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Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

March for Science April 22nd 2017

March for Science image

The Royal Society of NSW supports the March for Science to be held on April 22nd

At its Council meeting of 15th March the Society passed the following motion:

The Society supports the principles upon which the “March for Science” is based and encourages Fellows and Members of the Society to participate in it

For more details about the March go to its website  here

The event was a great success, with many people marching in support of science around the world. 

Planned Sydney meetings 2017

 

Wednesday 1 February

1250th OGM and Open Lecture

2015 Scholarship Presentations

Yik Lung (Jeremy) Chan, School of Life Sciences,
University of Technology Sydney

“Effects of maternal cigarette smoke exposure on brain health in offspring”

Andrew Ritchie, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

“New Ways of Modelling the Ancient Past to Understand Evolution”

Isobel Ronai, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

“Anarchy in the honey bee colony: the genetic basis of worker sterility”

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Thursday 23 February

Annual Meeting of the Four Societies

"South Australia: A Nuclear State in a Global Solution"

Rear Admiral, The Honourable Kevin Scarce AC CSC RAN (rt'd.)

Venue: International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour

Time: 6.00pm to 8.00pm (reception from 5.30pm)

Wednesday 1 March

1251st OGM and Open Lecture

"Creative Minds: Artistic and Scientific Endeavour on Polar Expeditions 1851 to 1951"

Richard Ferguson FRGS, Executive Director, Craft Australia

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

Wednesday 5 April

AGM and 1252nd OGM and Open Lecture

“The Science of Beer”

Dr Greg Organ. Chief Scientist, Lion Company

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

Time: 5.45 for 6.00pm start of AGM. Open lecture and OGM 6.30pm

Wednesday 3 May

Annual Dinner. Royal Society of NSW

Guest of Honour The Honourable General David Hurley C DSC (Ret'd) Governor of NSW and Mrs Hurley

Distinguished Fellows Lecture and presentation of Awards for 2016

Distinguished Fellows Address: Peter Baume

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

Time: 6.30 for 7.00pm

Wednesday 7 June

1253rd OGM and Open Lecture

"Are you smarter than a slime modl?"

Professor Madeleine Beekman, University of Sydney

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 5 July

1254th OGM and Open Lecture

"Understanding Quantum Theory

Professor Adrea Morella, University of NSW

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 2 August

1255th OGM and Open Lecture

“Self Driving Cars: Will the help?

Professor Ann Williamson, University of NSW

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Dates August  Science Week: Royal Society of NSW lunchtime science talks
Wednesday 6 September

1256th OGM and Open Lecture

“The Complexity of Music”

Helen Mitchell, Conservatorium of Music

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 4 October

1257th OGM and Open Lecture

“Understanding Social Networks ”

Professor Pip Pattison, Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Sydney

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Date tbc

Royal Society of NSW and Four Learned Academies Forum

"Science and society in a post truth world"

Venue: Government House

Time: 8.30am to 5.00pm (tbc)

Wednesday 1 November

1258th OGM and Public Lecture

"Women in Art"

Pamela Griffith

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 6 December

1259th OGM and Open Lecture

Royal Society of NSW 2016 Jak Kelly Award and Christmas Party

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Royal Society of NSW Events for 2017

Royal Society of NSW Awards 2016

James Cook Medal

Scientia Professor David Cooper, BSc(Med) MBBS (Syd) MD DSc (UNSW) FRACP FRCPA FRCP FAA FAHMS is the winner of the James Cook Medal. Located at UNSW, he is Professor of Medicine and Director, Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society.

Professor Cooper's research has been focused on the understanding and treatment of HIV/AIDS. He introduced one of the first tests for HIV infection to Australia and has made a number of contributions and discoveries in areas such as antiretroviral therapy, complications of HIV treatment, and HIV pathogenesis. His current focus is on dose optimisation in immunotherapy and vaccination.

The James Cook Medal is awarded from time to time for outstanding contributions to both science and human welfare in and for the Southern Hemisphere.

Edgeworth David Medal

Edgeworth David Medal for 2016 will be awarded to Dr Muireann Irish. She is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Psychology, UNSW, a Senior Research Officer, FRONTIER, Neuroscience Research Australia, and an Associate Investigator, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Memory Node.

Dr Irish's research focuses on memory disruption in dementia, and she is considered to be at the forefront of cognitive neuroscience. Her research contributions include, amongst many, establishing the impairment of planning in dementia patients and differentiation among dementia syndromes at initial presentation. She is also a spokesperson for women in science

The Edgeworth David Medal is awarded each year for distinguished research by a young scientist under the age of 35 years for work done mainly in Australia or for contributing to the advancement of Australian science.

Clarke Medal for Geology

This year's winner of the Clarke Medal is Professor Simon P. Turner. He is the Distinguished Professor and Director of Research, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Macquarie University.

As a geochemist, Professor Turner is an active member of the geologic community. His most notable contributions have involved the application of short-lived Uranium-series isotopes to estimate the time scales of magma formation, transport, and differentiation as well as soil production and erosion rates.

The Clarke Medal is awarded each year for distinguished research in the natural sciences conducted in the Australian Commonwealth and its territories. The fields of botany, geology, and zoology are considered in rotation. For 2016, the medal was awarded in Geology.

