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The Royal Society of New South Wales

The Society is the oldest learned society in the Southern Hemisphere, tracing its origin to the Philosophical Society of Australasia, founded in Sydney in 1821.

Our purpose is to advance knowledge through "... the encouragement of studies and investigations in Science Art Literature and Philosophy".

Membership of the Royal Society of New South Wales is open to anyone interested in Science, Art, Literature or Philosophy and their relationships. For more information, go to About us, visit our Membership Page or download our Brochure.


Forthcoming events

Wednesday 3 August 2016

1245th OGM and public lecture

Dr Barbara Briggs

Honorary Research Associate, Royal Botanic Gardens

"Celebrating the 200th birthday of Royal Botanic Gardens: a personal history of 57 years of science"

The Royal Society of New South Wales and the Royal Botanic Gardens are two of the oldest institutions of science in Australia and each is celebrating a significant anniversary this year. The Society is nearly 200 years old  (Royal assent being granted 150 years ago this year) and  this year, the Royal Botanic Gardens turns 200. In this talk we look at the founding of the Gardens and the early challenges it faced. We also celebrate the many achievements and contributions the Gardens have made to science and the life of Sydney. We do so through the eyes of Dr Barbara Briggs the Garden's longest serving female scientist.

Botany featured early in the young settlement, notably with Joseph Banks and Botany Bay. Plants were cultivated at Farm Cove from the first settlement of Sydney but the foundation of the Garden is marked as the 'particular and auspicious day' when Mrs Macquarie's Road was completed on 13 June 1816.

While much has changed over the decades, science at the Garden still has important roles in maintaining the National Herbarium of NSW, our archive of botanical specimens, and in providing botanical information in enquiry services, publications and on-line. The role of the Garden has expanded with two satellite gardens and education programs, and it is valued for its beauty, its attractive site, its horticulture and heritage, and as green space for the city.

Barbara will talk about her life as a scientist at the Gardens. She has seen the development of DNA data that has given a far more complete and robust knowledge of evolutionary relationships than she ever expected to see. How the Gardens survived because its soil was so poor for growing plants. The 80 new plant species she has identified and others she has reclassified. The discovery of the Wollemi Pine. How her skills in identifying a tiny leaf fragment helped solve a murder case. And what the challenges and opportunities are facing the Gardens over the next 200 years.

Dr Briggs is one of the foremost Australian botanists and comes from a distinguished family of scientists. She is the daughter of Edna Sayce, who, in 1917, became the first woman Physics graduate from The University of Sydney and her father was also a distinguished physicist. She joined the Gardens as a botanist in 1969 and rose to become its senior assistant director and head of the science program at the National Herbarium of New South Wales at the Garden until her retirement. Her special interests include plant evolution and southern hemisphere biogeography. She has published over 100 research papers and named 80 new species, as well as reclassifying others.

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club,
25 Bent St, Sydney

Time: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

Dress: Jacket and tie.

Cost: Members: $10; non-members: $20.
Dinner (two courses including wine) after the meeting: $80 per head (members) or $90 per head (non-members).
Please note that numbers for dinner following the meeting are limited and attendance must be registered by the Friday before the meeting.

Register on-line for dinner after the meeting. NOTE: registrations for dinner close on Friday 29 July.

Royal Society of New South Wales Sydney Science Festival Lunchtime Talks

The Sydney Science Festival is part of National Science Week and sees a range of events held across Sydney. The Festival aims to encourage an interest in science among the general public and young people and will provide an opportunity to highlight Sydney's scientific credentials and foster partnerships between the community, research organisations and industry. 

More details about the Sydney Science Festival may be found at: https://sydneyscience.com.au/

The University of Sydney Business School CBD Campus,
Level 17, Stockland Building,
133 Castlereagh Sttreet

Entry: Free

For Enquiries and to register for the event email royalsoc@royal.soc.org.au

Talk 1 "Complex systems and swarm intelligence"

Date: Friday 12 August 12.30 – 1.30pm

Professor Mikhail Prokopenko
University of Sydney

Find out how the extraordinary dynamic schooling behaviour of fish can teach us to design complex systems with artificial intelligence.


Talk 2: "The Royal Botanic Gardens 200th Birthday"

Date: Tuesday 16th August 12.30-1.30pm

Dr Brett Summerell
Royal Botanic Gardens

Hear stories of botanical discovery from the past 200 years of the Royal Botanic Gardens, as well as a vision for the future of science at the Gardens.


