Sharing amazing science stories at FameLab 2016

Thank you to Sarah Lau for the post.

I recently had the honour of MCing the WA semi-final of FameLab 2016 at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle.

FameLab sees early career researchers share their research in a three minute presentation – using everything from props to poetry, but certainly no PowerPoint!

Beginning in 2005 at the Cheltenham Science Festival, FameLab has grown through a partnership with the British Council to include over 5000 researchers in more than 25 countries, becoming one of the leading international science communication competitions.

In WA, the 12 competitors spent the day leading into the semi-final in an intensive science communication workshop with leading science communicators and broadcasters (and ASC luminaries), including Frankie Lee, Renae Sayers and Kylie Sturgess.

The evening then lit up with the finalists showcasing a diversity of styles and topics to an appreciative audience.

The judging panel had the challenge of evaluating each presenter and presentation on ‘content, clarity and charisma’.

It was a tough call, but the winner of the WA semi-final was Mahmoud Bassal from The University of South Australia, with ‘The Cancer Conundrum’, about genetic and metabolic changes in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Mahmoud also took out the Audience Choice Award.

The runner–up was Toby Brown from ICRAR-University of Western Australia and Swinburne University, with ‘Chasing Shadows’, about how dark matter shapes our Universe.

Programs such as FameLab are important in promoting excellence in science communication and demonstrating the many benefits of communicating research in interesting and accessible ways.

On a personal level, it is a very rewarding experience to be part of a program which helps early career researchers build their communication skills to expand the reach and impact of their research.

If you are in WA this week, you can see some of Australia’s best and brightest early career researchers share their work at the national FameLab final at the WA Museum in Perth on 5 May 2016.

FameLab 2016

Inspiring Australia update: Travelling WA with Kerry Mazzotti

WA’s Inspiring Australia officer shares what inspires her, advice for science communicators and why she sent a scientist travelling the State in a white campervan with 18 replica skulls.

Kerry Mazzotti

Inspirer of Western Australians, Kerry Mazzotti

A love of meeting people from different backgrounds and a bug for travel are surely essential requirements for Kerry Mazzotti’s challenge of coordinating science engagement across the biggest state in Australia.

Kerry is one of eight state and territory Inspiring Australia Officers who support science communication and engagement projects, help them gain publicity and enable local collaboration.

What is your background?

I did my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science. I realised pretty quickly that I was more interested in talking about research than conducting it so went on to be a Science Circus Scholar in the Questacon Science Circus. After completing a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication as part of that course, I stayed on with the Questacon Outreach team for another couple of years presenting their careers program to high school students right across the country, from Nhulunbuy to Nannup and Rockhampton to Renmark.

With a full blown case of the travel bug, I set off for North America and landed a position in the Community Engagement team at Science World in Vancouver, once again travelling to regional areas across the province to enthuse people about science, this time with the Scientists in Schools program.

With a few detours and pit-stops along the way, I am now based at Scitech in Perth, still focussed on community science engagement including National Science Week and the Inspiring Australia Initiative.

What was your first job?

Check-out chick at Franklins.

What inspires you?

I am continually inspired by nature, and the scientists that study it. Nature was the reason I got into science in the first place, and I believe this is the gateway for many people. Science is about asking how the world works, and before you start asking the bigger questions, you start by asking questions inspired by nature like ‘Why does it smell nice after it rains?’ ‘Why are the sky and ocean blue?’ ‘Why do all of these animals only come out at night?’ And suddenly, before you know, you are a science enthusiast.

What Inspiring Australia initiatives are happening in your area?

In WA, Inspiring Australia supports Regional Community Science Engagement Groups in 6 regional hubs across the state, including Broome, Geraldton, Bunbury, Albany, Esperance and Kalgoorlie, with key individuals and organisations being supported in Karratha.

In this way, a year round calendar of science engagement events, relevant to local communities, is being developed. Examples include the Esperance Science Engagement Group recently running an event based on the science of brewing beer in a local cafe, and a presentation by an archaeologist at Karratha Public Library. These events are put on by the community and for the community, making them popular and relevant. For more examples of past events see www.snwa.net.au/-events.html.

