Video gaming addiction; climate change threatens wine; the human explosion

Media bulletins

Here’s a heads-up on stories for next week and beyond

World leaders gather in Doha for the UN Climate Change Conference COP 18 on Monday.

On Tuesday Australia’s farm leaders and researchers meet at the MCG in Melbourne to discuss practical adaptation and responses to a changing climate. They’ll discuss the viability of carbon farming, climate threats to winemakers, managing methane, sceptical farmers acting on climate change and more.

Video gaming is addictive – for some. A psychology researcher from ANU has collected some of the first scientific evidence that video gaming can be addictive in a way similar to gambling and alcohol. We’ll be issuing her story on Sunday morning – summary below.

Cooking minerals in huge mixing tanks can turn them to jelly. An Adelaide researcher has found out why. The work could save the industry millions of dollars a year in lost production and cleaning costs – we’ll issue the media release on Monday.

Both stories are from our Fresh Science competition for young research leaders.

We’ve entered a new era – the ‘Anthropocene’, according to Owen Gaffney, and he’ll be in Melbourne in early December to present his short film, Welcome to the Anthropocene, which offers a stunning view of the vast scale of human influence on our planet. The film was viewed by 188 heads of state and ministers at the UN’s Rio+20 summit last year.

Did you ever wish, as a child, that you could explore the secrets of the Zoo after dark? Last week I experienced I Animal – the Melbourne Zoo’s new program for adults. They say it will “change your perceptions of what it means to be both human and animal”. Perhaps. I certainly found it a seamless convergence of nature, technology, and the arts, with some fascinating stories from behind the scenes.

Finally, the biennial Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) Congress is coming up quickly, and among the talent is a pair of physicists who have developed a handheld probe that not only can pinpoint cancer, but may also be adapted to detecting masked radioactive material in cargo – hence making it harder to smuggle dangerous isotopes across borders.

Other stories

Fresh Science: Video gaming addiction can control your thoughts

On Sunday morning we’re issuing the following story.

A psychology researcher from Canberra has collected some of the first scientific evidence that video gaming can be addictive in a way similar to gambling and alcohol.

“People who spend an excessive amount of time playing video games are powerless to stop themselves from thinking about gaming,” says Olivia Metcalf, who did the research for her PhD at the Australian National University. “This is a pattern typical of addiction,” she says.

“Many people have claimed that video games can be addictive. But this is some of the first hard evidence.”

Olivia presented about 20 video gaming “addicts” with different words and asked them to respond to the colour of the word, not the meaning. They were significantly slower to name the colour of gaming-related words compared to words which had nothing to do with gaming.  Non-addicted gamers showed no difference in response times.

“We found that the attention system of an excessive gamer gives top priority to gaming information. Even if they don’t want to think about gaming, they are unable to stop themselves.  This likely makes stopping or cutting back on gaming even more difficult,” Olivia says.

More online including photos at from Sunday morning or email me.

Olivia Metcalf is one of 12 early career scientists unveiling their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Australian Government. She is now based in Melbourne.

Stopping mineral processing from turning to jelly

On Monday we’re issuing the following story.

Cooking minerals in huge mixing tanks can turn them to jelly, and an Adelaide researcher has found out why. The work could save the industry millions of dollars a year in lost production and cleaning costs.

Sticky gel-like materials form during the liquid processing of mineral ores, when clays present in the deposits release elements such as silicon and aluminium into the liquid under particular conditions of temperature and acidity. That’s what Dr Ataollah Nosrati, a research associate at the Ian Wark Research Institute (The Wark) of the University of South Australia has found.

To extract valuable metals, some of world’s largest mineral deposits are mined and processed as concentrated slurries. This generally occurs in mixing tanks at high temperatures under aggressive acidic or alkaline conditions.  Zinc silicate ores, for instance, are typically cooked at between 50 °C and 80 °C under very acidic conditions for a couple of hours.

But occasionally, the breakdown of the attached silicon compounds results in everything thickening into a gel. This kind of thing can also happen with other ores containing reactive clays or silicates.

The research findings pave the way for enhancing our ability to process complex, low-grade ores of copper, gold, nickel and cobalt which contain silicates and aluminosilicate clays.

More online including photos at from Monday morning or email me.

Ataollah is one of 12 early career scientists unveiling their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Australian Government.

Climate change and farming: from wineries to ‘rivers of gold’

Next week, farmers, scientists and industry gather at the MCG to talk climate change and agriculture, from November 27-29 at the Climate Change Research Strategy for Primary Industries Conference.

Some of the stories are:

Carbon farming: is it a river of gold, or just a torrent of words?

On the issue of climate change, our politicians are relying heavily on Australia’s farmers. The soils, plants and trees on our farmlands have potential to gobble up large quantities of carbon dioxide, and both sides of politics have set their hopes on farmers choosing to use their land to do exactly this. Julia Gillard’s ‘clean energy future’ package includes a carbon farming scheme, and Tony Abbot’s ‘direct action’ plan places much of its hope in soil carbon.

The big question is, will it work?

This is both a scientific question, and an economic question. Offsetting our emissions using soil and trees needs to gobble as much carbon as our leaders hope it will, and it needs to pay enough that farmers actually want to do it. Hear the voice of science and business.