Talk 3 "Courts, criminals and chemistry: forensic Science in NSW"

Wednesday 17th August 12.30 to 1.30pm

Professor Brynn Hibbert
President of the Royal Society of NSW
Emeritus Professor, University of NSW

Drugs, murders, doped sportsmen, horses and greyhounds – come and hear what really goes on in court!


Talk 4 "Community-driven Internet of Things: the new revolution?"

Thursday 18th August 12.30-1.30pm

Professor Pascal Perez
University of Wollongong

Connected devices are everywhere but what does the Internet of Things actually mean to you, your community or your business?




Recent events

Wednesday 6 July 2016

1244th Ordinary General meeting and public lecture

"'Royal", not 'Philosophical' - W.B. Clarke's Inaugural Address to the Royal Society of NSW"

Dr Bob Young
Author of "This Wonderfully Strange Country: Rev. W. B. Clarke, Colonial Scientist"

It is 150 years old this year since the Royal Society of New South Wales is granted Royal Assent. The Inaugural Address in 1867 by Rev. William Branwhite Clarke is the key not only to understanding the origin of the Royal Society of New South Wales, but also, to a very considerable extent, its continuing role in supporting scholarly research. Clarke (1798-1878) not only announced a change in name from the Royal's forerunner, the "Philosophical Society" but launched into an attack on contemporary philosophy which he described as "a desert, whose only semblance of vegetation is a mirage". What was needed, he argued, was factual science, not metaphysical speculation. He was Vice-President of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1861 to 1878, gave important annual addresses to the Society, and published many papers in its Proceedings. The Clarke Medal, awarded by the Society each year for contributions to Geology, Zoology or Botany, was established in his honour.

Although known as "the Father of Australian Geology", for more than a decade after his arrival in Sydney in 1839, Clarke wrote numerous articles that laid the foundations of the study of meteorology and climatic change in Australia; and he played an important practical role in the development of hydrology, especially with regard to the water supply of Sydney. By mid-century he had become regarded as the foremost authority on various aspects of Australian Geography, notably in his journalistic support of the expeditions of Leichhardt and Kennedy. After 1860 he was a major player in the controversy over evolution, but his role in it was hardly that of "Darwin's bulldog" as some authors have considered him. In this talk Bob Young outlines the development of Clarke's ideas about science and the impact that they had on the understanding of "This wonderfully strange country."

Bob Young, was, before his retirement, an Associate Professor of Geoscience at the University of Wollongong. He has been member of the Geological Society of Australia and the Geographical Society of New South Wales and was Associate Editor of Australian Geographer from 1981-92. He has published 5 books and over 100 research papers on topics ranging from weathering and erosional sequences, sandstone landforms, sea level change, tsunami, and the history of landform studies.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

1243rd Ordinary General meeting and public lecture

"The curious case of the scientist in cinema: how Indiana Jones turns out to be the bad guy!"

Professor Peter Hiscock DSc FSA FRSN FAH
Tom Austen Brown Professor of Australian Archaeology, University of Sydney

Uplifting music and the seemingly inevitable triumph of an archaeologist's matinee character has led the public to think of archaeologists as heroes of the silver screen. Indiana Jones was voted the second most popular hero in cinema, and every passing year sees a series of (often B-grade) movies in which the archaeologist is the protagonist saving the day. Underneath those exciting images there is a grim truth: archaeologists are actually the bad guys of modern cinema! They are often depicted as morally ambiguous individuals seeking personal gain; they are rogue adventurers - like cowboys in a rangewar or pirates competing over spoils.

But most importantly archaeologists are portrayed as transgressive individuals who cross the boundary of socially appropriate behaviour to interfere with dangerous and still potent realms. In that way archaeologists inherit the mantle of the mad science. This inheritance is not merely a resemblance, it reflects the history of film-making in Hollywood. Peter Hiscock will dig into the history of cinema and provide a close up on the stories we are watching.

Peter Hiscock is Tom Austen Brown Professor of Australian Archaeology at the University of Sydney. He is a film addict and has lectured on archaeology in cinema across three continents. Curiously, major movie companies have attempted to stop his lectures! His most famous publication on film, which appeared in a journal specializing in the history of religion (Numen), explained why Hollywood had been taken over by cult archaeologists. His lectures are both controversial and entertaining.



Wednesday 4 May 2016

Annual Black-Tie Dinner, Distinguished Fellow's Lecture and presentation of the Society's 2015 awards

Guest of honour: The Society's Vice-Regal Patron, His Excellency General The Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Ret'd), Governor of New South Wales.