Is there a success story or two that stand out?

Inspiring Australia in WA supported facial anthropologist Dr Susan Hayes to travel the state and share her passion for forensics and anthropology.

Dr Hayes loaded up 18 replica skulls into her white campervan and headed north. While on the road she gave free public talks in libraries, community centres, schools and caravan parks, based on both the forensic and anthropological sides of her work.

She also ran drawing and clay modelling workshops inviting participants into the world of facial approximation.

As well as encouraging our regional science engagement groups to run their own events on the ground, it’s great to be able to link them up with travelling experts such as Dr Susan Hayes. It provides the groups with an extra resource, and also provides the expert with networks in the regional centres. We have also done a similar thing with innovation guru, Dr Ed Sobey, and Whale Shark conservation and education group ECOCEAN.

This one really stands out because Dr Hayes is an inspirational scientist and researcher but also passionate about sharing her science with others. Luckily for us, she is also a keen traveller!

What are the science strengths of your state or territory?

WA is strong across many fields. One example includes astronomy, with our involvement in the Square Kilometre Array, a mega science project aiming to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

Tell us about your favourite science-related TV show or movie

Does Breaking Bad count?

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a novel called Feed, by M.T. Anderson describing a future where we all have implants to connect us to a Facebook like program that connects us, through status updates and advertising, to the world around us. I love science fiction when it looks at the social implications of advances in technology.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is getting to interact with people from a broad cross section of the community with one thing in common, an interest in science. Whether it be a keen librarian interested in astronomy, an enthusiastic school teacher fascinated by physics or an eager community volunteer who is a budding botanist, my favourite thing is to help them share their passion with others. Curiosity is contagious!

If you could give science communicators one piece of advice, what would it be?

Talk to the people around you. While science communication is a relatively new field, there are still so many resources and so much experience out there for you to tap into. That way you can expend your energy on new and creative ways to engage people in science, rather than re-inventing the wheel.

Read more Questions and Answers with Kerry at the Inspiring Australia website.

Inspiring Australia

Member profile – Sarah Lau

Thank you to Sarah Lau who shared her deepest darkest secrets with us for this Q&A profile!

When not working as Communication Manager for ChemCentre in Western Australia, Sarah spends her time keeping things in order as the Secretary of the ASC. As a long-term member, Sarah’s commitment to the ASC is a great example of what keeps a volunteer organisation like ours running like clockwork. She kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some ASC profile pop-quiz questions.

Read on to find out about everything from ASC WA events to malformed origami!

 

When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a small child, my career choices were heavily influenced by books and television, so I went through phases of wanting to be a journalist, a police officer, a lawyer… at one point I’d even settled on being a spy. Eventually when I hit high school I decided I wanted to get into science, but a disastrous Year 12 practical chemistry exam made me realise that lab work wasn’t for me. So I decided to combine my passion for science with my love of talking and working with people, which led me to science communication.

Apart from being superstar secretary of the ASC, what work do you do?

In my daily role, I am the Communication Manager at ChemCentre, the WA chemical and forensic science facility. This is a fascinating and varied job which sees me doing everything from briefing media on synthetic drugs to devising marketing strategies for air monitoring analysis. Right now I am working with our team to deliver a series of August outreach activities, tying into National Science Week, and culminating with ChemCentre’s annual Open Day. (Shameless plug – if you’re in WA, come by on Saturday 24 August!)

With another hat on, I work as a science communication and presentation consultant. The most exciting role I have taken on recently was for The University of Western Australia, working with some of UWA’s highest profile scientists to deliver the Science for our Future Festival program across South East Asia.

Has your time with the ASC helped or hindered your work?

I joined ASC as a student when I was studying Science Communication at The University of Western Australia. I found it was very useful, as it gave me a chance to engage with established professionals and consider future career directions.

As an early career professional, being involved with ASC, and particularly volunteering at the branch level, meant that I had the chance to develop skills and build a network of contacts.

Now, my role with ASC has grown to allow me to support the evolution of ASC as we expand and move towards a professional association. As I’ve become more involved with ASC, one my favourite things has been the chance to connect with ASC members from across Australia and hear their experiences.

