Blog Society 06 March 2019

Patrick Davies Trumper and Phil Dooley in The Poet’s Guide to Science: a sceptic thinktank.

Adelaide Fringe

Theatre meets science in a comedic romp presented as part of the Adelaide Fringe – the largest annual celebration of alternative and independent art in Australia.

Science communicator and Cosmos contributor Phil Dooley joins forces with Shakespearean actor Patrick Davies Trumper for a fascinating and funny two-hander called The Poet’s Guide to Science: a sceptic thinktank.

The plot revolves around a character called Cy, who has lost his faith in science and visits his local doctor to try to revive it. The exercise is unsuccessful – so much so, in fact, the very soon the medico is equally distraught.

The pair head off in search of answers, and along the way encounter scientists from controversial research areas who cast light on age-old questions of facts and data, doubt and uncertainty belief and scepticism.

The result is a light-hearted invitation to laugh out loud and think down deep.

The Poet’s Guide to Science is directed by Michele Conyngham, and is on at the Queen Street Ballroom of Adelaide’s Rob Roy Hotel, from Thursday 14 March to Sunday 17 March.

Ticket are selling fast. They can be purchased here.

Blog Social Sciences 19 February 2019
World Science Festival co-founder Brian Greene, with Neil deGrasse Tyson in the background.

World Science Festival co-founder Brian Greene, with Neil deGrasse Tyson in the background.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Image

Throughout March, the annual World Science Festival Brisbane will see hundreds of expert presenters and tens of thousands of visitors exploring science and art throughout Queensland, Australia.

“The festival celebrates the intersection between science and the arts through gripping debates, theatre, interactive experiments and explorations, musical performance, bespoke events and major outdoor experiences,” says the event’s Christine Robertson

More than half a million visitors have attended over the past three years, and organisers are expecting more than 200,000 in 2019.

With more than 100 events for all ages and backgrounds, there is something for everyone. Here are our top 10 pics.

Time and the Creative Cosmos

Hosted by US physicist and event co-founder Brian Greene, and featuring the dance troupe Pilobolus, this event is billed as a “thrilling fusion of science and art”. Greene will pull back the curtain on mysteries of life and the universe. Suitable for all ages.

Where: Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), South Brisbane

When: 23 March, 8:00pm

Tickets here

Night at the Museum

Explore the Queensland Museum at night and see firsthand what happens when the doors shut. An ideal event for children and their families, the evening includes live music, science demonstrations, and hands-on activities. Suitable for all ages.

Where: Queensland Museum & Science Centre, South Brisbane

When: 23 March, 5:30pm

Tickets here

Street Science

The festival takes to the streets in this immersive and explorative block party. Moving across Queensland throughout March, scientists of all ages can explore interactive exhibitions and demonstrations. Free admission.

Where: Multiple locations

When: Multiple dates

Details here

Pioneers in Science

Adele Green, senior scientist at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) Berghofer, discusses her research in skin cancer. Moderated by Rob Bell, attendees are encouraged to submit questions online in advance. Recommended for high school...

Blog Biology 06 February 2019
Lucky senior school students will have the chance to join qualified marine biologists on an expedition off the coast of Tasmania.

Lucky senior school students will have the chance to join qualified marine biologists on an expedition off the coast of Tasmania.

Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

Secondary school students have the opportunity to become marine biologists for a week this April in Tasmania, Australia.

Organisers of an expedition run by the University of Tasmania and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) are inviting students in Years 11 and 12 to join a trip to Maria Island off the east coast of the island state for some hands-on learning.

“They’ll enjoy a once in a lifetime experience on Tasmania’s east coast while also learning how to collect scientific data in the field,” says Scott Ling.

The program runs between April 22 and 28, with five days spent on Maria Island and an additional one at the IMAS Centre in Tasmania’s capital, Hobart.

In addition to first-hand experience, participants will earn credit towards a University of Tasmania marine science degree.

"Students who do the course get to go diving as well as observing marine life along the shoreline and will develop keen skills of observation and an eye for detail,” says Ling.

“Many of the students who’ve done the course enjoyed it so much that they’ve gone on to the IMAS degree program at the University of Tasmania, which is ranked as one of the best places to study marine science globally.”

The course is open to students from all over Australia, and full scholarships are available for four Tasmanian and five interstate students.

More information about the program can be found here.

Blog Physics 31 January 2019

Physicist and entertainer Phil Dooley will perform an astronomer’s ode to the Earth at the Butterfly Club in Melbourne, Australia, from 4-9 February.

Dooley has a PhD in physics and is a regular contributor to Cosmos, among other science and news organisations.

His upcoming tour, titled The Most Amazing Planet in the Universe, is billed as “an uplifting show that will thrill you, entertain you and wow you”.

Dooley uses his training as a physicist, combined with his experience as an entertainer and musician, to tell stories and perform original songs about the beauty and wonder in the universe.

Each performance concludes with a question and answer session, where audience members can ask Dooley about his music and stories, as well as get answers to their questions about science and the universe.

