Prized exploration technology brings big bucks home

Keith Leslie and Cathy Foley  at the 2015 Clunies Ross Awards.

Keith Leslie and Cathy Foley at the 2015 Clunies Ross Awards.

By Emily Lehmann 

Being recognised as one of Australia’s ‘foremost visionaries’ for your work  is, understandably, a pretty big deal.

But when you’re the brains behind an exploration tool that’s utilising superconducting quantum interference devices (or SQUIDs, for short) to locate more than $10 billion worth of mineral ore discoveries across the globe, it might help explain a few things.

This was the case last week for two of our very own researchers – Manufacturing Flagship deputy director, Cathy Foley and research scientist Keith Leslie – were awarded the prestigious Clunies Ross Award for innovation and commercialisation, thanks to their LANDTEM exploration tool.

This was a particularly momentous occassion for Cathy, who became only the fifth woman to win the award since its inception in 1991.

LANDTEM is a portable exploration tool that’s valuable for detecting highly conductive ores like nickel sulphides, gold and silver. LANDTEM uses the SQUIDs technology to differentiate the target ore from other conductive material or overburden, even for deeply buried ores.

It’s a far less invasive and more targeted technology then, say, drilling, so it’s more environmentally friendly. It’s also incredibly efficient: one company in Canada cut its exploration costs by 30 per cent using LANDTEM.

So, why do we care? Because valuable minerals are found almost everywhere, and they are essential to our life as we know it today. To put it in context, every smartphone contains about 40 different minerals; the average medium-sized car contains 19 kilograms of copper amongst a heap of other metal; and rare earths are needed for green energy products such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Minerals are also an important contributor to our national economy, and are our most valuable export business, worth about $119 billion.


While we have a wealth of mineral resources, these are finite and most of our deposits near the surface have already been discovered. That’s why we’re developing new efficient tools like LANDTEM to help explorers make valuable mineral discoveries needed for the future.

Cathy and Keith are continuing their valuable work by significantly enhancing the sensitivity and functionality of LANDTEM. Most recently they developed a new and improved version that will be able to detect ore bodies even deeper underground.

Watch this video for a closer look at the development of LANDTEM:

Keep digging over at our Mineral Resources Flagship to learn about similar projects.

Nanotech prize: No small win for Australia and women in science


Quantum dots: Doing the stats on nanoparticles could lead to life-changing products.

By Emily Lehmann

A nanoparticle is one billionth of a metre, it might be hard to appreciate how small that is, but our resident virtual nanoscientist Amanda Barnard understands this “invisible” world.

So it’s no wonder that today the Foresight Institute announced Amanda as this year’s awardee of the prestigious 2014 Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (Theory) – it’s like the Nobel Prize of the nanoscience world.

Amanda is the first female and first person in the southern hemisphere to win the international Feynman Prize.

Amanda is the first female and first person in the southern hemisphere to win the international Feynman Prize.

Not only is Amanda the first Australian in the Prize’s 22-year history to win the award, she’s also the first woman, shining a much-needed spotlight on the achievements of women in science.

The award is named after Richard Feynman a renowned physicist and Nobel Prize winner from last century: the father of quantum electrodynamics.

Amanda’s award winning work required the use of powerful supercomputers to make the most of decades of big data on tiny nanoscience, gaining insights that might one day lead to extraordinary, life-changing products.

We’re thinking: self-cleaning surfaces, fuel cells for harnessing energy, printable inks that conduct electricity, and new drugs to cure life-threatening illnesses. These are just some of the incredible possibilities.

Just a few years ago, Amanda made a fundamental discovery on diamond nanoparticles, finding that they have unique electrostatic properties that make them spontaneously arrange into very useful structures, with huge implications for improving healthcare.

Amanda’s award-winning discovery on diamond nanoparticles. The colours show where the diamonds connect, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.

This isn’t Bejeweled, this is Amanda’s award-winning discovery on diamond nanoparticles. The colours show where the diamonds connect, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.

Already, her diamond discovery has underpinned the development of a potentially life-saving chemotherapy treatment that targets brain tumours, created by the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

Among her other research highlights, Amanda developed a new technique for investigating the shape of nanomaterials including their size, temperature or potential uses in chemistry. This means we can tailor them to make bespoke nanoparticles targeted to specific application areas.