History and Philosophy of Science Medal

Emeritus Professor Roy MacLeod will receive the History and Philosophy of Science Medal for 2016. Professor MacLeod is Emeritus Professor, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney.

Professor MacLeod is an historian of science focusing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the course of his career he has opened new fields of enquiry including: history of British imperial science, history of science in Australasia and the Pacific, Museum studies, and the development of science policy. He also co-founded the international journal Social Studies of Science. A copy of his book "Archibald Liversidge: Imperial Science under the Southern Cross" was presented to the Governor of NSW at the recent celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Royal patronage of the RSNSW.

The Society's History and Philosophy of Science Medal is awarded each year to recognize outstanding achievement in the History and Philosophy of Science, with preference being given to the study of ideas, institutions and individuals of significance to the practice of the natural sciences in Australia.

Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarships

Three scholarships of $500 plus a complimentary year of membership of the Society are awarded each year in order to acknowledge outstanding achievements by young researchers in any field of science. Applicants must be enrolled as research students in a university in either NSW or the ACT.This year's winners are:

Jeremy Chan, PhD Candidate, School of Life Science, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney. Mr. Chan's research focuses on the impact of maternal smoking on newborn brain injury. His work will provide new insight into how maternal smoking affects the recovery of hypoxic injury in offspring and potential pathways for therapeutic interventions.

Andrew Ritchie, PhD Candidate, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney. Mr Ritchie's area of research is in the investigation of different evolutionary processes across the natural and social sciences using statistical models of diversification over time. His investigations are intended to improve understanding of the evolution of language and determine new parallels between the evolutionary processes underlying biology and human culture.

Isobel Ronai, PhD Candidate, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney. Ms Ronai's concerns solving the mystery of altruistic action by sterile worker bee through identifying the gene that regulates worker fertility. Her research has helped to explain worker sterility by focusing on a particular gene pathway.

Walter Burfitt Prize and the Archibald Liversidge Medal

The Walter Burfitt Prize and the Archibald Liversidge Medal for 2016 will be awarded to Scientia Professor Justin Gooding FAA FRACI FRSC FISE FRSN. He is an ARC Australian Laureate Fellow and Deputy Head of School of Chemistry, School of Chemistry, UNSW.

Professor Gooding's field is surface chemistry. He is a leading authority in the field of surface modification of electrodes, mostly focused on bioelectronics interfaces. He has had a number of pioneering achievements, including understanding electron transfer at surfaces, making silicon compatible with aqueous solutions, advanced electrochemical techniques, and single nanoparticle sensors.

The Walter Burfitt Prize consists of a bronze medal and $150, awarded every three years for research in pure or applied science, deemed to be of the highest scientific merit. The papers and other contributions must have been published during the past six years for research conducted mainly in these countries.

The Archibald Liversidge Medal is awarded at intervals of two years for the purpose of encouragement of research in Chemistry. The prize is awarded in conjunction with the Royal Australia Chemical Institute. It was established under the terms of a bequest to the Society by Professor Archibald Liversidge MA LLD FRS.


See the slides from the 2016 Forum

The slides used by the speakers at the 2016 RSNSW and Four Academies Forum, held on 29 November at Government House, are now available for download.

Sydney meetings in 2016

 

Wednesday 3 February

Royal Society 2014 Scholarship Presentations – the 1240th OGM and Public Lecture

“Problems and prime numbers”
Adrian Dudek, Australian National University

“How old are flowers?”
Charles Foster, University of Sydney

"Manifestations of dark matter and variation of fundamental constants”
Yevgeny Stadnik, UNSW

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

Thursday 25 February

Four Societies Meeting

“Energy sources in Australia’s future”

Professor Robert Clark AO FAA FRSN

47th Floor MLC Centre, Sydney

Wednesday 2 March

1241st OGM and Public Lecture

“How to win an Ignoble Prize: communicating science”

Dr Len Fisher, Bristol University

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

Wednesday 16 March

RSNSW and Australian Institute of Physics Meeting

“The science of sleep”

Professor Ron Grunstein, University of Sydney

Venue: Trinity Grammar School PD Centre, 5 Thomas St. Lewisham

Wednesday 6 April

AGM and 1242nd OGM and Public Lecture

President’s Address

Dr Don Hector, President of the Royal Society of NSW

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

 

Clarke Medal Lecture

Simon P. Turner, Distinguished Professor and Director of Research, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Macquarie University

Venue: Macquarie University

Wednesday 4 May

Annual Dinner and Distinguished Fellow's Lecture

“Science policy"

Professor Eugenie Lumbers, UNSW

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

Wednesday 1 June

1243rd OGM and Public Lecture

Professor Peter Hiscock, University of Sydney

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

Wednesday 6 July

1244th OGM and Public Lecture

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

Associate Professor Rob Young (ret'd.), University of Wollongong

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

Wednesday 3 August

1245th OGM and Public Lecture

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

Dr Barbara Briggs, Royal Botanic Gardens

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

Wednesday 7 September

1246th OGM and Public Lecture

“A source of inspiration and delight: the Mitchell Library”

Richard Neville, Mitchell Library

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

Wednesday 5 October

1247th OGM and Public Lecture

“From sand and rice bubbles to earthquakes and volcanos”

Professor Itai Einav, University of Sydney

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

Wednesday 2 November

1248th OGM and Public Lecture

“Finding the right course for the right horse: recent evidence-based advances in instructional design”

Professor Jim Kehoe, UNSW

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

Wednesday 7 December

1249th OGM and Public Lecture and Christmas Party

Jak Kelly Award Winner 2016 (presented by Irene Kelly)

“Imaging with a deft touch: The scanning helium microscope – a modern pinhole camera!”

