Neural knitworks: craft a healthy brain

Thank you to Jackie Randles for the update.

Neural Knitworks, the collaborative project about mind and brain health, was first on show last August at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery during National Science Week. A giant, walk in brain sculpture made from more than 1600 knitted, crocheted and woven brain cells donated from all over Australia was created by textile artists Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce.

Many other neuron-inspired artworks from delicate crotched neurons to jewellery and sculpture accompanied the impressive brain installation that was the centerpiece of this exhibition seem by thousands of visitors over a three-week period.

So far Neural Knitworks has seen dozens of knit-ins held across the country at which people of all ages and abilities get together to create textile neurons and find out about neuroscience at the same time from guest presenters. The project’s aim is to encourage community members to learn about neuroscience as they have some fun with yarn craft and reap the benefits that it can bring – in particular mindfulness, creativity, learning something new and being with others. Take up of this grass roots initiative has been sensational, with more than 12000 people visiting the Neural Knitworks webpage in the project’s first 6 months.

In 2015 Neural Knitworks continues and all are encouraged to get involved!

This year we’re encouraging people everywhere to create a brain installation in their own community. We need as much help as we can get to spread the word and inspire people to have a go. Scientifically informed patterns and installation ideas are available on the National Science Week website so that everyone can enjoy the experience of yarn craft in a group.

It’s a great way for people of all ages to learn about the billions of neurons in our bodies that save memories, send electrical signals to every muscle and receive signals from every sense. The best thing about this community art/science project is that everyone can get hands on with knitting neurons no matter their age or level of competence.

Rita and Pat have enjoyed running yarn craft sessions with Dementia sufferers and we’ve had wonderful neurons donated from knit ins held at kindergardens, age care facilities, universities and schools. No knit patterns are especially popular with those of us who cannot yet knit or crotchet and participants have ways to make other brain cell like astrocytes. A group has even begun making footy neurons to raise awareness of brain injury in sport.

Not surprisingly, the project has been popular with neuroscientists, attracting support from luminaries like Professor Ian Hickie, Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute and brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, who each led knit ins that were covered by the media last year. Pat and Rita have been invited to present at international brain imaging conferences and will be heading to Brisbane later this year to lead a knit in at QUT with Queensland based neuroscientists.

We anticipate that many more brain experts will again join knit ins this year and to promote important brain health messages in the community. There are many angles that can be explored, from adolescent brains and ageing through to addiction, dementia, brain injury, depression and more. Why not get a group together and invite a brain expert to join you at a knit in? We need your help to keep this national neural network thriving and look forward to seeing your creations on Facebook where you can join us here.

Congratulations to artists Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce who have been so successful in bringing community members together with leading neuroscientists and brain health experts. What a fantastic and inspiring science communication success story!

Jackie Randles is Manager, Inspiring Australia (NSW). Neural Knitworks is supported by the Brain and Mind Research Institute, Alzheimer’s Australia, ANSTO, Inspiring Australia (NSW), National Science Week, the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, Gymea Tradies, Your Brain Health and Carringbah Lions Club. Find out more on the National Science Week website at



Inspiring Australia update: Topical, tropical, science communication

Q. How do you develop a strategy to strengthen science communication across a large region of the country?

A. You engage science experts, develop partnerships and map out a range of recommendations to achieve tangible outcomes.

This is exactly what has been accomplished in the recently released Science Engagement and Tropical Australia: Building a Prosperous and Sustainable Future for the North report.

Tropical Northern Australia faces important challenges alongside incredible opportunities. A unique natural environment, diverse indigenous culture and rapid economic expansion all point to the need for effective science engagement. Topical issues such as climate change, health and community fragmentation need to be addressed.  This report is essential reading for scientists and science communicators, not only in the Tropics, but other parts of the Nation. We encourage you to read the report and contribute your comments.

Here’s the announcement of the report from Inspiring Australia:

Science Engagement and Tropical Australia Report

Inspiring Australia is pleased to announce the release of the Science Engagement and Tropical Australia: Building a Prosperous and Sustainable Future for the North report.

