Sydney meetings - 2008 - The Royal Society of NSW - Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

The 2008 Liversidge Lecture

"Molecular materials - from clean energy storage to shrinking

Cameron Kepert, Professor of Chemistry & Federation Fellow, School of Chemistry, University of Sydney

Wednesday 3 December 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Once thought of as little more than symmetrical arrangements of discrete molecules, molecular materials have recently emerged as very much more than the sum of their individual parts. This lecture will describe how these materials are having considerable impact in two highly topical areas.

Hydrogen Storage. In the proposed hydrogen economy, hydrogen gas replaces fossil fuels as energy carrier within a potentially greenhouse-free energy cycle. One of the principal challenges in the adoption of this cycle is the design of efficient methods to store hydrogen - a notoriously volatile gas. It has been recently shown that molecular materials are excellent candidates in this area due to their very high surface areas and functional surfaces. Efforts to optimise the hydrogen storage capabilities of such materials will be described and a comparison with other materials given.

Negative Thermal Expansion (NTE, i.e., contraction with heating). The expansion of matter with increasing temperature is the cause of numerous technological problems. Once thought to be an immutable law of nature, it has been shown in the past decade that materials can be made that actually shrink upon warming. In addition to addressing the research behind this discovery, a brief description will be given of commercialisation efforts in this area.


Professor Cameron Kepert completed his first degree at The University of Western Australia before undertaking a PhD at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, University of London. In 1995 he moved to the University of Oxford as a Junior Research Fellow, where he commenced research into molecular framework materials. He was appointed to the University of Sydney in 1999 and currently holds the position of ARC Federation Fellow. He is the recipient of the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, the AAS Le Févre Memorial Prize, the RSNSW Edgeworth David Medal, and the RACI Rennie Medal.

1166th General Monthly Meeting

"The oceans and climate change"

Professor Matthew England, Climate and Environmental Dynamics Laboratory, School of Mathematics, University of NSW

Wednesday 5 November 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


The oceans have always played a fundamental role in moderating global climate by transporting an excess of heat from the tropics to the poles. This occurs via global scale stationery eddies and a massive overturning of dense water at high latitudes. The oceans are also currently moderating climate change by absorbing massive amounts of heat and carbon. In addition, ocean circulation variations can have a profound impact on regional climate. Yet as the world's climate changes the moderating effect of the oceans will be dramatically reduced. In this talk I will outline the ocean's role in global mean climate and future climate change.

Other research directly relating to the oceans around Australia and the waters circling the Antarctic will also be explored. Twentieth century climate change has forced a poleward contraction of the Southern Hemisphere (SH) subpolar westerly winds. The implications of this wind shift for the ocean's thermohaline circulation (THC) is analyzed in models and, where available, observations. Substantial heat content anomalies can be linked to changes in the latitude and strength of the SH westerly winds. For example, the Southern Annular Mode projects onto sea surface temperature in a coordinated annular manner - with a conspiring of dynamic and thermodynamic processes yielding a strong SST signal. Subantarctic Mode Water (SAMW) change can be linked to fluctuations in the wind-driven Ekman transport of cool, low salinity water across the Subantarctic Front. Anomalies in air-sea heat fluxes and ice meltwater rates, in contrast, drive variability in Antarctic Surface Water, which is subducted along Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW) density layers. SAMW variations also spike T-S variability in AAIW, particularly in the southeast Pacific and southeast Indian Oceans. The location of zero wind stress curl in the SH can also control the distribution of overturning in the North Pacific / North Atlantic. A southward wind shift can force a stronger Atlantic THC and enhanced stratification in the North Pacific, whereas a northward shift leads to a significantly reduced Atlantic THC and the development of vigorous sinking in the North Pacific. This is because the distribution of wind stress over the Southern Ocean influences the surface salinity contrast between the Pacific and Atlantic basins. The implications of these findings for oceanic climate change are discussed.


Professor Matthew England is an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow and the Director of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC). England is a former Fulbright Scholar and winner of the Royal Society of Victoria Research Medal for 2007, two Eureka Prizes (Environmental Research 2006 and Land and Water 2008), the 2005 Priestley Medal and the Australian Academy of Science Frederick White Prize for 2004. He coordinated and led the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists: a major international statement by the scientific community that specifies the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to minimise the risk of dangerous human-induced climate change ( He was a contributing author and reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Second and Third Assessment Reports. He is an expert in the ocean's role in regional climate variability and global climate change.

