The explosion of humanity; meet Fiona Stanley; I Animal; and grants for Science Week

Science Communicators

This is my occasional bulletin for science communicators in Victoria.

Join Prof Fiona Stanley, Baroness Susan Greenfield, and RoboGal Marita Cheng this Monday as they chat about their lives in science with Paul Willis.

Experience the explosion of humanity on 6 December with Owen Gaffney, whose stunning data-driven animation Welcome to the Anthropocene visualises the transformation of our planet initiated by the industrial revolution. The film was viewed by 188 heads of state and ministers at the UN’s Rio+20 summit last year.

Did you ever wish, as a child, that you could explore the secrets of the Zoo after dark? Last week Sarah and I experienced I Animal – the Melbourne Zoo’s new program for adults.

They say it will “change your perceptions of what it means to be both human and animal”. Perhaps. I certainly found it a seamless convergence of nature, technology, and the arts, with some fascinating stories from behind the scenes. It would make a great group experience.

Wendy Williams and Stefanie Pearce both leave government service on 30 November.

They’ve been stalwarts in science communication in Victoria. Highlights include Wendy’s GoScience campaign to boost science retention rates in schools and her extensive surveys on public engagement. Stef’s contributions include guiding all the early communication of the Australian Synchrotron starting when it was still a student car park.

Sometime in January we’ll hold a dinner for them where we’ll have a chat about what they’ve learned about science communication, highlights from their many projects and their perspectives on the challenges for science communication in 2013 and beyond.

And congratulations to Sonya Pemberton for her Emmy for her doco on Elizabeth Blackburn.

Also in this bulletin:

Welcome to the Anthropocene – the geology of humanity and the power of data to change our worldview, public talk with Owen Gaffney

Science writer and journalist Owen Gaffney will present a stunning view of the vast scale of human influence on our planet. His unique data visualisation captures why many now argue humanity has driven our planet into a new geological era—the Anthropocene—defined by our impact on planet Earth.

The film opened the UN’s Rio+20 summit last year with an audience of 188 heads of state and ministers.

Owen will explore how global changes driven by the industrial revolution, even bigger changes driven by globalisation, and changes driven by the digital revolution are creating a globally interconnected society and what this means for the future.

Owen Gaffney is Director of Communications, International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

This is an ICT for Life Sciences Forum free public lecture. The ICT for Life Sciences Forum encourages innovation in ‘new biology’ – the convergence of the life sciences with the physical sciences, engineering and ICT.


Thursday 6 December

Drinks and canapés from 5 pm to 6 pm

Lecture from 6 pm to 7 pm


Charles Pearson Theatre

Eastern Resource Centre (ERC)

Building 171, University of Melbourne, Parkville

More information and book online at

If you can’t make it, the lecture will also be recorded and put online at

Knowledge Week: Best of the best – women in science

Susan Greenfield, University of Oxford, Fiona Stanley, Universities of Western Australia and Melbourne, and Marita Cheng, Robogals, will discuss their journeys as professional women in science and engineering with RiAus Director, Paul Willis. Each is at a different stage in their career, has overcome a range of obstacles and has had considerable success.


5.30-7pm 26 November


Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library of Victoria

328 Swanston Street, Melbourne

Bookings required at

Monash Centre for Astrophysics public lecture: The search for antimatter in the Universe

The Universe exploded into existence with equal amounts of matter and antimatter at the time of the Big Bang. But today, matter particles dominate over antimatter by 10 billion to one. Where did all the antimatter go? How would we go about searching for antimatter and where would we expect to find it? In his talk, renowned astrophysics professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn, University of Sydney, will talk about the history of antimatter, how it was discovered in the 1930s, and new ideas on how to search for it in the nearby universe.


6.30pm Thursday 29 November


Lecture theatre S3, Monash University, Clayton

This is a free public lecture, no registration necessary. More information at

The Man in the Labcoat – ASC Christmas party

The ASC Victoria Branch is joining forces with the Australasian Medical Writers Association for a fun night of festive season science communication, comedy and food.

Ben McKenzie, aka The Man in the Labcoat (actor, scientician, comedian, feminist, improviser, geek, voice-over artist, gamer, presenter and ginger) will be kicking the night off at Embiggen Books, followed by dinner at Three Degrees at QV.


Tuesday 11 December, 6:30 pm


Embiggen Books, 197-203 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

To book, please go to

For further info, contact Dyani Lewis (

Did you ever wish, as a child, that you could explore the secrets of the Zoo after dark?

I, Animal is an interactive experience – part multi-media tour, part theatrical experience, part animal encounter – that has been designed for adults only at Melbourne Zoo.

I, Animal takes you on a remarkable, and surprisingly emotive, journey through the interior of Melbourne Zoo at night.

Guided by your personal device, the “Zoë”, you will explore the Zoo at night, experiencing animal encounters, stories about the Zoo and our animals, and theatrical moments that will surprise, move and delight you.