Mathew Barr, School of Mathematical and Physical Science, University of Newcastle

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

 

RSNSW & Four Academies Forum 2016

 forum crests

Governor Hosted by His Excellency General The Honourable 
 David Hurley AC DSC (ret’d), Governor of NSW 
 and Patron of the Royal Society of NSW

Society as a complex system: implications for science, practice and policy

Date: Tuesday 29th November 2016

Venue: Government House, Sydney

Note: This event was by invitation only

We live in an increasingly complex world, where the challenges of complexity must be taken seriously. The problems to be confronted challenge existing institutional structures because they cross national and interdisciplinary borders and cannot be reduced to component problems to be solved independently – they are intrinsically inseparable and interdependent. They include:  the world’s developed economies struggling to deliver the growth and prosperity that was achieved in the second half of the 20th century; increasing discrepancies between rich and poor sparking flight and fight; the impact of people on the environment in which they live; the pace of technological change. These “wicked problems” challenge traditional policy making process leading to policy paralysis. Decisions about economic policy, migration and refugees, environmental challenges, health, education and infrastructure development are delayed or abandoned because of the difficulty in gaining public acceptance.  Conflicting philosophical positions, widely differing worldviews and belief-systems, the increasing globalisation of firms and industries, the increased influence of special-interest groups made louder through new social media, the polarisation of political views, conflicting policy objectives coupled with an avalanche of data to make sense of are among the many contributors to this policy paralysis.  The complex-systems nature of these challenges means that small changes can have disproportionate effects, the future is impossible to predict, and multiple feedback loops multiply and accelerate in myriad ways.

How we can understand, cope and adapt to these challenges was the focus of the 2016 Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum.

Click here to see the programme of presentations.

2016 Dirac Lecture

Dirac image 2016  "Dark Matter in the Universe"

  The Dirac Lecture with the Award of the Dirac Medal

  Duffield Professor Kenneth Freeman FRS, Australian National University

Venue: Tyree Room of the John Niland Scientia Building of the University of New South Wales

Date: 13 October 2016

The Dirac Medal is based on rules established in 1990 by the then Vice Chancellor of the University of NSW Sir Rupert Meyers. It is awarded in the name of Professor Paul Dirac who donated the royalties of his published lectures in Australasia in 1975. In its early years the award was organised by UNSW in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Physics. The first convenor of the awards was Professor Heinrich Hora FRSN, Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics. Of the first eleven Dirac Lectures nine awardees were Nobel Laureates. In 2010 the Governor of NSW presented the award to Lord Robert May of Oxford and the Royal Society became involved. Of the last five awards, two recipients are Nobel-Laureates.

Professor Freeman’s research is about the formation and dynamics of galaxies with a particular interest in the problem of dark matter in galaxies. He was one of the first to point out that spiral galaxies contain a large fraction of dark matter. He is active in international astronomy, as a division past-president of the International Astronomical Union, and serves on visiting committees for several major astronomical institutions around the world.

New webmaster for RSNSW

Chris Bertram has taken on the job of RSNSW Webmaster.

Bertram 2010 cropped

Annual Meeting of the Four Societies 2016

Australian Energy Policy

 

Four Societies 2016

Professor Robert Clark AO FAA Dist FRSN, 
Chair of Energy Strategy and Policy, University of New South Wales 

Date: Thursday February 25

Venue: Hamilton and Parkes Rooms, Level 47, MLC Centre, King and Castlereagh St.

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 agreement resulting from the Paris climate change conference held in December 2015 is one of the most important initiatives to address climate change so far. Some key points that came from a conference that will affect Australia other massive investment in solar energy technology (India and China have committed US$1 trillion to the development of solar energy technology over the next decade or two. Australia has committed to emissions targets of a 5% reduction (compared to 2000 levels) by 2020 and, by 2030, a 26-28% reduction compared to 2005 levels. In addition, Australia has committed to a target of 24% of Australia's generation capacity to be renewable by 2020. Nonetheless, German modelling shows that very large amounts of coal, oil and gas will be required to meet global energy demand at least until 2050 and probably well beyond then. Over the next 20 years, the urbanisation of India's population and the investment in base-load, coal-fired power generation capacity, even taking into account substantial expansion of nuclear capacity will result in a very substantial increase in coal-based CO2 emissions. Australia's energy requirements are characterised by having very large amounts of LNG, coal, coal-seam gas and shale gas but a deficiency in liquid fuels – most of Australia's liquid fuels are imported.

Professor Clark has devoted several years to looking at the number of specific problems in the energy sector and gave several examples of his work. One major user of liquid fuels is freight forwarding. The movement of freight accounts for 194 billion freight-tonne-kilometres per year. Of this 151 billion is moved by B-double trucks (there are 84,000 of these servicing freight routes in Australia). Converting these trucks from diesel (most of which is imported) to LNG (which could be sourced locally) would result in a substantial improvement in emissions (gas produces a little over 70% of the CO2 that diesel emits, for the same energy output) and would have a noticeable impact on Australia's liquid fuels balance and the current account.