1165th General Monthly Meeting

"Exploring the Milky Way: the past, present & future"

Dr Naomi McClure-Griffiths
CEO Science Leader at the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF)

Wednesday 1 October 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Dr McClure-Griffiths took us on a walk around the Milky Way revealing what we know about the structure of the Galaxy and how gas in the Galaxy leads to its evolution. Her talk focused on our current work on the interstellar gas and magnetic field in the Milky Way and what it is telling us about the complex interstellar ecosystem of the Milky Way. She also discussed the world's next-generation radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be one hundred times more powerful than any existing facility and which we hope to host in Australia. She concluded by discussing how the SKA will revolutionise our understanding of our home galaxy.


Dr Naomi McClure-Griffiths is a CEO Science Leader at the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF), where she leads a research group with the aim of better understanding our own galaxy, the Milky Way. McClure-Griffiths has led two major surveys of the Milky Way including the Galactic All Sky-Survey, an on-going international project to produce an atlas of the hydrogen gas in the Milky Way. In 2006 she was the recipient of the Prime Minister's Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for her discovery of a new spiral arm in the outer Milky Way.

1164th General Monthly Meeting

"Roles of telomeres and telomerase in human health and disease"

Dr Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Morris Herzstein Endowed Professor in Biology & Physiology, Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, University of California

Wednesday 3 September 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Telomeres consist of simple DNA sequences, which bind cellular protein factors and make a 'cap', thus securing each end of every chromosome. Without telomeric DNA and its special way of replicating, chromosome ends dwindle away as their telomeric DNA erodes, eventually causing cells to stop dividing altogether. Telomerase, a specialized ribonucleprotein reverse transcriptase, is important for long-term eukaryotic cell proliferation and genomic stability, because it replenishes the DNA at telomeres. Thus, depending on cell type, telomerase partially or completely counteracts the progressive shortening of telomeres that otherwise occurs. Telomerase is over-active in many human malignancies, and a potential target for anti-cancer approaches.

Human telomerase activity is present not only in malignant cancer cells, but also in stem cells and germline tissues. Although telomerase activity is normally diminished in adult human somatic cells, throughout life a minimal level of telomerase is still required for replenishment of tissues, such as the immune system. In collaborative studies we showed that telomerase activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of the body is depressed by care-giving stress in a cohort of care-giver mothers: the longer the care-giving situation had lasted, and the higher the quantifiable level of perceived stress, the lower the telomerase, and the shorter the telomeres. Low telomerase levels in the normal white blood cells was associated with six prominent risk factors, including chronic psychological stress, for cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, a recent collaborative interventional, longitudinal clinical study was performed with early prostate cancer patients. We found that following a 3-month period of documented comprehensive health intervention, telomerase increased - within the healthy range - in normal white blood cells, in association with quantified improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors and the patients' prostate cancer biopsy gene profiles. Implications of these and related findings for human disease progression and health will be discussed.

The speaker's presentation can be found here: Elizabeth Blackburn's Talk (~5 MB PDF).


Prof. Blackburn is a leader in the area of telomere and telomerase research. She discovered the molecular nature of telomeres - the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving the genetic information - and discovered the enzyme telomerase, which replenishes telomeres. Throughout her career, Blackburn has been honoured by her peers as the recipient of many prestigious awards, including The Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in Basic Medical Research (2006), and she is the 2008 North American Laureate for L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science. In 2007 she was named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most influential People.

1163rd General Monthly Meeting

"Alzheimer's disease; the man, the discovery of the disease and
prospects for avoidance"

Dr Bruce Warren, Former Professor of Pathology, The University of NSW.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Dr Bruce Warren M.B. B.S. D.Phil. D.Sc (Oxford) was head of the Department of Anatomical Pathology at Prince Henry Hospital and Professor of Pathology in the University of New South Wales from 1980 to 1997. In these roles he developed an interest in multi-infarct dementia (i.e. vascular dementia) and in Alzheimer's disease.


Lois Alzheimer was born on 14 June 1864. His father was a notary public in the Bavarian town of Markbeit. He attended several universities and received his medical degree in 1887 at the age of 23 from Wurzberg University. In 1894 Alzheimer married a banker's widow, Cacilia Geisenheimer. His marriage to an heiress allowed him to concentrate on his research work. Following work in Frankfurt and Heidelberg, Alzheimer moved to the Munich University Psychiatric Clinic in 1903. In 1908 Alzheimer was appointed Associate Professor and Director of the clinic's Anatomical Pathology laboratory. In 1912 King Wilhelm II of Prussia signed the certificate of appointment of Dr. Alzheimer to a full Professorship of psychiatry at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). His health deteriorated and he died aged 51 as a result of cardiac failure on 15 December 1915.

Two important factors in Alzheimer's discovery of this disease were his friendship with Franz Nissl and the mentorship provided to him by Professor Emil Kraepelin. Nissl developed stains for thin sections of the brain so that structures in the brain could be observed under the microscope. Together they conducted an extensive investigation of the pathology of the nervous system, particularly the cerebral cortex.

