The University of Western Australia

UWA Staff Profile

Ipsum Lorem

Brian J. O'Brien

Adj/Prof Brian J. O'Brien

Adjunct Professor
Adjunct and Honorary Staff (Physics)

Contact details
Adjunct and Honorary Staff (Physics)
The University of Western Australia (M013)
35 Stirling Highway
+61 8 9387 3827
Born in Sydney Australia in 1934, Brian J. O’Brien married Avril Searle in 1959. 1 son and 2 daughters all born in USA; 9 grandchildren. While student, invented cascaded thermoelectric refrigerator and a thermomagnetic refrigerator; speleological research of helictites and foul air, set unaided record for measured excess carbon dioxide. Elected Foundation President of Australian Speleological Foundation 1956-57. Completed his PhD in experimental cosmic ray physics from University of Sydney in 1957. Deputy Chief Physicist of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions in Melbourne 1958-59; Assistant then Associate Professor of Physics at the State University of Iowa, Iowa City 1959-63. With experiments on US satellites Explorers 7, 12 and 14, he led small student teams building Injun 1, 2 and 3 satellites, with Injun 1 first satellite to use digital telemetry. Many discoveries included the only before-and-after measurements of the artificial radiation belt of high-energy electrons, contamination from 1.4 Megatonne high-altitude thermonuclear device Starfish July 9, 1962. This very intense radiation led to failures of 8 other satellites, but the associated unexpectedly large Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) caused abruptly by Starfish also stimulated a chain of research which led to the Internet. As Professor of Space Science, Rice University Houston, Texas, 1963-68 he led small student teams building small satellite Aurora 1 and 9 Tomahawk and Nike Cajun rocket payloads launched into auroras above Fort Churchill and Hudson Bay. Two current world leaders in space science, Donald A. Gurnett (Principal Investigator of plasma wave instruments on Voyagers 1 and 2 now approaching interstellar space) and James L. Burch (Principal Investigator of Magnetospheric Multistage (MMMS) missions) began their careers as hands-on students to design, build and use O’Brien’s small satellites and auroral rocket payloads in the 1960s.As Principal Investigator for the Charged Particle Lunar Environment Experiment (CPLEE) on Apollo 13 and 14 and the Dust Detector Experiment (DDE) on Apollo 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 he has 5 experiments deployed on the lunar surface, transmitting measurements of the lunar environment between 1969 and 1976. Visiting Professor of Physics at University of Sydney in 1964 (3 months) and 1969-70. First Director of Environmental Protection and Chairman of the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority 1971-77. Established the strategic and environmental consultancy Brian J. O’Brien & assoc. P/L in 1978 to date. In 1997-98 originated the 1998-2012 Indian Ocean Climate Initiative (IOCI) . Appointed Adjunct Professor of Physics at UWA in June 2009 after returning to analyses of the Apollo Dust Detector Experiments using personal tapes and archives, including only surviving Apollo 7-track computer tapes. Tapes read again with high-tech with SpectrumData in 2012 provide key Apollo 11 information about dust contamination caused by rocket exhausts as humans first left the Moon.
Key research
Currently analyses and international operational applications of 14 discoveries to date about properties and movements of very fine dust on the Moon; Miscellaneous strategic environmental issues; Reinvigorating State-wide coordinated Western Australian user-driven science-based research into climate change and climate variability in project temporarily entitled IOCI2020.

1)O'Brien B.J. (1990): Postponing Greenhouse, Climate Change Facts, Issues and Policies in 1990, 50pp, illust., EcoEthics, Perth, WA.

2)O'Brien B.J. (1990): "Environmental Ethics A Partial Response to Public Concern About the Environment" IN Minerals Outlook 9 May 1990, The Chamber of Mines and Energy of Western Australia, Perth, WA. 17p

3)O'Brien B.J. (1990): "IPCC's climate change mindset" IN Nature Vol 348, 1 November 1990.