Above: Judith Wheeldon AM (Vice President), Stephen Ho, Warwick Anderson, His Excellency General Hurley, Christopher Dickman, Brynn Hibbert (President) and Peter Baume

Left: Eugenie Lumbers AM DistFRSN, Michael Burton and Brynn Hibbert


The Clarke Medal 2015 in the field of Zoology was presented to Professor Christopher Dickman, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney.

The Royal Society of NSW History and Philosophy of Science Medal 2015 was presented to Professor Warwick Anderson, ARC Laureate Fellow and Professor in the Department of History and the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney.

The Edgeworth David Medal 2015 was preseted to Professor Simon Ho, ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney.Annual general meeting.

The Hon Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC DistFRSN was presented with his distinguished fellowship certificate by the Patron.



Wednesday, 6 April 2016

1242nd Ordinary General meeting - Presidential address

Dr Donald Hector FRSN

Donald Hector was President of the Royal Society of NSW from 2012 to 2016. In an address marking the conclusion of his presidency, he considered the nature of the complex problems that face 21st-century Australia, the way in which people tend to approach these highly-complex socio-techno problems and the cognitive and cultural limitations they have in identifying solutions. In particular, he will consider the role that the Royal Society of NSW might play as it becomes re-established as a leader in the intellectual life of NSW and of the country.

Donald is a chemical engineer whose career has been in industry, 25 years of which were with Dow Corning Corporation. His early career was in process engineering, R&D, manufacturing and engineering and became managing director of its operations in Australia and New Zealand and was the executive director responsible for operations in India and the ASEAN countries. He was also the executive management board of Dow Corning Asia. Later, he was also managing director of Asia Pacific Specialty Chemicals Ltd and has had various non-executive chairmanships and directorships of both listed and unlisted companies. Prior to becoming President of the Society in 2012, he was editor of the Society's peer-reviewed journal.

The address will be published in the next edition of the Journal and Proceedings.



Wednesday 2 March 2016

1241st ordinary general meeting and public lecture

"How to win and IgNobel Prize and other adventures in communicating science"

Dr Len Fisher

This talk in a fun and interesting way was about how scientists go about their work. In 1999, Dr Len Fisher was awarded an IgNobel Prize for using physics to work out the best way to dunk a biscuit. As he explained in a subsequent article in Nature (Physics take the biscuit), his intentions were honourable - he wanted to help make science more accessible to non-scientists, and showing how a scientist might think about familiar activities and problems seemed to provide an effective avenue. This is just one of a number of approaches that science communicators have developed in recent years in their efforts to help make science more a part of our wider culture. But have any of these approaches really worked? Or does modern science communication mainly consist in preaching to the converted, as some critics are now suggesting? With the anti-science movement gaining ground in many parts of the world, and with scientific advice to politicians often being ignored for the sake of political expediency, perhaps it is time for a rethink. In this talk Len will discuss the problems that he and other science communicators face, and with the help of the audience will explore the directions that such a rethink might take.

Len Fisher specializes in the science of food, biophysics, and nano-engineering and was, for many years a senior scientist at CSIRO. He now splits his time between Australia and the UK. While he is still involved in fundamental research, he is primarily a writer, speaker and broadcaster, working to make science accessible by showing how scientists think about the problems of everyday. He has made many radio and television appearances and published feature articles, including three series for BBC Radio 4 (The Science of DIY, The Sweet Spot and Redesigning the Body), appearances on the ABC's Lateline, The Science Show and Ockham's Razor.



The Four Societies Lecture

The Four Societies Lecture is presented annually by the Royal Society of NSW, the Australian Institute of Energy, the Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia (Sydney Division) and the Australian Nuclear Association.

Topic: Energy policy

Speaker: Professor Robert Clark AO FAA DistFRSN, University of NSW.

Professor Robert Clark is the Chair of Energy Strategy and Policy at the UNSW Australia. He has a distinguished career, having headed a research group in experimental quantum physics at Oxford's Clarendon Laboratory and was the Chair of Experimental Physics at UNSW. He has been head of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology at UNSW and has been Australia's Chief Defence Scientist (CDS) and CEO of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

Professor Robert Clark presented the Four Societies Lecture 2016 on the subject of energy policy. The Four Societies Lecture is presented annually by the Royal Society of NSW, the Australian Institute of Energy, the Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia (Sydney Division) and the Australian Nuclear Association.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris in December last year was one of the most important conferences held so far on the subject of climate change. Professor Clark emphasised several important points relating to Australia's climate-change and energy policy, in particular in relation to investment in renewables and emissions targets. For example, India and China together have committed to spend US$1 trillion on solar energy development over the next decade or so. Australia has committed to emission reduction targets 5% less than 2000 levels by 2020 and 26–28% less than 2005 emission levels by 2030.

