Inspiring Australia’s 2014: science hubs, pubs, apps and more

Bulletins, Inspiring Australia
Inspiring Australia’s 2014: science hubs, pubs, apps and more post image

Another year is nearly over, but science engagement carries on—and so does Inspiring Australia.

Now in its fourth year, the Inspiring Australia strategy unifies state and national efforts in science communication. It’s giving individuals the chance to be part of citizen science initiatives; getting scientists and organisations to think about, and develop, improved ways of communicating science; creating role models and heroes through the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science; and much more.

We look at some great science communication achievements, such as the highlights of National Science Week 2014 in New South Wales, a mobile app that gives evidence-based immunisation information, and the KindaThinky events, in which the science communication discussion website No Funny Business went off-line and off-script to a sell-out crowd.

We also look back on previous Inspiring Australia–supported activities run by the CRC for Mental Health, which has used both science and art to raise awareness of the experience and treatment of schizophrenia and dementia; at research that is mapping Australia’s science media landscape; and more activities in the Red Centre with the Akeyulerre Healing Centre.

Inspiring Australia guru Simon France has also helped us by pointing out how these initiatives fit into the national strategy. Look out for his comments in italics at the end of each article.

Next year brings even more opportunities for science engagement with the International Year of Light 2015, which kicks off in Australia at the Sydney New Year’s Eve Fireworks. We’ll tell you more in our next bulletin, but until then you can sign up for the Year of Light newsletter and keep up with events at

Remember to keep an eye on our website ( and stay in touch on Twitter (@inspiringaus) for all the activity between newsletters.

Chris Lassig

In this newsletter:

Celebrating science in NSW

Article by Jackie Randles (Inspiring Australia Manager, NSW)

This year’s National Science Week campaign presented more science engagement events than ever, with activities, talks, exhibitions and shows on offer around the country and online to cater for every age group and every taste.

Over 1600 events ran nationally and more than 320 in New South Wales alone. National Science Week’s seventeenth annual campaign has again delighted, surprised and entertained Australians from all walks of life.

In New South Wales, the growing network of Regional Science Hubs united more than 190 businesses, government organisations, schools, researchers, universities and community groups to work together and deliver local outreach initiatives in their regions. Supported by $75,000 from the NSW Government and Inspiring Australia, many new science engagement experiences were presented by Hubs, including through major festivals in Dubbo, on the Sapphire Coast, in the Northern Rivers and in the Hunter.

Among regional highlights were:

  • Bioblitzes and nature walks that identified and mapped marine life, flora and fauna on the Sapphire Coast
  • science/art exhibitions in regional galleries in New England and Sutherland Shire, including a project to discover the world of ants (described in Around the web below) and the hugely popular Neural Knitworks craft project to raise awareness of mind and brain health through the creation of a textile brain at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery
  • poster presentations, on-campus workshops and science awards in the Riverina
  • science fairs and sustainability expos in Lismore, Dubbo and at schools in north-western New South Wales.

Members of the Regional Science Hubs recently gathered in Sydney for a Leadership Forum, to consider how they could learn from each other and build local communities to create effective and lasting community engagement with science.  Out of these conversations will eventually come the creation of a shared vision to meet the immense potential of the Science Hub network.

Read more at the NSW Inspiring Australia site (University of Sydney).

The national Neural Knitworks project was a hit, with thousands of participants contributing hand crafted neurons. Representatives from just some of the many project partners – ANSTO, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, Inspiring Australia (NSW), UNSW and Sutherland Shire Council – gather in the giant brain at the Hazelhurst Gallery launch.

Inspiring Australia: developing platforms and infrastructure for science engagement in Australia – National Science Week leading to year-round engagement and then multiplied through our regional hub structure being developed across the country.

Immunisation science gets a boost

Science Sector Group backs mobile app

Australia has an enviable vaccination rate, with over 92 per cent of two-year-olds fully immunised—above the World Health Organisation target of 90 per cent. However, opposition to vaccines is causing rates to fall in some areas, risking the return of serious infectious diseases like measles or whooping cough. In an effort to forestall this danger, the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) has released a booklet and app to help inform parents.

“Our goal is to increase understanding about immunisation,” says Suzanne Cory, president of the AAS.

The app aligns with the goals of the Science Sector Group, a collaboration of Australia’s peak non-government science organisations, including the Academy, which formed in June 2013 to choreograph public communication around scientific issues that may become controversial.

“To some degree, we’re informed by what hasn’t happened,” says Kylie Walker, director of communications and outreach at the AAS. “Take climate change communication and imagine if we had had a coordinated approach across the sector 15 years ago. The discourse might be completely different.”

With a philosophy of building many small activities into a cohesive whole, the group’s members organised public lectures, shared the app through their networks and advised scientists and communicators how to discuss immunisation.

The Academy’s app can be downloaded for free from Google Play or the iTunes App Store.

Australian immunologist Sir Gus Nossal, Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton and AAS president Suzanne Cory at the launch of the immunisation app in December 2013 (Credit: Australian Academy of Science)

Inspiring Australia: supporting leadership and coordination for science engagement in Australia – the SSG and the state and territory leadership groups have met within the last three months.