Before Amanda sets off for California next month to pick up her award, she shared with us some more insights about her work at the nanoscale.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy our current move into big data. Going into big data sets to identify trends between nano properties and structures is like finding buried treasure. It’s exciting when you can see the forest for the trees and get a moment of clarity, when all the data collects. Those moments are really interesting and I look forward to having more of them.

I also love that science is reinventing itself all the time. It never becomes complacent and will always be exciting as it continually evolves. One finding always leads to another question.

How does your work impact on product design and development?

I use statistics to determine how well certain tiny material structures will perform under specific conditions. By predicting how imperfections at a molecular level impact on performance, we can design products with less susceptibility to faults from the outset. We can also design ‘molecular machines’ that can perform more familiar tasks, like cogs in a watch; they are an integral component that can enhance or improve products.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

This prize is definitely a career highlight and I’m thrilled! This would have to be up there as a career highlight for anybody working in nanotechnology.

What is the biggest challenge you’re grappling with in your role at the moment?

Implementing our science on the cloud is the biggest technical challenge for us at the moment. The data is so big and the skill set is so new and so specific. The cloud would provide easy open access to results amongst our research peers and we need to do this to collaborate and make the most of all the research data that’s available.

Where would you like to see your research /science go or lead to in future?

I don’t want to know. I hope I’m not able to predict where science goes, rather I want to be surprised of where it takes us next, and enjoy the ride.

Find out more about Amanda’s work at our virtual nanoscience lab

Uncovering the mystery of stellar nurseries

The Cepheus Flare just one of the stellar nurseries in the night sky where stars are formed. Image: NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day/ Stephen Leshin

The Cepheus Flare just one of the stellar nurseries in the night sky where stars are formed. Image: NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day/Stephen Leshin

Claire-Elise Green wants to time travel. She wants to peer into the stellar nursery of the cosmos and understand how stars are formed, in their infancy, billions of years ago. To do this she needs access to multi-billion dollar telescopes, astronomical amounts of data and the time to work with the best and brightest in the field. Not something you can just Google.

This is why she is heading to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany to work with the equipment, data and experts needed to further her PhD research. This isn’t a cheap European getaway by any stretch of the imagination.

The winner of the inaugural CSIRO Alumni 2015 Scholarship in Physics award: Claire-Elise Green

The winner of the inaugural CSIRO Alumni 2015 Scholarship in Physics award: Claire-Elise Green

But Claire-Elise took a big step towards financing this journey when she was selected as the first ever recipient of the CSIRO Alumni 2015 Scholarship in Physics award.

The award was setup in honour of the four physicists who sadly lost their lives – two years ago – in a tragic accident, with a view to helping young Australians finance their projects and research in physics.

After beating out 14 other entries, Claire-Elise was handed the award and the $5000 scholarship fund at a ceremony in Lindfield, NSW.

Before she heads off to Germany with her novelty over-sized cheque, we had a chance to sit down and speak with Claire-Elise about her research, her time with us and her passion for science.

Mastering Blob-ology

Claire-Elise’s scholarship winning project seeks to understand the birth of stars. So she scours the sky, looking for ancient molecular clouds in the deep dark recesses of space. These clouds play the role of stellar nurseries and look like large blobs with a radio telescope, so naturally she refers to this area of research as blob-ology.

Deep within the blob (and with the help of incredibly sensitive high resolution telescopes) you can find strings of gas and dust which appear within the cloud. These strings, called filaments, are the focus of Claire-Elise’s PhD, supervised by Dr. Maria Cunningham at UNSW, and our very own Dr Joanne Dawson.

Observations with James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) of a molecular cloud and then the same region observed at higher resolution with The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Images: Rathborne et al. 2014 and 2015 papers

Blurry blob and clear blob: Observations through the Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) of a molecular cloud and then the same region observed at higher resolution with The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Images: Dr Jill Rathborne

In the process of star formation, dense regions of gas and dust within the molecular cloud collapse under gravity to form star forming cores. Most of these star forming cores have been found to lie on these dense filaments of gas like beads on a string. The role of these filaments in the star formation process, however, is currently unknown.

While she has had access to the Australian Compact Telescope Array near Narribri, and the Mopra Telescope, near Coonabarabran there is still lots of work to be done in this relatively new field of astrophysics and the time she will spend at the Max Planck Institute will further her understanding of the cosmic cabbage patch.

This PhD research into star formation is the culmination of many years of study back here on Earth.

