Catalyst - New Season

From Tuesday 15 August at 8.30pm

We’re living through a golden age of scientific discovery – and Catalyst returns to take you to the heart of the biggest science stories from Australia and around the world.

The series is made up of hour long programmes; each one looking at the latest science on single subjects from human health and medical breakthroughs to astronomy and technology.

We’re aiming to capture the wonder and excitement at the heart of these stories and meet the scientists and researchers working at the cutting edge of these fields.

Many of the films are hosted by presenters chosen for their expertise and ability to communicate the discoveries in their fields.

We dive into the hunt for alien life beyond our solar system; investigate whether seaweed can help save the world; witness some of the extraordinary techniques used in operations to heal the human heart and undertake a world-first experiment to understand how changing what’s in your gut can radically alter your life.

We’re also working with international co-producers to bring some of the best filmmaking from around the world.

It’s a series that will surprise, delight, and inform in equal measure.

Episode One: Heartbeat: How to fix a broken heart

Hosted by Dr Nikki Stamp

Dr Nikki Stamp takes us into the amazing world of our hearts – revealing how they function, how we can look after them and the science that’s there to help fix them when things go wrong.

Nikki is one of Australia’s elite group of female heart surgeons and she passionately believes that many of her patients could have avoided becoming yet another ‘heart casualty’ - if only she could have shown them earlier how to care for the one remarkable organ that makes us all tick.

She takes us behind the scenes in her operating theatre to give us a privileged look at what happens in high-stakes operations and we meet the patients who are hoping to have their lives transformed.

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Catalyst returns to ABC next week

Tuesday 15th August at 8.30pm

The new series is made up of hour long programmes; each one looking at the latest science on single subjects from human health and medical breakthroughs to astronomy and technology.

We want to capture the wonder and excitement at the heart of these stories and meet the scientists and researchers working at the cutting edge of these fields.


Hosted by Dr Jordan Nguyen

Virtual Reality is a multibillion dollar industry, poised to transform your life in the same way the internet did 20 years ago. But it’s about a lot more than watching films and playing games. These humble headsets could replace a visit to the doctor, cure phobias, open a new world of emotion and experience, and even bring the dead back to life. Biomedical engineer, Dr Jordan Nguyen, takes us to the global frontlines of this fascinating and often bizarre virtual world. He examines what it is and how it could transform the way we relate, learn, work and travel. He meets some of the most life-like avatars that scientists are creating to live in a virtual world, and helps an Australian family create their own avatar – with surprising results.


Dr Jordan Nguyen is a bio mechanical engineer on a mission to improve lives through technology. After a diving accident in his 20’s, Dr Nguyen became particularly interested in disability. He studied at the University of Technology, Sydney where he developed a mind-controlled smart wheelchair. In 2016 Jordan presented the multi-award winning ABC documentary ‘Becoming Superhuman’ where he created a system for a 13-year-old boy to use brain waves to control electronics in his house and drive a vehicle in spite of his cerebral palsy

Can Seaweed Save the World?

Tuesday 22 August at 8.30pm

Next week’s Catalyst episode follows eminent Australian Professor Tim Flannery as he investigates how seaweed is helping to deal with some of our planet’s biggest problems.

He meets the scientists who are using it to help grow foods of the future, clean polluted water, improve human nutrition, and even potentially help with one of the big problems we now face - climate change.

On the coast of Northern Queensland agricultural runoff is causing seaweed to bloom on reefs. But surprisingly perhaps, seaweed might also be a way to clean polluted water from agriculture and from growing farmed fish.

Tim finds out that seaweed-grown, pollution-free seafood protein might one day help feed the world. And the seaweed that’s produced in this farming process can also be turned into a valuable fertilizer.

Seaweed itself is a food with many advantages - feeding the right kind of seaweed to cattle can reduce the amount of methane they produce. It also has the potential to help improve human health. Tim meets the scientist who believes there is money to be made from creating medical products that can be implanted into humans.

But for Tim, it’s the ability of seaweed to capture carbon from the atmosphere that has grabbed his interest. Could huge open ocean farms of seaweed draw down the excess carbon from the atmosphere that causes climate change? If so, it has the potential to help reverse climate change - but what might an open ocean seaweed farm look like?

