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Blog Social Sciences 26 September 2018
The notion of gender-based performance in school STEM subjects is illusory, research shows.

The notion of gender-based performance in school STEM subjects is illusory, research shows.

Caiaimage / Robert Daly / Getty Images

For years the male dominance of STEM-related careers has been explained away as women having less aptitude for the relevant subjects.

But a new study challenges this view, finding a high similarity between male and female performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It suggests that the top 10% of any class was, on average, equal parts male and female.

The study, conducted by Rose O’Dea, a PhD student at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW), and published in the journal Nature Communications, collected data from more than 1.6 million students, from six years of age across 268 schools. It focused on the gender differences in variability regarding academic grades.

“We already knew that girls routinely out-perform boys at school, and we also expected female grades to be less variable than those of males, so that wasn’t surprising,” she says.

“In fact, our study suggests that these two factors haven’t changed in 80 years.

“However, what was most surprising was that both of these gender differences were far larger in non-STEM subjects, like English. In STEM subjects, girls and boys received surprisingly similar grades in both average and variability.”

Rose O’Dea goes on to speculate about why this is.

“Even if men and women have equal abilities, STEM isn’t an equal playing field for women – and so women often go down paths with less male competition,” she suggests.

Her comments are reflected in the study’s findings, which highlighted gender gap and gender variability differences between STEM subjects and later career paths.

Social stereotypes are also believed to be a contributor to the loss of females in STEM fields, a problem caused by under-representation rather than ability, and one that cannot be easily corrected.

Emma Johnston, Dean of Science at UNSW, says work needs to be done to encourage women to choose a STEM path.

“This powerful, evidence-based...

Blog Technology 25 September 2018
Harmony the robot, one of the star turns at the Melbourne exhibition.

Harmony the robot, one of the star turns at the Melbourne exhibition.

Nicole Cleary

Australia’s University of Melbourne School of Design has been transformed by event organisers Science Gallery Melbourne for a new provocative exhibition, called PERFECTION.

The show hosts 22 artworks from Australian and international artists, scientists, designers, surgeons, musicians, architects, psychologists and mathematicians.

Their interpretations cover all things, from the precise mathematics behind natural phenomena to using artificial intelligence to achieve ecological balance.

In a world of Instagram selfies and Twitter followers, many of the works question why we strive for the perfect body image and social media persona.

From envisioning a world without war, to the potential rise of genetic engineering technology and biohacking to design our ideal selves, and dating fully-customisable sex robots, the works immerse visitors in the multiple potential pathways our pursuit of perfection may take us in the future.

Dubbed by the organisers “part experiment/part exhibition”, PERFECTION encourages visitors not to simply observe the artworks but to participate and reflect on what perfection, and imperfection, mean to them. That could be in the form a silent reflection, or a conversation with one of the gallery’s mediators – or with Harmony, the sex robot who officially opened the gallery on Thursday 13 September.

Interactive works, virtual reality games, videos, sound installations produced from DNA sequences, and more take visitors on a utopian versus dystopian rollercoaster of what it means to pursue perfection in an imperfect world.

One of the interactive works, Biometric Mirror, has participants enter a futuristic beauty salon where an AI performs a psychometric facial analysis. An algorithm, based on the Marquardt Beauty Mask developed by the plastic surgeon of the same name, then generates their mathematically ‘perfect’ face. But whose perfection is it?

Science Gallery Melbourne is part of a global university-linked network of galleries leading the STEM-to-STEAM...

Blog Technology 24 September 2018
Artificial intelligence is gradually reconfiguring human life.

Artificial intelligence is gradually reconfiguring human life.

NicoElNino / Getty Images

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are beginning to revolutionise society, spreading their tentacles into areas as diverse as social media feeds and social security. This begs the question – just how much power are we prepared to cede to AI?

The Royal Institution of Australia, publisher of Cosmos, will stage a roundtable discussion at the historic Science Exchange in Adelaide, examining the benefits and pitfalls of artificial intelligence and considering Australia’s role as a world leader in the field.

