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February 21 2013

Science Podcast - Benefits of HIV treatment, nuclear North Korea, saving seeds, and more (22 Feb 2013)

HIV treatment in South Africa not only increases life expectancy, but proves to be financially advantageous; what North Korea's latest nuclear test means, scientifically and politically; and new ways of preserving plant biodiversity.

May 28 2012

Lynette Wallworth: the alien world of coral reefs

The Australian artist reflects on her underwater film, Coral: Rekindling Venus, which premieres to coincide with a rare astronomical event

Timing is always important in art but it is nothing less than crucial when your project is tied to an event so rare that it will happen next month – and then not again for 105 years.

The Australian artist Lynette Wallworth is in that position. She spoke of her hugely ambitious film work that has been five years in the making and will be premiered next month as part of the London 2012 festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad. "It is a call to action," she said. "A harking back to a possibility."

It is inspired by a rare astronomical event, Venus's transit of the sun, when that planet passes directly between the sun and Earth. The transits come in pairs, few and far between – 2004, 5-6 June this year and then not again until 2117 and 2125. The previous pair was in 1874 and 1882 and before that 1761 and 1769.

It is the 18th-century transits that have particularly fascinated Wallworth because they led to what was perhaps the first example of worldwide scientific co-operation.

One of the big challenges of the age was to work out how big the solar system was and how much distance was there between Earth and the sun. One man occupied with the question was English astronomer Edmund Halley who speculated that observing the transit from extreme parts of the globe would help scientists come close to the calculation.

"He also knew he wouldn't live to see it," said Wallworth. "That was the part of the story that, in the beginning, hooked me in."

Halley wrote a letter to the Royal Observatory, the astronomers of the future, "begging them that when the time came they would go in ships around the world to observe this event".

And they did. It has a resonance today because it was not a problem that could be solved in one place; observers had to be all over the planet – around 120 in 1761 (French, British, Danish, Swedish, German, Italian, Portuguese) and an even more in 1769. It was the reason Captain Cook was in Tahiti.

Some remarkable things happened. The French allowed British ships safe passage, even though the two countries had recently been at war and were far from friends. "It was an undertaking that was for the benefit of all humanity," said Wallworth. "An attempt by countries to act globally for a scientific problem. It was amazing … beautiful, sort of mind boggling. There are so many moments that caught me as an artist."

That inspired her to make a "call to action" film showing the extraordinary, almost alien beauty of coral reefs – one barometer of climate change. "Coral is the canary in the coalmine of the ocean," the artist said. "They can handle very little temperature change. It is impossible for us to imagine a sky without stars but we have to be able to contemplate an ocean without coral and they are extraordinary communities."

Wallworth commissioned filming by underwater cinematographers, including the Emmy award-winning Australian David Hannan who shot around three-quarters of it. The film is strange and beautiful to look at and will be even more incredible for viewers as it will be shown at planetariums across the world.

"People will think they are in space, think they are moving through stars," said Wallworth.

Almost trance-inducing music has come from artists including Antony and the Johnsons and the Australian Aboriginal singer Gurrumul.

Wallworth said the film is "a harking back to a possibility. Is there a way to think forward, like Halley did, in terms of imagining what we might need to do? Is there a possibility of acting in unison?"

The film will initially be shown at planetariums in 25 cities across the world but Wallworth hopes it will have a life beyond that. She said: "I'm hoping it will build a new audience and that is part of what makes it exciting."

• Lynette Wallworth's Coral: Rekindling Venus will launch on 6 June and be shown at the Royal Observatory planetarium in Greenwich, London from 7 June-6 July and the Birmingham planetarium at various dates in June.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Coral: Rekindling Venus – video

Australian artist Lynette Wallworth's remarkable film depicting the almost alien world of coral reefs



January 25 2010

January 24 2010

All things bright and beautiful: What photographer found in one cubic foot

David Liittschwager's amazing images – featured in next month's National Geographic magazine – capture Earth's ecosystems as never before

Just how much life can you find in an ecosystem of one cubic foot? That is the question photographer David L­iittschwager set out to answer when he took a 12-inch metal frame to a range of different environments on land and in water, in tropical climes and temperate regions and began to chart the living organisms.

The answer? An astonishing amount. In each place he visited, the photographer, best known for his large images of rare animals and plants, was amazed at the diversity and abundance of life that passed through such a small area.

In five distinct and contrasting environments, from a tropical forest to a city-centre park, Liittschwager set down his green-edged metal cube, and started watching. Each creature that passed through the cube was counted and charted with the help of his assistant and a team of biologists. Over a three-week period the team photographed each inhabitant that passed through the cube, down to creatures measuring a mere millimetre.

In total, more than a thousand individual organisms were photographed, and the diversity of each environment can be seen on nationalgeographic.com. "It was like finding little gems," Liittschwager said.

The team started out at Central Park in New York – or more specifically, in the Hallet nature sanctuary, a 3.5-acre deciduous woodland area, populated with trees or shrubs that lose their leaves seasonally. There they found the tufted titmouse and eastern grey squirrel, creatures as big as a raccoon and as small as a leopard slug.


In Moorea, in French Polynesia, they discovered a vast array of species (pictured) thought to only be a very small selection of the reef's full diversity. Among their findings were the inch-long file clam, the whitespotted boxfish, sacoglossan sea slug and the frankly terrifying post-larval octopus.

While in the tropical cloud forest of Monteverde, in Costa Rica, most of the animals in the treetop ecosystem were as small as a fingertip, there were hawk moths, sharpshooter leafhoppers and burio tree seeds.

The fine-leaved vegetation of the fynbos of Table Mountain in South Africa, thought to hold one of the richest concentrations of plant diversity in the world, revealed the purple flower of the alice sundew, and no shortage of cape zebra cockroaches. Finally, in the fresh water of Duck River in Tennessee, one of the most biodiverse waterways in the US, swam golden darters and longlear sunfish as well as the bigeyed chub.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


March 07 2008

TERRA 419: Pablo's Hippos PREVIEW

What do politics, drugs, farming, South America, biodiversity and the African hippopotami all have in common? They are the ingredients that make up the amazing story of "Pablo's Hippos". Not long ago, after the assassination of famous drug baron, Pablo Escobar, two hippos were left alone in the ruins of his private zoo. Now they have multiplied and there is a whole herd of new, uniquely South American hippos running free! Be amazed as we join filmmakers Monica Pinzon and Jefferson Beck on their journey to Colombia to find out how these animals got to where they are and what will happen to them now that they are thriving there.
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