Nuclear energy is an area that has been contentious in Australia. In the last few years, there has been a call to consider installation of substantial base-load nuclear generation capacity. Professor Clark noted that the future total Australian electricity generation requirement at the investment horizon is about 250 TW-hours. If nuclear generation capacity were to provide 15% of this, it would require five 1,000-MW nuclear reactors – one near every major city. The political, planning and capital requirements of such an investment are probably insurmountable. On the other hand, if Australia were to export uranium (on a lease, not sale basis, so that the uranium can be tracked, accounted for and ultimately returned to Australia for reprocessing or final storage), the impact on global CO2 emissions by supplying Australian uranium to existing and proposed nuclear generation plants, particularly in China and India would provide 10 times the impact on CO2 emissions compared to building base-load generation in Australia. This case demonstrates the importance of taking a global perspective on CO2 emissions and climate change, rather than a purely domestic analysis.

Professor Clark concluded by observing that there is still a need for substantive policy development in this area. The recent Energy White Paper 2015 is more of a statement regarding the energy situation, than a policy document. An important point that emerged from Professor Clark's wide-ranging talk is that energy policy ultimately will need to address a complex mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.

 

Dirac Lecture 2015

"Quantum entanglement and superconductivity"

Professor Subir Sachdev

Professor of Physics, Harvard University

Held in conjunction with UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics

sachdev

Date: Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Venue: John B Reid Theatre AGSM Building, UNSW

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 also described newly emerging connections between the theory of macroscopic quantum entanglement and Hawking's theory of black holes.

2015 Clarke Lecture

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

Professor Bill Griffin

Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry, Macquarie University

Griffin

Date: Thursday 6th August, 5.45pm

Venue: Building Y3A, Theatre 1, Macquarie University

Bill will tell the story of the journey to the surface of the remarkable rocks of Southern Tibet.  These are large fragments of the Earth’s mantle that originate from very great depths (>500 km down) under extreme conditions not ordinarily expected within the mantle and which play an important role in the evolution of igneous systems. To learn the story of these remarkable rocks, we have to understand both the mechanisms that have brought them up to the surface, and the origins of these 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.  Bill will 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 is Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry at Macquarie University and Program Director at the RC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems. Before that he spent 20 years at the University of Oslo, mainly in the Geological Museum, which is the centre of geochemical research in Scandinavia. He moved to Australia in 1985, to be with his Aussie wife and to help develop geological applications for the CSIRO’s new proton microprobe.  In 2006 he left the CSIRO and moved to Macquarie University.

New Fellows appointed 2014

On Wednesday 2 July 2014, a group of eleven Fellows were presented with their certificates. Thirty-six Fellows have been appointed since the new Rules were introduced in December 2013.

Left to right: Donald Hector (President), Bill Hogarth, Heather Goodall, Ron Johnston, Roy MacLeod, Robert Marks, John Simons, Judy Raper, Brynn Hibbert, the Hon Peter Baume AC, Thomas Maschmeyer, Des Griffin AM.

Annual awards evening and dinner 2014

On Wednesday 7 May, the annual awards evening and annual dinner was held at the Union University and Schools Club in Sydney. The dinner was extremely well attended and the address by Professor Barry Jones AC FAA FACE FAHA FASSA FTSE DistFRSN on the attack on the scientific method stimulated a lot of discussion. During the evening, the Society's 2013 awards were presented and the inaugural group of eleven Fellows were presented with their certificates.

Back row: Benjamin Eggleton, Jerome Vanclay, Richard Banati, Ian Dawes, John Gascoigne. Front row: Aibing Yu, Ian Sloan, Judith Wheeldon, Donald Hector (President), Heinrich Hora, Merlin Crossley, Trevor Hambley

The President, Dr Donald Hector, presented the Society's 2013 awards. The Edgeworth David Medal was presented to Assoc Prof David Wilson, for his outstanding work on modelling HIV/AIDS and using this information to develop treatment and prevention strategies. Prof Michelle Simmons DistFRSN was awarded the Walter Burfitt Medal and Prize and Professor Brien Holden was awarded the James Cook Medal for his work in treating myopia (a leading cause of preventable blindness), particularly in developing world countries. The Clarke Medal could not be presented to distinguished geologist William Griffin, as he was overseas and unable to attend.

Left to right: Assoc Prof David Wilson, President Dr Donald Hector, Prof Brien Holden and Prof Michelle Simmons DistFRSN.

Distinguished Fellow's Lecture 2014

The Society was proud to have Professor Barry Jones AC DistFRSN present the second annual Distinguished Fellow's Lecture at the Society's annual dinner on Wednesday 7 May 2014. Professor Jones is the only person to be a Fellow of all four of Australia's learned Academies.

Prof Barry Jones AC DistFRSN delivers the second Royal Society of NSW Distinguished Fellow's Lecture.

Governor invests new Distinguished Fellow

On Wednesday 16 April, Prof Peter Doherty AC Dist FRSN was formally invested by our patron, the Governor, Prof Marie Bashir AC CVO at a ceremony at Government House. Professor Doherty was appointed a Fellow in September 2013 and a Distinguished Fellow in December 2013.
President Dr Donald Hector (left), Prof Peter Doherty after receiving his Distinguished Fellowship, the Governor and Vice President Em Prof Brynn Hibbert (right) at Government House, Sydney.