Korea is the next stop, where he encounters the huge local seaweed industry at the Wando Seaweed Expo, including evidence of seaweed bioplastics and seaweed paper. What Tim really wants to find is evidence of commercial scale seaweed farming. From the top of a hill he spies the vast farms for the first time. They stretch almost to the horizon - thousands upon thousands of metres of buoy supported lines, all growing seaweed in the sun.

Getting seaweed to help with carbon capture is a complex scientific and technical problem, but the people Tim meets lead him to believe it’s possible to solve, and that Australia can play a big role in doing so.


Tuesday 5 September at 8:30pm


66 million years ago an asteroid hit the planet. Today, an expedition to drill down 1500m into the craterit created - the Chicxulub asteroid impact crater – is underway, with the aim of unearthing the secrets of the day that killed the dinosaurs.

Can We Save the Reef?

Tuesday 3 October, 8.30pm

In next week’s Catalyst ( join Professor Emma Johnston as she asks the question –Can We Save the Reef?

Off Australia’s northeast coast lies a wonder of the world; a living structure so big it can be seen from space. It’s more intricate and complex than any city, and so diverse it hosts a third of all fish species’ in Australia.

This is the Great Barrier Reef; 2,600km of coral reefs, lagoons, islands, and deep channels - a living fortress that meets the relentless power of the sea head-on, and protects Australia’s coast.

How to Exercise Better

Tuesday 10 October, 8.30pm

In next week’s Catalyst (screening Tuesday 10 October, 8.30pm on ABC & ABC iview) join Dr Caroline West and Dr Shalin Naik as they ask the question – how can we exercise better?

We all know exercise is good for us. But how many of us really know what kind of exercise we should be doing, how much of it we need, or how hard we should push ourselves? To find the answers, and help all of us live happier healthier lives, GP Caroline West and cell biologist Shalin Naik are putting their bodies on the line at Australia’s toughest athlete training facility - the Australian Institute of Sport.

Gut Revolution

2-part special from Tuesday 17 October at 8.30pm

Who is really in the driver’s seat – your brain or your gut bugs?
Is your mood influencing your gastrointestinal health – or is it the other way around?
Can a simple nutritional intervention succeed where modern medicine has little to offer?
Is the secret to our physical and mental health hidden in our poo?
Gut Revolution, seeks to sort the facts from the faeces in a two-part observational series that follows two people with debilitating gut issues on their quest for better health. Could changing their gut bugs turn their health around in just six weeks?


Episode 13: Making Better Decisions with Maths


Tuesday 30 January at 8:30pm

From the science of making choices to the solving power of algorithms, Mathetician Lily Serna looks at how logic of mathematics can help you make better, smarter decisions.

Mathematician Lily Serna believes maths can provide the answer to life’s tough decisions and she’s going to show us how in the first of the new series of Catalyst.

While searching for the perfect beach she reveals the formula for making blind choices. She also shows how logic can make you better at games and even tell which queue to join at the supermarket. Lily introduces some ‘mathsphobics’ to the ‘Monty Hall Dilemma’. A gameshow conundrum that will make you radically rethink your decisions in a game of chance.

Lifting the lid on algorithms, Lily uses them to solve an orienteering challenge and we enter the world of the optimised warehouse where all the decisions are made by these logic rules. She also sees how human intuition and maths make a powerful team, meeting designer Jason Grech who uses artificial intelligence in the design of his couture gowns.

Finally, she explores the maths of chaos and how it’s used to decide what the weather will do.

Catalyst in February

Catalyst, Farmer Needs a Robot

Tuesday 6 February, 8.30pm

A group of pioneering scientists take their robots into the world of agriculture to see if they can help keep Australian farmers on the land by tackling some of their biggest challenges.