4)O'Brien B.J. (1991): Public Environmental Review for the Proposed Riverside Gardens (West) Dredging and Landfill King William Street, Bayswater prepared for the City of Bayswater, Swan River Trust and Town Planning Commission, Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth WA.

5)O'Brien B.J. (1991): Report to Australian and New Zealand Environment Council: Environmental Ethics for Developers (Project 90/13), Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth, WA.

6)O'Brien B.J. (1991): Stage 1 Report to Australian and New Zealand Environment Council: The Functions and Purposes of Environmental Assessments (Project 90/14), Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth WA.

7)O'Brien B.J. (1992): Environmental Management and the Second Law of Thermodynamics in a Lucky Country, Presented at The Future of Australia's Mining and Energy Conference, Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth, WA. 14p

8)O'Brien B.J. (1992): Progress Report An Environmental Policy for the Chamber of Mines and Energy of Western Australia, Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth, WA. 9p

9)O'Brien B.J. (1992): Some Suggested Tactics in Eco-Politics, Cato Institute, Washington D.C., June 1992.

10)O'Brien B.J. (1992): Preliminary Submission to the Independent Advisory Committee for the Review of the Environmental Protection Act, Brian J O'Brien and Associates Perth, WA. 10p

11)O’Brien, Brian J. (1992), The Pulse: Portent of Peace or Warning of War? Omega, Science Digest , page 6 -18 , May/June 1992.

12)O'Brien B.J. (1992): From Greenhouse to ENSO Redirecting Australian Strategic Priorities, Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth, WA.

13)Brian J O'Brien and Associates Pty Ltd (1992): Marandoo Iron Ore Mine and Central Pilbara Railway: Environmental Review and Management Program, Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd, Perth, WA. (300 pages)

14)O'Brien B.J. (1992): The Greenhouse Holy War Notes for a panel discussion: "Climate and Atmospheric Change and Brazil '92" at the Energy Forum '92, Victoria, BC, Canada 12 May 1992. (13 pages).

15)O'Brien B.J. (1993): Green Letter Laws: The Agreements of '92, NELA Conference, Canberra, July, 1993, Brian J O'Brien and Associates. Perth, WA.

16)O'Brien B.J. (1993): Nationalising the Australian Environment: The Agreements of '92, Policy Paper No. 23, Institute of Public Affairs, Victoria and West Perth, Australia (111 pages).

17)Brian J O'Brien and Associates (1993): Overview and Analysis of the Green Point Environmental Controversy A Report to McCloys Pty Ltd, Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth, WA.

18)O'Brien B.J. (1993): Environmental Fears Versus Reality Address to the 8th Australia India Joint Business Council Meeting, Perth, WA 20 April 1994. 5p

19)O'Brien B.J. (1993): Green Letter Laws: The Agreements of '92 IN Significant Speeches The Best Current Thinking on the Environment, Spring 1993. 7p

20)O'Brien B.J. (1994): Aboriginals, Dreamtime, Land: Connectivities in the 1990's, Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth, WA.

21)O'Brien B.J. (1994): Dreams of Rain Forecasting: The Missing Tool in Agriculture, Eco Ethics, Perth, WA. (Invited address to Pastoralists and Graziers AGM)

22)The Proposed National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) Analysis and Criticism of the Concept by the Government of Western Australia, (Brian J O'Brien and Associates, Perth, WA).

23)O'Brien B.J. (1994): National Pride and Environmental Treaties, The Government of Western Australia, Perth, WA.

24)Brian J O'Brien and Associates (1994): Briefing paper by Australian Gold Reagents for Minister for the Environment and other interested parties Transport of Sodium Cyanide Solution from Kwinana, Australian Gold Reagents, Perth, WA.