Why is science communication important?

I see science communication as ‘bridging the gap’ – bringing skills and expertise to connect the world of science and an intended audience. I’ve always considered that science communicators help make science accessible, relevant and engaging. Science communicators also bring perspective and expertise to scientists to help the scientific process in the modern world. The benefits to ensuring science is communicated are wide-ranging, including better informed decision making in the wider community, and increased uptake of science at the policy and governance level. I think the recognition of science communication as a specialisation is increasing, and along with it, an appreciation of the value of science communicators.

What ASC events are you looking forward to this year?

In WA, there is a fantastic local committee which has worked hard to create a diverse programs of events, including social, professional and networking events. We’ve had some great evaluation events and I’m looking forward to this program continuing this year. Fast forward to 2014 – I am excited about the ASC National Conference in Brisbane!

When you are not science communicating, what are your hobbies/interests?

Not much has changed since I was young, so books and television still feature prominently. I adore music and I’m easily distracted by music videos. I also love checking out the great cafes and bars now popping up all over Perth. And for the novelty category – I enjoy attempting geometric origami structures, which is an odd choice for someone with little artistic ability or patience!

Outreach where they least expect it – Guerilla Astronomers

Thanks to Kirsten Gottschalk from ICRAR for contributing this post:

I have a confession – I love astronomy. Something about it has fascinated me ever since I can remember. Understandably then, it’s something I am very passionate about. This is why I was quite taken aback when I heard “People aren’t interested in looking through telescopes anymore,” during a session at the recent ASC National Conference.  From a respected astronomer no less! Luckily for me and my love of astronomy, her experience couldn’t be further from my own.

 

As part of my role in the Outreach and Education team at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) I take a lot of telescopes to a lot of places and people are always interested to look through them, at them, or just talk about them.

 

One of my favourite outreach strategies is the idea of ‘Guerilla Astronomy’ – taking a telescope somewhere people will least expect it and introducing them to astronomy with no advertising or attempt to gather an audience.

 

Myself and a band of ICRAR’s professional astronomers take a small (but still impressive looking) telescope or two out to the side of a bike path, to the middle of the CBD shopping precinct, or to another outdoor event and simply stand next to our telescopes talking to anyone that comes near. People always come near, and the result is something that never ceases to remind me why I do what I do.

 

From the woman on her evening jog who got straight back in the car after seeing the Moon to go get her kids; to the children who wont let anyone else have a turn because they are so mesmerised by the Orion Nebula; through to a member of the public helping his elderly mother take her first close up look at Jupiter and its moons, and her gasp when the image became clear to her through the eyepiece. Talking with the astronomers who join me on these evenings, we have so many more positive engagement stories like these. To me, this kind of work is the most important and most interesting part of science communication – engaging with the unengaged and giving them a positive experience of science to take away.

 

There’s probably a large combination of things that make these events so successful – the unexpected experience, and therefore no expectations of what will happen, us being conveniently located where people are already, and in the evening when there’s sometimes a bit more time to spare. But I like to think that the telescopes themselves play a big part in it – they’re an ingeniously simple piece of machinery (just a couple of mirrors and a lens when you get down to it) that pack a big punch and make the previously invisible, visible.  Nothing beats seeing the red spot on Jupiter in person ‘for real’ and knowing that the light has travelled from the depths of the Sun where it was created in a nuclear reaction, all the way out to Jupiter (741 million kilometres) and then bounced off right back into this telescope and then your eye. Or maybe that’s just me?

 

I’ll admit, sometimes it is frustrating the first question is ‘How much is it worth?’ but there are always more questions, and I like to think that they’re only asking because they think it’s so cool they want one too!

 

Nevertheless, the benefits to me, to ICRAR, and our astronomers stemming from Guerilla Astronomy are numerous. It never ceases to inspire a researcher to be told their life’s work is utterly fascinating by either a 5 or 75 year old, and they get told often and emphatically at these impromptu events. We’ve also had so many people follow up for more information, attending our other larger events, or even organising us to visit their school or club for a talk stemming from one simple interaction by the Swan River on a Wednesday night.

