Lunch with young creative scientists tomorrow; gravity waves and yo-yos; is your city walkable; Obama’s energy secretary visiting

Bulletins, Media bulletins
If you’re in Sydney tomorrow join me for lunch at the Lawrence Creative Prize. Three remarkable young researchers are finalists for the $25,000 prize established by Neil Lawrence and the Centenary Institute:

  • Brisbane’s Geoff Faulkner thinks that the difference between your brain and mine can be explained by mobile DNA segments
  • Melbourne’s Lucy Palmer wants to know how our brain cells process signals – what patterns for example tell us to expect food
  • Monash’s Nico Plachta is working out how to identify a healthy embryo – in the process he identified ‘your first hug
  • All three can also talk about the excitement and challenges of a life in research.

The winner will be announced at lunch tomorrow at UBS at the Chifley Tower in Sydney. More below

Other stories


What are gravitational waves? And why do they matter? One Glasgow scientist can tell you. And she’s brought her yo-yos, whistles and ball-bearings to do it. She’s available today in Perth to chat to media about gravitational waves and women in science. Throughout November she’ll also be heading to Sydney, Wollongong, Adelaide and Brisbane. More below

This Friday:

It’s Walk to Work Day this Friday, but how easy is it for you to walk to work? How ‘walkable’ is your city? Urban research experts are asking urban planners to join the fight against obesity and the other ill effects of inactivity – they have the data, maps and tools to help make it happen. Perth and Melbourne’s north-west are the first to benefit. More below

Next month:

Talent in Canberra for physics congress from 7 December

  • How many dimensions are there? American theoretical physicist Lisa Randall thinks there’s 11. But cosmologist Lawrence Krauss would say any theory that requires 11 dimensions is too complex.
  • Steven Chu won a Nobel for trapping atoms, and as President Obama’s energy secretary advised on the transition to clean energy.

They’re just three of the many eminent physicists at the Australian Institute of Physics Congress, being held from 7-11 December in Canberra. Read more below

Gravitational waves explained in yo-yos, whistles and ball-bearing

Western Australian scientists are leading the way in the search for gravitational waves. But what are they? And what could we learn if we find them?

Visiting speaker Sheila Rowan from the University of Glasgow can explain what gravitational waves are, how we can detect them and what they can tell us about our Universe. And she explains it with yo-yos, whistles and ball-bearings on a rubber sheet.

She’s available in Perth for interview on Monday 10 November in the morning before 10.30 am AWST – she can talk about gravitational waves and women in science.

This is in advance of her public lecture on Monday evening as part of the ‘Women in Physics’ tour organised by the Australian Institute of Physics.

Then the tour heads to Sydney, Wollongong, Adelaide and Brisbane. See the Australian Institute of Physics events calendar for more information.

To speak with Sheila, please contact:

Chris Lassig, Science in Public, 0401 304 514 or

A bit more background

Professor Sheila Rowan is Director of the Institute for Gravitational Research, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow.

Gravitational waves, or ripples in the curvature of space-time, are extremely difficult to detect, but they have the potential to give us insight into some of the most violent events in the Cosmos – from black holes to the beginning of the Universe.

Sheila is giving lectures around the country about the network of sensitive detectors being built all over the world, with the first data expected to come in 2015.

These talks are part of the Australian Institute of Physics annual Women in Physics lecture series, featuring female physicists who’ve made a significant contribution to their field and are excellent public speakers.

More information on the lecture

Keeping our creative young researchers in Australia

Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize

  • Finalists from Melbourne and Brisbane
  • Winner announced 11 November 2014

The winner of the $25,000 Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize will be announced on Tuesday 11 November during a lunchtime reception at UBS in Sydney.

“It’s a small step towards recognising that the most creative medical research is usually done by researchers early in their career-at a time when it’s hardest for them to secure funding,” says Centenary Executive Director, Professor Mathew Vadas AO.

The three finalists (in alphabetical order) are:

How a piece of mobile DNA could change your mind

A/Prof Geoff Faulkner of the Mater Research Institute in Brisbane thinks the differences in the way each human brain functions could be determined by a segment of mobile DNA known as L1.

L1 has the capacity to insert itself into the genome of individual brain cells. Just how many L1 sequences are inserted and where they occur is unique to each brain cell and may determine how it operates. Showing the impact of this is the subject of Geoff’s Lawrence Creative Prize proposal. If he’s right, it could have significant consequences for our understanding of memory and of brain disorders such as schizophrenia.