It’s an unexpected, provocative adventure that explores our pre-conceptions about the animal kingdom and questions the boundaries between human and animal.

Produced in collaboration with The Border Project, the creators of the iPod tour at the Museum of Old and New Art (MoNA).

I, Animal is unlike anything ever offered by Zoos Victoria.

1300 966784

All Media Enquiries contact Stella Kinsella

Award announcement: The Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing

The Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing, for the best short non-fiction piece on science written for a general audience was presented by Professor Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, at UNSW last night.

The winner was Jo Chandler, Storm front (from Feeling the Heat, MUP 2011)

Runners up

  • Ashley Hay, The Aussie mozzie posse (Good Weekend)
  • Peter McAllister, The evolution of the inadequate modern male (Australasian Science)
  • Shortlisted
  • Wilson da Silva, Gateway to heaven (Cosmos Magazine)
  • Nick Miller, Licence to heal (Sunday Age)
  • Wendy Zukerman, The roach’s secret (New Scientist)

More info at

Stories of Australian Science 2012 – out now

We’ve recently released our latest Stories of Australian Science. It’s online at, where you can download the pdf or view stories online (you can filter by organisation, field of science and state).

You’ll read about uniquely Australian work: a new form of chlorophyll found at Western Australia’s Shark Bay; the immune tricks of wallabies; protecting lives and buildings from bushfires; and the role of synchrotron light in making great Australian wines.

And this year has been a good time for the physical sciences in Australia. The nation will share constructing the world’s largest radio telescope with South Africa. A precursor, the SKA Pathfinder telescope, is already booked out for the next five years. And Australia’s high energy physicists shared in the announcement of the Higgs boson in July this year

The renaissance in the physical sciences in Australia also reflects the growing convergence of the physical and life sciences.

The Australian Synchrotron, for example, has been a boon for life scientists. They’ve been queuing up for access to its powerful beams. And a dedicated life sciences supercomputer has been contributing to cancer genetics. These are just two of a series of substantial infrastructure investments that have underpinned Australian science recently.

Billions of dollars have been invested by the Federal Government over the past decade. Now those investments are bearing fruit. In these pages you’ll read how non-scientists are turning their ideas into reality thanks to a national fabrication facility; and how shared data is fast-tracking discoveries in astronomy, and giving the public access to 18 million observations of Australia’s flora and fauna.

We also present the winners of some of Australia’s leading science prizes.

If you’d like copies of the magazine, please get in touch.

Grants open: National Science Week 2013

Applications for National Science Week grants for 2013 are now open, for projects that engage people with science. So consider putting in an application for funding if you are planning an event or project during National Science Week 2013 that will:

  • draw the nation’s attention towards the sciences
  • spark interest in the sciences for those who are currently disinterested
  • help move those who are simply interested in the sciences to become engaged
  • provide an opportunity for all Australians to participate in science events and activities
  • foster partnerships between the community, research organisations and industry
  • trial new and innovative science communication activities.

Applications close 26 November.

More info here.

Australian Skeptics National Convention

The theme of the Australian Skeptics National Convention, to be held in Melbourne, is “Active Skepticism”.

Speakers include:

  • Founder of the James Randi Foundation and an influential figure in world scepticism today: James Randi
  • ‘Skeptics Guide to the Universe’ blogger and ‘Skepchick’ founder: Rebecca Watson
  • James Randi Educational Foundation leaders: DJ Grothe and Brian Thompson
  • founder and shareholder activist: Stephen Mayne
  • Choice’s Consumer Champion of the Year: Ken Harvey
  • Comedian: Lawrence Leung
  • Leading Australian sceptics including physics teacher and writer, Lynne Kelly.


Friday 30 November – Sunday 2 December.


The Spot Theatre, Economics and Commerce Building, University of Melbourne

198 Berkeley Street Carlton.

Further information on the conference and associated social events is available at the Victorian Skeptics’ website

And the Emmy goes to…

Melbourne science documentary maker Sonya Pemberton has won an Emmy for Immortal, a film about the Nobel Prize-winning work of Elizabeth Blackburn.

Immortal shows the astonishing discovery made by Elizabeth Blackburn’s team: a key to unlimited life and endless youth in cells. Deep in the DNA of a humble pond creature, Professor Blackburn co-discovered an “immortalising” enzyme — a chemical catalyst that can keep cells young forever.

But this is no simple “cure” for ageing — for the same enzyme that fuels endless youth also fuels cancer. The documentary reveals the inner workings of this biological paradox and its remarkable impact on ageing, disease and cancer.

The film was a co-production with Tony Wright’s December Media, Smithsonian Networks, SBS and National Geographic International.

It was first shown here in Australia on SBS:

Media training

We’ve wrapped up our media training courses for 2012. We’ll publish our 2013 dates shortly at If you have interested punters let me know. If there’s enough demand we’ll kick off in late January.