Science denialism; the new space race; happiness; plastic eating microbes; and female animal reproductive bits!

Exclude from Home Page, Media releases, National Science Week

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Highlights from day five of National Science Week

Researchers, experts, and other interesting people available for interview around the country.

NSW: What’s the secret to happiness? An 85-year-long scientific study has some ideas.

VIC: Should we care about science denialism?

VIC: Decolonising fire: Indigenous land stewardship in Australia and America.

TAS: Multi-chambered vaginas, elongated clitorises, pseudo-penises and more: improv and 3D-printed animal vaginas reveal the world of female reproduction.

SA: How can you trick your senses to help with pain relief?

SA: From giant birds to mega-marsupials, what makes South Australia’s fossil heritage so remarkable?

QLD: The new race to explore the solar system with Dr Brad Tucker.

NSW: Modifying microbes to eat plastic.

Read on for more on these, including direct event contact details.

Also today:
Coming up tomorrow:

Beer science; dog happiness; psychedelics; animal sounds; and the battle of the drag scientists – see a preview of Thursday’s highlights.

National Science Week 2023 runs from 12 to 22 August.

Visit to find more stories in your area.

Media centre here. Images for media here.

General Science Week media enquiries: Tanya Ha: or 0404 083 863

More about the event highlights

Unlocking the secret to happiness – Kensington, NSW

What if the secrets to unlocking a happier life were right in front of you? An 85-year-long scientific study may have cracked the code to living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Spoiler alert: the key lies in the power of our relationships.

Meet Robert Waldinger, author of this remarkable study, and Dr Stephanie Ward, expert geriatrician on ABC’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds and Teenagers.

Wednesday 16 August:

Media enquiries: UNSW Centre for Ideas –, 02 9065 0485.

Should we care about science denialism? – Online

Some say climate change isn’t happening or isn’t driven by human activities. Some worry that vaccines cause autism or are a lethal conspiracy. Only two-thirds of Americans aged 18-24 believe the Earth is round.

If distrust in scientists, governments, and mainstream media is growing, what should we do?

Ask experts in science, psychology and science communication from the University of Melbourne:

  • Prof Moira O’Bryan (Host) – Dean, Faculty of Science
  • Dr Graham Phillips (Moderator) – Lecturer Science Communications
  • Prof Margie Danchin – Director Of Clinician-Scientist Pathways, Melbourne Medical School
  • Professor Fiona Fidler – Professor Historical and Philosophical Studies
  • Dr Jennifer Beckett – Lecturer Media/Marketing Comms, Culture and Communication
  • Dr Andrew King – Lecturer In Climate Science.

Wednesday 16 August:

Media enquiries: Vanessa Williams, or 0422 261 937.

Decolonising fire: Indigenous land stewardship and climate futurity – Online

What can Australia learn from American Indigenous fire practitioners and cultural bearers who are working to reclaim cultural practices in Northern California and the Midwest area of the United States?

Climate change has been identified as a key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires in the Western United States. Wildfire in California can be traced to roots of colonialism through the establishment and persistence of “no burn” policies. Agencies have recognised the detrimental effects of fire suppression on ecosystems, and scholars have emphasised the need for climate adaptation partnerships with Indigenous communities. However, we are asking the same agencies that created the problem to be responsible for the solution.

This talk will centralise the significance of working with Indigenous fire practitioners and cultural bearers to reclaim cultural practices in Northern California, and now in the Midwest area of the United States. These demonstrations edify decolonial approaches to fire practices, land care, and Indigenous ecological intelligence towards our collective climate futurity.

Wednesday 16 August:

Media enquiries: Vanessa Williams, or 0422 261 937.

How can you trick your senses to help with pain relief? – Modbury, SA

Meet A/Prof Tasha Stanton from The University of South Australia. Tasha is a clinical pain neuroscientist, trained as a physiotherapist, who researches ways to develop new brain-based treatments for pain.

Tasha explains how pain and the brain are connected, and how our senses can be tricked to changing the way we feel pain.

Wednesday 16 August:

Media enquiries: Candy Gibson, or 434 605 142.

Improv and 3D-printed animal vaginas reveal the world of female reproduction – Hobart, TAS

Think the vagina is a simple tube? Think again.

Science communicator Tiana Pirtle explains the unexpected female reproductive strategies with a series of interactive improv skits and an exhibit of 3D-printed animal vaginas.

Learn about multi-chambered vaginas and temporary passages, elongated clitorises, pseudo-penises, vaginas that can sort sperm, and armoured vaginal openings.

From Aristotle through Darwin and still today, the stereotypes of the male as the active player in sex and the female as the passive recipient of sperm have guided biological and evolutionary research. It’s time to look at the science and re-write these stories.

Wednesday 16 August:

Media enquiries: Tiana Pirtle,

Palaeo Jam: what makes South Australia’s fossil heritage so remarkable? – Flinders University, SA

Join Palaeo Jam podcast host Michael Mills for a deep dive with experts into two prehistoric topics:

Why the South Australian palaeontology story matters not just to South Australians, but to the prehistoric story of the planet. Featuring:

  • PhD candidate studying large, extinct birds, Phoebe McInerney of Flinders University
  • an expert in the animals that ~540 million years ago during the so-called Cambrian “explosion”, Associate Professor Diego Garcia-Bellido Capdevila of the University of Adelaide
  • PhD student studying the Ediacaran fossils from Flinders Ranges, Tory Botha of the University of Adelaide.

VAMP – the Virtual Australian Museum of Palaeontology. Featuring Flinders University researchers:

  • an evolutionary biologist and palaeontologist interested in early vertebrates, Dr Alice Clement
  • a paleontologist studying the fossils of skeletons, footprints and plants, Dr Aaron Camens
  • PhD candidate studying the largest marsupial family to ever exist, the Diprotodontidae, Jacob van Zoelen.

Wednesday 16 August:

Media enquiries: Michael Mills, or 0411 287 381.

The new race to explore the solar system – Gold Coast, QLD

Is a human colony on Mars possible in your lifetime? Why haven’t we returned to the Moon?

Find out from Dr Brad Tucker and learn about the innovative technologies of the new space race, the search for the mysterious Planet 9, new ultraviolet telescope technologies, and more.

Brad has a bachelor’s degrees in physics, philosophy and theology. He also holds a PhD in astrophysics and cosmology. He works at the research school of astronomy and astrophysics at the Mt. Stromlo Observatory where he gives talks and educates the public.

Wednesday 16 August.

Media enquiries: Brad Tucker, or 0433 950 777.

Meet the super microbes who could save us from plastic – Sydney, Orange & Newcastle

We’ve used microbes to create bread, wine and cheese for thousands of years.

Now, scientists can modify microbes in tiny cellular ‘factories’ to replace many of the products currently produced by fossil fuels. And they give microbes ‘superpowers’ to gobble up plastic.

Hear from the synthetic biologists who have created the card game ‘Remediate!’, where players give microbe characters the right genes to remove the most plastic from different environments.

Orange: Wednesday 16 August:

Sydney: Friday 18 August:

Newcastle: Sunday 20 August:

Media enquiries: Mary O’Malley, or 0438 881 124.