The first case of Alzheimer's disease was a female, August Deter, who Alzheimer met in 1901 when she was admitted to the Institute in Frankfurt at the age of 51. She died in 1906 at the time Alzheimer was working in Munich. His former chief gave him access to both clinical records and the brain. Her symptoms of disorientation, impaired memory and difficulties reading and writing became more marked and there was a gradual loss of higher mental functions. His examination of the brain revealed thinned cerebral cortex and, under the microscope, neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The second case was a 56-year-old man, Johann F., who was admitted to the Munich clinic in 1907 and died in 1910. He showed cerebral changes similar to the first case. Emil Kraepelin named this illness Alzheimer's disease.

The recommendations from the recently convened panel of eminent geriatricians and psychogeriatricians led by Associate Professor Michael Woodward will be outlined. The panel surveyed the literature to identify dementia risk reduction strategies.

Copies of the Alzheimers Australia's brochure "Think or Sink" will be distributed at the lecture. These contain recommendations from the panel of geriatricians and psychogeriatricians, identifying dementia risk-reduction strategies.
- For the brain: when the brain is active the brain is protected.
- For the body: exercise regularly.
- For the diet: a balanced diet promotes brain health.
- For the social life: an active social life is good for the brain.
- Habits: stop smoking and don't abuse alcohol.

1162nd General Monthly Meeting

"An Australian ecological blind-spot: rabbit impact on native
plants and animals"

Dr Brian Cooke, Invasive Animals CRC, University of Canberra

Wednesday 2 July 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Introduced wild rabbits have long been regarded as a major almost insoluble economic problem in Australia, requiring the unusual step of introducing successive biological control agents, such as myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhage disease. Despite this, however, the rabbits' impact on native vegetation has been poorly understood, though CSIRO scientists have worked on rabbits for over 50 years. It is now clear that rabbits compete directly with many of our native animals such as the grey and red kangaroos and common wombats. It takes less than 1 rabbit per hectare to completely inhibit regeneration of many tree and shrub species in natural woodlands.


Dr Brian Cooke has worked on the management of pest animals for over 40 years. Much of this work was done within the Animal and Plant Control Commission in South Australia before he transferred to the CSIRO. He has also spent time working in other environments including the sub-Antarctic Kerguelen Islands and 2 years in the equatorial Islands. He now works with the Invasive Animals CRC in the University of Canberra, where he is carrying out an industry-funded strategic review of the long-term prospects of rabbit haemorrhagic disease as a biological control agent.

1161st General Monthly Meeting

"The Australian tsunami warning system - protecting Australia
from waves of destruction"

Dr Dale Dominey-Howes, Natural Hazards Research Laboratory, Risk Management Group, School of Safety Science, UNSW

Wednesday 4 June 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (2004 IOT) disaster, although catastrophic, only had minor effects on the coasts of Australia. Prior to this event, few had considered the risk that this hazard type might present to Australia. Since the occurrence of the 2004 IOT, the Australian Federal government has committed almost $70 million to the development and deployment of an Australian Tsunami Warning System (ATWS) to help safeguard Australia from future potentially damaging tsunamis. In addition, State and Territory Emergency Services are spending additional funds on tsunami research and community risk management. This talk outlined current state-of-the-art tsunami science being undertaken in Australia. The speaker examined the geological and historical record of tsunamis that have affected Australia, considering those regions capable of generating tsunamis that would be damaging to our coasts and exploring the current important research questions that still need to be answered.

The talk also described the structure and function of the Australian Tsunami Warning System and considered how it performed following the 2 April 2007 Solomon Island tsunami that triggered the first warning from the ATWS. The talk concluded by asking, "has the deployment of the ATWS made Australian coastal communities safe from future tsunamis?"


Dr Dale Dominey-Howes FGS FRGS is an expert in natural hazards, risk and vulnerability and disaster management. He graduated with a BSc (Honours) from London University and was awarded his PhD in natural hazards from Coventry University (UK). He held an European Union Postgraduate Scholarship to undertake his PhD, which was on the geological and historical records and effects of tsunami in the Aegean Sea region of Greece. Dale's PhD was undertaken in collaboration with the National Observatory of Athens, Greece. Since graduating, he has worked on tsunami, volcanic hazards, tropical cyclones, earthquakes and coastal floods in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean areas. He is particularly interested in the interaction between risk and vulnerability and loss reduction and disaster management.

From 2000 to 2005, Dale was the elected Secretary and Treasurer of the International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards. In 1999, he was nominated and then selected as one of the Most Outstanding Young Research Scientists in the 1999 British Parliament, Showcase of the Best of British Science at the House of Commons London. Dale is presently a senior lecturer in Natural Hazards in the School of Risk and Safety Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Since 2005 he has also been providing scientific support to the state and federal governments in their development and deployment of the Australian Tsunami Warning System.