Compendium of 2013 news

The Poggendorf Lecture

"Biodiversity and the future of agriculture" - Professor Geoff Gurr

After a hiatus of 20 years, the Poggendorf Lecture was delivered in conjunction with Charles Sturt University, Orange, on Tuesday, 13 August 2013. The lecture was delivered by Professor Geoff Gurr, a biologist and entomologist and Professor of Applied Ecology at Charles Sturt University, where he specialises in the utilisation of natural solutions to control agricultural pests to partially or completely replace synthetic pesticides. 

The population of the world is increasing by 170,000 souls per day. Currently, 40% of land is used for some agricultural purpose and the demand for agricultural products is expected to increase not only as a consequence of population growth but by the increasing living standards of people in the developing world. For example, the growth in meat demand is very strong and it takes 10 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of animal protein. This leads to the conclusion that food production needs to double by 2050. The so-called "green revolution" of the last few decades has enabled the increase in food production to largely match population growth, largely through the application of nitrogen, phosphorus, some trace elements, water and the wide-scale use of pesticides. But was this revolution truly "green"? Human inputs are largely non-renewable but, importantly, do not actually address the root cause of the problem – pest outbreaks are not due to a lack of pesticide, they are due to other imbalances in the environment. So the world is faced with a "wicked problem" of seeking food security, having finite renewable resources, a declining availability of agricultural land, changing climate and a moral obligation to preserve biodiversity (human activity, including agriculture, causes biodiversity loss at a rate about 10,000 times greater than the background rate). 

Royal Society of NSW Forum 2013

Left to right: Antony Funnell, Prof Schmidt, Ms Wheeldon, Prof Schwartz, Prof Crossley.

The Royal Society of NSW Forum 2013 was held at the Powerhouse Museum on Thursday 6 June before a large audience. Antony Funnell of the ABC's Radio National moderated the discussion between: 

  • Professor Brian Schmidt AC FRSN, Nobel Prize winner 
  • Professor Steven Schwartz AM, former Macquarie University Vice Chancellor 
  • Ms Judith Wheeldon AM, former Principal of both Queenwood School for Girls and Abbotsleigh 
  • Professor Merlin Crossley, Dean of Science at the University of NSW 

Among other questions, our panellists discussed: will a falling focus on science and technology in education really be a problem for innovation in Australia? Is it a matter of basic education? Is it poor teaching? Is there a fundamental aversion to maths and science in Australia? Given our reliance on technology, why is there not a greater desire to utilise it and to develop it? Is there a "science literacy" problem in Australia? Why have we become passive about science and technology, rather than embracing it at its fundamental levels? 

In case you missed it, it was broadcast on ABC Radio National Big Ideas on Monday 17 June (click Forum 2013 to download a recording of the broadcast).

Annual awards evening and dinner

On Friday 19 April, the annual awards evening and annual dinner was held at the Union University and Schools Club in Sydney. The dinner was extremely well attended and the address by Judith Wheeldon AM was very topical and stimulated a lot of discussion. Ms Wheeldon presented the Clarke Medal to distinguished zoologist Marilyn Renfree, the Edgeworth David Medal to Dr Joanne Whittaker, a remarkable young geophysicist who is doing ground-breaking work on plate tectonics, and the Royal Society of NSW medal to John Hardie in recognition of his 40 years of contribution to the Society, six of which have been as its President.

Left to right: The President, Dr Donald Hector, Judith Wheeldon AM, Professor Marilyn Renfree AO, John Hardie MRSN, Dr Joanne Whittaker.

Inaugural Fellows Lecture held

The Society was proud to have Professor Michael Archer AM present the inaugural Fellows Lecture on Wednesday, 3 April 2013. Professor Archer was one of the first Fellows appointed by the Society, recognising his outstanding work as a palaeontologist, particularly in relation to the Riversleigh fossil find in Queensland, one of the richest fossil deposits in the world.

Prof Mike Archer AM FRSN delivers the inaugural Royal Society of NSW Fellows Lecture.

Governor invests new Fellows

On Wednesday13 March, the two Fellows appointed in 2012, Prof Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS FRSN and Prof the Hon Barry Jones AO FAA FAHA FTSE FASSA FRSN were formally invested by our patron, the Governor, Prof Marie Bashir AC CVO at a ceremony at Government House. We were delighted that our awards advisory panel, chaired by the Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, Prof Mary O'Kane, and consisting of the Deans of Science of the NSW-based universities were able to attend, together with a number of other distinguished guests.

Prof Brian Schmidt (centre-left) and Prof the Hon Barry Jones (cenre-right) with the the Governor after receiving their Fellowships with Vice President Em. Prof Heinrich Hora (left) and President Dr Donald Hector (right) at Government House, Sydney.

