Pre-National Science Week Mixer – Victoria

Have you got an upcoming event to spruik as part of National Science Week? Or maybe you’d like to hear about the events happening in your area?

Join the Australian Science Communicators Victorian branch and other science-enthusiasts for an open mic and networking night. We’ll open the floor to National Science Week event-holders who’ll share what they’ve got planned for the big week ahead. There will also be door prizes up for grabs.

If you’d like to talk about your event in 1 minute on the night, please contact us via the link below. If you can’t make it along, we’ll be happy to show your promotional material.

Inspiring Australia update: Country kids communicating with art and science

Digital photography and solar prints of leaves and other found objects are just some of the ways community participation is being encouraged through storytelling technology.

Creative photography at the Wings Drop-in Centre in Wilcannia

Creative photography at the Wings Drop-in Centre in Wilcannia

Young people are telling stories about themselves and their environment at science and art workshops in the New South Wales towns of Wilcannia and Wagga Wagga.

They’re part of the dLab National Program, started by dLux Media Arts as a way to help regional youth contribute to their communities and shape their own future.

Using everything from digital photography to solar prints of leaves and other found objects, Wilcannia students captured elements of their hometown, learning along the way about local botany but also the chemistry of photography and the physics of light.

“We had a real ‘wow’ moment when we turned the whole room into a camera obscura and projected what we could see outside onto the walls and roof inside the room,” said workshop facilitator Yenny Huber.

Students’ stories and photographs went into a mobile app, an interactive map of Wilcannia with tours of places of personal importance to them.

In Wagga Wagga, the students’ work was projected onto the walls of the Civic Centre, alongside local music and interviews in an exhibition at the Ashmont Artspace.

“As much as the students enjoy learning about the science, the real power in this program is how they use technology to express themselves by creating art and audio-visual content,” Yenny said.

The dLab National Program continues in 2014, with a special guest appearance by Indonesian artist Andreas Siagian, who will run workshops on computer technology and electronics and will teach people how to make a DIY digital microscope from a webcam.

Find out more at http://www.dlux.org.au/cms/dLab/dlab-national-program.html.

Inspiring Australia

Five winners of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

In the Great Hall of Parliament House, Prime Minister Abbott presented his Prizes for Science to five remarkable Australians.

In an official release Prime Minister Abbott said, “Australia has a wealth of scientific talent. Our people are full of great ideas.

“The Federal Government will continue to provide the strong support our scientific community needs so it can get on with finding the next innovation or treatment for disease.”

The 2013 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science go to:

Terry Speed

Terry Speed

 

Terry Speed – Fighting cancer by the numbers
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne
$300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

 

 

 

Angela Moles (c) Peter Morris

Angela Moles (c) Peter Morris

 

Angela Moles – It’s not a jungle out there: rocking the ecological boat
University of New South Wales in Sydney
$50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

 

 

 

Andrea Morello

Andrea Morello (c) Peter Morris

 

Andrea Morello – Quantum computing becomes more than just spin
University of New South Wales in Sydney
$50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year

 

 

 

Sarah Chapman

Sarah Chapman

 

Sarah Chapman – Using a motor race to fuel interest in science
Townsville State High School
$50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools

 

 

 

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

 

Richard Johnson – A teacher’s laboratory becomes a primary source of inspiration
Rostrata Primary School in Perth
$50,000 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

 

 

 

 

For their full citations and the Prime Minister’s official comments, go to: http://www.industry.gov.au/scienceprizes

For high res photos and videos go to: http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/prime-ministers-prize

The Curiosity Show hits the internet

Thank you to Curiosity Show host Prof. Rob Morrison for taking the time to answer our questions about the launch of the show online.

Many Australian’s hold fond memories of mornings on the couch, watching The Curiosity Show… and after a 23 year hiatus, they have returned to thrill a new generation of eager Australians!

The Curiosity Show has hit the web, with all the classic segments – including favourites like Make-and-Do, Nature and Puzzles – now available on youtube. You can also connect with the show on their website, facebook and twitter.

