Catalyst

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Today, the ABC’s independent Audience and Consumer Affairs Unit has released its findings regarding a controversial Catalyst program on statins and heart disease.

The detailed investigation was prompted by a number of complaints  into two Catalyst programs, collectively titled Heart Of The Matter, aired in October last year. The report of the investigation is available here. Continue reading »

8:00pm – Thursday, November 15 on ABC1

Have you noticed any weird weather round your place lately? And do you ever wonder if it’s normal… or not.

Earlier this year, as Catalyst reporter Dr Jonica Newby’s home flooded for the tenth time in two years, she found herself wondering exactly that – and figured if a science reporter has trouble sorting fact from conjecture, then others may too. This was the starting point for what’s become a landmark, nationwide investigation into Australia’s weather – has it really changed in the last 100 years.

Made with the close cooperation of the Bureau of Meteorology, this not-to-be-missed special concentrates on the simple facts – actual tidal gauges, real temperature records – going around Australia to look at local records where we all live and play. The result is a unique 100-year weather report – breaking it down so that every Australian can find out what’s happened in their local area. Did you know for example Sydney and Melbourne maximum temperatures have gone up twice as much Adelaide? Or that the last two years were the wettest on record.

There are significant outcomes presented along with the facts – such as the wine maker that moved the family business to Tasmania as insurance against future climate change. Some species of fish are taking the same course of action. For some species, life-threatening critical thresholds of temperature extremes have already been reached.

This week, Catalyst is taking the temperature of Australia.

8:00pm – Thursday, November 8 on ABC1

Treating the legacy of torture; What the Kepler SpaceTelescope has found; Mysteries of our moon (or total eclipse); A breakthrough in spinal cord repair.

Torture In the war against terror the United States became one of many countries across the world to systematically torture prisoners, under the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. According to former CIA interrogator Glenn Carle, torture does not work as a means of extracting information. But what it does do, very effectively, is leave behind a legacy of ruined individuals. Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and a range of other mental disturbances, numerous torture survivors find they are unable to live a normal life for many years. But researchers in Sydney are helping many turn their lives around with the help of a remarkable treatment called neurofeedback. Anja Taylor discovers how the treatment helps clients re-train their brains toward a healthier pattern of thinking by targeting abnormal brainwaves.

Kepler SpaceTelescope For millennia, people have wondered if there are other Earths somewhere out there in the cosmos. Well, we’re the lucky generation: for the first time in history, we’re actually finding out. NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has been in orbit for the last three years looking for twin Earths, and it’s begun to provide some answers to that age-old question. Graham Phillips goes to Kepler’s home, the NASA AMES research labs in California, to find out about the exciting new results streaming in.

Total Eclipse In the lead up to next week’s total solar eclipse, Professor Brian Cox and Dr Graham Phillips discuss why the Sun and Moon are the same size in the sky, and whether this unique phenomenon triggered life to form on Earth.

Spinal Cord Dr Derek Muller travels to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he discovers the true power of delicious Swiss chocolate – it’s motivating paralysed rats to walk again. The researchers successfully used electrochemical stimulation with reward-based activity training – chocolate was often the lure – to restore voluntary movement in rats with severed spinal cords.

8:00pm – Thursday, November 1 on ABC1

Digging for life-threatening bacteria in the Top End; helping children overcome a puzzling hearing disorder; the search for alien astronomers.

Melioidosis Melioidosis is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by an environmental bacterium Burkholderia psuedomallei. It is a common cause of serious pneumonia and blood poisoning in the Top End of Australia.

The bacteria live below the soil’s surface during the dry season but after heavy rainfall can be found in surface water and mud and may become airborne. Recent wet seasons have seen a dramatic increase in infections. As urban areas of Darwin sprawl and agriculture encroaches into the desert thanks to irrigation schemes, there is an even greater risk of the spread of Melioidosis. Mark Horstman follows the Melioidosis trail in tropical north Australia.

Spatial Processing Disorder Maryanne Demasi enters the sonic world of Spatial Processing Disorder and experiences what it’s like when you can’t distinguish background noise from targeted speech. Spatial Processing Disorder is a puzzling hearing problem that affects approximately 30,000 young Australians and 7% of Indigenous children. Up until recently, most sufferers went undiagnosed but now the National Acoustic Laboratories have developed a successful diagnostic tool and an entertaining cure – both world firsts.

The Search for Alien Astronomers Graham Phillips travels to the rarefied heights of the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii to have a look at the Keck telescopes which are at the very top. They are among the biggest telescopes in the world with collecting mirrors a staggering ten metres across. The Keck telescopes are currently being used to look for signs that ET is out there somewhere in the galaxy. While astronomers have looked for alien signals before with radio telescopes, this is the first search to see if there are laser beams emanating from other star systems. The rationale behind the search is, that our astronomers are continually sending laser beams up into the heavens to aid them with their observations so if alien astronomers are doing the same thing, we should be able to detect their lasers.

