Blog Physics 17 October 2018
Brian Cox, heading to a venue near you in 2019.

Brian Cox, heading to a venue near you in 2019.

Nicky J Sims/Getty Images for Phil McIntyre Entertainment

Acclaimed English physicist, television presenter and author Brian Cox is heading across the UK, North America, and Asia Pacific region doing a series of shows throughout the first half of 2019.

Dubbed the Universal World Tour, the event will reach major cities in Australia and New Zealand in June. Tickets go on sale on Monday, October 22, at 9 am.

Cox will take his audience on a journey through the cosmos using futuristic imagery gleaned from radio telescopes and space probes. He will discuss the origin and evolution of the universe and of intelligent life.

The show includes never-before-seen images acquired by the Hubble Space telescope, and a journey through a black hole created in collaboration with Academy-award winning visual effects company Double Negative.

Each event will also feature question and answer sessions to allow attendees to clarify their cosmos-related curiosities. Sessions will be co-hosted by award-winning comedian Robin Ince, Cox’s co-host on the long-running BBC radio program The Infinite Monkey Cage.

Cox is professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester, in England. He is renowned for his entertaining and informative programs on the BBC, including the award-winning series Wonders of The Solar System, and for his best-selling books including Human Universe (2014) and Forces of Nature (2016).

He has been lauded for his contributions to the field of physics and science communication and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2016. To find out more about his 2019 tour, click here.

Blog Geoscience 16 October 2018
Queensland divers are rallying for the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland divers are rallying for the Great Barrier Reef.

Westend61/Getty Images

Divers at the University of Queensland in Australia will spend 24 hours under water in an effort to raise money and awareness for coral reefs.

The event, called For the Love of the Reef, is part of the not-for-profit Reef Citizen Science Alliance’s month-long campaign to educate the community and take action to support coral reef sustainability efforts.

A total of 48 divers from the university’s underwater club, UniDive, will take turns diving in pairs at the UQ Sport Aquatic Centre beginning at 9am on Saturday, October 20.

While underwater they will practice the surveying skills which they might use if diving around actual coral reefs. The team, lead by senior research fellow Chris Roelfsema, will coordinate events throughout the day to raise money and awareness about the reef.

According to Roelfsema, “25% of marine creatures originated from, or are depending on, coral reefs, but coral reefs only cover one percent of the ocean floor.

“These regions have the highest biodiversity in the oceans - similar to rainforests on land - and also protect us from weather events.”

He notes the difficulty in raising awareness about coral reefs, saying “a lot of people simply don’t know these facts, and how can you love and protect something if you don’t know enough about it? We are hoping that this event can play its part in changing that”.

The event includes a barbecue and prize raffle, and visitors can participate in activities such as a virtual reef exploration, an underwater rugby demonstration, reef art activities, and a nighttime screening of Lin Sutherland’s film, Beauty and the Reef.

Funds raised will be donated to environmental groups CoralWatch, Reef Check Australia, and Virtual Reef Diver.

The diving marathon is billed as ‘fun for all ages’. Registration details and a full program for the day’s events can be found here.

Blog Technology 12 October 2018
Light Up, a design for an energy efficient adaptation of the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, by NH Architecture.

Light Up, a design for an energy efficient adaptation of the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, by NH Architecture. 


Is this the aesthetic face of our energy future?

The sparkling canopy draped along the beach from the roof of the Palais Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, won local firm NH Architecture first prize in the Australian leg of this year’s Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI).

Called Light Up, the design incorporates solar, wind, tensional energy and microbial fuel cell technologies that could generate 2220 megawatt-hours per year, enough to power 500 homes. Old car batteries repurposed as handrails along the paths could store energy for 24/7 access.

Second prize went to Night and Day, by Olson Kundig from Seattle in the US. The pedestrian bridge linking the esplanade to the sea in the beachside suburb of St Kilda combines solar energy with a hydro battery to generate 1000 MWh per year.

The inner-workings of the system are on show as the solar sail and water vessel, suspended above the walkway, pumps and releases water to create electricity.

The US-based LAGI provides a platform for artists, architects and other creatives to work with engineers and scientists to propose innovative and aesthetic ways to create sustainable energy infrastructure that is also public art.

The competition is held in cities around the world every two years. The 2018 Australian competition, which is sponsored by the government of the state of Victoria, attracted hundreds of entries.

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.