ASC NSW Kicks off #fromtheLAB 2020 series during Covid-19

As the coronavirus pandemic crisis faces the world, organisations are exploring new ways to promote content in accessible and engaging formats, as people look to connect online relatively more. At Australian Science Communicators NSW, we have kicked off our content based #FromtheLAB series in March 2020. This series connects everyone with scientists, researchers, innovators on a monthly basis through short videos where they talk about their current work, scientific concepts and discoveries.

Are you an early – mid career researcher, innovator or scientist in Australia?

While we produce and share videos each month in collaboration with scientists across Australia, we are also looking for expressions of interests to participate in this series. We may also use content that you already have created that you would like to share.

Here are the #FromtheLAB snippets from 2020 that we have shared so far:

  1. Mar ’20 Vanessa Pirotta: Whales & Drones to detect ocean health
  2. Apr ’20 Muthu Vellayappan: Covid Safety Key 
  3. May ’20 Noushin Nasiri: Nano-Technology PhD project 
  4. Jun ’20 Ken Dutton Regester: Late stage Melanoma survival
  5. Jul ’20 Muneera Bano: Artificial Intelligence & Robotics
  6. Aug ’20 Nisha Duggan: Drugs for Stroke Patients
  7. Sep ’20 Rachelle Balez: Solutions to cure Alzheimer’s
  8. Oct ’20 Fathima Shihana: Diagnostic tools for poisoning patients

Interested in being featured? We shall guide you with ideas and assist in editing the short video with you. Please write to us on to express interest.


The Missing Link for STEMM Diversity

Building bridges and dissolving boundaries in STEMM

– Dr Astha Singh and Akanksha Tiwary

With a quarter of its population born overseas, Australia is culturally and linguistically diverse. Inclusion and diversity are core of the identity and spirit of Australian society and its contemporary culture. However, this social diversity is not reflected in the composition of the country’s STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) workforce, which is currently still predominately the male gender. For a seemingly egalitarian nation, Australia’s STEM workforce statistics are starkly contrasting.

Researchers and innovators from different backgrounds including (but not limited to) race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, age, and abilities have contributed to numerous scientific and technological breakthroughs. Their distinctive backgrounds shape how they tend to perceive and resolve issues at the institutional, local, national, or international level. Thus, working in an environment laced with gender, cognitive, ethnic, and experiential diversity involves engaging with different perspectives that help develop a holistic understanding crucial for driving innovation. To create a sustainable shape the STEM-led future of Australia, its diverse workforce needs to be leveraged.

Storytelling as a tool

Astha Singh migrated to Australia for her PhD research and found that the male to female ratio was quite skewed within the faculty. She also found that it was rather challenging for international students coming from a different cultural and non-English speaking backgrounds to conduct high-quality research. This inspired Astha to continuously support and empower peers and colleagues especially from diverse backgrounds and to advocate for diversity in STEMM.

During the tenth national conference of the Australian Science Communicators (ASC 2018), an attempt was made to understand the existing impediments to full inclusion in STEMM fields. Rather than delving on graphs and statistics, the session took a unique turn, wherein the speakers narrated their unique and original stories. While graphs and statistics can be alarming, at times, it is through real-life stories that actions of lasting change are initiated.

The panellists, or rather the storytellers for this session were: Devanshi Seth, Principal Scientist, RPA Hospital and Clinical Associate Professor, Centenary Institute, University of Sydney; Dr Noushin Nasiri, Lecturer at School of Engineering, Macquarie University; Alfonso Ballestas-Barrientos, PhD Candidate, Laboratory of Advanced Catalysis for Sustainability, School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney and Dr Manoj Gupta, Research Fellow, Climate Change Cluster, University of Technology, Sydney.

Finding the missing link

The speakers recounted their moments of inspiration, adversity, resilience, and of lasting transformation that helped them establish their personal and professional lives thousands of kilometres away from home. From a particle in Brownian motion, Devanshi Seth, in her own words, bloomed into a fruit-laden tree, making the most of her academic and industrial randomness through “Franklin Women”. Now, comfortable in standing out, she urged the audience to make the most of their varied experiences by helping ease the socio-cultural transition of their colleagues. Devanshi is an active promoter of women in science and was the founding Chair of Gender Equity at Centenary and is on the Peer Advisory Committee for Franklin Women.

Noushin’s  journey from a small city near the Caspian Sea in Iran taught her the importance of cultivating inclusion as a basic human right in STEMM circles. She continues to play her part in mingling with the Australian culture, urges colleagues to do the same and no let the self-perception dictate the direction of this journey. Noushin and Devanshi’s stories revealed that brewing a strong work culture of humbleness and empathy will help engrave diversity – at all levels – in STEMM.

Alfonso Ballestas-Barrientos, travelled all the way from the Americas to Down-Under for his love for chemistry. Alfonso just as all other Venezuelans struggled to express his academic views that could be clearly understood by his audience. Living across a few oceans from his family, Alfonso had faced adversities on a personal level that had impacted his ability to excel at his work and learned a few life lessons that focussed on inclusion. In Alfonso’s words, “Understanding of one’s own culture and the culture of others with openness and flexibility will help make bridges between individuals, groups and nations”.

Additional speaker and Climate Change Cluster researcher from UTS Manoj Gupta’ s story described that culture-induced gender biases still dominate career choices across the globe. Women and underrepresented groups are associated with only certain roles. Socio-economic constraints and privileges significantly influence career choices. Pay disparity still exists amongst STEMM fields, creating the issue of financial stability and thus luring youngsters from developing nations to move from pure sciences towards engineering and technology roles.

Cultivating a culture of acceptance and respect

For both the native and non-native audience, the impact of language barriers and cultural differences on an individual’s social and professional identification became apparent. Through each of the stories, the importance of support groups and mentoring networks  in creating a welcoming environment was highlighted. This conversation prompted Jackie Randles (Manager, Inspiring Australia, the national STEMM engagement strategy) to comment “We are not just scientists; we are people. While we often talk about our work, it’s time we talk more often about our stories.”

Viewing these stories with an external greater perspective we need to consider how accepting we are of these diverse pools of talent in our STEMM societies and what steps are we taking to really implement diversity and inclusion. What steps are we taking to build a truly diverse professional world in the STEMM domain is a question to ponder deeply upon. Diversity and inclusion should not just be a topic to be ticked off in the professional environment at the Human Resources level but should be a conversation that keeps going on in a more personable and human level. Diversity and inclusiveness encompass acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and celebrating what makes us different. In the digital era of dissolving boundaries, let’s openly listen to each other, and as Noushin puts it, “be prepared to be amazed!”


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

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:

For high res photos and videos go to:

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 or contact Brad Papworth,

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.