Cellular decisions that affect behaviour

Dr Lucy Palmer from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne wants to know how brain cells in mammals process and integrate the information they receive from the sensory environment and how this information impacts on animal behaviour.

She has been working on the neurons in the rodent brain which receive sensory information from their hind limbs, and has shown that a lot of processing occurs in the dendrites, the long filaments of the cells where information is received. Now she wants to determine how the decisions a cell makes-to pass on information or not-affects what an animal does.

Sorting out healthy embryos

Dr Nicolas Plachta from the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and EMBL Australia at Monash University is working on developing better and simpler ways of determining the health of the embryos to be implanted in IVF. And he does so by learning more about the very early stages of embryonic life.

Nico has already developed special microscope technology which allows him to study in single living embryonic cells the movement of individual molecules. This has enabled him to determine how the cells making up the embryo differ from those which form the placenta. And he has also documented shape changes in cells which signal the health of early embryos. He now wants to continue that work looking for other molecular and cellular signs of embryo health, and studying the possibilities for medical intervention.

For interviews and more information:

Walk to Work Day: walkable neighbourhoods the first step

This Friday, thousands of Australians are stepping up to bring exercise and its health benefits into their daily lives on Diabetes Australia Walk to Work Day. Health and urban research experts are asking urban planners to join the fight against obesity and the other ill effects of inactivity-and they have the data, maps and tools to help make it happen.

“The way we design cities has a major impact on the health and wellbeing of our residents,” says public health researcher Professor Billie Giles-Corti, Director of the McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing at the University of Melbourne.

Professor Giles-Corti is leading a collaborative project for the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN), developing databases and analytical tools that make it easy for urban planners to check ‘walkability’-the extent to which a suburb is pedestrian friendly, encouraging walking as a mode of transport or for recreation.

For interviews with Professor Giles-Cortiand more information:

Physics superstars available for interview from 7-11 December

Some of the greatest and most creative minds in physics will be out here for the Australian Institute of Physics Congress in December. And they’ll be available to talk about a range of mind-bending ideas, from the multiverse to atom-trapping. Available speakers include:

Serge Haroche

French physicist and Nobel laureate Serge Haroche has trapped photons in a cavity made from superconducting mirrors. It earned him the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics, which he won with fellow atom-trapper David Wineland.

His other achievements include the observation of quantum decoherence, in which an atom in a quantum superposition (à la Schrödinger’s cat), collapses into a single state, and entangling atoms and photons to perform quantum logic operations.

Steven Chu

Steven Chu is a Nobel laureate and former US Energy Secretary for Obama. Steven’s work on using lasers to cool and trap atoms earned him the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, jointly with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips.

From 2009 to 2013 he was President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Energy, advocating for a move from fossil fuels to clean energy. He is currently Professor of Physics and Molecular & Cellular Physiology at Stanford University, where his research team studies biological systems at the single molecule level.

Lisa Randall

American theoretical physicist Lisa Randall connects fundamental particles and symmetries with cosmological phenomena like dark matter from inflation, as well as seeking experimental tests of these theories.

Her most prominent achievement is the Randall-Sudrum model, developed with Raman Sudrum, in which our universe is embedded in a five-dimensional warped space-time.

Lisa regularly appears on radio and TV, and two of her books have made the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of the Year. And in keeping with the Congress theme of ‘The Art of Physics’, she has written a libretto for an opera and curated art exhibits.

In 2007, Lisa was named one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine.

Lawrence Krauss 

US cosmologist Lawrence Krauss is a prolific author of popular science books and articles, as well as scientific publications. He’s formulated a model in which the universe could have potentially come from ‘nothing’, and was one of the first physicists to suggest that most of the mass and energy of the universe resides in empty space, otherwise known as ‘dark energy’.

For more information and to get in touch with the speakers, contact:

Or visit the AIP Congress website


SiPScience in Public

We’re always happy to help put you in contact with scientists. Our work is funded by the science world – from the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes to Nature. We’re keen to suggest interesting people and stories – and not just those of our clients’.

If you’re looking for ideas or people for features we know hundreds of science prize winners past, present, and future and are always happy to chew the fat about the developing themes in Australian science.

Feel free to pass these stories along to colleagues. And between bulletins, you can follow me on Twitter (@scienceinpublic) for more science news and story tips.

Kind regards,




Niall Byrne


Creative Director

Science in Public

82 Hudsons Road, Spotswood VIC 3015

PO Box 2076 Spotswood VIC 3015

03 9398 1416, 0417 131 977

Full contact details at