A passionate scientist from a young age, Claire-Elise cites our Double Helix magazine as an early inspiration for all things scientific (please excuse the shameless self-promotion).

As she moved into high school she was fortunate enough to be part of a program designed to encourage young women to engage with science. Indeed, she chose to complete a Bachelor of Advanced Science majoring in Physics at University. And even though she was considering a double major including chemistry, we won’t fault her for taking the easy road and sticking to a single major!

In order to get some real world experience she completed two summer programs with our scientists where she collected her own data with the telescope at Parkes and the array of telescopes at Narrabri, she even used this opportunity to be get published.

Not only did she spend valuable time in the field where she could get her hands dirty and experience the realities of modern research, she also had the opportunity to rub shoulders with inspirational scientists like our own Dr Julie Banfield and Dr Jill Rathborne. Oh and she got to take a hayride on the world famous ‘Dish’ and take some memorable pictures.

Ever wanted to know the perks of being a scientist? How about riding the world famous Dish as it completes a “hayride” with you on board? from left to right: James Neild, Daniel Reardon, Tiffany Day, Claire-Elise Green, Sarah Hegarty. Image: Dr Yiannis Gonidakis

Ever wanted to know the perks of being a scientist? How about riding the world famous ‘Dish’ as it completes a “hayride” with you on board? From left to right: James Neild, Daniel Reardon, Tiffany Day, Claire-Elise Green, Sarah Hegarty. Image: Dr Yiannis Gonidakis

Through all these experiences and with the example set by her mentors like Dr Cunningham, Dr Dawson and Dr Rathborne, Claire-Elise developed into a scientist with a passion for encouraging more women to try science, as she says – they tend to “rock at it”.

Before she departs for Europe and the next stage of her research career, she hopes to find some time to indulge in her favourite pastimes: tending her vegetable and herb gardens and enjoying a bit of the old ‘Crafternoon tea’ (that’s an afternoon tea coupled with crafts if you are unfamiliar with the term). When you are searching for the answers to the some of the universe’s biggest questions, it pays to stay grounded.

You can hear more about Claire-Elise’s research in her own words on Don’t forget to vote for her while you are there.

Meet our masterful 3D printing expert: Chad Henry

“I mean, 3D printing is pretty sexy, right?” - Chad Henry, CSIRO research scientist, Manufacturing.

“I mean, 3D printing is pretty sexy, right?” – Chad Henry, research scientist

As you may know we are big fans of 3D printing. Whether it’s helping a horse, supporting sleep suffers or producing a personalised pen, we have a lot of time for a disruptive technology that might be the biggest tech innovation we’ve seen in decades. So we were pretty chuffed to spend some time with a 3D printing guru.

The guru in question is Chad Henry, a research scientist from our manufacturing team. Hailing from the United States, Chad brings a unique charisma and enthusiasm to our labs in Clayton, Victoria.

In order to find out a more about the man behind the printer, we put a few questions to Chad about his work and his life outside the lab.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy that there is such a breadth of applications for metallic 3D printed components. Learning about the details of new potential uses, in order to best utilise the technology is interesting.

What does your job entail on a week to week basis?

Lots of interaction with companies interested in metallic 3D printing to explain the technical details and costs of it, all in order to search for successful applications for them. The other part is running projects, where we are always learning new things.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Chad counts his work on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter among his career highlights. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Because I helped design and make it, when the JSF F-35 went full speed down the runway and took off for its first-flight, that was quite a career highlight. But you could argue that the successful landing was more important.

What is the biggest challenge you’re grappling with in your role at the moment?

Large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that manufacture metallic components and integrate them into systems that result in high value products are few and far between in Australia. It’s these kinds of companies that are putting money into metallic 3D printing over in the US and Europe. Plus, the Australian industry is risk averse. All of this is makes the uptake of expensive new technologies challenging.

If you were at a casual dinner party, how would you respond if someone asked what you do/research?

I deliver metallic 3D printing technologies to companies to ultimately help the country, as I am partially government funded. Sometimes that takes a little R&D to get things just right, so then we can develop and execute projects that have a positive return on investment for the company.

What are some common misconceptions about 3D printing?

It’s easy to do. It’s inexpensive and good business cases are abundant. Design optimisation doesn’t really matter.

