Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae. Lessard & Yeates.

The famous beyonceae fly at the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra.

September 2012: floods, flies and opium

For September's Biodiversity Month, CSIRO held an interactive chat with the director of the Atlas of Living Australia, and visited the Beyoncé fly at the Australian National Insect Collection. We also called upon the public for stories and photos to illustrate how CSIRO has developed in Canberra for the national capital's centenary in 2013. (7:19)

  • 3 October 2012

The player will show in this paragraph


Glen Paul: Welcome to CSIROnow. September saw the CSIRO Discovery Centre host an event organised by the Australian Science Communicators and Inspiring Australia, which was aimed at science communicators, researchers and scientists.

Claire Harris: And it was a panel discussion with five up and coming, and also quite experienced science communicators talking about the jobs they do, what challenges they have and what successes they've had in making science accessible to a wide audience.

Glen Paul: Science communication is a growing discipline and a critical element of public engagement and communicating complex topics can be challenging.

Claire Harris: I've been a science communicator for, I don't know, roughly about six years and I've been working with CSIRO for three years, and I think there's a growing need for people to have access onto scientific information, and understand how science is part of the decision making process and relevant to everyone's lives.

Dr La Salle: This is how sad I am; I've actually timed myself, how many I could do in a minute. So I can do about a hundred and ...

Jasmine Leong: September was Biodiversity Month and to mark the occasion CSIRO held its first live streamed Q&A session on USTREAM. Webcast from CSIRO's Black Mountain Laboratories in Canberra and driven by social media, viewers asked Dr John La Salle about his role as the Director of the Atlas of Living Australia and his work in insect taxonomy.

Glen Paul: Now, we've had another insect related question, "is it true that bees dance to communicate?"

Dr La Salle: Yes, it is and you know, I would do the waggle dance for you ...

Glen Paul: Be my guest ...

Dr La Salle: ... but it's a bit embarrassing (laughs).

Jasmine Leong: Biodiversity Month was also an opportune time to revisit the famous beyonceae fly at the Australian National Insect Collection. The previously unnamed species of horse fly was named by a research scientist Bryan Lessard in honour of the American pop diva, Beyoncé.

Bryan Lessard: So, this is where the beyonceae fly lives and it's right here, there's only three species, and the reason I named it after Beyoncé was because it had a bright golden abdomen and I wanted to generate a bit of interest in taxonomy, or a bit of 'buzz' as you'd say, and I also wanted to engage a younger generation of taxonomist because there’s no that many of us and some people think it's a dying science, so we really need the help in describing the 90 per cent of organisms that have not been described today. So, it's kind of a bootylicious mascot for biodiversity.

Jasmine Leong: Such is the need for entomologists that post-retirement, honorary fellow and recipient of the Member of the Order of Australia, Ted Edwards, volunteers his time to the Australian Nation Insect Collection. Ted began his career with CSIRO in 1970.

Ted Edwards: I'd come in from an agricultural background and that actually happened frequently because this is so, even though it doesn't look like it, it's so practical. So I'd come in from an agricultural background and when I first starting working here just the enormous diversity of the fauna, it was just so ... such a strong impression. Even with an interest, even with some background you just don’t realise the enormous diversity of moths and butterflies, and other insects.

Jasmine Leong: Ted is recognised for his service to entomology as an author, researcher and mentor and offers this advice for those considering a career.

Ted Edwards: Um, it’s terribly worthwhile, but you have to be totally dedicated. There’s no room for square pegs in round holes or anything like that. You have to be totally dedicated.


Narrator: "The work is commonwealth wide."

Glen Paul: In preparation for the National Capital Centenary in 2013, CSIRO called upon the public for stories and photos which demonstrate how the science agency, developed in Canberra, since the first CSIRO building opened at Black Mountain in 1927.


Narrator: "The divisions of plant industry and economic entomology at Canberra in the Federal Capital Territory."

Cris Kennedy: We've asked the Canberra community to come in and bring in their old, kind of, memories, photographs of CSIRO in the region and this was over two days, the 14th and 15th of September, we kind of had no idea whether anyone would show up, but we had about 50 people come in and we had some really amazing, some amazing stories, amazing stuff and then funnily enough someone had pulled this out of a hopper at a clean-up, once upon a time, this is old CSIRO, this is plant industry building and entomology building. They were both built in 1927, but this is the, one of these is a photo of the building launch in 1930.

Glen Paul: One of the more unusual stories that turned up about CSIRO was that hemp and opium poppies were once grown in what is now an inner north suburb of Canberra.

Cris Kennedy: As a field station where we use to do, especially in the war in 1944/45, lots of work on opium and marijuana and their medicinal properties for the war effort. Really interesting stuff and we’ll be pulling all of this together for the Centenary of Canberra, which will be an exciting project.

Jasmine Leong: Helping farmers meet the growing demand for food is one of the major challenges facing researchers in CSIRO's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship.

To find out more about what other challenges the industry faces, the leadership team and several researchers from the flagship visited farmer Rob Warburton's property near Kojonup in the southwest of Western Australia. Rob has a 2600 hectare farm in the high rainfall zone and has a mix of crops and livestock, typical for the area.

And while Rob had some of the country's leading agricultural research experts on hand, it was their ears he made most use of; as he shared his ideas on what research would help farmers like him improve their productivity in such a region.

Dr Prakash: And that's essentially used for 3D film.

Glen Paul: On September 21st in Brisbane at the CSIRO sponsored National Coastal Conference, called Coast to Coast, Dr Mahesh Prakash gave a presentation on computer modelling of tsunamis and storm surges. Here, a hypothetical tsunami floods the coastline off Fremantle and Rottnest Island in Western Australia. The speed of the water is shown in different colours, with red being the fastest and blue the slowest.

Key buildings in Fremantle are shown at their actual location and elevations to visualise the path of the seven metre wave. A hypothetical street scene from no specific location shows the surge of water flooding the street and lifting objects like cars, which themselves can cause further damage.

The work is funded by the Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Our Resilient Coastal Australia theme.

And that's CSIROnow, for more information on any of these stories or to follow us on other social media go to