25)O'Brien B.J. (1995): “East West Tensions: The Missing Link in Australian Environmental Strategies” IN Focus No. 85 January/February 1995, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

26)O'Brien B.J. (1995): Greenhouse governance: an Australian iconoclast's view IN The Proceedings of the 1995 Invitation Symposium Greenhouse Abatement Measures - No Regrets Action Now, Melbourne, Australia, 17 18 October 1995, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

27)O'Brien B.J. (1995): Diversity versus Uniformity Denial of 'East West' Effects by National Strategies IN Environmental Backgrounder, Institute of Public Affairs, Jolimont, VIC.

28)Memorandum of Understanding, Water Corporation and Water and Rivers Commission, Brian J O'Brien and Associates Pty Ltd. (1995).

29)Protocol between the Office of Water Regulation, the Water Corporation and the Water and Rivers Commission, Brian J O'Brien and Associates Pty Ltd. (1995)

30)Brian J O'Brien and Associates (1996): Statewide Waterways Management Prepared for the Water and Rivers Commission, Eco Ethics, Perth, WA.

31)Brian J O'Brien and Associates (1996): Retrospective Analysis of the Public Submissions to the EPA on the ERMP for the Marandoo Iron Ore Mine and Central Pilbara Railway, Hamersley Iron, Perth, WA.

32)O'Brien B.J. (1996): Environmental Debates: Geologists can Contribute Much Needed Intellectual Rigor, Invited keynote address 13th National Geological Convention, Canberra, 19 February, 1996.

33)O’Brien, B.J. (1996): Community Attitudes to Space and the Environment: From Gee Whiz to So What?, Keynote address at 10th Annual Australian ERSI and ERDAS Users Conference, Perth, 4 September 1996.

34)O’Brien, B.J. (1996): The Importance of Being Politically Incorrect on Science, invited overview, The Coast Conference, Embassy of Italy, Geological Surveys of WA and Dept of Minerals and Energy, 4 June 1996.

35)O’Brien, B.J. (1996): Environmental Science and Political Correctness, invited address, University of Western Australia Convocation, 20 September 1996.

36)O’Brien, B.J. (1996): Geologists and a Yeomanry of Scientists, invited address, Geological Association Annual Meeting, Canberra, December 1996.

37)Communications Impact Assessments: A New Strategic Tool of Particular Value to Remote-Area Residents, Commissioned by Department of Commerce and Trade, Brian J O’Brien & Assoc. P/L, January 1998.

38)Overview of Broomehill ‘96 and SALTMAP, commissioned by Water & Rivers Commission, Brian J O’Brien & Assoc. P/L, Feb. 1998.

39)Fatal Flaws in a Methodology: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). (An Independent Strategic Overview of Dutch Fears about Karri), commissioned by Dept. of Conservation & Land Management (CALM), Brian J O’Brien & Assoc. P/L, December 1998.

40)Saltmap at Broomehill - Cultures and Airborne EM, (60 pages), prepared for Water & Rivers Commission, Brian J O’Brien & Assoc. P/L, February 1997.

41)Brian J O’Brien, Kyoto - Marching to the Drumbeat of Toronto, APEC Conference, Canberra, August 1997 (also published in Institute of Public Affairs IPA Review, 50, No 1, October 1997).

42)Brian J O’Brien, Foundations of the Natural Step Methodology: A Critique of Science and Jargon, prepared for the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, September, 1998.

43)Brian J O’Brien, Australian Greenhouse Governance: Real-politik, Benchmarks, Risks and Challenges, Eco Ethics, Perth, June 5, 1998, reprinted July 8, 1998.

44)Brian J O’Brien, Scientific Rigour Amidst Political Correctness, Keynote Address, Australian & New Zealand Climate Forum, December 1998.

45)Brian J O’Brien, Australian Greenhouse Governance: The Twilight Zone, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, March/April 1999

46)Brian J O’Brien & Assoc. P/L, Two Alternatives (N1 and N3) for the Peel Deviation of the Perth to Bunbury Highway, June 1999.