Chad counts minimal surfaces, among his favourite 3D printed items. Flickr/fdecomite/CC BY 2.0

Chad counts minimal surfaces, among his favourite 3D printed items. Flickr/fdecomite/CC BY 2.0

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever printed in 3D?

Noting that cool is different from useful, I would say minimal surfaces (do an internet search if you need to – it is an interesting one) and mathematical based art.

What is the next big step for this technology? Good question. I’ll state two: 1) CAD software that makes taking advantage of the design freedoms inherent with 3D printing, and 2) driving down the cost. Both are important, already underway, and will continue to improve with time.

What was your first job?

Metallurgical Engineer at Bell Helicopter. This was in the late 90’s and we were 3D printing lost wax for investment castings then.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Sports Equipment Tester, analyser and designer. I am an OK athlete and I have an engineering mindset. I think I’d be good at it.

What hobbies do you have outside of your work?

Chad and his kids

The perfect dinner guests? Chad’s kids keep him busy and entertained with the type of conversations only kids can have.

I am a dad first and foremost. My kids are at a very fun age. I’d rather have dinner with them than anybody. The conversations are certainly candid and all over the place. Additionally, I try to find time for ice hockey, on- and off- road motorcycle track days, home brewing, table tennis, golf, and I have recently gone surfing a few times.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to follow your career path?

Have load-case and stress analysis capability and the knowledge to apply it to component design, along with the necessary CAD skills to then make it electronically.

What is the most funny/unique/odd situation you have experienced in your time at the CSIRO?

A 3D printed fish bait that once spent some inside a Shark. Once recovered by our Marine and Atmospheric Research, it now sits on Chad's desk.

A 3D printed fish bait that once spent some inside a shark. Once recovered by our Marine and Atmospheric Research, it now sits on Chad’s desk.

I have a 3D printed fish anchor (used to affix GPS devices) on my desk that was in a shark for some time before being removed. It has remnant organic tissue on it. Thank you CMAR (CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research). They learned a lot about sharks.

If you had infinite resources, what research/experiment/project would you like to work on?

Two things: 1) Getting real-time non-destructive evaluation capability into metallic 3D printers. There are multiple benefits that would result from this, and 2) Further developing large scale metallic 3D printing. Let’s just print the whole airframe.

Which song or band best captures your job and why?

I don’t know… let’s see… the vast majority of people seem to love 3D printing, but they don’t necessarily know the technical details or science behind it, so it just seems like magic. Maybe the magic is partly why they love it. Surely there are songs along that topic line. OK, I got it… how about, “You sexy thing (Do You Believe in Miracles?)” I mean, 3D printing is pretty sexy, right?

One final thought from our 3D guru – a piece of pub trivia, or a nice fact to unleash upon unsuspecting dinner guests

People should know that 3D printing isn’t an overnight sensation. It has been in development for well over two decades.

And finally, just because it is a little pet peeve of mine, I’ll share a quick piece of advice. First though, let me say that by itself, it won’t make you sound like you know what you are talking about, but it will certainly help you “not” sound like you “don’t” know what you are talking about. Got it? OK … here it is … Regarding 3D printing of metals, the process is fusion (i.e. melting).

What the new head of CSIRO told us a month into the job

Larry Marshall on beach

Former tech entrepreneur Larry Marshall did his first-ever cadetship with us. Image: David Moir / News Corp Australia

He has founded six successful companies, holds 20 patents and began his career as an engineer with a PhD in physics. And, a month ago, he took the reins as Chief Executive of CSIRO. We sat down with Dr Larry Marshall to hear how he’s settling in.

You’ve been in the job for a month now. What are your first impressions of CSIRO?
Well, I know it’s only been a month, but I already feel like there’s so much research happening here that I’ll need another lifetime to discover it all.

It’s clear to me that people who work here want to make a difference. They really care about science and the opportunities it can offer to the community, the environment and to the economy. They’re supportive of each other and really want us to be the best we can be.

Is there any research you’ve heard about at CSIRO that particularly stands out to you?
I could inundate you with examples. Just off the top of my head, we recently helped someone walk again by 3D printing a titanium heel bone that his surgeon was able to implant.

We’ve developed a technology that helps remotely control longwall mining equipment so miners are safer and productivity is boosted by 10%.

We’ve used our maths and informatics skills to develop a tool to predict the number of people who will go to hospital emergency departments and by helping the hospitals better plan, we’ve saved them tens of millions of dollars and reduced the time people wait for a bed.