 

Our last Guerilla Astronomy event had over 150 people look through our telescopes over the course of two hours, without us even having to put a sign out!

 

Kirsten Gottschalk
Outreach and Education Officer
ICRAR: Discovering the hidden Universe through radio astronomy

 

The sky’s the limit for users of theSkyNet

Thanks to Pete Wheeler, UWA for sending in this article:
Thanks to a new initiative called theSkyNet, you don’t need a supercomputer to help collect data for the next generation of radio telescopes.

This ambitious citizen science project uses a global network of privately owned computers to process astronomical data arriving from galaxies, stars and other distant objects located across the universe.

WA’s Science and Innovation Minister, John Day, launched theSkyNet in September 2011.

The project soon attracted almost 20,000 hits to theSkyNet.org website, and nearly 3,000 members in the first day. A few weeks later, the website surpassed 100,000 hits and 5,000 members.

Members sign up and donate their spare computing power to theSkyNet, an activity which is not only rewarding, it’s also fun. Members receive “credits” for processing data and donating time on their computer, which earns them trophies they can share with their networks through Facebook. Users participate in the project as individuals but can also form or join alliances to help process data as a group.

There are also some very real-world rewards on offer, with the most attractive being the opportunity to visit the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in the Mid-West of Western Australia. This remote and radio-quiet site is home to several next generation radio telescopes and is earmarked as the potential site for the proposed Square Kilometre Array.

With support from the WA State Government, theSkyNet is an initiative of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), a joint venture of Curtin University and The University of Western Australia.

According to ICRAR’s Outreach and Education Manager, Pete Wheeler, the project aims to involve people in the discovery process while also raising awareness of radio astronomy and providing a real resource that astronomers can use to advance our understanding of the universe.

“This is a very exciting project for us as it’s a unique opportunity to bring our research and public outreach activities together and get the public involved in science,” he said.

“We were hopeful that the name of the project would generate interest, but the level of interest and uptake we experienced so soon after launch was beyond our wildest expectations.”

So far, theSkyNet has been using data collected by the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales to refine the system and demonstrate that the results produced by theSkyNet are scientifically useful and accurate.

Next, theSkyNet will use a reprocessed version of this data to create a new catalogue of radio galaxies before moving on to larger data sets in preparation for the enormous volumes of information that will flow once telescopes such as the CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder come online in the next couple of years.

ICRAR Director, Professor Peter Quinn, said: “Radio astronomy is a data intensive activity and as we design, develop and switch on the next generation of radio telescopes, the supercomputing resources processing this deluge of data will be in increasingly high demand.”

At any one time, around 4,000 machines around the world are online and contributing to theSkyNet. On average, the network is performing one million processing tasks per day, placing theSkyNet on par with a supercomputer with between 15 and 20 TFlops of computing power. The cost to build a single supercomputer with this sort of capacity is currently around $1.5 million.

Rather than the cost and years of planning needed to build and run such a machine, theSkyNet runs with only minimal cost and has appeared virtually overnight. Using the power of the Internet to connect people to the excitement of scientific discovery makes cost effective, efficient and environmentally sensible use of readily available computing resources that might otherwise be wasted.

This type of community computing is especially useful when the time taken to process the data is not an issue. Rather than using valuable supercomputing time in facilities such as the iVEC Pawsey Centre in Perth, data that can be processed in “slow time” can be off-loaded to a distributed network like theSkyNet.

“The key to theSkyNet is having lots of computers connected, with each contributing only a little, but the sum of those computers can achieve a lot,” Professor Quinn said.

For further information and to sign up, visit theSkyNet website at www.theSkyNet.org

ASC corporate members – meeting with Scitech

Interest is growing for organisations to become corporate members of the ASC. While I was in Perth for the 2011 ASC AGM I took the opportunity to meet with the management of one of our most recent new corporate members, Scitech.

Scitech is Perth’s and WA’s state-wide active and progressive science centre. Alan Brien, the director of Scitech, led the discussion which ranged over the recent history of Scitech and its key activities in science communication.