1160th General Monthly Meeting

"Imaging of dying cells in the body"

Professor Philip Hogg, Director of the UNSW Cancer Research Centre

Wednesday 7 May 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


Professor Hogg and his team have shown that some disulphide bonds have evolved to control how proteins work by breaking or forming in a precise way. He has called these bonds 'allosteric disulphides '.

Application of this basic research has led to the development of a novel class of cancer drugs and a cell death imaging agent. The lead cancer drug is currently being trialled in cancer patients. The imaging agent non-invasively detects dying and dead tumour cells. The agent could be used, for instance, to assess the efficacy of cancer therapy. The technology has been licensed to Pharma for clinical development.


Professor Philip Hogg graduated with a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Queensland in 1987. Following post-doctoral work in the USA and Sweden, he returned to Sydney in1991.He is now Director of the UNSW Cancer Research Centre and will lead adult cancer research in the new Lowy Cancer Research Centre that is currently being built on the UNSW campus.

Annual General Meeting 2008

Presidential address: innovation

John Hardie, President of the Royal Society of NSW

Wednesday 2 April 2008, 7 pm
Darlington Centre, City Road


The past 12 months have seen a great deal of activity for the Royal Society: the publication of a volume on one of the Society's leading lights, Prof. Archibald Liversidge, the opportunity to reclaim Science House for science, the commencement of a project to compile and publish a full history of the Society, and our involvement in the establishment of the Royal Institution (Australia) and the Royal Societies of Australia, not to mention our full year of monthly lectures. Our 2008 AGM will give members the opportunity to review the year and discover more of these many interesting initiatives through the Presidential Address and discussion. We invite all members to take an active role in these initiatives either by nominating for Council or by joining the relevant committees formed to oversee progress.


John Hardie is a Chief Learning Design Officer in the Centre for Learning Innovation, a unit within the NSW Department of Education and Training. He is currently coordinating the Centre's online services and information management activity, and is responsible for the management and maintenance of its Internet and Intranet sites. He was previously a manager of learning resource development for TAFE resources, but has also managed the development of resources for schools (languages).

Originally trained as a geologist, John has spent most of his working life in the field of education, particularly distance education and open learning. From 2001 to 2004 he managed one of the three Regions of the NSW Adult Migrant English Service.

John has been an active member of several professional associations, including the Australian Society for Educational Technology and the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia. His involvement with the Royal Society of NSW dates back to 1972 when he joined as an Associate Member while still a student. He has served on Council for many years, as Councillor then Hon Secretary and Vice-President for several years. He served previously as President in 1994/5.

The Four Societies Meeting 2008

"Future prospect for large-scale solar thermal power

Dr Keith Lovegrove, Australian National University

Wednesday 5 March 2008, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


The Australian National University has been working on paraboloidal-dish solar concentrators since the early 1970s. At ANU construction work has just begun on a new 500 m2 dish prototype that will be the basis for the commercial plans of Wizard Power Pty Ltd, the company that has an exclusive licence to the ANU technology. Dish concentrators along with trough-shaped linear concentrators and central receiver towers with heliostat fields are the basic approaches available for solar thermal power systems. The last two years have seen a major resurgence in activity in this field. This talk will give an overview of the activity in Australia and overseas and at the ANU in particular. The potential scope for solar thermal power systems to make a major contribution to energy supply will be discussed, including the longer-term potential for solar thermochemical production of fuels for transport and export.


Dr Keith Lovegrove is the leader of the Solar Thermal Group in the Department of Engineering at Australian National University. He also teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Energy Systems and Systems Engineering within the Department of Engineering.

The Solar Thermal Group works on a range of high temperature and low temperature thermal technologies. The group has continued on from the pioneering work that was begun in ANU in the early 1970's. A highlight of the work has been the completion of the world first experimental solar driven closed loop thermochemical energy storage system based on ammonia dissociation. The group operates experimental facilities centred around ANU's 400 m2 and 20 m2 paraboloidal-dish solar concentrators. (Visit for more information on the Solar Thermal Group at ANU.)

He has had a long involvement with the Australian and New Zealand Solar Energy Society, a section of the International Solar Energy Society. The society is a non-profit organization or renewable energy professionals and supporters and includes among its members most of the renewable-energy researchers in Australia. Dr Lovegrove has served in the past as Chair, Vice Chair and currently as Treasurer. During his time as Chair, he initiated the well-known 'Solar House Day', held across both countries each September. He was also Chair of the organization's Solar 2006 conference organizing committee. (Visit and for more information.)

He has authored or co-authored over 100 research papers and contributed to many media interviews and reports on the renewable energy field.

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