There’s a tech revolution unfolding in Australia – but it’s not happening where you might expect. A team of scientists led by internationally renowned roboticist, Professor Salah Sukkarieh, are opening up a new world of farming science; one that could give Australian farmers more control over their future than ever before. The need for greater productivity to feed a growing population, and changing climate conditions are making it hard for farmers to continue supplying the food on everyone’s plates. Added to this the loss of young blood from the industry – and one of the harshest natural environments on Earth – means Australian farmers are up against it. But help is at hand. Catalyst joins engineers from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics as they explore the world of agriculture to develop robots and create smarter ways of farming. But are these prototype robots up to the many tasks of a farmer? Will they change the way we’ve been farming for generations? Can the robots lead the farmers (and their cattle) to greener pastures?

Catalyst, Back to the Moon

Tuesday 13 February, 8.30pmon ABC & ABC iview

The race to the moon is back on. Half a century since the last Apollo mission landed on the moon, Associate Professor Alan Duffy takes us inside the new space race, where innovators and big dreamers are rewriting the rule book on space exploration. He witnesses the launch of a new-generation of rocket at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Created by Space X, this rocket is partly reusable, and the innovations behind it may help us get back to the moon. Alan meets the pioneers at US’s first licenced spaceport in Mojave in California who are building new types of lunar landers and rockets. And he finds out that the discovery of water on the moon may transform our chances of living there and using the moon to explore planets far from home.

Catalyst, Gut Revolution: Victoria’s Story

Tuesday 20 February, 8.30pm

Nutrition Scientist Dr Joanna McMillan takes on her most challenging case, as she battles to help 48-year-old Victoria recover from debilitating anxiety and gut pains, using emerging science about the links between gut bacteria and the brain.

48-year-old Victoria has chronic anxiety disorder. She’s battled this her whole life. But in the past few years she’s begun suffering from excruciating gut problems. No one has been able to provide answers. So, are her gut bacteria the missing link in causing her symptoms? Nutrition Scientist Dr Joanna McMillan takes on her most challenging case, exploring emerging science about the links between gut bacteria and the brain to design an intervention to help Victoria where all else has failed. Victoria’s struggle is revealing, at times confronting, but above all, inspiring. And the results - astonishing and life changing.

Catalyst - Feeding Australia


From Tuesday 14 August at 8:30pm


Catalyst returns with a special 2-part series, Feeding Australia,where we reveal the key breakthroughs in science and technology that will shape what we might be eating in the coming decades.

Chef Paul West, Nutritionist Professor Clare Collins and Dr Noby Leong travel across Australia to meet the growers and scientists who are wrestling with the question of how we grow tasty and nutritious food as Australia’s population continues to grow.

The answers they encounter are surprising and thought provoking.

Catalyst - The Great Australian Bee Challenge


From Tuesday 29 January at 8:30pm

We Australians share our country with one of the world’s most beautiful, fragile and industrious creatures - bees. They are an incredibly important part of the natural environment - pollinating around a third of the food we eat. While in many parts of the world bees are under threat, Australia remains a safe haven for them – for now.

In the first of two programs, host Paul West introduces four teams of novice bee keepers to these hardworking insects, and with the help of entomologist Dr Tanya Latty and expert bee keeper Doug Purdie, they learn to build thriving hives – and that means delving into the very latest science behind bee communication, brains, and behaviour.

With two teams in the city and two in the country, our amateur beekeepers encounter all sorts of challenges on their journeys. In the city, our rooftop hive is showing signs of stress; while in the country a cold, dry Spring - with no sign of nectar for the bees to feed upon - has set our rural participants back. But it’s the family in metropolitan Erskineville that throw a massive spanner in the works by moving houses. They take their hive with them – but will the bees follow?

From ACMA:

ABC Catalyst report breaches impartiality rules

The ABC has breached the impartiality provisions of its own Code of Practice in a Catalyst program ‘Feeding Australia: Foods of Tomorrow’.

The program was focussed on more sustainable ways to produce food, including fish, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, avocados and protein with a focus on beef.

An ACMA investigation found that the program failed to present the production of beef with due impartiality, as it did for other foods.

‘It is an editorial decision of the broadcaster as to how particular matters will be presented. However, the Code requires that the overall presentation must still be done so in a manner that achieves due impartiality,’ said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

The ACMA found Catalyst used dramatic visual displays, emotive language and moral arguments in the segments that referred to beef. In aggregate, these caused the program to demonstrate a lack of fair treatment and open-mindedness.