2013 awards evening & dinner

On Friday 19 April, the annual awards evening and annual dinner was held at the Union University and Schools Club in Sydney. The dinner was extremely well attended and the address by Judith Wheeldon AM was very topical and stimulated a lot of discussion. Ms Wheeldon presented the Clarke Medal to distinguished zoologist Marilyn Renfree, the Edgeworth David Medal to Dr Joanne Whittaker, a remarkable young geophysicist who is doing ground-breaking work on plate tectonics, and the Royal Society of NSW medal to John Hardie in recognition of his 40 years of contribution to the Society, six of which have been as its President.
Left to right: The President, Dr Donald Hector, Judith Wheeldon AM, Professor Marilyn Renfree AO, John Hardie MRSN, Dr Joanne Whittaker.

Inaugural Fellow's Lecture (2013)

The Society was proud to have Professor Michael Archer AM present the inaugural Fellow's Lecture on Wednesday, 3 April 2013. Professor Archer was one of the first Fellows appointed by the Society, recognising his outstanding work as a palaeontologist, particularly in relation to the Riversleigh fossil find in Queensland, one of the richest fossil deposits in the world.
Prof Mike Archer AM FRSN delivers the inaugural Royal Society of NSW Fellow's Lecture.

Governor invests new Fellows

On Wednesday13 March, the two Fellows appointed in 2012, Prof Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS FRSN and Prof the Hon Barry Jones AO FAA FAHA FTSE FASSA FRSN were formally invested by our patron, the Governor, Prof Marie Bashir AC CVO at a ceremony at Government House. We were delighted that our awards advisory panel, chaired by the Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, Prof Mary O'Kane, and consisting of the Deans of Science of the NSW-based universities were able to attend, together with a number of other distinguished guests.
Prof Brian Schmidt (centre-left) and Prof the Hon Barry Jones (cenre-right) with the the Governor after receiving their Fellowships with Vice President Em. Prof Heinrich Hora (left) and President Dr Donald Hector (right) at Government House, Sydney.​

Compendium of 2012 news

The Liversidge Lecture 2012 - Professor Thomas Maschmeyer

Low carbon technologies: from brown coal and biomass to solar hydrogen

Monday, 19 November 2012

Donald Hector and Thomas Maschmeyer

The 2012 Liversidge Lecture was presented by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer FAA FTSE of the University of Sydney. About 180 people heard Thomas describe his work on catalysis, particularly its application in the transformation of brown coal into a crude oil substitute and black coal. Thomas also described his work using supercritical water to convert biomass into a liquid fuel product. Thomas intends to write a paper for the Journal and Proceedings summarising his work. This is expected to be published during 2013. 

The Liversidge Lecture is presented in conjunction with the University of Sydney.

The Dirac Lecture 2012 - Professor Brian Schmidt

The accelerating universe

Thursday, 19 July 2012

In conjunction with the University of New South Wales and with the Australian Institute of Physics, the Society proudly presented the 2012 Dirac Lecture on Thursday, 19 July 2012. This year's lecture was delivered by Professor Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Laureate for Physics. 

Professor Schmidt took us on a fascinating journey of astronomy and cosmology, describing the work that he and his colleagues have done over the last two decades and where it fits in our understanding of the nature of the universe. 

To establish a reference framework, we were taken on a quick tour of the universe using the speed of light as a ruler (the Moon is less than two light seconds from us. The Sun is 8 light minutes away. The nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. We are 30,000 light years from the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The nearest galaxy, Andromeda, is 2 million light years from us. The cosmic ray background establishes that the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years, with the Hubble telescope being able to detect objects 12 billion light years away). 

Although astronomy is one of the oldest sciences, modern cosmology had its beginnings in the 19th and 20th centuries when techniques such as spectral analysis began to be applied to light from the skies. Of particular importance was phenomenon known as the Doppler effect – objects that are moving towards us have their light shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum, while objects moving away have their light shifted to towards red. By analysing the spectra of galaxies, in 1916, Vesto Slipher found that all galaxies he observed were shifted towards red and therefore were moving away from us. The conclusion from this was that the universe is expanding. 

Einstein's special theory of relativity published in 1907 proposed that acceleration due to gravity and acceleration due to motion are equivalent. This led to his general theory of relativity and the notion that space is curved. The solution to Einstein's equations are dynamic, implying that the universe should be in motion. To avoid the conclusion that the universe was expanding, Einstein introduced a "fudge factor" called the cosmological constant (Einstein later referred to this as his greatest blunder!). 

One conclusion from the concept of an expanding universe is that at one point must have been a big bang. Observations suggest that the age of the universe could be as young as 9 billion years if its expansion was slowing due to gravity but this is contrary to observations that the oldest stars appear to be at least 12 billion years old. 

Not only was Brian Schmidt interested in solving this problem and determining the age of the universe but he wanted to understand what its eventual fate might be. In the 1990s, by observing faintness/brightness plotted against high/low red shift it had been found that supernovae appeared to have very constant brightness and therefore could be used as a standard "candle". (It was later found that this was not quite so but further work to better understand Type 1A supernovae allowed for corrections that gave a very good correlation.) 

Improved digital detection technology and data processing capability in the 1990s set the stage for major advances in astronomy. Many more supernovae could be observed and this gave the team led by Brian (whose area of specialisation was data processing) to study many high-resolution images and by tracking these images and filtering out background noise, to find supernovae candidates for much more detailed analysis. Brian's team found that distant supernovae were outside the range expected for a universe whose expansion was slowing. Detailed analysis of their data suggested that the expansion of the universe was in fact accelerating. This was contrary to the mainstream view of physicists at the time and, indeed was contrary to the findings of another team using a different approach to analysing the data. Professor Schmidt's team published their work and in 2011 were awarded the Nobel Prize. 