47)Brian J .O’Brien Risking Australia’s Future with the Precautionary Principle, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering Focus, No 114, Nov./Dec. 2000

48)Brian J. O’Brien A Reality Check for Greenhouse Lawyers: Risk-Management Cautions, National Environmental Law Review, Number 2, p.44-53, June 2001

49)Brian J. O’Brien Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) Inquiry into the Kyoto Protocol, Canberra, 3 November, 2000

50)Brian J. O’Brien and Ian Lowe “The Great Debate: Does the precautionary principle inhibit innovation”, National Engineering Forum, Melbourne, 21 May, 2001

Indicative publications 1971-77 (as scientist/strategist aside from Chairman of EPA)

51)Brian J O’Brien ,Ord River Ecology, 45th ANZAAS Congress, 1973

52)Brian J O’Brien, Conservation within a Developing Economy, 5th National Conference, Australian Geography Teachers’ Association, Jan., 1976

53)Brian J O’Brien, Environmental Impact Statements and a “Push-me-Pull-you” Approach, Search, 7, p.264-267, June 1976

54)Brian J O’Brien, What is an Environmental Study?, Keynote address to the First Australian Workshop on Environmental Studies, Cowes, Victoria, 1977

Indicative publications pre EPA and 1971

55)Brian J O’Brien, Speleology in Australia, US National Speleological Society Bulletin, 21, January 1959.

56)B.J.O’Brien and J.H. Noon, Identification of Fast Heavy Nuclei of the Cosmic Radiation using Nuclear Emulsion Techniques, Il Nuovo Cimento, 8, pages 807 -825, 1958.

57)B.J.O’Brien et al. Cascading of Peltier Couples for Thermoelectric Cooling, Journal of Applied Physics, 27, pages 820-823, 1956.

58)B.J.O’Brien and la Harpe, Portable Airglow Photometer, Journal of Scientific Instruments, 37, February 1960.

59)Brian J O’Brien, Particle Measurements on an ESRO Satellite (Neutral-1) in a Highly Eccentric Polar Orbit, Space Science Reviews 7, pages 293-301, 1967.

60)Brian J O’Brien The Magnetosphere and Auroras, Invited review in Reviews of Space Science, Reprinted in Astronautics and Aeronautics, July 1967.

61)Brian J O’Brien, Radiation Belts, invited review in Scientific American, May, 1963

62)Brian J O’Brien, Precipitation of Electrons and Protons into the Atmosphere, review in “Radiation Trapped in the Earth’s Magnetosphere”, ed Billy McCormac, D. Reidel.

63)B.J.O’Brien et al, Measurements of the Intensity and Spectrum of Electrons at 1000-kilometer Altitudes and Higher Altitudes, Journal of Geophysical Research, 67, April 1962.

64)B.J.O’Brien, C.D. Laughlin and J.A. van Allen, Geomagnetically-trapped radiation produced by a high-altitude nuclear explosion on July 9,1962, Nature, 195, pages 939-943, 1962.

65)B.J.O’Brien, Interrelations of Energetic Charged Particles in the Magnetosphere,
Chapter VI of Solar Terrestrial Physics, Academic Press, 1966.

66)B.J.O’Brien Review of Studies of Trapped Radiation with Satellite-borne Apparatus, Space Science Reviews 1, pages 415-484, 1963, Reidel Publishing

67)B.J.O’Brien et al, SPECS, a Versatile Space-Qualified Detector of Charged Particles, Review of Scientific Instruments, 38, pp.1058-67, 1967.

68)S.B.Mende and B.J.O’Brien, A High-Sensitivity Satellite-Borne Television Camera for the Detection of Auroras, Applied Optics, 7, p.1625-1634, August 1968.

69)B.J.O’Brien et al. Degradation of Apollo 11 Deployed Instruments because of Lunar Module Ascent Effects, Journal of Applied Physics, 41, pages 4538-4541, 1970.

