We listened to the rhythm of life

Such a wonderful Science Show, ABC Radio National Saturday, April 13th 2019.

The Science Show

“The Science Show gives Australians unique insights into the latest scientific research and debate, from the physics of cricket to prime ministerial biorhythms.” On Saturday, we heard an alternative Prime Minister speak about his commitment to science as central in our future. I would have liked Mr Shorten to move to STEAM. He knows that politics affect the way we approach science, so he knows the humanities are in the mix. He recognises the reality of global warming.

On Saturday, we learnt slime moulds have memory. That is, there is memory before the existence of the nervous system. I think of Susannah Eliott’s essay, ‘Of Slime Moulds and Poetry’ in her contribution to Challenging the Divide: Approaches to Science and Poetry, launched by Robyn Williams in 2010. She would share this love with her grandchildren, trying to move beyond problems we are creating for our planet.

Robyn always brings in connections. Today he took us to a science poem instead of a science song. Listen(Link will open in new window) Download

Robyn said: “Well, no science song for you this week. Instead, a science poem. This is what Dr Earle Hackett wrote to celebrate the Moon landing 50 years ago. He was inspired, sort of, by how hard it is to write verse about satellites.”
Earle Hackett: “There’s only one rhyme for satellite and that’s patellite which means someone interested in the welfare of kneecaps.
I met him on our satellite
(Oh list ye while I tell)
He said ‘I am a patellite
And kneecaps I do sell.

Not very good really. But for real good rhymes give me Moon, ‘oon’ is such a lovely syllable, to demonstrate which I will now rhyme it 34 times:

Oh let me give tune
To a loving lampoon,
For darling ’tis soon
We shall walk on the moon
Before it is strewn
By a Yankee platoon
With flag and maroon
And drum and bassoon
And beer and spittoon
And TV and cartoon.
Come, let me dragoon
You to eat macaroon
In a lunar saloon
By a dusty lagoon
On a warm afternoon
With no fear of typhoon
(or simoom or monsoon)
(or racoon or baboon)
(or a Marshall McLuhan)
To upset our pontoon.
I will deck and festoon
You with hat and balloon
So sweet and jejune
In your space going shoon
Nicely frilled with galloon.
And your blouse of gambroon,
Matching wide pantaloon,
All tabs and gadroon.
Why the gussets unscrewn?
For to spend a doubloon?
Oh, my darling – I swoon!”

Robyn Williams: “Earle Hackett, who was our radio doctor before Dr Norman Swan, and who was for a while chairman of the ABC.” I thank the Science Show for letting me include this contribution to ‘literacy and numeracy’. Erica Jolly MACE.

Look at this photograph

This beautiful finch is the canary in the coal mine

It comes from the Australian Conservation Foundation.  February 20th 2019.

Ornithologist Stanley Tang collects data on the endangered Black-throated Finch. Photo: Ali Sanderson

I look at this photograph from our Australian Conservation Foundation and think of everything we know about global warming, [See the film ‘Vice’. Learn about Dick Cheney.  Discover how that accurate phrase was changed to the less frightening ‘climate change’ in the USA! Read about Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) – a very powerful politically reactionary group, interested only in protecting and expanding their wealth. It sounds too much like the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) in Australia.]

Christian Slattery writes: “With people, livestock and wildlife suffering now from floods and fires, heating our planet by burning more coal is untenable.” This finch lives in the Galilee Valley in Queensland. It reminds me of John Keats’ poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, with its concluding line “And no birds sing” . That is what we face. But it is not a beautiful, merciless lady. It’s politicians nearly two hundred years after Keats’ death in 1821. And Keats did not live in a democracy! We live in democracies where politicians wilfully ignorant, but elected by us, do not care.

Why? Such politicians are deliberately  moving us towards a situation that must make life so much harder for the young. Why? Young people will have to deal with the world we create. Is it because we have politicians refusing to deal with pollution because their political party does not care about it? Are the organisations that donate so much money to them profiting now from fossil fuel? And do we have politicians who know the truth but are fearful of not getting enough votes to get into or stay in power?

Christian Slattery presents more information about what is happening.

Adani appears to have polluted the Caley Valley wetlands near the Great Barrier Reef

Shocking aerial images raise fresh questions about Adani’s polluted floodwater spill into sensitive wetlands.

“Yep, you heard it right. As the big wet hit Queensland a few weeks ago, Adani appears to have spilled water polluted with coal sediment into the Caley Valley Wetlands from their Abbot Point Terminal. Have mining companies properly ‘rehabilitated’ the land they destroyed?” Too many corporations mouth platitudes. about care for the environment. They will be gone, having made their profits. Where did they leave all that blue asbestos behind them in Western Australia? Companies so often have to be chased to clean up the mess, the dangerous mess they leave that harms the health of those who live there. And that can take decades!! If they can be made to do it. Meantime, too often people’s lives can be cut short.