SCOM BOMB goes 3D in the ACT in a KindaThinky way

From the people who brought you No Funny Business

Judging by the sell-out popularity of an irreverent, theme-driven talk show held this year in a Canberra pub, there’s no shortage of people who yearn to kinda think about society’s hairiest issues. Especially when it involves beer.

KindaThinky stars Dr Rod Lamberts and Dr Will Grant, who’ve thrown down the shackles of their successful online discussion series SCOM BOMB.

With the help of expert guests, including a philosopher, a priest and a free-diving world champion – who all walked into a bar – Rod and Will’s three shows covered themes like who sets the limits? How do we know what’s wrong? Is denial just a river in Africa?

“Rod and Will – science’s definitive double act – remind us that serious stuff doesn’t have to be dull,” said Catriona Jackson, CEO of Science & Technology Australia.

Each event sold out well in advance, and due to this massive popularity plans are afoot for a 2015 series.

If you’re interested in finding out when the video for these events goes live and wish to be notified when the live events begin again in 2015 please subscribe at

If you’re interested in hearing about other science and science communication events, please sign up for alerts by emailing:

Inspiring Australia: working to engage young adults with live science events – one of four recently supported pilot events.

Getting a picture of the Australian science media landscape

Article by Joan Leach, via Australian Science Communicators

The Inspiring Australia Strategy put aside some funding for some research into science communication and science engagement in Australia.

One project has tried to characterise the Australian science media landscape. Who are the dominant players? What are the key issues? How does Australia look in comparison to other countries?

Some of our research is driven by assumptions (dare we say hypotheses) about how much science content is shared on various media platforms. What about social media?

In some suggestive analysis of a month-long data capture of Australian tweets, we found some interesting things best illustrated by the figure below. The picture below is a ‘Theme River’ and it gives us a lovely picture of some named entities who are prominent on twitter in Australia. It makes a lovely little graph to muse on.

The Twitter data was collected in a collaboration of The University of Queensland and the Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS). The fabulous software (Discursis) we used to make the graph was provided by Dr Dan Angus.

More information about the methods, software and research is available from Joan Leach

We will be publishing a full analysis and discussion, but the prominent players are interesting for the diversity of what they do in the science communication space and how much ‘breakthrough’ they are getting on a noisy channel. Happy glancing.

Discursis Theme River showing prominence of various named entities in the Twitter corpus in time (organised into bins of temporally ordered 2500 tweets).

Inspiring Australia: supporting and coordinating research into science communication – check out the IA toolkit for further outcomes.

Bringing understanding to mind

Art and science working together for mental health

Over two years on, and science engagement events on mental health are still generating discussion and raising awareness on this important issue.

These events, run successfully by the Cooperative Research Centre for Mental Health, communicated the scientific progress being made in this field, as well as how science and even art can help us get to grips with it.

“Not just one thing: art, science and schizophrenia” was the title of two discussion events in October 2012, held as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival in conjunction with the Dax Centre, which holds an extensive collection of artworks by people who’ve experienced mental illness or psychological trauma.

The title “Not just one thing” articulated the growing understanding that schizophrenia is more than just one simple disease, and that it can have many causes. The four speakers at the event discussed how these insights translate to clinic treatment, but also how art can help us understand the lived experience of schizophrenia.

This was followed up in National Science Week 2013 with “Science & Dementia”, hosted by the ABC Science Show’s Robyn Williams. This event looked at the lived experience, as well as current science and treatment. Post-event evaluation indicated that the event helped to improve the audience’s understanding of the science and evidence-based options for themselves or their loved ones.

“We’re still getting feedback on the schizophrenia discussion, two years on from the event,” said Melanie Carew, communication and education manager at the CRC for Mental Health. “And we’ve since been invited to hold similar sessions on dementia in aged-care facilities, which have been really well received.”

You can find links to a videos and podcasts of these events at

Inspiring Australia: Creating sustainable demand and product for science engagement – over half of the initially funded projects are now continuing beyond government funding.

Around the web

Recently featured on ABC Rural, the Akeyulerre Healing Centre and the Arid Zone Research Institute are turning bush medicines into products. The Alice Springs–based project, which received an Unlocking Australia’s Potential grant in 2012, is hoping to start a sustainable industry based on traditional knowledge.

Listen to the story online at:

Inspiring Australia: exploring the most strategic direction for indigenous science engagement– one of the four most recent expert working groups developing outcomes for better science engagement.

Little Things that Run the World - North Western Regional Science Hub

One of the many citizen science projects in National Science Week 2014 was “Little things that run the world”. Run by the North Western Science Hub, based at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, this involved the community helping to research and collect local ants. “Ants are everywhere, and anyone in Australia will have had their own unique experience with ants,” said Project Manager, Dr Kirsti Abbott. “But how much do we really know about these charismatic invertebrates? And how much can they tell us about our environment, and ourselves?”

Watch a video about the project at:

Awards & prizes

16 January 2015: David Syme Research Prize nominations close

Awarded for the best original Australian research in biology, physics, chemistry or geology.

20 February 2015: Unsung Hero of Science Communication nominations close

Offered by the Australian Science Communicators to someone who has not yet received significant recognition.