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?

Kill or Cure: The Story of Venom

Tuesday 9 March at 8:30pm

Australia is famous for its lethal animals. Alongside sharks and crocodiles, it also has a collection of 66 venomous species – including four of the top ten most deadly animals on the planet.

So why would the ABC’s resident nature nerd, Dr Ann Jones, embark on a dangerous journey coming face-to-face with Funnel Web spiders, Taipans and Irukandji?

The answer is that there’s one astonishing discovery she wants to unravel: scientists have found that elements of the deadly venoms that could kill us can be turned into pharmaceutical drugs that could save us. From protecting the heart and brain, to potentially curing multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

Venom is made up of complex molecules that have evolved over millennia to target specific prey - some target the nervous system, others attack the tissue or circulatory system and because of this, it could offer wide-reaching medical applications.

Ann kicks of her adventure on Fraser Island with the Bugs & Drugs team from the University of Queensland to collect one of the world’s most venomous spiders - the Funnel Web. Its venom contains over 3000 molecules – and surprisingly only one of them is responsible for killing human But another - Hi1a - is showing promise in protecting the brain following a stroke and the heart following a heart attack.

With our myriad of venomous animals, Australian scientists are leading the world in exploring a promising new apothecary of drugs that could revolutionise modern medicine.

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Catalyst - Cancer: A Story of Hope

Tuesday 20 July at 8:30pm

Cancer. It’s a diagnosis that we all dread to hear. But with advances in technology and medicine, more people are living better and longer with their disease. Now, research is focusing on how individuals can maintain a quality of life throughout the treatment process. Catalyst follows patients experiencing this new kind of cancer care - their stories are filled with hope.

The Truth About Fasting – A Catalyst Special

Tuesday 27 July 8.30pm

Could changing WHEN we eat help make us healthier? Fasting - going a set amount of time with little or no food - isn’t a new idea. It’s one we have been practising for millennia. Recent health trends have reinvigorated fasting for our contemporary lifestyles. Diets, like the 16-8 and 5-2, promise not just weight loss, but the possibility of preventing chronic disease, with early studies showing intriguing results.

But many of these studies are in animal models rather than humans – so how does fasting affect people in the real world? And is it the medical miracle it’s made out to be?

To find out, Catalyst asked dietician Dr Joanna McMillan to design a six-week personalised intermittent fasting programme for five everyday Aussies. Hairdresser Sam and her husband Kevin, a butcher, busy mum of four Renuka, train driver Julie and corporate accountant Vanessa all have underlying metabolic health issues that can potentially be treated with a fasting intervention- from insulin resistance to high levels of triglyceride fats in the blood.

As the participants embark on either the 5:2 or the 16:8 diet and radically change the way they approach eating, Jo carefully tracks their metabolic health, mood, microbiomes and weight.

Dr McMillian is guided by some of Australia’s leading medical experts, including gastroenterologist Dr Ray Boyapati, lifestyle disease specialist Dr Samantha Hocking and fasting pioneer Professor Luigi Fontana.
From “brutal” fasting days to changes in body composition and function. The end of the 6-week experiment reveals some surprising results.

Production credits: Producer & Director: Cassie Charlton; Associate Producer: Peta Yoshinaga; Executive Producer: Penny Palmer; Head of Factual and Culture: Jen Collins.

The Wildlife Revolution

Tuesday 3 August at 8:30pm

Nature journalist, Dr Ann Jones knows firsthand that Australia is one very lucky country.

Our vast, dramatic, and diverse landscape is home to more than one million species of plants and animals. Many – like our most endangered animal, the mountain pygmy possum - are found nowhere else in the world. But our abundant biodiversity is under increasing pressure from habitat destruction, predation and climate change. With one of the worst extinction records in the world, the speed at which Australia is losing its native species is accelerating.

We are in a race against time to protect what’s left.

To understand the rate of loss, experts use tools to monitor and assess each threat. And right now, there is a revolution taking place, one where emerging technology is helping to safeguard our wildlife in bold new ways.

In this episode of Catalyst, Ann travels across the country to meet the Australian scientists who are using these innovative technologies to work smarter and faster.

From revealing surprising behaviours in our native bat species and identifying ways to rejuvenate our ocean kelp forests; to road-testing Australia’s new weapons in the fight against the illegal animal trade. Emerging technology hopes to be our insurance policy against losing our most endangered animals forever…

Could this be the wildlife revolution we’ve all been waiting for?