The notion of a universe whose expansion is accelerating poses some interesting questions for cosmologists, not the least of which is what could be pushing it apart? Einstein's theory allows for the concept of "dark energy". The data from analysis of Type 1A supernovae can be explained if the forces are assumed to be about 30% "pull" from gravity and about 70% "push" from dark energy. For the universe to be flat (and an analysis of the background radiation of the universe shows that indeed it is flat, that is, the universe is not closed and it is not open), 27% of the universe would need to be matter and 73% would need to be dark energy. But the problem is that this is much more matter than appears to exist. The solution to this currently most favoured by cosmologists is the concept of "dark matter" - matter that we cannot see. And it is no small amount - less than 5% of all matter is thought to be observable. 

Professor Schmidt concluded his lecture with some long-range forecasts for the future of the universe. In some places, gravity will win and matter will merge; in others, space will accelerate faster and light from those areas will never reach us. There could even be a "big rip". In this scenario, a few million years before the end, gravity would be too weak to hold the Milky Way and other galaxies together. Our solar system would become gravitationally unbound, the stars and planets would be torn apart and at the very end, individual atoms would be ripped apart.

The Royal Society Forum 2012 - Mark Scott and Jill Trewhella

The influence of the media on scientific research

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Forum 2012

​The Society's second annual Forum was held on Wednesday 4 April at the Powerhouse Museum. The discussion was between Mark Scott AO, Managing Director of the ABC and Professor Jill Trewhella FRSN, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at Sydney University. The forum was moderated by Robyn Williams AM of the ABC.

Mark Scott

Mark pointed out that the role of national broadcasters (originally established to produce programmes that commercial companies could not or would not) has changed very significantly. The internet has made available thousands of TV and radio stations worldwide. The consumer is flooded with content. Gone are the days when listeners needed a licence – now all that is necessary is an internet connection. Nor are there barriers to entry for broadcasters. There are over 200 million web-sites worldwide and 60,000 blogs are introduced to the internet every day. The role of the ABC is now even more important than it was formerly. It now provides a "town square" for content and opinion. It provides a broad plurality of views. Whereas the challenge for science is the narrowness of focus of much research is, the ABC provides a place where there is breadth not narrowness of interest. The gap between the ABC and content providers is growing every day due to the challenge facing commercial providers in delivering a profit in a rapidly changing media sector. The challenge for scientists is to become effective communicators and, particularly, to cultivate interest among journalists.

Jill Trewhella

Jill said how important it was to have institutions like the ABC that produce quality content and encourage public education and debate. The key roles of the media are to educate, to inspire and to promote public discourse, particularly as the world faces critical issues, not least the state of the natural world. Nonetheless it is regrettable that the media often confuse opinion, fact and belief. Too much of the current debate focuses on belief. But belief is not important in many issues – what is important are matters of fact. This is particularly significant in major issues such as health and climate change where scientific knowledge is important. For example, in health investment in research is generally seen as overwhelmingly good. And it probably is but what about the unavoidable trade-offs in research in other areas? It is also regrettable that advertising is a major influence on public opinion and political processes. Robyn then moderated a discussion that included questions from the audience and covered such issues as the "priesthood status" of peer-review, the polarisation of public opinion, climate change, the state of critical argument in Australia and the necessity for the scientists to produce a compelling story in order to engage the media.

Annual General Meeting – new President elected

At the AGM held on Wednesday 4 April 2012, Dr Donald Hector was elected President of the Society, following John Hardie. John has been President of the Society twice, once in 1994 and from 2007-2011. The meeting moved a vote of thanks to John for his many years of devoted work to furthering the interests of the Society. John will continue as ex officio Vice President.

Click here for John's address to the annual general meeting.

Chief Scientist Invests New Fellows

The Society was very pleased to have two Fellows of the Society, Professor Jill Trewhella FAAAS FRSN and Emeritus Professor Noel Hush AO FAA FRS FRSN invested with their Awards by Professor Mary O'Kane, Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, at our Annual Dinner on Friday 18 February 2012.

Professors Jill Trewhella (left) Noel Hush with the Professor O'Kane after receiving their Fellowships at the annual dinner at St Paul's College, Sydney.

Professor O'Kane also presented the the Clarke Medal for 2011 to Emeritus Professor Byron Lamont for his life-long work on Australian flora, and the 2011 Edgeworth David Medal (for a young scientist under the age of 35) to pharmacologist, Dr Trent Woodruff.

Professor Lamont (left) and Dr Woodruff with the Professor O'Kane after receiving their awards at the annual dinner.

RSN Fellow & Medallist win NSW Scientist of Year Awards

Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons from UNSW was elected Fellow of the Society in 2010 and was presented with her award by our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, at our 2011 Annual Dinner. Professor Simmons was named the 2011 NSW Scientist of the Year and winner of the Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy category.

Professor Rick Shine from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney was awarded the 2010 Walter Burfitt Prize by our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, at our 2011 Annual Dinner. He won the Plant and Animal Research category at the awards.