Public lecture: Wednesday 2 December 2015

1239th ordinary general meeting

Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarship presentations

"Problems and Prime Numbers"

Adrian Dudek

Adrian Dudek is working in the field of number theory with Dr Trudgian at the Australian National University. Since ancient times, the prime numbers have attracted the attention of curious mathematicians (and other characters) for one reason: it's extraordinarily difficult to answer questions regarding the primes. For instance, if you were to write down a list of the first 100 prime numbers, you would not be able to find an intelligible pattern. That being said, some recent spectacular advances in number theory mean that the prime numbers are becoming less elusive and more understandable. In this talk, I will recount some of the history of this ancient branch of mathematics, whilst describing some of my own results in this area.  

"How old are flowers? A phylogenomic investigation of the angiosperm evolutionary timescale"

Charles Forster

Charles Forster is botanist working with the RSNSW Edgeworth David medallist Simon Ho at The University of Sydney. Resolving the evolutionary timescale of flowering plants (Angiospermae) is crucial for understanding how these plants came to dominate habitats globally, and how this shaped the evolution of other organisms. In the absence of fossil data for many angiosperm lineages, molecular dating provides an important tool for estimating the evolutionary timescale of this group. Differences in sampling of taxa, genes, and fossil calibrations, along with the use of different molecular dating methods, have led to widely disparate date estimates. By analysing chloroplast genomes from 195 taxa with 37 fossil calibrations, and testing the sensitivity of our results to a range of priors and evolutionary models, I have provided the most comprehensive combination of analyses of the angiosperm evolutionary timescale so far. The results I have obtained reflect the increasingly common finding that molecular dating estimates predate the oldest fossils by a non-trivial amount of time, up to 70 million years when considering mean estimates.

"Manifestations of Dark Matter and Variation of Fundamental Constants in Atoms and Astrophysical Phenomena"

Yevgeny Stadnik

Yevgeny Stadnik works with Professor Flambaum FRSN at UNSW. Astrophysical observations indicate that 85% of the matter content in the Universe is due to dark matter, the identity and properties of which remain a mystery. Recently, our group at UNSW has proposed new, high-precision methods to directly detect dark matter using tabletop experiments in the laboratory. In my talk, I present an overview of some of our recently proposed methods and breakthrough results that have been obtained using these methods, as well as ongoing efforts with a number of experimental groups and collaborations from around the world to search for dark matter at an unprecedented level of accuracy using our proposed new methods.

Public lecture: Wednesday 2 December 2015

1238th ordinary general meeting

The Jak Kelly Award and the Society's Christmas Party

"From Quantum Devices to Quantum Machines”

James Colless

James Colless is a postgraduate student at the University of Sydney currently undertaking his PhD under the supervision of Professor David Reilly. His research focus is readout and control techniques for GaAs spin qubits. James hopes his research will influence the design and fabrication of reliable multiqubit gates. His talk explored the complexity of scaling quantum processors and discusses new techniques and hardware developed to meet these challenges. In particular new methods of readout are developed that allow the dispersive sensing of single-electrons using integrated sensors and the capability to read out multiple qubits simultaneously. A scalable control scheme is also demonstrated allowing large numbers of qubits to be manipulated with a small number of input signals.


Public Lecture - Wednesday 4 November 2015

1237th Ordinary General Meeting

"'Big history"

Professor David Christian, Macquarie University

David Christian (D.Phil. Oxford, 1974) is by training a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, but since the 1980s he has become interested in World History on very large scales. He taught at Macquarie University in Sydney from 1975 to 2000 before taking up a position at San Diego State University in 2001. In January 2009 he returned to Macquarie University. He has written on the social and material history of the 19th century Russian peasantry, in particular on aspects of diet and the role of alcohol. He has also written a text book history of modern Russia, and a synoptic history of Inner Eurasia (Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia). In 1989, he began teaching courses on 'Big History', surveying the past on the largest possible scales, including those of biology and astronomy; and in 2004, he published the first text on 'Big History'. At San Diego State University, he taught courses on World History, 'Big History', World Environmental History, Russian History, and the History of Inner Eurasia.


Public Lecture - Wednesday 7 October 2015

1236th Ordinary General Meeting

'The Revolution in Radio Astronomy'

Professor Elaine Sadler, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney

Radio astronomy is currently entering a 'golden age', when new telescopes of unprecedented sensitivity will allow us to explore the Universe in ways that have never been possible before. Australia is at the forefront of these developments, as one of the two countries chosen to host the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. Professor Sadler will show some of the first science results from two new Australian 'SKA precursor' radio telescopes which have recently started operations in a remote area of Western Australia, and describe some of the novel technologies which make these telescopes so powerful. She will also discuss how the remoteness of the Western Australian site makes it possible for us to search for the faint signature of hydrogen gas in distant galaxies.

