– Assoc Prof Maryanne Large speaking at the Big Science Communication Summit
Winter is slowly turning into spring, but science engagement is running hot, fired by the events of National Science Week. Many science communicators are also benefiting from the contacts made and lessons learnt at the Big Science Communication Summit, held earlier in the year.
In case you missed the Summit, some of the common themes raised were the need to give Australian society scientific tools it can use, the benefits of pooling our knowledge and resources, and the value of collaboration between scientific organisations.
The Summit also saw the launch of the Science Sector Group, and it gave communicators and the Inspiring Australia community a chance to share their stories and learn from each other’s experiences.
You can read more on both these themes in this newsletter, or watch ScienceRewired’s Summit highlights video.
Don’t forget that you can continue sharing success and collaboration any time at our website, inspiringaustralia.net.au.
And of course, if you have an event you’d like to see included, please submit through the website or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this bulletin:
- Leading science peak bodies to form a unified voice
- Redmap: fishes-out-of-water tell climate change stories
- Join the Desert Fireball Network
- Fossils in the Flinders unearthing tourism potential
- Getting crafty with science communication
- Best of the Bytes
- Major science events
- Awards & prizes
Introducing the Science Sector Group
A new collaboration will harvest the passion of leading non-government science organisations, providing a united voice on key scientific issues facing Australia.
The Science Sector Group – whose members include the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Science Media Centre, Science & Technology Australia and RiAus – will conduct joint public education campaigns for emerging scientific issues that have the potential to become controversial.
“Essentially, we’re working together across the sector on science-related issues that are important both to the nation and the sector,” says Kylie Walker, director communications and outreach at the Australian of Academy Science.
“Every time we get together at conferences and events, we say ‘we should work together’. The Science Sector Group formalises this idea,” says Kylie. “We will be giving it a red hot go.”
The Group will join forces, using their diverse approaches and networks, to clearly communicate the scientific understanding and evidence around a particular issue to enable better decision-making in society and in politics. The group will choose a topical issue that could benefit from this approach, such as vaccination, nanotechnology, genetic modification and climate change.
“To some degree, we’re informed by what hasn’t happened,” says Kylie. “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.”
“Climate change deniers have had a coordinated approach. We know that.”
Will Grant, vice president of Australian Science Communicators, highlights the need for the science sector to have a similarly coordinated approach.
“There’s a powerful multiplier effect by having these organisations working together, rather than competing for viewers or attention,” says Will. “You can have more of an impact.”
Will says there is also a need for greater two-way communication between the science sector and broader society.
“When public concerns arise, we need to ask what actually is their problem? What do we need to help them with?”
The Group will choose an issue to address within the next 12 months, providing a test case that will inform their longer term plans.
Kylie says the Group complements the Inspiring Australia strategy’s aim to deliver a more scientifically engaged Australia. “It’s important that Inspiring Australia has been involved. They’ve facilitated our gatherings.”
“There’s so much passion in this sector. Why not harvest that passion and multiply the effect?”
The Group was launched with seven founding member organisations at the recent Big Science Communication Summit in Sydney. Members include organisations that represent the vast majority of Australia’s working scientists or those involved in science communication. The seven members are:
- Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)
- Australian Academy of Science (AAS)
- Australian Science Communicators (ASC)
- Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC)
- Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS)
- Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)
- Science & Technology Australia (STA)
Citizen science project maps changing marine environment
A marine species mapping project using photographs taken by citizen scientists is generating its own headlines, with each sighting telling a new, rich and interesting story. This Tasmanian-based project was recently launched nationally from Townsville, Queensland.
“One of the things I love about Redmap is that each time we report a sighting we are reinforcing the same message that the climate is changing, but with a new and visually interesting story to tell,” says Gretta Pecl, Redmap founder and senior research fellow at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.
The Range Extension Database and Mapping or ‘Redmap‘ project uses photographs submitted by members of the public - typically divers and commercial or recreational fishers – and verified by marine biologists. These photographs and their locations identify a ‘sighting’ of a species. They are mapped by the Redmap team and communicate the changing distributions of marine species as the oceans warm. The project has become a powerful climate change communication tool.