“What I’ve realised as a science writer, is that there are some things that we find quite normal about Earth that are really quite weird,” he says.

A highlight of the new show combines Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune with images of the many different moons orbiting planets in our solar system.

As well as his performance work, Dooley works to help other scientists and researchers improve their science communication skills as a lecturer and trainer.

He aims to provide “insights to inspire scientists to think differently about communication, and practical tips to inspire success”.

Further information and tickets are available here.

Blog Society 10 January 2019
Cycling to raise awareness about pain.

Cycling to raise awareness about pain.

Researchers and clinicians will soon be cycling across Tasmania, Australia, to raise money and awareness about pain.

The marathon journey has been organised by a non-profit group called Pain Revolution in pursuit of the aim that “all Australians will have access to the knowledge, skills and local support to prevent and overcome persistent pain”.

Between March 16 and 23, 25 riders will cycle more than 700 kilometres from Devonport in the state’s north to Hobart in the south.

The peloton includes scientists, educators, clinicians and people with persistent pain who train for months to prepare for the challenging ride.

Along the route, they will be followed by the Brain Bus, an experiential learning lab, parked in various town centres, allowing people to learn about the science of pain.

The sessions are open to the public, and researchers will demonstrate experiments that explain how pain and the brain work.

One such experiment, the Rubber Hand Illusion, shows participants that simply observing a rubber hand can alter perception so much that the brain believes the artificial limb is real.

Throughout the year, researchers and clinicians work together to develop resources and opportunities for people with pain, as well as educational tools for practitioners in rural Australia who treat it.

Virtual reality is also being used to develop new treatments for pain, and new experiments using the technology will also be on display.

Pain Revolution was founded by Lorimer Moseley, a professor at the University of South Australia.

“We need to engage with this massive problem in a new way, give people the resources to recover, and find the best methods to prevent persisting pain,” he says.

Although the riders and Brain Bus serve to interact with the public and share the latest research about pain, the ride also raises money to fund enrolment in the Local Pain Educator Program (LPE).

The LPE offers local clinicians advanced training through an online certificate program in pain...

Blog Biology 09 January 2019
The sawfish, a stealthy hunter and, sadly, key target for trophy anglers.

The sawfish, a stealthy hunter and, sadly, key target for trophy anglers.

frameyazoo/Getty Images

Researchers at an organisation called Sharks and Rays Australia (SARA) are enlisting the public to collect data in an effort to study and protect sawfish in Australia.

Sawfish, belonging to the family Pristidae, are most easily identified by the long, flattened rostrum with protruding jagged teeth which resembles a saw. They are a type of ray with a shark-like body and have been known to grow as long as six metres.

SARA scientist Barbara Wueringer is the lead researcher on a new project to understand sawfish populations.

“Today it’s rare to see large sawfish,” she says. “Most reports are three metres or smaller. But we could be wrong. There may still be some big ones out there.”

Researchers are not clear how many of the animals remain in the wild, because they are notoriously stealthy hunters as well as victims of trophy fishing worldwide. They eat smaller fish and use their long saw to literally cut their prey in half.

The species are at risk because their eponymous appendage can be caught in fishing nets. Sawfish have vanished from much of their original range, and today are most commonly found in waters around Queensland, Australia.

“One of the biggest challenges we are facing with the conservation of sawfish in Queensland is that we do not know just how much their numbers have dropped,” says Wueringer.

Jess Hudgins, a researcher at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, says, “We currently estimate that sawfish are extinct in much of their former range along the east coast of Australia, but this picture might be incomplete.”

SARA is requesting that anyone with information or photographs of the fish, regardless of when they were seen or taken, submit them to the SARA project website.

The data is expected to allow researchers to better understand how populations have changed over time, and better inform efforts to protect them.

Sawfish are a protected species in much of the world, including Australia, and it is illegal to fish or remove their saws – a...

Blog Society 12 December 2018
Sir David Attenborough's Planet Earth II: Grasslands was one of the winners at the 2018 SCINEMA event.

Sir David Attenborough's Planet Earth II: Grasslands was one of the winners at the 2018 SCINEMA event.

James D. Morgan/Getty Images

The countdown to Australia’s 2019 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival has begun. Organisers are now inviting entries, and if previous years are anything to go by more than 1200 entries from 80 countries will roll in.

After being judged, the award-winning films will be shown on the big screen in all major Australian cities during June 2019. Then, during National Science Week in August, the SCINEMA Community Program kicks in. In 2018, 818 screenings occurred across the country, with more than 89,000 people watching the curated playlists.

In 2018 the Best Film winner was The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World, directed by Annamaria Talas and Simon Nasht, a joint Australian-Canadian endeavour that looks at the fascinating biology of some of the most ancient lifeforms on Earth.

Timelapse is a short film that has won its Spanish maker Aleix Castro multiple awards, including SCINEMA’s 2018 gong for Best Director. The movie gives viewers a futuristic look at the role neural implants might play in making us more efficient, through the eyes of a factory worker.

The winner of the festival’s Special Jury Award, the BBC’s Planet Earth II: Grasslands, narrated by David Attenborough, used exceptional cinematography to showcase the unforgiving nature of ecosystems from the tundra to the savannah.