‘The sustainability of Australia’s food supply is an important topic for discussion on which there will be different views held in the community. The ACMA considers that, had the program dealt with some matters differently, the program may have met the Code requirement for impartiality,’ said Ms O’Loughlin.

The ACMA also assessed the accuracy of various statements about beef production in the program and found no breach of the Code.

As a result of the ACMA investigation, the ACMA’s report has been communicated to the program’s production team. Given the ABC’s strong track record of compliance with the Code, the ACMA accepts this as an appropriate action.

ABC response to ACMA report findings

The ABC notes the report findings by the ACMA, published on 24 May 2019, concerning part one of the Catalyst program “Feeding Australia: Foods of Tomorrow”.

The ABC stands by the Catalyst team and the program, which explores key breakthroughs in food production that will help Australia find more sustainable ways to feed an expected population of 40 million by 2050. We respectfully disagree with the ACMA’s view that the program lacked impartiality and note that it found the program’s description of the environmental impact of beef farming to be accurate and not misleading.

The program, which started from the basis that Australians are efficient and effective farmers, looked at a wide variety of challenges and innovations related to several types of food production, from Australia’s first mobile hydroponic farms to the use of stem cell research in the production of avocados. The underlying message of the program was that all traditional food industries face challenges in terms of sustainability and satisfying future demand.

The program did not claim that the Australian livestock industry is unsustainable nor that red meat should not play a role as a food source in the future – beef remains a favoured form of protein in the Australian diet. The program did not take a critical stance towards beef any more than it took a critical stance towards traditional methods of other agricultural production. Rather, the program examined sustainability concerns about several traditional food industries and explored possible future food sources that may be developed, capturing the interest and imagination of viewers by focusing on the foods and farms of tomorrow – in line with the program’s title.

Consistent with the ABC’s commitment to its rigorous editorial processes, we have brought the report findings to the attention of the program’s production team. The ABC does not believe that the ACMA finding detracts from the relevance, accuracy and importance of the program.


From Tuesday 13 August at 8:30pm

Ex-ABC journalist Ian Henderson delivers the extra-ordinary new research that promises to keep us all younger for longer. From diet to exercise, he uncovers the simple tips that could add years of healthy living.




Tuesday 8 October at 8:30pm

Should I Risk It?

Mathematician and self-confessed ‘risk-avoider’ Lily Serna explores the psychology, neuroscience and maths of risk. She begins with a challenge. Having never so much as gone over the speed limit, Lily attempts to ‘powerslide’ a supercar. Although she’s safer on the skid pad than on the open road, she can’t get past her anxiety. Her brain won’t let her. Clearly, risk takers think differently.

Lily meets neuroscientist Steve Kassum at a skate park to find out how. They set the skaters a challenge – a cash prize to inflate a balloon. The bigger the balloon, the bigger the prize. These thrill seekers go for big money, happy to risk bursting the balloon and winning nothing, the reward centres in their brains driving them on.

There’s more to risk taking than how the brain is wired though. Lily meets someone who has done one of the riskiest things on earth, twice. Alyssa Azar is the youngest Aussie ever to climb Everest. Together they take on a new challenge – the flying Trapeze. Lily is again paralysed by panic, but Alyssa is calm and calculating, the opposite of a reckless thrill seeker.

Back on safe ground with mathematics, Lily explores ways to objectively measure risk using ‘Micromorts’ and Microlives’. Based on statistical studies, these measurements reveal that air travel is one of the safest forms of transport and that 20 minutes of exercise a day could give you an extra hour of life.

Logic, however, rarely plays a part in taking a risk. Would you, for instance, best $10 on coin flip? What if the prize was $20 and you still only lose $10? Or if the coin was flipped 100 times? With a spot of street science, Lily shows how our instinctual biases and aversion to loss, can make us misjudge risk.

In search of a system, Lily joins a group that face high risk situations all the time. She takes a command of a Fire and Rescue exercise, but it proves too much for her to handle. She discovers the importance of a technique called Recognition Primed Decision Making and strangely how crucial a firefighter’s instincts are.