Elaine Sadler is Professor of Astrophysics in the School of Physics at The University of Sydney, and Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).

Professor Sadler started her career with an undergraduate physics degree at the University of Queensland, followed by a PhD in astronomy at the Australian National University. She held postdoctoral fellowships in Germany and the United States before returning to Australia to take up research positions at the Anglo-Australian Observatory and the University of Sydney.

Elaine's main research interest is galaxy evolution - using large observational data sets to study how galaxies form and change on timescales of billions of years. Much of her research involves the analysis of data from large-area optical and radio surveys of the sky. She has designed and undertaken several major astronomical surveys over the years, and currently leads the ASKAP-FLASH project. This project is using the new Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia to learn more about the amount and distribution of neutral hydrogen gas in very distant galaxies.

Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum: 'The future of work'

Held in conjunction with the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Humanities Academy, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

The very successful Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum, "The future of work”, took a futuristic look at the work environment over the next 20-30 years and identified challenges and opportunities that might present themselves as this unprecedented wave of technological, social and economic change approaches. The themes explored (but not limited to) were:

  • The digital divide
  • Emerging information technology and white-collar job replacement
  • The stratification of society and the emergence of new social classes
  • The rate of social and cultural change
  • The implications of big data
  • Teaching for the future
  • The impact of technology on human creativity

There were morning and afternoon sessions, each session followed by a discussion panel. There were four speakers in each session, each a Fellow of at least one of the Academies or the Society, including the President or President-elect of the four national Academies. The Forum was opened formally by the Governor, followed by a brief framing of the issue by the Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, Professor Mary O'Kane.

Date and time:
Reception: Monday, 14 September 2015 - 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Forum: Tuesday, 15 September 2015 - 8:30 am to 5:30 pm

Venue: Government House, Sydney. For further details, click RSNSW and Four Academies Forum programme.























2015 Dirac Lecture























Professor Subir Sachdev, Professor of Physics, Harvard University

"Quantum entanglement and superconductivity"

Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance”. Entanglement is a counter-intuitive feature of quantum theory by which two particles are deeply correlated even when separated by vast distances, such that a measurement of one particle instantaneously determines the state of the other. Remarkably, quantum entanglement can also happen en masse, determining the macroscopic properties of many electrons in certain crystals. Such states of matter can exhibit superconductivity, the ability to conduct electricity without measurable resistance, at much higher temperatures than was previously possible.Professor Sachdev will also describe newly emerging connections between the theory of macroscopic quantum entanglement and Hawking's theory of black holes.

Subir Sachdev is a condensed matter physicist well known for his research on quantum phase transitions and its application to a variety of quantum materials, such as the high temperature superconductors. His research seeks to illuminate the boundary between the everyday world we live in - in which many but not all phenomena can be explained through classical physics - and the subatomic world of quantum physics. These two worlds come together at a "quantum phase transition”, where there is a change in the macroscopic character of the quantum state describing a many-particle system, and manifestations of quantum entanglement appear naturally at long distances. His book Quantum Phase Transitions (Cambridge University Press, 1999 and 2011) has formed the basis of much subsequent research. More recently he has pioneered application of the remarkable connection between the nature of quantum entanglement near the horizons of black holes, and the entanglement in quantum materials. This has led to new insights on experiments on quantum phase transitions, and on the "strange metal” state found in many modern materials, including the single layer of carbon atoms known as graphene.

Date and time: Tuesday, 1 September 2015 - 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Venue: John B Reid Theatre, AGSM, University of NSW

Public Lecture – Wednesday, 2 September 2015
1235th Ordinary General Meeting

'Trait-Based Ecology'

Distinguished Professor Mark Westoby
Macquarie University

Professor Mark Westoby is one of the world's most influential ecologists. He came to Australia in 1975 with his late wife collaborator, Barbara Rice in 1975. He is now an ARC Laureate Fellow, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and the recipient of the Society's 2005 Clarke Medal. He has been the leader of "Genes to Geoscience" which is a federation of research labs aimed at incubating future leaders in research that fuses genomics, functional ecology, earth system science, and paleontology. Prof. Westoby is a pioneer of 'trait-based ecology'. This approach arranges the world's 300,000 plant species into functional types on the basis of their traits. Traits can summarize major trade-offs faced by plants. What emerges is a picture of the variety of different ways plant species make a living, sometimes adapting to different habitats, but also via different approaches to shared habitat.