8:00pm – Thursday, October 25 on ABC1

Bio-printing organs; Cleaning up space junk; Party drugs to treat depression; Coming to grips with a really big number.

Organ Bio-printing At Wake Forest School of Medicine in America’s North Carolina researchers are growing artificial body parts from the cells of their patients. For those in need of organ transplants, growing your own organs in a lab means no rejection problems and no waiting around for donors. There’s a long way to go before most organs can be grown, but for one young man, life is very different following the transplant of a new bladder, grown in the lab from his own cells. Remarkably, one method for automating the process is just like printing, only with human cells. Graham Phillips travels to the USA and visits the labs leading the way in this exciting field of regenerative medicine Space Junk Fifty-five years ago, the space age dawned with the launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite. It fell from orbit after 3 months and burned up upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. But, for most space craft, this is not the case. The proliferation of debris orbiting the Earth, primarily jettisoned rocket and satellite components, is a pressing problem for spacecraft and satellites. There are significant costs in avoiding collisions with space junk. Derek Muller visits the Swiss Space Centre to meet the scientists building the first satellite specially designed to clean up space debris.

Ketamine You may know Ketamine as a party drug – its street name is Special K. The recreational use of Ketamine is illegal although today it’s used in veterinary and human medicine. Now, researchers are experimenting with Ketamine as an alternative to conventional medications for depression sufferers. Conventional medications manipulate serotonin or dopamine levels. But Ketamine works on the glutamate system which causes rapid signalling of memory and information processing. Maryanne Demasi investigates whether it is possible that a party drug could be the next big thing in treating depression.

Graham’s Number What’s the biggest number you can think of? Infinity? Sure, but what about the biggest finite number.

Thirty years ago, mathematician Ron Graham came across a really big number as the solution to a certain problem that rewrote the record books – unimaginably larger than a googol, googolplex and even Skewes’ number. Catalyst mathematician, Simon Pampena, does his best to convey just how big Graham’s number is.

8:00pm – Thursday, October 18 on ABC1

Is digital technology changing the way we think, act and feel? Are our brains being re-wired fundamentally? Catalyst examines how the digital revolution is changing us.

Information Overload Digital technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives: how we socialise, shop, entertain ourselves, and even manage our health. The speed of the digital takeover has led many to wonder whether today’s children and teenagers, with little or no recollection of a life before broadband, are being fundamentally changed by the technology. Is this new access to information broadening and deepening our knowledge, or is fast information like fast food? Is information overload turning us into scattered, shallow thinkers.

The Rise Of Narcissism Facebook is now the number one search term on the internet. Even away from the screen, many of us are obsessing about our online social life, editing our real life experiences for the approval of others. It’s not just Facebook. There’s Twitter, Vimeo, blogs, MySpace, YouTube – a plethora of sites all geared towards broadcasting yourself. But is all this self-focus creating what some researchers are terming a narcissism epidemic? Anja Taylor takes a closer look at the effect of social networking on how we view ourselves and those around us.

Avatars Avatars are digital representations of us in the virtual computer world. We already interact via avatars on computer games and you can even sit at home and meet your friends in virtual reality, complete with gestures and facial expressions. But can having an avatar change human behaviour? Graham Phillips travels to Stanford University in California where researchers are exploring how having a virtual experience can affect our health and behaviour, but also how it can mislead us into believing experiences that never really happened.

8:00pm – Thursday, October 11 on ABC1

Next generation nuclear power; Treating teenage acne; Pokie probability; The next step in exploring the Higgs boson.

Next Generation Nuclear Power Only two years ago, nuclear power was a key player in providing energy for our future. In a carbon-wary world, nuclear stood as a proven and relatively green source of energy. But everything went wrong for the technology on 11 March 2011 when a massive earthquake and tsunami sparked a nuclear meltdown in Japan, rekindling memories of the Chernobyl nuclear incident. Could the next generation of plants restore our faith in nuclear power? Graham Phillips travels to the USA for a glimpse of the next, generation four, nuclear reactors and investigates what makes them intrinsically safer.

Teenage Acne Pimples and Acne – those little red bumps always rear their ugly heads at the worst possible time, making you feel miserable and self-conscious. Pimples are part of teenage life and about as dreaded and unavoidable as exams. Practically everyone (85% of Australians), at some time or another, has had an encounter with acne. But do you really know what’s behind this party wrecking culprit? Was it the chocolate you ate last night or the stressful week you had? Is it because you don’t wash your face enough? Or wear makeup? Anja Taylor debunks the myths about acne and reveals what works to treat acne and what doesn’t.

Higgs Boson On 4th July 2012 it was announced that the world’s most-wanted particle – the Higgs boson – had been discovered. The particle is the fundamental ingredient of the Higgs field, which is supposed to give mass to everything known in the universe. Derek Muller visits the physicists at CERN in Switzerland where they are busily probing this curious new particle in an attempt to reveal its properties. With more data, they hope soon to know what they’ve found. Of course, if it’s not the Higgs, then what is it.