The science has been clear for so long but those of us who choose to stay ignorant about science, allow ourselves to be led by the nose by those with the wealth and power to delude.  I thank all of the people with the courage to bring their knowledge and humanity to the fight for the quality of the future in the face of those terrible commercial media campaigns by corporations only concerned with profit now.

Thinking of this, I come to Judith Wright, our great Australian poet. Nearly fifty years ago, in ‘Australia 1970’, she called us ‘self poisoners’. Have we learnt nothing? Why vote to support the Mineral Council and the coal lobby? In May 2019, we’ll discover how much we care about the quality of the future we are handing to young people. It took Judith Wright to help us see the special value of the Great Barrier Reef. Will we take notice of the ‘canary in the coal mine’? Will we heed the warning?

Commentary Erica Jolly MACE

Poetry of calculus

Poetry of Science, The Power of Calculus. March 29, 2019, Part 2


March 30, 2019


Poet laureate of the United States Tracy K. Smith.
( Shawn Miller/flickr/CC BY 2.0 )

April is National Poetry Month, a time of readings, outreach programs, and enthusiastic celebration of the craft. And for a special Science Friday celebration, we’ll be looking at where science and poetry meet. Tracy K. Smith, the current U.S. poet laureate, wrote the 2011 book Life On Mars, which touches on dark matter, the nature of the universe, and the Hubble Telescope—all as an elegy for her deceased engineer father, Floyd. Rafael Campo, a physician, poet, and editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association’s poetry section, writes poems about illness, the body, and the narratives each patient brings to medical settings. The two talk to Ira about where science fits into their work—and how poetry can inform science and scientists. Read some of the poems, and a syllabus of science-related works suggested by SciFri listeners, here.

Calculus underpins many of the greatest ideas about how the universe works: Newton’s Laws, Maxwell’s Equations, quantum theory. It’s been used to develop ubiquitous technologies, like GPS. It was even used to model the battle between HIV and the human immune system, which helped researchers fine tune triple-drug therapies to combat the virus. In his book Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe, mathematician Steven Strogatz takes readers on a journey around the world, detailing the bright ideas that contributed to modern calculus and citing the many ways those mathematical ideas have changed the world. Learn more here.

Three cheers for Freyja [Vanadis], goddess of beauty and fertility.

Vanadium, a chemical element with symbol V and atomic number 23, is named for the Scandinavian goddess of beauty and fertility, Vanadis [Freyja]. The vanadium redox battery was invented by the Australian chemical engineer, Maria Skyllas-Kazacos of the University of New South Wales [UNSW]. In 1988, she obtained a US patent for her invention.

The vanadium redox battery will power both renewable energy and electric vehicles. [Norway already has 30% of its vehicles powered by electricity.]

Wilson da Silva tells the story of her work and this battery in an article, headlined ‘Power shift’, in News Technology 28 March 2019

His article appears in Issue 82 of Cosmos magazine. Please read the full article there. To subscribe, and have the latest science delivered direct to your door or inbox, click here.

Wilson da Silva lists a number of interesting events in 1988 in the opening to his article and adds – “And while it doesn’t have quite such a recognition factor, 1988 was also the year Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, the Australian Professor of chemical engineering, obtained a US patent for inventing the vanadium redox battery, or VRB.” One important event Wilson da Silva leaves out is the following. In 1988, when she obtained the US patent, on June 23rd 1988, the NASA scientist, James Hansen, testified to the United States Senate that man-made global warming had begun.

Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos was anticipating the need to find a way of storing energy, the clean energy storage we require across the so-called ‘cultural divide’ for every aspect of our life in this uncertain century. We need this storage to replace polluting fossil fuels. We have known about global warming for so long. Maria Skyllas-Kazacos’ invention after 34 years is coming into its own

Wilson da Silva writes about the vanadium redox battery’s ‘amazing capacity’ . Please read his article.“ Wilson da Silva quotes her words. “There was a huge lack of imagination,” recalls Maria Skyllas-Kazacos of her discussions with industry giants in the 1990s, when she was trying to commercialise the VRB patents she’d taken out for her employer, the University of New South Wales (UNSW). “People in the electricity sector didn’t seem to be aware of what technology was out there. But also, everyone was looking after their own interests, unfortunately. They weren’t looking at the big picture.”

Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, inventor of the vanadium redox battery. CREDIT UNSW

And this Australian Coalition government, perhaps like this White House in USA, is not looking at the big picture now. That is Australia’s problem in 2019. The lack of imagination Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos recalls is here now. Add in the hunger to hold on to fossil-fuel based wealth by mining companies as long as it is profitable for them. It has resulted, in this Coalition’s 2019/2020 budget, in an allocation of merely $3.5 billion over fifteen years [15 years] for the environment. Of that, $2 billion is for what Australia’s current government has the audacity to call its Climate Solutions Fund. Economists. and environmentalists find it a sign of the government’s disregard for the speed of climate change; that is, global warming.

A little girl and boy, aged five in 2019, will be 20 in 2034. They could be facing the shambles voters today might have left for them. Don’t let lack of imagination continue to play havoc with the future for them. Make the connections we need.

Commentary   Erica Jolly MACE.