Having to the measure of risk in a number of ways, Lily poses another question – are we taking enough? A rise in childhood anxiety in Australia would suggest not. Lily explores the growing trend in ‘loose parts’ play. This unstructured and largely unsupervised play encourages kids to risks. A group of 9-year-olds, watched on monitors by anxious parents, try out this new style of play, with remarkable results.

Production credits: Series Producer: Penny Palmer. Manager Science: Aidan Laverty.

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Catalyst - How Food Works Part 1

Tuesday 14 April at 8:30pm

CBeebies from the BBC has commissioned a kids version of The Great Bee Challenge for UK viewers, called Show Me the Honey.

Are We Killing Our Koalas?

Tuesday 16 Feb at 8:30 pm

The koala. Decimated during the 2019-2020 fires and now on the path to extinction. Virtually wiped­ out from our urban landscapes. Everyone knows the harrowing story about our koalas. But do we?

In this one-hour documentary, Catalyst investigates the story behind the headlines.

Bushfires, climate change, habitat destruction; popular belief is that our koalas are headed for extinction by 2050. It’s a shameful projection. But the real story is so much more intriguing.

Explorer and Conservationist Professor Tim Flannery meets scientists, veterinarians and researchers- all working to understand the real threats koalas face, and how we can avoid them.
Tim will venture thirty years into the future, witnessing first-hand the effects of climate change; track down one of the world’s most elusive and endangered mammals; reveal a koala vaccine developed with plans to also prevent human disease; learn how Bluetooth is saving urban koalas from extinction; and get up close and personal with koala poo - does it hold the secret to ensuring the koala’s survival?

Are We Killing Our Koalas? invites the start of a national conversation about the realities of koala survival; offering an unvarnished, honest and surprising view on what threats the koala faces, and what solutions are available. Are We Killing Our Koalas? reveals that everyone can play their part in saving our koalas.

Mars: Our Second Home?

Tuesday Feb 23 at 8.30pm

Mars has long held our fascination; we have sent probes and rovers, now the time has come to send humans. In the first of a two-part Mars special, astrophysicist Prof Tamara Davis and astronomer Greg Quicke meet the Australian scientists who are reaching for the stars as they attempt to overcome the many challenges involved in human missions to Mars.

Leaving planet Earth is the first major hurdle. Tamara gets a taste of what it’s like to be an astronaut launching into space as she takes flight in ajet fighter, experiencing high G forces and the feeling of weightlessness. Over in Broome, Western Australia, astronomer Greg Quicke takes a ride to his bush block to demonstrate just how easy it is to find Mars in the night sky.

Ever seen an astronaut confidently walk out of a capsule after months in space? In reality it’s more of a crawl. In the nation’s capital, Tamara meets a team of scientists working out ways to measure and mitigate the effects of micro-gravity on the body. Tamara even puts her body through the paces to determine whether she has what it takes to be an astronaut.

In Far North Queensland, one of the longest continuous lava flows from a single volcano that erupted 190,000 years ago may provide answers for human shelter on Mars. Escaping the heat of the day, Tamara joins the Ewamian Rangers on country to explore the lava tubes with astro­ geologist, Dr David Flannery.

Artificial intelligence has long held promise to perform tasks humans can’t or won’t do. Given the hostile conditions on Mars, robots should be perfect for maintenance, reconnaissance and repair­ leaving more time for human exploration and discovery. Tamara joins the CSIRO team in Brisbane as they put ‘Kitten’ and ‘Rat’ to the ultimate test of searching and locating a human survivor.

Getting to Mars with fuel from Earth is one thing, making it back is a whole other ballgame. The good news is, Mars has icy, salty water which can be converted to fuel. Astronomer Greg Quicke takes us through the art of electrolysis step-by-step - splitting oxygen and hydrogen from water, all in an effort to get humans home.

Finally, Tamara rolls up her sleeves to join a Mars analog simulation exercise. With no way of knowing how a team will cope with a 3-year inter-planetary mission, analog simulations have been conducted the world over to test human resilience.

Part 2 : Tuesday March 2 8:30pm

In this second episode of Catalyst’s Mars special, astrophysicist Professor Tamara Davis and beloved astronomer Greg Quicke explore a question we’ve longed to answer – is there life on Mars?