Australian science history in pictures

Australia's government-funded research institute, CSIRO, has opened up its photo archives under Creative Commons. Here's a selection of some fascinating images showing the history of scientific research in Australia.

Michelle Starr
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
1 of 25 David Smyth

The Australia Telescope Compact Array

In rural northern New South Wales, west of the town of Narrabri, is CSIRO's radio telescope, ATCA. Consisting of six 22m (72ft) diameter dishes, the array has new receivers capable of detecting radio waves as short as 3.5mm. It is the only array capable of operating at these short wavelengths in the southern hemisphere.

2 of 25 CSIRO

Animal Health Laboratory HEPA filters

It's very important to maintain a sterile environment in laboratories. At the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, all air is filtered -- once on the way in and twice on the way out -- by massive HEPA filters contained in steel canisters, capable of filtering particles down to as small as 0.6 microns.

3 of 25 CSIRO

Microalgae cultures

The CSIRO Marine Research facility maintains an active collection of microalgae cultures for the purposes of both scientific research and commercial purposes.

4 of 25 CSIRO Archives

The Plant Pathology Laboratory, 1932

CSIRO established its Plant Pathology Laboratory in Canberra in 1930 at the Division of Plant Industry. Researchers there studied crops such as tobacco, wheat, tomatoes, apples and bananas.

5 of 25 Dr Alex Hyatt, CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL)

The frog-slaying fungus

This scanning electron micrograph shows a frozen intact zoosphore and sporangia of the chytridfungus -- one of the most deadly threats to Australian frogs. It was only discovered in 1993 on dead and dying frogs in Queensland, but research since then has revealed that the fungus has been present in the country since at least 1978, and is widespread across the continent.

6 of 25 Robert Kerron

Ornate rock lobster

No prizes for guessing where this magnificent crustacean gets its name. The most abundant of the rock lobster species that inhabit Australian waters, the ornate rock lobster has an incredible migratory pattern, as discovered by the CSIRO. Every year, lobsters at least two years old travel hundreds of kilometres across the Torres Strait to breeding grounds in the Gulf of Papua -- after which they never return, seemingly disappearing.

7 of 25 Marine Research

The Australian National Fish Collection

The Australian National Fish Collection, housed in the CSIRO Marine Laboratories in Hobart, is one of the most comprehensive and important reference collections in Australia, containing some 150,000 specimens from nearly 3000 species found in Australasian, Asian, Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters, as well as a massive collection of photographs and X-rays. The specimen pictured above, preserved using a 70 percent ethanol solution, is a species of bathypelagic anglerfish.

8 of 25 Karen Gowlett-Holmes/CSIRO Marine Research

Spiny Stone crab

This spiky fellow lives in the waters south of Tasmania on seamounts in the Coral Sea and Tasman Sea -- underwater mountains formed from extinct volcanoes. They have been largely left alone for thousands of years, but in recent years, deep-water trawling expeditions have been targeting seamounts looking for deep-sea fish, threatening the seamount habitats.

9 of 25 Health Sciences and Nutrition

Protein crystals

Protein crystals undergoing X-ray crystallography, a technique that examines how light diffracts from crystals to determine their chemical bonds, atom size, disorder and other information.

Arachnophobe warning: the next four images are of spiders. If you don't like spiders, skip ahead.

10 of 25 CSIRO

Mother Goddefroy's wolf spider and her babies

The Goddefroy's wolf spider is common in open areas, paddocks, grasslands and gardens across Australia. They look a bit scary, but are relatively harmless, living in silk-lined burrows in the ground and hunting for prey at night. They will rear up if provoked, but their bite is mild, producing at most some nausea and headache. The mother will carry her egg sac around with her, and, upon hatching, the spiderlings will ride on her abdomen for a few days before dispersing to live their own lives. You can see another image of this mother and her babies here.

11 of 25 CSIRO

Redback spider

The striking redback spider -- so named for the red streak on the abdomen of the female -- is a little less benign. They prefer warm environments, so will gravitate towards human residences, and their bite is venomous to humans, causing nausea, vomiting, headache and agitation. Since the development of the redback antivenom in 1956, though, there have been no deaths directly related to the redback bite.

12 of 25 David McClenaghan CSIRO Entomology

The huntsman

The huntsman spider looks a lot scarier than it is. They are large and fuzzy and have sideways-jointed limbs that give them speed when they are hunting prey -- mostly insects and other invertebrates. They do not build webs, but live in dark crevices, and tend to avoid confrontation with humans, biting only in defense. Their venom is also mild, and usually does not require hospital treatment.