Venue: Union, Universities, & Schools Club, 25 Bent St, Sydney
Time: 6:00 for 6:30 pm, Welcome drink at 6:00 pm
Cost: Fellows & Members $5; Guests, $20
Please note dress code: jacket and tie

Public Lecture – Wednesday 5 August 2015
1234th Ordinary General Meeting

"Complexity and cultural transitions 100,000 BP to the present"

Speaker: Professor Roland Fletcher

Professor of Theoretical and World Archaeology, University of Sydney

Over the past hundred thousand years four major cultural transitions have occurred in human settlement patterns of which the first is only partially known and the other three are very familiar. The three familiar ones are the development of sedentary communities, some time after about 10,000 years ago; the second is the formation agrarian-based urbanism after about 5,000 years ago; and the most recent, the formation of industrial-based urbanism in the past two hundred years. The pattern of these great transitions has been logically organised by a progressivist Stage Theory model since the 19th century in which each stage is characterised by cultural type fossils eg writing and initial urbanism. Though this model is now understood to be problematic, it has not been replaced and in actuality still dominates the large-scale, long-term perspective which we use to comprehend cultural behaviour. Conventional definitions of sedentism and urbanism have become increasingly vague and inclusive. The cultural type fossils are known from context other than the ones for which they are supposed to be stage diagnostic. What is required is to replace the progressive model in which change is indicative of and due to a trend to advancement by a model of transitions for which the "type Fossils" are actually antecent prerequisites ie are operational requirements which must come together as sets of material characteristics to enable major transitions in settlement size to occur. Critically, economic transformations are also required but do not seem to occur just because cultural, material prerequisites come together. The "Industrial Revolution" is a singular case. Crucially, changes in the material assemblage are essential; the characteristic social organisation of each "stage" derives from the material changes and social and material conditions can be at odds with each other. The path to these large, long-term emerging patterns is not deterministic.

Venue:Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney

Time and date:6:00 for 6:30 pm Wednesday 5 August 2015

Enjoy a welcome drink from 6:00 pm. All welcome.

Please visit theEvents 2015page (or clickDinner booking) to book for the dinner following the talk ($75 per head for 2 courses including wine).

Thursday 6 August

The 2015 Clarke Lecture

"From the Solar Nebula to the Deep Earth – a Geological Journey"

Speaker: ProfessorBill Griffin

Distinguished Professor of Geology, Macquarie University

Geology is a wonderful research field; it can take you on strange journeys. In the mountains of southern Tibet, large massifs (≥1000 k3) of ultramafic rocks, fragments of Earth’s mantle, contain mineral assemblages that require both exhumation from very great depths (>500 km down) and extremely low oxygen fugacity (reducing conditions) not ordinarily expected within the mantle. To learn the story of these remarkable rocks, we have had to investigate both the mechanisms that have brought them up to the surface, and the origins of super-reducing conditions in the mantle. This has involved field studies, geodynamic modeling, a range of techniques for micron-scale chemical, microstructural and isotopic analysis, and a bit of good luck. One of the keys to the Tibetan riddles lies near the Sea of Galilee in Israel, and involves a remarkable, still poorly-understood type of volcanic activity. The colloquium will try to lead you through this story, which is still evolving by the day; it illustrates the diversity of approaches required in modern geological research, and some of the excitement of that research work.

Bill Griffin was born and educated in the USA, and took his PhD from the University of Minnesota for studies of the Precambrian rocks of the Superior Craton. He then emigrated to Norway, and spent the next twenty years at the University of Oslo, mainly in the Geological Museum, the center of geochemical research in Scandinavia. He moved to Australia in 1985, to be with his new Aussie wife and to help develop geological applications for the CSIRO’s new proton microprobe. When the GEMOC Key Centre was established in 1985, he moved to Macquarie, seconded from CSIRO. After leaving the CSIRO in 2006, he accepted a contract from Macquarie University, and has been here since, currently as Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry.

When: Thursday 6 August
Where: Building Y3A, Theatre 1
Time: 5:45pm for registration and refreshments, 6:15pm start time.
Cost: Free
Registration essential: Email the Events Team atevents@mq.edu.au
Parking: Y1 and Y2 car-parks are available for this event. Parking permits will be issued upon registration.


























