In this issue

Issue 43

How bushfires set houses alight: lessons from Ash Wednesday
For many people the memory of February 16, 1983 ('Ash Wednesday') will take a long time to fade. For Caird Ramsay of the CSIRO Division of Building Research, the terrible destructiveness of that day has never been far from his thoughts, but for a scientific reason. Within a day of the disaster, he and his fellow fire researchers began a new and unexpected project: a detailed study of the fires and the effects they had on buildings. Why did one house burn while an apparently similar one, perhaps on an adjacent block, survive?
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Where possums choose to live
Living in the tree-tops may seem a dangerous sort of existence if the trees are likely to be cut down for the paper. Yet possums, gliders, and other tree-dwelling marsupials that inhabit the extensive native forests along the southern coast of New South Wales face such contingencies. They have been the focus of community concern about the impact of logging on forest animals, and the Australian Forestry Council asked CSIRO to examine the problem.
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Developing a vaccine for tick paralysis
The Australian paralysis or 'scrub' tick, Ixodes holocyclus, is responsible for the deaths of many pets and livestock in the wetter areas of eastern coastal Australia. This parasite may also attack man, causing a range of reactions from hypersensitivity - a heightened or accelerated response to salivary antigens - to paralysis and even death. It is the most consistently virulent paralysis tick in the world, secreting a toxin that causes muscular paralysis in victims. This leads to acute breathing difficulties, often complicated by cardiovascular problems and pneumonia.
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Blocking: when the weather stands still
When the television weatherman points to a 'persistent blocking high' and talks of its continuing effect in preventing any change in the weather, he's talking about something that nobody understands very well. Controversy still surrounds scientific theories of blocking.
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Conservation value of defence training areas
Scientists from CSIRO have found that training areas used by the military for battle exercises provide refuges for many kinds of animals and plants. Whizzing mortars, exploding bombs, and raging tanks only temporarily disturb the peace. Native fauna and flora often prefer such havens to the public lands outside.
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Meteorology and air pollution in the Latrobe Valley
Brown coal is the reason for the rapid industrialisation of the Latrobe Valley, which lies about 150 km east of Melbourne. Some 80 per cent of Victoria's electricity is generated there, and other heavy industry includes the manufacture of paper, cement, and brown coal char. A coal-to-oil pilot plant is also under construction. The Latrobe Valley Airshed Study was established in 1977 to monitor air quality in the Valley and to assess the region's capability to accept increased emissions in the future. Four organisations - the SEC, the Environment Protection Authority of Victoria, CSIRO and the Latrobe Valley Water and Sewerage Board - are formally represented in the organisation of the Airshed Study.
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Cassowaries help spread rainforests
Sorting through cassowary dung may seem a strange occupation to some. But to researchers the task has provided proof that this flightless bird is an important means of dispersing rainforest plants.
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A 'sauna' for cheap, efficient heat storage
At the CSIRO Division of Energy Technology, Dr Don Close has devised a heat store, much like a rock-filled sauna, that promises to be much cheaper and more efficient than existing types. As well as being useful in industry, his design could find favour for solar-powered electricity-generating schemes in which concentrating collectors produce the steam.
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Learning from bats' ultrasound
The ultrasonic sonar of bats is extremely well developed, and some species can detect very small objects, perhaps as fine as a spider web, while on the wing. Such an ability draws the admiration of Dr Dedee Woodside, a zoologist at the University of New South Wales, and Dr. Ken Hews-Taylor, a physicist with the CSIRO Division of Applied Physics, who are collaborating in a research project on the ultrasound of bats.
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