More details can be found at the website of the "Office of NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer" NSW-Scientist-of-the-Year-2011

Governor Invests New Fellows

The Society was very pleased to have the remaining two Fellows of the Society for 2010 invested with their Awards by our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW, at a private function at Government House on 9 November 2011. Professor Kurt Lambeck and Professor Elizabeth Blackburn were overseas when Her Excellency presented our Awards at our Annual Dinner on 18 February so she very kindly agreed to bestow these Awards on them at this time. Lord May was also unable to be present in February and Her Excellency was able to perform his investiture on 29 April during his visit to Australia. 

At this most recent event Professor Blackburn was represented by Professor Roger Reddel, Lorimer Dods Professor and Director, Children's Medical Research Institute Westmead, who indicated that he was able to pass the Award to Professor Blackburn the following week. Our congratulations go out to our new Fellows.

Professors Roger Reddel (left, on behalf of Professor Elizabeth Blackburn) and Kurt Lambeck with the Governor and the President after receiving Fellow Awards at Government House, Sydney.

President Delivers Occasional Address

The Society's President was honoured with the opportunity to address new graduates and their families and friends at a graduation ceremony held at the University of Sydney on Friday 20 May 2011. The ceremony was for the Faculty of Science and for the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, and was presided over by the university's Chancellor, our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir. Over 200 new graduates had their degrees conferred, with the majority coming from the Science Faculty.

In his Occasional Address the President referred to the importance of communicating science to a wider audience by all who practise it. He also referred to the value of scientific professional associations and learned societies, particularly as a means of enabling science communication. He cited Professor Archibald Liversidge, the first Dean of Science at the university and a mainstay of the Society for the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as an embodiment of the broad approach that needs to be taken by all, especially today.


The Dirac Lecture 2011

Beauty and truth: their intersection in mathematics and science

Robert Lord May of Oxford, AC, FRSN

Date: Friday, 29th April, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Venue: Scientia Building, University of NSW

Meeting report by Donald Hector 

On 29 April 2011, Robert Lord May of Oxford, arguably the greatest mathematician that Australia has produced, was invested as a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW by the Governor. Earlier that day, Lord May presented the Dirac Lecture at the University of New South Wales, jointly sponsored by the Society. He took us on interesting exploration of some of the important concepts of mathematics, from Euclidean geometry via the concept of imaginary numbers to the mathematics of fractals and chaos theory and the extraordinary power of mathematics to describe observed real-world phenomena. 

Updating the observation by Galileo, "this grand book is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric objects", Lord May pointed out that rather than triangles and circles, today the mathematical objects are more likely to be fractals and "strange attractors". Nonetheless, as Galileo observed, and referring to the examples of Julia sets and Mandelbrot sets, there is great beauty in the elegance with which we can both describe and understand the immense complexity of the universe. He went on to explore the paradigm shift that Einstein divined from the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment that had found that the speed of light was the same for all observers. Einstein's formulation of the special theory of relativity led to a profound shift in our understanding of the relationships between momentum, mass and energy that has enabled extraordinary insights and understanding of the nature of the universe, from gravity to nuclear fission. Lord May pointed out that, regrettably, many of the great contributions do not get the recognition that they deserve. In his view, Paul Dirac was such a person – his formulation of the Dirac equation and its implication of the existence of positrons was one of the greatest steps forward in theoretical physics in the 20th century, yet his name is nowhere near as well known as that of Einstein. 

Quoting Keats "beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know", Lord May observed: well yes, but not really.

Governor's Reception for Lord May of Oxford

The Society was honoured by the decision of our Patron, Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW, to hold a reception at Government House, Sydney for the formal investiture of Lord May of Oxford, a distinguished Australian scientist now residing in the UK, as Fellow of the Society. This took place in the late afternoon of Friday 29 April 2011 following Lord May's delivery of the Dirac Lecture at the University of NSW that morning. The presence at the event of several leaders of the scientific community in NSW was testament to the value that is placed on excellence and achievement in science, and on the importance of the Society's Fellows.

Footage of the event can be found here: Dirac Lecture 2011 - Beauty and truth: their intersection in mathematics and science
Lord and Lady May (centre) with Her Excellency the Governor and the President following Lord May's investiture as Fellow of the Society at Government House Sydney.

Royal Society events

The Royal Society of NSW organizes a number of events in Sydney throughout the year.  These include Ordinary General Meetings (OGMs) held on the first Wednesday of the month (there is no meeting in January).  Society business is conducted, new Fellows and Members are inducted, and reports from Council are given to the membership.  This is followed by a talk and optional dinner.  Drinks are served before the meeting.  There is a small charge to attend the meeting and talk, and to cover refreshments.  The dinner is a separate charge, and must be booked in advance.  All OGMs are open to members of the public.

The first OGM in February has speakers drawn from the Royal Society Scholarship winners, and the December OGM hears from the winner of the Jak Kelly award, before an informal Christmas party.  The April event is our black-tie Annual Dinner and Distinguished Fellow lecture.

Other events are held in collaboration with other groups, including:

  • The Four Societies lecture (with the Australian Institute of Energy, the Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia [Sydney Division] and the Australian Nuclear Association)
  • The Forum (with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia)
  • The Dirac lecture (with UNSW Australia and the Australian Institute of Physics)
  • The Liversidge Medal lecture (with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute)
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