Production credits: Producer/ Director: Robbie Bridgman; Assoc. Producer: Jessica Cook; Series
Producer: Elle Gibbons; Executive Producer: Penny Palmer; Head of Factual and Culture: Jen Collins.

Catalyst - Series Return

From Tuesday 1 February 8.30pm

The Secret Lives of Our Urban Birds

Nature journalist and self-confessed bird-nerd, Ann Jones, heads out on an urban safari through Melbourne, uncovering the secret lives of the city’s feathery friends.

Presenter of ABC Radio National’s new show What The Duck?! and self-confessed bird-nerd, Ann Jones, heads out on an urban safari through Melbourne, uncovering the secret lives of the city’s feathery friends. From deadly raptors and warring Magpies to promiscuous Willy Wagtails – Ann uncovers a world filled with drama and intrigue.

With over 130 bird species calling Melbourne home, you can expect the usual suspects, like the warbling Magpies, who have adapted well with their strong social bonds and curiosity making them successful city dwellers. But as Ann learns, there’s a lot more than meets the eye… you just need to stop, watch and look a while. If you’re lucky you may even spot the more surprising city slickers - one of the rarest birds in Australia – the Orange-Bellied Parrot.

To catch a glimpse of our cutest avian neighbours, Ann heads to the bayside suburb of St Kilda where a colony of Little Penguins has taken up residence. Why have they left their offshore islands for a man-made breakwater so close to the city? And they’re not the only ones with an enviable address – a pair of nesting Peregrine falcons have traded clifftops for a Collins St skyscraper to raise their chicks.

While some thrive, others barely survive. For the Powerful Owl, city life is more of a necessity than a choice as increasing urbanisation destroys their habitat. To successfully nest and breed, Powerful Owls need hollows of old growth trees – hollows that can take up to 300 years to develop. But a solution may be at hand - Melbourne University is trialling 3D printed nests in the hope that we can replace what has been lost.

Production credit: Producer: Robbie Bridgman. Director: Bruce Permezel. Researcher: Chelsea Mose. Executive Producer: Penny Palmer. Head of Specialist: Jennifer Collins.

The Big Brew Challenge: A Catalyst Special

Tuesday 8 February 8.30pm

Celebrate the science of beer with chef Paul West, as three teams of budding brewmasters take on the challenge to make their best homebrew. Do they have what it takes to impress our panel of international judges?

Celebrate the science of beer with chef Paul West, as three teams of budding brewmasters take on the challenge to make their best homebrew. But do they have what it takes to impress our panel of international judges?

Guided by one of Australia’s best-known brewers, Samara Fuss, craft beer enthusiasts Rosemary and Ashley (Team Pale), father and son duo Doug and Euan (Team Sour), and mates Pete and Paul (Team Stout) will compete over 3 weeks for their beer to be crowned champion of the Big Brew Challenge.

Joining our teams as they navigate the complex world of modern brewing is presenter Paul West who gets a lesson in the science of beer. From the basics to the revolutionary, he speaks to the scientists harnessing the power of yeast to ferment natural products to create biofuels. Travelling to Wiradjuri country, the Riverina area of New South Wales, Paul learns why malt is so important to the brewing process and discovers a brewery that is reducing its carbon footprint using microalgae.

Finally, food and drink journalist Mike Bennie and writer and broadcaster ‘Beer Diva’ Kirrily Waldorn, taste test our team’s final brews. They’re impressed with all of them – but there can only be one winner…

Production credits: Producer Director: David Symonds. Associate Producer: Rebecca Hill. Executive Producer: Penny Palmer. Manager, Documentaries: Stephen Oliver.

Australia’s Favourite Tree


Tuesday 16 August 8.30pm

Dr Ann Jones & Paul West travel across Australia to investigate the extraordinary lives of Australia’s oldest, largest & most unusual trees with a mission to find a candidate to crown Australia’s Favourite Tree!

Australia is home to over seven thousand species of native trees - they’re old, incredibly diverse and endlessly fascinating.

In this 2-part Catalyst special, Ann Jones and Paul West travel across Australia to meet scientists and First Nations peoples to investigate the clever and complex lives of some of our most iconic trees. But this is no ordinary tree hunt! Ann and Paul are embarking on a mission to find a candidate from each State and Territory, and crown one of them “Australia’s Favourite Tree”.

From high up in the tree-top canopy of Tasmania’s Huon Pine, one of the oldest living organisms on Earth, to Strangler Figs with 40-metre girths that thrive in our North Queensland rainforests, Ann and Paul uncover the role trees play in their environment, learn of their historical importance, and celebrate the incredible resilience of trees through climate change and deforestation.