“The public don’t get scientists’ climate change modelling. But Redmap’s photographs make climate information more acceptable and accessible. People understand the simple idea that fish that prefer warmer waters might move farther south if the oceans are warming,” says Gretta.
While abstract concepts of climate change and ocean warming may not resonate with broader audiences, things like sightings of whale sharks as far south as Perth capture public attention and interest.
Gretta says the involvement of citizen scientists enables the project to cover a huge area without the cost and difficulty of putting dozens of researchers to field. This provides an early indication of the species distributions that may be changing, helping to identify and prioritise research projects.
The inspiration for Redmap came from a research project into the climate change risk perceptions of rock lobster fishers in Tasmania. Nearly 80 per cent of the fishers didn’t think climate change was an issue or relevant to them, yet every single one of them had observed changes to the marine environment in recent decades. Most of those were consistent with climate change predictions.
“The fishers had seen the changes but weren’t associating them with climate change,” says Gretta. “With Redmap, I wanted to provide a more structured way of recording observations and reflect them back to them. They’re more accepting of the science partly because they’ve been personally involved in it.”
Redmap has produced a report card for Tasmania on changes to the distributions of marine species observed – important information for fishers, fisheries and ecologists alike.
An Inspiring Australia grant is helping Gretta and her team roll out Redmap nationally, supporting events and tailored materials for locations around the country. The program will shortly release a series of videos and an iPhone app.
Outback citizen scientists to support an international astronomy collaboration
Want some help scanning the skies over outback Australia for shooting stars? Crowdsource it! And while you’re at it, educate the crowd. That’s the bright idea behind Curtin University’s Fireballs in the Sky project.
This project will include ordinary people in the research process, improving their scientific literacy and especially their understanding of planetary research.
The long-term aim of the project is to bring citizen scientists, particularly in remote locations in Western and South Australia, into the Desert Fireball Network – an international scientific collaboration that uses a network of cameras in outback Australia to photograph the fall of meteorites, greatly increasing the chances of finding and recovering them for further investigation.
Meteorites generate a fireball as they fall through Earth’s atmosphere. By making networked observations of the fireball, scientists are able to triangulate its trajectory. This can help them determine both where it lands and where it came from in the solar system.
“This is not something we’re doing just for the sake of engagement,” says Gemma Mullaney, Geoscience Outreach Officer at Curtin University.
“It’s about giving the public access to something not normally accessible – the workings of a real, legitimate research project.”
The foundation stage of the project is well underway, with a website up and running and a smartphone application close to completion. The app will help citizen scientists log observation times and GPS locations.
In 2014, the website will allow the public to participate by inputting their own data for the meteorites they observe. People will also be able to see images from the network’s cameras and read results and blogs from the field, seeing the research project as it happens, contributing to it, and experiencing the highs (and the occasional lows) that are part and parcel of scientific endeavour. They may even be involved in meteorite retrieval.
In the meantime, Gemma and her colleagues are engaging with the community by participating in existing events and festivals, such as Curtin University’s annual Astrofest.
“We’ve been able to take advantage of events that are already happening and learn from them,” says Gemma. “In the next stage, we’ll start making our own!”
Visit the Fireballs in the Sky website.
How training ten locals will take science to thousands
The ‘Hidden National Treasure’ project is turning Flinders locals into science communicators and working with them to develop Ediacara fossil tourism ‘experiences’.
Fossils from the Ediacaran Period have lain hidden like buried treasure for 550 million years under the ancient sea floors of outback Flinders Ranges.
This project has trained ten locals in palaeontology and communication, allowing science engagement to infiltrate into local tourism activities.
Project manager Damia Ettakadoumi of Straight Up Science says the project capitalises on the passion and enthusiasm the people who live in the region have for the fossils. It also takes advantage of the fact that many already offer guided tours of their properties, nearby gorges and geological formations.