Pokie Probability Poker machines are mathematically programmed to make money – but for whom? Mathematician Simon Pampena crunches the numbers on the pokies to work out the chances of winning.

8:00pm – Thursday, October 4 on ABC1

Tracking Australia’s dinosaurs in the Kimberley. Diagnosing mental illness. Making computer games feel real.

Sizing up our DNA.

Kimberley Dinosaurs Written in the sandstone, along the rocky platforms of the pristine Dampier Peninsula north of Broome, is a dinosaur story from 130 million years ago. Here, palaeontologists have recorded the track types of more than sixteen different dinosaurs including the biggest to ever walk the earth. The tracks are also culturally significant in that they are woven into the Aboriginal songlines and creation stories. Mark Horstman witnesses the discovery of the biggest dinosaur footprint ever found and reports on the threat to the security of the dinosaur tracks posed by a massive industrial development.

Diagnosing Mental Illness Despite all the advances made in psychiatry over the last century, accurately diagnosing mental illness still remains elusive. However, the list of all the known psychiatric disorders is growing. Is our society becoming sicker or are psychiatrists just more knowledgeable about the range of mental disorders that afflict our 21st century minds? Dr Maryanne Demasi opens “the psychiatrists’ bible” (also known as the DSM) and unpacks the controversy behind the classification of criteria for mental disorders.

Physics Engine Have you ever wondered how they make computer games feel real? This feeling is produced by a special piece of software called a physics engine. It can create the way a bird is launched in Angry Birds or the way a soldier falls in Call of Duty – it all adds to how successfully we are immersed in the fantasy of the game.

Mathematician Simon Pampena delves into how the laws of physics are created in the artificial world of games.

DNA How big is our DNA and how much does each person have? It may surprise you just how much is packed into each of our cells.

8:00pm – Thursday, September 20 on ABC1

The exciting discovery of a new human species; What dredging a harbour means for fish; Testing our knowledge of the sun; Evolution of laughter.

Denisovans Have you ever pondered the big questions? Like, who are we? Where did we come from? And did we ever have sex with Neanderthals? The answer to that one is yes, according to the 1-3% of Neanderthal DNA in each of us. But, if you’re an Australian, you also have up to 5% of a brand new hominin species, that up until two years ago we didn’t know existed. Jonica Newby visits the Max Planck Institute in Germany and discovers the extraordinary story of how a tiny bone and tooth confirmed the existence of a not-so-distant relative.

Gladstone Dredging The harbour of Port Curtis in Gladstone, Queensland, is being transformed by a massive dredging project.

The initial target is to remove 46 million cubic metres of mud – enough to fill so many wheelbarrows they’d circle the earth. Gladstone has been an industrial port for several decades now, and there’s evidence from other ports in the world that marine life can get sick if the heavy metals and mud are stirred up from the seafloor. However, the Gladstone Ports Corporation maintains that the turbid water from the dredging is within Australian water quality standards. Mark Horstman boards boats from opposite sides of the debate to see how water quality is monitored and whether all the dredging could be causing disease in fish and crabs.

Physics on the Street – The Sun’s Energy Derek Muller takes to the street to find out if anyone knows why the sun shines. Is the sun really a giant ball of fire? It’s been burning for around 5 billion years, so why hasn’t it run out of fuel? It all comes back to Einstein’s famous equation…you know the one.

Evolution of Laughter Laughter is unique to humans and the great apes. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth know this because they tickled 25 juvenile apes and 3 human babies. It is believed that our ability to laugh dates back to a common human ape ancestor about 13 million years ago. The benefits of having a chortle or a giggle are significant.

8:00pm – Thursday, September 13 on ABC1

Skin Deep Special – taking a closer look at the science behind the latest techniques in skin rejuvenation.

A glowing, wrinkle free complexion is often seen as a sign of great beauty. But the vagaries of life see to it that flawless skin is hard to come by. Many of us turn to beauty treatments, from simple moisturisers to more invasive medical procedures that aim to delay the aging process. Maryanne Demasi takes a closer look at the trend towards minimally invasive treatments including Stem Cell Therapy, Botox and Laser Therapy. In the process, Maryanne puts her own skin under the microscope.

Can creams truly help you wage war against wrinkles? Maryanne consults Australia’s eminent stem cell expert, Prof John Rasko for his opinion on how the claims stack up.

One area of stem cell therapy undergoing rapid development is fat transfer therapy. We meet a patient who undergoes liposuction to remove fat from her tummy which is then mixed with platelet rich plasma and injected into her face.

Botulinum Toxin, or Botox, is now the most common cosmetic medical procedure in the world. But how is it possible that a potentially lethal toxin can be used as a beauty treatment.

To prevent sun damage, we need to slip, slop and slap. However, there are fears that the active nanoparticles within some sunscreens can seep into our blood and cause damage to our organs. Ruben Meerman confronts the reality of his years of sun and surf and takes a closer look at the safety of sunscreens containing nanomaterials.