Right through to other examples like the work we’ve done to breed the perfect prawn that by 2020 will add more than $120 million to the value of the industry.

I could keep going, but I should probably stop there.

There’s been some conjecture around your views on water divining recently. Is there anything you’d like to say on that subject?

My grandfather was friends with a tribal elder who would walk our land trying to feel where the river had gone – he explained to me as a kid that the river was still there just hidden beneath the ground. He was very successful in figuring out where Granddad should drill. Drilling is very expensive so you need all the help you can get.

Now clearly, that wasn’t a scientific experiment and I was wrong to quote figures for success – I said it right the first time – “have you seen farmers find water?” – but later realised I shouldn’t have used the word “dowsing” which to me means find water, but apparently there are more narrow interpretations.

I was surprised by the reaction but also by the number of letters of support I received from people who clearly got what I was trying to say,  which was: Entrepreneurship is about seeing a problem and imagining a solution, then inventing the technology to solve it. The inventor of the flip phone at Motorola was doubtless inspired by Star Trek.

A couple of years back, CSIRO’s Materials Science and Engineering team came up with a way to miniaturise atomic clocks and do what the Grace satellites do to detect water via gravitational anomalies. Entrepreneurship, like science, isn’t about playing it safe – if we aren’t failing we aren’t trying hard enough.

For me there is no such thing as failure, there is only learning – we can always do better (especially me with the media).

Larry and family

Enjoying the best of Sydney’s beaches. Larry with his wife Maria and their two kids.

CSIRO has been through a lot of changes in the past year. Is that all over now?

That’s true. We are emerging from some rapid structural changes and I can’t promise that change is now over – that would be unrealistic in a world moving as fast as ours.

What I want to do is help our organisation focus on how we can contribute to the innovation, discovery and growth that Australia has come to expect from its premier research organisation.

So how do you do that?

We’ve got to focus our efforts and continually measure and demonstrate our impact. We’ve got to be more entrepreneurial and agile. We’ve got to get our overheads down and create value for our customers, and we’ve got to create some more headroom for exploration.

The first step is to get the framework right and that comes down to our strategy. That’s my big priority and something we’ll be locking down before June.

I have learned a lot about lean innovation and focussing on where we are unique. You’ll hear more about this, but let’s just say we’re learning from the lean innovation movement. Each and every person in our organisation will have a voice in this…

The genius and the power of CSIRO is distributed – it’s in our people, our partners and our community. We know a diversity of views is critical to innovation performance.

What’s next?

The more I learn about this place, the more conversations I have, the more amazing things I discover about CSIRO.  I will be endeavouring this year to meet as many staff as possible, to hear about their work, and to learn from our customers and stakeholders about what we need to do to make CSIRO even stronger and more successful.

And do you think we’ll be starting our dragon research anytime soon?

I guess we’ll have to wait to see what comes out in the strategy. We should check in with Sophie about it.

Meet our Peeps: Rob Bell

Dr Rob Bell, CSIRO guy and face of Scope.

Jesse Hawley has a Facebook chat with…









Jesse Hawley   Jesse HawleyHey Rob, is this okay? I have around 15 questions, when are you free till?

Rob Bell   Rob BellI’m free until whenever really. I mean I have stuff to do, but no set times.

Jesse Hawley   Great to hear. How did your editing go?

Rob Bell   The episode turned out well, but was 34 seconds over, so after a few fix ups we had to find a little time to trim.

Jesse Hawley   It’s always tough trimming stuff. Okay, so the tone of ‘Meet our Peeps’ is casual bbq or dinner party, not formal.

Rob Bell     Cool.

Jesse Hawley     The audience is for Facebook, and our peak audience is 18-34 years old.

Rob Bell     I get a surprising number of people in the age range say they used to watch Scope (or maybe still do).

Jesse Hawley     Haha, I’m sure they watch it now too. My partner and I watch it together occasionally. We are both science geeks. 

Rob Bell   And now it is Saturday mornings, so it will catch even more waking up older people.

Jesse Hawley   Yeah, that’s great. Question number 1: What do you enjoy most about your job (you can incorporate your CSIRO and Ten experience)?

Rob Bell   My favorite part of working on Scope, but working for CSIRO, is that I get the best of both worlds. I really like jumping into a different area of science each week, because the shows are all themed (sometimes very specifically, sometimes quite loosely). I have learnt an awful lot researching for the show, some of which I am sure I have now forgotten.