After the tales of eight remarkable trees across Australia’s vast and varied landscape, a panel of expert judges will digest the facts and the stories, and at the end of the series they will crown… Australia’s Favourite Tree!


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Is that Catalyst though?

Yes -see:

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Sorry - ad didn’t brand it as such. :+1:

Take me to the river

The contest is over, the dust has settled and one magnificent tree stands above the rest.

It twists and turns as it gathers water from deep underground, reaches for the sky and sends generous branches in improbable directions.

For Indigenous Australians this tree has been a hardware and a pharmacy for millennia. Its fresh wood is a famously vibrant red, and the same chemicals make its smoke a natural antibiotic.

You may have dangled beneath one of these trees on a tyre swing, or hitched a boat to its trunk. Even in the absence of any visible moisture, you’ve probably seen it lighting up the country’s hidden waterways in cool, shady green.

That’s right: Australia’s favourite native tree is the river red gum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis .

More than a quarter of a million votes were cast in our National Science Week poll. Thanks to all of you who voted, got in touch, and enjoyed some of our stories about Australia’s amazing native trees across the web, TV and radio.

Our land has such a wealth of amazing flora that voting and choosing between them, I found, was a delightful form of torture. But there could only be one winner! And the mighty river red gum triumphed over a top 10 dominated by eucalypts, claiming more than 18 per cent of the votes in the final round.

Rounding out the top 5 were the snow gum, the ghost gum, the Moreton Bay fig and the mountain ash. (That’s right, the world’s tallest flowering plant came fifth! How amazing are Australia’s trees?)

What became of the wattle? Suffice to say, being the nation’s floral emblem doesn’t count for much when you’re staring down six iconic gum trees in a popularity contest.

You can read about the rest of the placings and catch up [on all the countdown gossip from today’s live blog](

Also see

Keep On Dancing: A Catalyst Special


Tuesday 4 October 8.30pm Episode 1 of 2

Can dance can be a shortcut to better health? Myf Warhurst hosts a unique experiment where a group of over 65’s attempt to slow the effects of aging through dance training culminating in a special performance.

In this two-part Catalyst special, nine older Australians take part in a twelve-week experiment exploring the power of dance for people over the age of 65. Hosted by Myf Warhurst, the programmes explore the emerging science that says dancing can improve fitness, balance, memory, mood and cognition. In short, it might slow the effects of aging.

Most of our volunteers have no dance experience, so leading them through this experiment is one of Australia’s most accomplished choreographers – Kelley Abbey (Dancing with the Stars, Happy Feet). Her task is to prepare them for a one-of-a-kind, accomplished performance to friends and family at the end of the 12 weeks.

Our dancers are living with many of the health conditions we face as we age – Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, cancer, peripheral neuropathy and poor balance that leads to falls. Monitoring their progress through physical and cognitive tests is biomechanical scientist Dr Rachel Ward from UNSW.

Will the twelve weeks of dance have beneficial results for the volunteers including 67-year-old Rod who lives with neuropathy (nerve damage) in his legs and 75-year-old Shirley, who lives with Alzheimer’s disease? And will dance improve both physical and cognitive health of the nine older Australians as they prepare for their performance?

Production credit: An ABC production. Producer Director: David Symonds, Associate Producer: Oliver Graham, Rebecca Hill, Executive Producer: Penny Palmer, A/ Head of Factual and Culture: Richard Huddleston.

Tom Gleeson’s Secrets of the Australian Museum


Tuesday 18 October 8.30pm

He’s one of Australia’s most loved comedians, but Tom Gleeson is also a physics and maths graduate with a curiosity for all things science. Join him as he goes behind-the-scenes to discover the Secrets of The Australian Museum.

The Australian Museum is home to over 22 million specimens yet less than five percent have ever been seen by the public. Until now.

In this special Catalyst episode, physics and maths graduate (and Gold Logie winner) Tom Gleeson takes cameras behind the scenes of the world-renowned institution as the team count down for a blockbuster exhibit three years in the making – ‘Sharks’.

Tom speaks to numerous specialists, including the museum’s Director & CEO, Cultural Curator, Collections Manager, Director of Research, taxidermists, conservators, artists and model makers, amongst others.

Tom takes us on an exclusive look at the culmination of three years hard work, drawing skills from every corner of the museum to bring the ‘Sharks’ exhibit to life.

Production credit: An ABC Production. Producer Director: Duane Hatherly. Associate Producer: Melanie Sauer. Executive Producer: Penny Palmer. Acting Head of Factual and Culture: Richard Huddleston.

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