Public Lecture – Wednesday, 1 July 2015
1233rd Ordinary General Meeting

"Science in literature"

Dr James Ley

Editor, Sydney Review of Books

The Sydney Review of Books is an online journal devoted to long-form literary criticism. It is motivated by the belief that in-depth analysis and robust critical discussion are crucial to the development of Australia’s literary culture. It is edited by Dr James Ley. Dr Ley has been a professional literary critic for fifteen years andhis work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Age, The Australian, The Times Literary Supplement, Australian Book Review and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Public Lecture – Wednesday 3 June 2015
1232nd Ordinary General Meeting

'The Science of Spontaneity: Fred Astaire as Consummate Craftsman'

Dr Kathleen Riley

This talk will focus in detail on the science behind Fred Astaire's apparent effortlessness, his ability to make something that was technically complex and endlessly rehearsed look easy and spontaneous. The lighter-than-air grace, the pluperfect precision and the sheer joyfulness of his dancing were the products of a dogged perfectionism, an astonishing musicianship and an imagination at once whimsical and methodical. It will be seen how, in the more technical aspects of his artistry, Astaire was part of an ancient tradition (that of Roman pantomime) and, at the same time, revolutionary. The first half of the talk will concentrate on Astaire the eloquent dance stylist and specifically his symmetria, the perfect ‘commensurability' of all parts of his body to one another and to the whole, and his eurythmia, his interpretive games with the shape and logic of music, his inventive use of the off-beat and experiments with broken rhythm, and his syncopated language which impressed Bertolt Brecht as the sound of the modern environment. The second half will consider Astaire the cinematic craftsman, his instinctive understanding of how best to present dance on film, his pioneering use of special effects (e.g. slow motion and split screens), and his role in improving sound synchronization. (Film clips will be shown.)

Dr Kathleen Riley is a former British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and now a freelance writer, theatre historian and critic. She is the author of Nigel Hawthorne on Stage(University of Hertfordshire Press, 2004); The Reception and Performance of Euripides' Herakles: Reasoning Madness(Oxford University Press, 2008); and The Astaires: Fred and Adele (Oxford University Press, US, 2012). The last was included in the Wall Street Journal's Best Non-Fiction 2012 and described by legendary singer Tony Bennett as ‘a magnificent book about the trials and tribulations of show business'. In 2008, she convened at Oriel College, Oxford the first international conference on the art and legacy of Fred Astaire. She was Script Consultant on the critically acclaimed stage production My Perfect Mind which had its London premiere at the Young Vic in 2013. Her current projects include a monograph exploring the ancient Greek concept of Nostos(homecoming) and an edited volume of essays on Oscar Wilde and Classical Antiquity. She continues to have an association with the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (APGRD) in Oxford.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Annual Black-Tie Dinner of the Society

Distinguished Fellows Lecture by past Patron The Hon Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO Dist FRSN

The Society's major event of the year was held at the Union University and Schools Club. The Society was delighted that our former Patron, The Hon Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO Dist FRSN was able to be present as the guest of honour at the dinner. Dame Marie delivered the 2015 Distinguished Fellows Lecture and was presented with the 2014 Royal Society of NSW Medal. The Society's other awards for 2014 were also presented at this occasion by Dame Marie. The other awards presented at the dinner were:

Clarke Medal (Botany) Professor Robert F. Park
James Cook Medal Scientia Professor Martin Green AM
The inaugural Royal Society of NSW History and Philosophy of Science Medal Dr Ann Moyal AM
Edgeworth David Medal Ass. Professor Richard Payne
Clarke Medal (Geology) (2013) Distinguished Professor Bill Griffin

Wednesday 1 April 2015

1231st Ordinary General Meeting

"Is the Brain the Right Size?"Speaker: Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO DSc FASSA FAA FRSNNHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow, Neuroscience Research Australia and University of New South Wales

George Paxinos with friendProfessor Paxinos studied at Berkeley, McGill and Yale universities. He is the author offorty-six books on the brain. His first book, The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates, is the third most cited book in science following Molecular Cloning and The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He produced two paradigm shifts in the field of neuroscience.The first, during a sabbatical at Cambridge in 1977, he learned immunohistochemistry and applied it for the first time in brain atlases. That is, he used the chemical phenotype of neurons as a criterion for identifying brain regions and for establishing brain homologies across experimental animals and humans. The second, in his avian brain atlas, he used neuromeric criteria to delineate the entire brain for the first time.

Most scientists working on the relation between the human brain and neurologic or psychiatric diseases, or animal models of these diseases, use his maps and concepts of brain organization. His human brain atlases are the most accurate ones for the identification of deep structures and are used in surgical theatres.