Prof. Rob Morrison, Curiosity show host, said that originally the show was designed to deal with science and technology, without overtly teaching it. He says, “we did this by using things like natural history segments, lots of making and doing, and things like art and music segments.

“Making and Doing meant things like mousetrap racing cars, battery-powered hovercraft, pill-bottle torches, and mousetrap paddlewheelers, where children had to deal with power sources, gearing, and power-weight ratios without their ever being called that.  We also showed the objects that we made working so they knew what to expect if they got their versions right.

“We used things like art and music for similar reasons. For example,  making your own PVC panpipes or PVC recorder involved science and technology in working out the length of pipe to get the right pitch, and exploring the proportions of paintings, seashells, and flower centres brought in golden proportions and Fibonacci numbers without overtly teaching those as maths.

“We did lots of tricks and puzzles, too. You can deal with a great deal of maths when you dress it up as magic, and children who would run a mile from a maths segment are quite happy to learn how to do a trick that might baffle a parent or two.”

Prof Morrison, and fellow Curiosity Show host Deane Hutton, have enlisted the help of digital media agency Enabled Solutions to aid in the process of uploading the segments to the internet. By doing this, the show can benefit from not only their expertise in cross-platform digital media, but also their links to a number of educational services.

The wide variety of segments and projects available mean that there are a number of opportunities for teachers from all different areas to expose their children to hands-on learning experiences – while giving children an appreciation of the role of science in all aspects of the world around them.

“There are lots of art, language, maths segments which touch on science and technology (e.g. origin of “knots” and “log” which come from sailing ships; origin of sayings like “red herring” and riddles like “which came first, chicken or egg?” These all have science in their explanations.

“We were aiming at upper primary levels, where crossover in the curriculum is very much to be encouraged so that the artificial divisions imposed by curriculum areas are not introduced too soon for children to see how science connects to everything.

“Some art segments use maths (Golden mean) while others, such as simple lithography, work because of the ability of water to repel oil, and that allows limestone printing. This joint mix of science within other areas is important.  Other segments, such as those in the “Make and Do” playlist, offer things to build or do that are more overtly science or technology, but good fun to play with as well.

“We also had a series, and there are some of these segments in there, called “CURIO” in which we show some ancient or obscure bit of technology, ask kids to guess what it is and then explain it. It is a window into technology of the past (old mining devices, ship’s candle-holder, miner’s spider etc).

“We strongly believed, and still do, that children obtain a huge amount of incidental learning by making and doing things. It is worrying to see so much of childhood now involves not hands and fingers making things that work, but two thumbs to control a virtual, X-Box world.”

Event review: The Future Project: iMind – The Evolving Brain

Thanks to Brad Papworth from The King’s School for writing this event review.

The Future Project:  iMind – The Evolving Brain

The Future Project recently held a public forum discussing the effects of digital technology on the brain at The King’s School in Sydney. The expert panel included Prof Ian Hickie, Executive Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, and Assoc Prof Jane Burns, CEO of the Young and Well CRC.

This event was well attended by over 400 secondary students, parents, teachers and mental health workers from Western Sydney. Students from The Future Project compiled videos to provide background information on the science of neuroplasticity and the pervasion of digital technology in our lives as well as compering the event and Q&A session.

The next forum on 21st August will see Derek Muller presenting a live Veritasium show and is set to be popular with students and science buffs alike.

The Future Project is a collaboration of schools, universities and industry to provide secondary students with real opportunities to collaborate with scientists, in order to solve real-world problems, and to communicate this knowledge to the wider public. The two key strands include student interns working alongside scientists on research projects as well as a strand where students learn the craft of science communication.

Social media traffic on The Future Project Facebook page since the event has been high (2,400 people reached).

For anyone looking for research space and interested in joining this collaboration, visit www.thefutureproject.com or contact Brad Papworth, brad.papworth@thefutureproject.com.

