ASC ACT branch – National Youth Week event

Fenella Edwards, Vice-President, ACT branch, writes: To celebrate National Youth Week and the International Year of Chemistry, CSIRO Discovery hosted an evening for young people – of all ages!

The theme of chemistry was visible in an array of non-alcoholic cocktails, or ‘mocktails’ mixed up by the ACT Branch of Australian Science Communicators. These colourful concoctions, as well as admission to the Discovery exhibition with live creature shows, were included in the free admission event.

Local bands ‘Project B’ (Lyneham High School) and ‘Loud Mud’ (Gundaroo) entertained all with jazz and light rock before the poetry element of the evening sparked up some creative chemistry among the crowd.

Canberra poet extraordinaire Hal Judge guided us through a group performance of two of his poems, and invited the audience to submit creative answers to questions to win prizes. The audience were then dazzled (if not intimidated) by fabulous performances of local poets Omar Musa and Andrew Galan before the open-mic poetry competition got underway – with $500 in worth of prizes up for grabs for the best original poem/story/song having a chemistry theme.

The winning poem by Sarah Sherringham ‘The Tale of the Very Strange Step-mother’ was a modern day remake of the fairy tale Snow White, the following is an excerpt:

Some people said she married him just for the cash
And they were not entirely mistaken in that.
The sciences had taken such a beating and a shunning,
Rich husbands were the last source of research funding!

In the room she’d been given to dress for tea,
She’d set up some kind of weird laboratory
Where beakers bubbled and test tubes foamed;
She stayed in there all day and night, on her own.

Wrapped up her research (in time for tea
Published her treatise on Clean Energy;
Became the leading expert in her field of Chemistry;
And these days she’s a Professor at the University.”

Also during the evening, prizes were awarded to the winners of the National Youth Week science-art competition, ‘When Science Meets Art’. The winning entries were on display in the CSIRO Discovery gallery space throughout National Youth Week, see the prize winners at:


Many thanks to our departing Scope editor, Laura Miles

Our tireless editor of Scope, Laura Miles, is leaving the position after three years of service. She is making room in her busy diary for a range of other opportunities which have opened for her.

The National Council thanks Laura for her valuable contributions to the ASC. I add my appreciation for her work with Tim Thwaites, James Hutson, Kali Madden and me to improve our communications and refine our membership strategies. Laura has been a thoughtful voice in many discussions about complex matters.

We will be advertising for the position of Scope editor and I hope we have willing and capable hands being raised to take on this important task.

Laura is of course unique and therefore irreplaceable. Happily the ASC has members with different unique qualities and one of you will have the opportunity to stamp their mould on the position.

I wish Laura all the best in her other endeavours and I expect we will continue to seek her council on a range of issues.

Jesse Shore
National President

Editor, Australian Science Communicators

Editor, Australian Science Communicators
Location: anywhere in Australia with broadband internet access

Honorarium: $150 per issue, with the expectation of 10 to 11 issues produced per year.

SCOPE is the monthly online newsletter of the Australian Science Communicators (ASC), a network of 500 + professional science and technology communicators across Australia and overseas.

The current Editor, Laura Miles, is resigning due to competing board commitments, so ASC is looking for a new Editor effective from the August 2011 issue. Laura will be available to handover to the new Editor to ensure a smooth transition into the role.

The role includes the following activities:

  • Sourcing content from ASC branches, members and web editors in the first two weeks of the month;
  • Listing recent news items or summarising topical stories to keep members apprised of current science communication issues;
  • Editing content for consistency of style and formatting including permalinks, extracts and tagging;
  • Working with the membership officer to ensure the member distribution list and log-in activation codes are current;
  • Formatting up the month’s material into short ‘teaser’ formats with click-throughs and circulating to the membership on the third Thursday of the month;
  • Responding to feedback from members and non-members; and
  • Liaising with the webmaster, membership officer, web editors and the national president regarding web strategy and policy.

The key selection criteria for this role are:

  • Evidence of an established interest in science communication;
  • Computer and internet literacy, in particular WordPress and Gmail/Google Docs;
  • Excellent time management skills; and
  • Capacity to commit ~10 hours per month to ASC activities.


Applications are invited by e-mail no later than 5 pm on 21 July 2011 for the attention of Jesse Shore, ASC National President at: jesse [at]

Please include a brief CV (two pages maximum) and a statement addressing the selection criteria with contact details of two professional referees (one page maximum).  Applications must be submitted in PDF or Word 2003/2007 format (.doc or .docx). Candidates must be current financial members of ASC.

If you have any technical questions about the role, e-mail Laura at: editor [at ]

Science Communicating for an NGO: The Challenges

I recently visited the media140 conference in Brisbane a number of weeks ago. There I met Elena McMaster, the Nanotechnology Project Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Australia. As a science communicator for an NGO, I thought she might have an interesting perspective on science communication. We had been emailing, but finally had a chat at the FOE shop on Smith Street, Collingwood.

I asked: Do you think there are different challenges in communicating science from an NGO perspective?

“There are some unique but important challenges in communicating science from within an environmental and social justice campaign.

I guess the key challenge for us is that we are presenting a critical perspective on a technology (i.e. nanotechnology) that is the subject of a lot of hype. The hype is driven by governments, industry and scientists and researchers and is often not subjected to rigorous scrutiny or a healthy dose of scepticism (e.g. the claim that nanotechnology will deliver space elevators)

We are also presenting a perspective different from mainstream communication, in that we seek to make health, social, ethical and environmental dimensions central to the debate and decision-making around technologies rather than peripheral (or missing entirely).

Many nano-applications and materials carry the potential for significant environmental, social and health impacts, yet regulation is largely nonexistent. Meanwhile hundreds of products containing nanomaterials are already commercially available. Nanomaterials such as nano-silver, for example, are widely used in hundreds of consumer products (ranging from socks to baby toothbrushes to washing machines) unregulated despite evidence of serious environmental problems. Other nanomaterials, also used widely commercially, such as nano titanium dioxide and nano zinc oxide in sunscreens and UV resistant surface coatings display the potential to cause serious harm to human health.  A key challenge is moving the debate around nano safety beyond the narrow risk vs. benefits framing to a broader understanding of the precautionary principle.

As with any technological shift there are also social and ethical dimensions that need consideration. For example, nanotechnology is often promoted as ushering in an entirely new manufacturing paradigm, dislocating economic growth from resource constraints and revolutionising traditional manufacturing methods. This could have far-reaching effects for people employed in the global South in traditional manufacturing industries and in the extraction of some raw resources. Historically, with large technology shifts, the need for unskilled labour contracts while some jobs are created in knowledge-intensive skilled industries. This means that less privileged unskilled workers are often disproportionately affected.

It’s important that science R & D and technological innovation is not regarded as happening, somehow, outside of social conditions.

The Friends of the Earth Nanotechnology Project is also a passionate advocate for public interest science and increased public funding for researchers. The increasing pressure on researchers to tailor their research towards developing innovations with market potential, due to dwindling public funding and the rise in public-private research partnerships, means that ‘public science’ is being squeezed by the commercial imperative. It is absolutely essential that scientists are able to conduct their research free from commercial pressures and use public money for R&D that reflects community desires rather than the market potential.

Communicating these ideas and bringing social and environmental questions to the centre of science and technology debates are some of the key challenges we face.”

Thanks to Elena for her time. Check out her work at FOE.

George Aranda
ASC (Vic) branch

George also blogs as Popsciguy –