Some of the main points included that Scitech is the lead state institution for overseeing Inspiring Australia activities in WA. Alan’s team gave an update on developments of ScienceNetworkWA, http://sciencewa.net.au/, its online connection to science activity in the state.

We explored a few ways that Scitech and the ASC could work more closely together, starting off with the National Conference. I look forward to seeing some of the ideas being realised soon.

Jesse Shore
National President

ASC AGM outcomes

The first ASC AGM held in Perth was well attended and lively with discussion of many matters. Most of those present offered comments and questions which revealed the insight and enthusiasm of ASC WA members.

In brief, the main reports of this meeting held on 30 November were:

From the President:

  • Progress toward planning the 2012 national conference
  • The activity of the branches with ACT, SE-Qld and SA being especially active and WA running the enormous Astrofest event (attended by 3000 people)
  • Networking with the Tall Poppy Campaign and supporting science communication events run by other organisations
  • Maintaining contact with the National Inspiring Australia team and some of their state and territory representatives
  • Upgrades to the ASC website and news of major improvements planned for 2012.

From the Treasurer:

  • The Association remains in a sound financial position
  • Membership dues remain at $88 for an individual membership for a full year (dues were last raised 5 years ago) and student membership at 40% of the individual rate
  • Branches will receive capitation at 10% of the dues income from their members and up to another 10% for special projects on submission to the Executive;

The main outcomes were:

  • Election of 2012 ASC President: there was one nomination for President and I was elected.
  • Motion to amend the Constitution: the meeting approved the proposal for a minor change in wording to specifically mention that branches may have rules. The previous clause only mentioned branches having Constitutions.

The meeting ended promptly at 7.15pm and the David Ellyard’s third consecutive end-of-year science trivia quiz got under way. Forty five people formed numerous teams for a spirited evening of well-played competition. Last year the AGM made it to Adelaide for the first time and the decision to travel further west once again proved sound.

Jesse Shore
National President

Official notice of Australian Science Communicators’ Annual General Meeting, Perth, WA

30 November 2011
6:00 pmto9:30 pm

This is the official notice of the Australian Science Communicators’ Annual General Meeting, to be held in Perth, Western Australia, on 30 November 2011. The AGM is being hosted by the ASC WA Branch. The AGM will be followed by an interactive science quiz night hosted by compere extraordinaire David Ellyard.

 Date: Wednesday 30 November 2011
Time: 6.00pm-7.15pm (ASC AGM), 7.30pm – 9.30pm (Science Quiz Night)
Venue: Rosie O’Grady’s, Cnr James & Milligan St, Northbridge, WA
ASC members: free (Only currently financial ASC members are eligible to attend the AGM)
Non-members: $10
Non member students: $5

Registration: http://ascnationalagm2011.eventbrite.com

The ASC AGM will run from 6.00-7:15pm in the Cab Bar and is open to ASC voting members only. The quiz night for all registered participants will begin at 7:30pm sharp in the Cab Bar.

Seats are limited so registration is essential.  The seating is 6 people per table. To confirm the members of your table, please email asc.events.wa@gmail.com.

 

The AGM is an opportunity for members to hear about the year’s events at the national level, and also to have their say about what should happen in the year to come. It also includes reports from the President and Treasurer, and news of the upcoming national conference. Members also have the chance to elect a new National President. Proposed agenda items, notices of motion and presidential nominations must be received by Wednesday 23 November.

Note that notices of motion require a proposer and a seconder, and nominations for President need to be agreed by the nominee.

Members unable to attend the AGM in person are able to give proxies to other members attending the meeting, or alternatively, send them to Sarah Lau, National Secretary (slau@chemcentre.wa.gov.au) before 5.00pm AWST on Wednesday 30 November 2011.

Minutes from the ASC AGM 2010, Adelaide, SA

AGENDA (as of 9 November 2011)

1. Confirmation of members attending, apologies
2. Notification of proxies
3. Minutes of 2010 AGM
4. President’s report
5. Treasurer’s report
a) presentation of statement of accounts
b) determination of annual membership fee
c) determination of capitation to be returned to branches
d) determination of honoraria
e) appointment of auditor
f)  appointment of public officer
g) preview of 2011 budget
6. Election of 2012 ASC President
7. Motions to amend the Constitution
8. Any other business

Motion to change the ASC Constitution – for ASC AGM 2011

1. Motion to change the Constitution – Motion made by Jesse Shore and seconded by Rob Morrison. We propose the constitution is amended as follows:

 [The proposed change to the wording in the revised clause is underlined.] [Definition from clause 2.9: “Association” means Australian Science Communicators Incorporated.]