Pre-Socratic philosophers rejected supernatural explanations for the existence of the physical world and the nature of the soul. These philosophers rejected gods and magic. Later Hippocrates said that men aught to know that from the brain, and only from it, derive our pleasures, happiness, laughter as well as pain and sorrow.

After the long battle to find the seat of the soul, psychology lost its soul in the 1930s. According to Hebb (1958), the mind is the integration of the activity of the neurons of the brain. That is, there is no ghost in the machine. If the relation between brain and behaviour is 1 to 1, then there is no need to hypothesize the presence of the soul to understand behaviour and modify it.

Professor Paxinos's laboratory has constructed brain atlases using identical nomenclature to enable scientists to navigate seamlessly between the brain of humans and experimental animals to test hypotheses inspired by human considerations and relate data from experimental animals to humans.

The human brain features many more homologies with the brain of monkey (e.g. virtually all areas of the cortex are homologous), of the rat and of the bird than previously thought. Using MR images in mice and non-human primates he is attempting to provide 3D volumes of canonical brains against which transgenic varieties with clinical significance can be compared.

Finally, on the issue of evolution and survival, the brain is wonderful, but it is not omniscient. Both the dazzling technological success of our species and the worrisome environmental degradation it has produced are reflections of the function of our brains. Professor Paxinos concludes: If the brain were smaller than what it is, it would not have been able to support language and the development of science and technology which today threatens existence; if the brain were larger than what it is, it might have been able to understand the problem and possibly even solve it. The brain is just not the right size.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Joint Meeting with the Australian Institute of Physics

"Quantum emitters in wide band gap semiconductors"

Speaker: Associate Professor Igor Aharonovich School of Physics and Advanced Materials, University of Technology, Sydney

Igor Aharonovich

Associate Professor Aharonovich received his BSc (2005) and MSc (2007) in Materials Engineering from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He then moved to Australia and pursued his PhD studies at the University of Melbourne on the topic of single emitters in diamond. In 2011, he took a postdoctoral position at Harvard University with the group of Prof Evelyn Hu. His research was focused on nanofabrication of optical cavities out of diamond, silicon carbide and gallium nitride. In 2013 Professor Aharonovich joined the School of Physics and Advanced Materials at UTS as a Senior Lecturer and an ARC DECRA fellow and was promoted to Associated Professor in 2015.


Wednesday 4 March 2015

1230th Ordinary General Meeting

"Super-resolution microscopy: Understanding how T cells make decisions"

Speaker: Scientia Professor Katharina Gaus, ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging
NHMRC Program in Membrane Interface Biology, University of NSW


At the 1230th OGM Scientia Professor Katharina Gaus case of insight into her ground-breaking work on understanding the structure of T-cells, one of the major components of the immune system. Professor Gaus is a cell biologist who uses super-resolution microscopy to explore the structure of cell membranes. Hopefully, this will lead to improved treatments for infectious, cancer and autoimmune diseases.


The adaptive immune system is the body’s first line of defence against infection. It is acquired over the life of the organism, developing a "memory” for antigens (antigens are the invading agent). This highly sophisticated system is antigen-specific and must be able to distinguish between foreign antigens and substances made by the host. It is mediated by T-lymphocytes – a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in cell-mediated immunity. T-lymphocytes are characterised by the presence of a T-cell receptor (TCR) on the cell-surface. (Read more...)

Monday 16 February 2015

The Four Societies Lecture

"Latest developments in Small Modular Reactors"

Held in conjunction with the Nuclear Engineering Panel of the Sydney Branch of Engineers Australia, the Australian Nuclear Association and the Australian Institute of Energy

Dr Adi Paterson - Chief Executive Officer, ANSTO

The largest source of energy today is fossil fuel which we know has significant CO2 issues. The second largest source is nuclear, using uranium. Dr Paterson began his talk by showing that the country generating the most energy per capita is France with its successful harnessing of nuclear technology, but interestingly Brazil is also successful with its use of ethanol from sugar cane. Australia was shown to be in the worst sector with almost the highest cost per capita of electric power generation, more than twice as expensive as France and similar to the high cost in Denmark which relies heavily on wind energy. (Read more...)

Seal of the RSNSW


2016 Annual Dinner – Vice Regal Patron Presents Awards
Distinguished Fellows Lecture

The Society's 2016 annual dinner was held on Wednesday 4 May 2016 and was attended by the Vice Regal Patron, His Excellency the Hon General David Hurley (ret'd) AC. His Excellency presented the society's 2015 awards and presented newly-appointed Distinguished Fellow, Em. Professor Peter Baume with his certificate. The Distinguished Fellows Lecture was delivered by Em. Professor Eugenie Lumbers AM.


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