Jesse Hawley   Excellent. Yeah, that’s very neat – exploring niches. Scientists are normally constrained to their own little microcosm. 

Rob Bell   Too true, and I think that was one of the reasons I didn’t pursue a life of research. Although I do often think about perhaps doing that still. Maybe.

Jesse Hawley   Yeah, I finished honours in bio two years ago and was contemplating the PhD, but the prospect of diving deeper into such a niche is a little off-putting. Communicators do have it good! 

Number two. If you were at a casual dinner party, how would you respond if someone asked what you do? AND, what you do for research (whenever you get/got the chance)?

Rob Bell   It’s funny I am never quite sure how to describe my job without sounding like I am blowing my own trumpet. I used to say that I was in Science Education, I think because people wouldn’t ask too much more about it, and that is what I did with CSIRO. But these days, now that at least a few more people seem to have heard of the show, I say I work on a kids science show. Overwhelmingly people think it is a great thing to be doing. If they don’t know the show they often assume we are on the ABC.

Jesse Hawley   Cool. It’s very neat to have a science show on a commercial station.

Rob Bell   I usually don’t tell people I am on the show, but sometimes they have an “aha” moment when they hear science and TV and realise they have seen me. Nowhere to hide then.

Jesse Hawley   Haha, yeah. Maybe they don’t recognise you without the context of the lab coat.

Rob Bell   I understand how Clark Kent did it now.

Jesse Hawley   Exactly. It’s all in the context. Last week I ran into our next door neighbours at the shops and they didn’t recognise me because I wasn’t at home on the stoop. 

Cognitive failings aside, question 3: What does your job entail on a week to week basis?

Rob Bell   Given that we pretty much make one half hour (well, 24 minute) show each week of the year, the weekly routine has to be pretty much constant. Monday and Tuesday are spent researching and writing all my bits (the stuff in between the stories that links it all together) for the episode we are due to film on Wednesday. Wednesday is filming. Thursdays I have off (kids etc.) and Friday we watch a completed episode (not the Wed. one) and make changes, fix ups etc. then begin to plan for the following week. In between that I help find stories, suggest ideas, themes, trips and read over other people’s story scripts to see how the science sounds. I am currently the only Scope team member with a science background.

Jesse Hawley   Great! That’s a full week indeed! 

It’s surprising to know there’s just one scientist on the team…

Rob Bell   There has been as many as 5 of us with science backgrounds in the past, but now TV people seem to be predominating. Personally half and half is a good mix I think.

Jesse Hawley   Yeah, I could imagine. FOUR) What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Rob Bell   Sorry my boss just dropped by for a quick chat about sets (we just moved studios). I’ll get onto 4, now.

Jesse Hawley   There certainly needs to be a critical number of creative types guiding the science folk.

Rob Bell   I think a career highlight in terms of Scope would have been winning the Japan Prize in 2008. Long time gone now I suppose, but it was an international award for educational television, and I was even flown to Japan for the ceremony and met the crown prince and princess. But I have been on many amazing trips with the show, digging dinosaur fossil in nth west qld last year was a great experience.

Jesse Hawley   Oh wow, they’re both big highlights.

I didn’t know there was a crown prince and princess in Japan.

Which fossil deposit were you digging at?
Rob Bell   We were about 45 minutes out Winton (2hrs from longreach), the dig was run by Qld Museum and the Age of Dinosaurs (set up after they discovered fossils out there a few years back).

Jesse Hawley   Did you find anything…?

Rob Bell   They were working on getting out vertebrae and pelvis of a big sauropod. Very encased in rock, but the real work was back in the fossil lab, they have a backlog of many years there still to clean up and prep. Digging them up is the quick part it seems.

Jesse Hawley   Hmm, I didn’t imagine that. I’ve heard they have plenty of unidentified species and things in the natural history museum, London, because of that back-log problem too.

What is the most funny/unique/odd situation you have experienced in your time at SCOPE?

Rob Bell   There have been a few of those. The show has always been a little quirky, and I have ended up in a few odd spots with my lab coat on. Perhaps the strangest was swimming with dolphins at SeaWorld (which was the good part), but then competing with them for the fish the trainers throw. Quite hard to catch a fish with our shaped mouths it turns out, but I got one once, and I took a while to get that taste out..