Section 5.4 of the constitution – ‘BRANCHES’

Current wording:

5.4.2 Branches may have their own constitutions, but wherever any discrepancy exists, the Constitution of the Association shall prevail.

 Proposed new wording

5.4.2 Branches may have their own rules or constitutions, but wherever any discrepancy exists, the Constitution of the Association shall prevail.

Reason for proposed amendment:
This minor change in wording acknowledges that the ASC branches, which are unincorporated bodies, are more likely to have their own rules than constitutions.
We want the branches to be aware they have the right to have rules and to encourage them to adopt rules if they haven’t done so already. The new wording still allows for branches to have constitutions and makes it clear that whether they have rules or constitutions, the Constitution of the Association is the overriding document.

ASC WA Event – Behind the Scenes at WA Museum

25 October 2011
4:30 pmto5:45 pm

Apologies for the short notice. Please register your attendance at http://ascwamuseum.eventbrite.com/

The Australian Science Communicators WA Branch and the Western Australian Museum would like to invite you to a tour of WA Museum Collection and Resource Centre at Welshpool.

When: Tuesday 25 October
Time: 4.30pm – 5.45pm
Where: WA Museum, Kew Street, Welshpool (corner of Orrong Road and Leach Hwy)

The event will include an overview of the WA Museum and its science program by Di Jones, Executive Director, Collections and Research.

Participants will then go on a tour of the Collection and Resource Centre (CRC) with Mark Harvey (Head of Terrestrial Zoology), Alex Bevan (Head of Earth & Planetary Sciences) and Jane Fromont (Head of Aquatic Zoology).

This will be followed by refreshments and networking.

Register by Friday 21 October. Please email asc.events.wa@gmail.com with any event enquiries.

Cost: Free for ASC members, $10 for non-members

ASC-WA goes wild at Perth Zoo

Wayne Walters, Perth Zoo’s Acting Education Manager, organised an action-packed program for the ASCers, with attendees taking part in the same education and communication activities used with school, community and corporate groups.

Upon arriving, Wayne and Education Officer Claire Gaskin guided ASC members through an African Painted Dog scenario, in which two teams were required to navigate their way across a grid whilst avoiding some of the dangers the dogs face in real life.

This first activity was an engaging introduction to communication and education at Perth Zoo, in which a range of tools and approaches are used to encourage visitors to connect with animal ‘ambassadors’.

From a science communication perspective, Perth Zoo not only works to raise awareness of issues such as conservation and sustainability, but also encourages visitors to change their own daily behaviour to address these issues. Often these actions are simple, but can conflict with existing attitudes. To illustrate these concepts in action, Wayne
explained one of the Zoo’s current campaigns – encouraging people to choose recycled toilet paper.

The group was then immersed in a selection of the Education Team’s ‘educational experiences’, which are designed to allow hands-on experiences around the Zoo’s own programs and operations. For example, one group of ASCers was put to work solving the problem of finding enough termites to feed the Zoo’s numbats.

It was an entertaining and engaging showcase of the many educational programs offered at the Zoo. However, the final part of the visit was the most special, in which Wayne led the party through the Zoo’s African Safari section after dark.

Many of the animals viewed were particularly active and ASCers were fortunate enough to witness the Southern White Rhinoceroses from less than a metre away, and to hear the lions ‘singing’.

ASC-WA must thank WA Secretary, Miriam Sullivan for organising the visit and Claire Gaskin from Perth Zoo for assisting with the educational activities. A special thanks to Wayne Walters for organising an excellent program and sharing Perth Zoo’s approach to communication and education.

Sarah Lau
ASC National Secretary

asc_zoo_group_activity3asc_zoo_group_activity2asc_zoo_group_activity