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About this Blog

Hi, thanks for reading my Blog. Here I will try to describe a little of the reasoning behind the blog and how the idea for it came about.

First of all a little about me. I am a research scientist at the University of Sydney where I work on finding the cause of Parkinson’s Disease. I have just set up my own lab and we have some exciting projects underway which will hopefully give us some very interesting data later on in the year.

Being a scientist isn’t just what you do from 9-5 however. A scientist is what you are. I am a scientist. Whether a scientist is hiking, buying groceries, raising a family or working on an experiment at a lab bench we are always a scientist. A bit like how a doctor still has all the skills, habits and thoughts of a doctor, even when they are not at their surgery, or how a lawyer still has and uses their knowledge of law and reason even when they are not at their practice.

As scientists we are trained, and are particularly good at, solving problems. The techniques we use to do that are referred to as the scientific method. To explain, for those who do not know what this is.

Solving problems start by making an observation. You see something; this is usually an object or the condition something is currently in. As a non-scientific example, you see your child in the kitchen with dirt all over his hands. That is the observation. You then form possible explanations that would account for this observation; in this case your child has most likely been outside playing in the dirt and has then come inside. This tentative explanation for what you have seen is referred to as a model.

The next step to see if this is the correct explanation for what you observe is to test the model. You do that by creating hypotheses, which are testable statements, usually describing a task that you can perform which will provide a yes or no answer to the question you asked. In this case our hypothesis would be, if you walked out side you would be most likely to find a patch of disturbed soil somewhere around the house. This would provide evidence that your model is correct. Another hypothesis would be that if you asked your child whether he had been outside in the garden he would say yes.

The next step is to perform the actual experiment which will provide the yes or no answer, either accepting or refuting your hypothesis. So you ask your child, have you been out side in the garden. If he says yes, the hypothesis you put forward is accepted and you have evidence to confirm that your model was correct. If he says no however, which in many cases is more likely, you must then modify your model to account for this new information, form new hypotheses and test them etc until you solve the problem.

This is the scientific method. Most people will naturally use this series of steps to solve problems, what scientists are good at is using it consciously and stripping away all subjectivity and assumption about what may account for an observation and thinking about a problem from all possible angles.

Now why I mention all this is to help explain the reason for this blog. When I was growing up I use to love documentaries and I would often hear it mentioned in these that Australia could lead the world in the Hydrogen-Solar economy. At the time I had no idea what hydrogen had to do with solar power, or how this was an economy, but I did agree that yes, Australia has a lot of sun and yes we probably could make more use of that.

The sun puts out 4 × 1026 watts every second. It would take 2.5 x 109 (2.5 thousand million) 5000 megawatt power stations a whole year to put out that much power, but the sun does that every second (Nick Strobel, Astronomy notes, http://www.astronomynotes.com/starsun/s3.htm, retrieved 27/3/08). Only 0.0000000215% of this reaches the earth’s surface however, but even that is more than 7,500 times the world’s total annual energy consumption (Australia and New Zealand Solar Energy Society, http://www.anzses.org/ retrieved 27/3/08). Put differently, in 20 minutes, the amount of solar energy falling on the earth could power the planet for one year (The Pembina Institute, http://re.pembina.org/sources/solar, retrieved 27/3/08).

At a time when petrol prices are increasing, and everyone is wondering how we are going to provide power for the increasing population it is comforting to know that is there, even if we don’t currently know how to use it to satisfy our power needs. So that is one problem we are currently faced with. How to better use renewable, and in particular solar energy.

The other problem that I noted growing up is that as the population increases, where are we going to put everyone? Economists for some reason like perpetual growth, which is odd given that we have a finite amount of space and resources with which to support that population. In other words it is simply not possible to keep growing forever. Now most people like a temperate climate, not too cold, not too hot, with good rain fall, so this is where everyone builds their houses. Thus cities are constantly expanding in area. Unfortunately this land is also the best land for growing the crops we need to feed this increasing population. So as population increases the amount of arable land decreases. The problem then, is how to increase the amount of arable land we have available to grow food.

I remember in high school learning about the process of desertification. How marginal agricultural areas can be transformed into deserts by removing vegetation resulting in increased soil temperature, reduced evapotranspiration and therefore reduced rain fall etc. In other words we were taught how a desert forms. It always seemed to me that this process should be reversible.

With all this in mind then, while I was doing my PhD in neuropathic pain up here in Sydney, I came up with a plan to establish a research station in the desert of South Australia to investigate ways of making desert land more arable, ie reversing desertification, and to investigate how solar energy could be integrated into that system to satisfy our energy needs.