Future research
Current and future research into changing environmental cultures and understanding of Western Australians since 1970 and Apollo photographic revelations of Spaceship Earth.
Industrial relevance
Space research: Wide-ranging expertise and experience, in space research, particle radiation, magnetospheric and lunar research, pioneering satellite designs, building and uses.
Special areas of current research Lunar environments, radiation and Dust on Moon and large airless Asteroids.
Environment: Environmental assessments;Strategic and professional expertise in negotiating and obtaining Government approvals.
Climate changes and climate variabilities in Western Australia.
Fellow of ATSE 1993;
American Geophysical Union;
Rotary Club of Cambridge;
UWA Club;
Twenty Club;
Aurora Club;
Honours and awards
NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement;
Centennial Medal;
Rotary Paul Harris Medal and Sapphire;
Current external positions
Managing Director, Brian J. O'Brien & Assoc. P/L
Useful links
Australia-wide links with NASA via
and about our roles with Apollo on
Some background information is in ABC radio interviews by Robyn Williams on 30 May 2009
and 11 July 2009 .

Broad historical context is given in an ABC Catalyst “Moon Show” on 16 July 2009 commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing . Two segments, Moon Dust and Professor Brian O’Brien give more information about some of his experimental lunar data.

Conversations with Richard Fidler 8 June 2011
National library of Australia Oral Histories.
New and noteworthy
1.Brian J. O’Brien & Monique Hollick, “Sunrise-driven movements of dust on the Moon: Apollo 12 Ground-truth measurements”, Planetary ad Space Science, 119, 194-199, 2015.
a.UWA Media release Tuesday, 27 October 2015

by Prof. Brian J. O’Brien, Harry’s first PhD student in the School of Physics, the University of Sydney 1954-57
“From Antarctic Auroras to Nanodust on the Moon;
60 Years of Glorious Entertainments in Space Research”
2015 Australian Space Research Conference, Canberra, 30 September 2015
3.Research paper PS12-A014, AOGS2016
Monique Hollick and Brian J. O’Brien, “Revisiting Lunar Weather Measurements from Apollo 12, 14 & 15” Oral Presentation by Professor O’Brien to Asian Oceania Geosciences Association (AOGS) in Singapore, August 2015.
4.Research paper PS12-A015, AOGS2016
Brian J. O’Brien and Monique Hollick, “Apollo 12 Measurements of Sunrise-Driven Movements of Dust on the Moon” Oral Presentation by Professor O’Brien to to Asian Oceania Geosciences Association (AOGS) in Singapore, August 2015.
5.Research paper EGU2016-1685
Brian J. O’Brien, “Overview of 14 discoveries 1969-2015 from Apollo measured movements of lunar dust”, Oral presentation by Professor Bernard Foing ESA, in European Geoscience Union, Session PS2.2 Lunar Science and Exploration, Vienna, April19, 2016.

In mid-2009 after my first publication of Apollo dust discoveries, NASA invited me to present the findings at the Second Lunar Science Conference at NLSI., and to lead an Australian affiliation with NASA. It remained unclear for several years what advantages might accrue to Australian researchers, and I enlisted a leading geologist from ANU to take up the invitation because of his wider and accessible catchment of Australian researchers over many disciplines. In turn after a few more years he invited Phil Bland of Curtin University to lead such a process. In 2015 such an affiliation was formally established assisted with collateral administrative funding from Curtin. Communal Websites with a UWA logo are now established on both an individual basis at and about our roles with Apollo on
The applications of these sites are virtually open-ended, involving students and researchers.
Current projects
Overview analyses of mitigation of dust issues for cost-effective and safe human and robotic expeditions to the Moon and large airless Asteroids. Broad applications fostering youthful enthusiasms and fact-based knowledge of space science and science enthusiasms.
Attempting to reinvigorate Western Australian user-driven science-based research into climate change and climate variability in proposed 4-year IOCI2020 project.
Research profile
Research profile and publications

The University of Western Australia

This Page

Last updated:
Tuesday, 3 November, 2015 2:39 PM