“Embedding science stories in other experiences is another way of getting science out into the community,” says Damia. “The locals were looking for this opportunity. They have both the passion and the means to pass it on. By teaching these few, we can potentially reach thousands of tourists.”
The beauty of the project is its ability to reach ‘beyond the converted’. Breath-taking scenery, wildlife, bushwalking tracks and the landscape paintings of Hans Heysen attract a wide range of visitors to the region – people who might not otherwise engage with science.
“The people living up there running cattle stations and tour operations are not geologists, botanists or palaeontologists, but they’re very hungry for information about these topics and Indigenous knowledge because they love it! They want to talk about it!”
Ten locals have received Certificate III training and an intensive course in Ediacara palaeontology and geology. They can now confidently explain the Ediacara story to tourists.
Damia and her colleagues are now working with the Flinders locals on the next stage of the project: developing tourism experiences and resources, such as formalised fossil tour routes, brochures and tourism apps. They will also develop an Ediacara brand to help promote Flinders fossil finding adventures internationally.
The Flinders Ranges is one of 16 regions chosen for the Australia’s National Landscapes program, a tourism development and conservation partnership managed by Tourism Australia and Parks Australia. Other regions include the Australian Alps, the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo-Shark Bay.
The Hidden National Treasure project injects science education into this tourism development, with outcomes that will be great for both public education and the local economy.
Meet Victoria’s Inspiring Australia officer Carly Siebentritt
Making videos, getting involved with Melbourne’s festivals and getting crafty with CWA ladies is all in a day’s work for science communicator Carly Siebentritt.
Carly is one of eight state and territory Inspiring Australia Officers who support science communication and engagement projects, help them gain publicity and enable local collaboration.
What was your first job?
“Swim teaching – I swam competitively at school for many years so becoming a swim teacher appealed far more than any other part time job! Several years later that experience with children and teaching paid off when I applied for a job as Education Officer at CSIRO Education.”
What inspires you?
“Seeing the light switch on in people’s eyes as you find the science fact, idea or story that they can relate to. And applause following a presentation. And my boss. And children telling me they’re going to be scientists. And the stick-insects in our green room. And the buzz of a successfully completed event or activity that you know went well.”
Are there local success stories that stand out?
Faraday’s Candle – a theatre performance that has been held at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne’s CBD. Check out the trailer.
Ravelling the World, an amazing science-craft exhibition we worked on with the Country Women’s Association that travelled to many parts of regional Victoria. Some of the detailed works were just amazing! The video of the exhibition was produced recently.
It’s OK to be Mum, a chance for researchers to talk directly to new and expecting mothers about maternal mental health, baby sleep patterns and other relevant issues. Hearing about the two-way information exchange was gratifying! There’s a short video for this one too.
What is the best thing about your job?
“The variety of activities and events I get to oversee, and the skills I pick up along the way. Through Inspiring Australia I’ve been involved with the Melbourne Fringe Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I’ve walked on the Parkes Radio Telescope, I now have experience with art gallery hanging systems, I’ve made Suga Shop rock lollies, I’ve met people all over Australia who are passionate about science, and I’ve had friends who consider themselves ‘Arts-types’ enjoy National Science Week events that I’ve project managed.”
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
“Balancing the desires of organisations and governments, finding enough space on promotional materials for multiple logos (none of which can go on any textured backgrounds) and attracting non-science seeking audiences to science events! Plus, finding enough funding to do everything, but I guess that one doesn’t just apply to my work.”
If you could give science communicators one piece of advice, what would it be?
“Take risks, try different things, don’t rely on written surveys as the only evaluation tool that ever existed and embed science in other cultural events and experiences. Don’t talk down to people and never make up an answer!”
Read more questions and answers with Carly at the Inspiring Australia website.
This new feature will be our regular round-up of science and science communication gems from social media and the world wide web, with a scope that ranges from important to irreverent!
LOLCats for Science!