The discussion will be moderated by the institution’s lead scientist Alan Duffy.

Joining the conversation will be Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist since 2016, who tackled the issue in a recent column for Cosmos.

Rounding out the panel will be Anton van den Hengel, director of the Australian Institute for Machine Learning and Professor of Computer Science at the University of Adelaide, and data policy expert Ellen Broad, author of Made by Human: The AI Condition (Melbourne University Press, 2018).

The discussion will be held on 5 October. Tickets can be purchased here.

Blog Biology 12 September 2018
Counting birds in domestic gardens is the aim of an annual Australian survey.

Counting birds in domestic gardens is the aim of an annual Australian survey.

4FR / Getty Images

With spring around the corner in the Southern Hemisphere, Australian researchers are urging you to venture outside and count your resident backyard birds.

BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards Spring Survey aims to gather a count of all birds that “live where people live”. Contributors help to provide invaluable information about how urban sprawl has affected bird behaviour. Data collected will also be used to inform guides and policies for urban planning and land management.

Birdata, the program used to collate the information, is available for Apple and Android devices and presents a wealth of materials for bird-lovers to explore.

Participants will go into a draw for a chance to win some prizes, including a set of five bird pins, a Birds in Backyards fridge magnet, and a copy of a new nocturnal birds identification guide.

The annual survey is part of BirdLife Australia’s efforts to raise awareness and involve the public in conservation efforts. As the country’s main independent bird advocacy organisation, it has been conducting various projects to help protect and preserve Australian species for more than a century.

The spring survey runs from September to October. There is also the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, brought to you by the same organisation, which is a separate survey running from October 22 to 28.

Blog Technology 11 September 2018
IWA award winner Tony Wong.

IWA award winner Tony Wong.

Monash University

Australian professor Tony Wong has won the 2018 International Water Association (IWA) Global Water Award for his work in making water security a reality for millions the world over.

Wong is the chief executive of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities based at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

He has worked for more than three decades on what he calls the “water sensitive cities approach” to tackle the social, environmental, economic and technological hurdles presented by urban water management.

His success stories include the Chinese city of Kunshan, where his collaborative work has led to the installation of bio-filters that decrease flood risk, the use of wetlands to siphon off water pollutants, and storm water management.

His innovative strategies developed with other Monash researchers are also looking to improve health and hygiene in slums in Fiji and Indonesia through waste-water recycling, rainwater harvesting, and creation of ‘green spaces’ for food cultivation.

This biennial award acknowledges significant contributions made to the promotion of sustainable water management and to encourage further innovation.

Wong will be formally presented the award by Diane D’Arras, IWA president, at the opening ceremony of the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition in Japan, on September 16.

Blog Technology 10 September 2018
Robot design and policy will be topics of hot interest in Florida.

Robot design and policy will be topics of hot interest in Florida.

Charles Taylor/Getty Images

The University of Miami School of Law in Florida, US, is seeking papers for its eighth annual robotics law and policy conference — called We Robot 2019 — running from April 11 to 13.

The event will be held at the Newman Alumni Centre, situated at the university’s Coral Gables Campus.

Conference organisers are calling for contributions from American and international experts in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the humanities, social sciences, and policy and law. The aim is to encourage dialogue between people who design robots and AI, and those who influence laws and policies around the use of these technologies.

The gathering is aimed at inspiring collaborative research around how advancements in robotics are compelling scholars to change the legal and social structures that govern its use.

Deadline for papers and demonstration proposals is November 5. Submissions for poster proposals will open on January 14, 2019, and will on March 8. Details on submission requirements and topics of interest can be found here.

The conference also offers workshops, to be held on April 10.

For more details and registration forms, click here.

Blog Space 06 September 2018
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is one of four new Bragg fellows.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is one of four new Bragg fellows.

James D. Morgan/Getty Images

The Royal Institution of Australia, the owner of Cosmos, has honoured four prominent Australian scientists and leaders with a prestigious Bragg Membership, in a ceremony held this week.