13 of 25 David McClenaghan CSIRO Entomology

Australia's deadliest spider

This is the one you have to watch out for. The Australian funnel web -- named for the funnel-shaped homes it builds -- is one of the deadliest spiders in the world, with the male's venom (pictured) considerably more dangerous than the female's. Males tend to wander around in the warmer months looking for females, and are aggressive when threatened. They're also found frequently around human habitation; however, only 13 recorded deaths have occurred from funnel web bites in the last 100 years, and none since the introduction of the antivenom in 1981.

14 of 25 CSIRO Entomology

Bogong moth huddle

Every spring, the bogong moth migrates, travelling from northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland to the alps of Victoria to hide in cool caves for the summer. Every autumn, they fly back again. These migratory patterns and winds sometimes land them in towns and cities; every year, for example, the Australian Parliament House becomes infested with the insects, which lose their way due to the city lights. In fact, one new Canberra building, all brightly lit, once became so full of bogongs, the lifts couldn't operate. Australia, where even something as goofy-sounding as "bogong" can be a massive problem.

15 of 25 John Coppi


In Central Australia, a massive outcropping of sandstone rises from the desert landscape. This is the iconic Uluru, sacred to the Aṉaŋu people, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and one of Australia's most beloved and recognisable landmarks. It stands 348m (1,142 ft) high, and is surrounded by caves, springs and waterholes, making it an unusual haven for wildlife on the otherwise flat plain.

16 of 25 Robert Kerron

Central Australia

Most of Australia is desert, but that doesn't mean it's devoid of life. However, rainfall is low in the middle of the continent: Central Australia in the Northern Territory gets just 150mm of rain per year.

17 of 25

The Spinifex plain

Spinifex grass growing in the Western Australian desert, near the town of Paraburdoo.

18 of 25 David McClenaghan

Helping the honey bee

CSIRO does a lot of work with bees. Earlier this year, it announced a project to use tiny RFID tags to track bees' movements in the hopes of figuring out whether that plays a part in colony collapse. The organisation is also participating in the Honey Bee Genome Sequencing Project. As part of this project, CSIRO researchers discovered that the proteins in bee silk are small and non-repetitive -- unlike the silk of spiders and silkworms -- which means it is more compatible with artificial production.

19 of 25 CSIRO Sustainable Energy

Fires burning

After millennia of fire hunts, much of Australia's bushlands now require fire in order to propagate -- seed pods, for example, that won't open except under intense heat, or the highly flammable oils in eucalyptus leaves that encourage fire, eliminating competition from other, less hardy flora. Every year, the threat of deadly fires loom during the hotter months.

20 of 25 CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products

Living with the environment

The challenge for CSIRO is how to manage the fires carefully and safely. This means conducting experiments to see how fire can best be managed -- using different fuels, for example, and the safest times of year to conduct controlled burns. In this grassfire experiment, CSIRO researchers examined the way the fire burned in order to better predict grassland fire behaviour.

21 of 25 CSIRO Archives

A new computer, 1970

The Division of Computing Research at the University of Adelaide takes delivery of a brand new CDC 3200 computer via crane.

22 of 25 CSIRO Archives

The CDC 3200's new home

The new CDC 3200 computer being installed at the CSIRO Division of Computing Research, circa 1970. The CSIRO used the CDC 3200 to set up one of Australia's first computer networks, providing a scientific computing service across all its divisions -- and, of course, the organisation used it for computing research.

23 of 25 John Manger

Beware the cassowary

The flightless cassowary is only a little smaller than the ostrich and the emu, reaching up to 2m tall -- but it's a whole boatload meaner. It has strong legs, a powerful kick and a very sharp middle claw, and most attacks come from cassowaries that have been fed by humans -- the cassowaries will get impatient and aggressive. However, only one human death from cassowary attack has been recorded -- a 16-year-old boy in 1926 who fell to the ground and took a kick to the neck.

It is not known why the cassowary has a crest on its head, known as a casque. Some believe it is used to bash a path through underbrush; another hypothesis suggests it amplifies sound.

The cassowary is an endangered species in its native northern Australia.

24 of 25 John Manger

Rainbow lorikeet

The rainbow lorikeet, with its brilliantly coloured plumage all colours of the rainbow, is perhaps the most beautiful of the Australian parrots. They're also monogamous and mate for life. Awww.

25 of 25 Neil Hamilton

Laser diagnostics

Laser diagnostics is used to conduct highly detailed and accurate measurements of flow fields in gas and liquids, alongside particulate flows. CSIRO's laser diagnostics equipment includes Laser Doppler Velocimetry, to measure gas and particle velocities; Phase Doppler Particle Anemometry for simultaneously measuring particle velocities and particle sizes; Particle Image Velocimetry for instantaneous velocity measurements of entire flow fields; and Particle/Droplet Image Analysis for detailed sizing of particles and droplets alongside velocity measurements.

CSIRO has over 4000 videos and images in its archives. You can take a look for yourself on the CSIRO Science Image website.

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