Canberra unlocks the secrets to “real” forensic science

By Ian McDonald (Secretary, ASC ACT branch committee)

On a brisk Wednesday evening in early August, Canberrans came to hear real forensic scientists discuss their careers and how they differ from Hollywood’s portrayal. The ASC Canberra event entitled CSI vs Real Forensic Science, was facilitated by Ben Lamont, the Vice President of the ACT Chapter of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society (ANZFSS) and Forensics Capability Development and Training Officer for the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

This one and a half hour seminar-style event was both interactive and entertaining. Ben set the scene, describing a mock crime and asking five of his AFP colleagues, who specialised in the areas of either: fingerprints, documents, chemical criminalistics, biology and firearms to run through how they would approach the scene and some of the issues they might be face with collecting evidence, particularly for outdoor crime scenes or attending multiple sites.

The audience of over 100 attendees, including ASC members, high school and university students and members of the science community and general public, packed the CSIRO Discovery Lecture Theatre and asked lots of thought-provoking questions.

So, can a crime really be solved within the time frame of an hour TV show? Definitely not according to our expert forensic scientists who talked about it taking up to weeks or months for certain types of evidentiary samples to be processed, analysed and then used as evidence in court. One question of particular interest to our audience was whether Australia is allowed access to the USA fingerprint database used to collect fingerprints from all travellers entering the USA. According to Melanie our fingerprint expert, Australia definitely does not have access to any of the USA databases. The question was asked a few times… it did make me wonder what our audience members were trying to hide!

So how was science communication linked in with this event? Well, forensic scientists probably have one of the most difficult and high pressure communication jobs in the world sometimes being summoned to court and having to give on-the-spot expert evidence in front of lawyers, jurors and judges. I personally couldn’t think of anything more nerve-racking. Also, like many science jobs out their, the speakers did talk about the difficulty of getting into this very popular industry, where in some cases, only 1 of every 30 forensic science graduates are able to get a job in Australia.

So we were very lucky to spend time with these scientists, considered the ‘rock stars’ of the science world, learning about the industry and how it differs from those exciting TV shows we can watch on a nightly basis.

The audience was thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and organisation of the event. The ACT branch committee was very happy with the support we drummed up for both science in general and for the Australian Science Communicators. For those of you who listen to Triple J’s “The Hack” program which airs nationally every afternoon at 5:30pm, this event will be featured on the program in the coming weeks.

The event would have not been possible without our co-organisers and sponsors, Inspiring Australia, CSIRO Discovery and of course, the ANZFSS. We look forward to continued collaboration in future events.

The Forensic Experts answering audience questions at the end of seminar. Speakers left to right: Melanie Fraser (Fingerprints), Alex Borg Caruana (Firearms), Rochelle Epple (Documents), Felicity Pagan (Biology), Ben Lamont (Facilitator) and Timothy Simpson (Chemical Criminalistics).

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.

Review of “Transit of Venus” (Nick Lomb) by Simon O’Toole

In just days from now, on June 6, the planet Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun for the last time this century; the next opportunity to observe this event will be December 11, 2117. In Transit of Venus: 1631 to the Present, Nick Lomb, of Sydney Observatory, presents the fascinating history of this celestial event and some of the characters who observed the seven transits in the 400 years since the invention of the telescope.

The book covers a simple idea: observe the start and end times of Venus’ passage across the solar disc (the “transit”) from different places around the globe, then use geometry to determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Without this distance, the distances to the other planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, were only known in relative terms (Jupiter is 5.2 times further than Earth, for example).

In practice things are never straightforward of course. The Transit of Venus is therefore not just a book about measuring a distance; it is also the story of the trials and tribulations of early efforts to achieve this goal. It is a story of hardships and personal sacrifices, long arduous journeys across unforgiving seas, and too often of failure at the final hurdle.

Lomb’s narrative interweaves the contribution of well-known figures such as Lieutenant James Cook, Edmund Halley and Johannes Kepler, with unsung heroes including Jeremiah Horrocks and Henry Chamberlain Russell. It is well known that Cook came to the Southern Hemisphere with the primary goal of observing the transit of Venus from Tahiti in 1769; his search for the Great South Land, while arguably more successful, was more a side project.

