Dark_blue_bar ffeeaa_bar

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

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 the Events 2015 page (or click Dinner 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: Professor Bill 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 at events@mq.edu.au
Parking: Y1 and Y2 car-parks are available for this event. Parking permits will be issued upon registration.

Recent events

Wednesday 3 June 2015

"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.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

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 Rileyis 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 theWall 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...)

Wednesday 4 February 2015

1229th Ordinary General Meeting and Scholarship presentations

The Society funds the Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarships in order to acknowledge and support outstanding achievements by early-career individuals working towards a higher research degree in a science related field. The scholarship winners were presented with their awards and gave presentations on their work:

Melanie Laird (University of Sydney, School of Biological Sciences)

Melanie is a University Medallist in her second year of a PhD under the supervision of Professor Michael Thompson, studying reproduction in marsupials.

Ruth Wells (University of Sydney, School of Psychology)

Ruth is enrolled in a doctorate of clinical psychology and Master of Science programme. With an exceptional display of initiative, Ruth built relationships with psychologists, psychiatrists, academics and health workers in Jordan over the internet; crowd funded her travel costs, and then completed the research project in Jordan where she explored barriers to mental health care for Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

Stephen Parker (UNSW, School of Chemistry)

Stephen Parker is in his final year of a PhD in the Nanomaterials group in the School of Chemistry at UNSW where he is making surfaces that can capture cells from a blood sample and then release a single targeted cell that has a particular characteristic.

Tuesday 9 December 2014 - The Dirac Lecture

"The beauty and serendipity of blue-sky research"

Professor Serge Haroche, Nobel Laureate (2012)

Head of the Collège de France, Paris

Professor Serge Haroche was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics (jointly with David J. Wineland) for "ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems", for their work on understanding the photon.

The Dirac Lecture is presented by the University of NSW, in conjunction with the Royal Society of NSW and the Australian Institute of Physics. The lecture was held in the Tyree Room, John Niland Scientia Building, University of NSW

Wednesday 3 December 2014

1228th Ordinary General Meeting, Jak Kelly Award and Christmas Party

The Society held its annual Jak Kelly Award presentation at the Union, University and Schools Club. The late Professor Kelly's widow, Mrs Irene Kelly, presented the Jak Kelly Award to Ms Linh Tran who presented a short outline of her work.

Linh Tran

Linh Tran is a third-year PhD student at Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP), University of Wollongong. Her supervisor, Professor Anatoly Rozenfeld, is a founder of the concept of silicon microdosimetry and has guided Linh in-depth into the project. Linh's research field involves the development of innovative semiconductor detectors for dosimetry and microdosimetry in radiation protection and radiation therapy applications and their radiation hardness. Linh was a major contributor in the development and study of large area alpha particle silicon cleanable detectors for in-field measurement of soil radioactive contamination and new generation of 3D silicon microdosimeters mimicking human biological cells and used for measuring dose equivalent in mixed radiation fields relevant to the space radiation environment as well as in heavy ion therapy.

Linh has authored six papers as a first author and presenting them at IEEE NSS MIC, RADECS and NSREC. Linh received a Master Degree in Physics in 2008 from Dubna University in Russia. She then began her professional career at the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute and worked as a researcher in radiation protection for three years before coming to Australia as a PhD student. Linh was awarded a full scholarship for her studies in Russia and in Australia. She is now very much enjoying her research with the CMRP team at the University of Wollongong and hopes that innovative radiation measurement devices will be available soon for the improvement of our quality of life.

The presentation was followed by the Society's Christmas Party.

Thursday 20 November 2014

The Liversidge Research Lecture 2014

"Recent Studies on the Total Synthesis of Natural Products and Related Systems"

Professor Martin Banwell

Research School of Chemistry, Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University, Canberra

The Liversidge Research Lecture 2014 was delivered by Professor Martin Banwell at the University of Sydney on Thursday, 20 November 2014. Professor Banwell is an organic chemist and is one of Australia's most accomplished researchers into the synthesis of complex organic compounds. In this year's Liversidge Research Lecture, he described work that has been done in his group over a number of years to synthesise materials that have wide-ranging applications, especially as pharmaceuticals.

The starting point for his work is a family organic chemicals called arenes. These are substances based on a structure of six carbon atoms arranged in a ring, with each carbon atom having a hydrogen atom attached (read more...)

Seal of the RSNSW


Awards for 2014

The winners of the Society's 2014 awards were presented with their awards at the Society's annual dinner held on Tuesday 5 May. They are:

(read more...)

Click here for the latest Bulletin.



If you are interested in joining the Society, download our brochure:


For the latest news and events you can also follow us on
Facebook logo