Commissioned by Inspiring Australia, led by the Cairns Institute and developed by experts from the science community in Tropical Australia, the report provides a strategy to strengthen science communications in the nation’s tropical regions. As such, the report is essential reading for those involved in the sciences within Australia’s tropics.

The report provides 20 Recommendations across seven themes:

  • Building science literacy for all tropical Australians
  • Shifting science engagement cultures at the project and publication level
  • Building durable and trusted regional science brokerage and partnership arrangements
  • Forging effective science engagement in the Indigenous domain
  • Building science partnerships at the industry/sectoral level to turbo-charge innovation
  • Ensuring science messages from the tropics engage southern Australia
  • Engaging tropical Australia in national science messages.

Science Engagement and Tropical Australia is the third expert working group report released by Inspiring Australia, following the Science and the Media and Developing an Evidence Base for Science Engagement reports. Over the coming months, Inspiring Australia will be releasing three further expert working group reports into Indigenous, Desert and Marine science communication.

For further information on the tropical expert working group and their report, please email

This Inspiring Australia initiative is supported by the Australian Government through the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education in partnership with the Australian Science Communicators.

National Science Week success

Thanks to Rona Sakko and Brian Haddy for their time in providing this round-up of events. 

National Science Week 2012 in South Australia was a big one this year. The biggest, according to the State Coordinator, Rona Sakko.

She was thrilled there were so many new events this year and that there was so much variety in the type of events. They ranged from the University of Adelaide’s inaugural Microscopy Open Day, to ancient DNA talks from the South Australian branch of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society.  The CSIRO played a significant role again, and this year, the association with Questacon proved a huge success.

An all-encompassing emphasis across the State saw country communities encouraged to participate, with events in many regional areas.

Two of the major events for SA were the Science Alive event in Adelaide and the SciWorld Sunday event in Mount Gambier.

According to Brian Haddy, coordinator of these events and SciWorld General Manager, both had better than expected attendance. The Science Alive event saw an astonishing 20,000 people attend over just one weekend and 2,500 high school students during the week. Mount Gambier, for its small population had a turnout of over 3,000 people – incredible!

The Science Alive event in Adelaide is Australia’s largest science expo event and is realised through a partnership with Inspiring Australia and a new association with Questacon.

Sixteen circus stars from Questacon’s Science Circus performed shows every half hour. On the main stage there were plenty of shows including Chemistry, Native Animals and Magic shows. Professor Rob Morrison and Doctor Deane Hutton even reprised their roles in live ‘Curiosity Show’ performances.

The Mount Gambier event, SciWorld Sunday, was partly funded by a National Science Week grant and was supported by Uni SA and the City of Mount Gambier. It was held at the new main corner development and also offered a variety of attractions including Questacon, shows on native animals, robotic workshops, showcases of bugs and slugs and plenty of aquariums. The incredible attendance might have been aided by the TV advertisement produced and run 210 times by the local WIN TV station.

Well done to everyone who helped make all of these events a huge success.

Inspiring Australia – response to the national science communication report

Australian Science Communicators (ASC) welcomes Inspiring Australia, a report which set the agenda for science communication for the nation. It represents a significant acknowledgement and affirmation of the importance of science communication to the future of Australian society.

We are particularly pleased with the recognition of science communication as a professional activity with its own skills and expertise. The report contains many helpful suggestions on ways of boosting that expertise.

We are also delighted that the report recommends investment into evaluation of the effectiveness of various techniques of science communication.

While we recognise that all the recommendations will benefit professional science communicators indirectly, we believe that the report’s objectives would be well served by more direct support of our profession, such as for the development of the professional development opportunities including conferences. Strengthening the foundation of the profession is an inexpensive and effective way to complement and realise several of the suggested activities in the report.

Dr Jesse Shore, President, Australian Science Communicators
Mr Tim Thwaites, Immediate Past-President, Australian Science Communicators