Jesse Hawley   Haha, it’s funny out that happens. I had a salmon sandwich for breakfast (I don’t know why), so I know about that inescapable fish taste. And good beakless catching skills!

Were you in your lab coat too?

Rob Bell   Yep, in the lab coat, which the dolphins found strange at first, they are used to strangers in wet suits, but not giant white creatures. But they quickly came around.

Jesse Hawley   It’s good to know they have open minds for when we have to welcome our new dolphin overlords.

Next question: What was your first job?

Rob Bell   My first paid job was picking strawberries. I grew up on a pineapple farm so had to help out a bit around the place, but they also grew strawberries in the district and during picking season would take all sorts and ages on. Tough on the knees that job. And I don’t like strawberries, but I think that was the case before picking them. I still like pineapple.

Jesse Hawley   Maybe that’s why they hired you. Definitely hire the guy who doesn’t like eating the crop. Perfect.

That’s a very Queenslandery first job

Rob Bell   Yeah, I guess I have spent a lot of my life as a walking cliché. Can’t escape it.

Jesse Hawley   Do you wear glasses? Because that would be the icing on the lab coat cake.

Rob Bell   No. Good point. I got out of that one at least.

Jesse Hawley   Thank you, parents’ genes. To calibrate the interview – we are exactly half way through the questions, so if you are busy, feel free to let me know.

Rob Bell   No, all good.

Jesse Hawley   Great.

Aside from berry pickin’, what profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Rob Bell   I don’t really know what they entail, but I remember liking the idea of being a tech stock analyst at one point or working in an ad agency (even though I dislike most advertising, maybe it isn’t clever enough?).

Jesse Hawley   Clever ads are few and far between. It would be nice to try and aim a bit higher.

What hobbies do you have outside of your work?

Rob Bell   I play football (soccer) and have done most of my life. Getting older and slower of course, but I refuse to acknowledge that on the field. I ride my bike a bit, but not enough to own lycra, and I am pretty avid about brewing beer.

Jesse Hawley  Well done with the lycra abstinence.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to follow your career path? Either a scientist, a TV person, or a science communicator (or all of the above).

Rob Bell   That is a tough one. I lucked into what I do really. Even getting my job with CSIRO Education without any real Education or communication study or background was probably a bit fortunate. From there, I was in the right place at the right time, as Totally Wild used to come and film segments, and I was the new guy. Getting into TV presenting is hard I think, there seems to be not really a very defined path. But Science, follow the area that interests you the most, and if it is all of them, get into Science Communications (I didn’t know such a thing existed when I left Uni). We have had several ex-ANU Science Comms/Science Circus people work on Scope.

Jesse Hawley   That’s great. ‘Go with the flow, and steer occasionally’ is your advice, then?

Rob Bell   Yes, absolutely. My wife is often frustrated by my floating attitude, but then in hindsight it seems to have been a theme in my life. But yes, remember to steer occasionally at least.

Jesse Hawley   You’ve been on a fortunate course, then!

If you were at a dinner party, how much would science influence your conversation? This is an interview question. Not my own curiosity. (That too).

Rob Bell   I guess it depend upon the topics, but invariably something comes up to which i can inject some level of “did you know”, or a gross fact or even just clarify (politely) someone’s misconception. Often the science comes in because people have been storing up questions to ask me though. I do wonder why they just don’t google, but hey, happy to try and help.

Jesse Hawley   Cool. Having an eloquent and informed explanation will always trump Googs.

If you had infinite resources, is there a special topic or field that you’d like to base an episode on?

Rob Bell   I’d love to get to Antarctica, and I’d love to go over to America and check out NASA’s Jet propulsion labs. Actually anything and everything they do over there, many episode could be done on them.

Jesse Hawley   Definitely NASA! We’re in a relatively good position for Antarctica, though.

Penultimate question: Which song or band best captures your job and why?

Rob Bell   They Might Be Giants. A band I grew up and listened to before my life in science. Now my kids like some of their songs too. But they are geeks who write the occasional science tune amongst all the others.

Jesse Hawley   Perfect.

And finally – Did you have anything you wanted to add about working with CSIRO or Scope?

Oh, and what did you research before you got full-time into TV?

