fascination of Plants Day! That is, if you’re not too busy celebrating Sea Monkey Day, Museum Day, or preparing for Pick Strawberries Day on Monday. It’s true there are many ‘days’ competing for our attention. But unlike picking strawberries, appreciating plants only takes a few moments. And plants are seriously amazing.
As a city dweller, plants were something I never really appreciated. Once I tried to grow a veggie patch on my balcony and I got a rash as soon as I put my hand within an inch of the tomato vine. I’m sure many city dwellers are plant aficionados, so maybe “naive urbanite” is a more fitting title for me.
Anyway, a few years back I moved to the Northern Territory. When I was walking to pick up the keys to my house I was fascinated, and somewhat confused, at the plants lining the footpath. The bush looked almost dead, but had an odd ‘flower’ on it. At the time I could only describe this as “a cotton bud”. Like the ones you buy in a packet from Coles. When I expressed my surprise to my new colleagues, they laughed at me. A lot.
I had no idea what a cotton plant looked like. I was just beginning a postgraduate degree in Environmental Management, and I only had a vague idea of where my food came from. Or how my clothing was made. I felt silly, and quite ignorant. As I spoke to more people about it, I realised it’s a common problem.
Generally people don’t have a strong appreciation of what plants do for us. We know that they convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, provide food, clothing and building materials. But we don’t appreciate this as these processes are so foreign, because our food comes from Coles, our clothes from Myer and our building materials from Bunnings. The appreciation in lost in not knowing how food travels from farm to plate, how fibres like cotton are spun into fabric.
Cotton, for example, has been cultivated for over 5,000 years all around the world. Despite the geographic divide between cotton farmers, the crop has been cleaned, spun and weaved in the same manner everywhere. Tiny cotton seeds are super durable, and can survive been blown for thousands of kilometres and even across bodies of water. And if you don’t think cotton is sexy, it’s a relative of the hibiscus, both belong to the Gossypium genus of plants.
CSIRO have been researching and growing cotton in country NSW for 40 years. Over that time, our research has improved yield, disease resistance and fibre quality. All while supporting a rural economy.
Next time you think plants are boring, think again. Think about what you had for breakfast, what your clothing is made out of and the amazing fact that they actually convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Plants are seriously fascinating.
How would your kids describe what you do at work? In the lead up to Mother’s Day, we asked a bunch of CSIRO mums to tell us what their kids think they do in our labs, offices and communities around the country.
Introducing the mums of CSIRO!