The last good vintage? Winemakers stare down a changing climate

In a few places in Australia, we have it just right. Wine regions like the Hunter Valley or Margaret River are climatic ‘sweet spots’, combining just the right mix of rainfall and temperatures, in just the right soil, to grow the perfect grape for your Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

Now the climate is changing, and these sweet spots may be turning sour. Wineries in North America, Europe and Australia are noticing that grapes aren’t growing like they used to – they tend to be ripening before they’re the right colour or flavour. Our wineries must adapt their methods, or perish.

As the weather gets weirder, even sceptical farmers are adapting

“The trick is to avoid mentioning climate change.” says NSW farmer and climate champion Peter Holding.

Farmers in Australia are often ambivalent about climate change, but still like profits – and many climate adaptation measures simply make business sense, irrespective of personal views on climate change.

Peter is one of many farmers, scientists and business leaders gathering to share stories of climate change adaptation. The developing science of adaptation is already getting results in farms from across Australia, even as research agencies like CSIRO develop the science further and comment on what we can expect in coming years.

How cow burps and rotting vegetables are destabilising the climate: scientists talk solutions

Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. Methane is a rarer gas, but it’s also over 50 times more potent in its impact on the climate – and it’s intimately connected to our favourite foods. Livestock produce it as they digest their food, and every morsel of uneaten or wasted food lets off methane as it decays in landfill, too.

This is a key focus at next week’s conference. The ideas our conference speakers have to reduce emissions are clever, contentious, and sometimes really quite obvious.

The geology of humanity – presented to the UN, now in Melbourne

And the power of data to change our worldview

In June 2012, Welcome to the Anthropocene opened the UN’s largest summit to date, Rio+20, to an audience of 188 heads of state and ministers.

Owen Gaffney is coming to Melbourne in early December to present this short film. His unique data visualization captures why many now argue humanity has driven our planet into a new geological era – the Anthropocene –defined by our impact on Planet Earth.

Science writer and journalist Owen Gaffney is director of communications of the International Geosphere-Biosphere programme and author of the Anthropocene Journal. See Welcome to the Anthropocene at Hi-res stills and video without narration are available.

Owen’s talk is an ICT for Life Sciences Forum free public lecture at the University of Melbourne on Thursday 6 December. More info at

Owen will be available for interviews – contact me if you’d like to line up a chat.

Menzies scholars announced next week

Next week, three graduates involved in interesting work and projects in engineering, law and allied health sciences will be awarded significant scholarships to pursue studies in Australia and overseas by the Menzies Foundation.

Stay tuned for more details on the winners, who will be announced at a dinner in Melbourne on Thursday 29 November.

The Menzies Foundation is a non-profit, non-political organisation established in 1979 to promote excellence in health research, scholarship and postgraduate study by Australians.

Did you ever wish, as a child, that you could explore the secrets of the Zoo after dark?

I, Animal is an interactive experience – part multi-media tour, part theatrical experience, part animal encounter – that has been designed for adults only at Melbourne Zoo.

I, Animal takes you on a remarkable, and surprisingly emotive, journey through the interior of Melbourne Zoo at night.

Guided by your personal device, the “Zoë”, you will explore the Zoo at night, experiencing animal encounters, stories about the Zoo and our animals, and theatrical moments that will surprise, move and delight you.

It’s an unexpected, provocative adventure that explores our pre-conceptions about the animal kingdom and questions the boundaries between human and animal.

Produced in collaboration with The Border Project, the creators of the iPod tour at the Museum of Old and New Art (MoNA).

I, Animal is unlike anything ever offered by Zoos Victoria.

1300 966784

All Media Enquiries contact Stella Kinsella

“We just cannot tell yet which men have the aggressive form of prostate cancer”

NICTA scientists will use funds from a recently-awarded National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant to help doctors tell the difference between lethal and non-life-threatening prostate cancers. The scientists will use computational analysis to better understand genomic data, paving the way for better, more targeted medical treatments in the future.

As a key member of a cross-disciplinary team led by The University of Melbourne, NICTA will pioneer techniques to analyse genetic information from cancer patients so that men diagnosed with prostate cancer have a better chance of getting the treatment they need. Almost 20,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Australia each year. Although most will survive, around 3,300 die each year of the disease. The problem is that doctors do not have a reliable way to determine which cancers are most likely to be lethal.

“We just cannot tell yet which men have the aggressive form,” says Dr Geoff Macintyre, NICTA Research Engineer, bioinformatics expert and member of the successful research team.

The project, led by Associate Professor Christopher Hovens, the Director of Scientific Research at the Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre at Epworth Hospital and Royal Melbourne Hospital in collaboration with NICTA and the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI), is unique. It will track the molecular changes inside the cells of prostate cancer patients in whom the condition becomes aggressive.

So far, eight patients in whom prostate cancer has spread to the bone have donated cancerous tissue from different stages of their disease to the project’s biobank — from the primary tumour in the prostate gland, and from secondary tumours in bone before and after treatment.

More at

Interviews Dorothy Kennedy, Communications Specialist (Media), NICTA, 02 9376-2098 or 0488229687,