I decided it would become my life’s work to establish this research station which I call the Arid Environment Research Station (AEReS – pronounced Aries). For this I estimate that I would need approximately $20 million to get it up and running. For the last few years I have developed a 10 year plan as to how I would raise this money, by establishing a series of businesses and companies which would generate the money that I would inturn put towards establishing AEReS. This year (2008) is the first year of the 10 year plan and I have started this blog to record and chronicle the various aspects which make up the plan.  This is the AEReS Project.

It will be a long and interesting trip, but one I hope you will make with me. I also hope it will stand as an example of how simple ideas are all you need to change the world.

Haydn Allbutt

27th March, 2008


9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nigel Goodman // Mar 27, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Haydn,
    COMMENDABLE effort!
    Good luck with Aeres- have you got any thoughts about how to reverse the process? Will you get water from the sea? How do you get the soil ready?
    Good luck,

  • 2 Rohsaan McInnes // Mar 27, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    I like people with vision.
    My plan so far is as follows:

    Step 1 – Write book.
    Step 2 – Get lots of money.

    After reading your plan, I am a little embarrassed by my plan’s lack of depth. I will be reviewing it in due course. :-)

  • 3 Jarrad // Mar 29, 2008 at 10:36 am

    I like your ideas. Particularly the concept of zero growth. For any sustainability solution to work, it must involve zero population growth. You can’t grow for ever.

    Also for your AEReS project, have you considered something like the “Whisson Windmill” ?. It produces water from wind. By condensing water from the air. The designer, Max Whisson, also has designs for solar desalination.

    Some links are shown below:

  • 4 FastLife // Mar 31, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Hi Jarrad. No I hadn’t seen the Max Whisson designs, I like the wind condenser. Those would be brilliant in high humidity places, I would say like Sydney, but Sydney is actually a bit sheltered and doesn’t get that much wind. The solar desal ideas are good but need too much surface area. I am trying to keep a desal unit to not much more than ~35m2 land surface area.

  • 5 Michael Costello // Oct 8, 2009 at 5:32 pm


    Interesting site. Quite eclectic really.

    I very much like your idea to use this blog page to generate interest in you projects etc. I have just set up a WordPress blog (online version) and was looking for general info on setting up companies etc and found this.

    I am also interested in using the Blog to further new endeavours as an approach to changing direction in my professional life so yours is a real eye opener.

    My main question therefore is…has it worked? Is it helping you get closer to the mark? Has it brought people out of the woodwork? I hope it has but would love to hear your thoughts.


  • 6 FastLife // Oct 9, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Hi Michael. The short answer is yes I think it has helped me get closer to what I would like to get to. Its main function has been for me to try some things and to learn about creating a web presence, ie what draws people to a web site. I have found it most interesting to see which posts generate the most hits, it is often the most unexpected things which are the most popular. People don’t really care about your company’s vision statement or nonsense like that. They are generally on the web either to be entertained, to communicate with others or to find information. Anything that slows those things down is immediately discarded. If I have learnt one thing it is that it is pages that give people something that are the most popular. Not necessarily free products, but information people require. For me it is the instructions on how to put together an infrared light, a complete listing of soft toys from Giant Microbes (thereby making it easier and quicker to navigate than the actual web site) and oddly enough my rant about how Cadbury has decreased the size of its family sized chocolate varieties.

    I haven’t really used it yet as a way of engaging with people in order to get them involved so I haven’t really brought anyone “out of the woodwork” as yet. But that is fine. I am working on making a web site dedicated to my research lab and also of course how to fund AEReS, so I don’t post on my Blog as often as I should.

    Any way good luck with your own blog and thanks for the comments.

  • 7 John // Nov 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Haydn, we have things in common (apart from living in Sydney.

    We have solar desalination in the desert growing food. Please see my web site http://ManMadeOasis.com also http://SolarThermalDesalination.com/ and the rest is history.

    Best wishes

  • 8 John // Nov 14, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    also http://SeawaterAqueduct.com

  • 9 FastLife // Nov 18, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Hi John, Thanks for the links, they look great. I will have to have a closer look at them. There is just massive amounts of energy falling on the deserts of the World, it is unclear as to why they are not being utilized more fully. I guess for the most part many of these renewable systems are not economically viable, but to me that simply means you need to develop a method that is, rather than just shrugging your shoulders and continuing to burn fossil fuels and let all the renewable energy in the desert go to waste. I so can’t wait until I pull together the funding to create AEReS and get stuck into these very problems. They sound a great challenge.

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