Filmmakers who have produced a film, television series, documentary, short, educational video or animation that has a science theme, can submit their entries through the portal, Film Freeway. Entries closing 31 January 2019.

The SCINEMA International Science Film Festival is presented by Australia’s Science Channel and sponsored by BBC Earth, and more information can be found here.

Blog Biology 11 December 2018
Donate your favourite reef-dive photos to science, researchers ask.

Donate your favourite reef-dive photos to science, researchers ask.


A new program directed by researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is calling on citizen scientists to help experts collect and categorise data to better monitor the Great Barrier Reef.

The Virtual Reef Diver project is the second phase in a larger scheme to collect more data than researchers can alone.

Phase one invites people to log on and examine photos, looking for important features such as coral, algae and fish.

Phase two asks anyone visiting the reef to add to the database by taking a photo of the reef and uploading to the virtual reef website.

By partnering with the public to collect and analyse data, researchers are better able to understand the health of the 348,700 square kilometre reef.

Project leader Erin Peterson says that the Great Barrier Reef is “simply too big for scientists and researchers to monitor it alone”.

“Many of those people who are out on the reef are already taking underwater images. We want them to share that knowledge by uploading their images of the seafloor to the Virtual Reef Diver website.”

The research team hopes to specifically gather information about the location and amount of hard coral as an indicator of reef health.

The website provides guidelines for how to best capture images for analysis, and notes that citizen scientists can use their point-and-shoot or smartphone cameras.

They further advise participants to photograph a one-meter square patch looking straight down at the seafloor, rather than at an angle.

This project is ongoing, and anyone can create an account to observe and categorise existing photos in the database.

Virtual Reef Diver is the result of the collaboration of QUT, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS).

To learn more and contribute to the Virtual Reef project, click here.

Blog Physics 03 December 2018
Nobel laureate Rainer Weiss.

Nobel laureate Rainer Weiss.

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Nobel laureate Rainer Weiss will be a guest at the Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) Congress, which will run between December 9 and 13 in Perth, Australia.

The event is billed as “a magnificent week of world-class science” and will be held at the University of Western Australia Crawley Campus.

Weiss won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017 “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”.

He was awarded half the prize, with the other half shared by physicists Kip Thorne and Barry Barish.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is located in Louisiana and Washington State in the US, and the two centres are calibrated to jointly collect data on gravitational waves.

Construction on LIGO began in 1994, with main observations beginning after 20 years of construction, expansion, and piloting.

In September 2014, the facility detected gravitational waves from two black holes which were converging more than 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

Weiss is now Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge Massachusetts, and an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Louisiana.

Along with the Nobel, he has won numerous international awards including an MIT excellence in teaching award and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has served on committees such as the Committee on NASA Astrophysics Performance Assessment and the Panel on Particle, Nuclear, and Gravitational-wave Astrophysics.

The AIP Congress will be staged jointly with the Australian Optical Society (AOS) Conference, the Australian Conference on Optical Fibre Technology (ACOFT), and the 2018 Conference on Optoelectronic and Microelectronic Materials and Devices (COMMAND 2018).

Other keynote speakers include Julia Yeomans from the University of Oxford in the UK, Michael Wiescher from the University of Notre Dame in...

Blog Biology 14 November 2018
Adding biochar to compost boosts nutrients and productivity.

Adding biochar to compost boosts nutrients and productivity.

Tom Ang/Getty Images

The first ever Australia New Zealand Biochar Study Tour will visit several cities across South Australia and Victoria, Australia, next year.

The tour will be an addition to the third Australia New Zealand Biochar Conference (ANZBC19), scheduled to run between October 20 and 26, 2019.

Biochar refers to the use of charcoal as an additive in soil with the aim of improving the quality of soil, especially for farming.

It has been suggested that this may facilitate carbon sequestration, or the removal of carbon from the atmosphere to be stored indefinitely in solid matter.

The Australia New Zealand Biochar Initiative website says, “the objective of ANZBC19 is to focus on mainstreaming biochar by bringing together stakeholders who wish to achieve commercial scale biochar outcomes with significant economic, environmental and community benefits”.

The tour is aimed at people who might apply these products to their work, such as farmers, horticulturists, and foresters.

Over three days, presenters will take to Mt. Gambier and Tantanoola in South Australia, and Portland in Victoria to discuss practical application and development in the field.

This will be followed by a conference hosted by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, also known as RMIT University, at its Melbourne city campus.

Keynote presenters include Tom Miles and Genxing Pan. Miles is chair of the International Biochar Initiative and works in Oregon in the US, designing systems in biomass processing for things such as power generation and nutrient management. Pan is a soil scientist developing enhanced biochar fertilisers at Nanjing Agricultural University in Jiangsu province, China.

The conference will include presentations from researchers, engineers, and manufacturers among others. The final day of the conference will consist of a field trip around the Melbourne metropolitan area to visit processing and manufacturing sites.

The conference is sponsored by RMIT University and commercial biochar...