The story is told from an Australian perspective – after all Australia often played a key role due to its geographical location – but my favourite story is that of the unfortunate Frenchman Guillaume Le Gentil in the 18th century. Imagine sailing across the globe to find your chosen site had fallen into enemy hands en route, staying away from home for the next 8 years to observe the following transit, then missing out again due to bad weather, and finally returning home to find your family believing you dead.

A key point that Lomb comes back to is on the accuracy of measurements: acquiring both the timing and longitude of the observation accurately was extremely difficult. The transit of 1874 was probably the most successful, with large numbers of people observing it all over the world. The accuracy of the observations was thought to be almost as disappointing as previous attempts however, and this caused enthusiasm for the project to wane.

In the end, there is a somewhat tragic air to Lomb’s tale. Despite the efforts of many talented people, other methods of determining the distance from the Earth to the Sun won the day, making the measurement with far higher precision; transit measurements only ever achieved an accuracy of about 1 million kilometres.

Nowadays, a transit of Venus is more a curiosity, albeit a rare one. In the modern age, Venus is observed scientifically to gain a better understanding of its formation and geology rather than for our understanding of distance. The book also includes many of the spectacular images taken from various space missions to the planet in the last 50 years.

It is the rarity that still makes the transit a major event though, similar to the passage of Halley’s Comet; this is the final chance for any of us to witness a transit. The final chapter of the book contains information on when, where and how best to observe the 2012 transit on June 6. In Australia we are well placed once again!

The Transit of Venus is beautifully presented and thoroughly researched, with many archival images covering the history of the quest to accurately measure Venus’ transit times. Nick Lomb is to be congratulated for putting together this very worthwhile and enjoyable read.

Chief Scientist’s speech to ASC conference – the transcript of Ian Chubb’s presentation

Professor Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, was a worthy voice to present the Robyn William’s address, to open the ASC conference. Ian’s presentation started minds thinking and the points he raised kept delegates challenged throughout the 3 days of the event.

Kali Madden is continuing the spade work needed to post podcasts of various plenary sessions on the ASC website. Look for them to start rolling out in another month or two. In the meantime I’m posting the pdf of the transcript of Ian Chubb’s speech.

Jesse Shore
National President

Ian Chubb’s ASC2012 speech, 27 February 2012

 

 

Atmospheric Sciences on the Rise

Thanks to Craig Macaulay, CSIRO for contributing this article:

Once a year Australian atmospheric scientists gather for a research review centred on a real singing ‘canary’ – the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Monitoring Station.  The Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station was established in 1976 to monitor and study global atmospheric composition; the Bureau manages the station and its research is jointly managed by the Bureau and CSIRO. This year’s annual Cape Grim science meeting at the Bureau of Meteorology from November 15-17 was combined with the 5th Annual Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research Workshop with a focus on the science of atmospheric composition.

The timing could not have been more appropriate coinciding with a series of releases on carbon and greenhouse gas emission figures from the International Energy Agency (http://www.iea.org/press/pressdetail.asp?PRESS_REL_ID=426) and the World Meteorological Organisation (http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_934_en.html)

Both activities brought together more than 90 researchers from New Zealand and Australian research agencies and universities. The Workshop also included the Annual Priestley lecture, which was given this year by Dr Stephen E. Schwartz (Brookhaven National Laboratory).

This meeting provided a much needed forum for atmospheric composition researchers from different disciplines (in-situ observations, remote sensing observations, modelling) to share ideas, enhance collaboration and develop a coordinated regional approach to characterising atmospheric processes in Australasia.  A major outcome of this meeting is the decision to continue this forum into the future and to investigate during 2012 the establishment of a co-ordinated atmospheric composition research group.

Melita said there is energy to bring researchers more closely together through collaboration to benefit from the expanding  and emerging infrastructure and tools  that are providing  increasing opportunities observations, modelling and assessments. These include the Australian Community Climate Earth System Simulator, new observation sites such as the Tropical Atmosphere Research Station at Gunn Point and Australia’s new research vessel, the RV Investigator that will be commissioned in June 2013.