Rob Bell   Nothing really to add. I really enjoy working for CSIRO. It is an organisation that so many Australians seem to respect, and they have always been so helpful and flexible with me off playing in TV land. Network Ten doesn’t always enjoy the same kudos.

Before TV, was CSIRO Education, and before that was my PhD and traveling the world for a year. But my PhD was in the area of ceramic fuel cells. So materials science was my thing I guess.

Jesse Hawley   Great. Well thank you so much for your time. I got some fantastic material. Nice to meet you.

Rob Bell   Bye.

From a summer with telescopes, to getting your sea legs the hard way

selfieBy Mikayla Keen

I love my job. As a CSIRO communication advisor I get to work with amazing scientists, hear fantastic stories of discovery and innovation, learn new things… and get paid to do it.

I began my CSIRO adventure in 2009 as a summer student working at the Parkes Radio Telescope. At the final seminar I asked ‘how do I get a job here?’ and four months later I was a communication advisor supporting agricultural scientists working across the country.


Ah, back in the day. My first job at CSIRO was summer intern at ‘The Dish’.

That physics degree didn’t help me understand the work they were doing, but then the job isn’t about becoming an expert in the science. Being a communicator is all about listening, asking those silly questions and helping the scientist tell their story. The only trouble is there aren’t enough hours in the day to tell them all.

I love my job, last week more than most, because last week I got to go on the new Investigator marine research vessel. I’ve never been to Tassie before so it was a week of firsts; first time visiting Hobart, first time on a research vessel and first time throwing my guts up on a piddling four metre swell.

Don’t ask me how I managed it but I scored a berth on one of Investigator’s sea trials. I have to admit my heart went badaboom when I first saw her sitting across the bay as I drove over the Tasman Bridge. Investigator is one fine lookin’ Sheila, even her aft-side looks good.

Once on board, the first thing I noticed was how quiet the ship is once you’re off the main deck. There was only a quiet hum from the engines and the occasional lapping of waves against the hull to disturb the peace.

I was lucky enough to score a cabin on the first platform deck (one below the main deck) with a porthole. It was bliss waking up to the reflection of the sun shimmering off the surface of the Derwent.

View from porthole

‘Views from a porthole’.

I’ve cruised before, but nothing is quite like the Investigator. I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest cabin I’ve ever had on a ship, although I had to make my bed. Oh, the horror.

You have to be really conscious of sound too; the crew works to 12 hour shifts which means your neighbour might be just getting to bed when you get up in the morning and you don’t want to disturb your neighbour. They might be responsible for steering the ship, or feeding you.

Yes, there are chefs on board, and what joy they bring to the voyage. Food is available 24 hours a day and I can personally vouch for how darn good it is. That’s a feat considering no one can pop in to the local supermarket.The ship’s pantries and cool rooms are substantial in size and sturdiness. Not only do they store enough food to feed up to 60 people (most of them burly men working long hours) for up to 60 days, they also have to keep the food stuff safe during rough seas.

While the food was delicious going down it was not so lovely coming back up. Turns out my guts of steel were not so steely. As we sailed over the continental shelf Investigator was tracking back and forth, mapping the sea floor. This meant changing the angle of the ship to the swell, from calm to rough and all that choppiness in between. Hello, lovely new bathroom.

I wasn’t much better the next day when the team were practicing deploying the big Southern Ocean Flux System (SOFS) mooring. These moorings have to survive the southern ocean for over a year at a time so they’re big and sturdy. The big float sits on the surface bobbing up and down with a long chain of instruments hanging beneath it. The four metre swell was perfect conditions to test deploying the mooring before the real thing in the southern ocean next year.

SOFS float

Southern Ocean Flux System (SOFS) mooring.

It was not so perfect (or mild) on my stomach. I’ve been in worse conditions and been fine but then in the past I’ve had the advantage of being on holiday; sitting on deck, eyeballing the horizon, drinking ginger tea. Investigator is not a holiday destination; it’s a research vessel and there’s work to be done .

The third day of the voyage dawned clear and calm (sigh). I ate a wonderful full breakfast to make up for what I had missed. Hat’s off to those who can do this for months at a time. Although, the views really aren’t so bad.

There is joy to being on the water.

There is a joy to being on the water.

CSIRO has been darn good to me over the years. I thought it might be difficult to top starting off at the most beautiful radio telescope in the world, but CSIRO is just one of those places where no matter which way you turn, you can’t help but trip over an amazing story.