One top tip for social media and internet communication is to ‘follow the traffic’: see what themes, stories, features are most popular or more likely to go viral. LOLcats are the kings of internet popularity – why not use their mysterious power for science? The US-based blog The Finch & Pea is doing just that with their regular Science Caturday posts. Here’s our own little effort:
Real Scientists on Twitter
Real Scientists (@realscientists) is a rotational twitter account featuring real scientists, science writers, communicators and policy makers talking about their lives and their work. Each week, a different science professional takes over the account, with past Tweeps including a biologist and science educator tweeting live from the field in Peru, a Garvan breast cancer researcher, an ABC science broadcaster and a marine scientist working on policy and labelling programs for sustainable seafood. Visit their site, follow on Twitter and consider signing up yourself or a colleague as a future ‘Real Scientist’.
For more information see realscientists.wordpress.com
Science policy at the National Press Club
On 3 July, Suzanne Cory, President of the Australian Academy of Science gave a National Press Club address titled ‘D/evolving Australia’.
In her presentation, she addressed significant Australian policy challenges from a scientific perspective: food and water security, natural heritage degradation, skills shortages undermining our productive industries and capacities, our children being overtaken in the smart stakes by other nations and a loss of international engagement.
What are the consequences of current trends? And how might we act to give future Australia the best possible chance to thrive?
3 September [ACT & livestream] – Australian Science Global Impact Public Lecture Series: Dr Steve Rintoul
Dr Steve Rintoul is internationally recognised as a leading authority on the circulation of the Southern Ocean and how it affects global climate systems. He has contributed to the design of a multi-national Southern Ocean Observing System, information from which has worldwide implications. Event chaired by Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt.
When: 6pm-7.30pm (refreshments from 5.30pm)
Where: Shine Dome, Gordon St, Canberra
This lecture will also be livestreamed
12-22 September [NSW] – Ultimo Science Festival
A joint initiative of the Powerhouse Museum, Australian Broadcasting Centre, Ultimo TAFE and University of Technology, Sydney, transforming the Ultimo precinct into a nucleus of science activities, talks and exhibitions.
4 September [National; NSW event] – Eureka Prizes: Award ceremony
Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research & innovation, leadership & commercialisation, school science and science journalism & communication. Follow the awards on Twitter via @eurekaprizes and #Eureka13.
6 September [WA] – Western Australian Science Awards: Applications close
The WA Science Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of the State’s science community and highlight the important role of science in Western Australia. Award categories include Scientist of the Year, Early Career Scientist of the Year, Student Scientist of the Year, Science Ambassador of the Year and Science Engagement initiative of the Year.
15 September [NSW] – NSW Science and Engineering Awards: Applications close
The Awards recognise and reward the state’s leading researchers in science and engineering for cutting-edge work that generates economic, health, environmental or technological benefits for New South Wales. Categories include:
- Excellence in mathematics, earth sciences, chemistry and physics
- Excellence in biological sciences (Ecology, environmental, agricultural and organismal)
- Excellence in biological sciences (Cell and molecular, medical, veterinary and genetics)
- Excellence in engineering and information and communications technologies
- Emerging research
- Renewable energy innovation
- Innovation in public sector sciences and engineering
- Innovation in science and mathematics education
9 October [National; VIC event] – Banksia Awards: Award ceremony
Relevant award categories include Land and Biodiversity, Water, education, Built Environment, Indigenous Award, Agriculture and Food, and Innovation.
The 2013 program also includes Technical Awards, with categories including Climate Adaptation, Energy Efficiency and Carbon Management, Soil Remediation and Improvement, and Waste Minimisation. The awards will be presented at a gala dinner in Melbourne.
30 October [National; ACT event] – Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science: Award ceremony
The Prime Minister’s Prize for Science is Australia’s pre-eminent award for excellence in science. The prize is a tribute to the contributions that Australian scientists have made to Australia’s and the world’s economic and social wellbeing, and is awarded for an outstanding specific achievement in any area of science advancing human welfare or benefiting society.
The prizes for teaching celebrate commitment and dedication to effective and creative science teaching. Separate prizes are awarded for primary and secondary level teachers.