On behalf of the institution’s patron, the Duke of Kent, chairman Peter Yates formally inducted Australian Space Agency head Megan Clark, intensive care physician Michael Reade, pain researcher and pharmaceutical innovator Maree Smith, and Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, as Honorary Bragg Members.

Named after the prominent Australian Pioneer scientists, Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir William Lawrence Bragg, Honorary Bragg Membership is the highest category of membership awarded by The Royal Institution of Australia and recognises excellence in scientific achievement and commitment to science in Australia.

“In Australia, we are truly fortunate to have so many remarkable scientists and scientific leaders, who are each making a significant contribution to the future of this country and beyond,” says Yates.

“We are pleased to welcome our new inductees and to celebrate the achievements of these inspirational people.”

“By acknowledging and honouring our industry leaders, we hope to inspire the next generation of scientists and STEM graduates who will play an important role in the development of Australia as an innovative nation.”

The new inductees join 40 other distinguished Bragg Members, including former astronaut Andy Thomas, developer of the HPV vaccine, Ian Frazer, Nobel Prize winners Brian Schmidt and Elizabeth Blackburn.

Blog Biology 03 September 2018
The late Steve Irwin, pictured in 2002. The ninth annual lecture in his name is on soon.

The late Steve Irwin, pictured in 2002. The ninth annual lecture in his name is on soon.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hear celebrated animal expert and researcher Anne Goldizen speak at Australia’s University of Queensland, delivering the ninth Annual Steve Irwin Memorial Lecture, on the September 13.

The free event will take place at the university’s St Lucia campus in the city of Brisbane.

Goldizen is an ecologist, resident at the university. She is an expert in vertebrate mating systems and conservation biology.

She will regale the audience with anecdotes from her various stints researching elusive and endangered animals. She has tracked and observed Namibian giraffes, African impalas, Australian eastern grey kangaroos, and many more.

Particularly fascinating is the time she has spent in South America studying the behaviour of Tamarin monkeys, a species endemic to Brazilian rainforests. She observed that the females have offspring fathered by multiple males, who perform the bulk of the rearing. According to Goldizen, this behaviour is also seen in Australian animals, such as the Tasmanian hen.

Come along to this event to hear more fascinating insights. Bookings are essential.

Blog Biology 31 August 2018
“Neurons network, too”: An image of stem cells transformed into specialised brain cells.

“Neurons network, too”: An image of stem cells transformed into specialised brain cells.

Jennifer Keller

Every year for the past two decades, the Students of Neuroscience and Anatomy Society at Melbourne University in the Australian state of Victoria have held an exhibition called Under the Coverslip, which celebrates the best microscopy images created by its members.

The display addresses the notion that science is more than simply graphs and numbers, highlighting the beautiful sights that can be found by looking through a microscope.

This year’s event runs from November 9 to 15, in the gallery in the 1888 Building of the university’s Parkville campus. The opening night celebrations will run from 5pm to 8pm, complete with drinks and nibbles.

For more information, contact society president Jenny Keller on 03 2892 6896.

“Golden egg”: An adrenal gland, secreting hormones.

“Golden egg”: An adrenal gland, secreting hormones.

Horace Chan

Blog Society 23 August 2018
Early career researchers are set to be honoured in Australian awards.
Early career researchers are set to be honoured in Australian awards.
shironosov/Getty Images

Early career researchers are being encouraged to enter the Sax Institute’s highly regarded Research Action Awards, celebrating essential roles in health research. The institute, based in the Australian state of New South Wales, is a non-profit organisation that fosters action and investment in science.

Recognising individuals whose research has made a significant real-world impact on health policy, programs or service delivery within Australia and internationally, the awards will be presented on 28 November.

Last year’s winners worked in areas as diverse as alcohol-related violence and supporting people to gain driver licences, while earlier winners worked on maternal and reproductive health, vaccine safety and regulation of commercial sunbeds.

To enter, researchers have to be from one of 39 member research institutes around Australia, and have fewer than 15 years of postdoctoral experience. Winners receive a $5000 prize.

Entries close 10 September, and all the necessary details can be found here.