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)

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Annual Dinner 2017

  Guests of Honour:

  His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d)

  Governor of New South Wales and Patron of the Royal Society of New South Wales

  and Mrs Hurley

peter baume   
  Distinguished Fellow's Lecture:

  "Don't blame the unemployed"

 Hon Emeritus Professor Michael Baume AC DistFRSN


Award of Medals and Prizes:

    Archibald Liversidge Award for chemistry
    Clarke Medal for natural sciences
    Edgeworth David Medal for distinguished research by a young scientist
    James Cook Medal for contributions to science and human welfare
    History & Philosophy of Science Medal
    Poggendorff Award for plant biology and agriculture
    Walter Burfitt Prize for pure and applied science

Date: Wednesday May 3 2017: 6:30 for 6:45 pm
Venue: Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney
Cost (including dinner and drinks): $125 Members, $135 Guests and Non-Members, $1,250 for a table of 10, including dinner and drinks
Dress: Black tie
Note: places are limited
Final Date for Reservations is Friday April 28th

1252nd OGM and open lecture

 greg organ lion co April

 "The Science of Beer"

   Dr Greg Organ
   Senior Sensory Specialist
   Lion Company

Date: Wednesday 5th April 2017: 6:00 for 6:30 pm
Venue: Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney
Entry: $20 for Non-Members, $10 for Members and Associate Members of the Society, which includes a welcome drink.  Dress Code: Business
Dinner (including drinks): $80 for Members and Associate Members, $90 for Non-Members. Reservations must be made at least 2 days before.
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: 9431 8691
All are welcome.

Join us to explore the science of beer. We begin with a description of beer’s four ingredients – yeast, water, malt and hops – and the brewing process. To fully enjoy your beer you need to fully utilise your senses. The talk then moves to describing the role of each of the senses. The basics of sensory science are discussed to illustrate how the senses can be used to gain scientifically valid information. The sensory properties of the main flavours of beer and some simple chemistry are next discussed. The talk concludes with a brief mention of Lion’s marketing campaign “Beer The Beautiful Truth”. During the talk some practical hints as to how to enjoy your beer at its best are included.

Dr. Greg Organ is the Sensory Specialist for Lion. After gaining a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Sydney he worked for two years at the Research School of Chemistry, Australian National University. After this he made a major change in research area and worked for two years on the chemistry and sensory evaluation of wine at the Australian Wine Research Institute, Adelaide. Since then he has been the sensory and flavour scientist for Lion for nearly thirty years. He is responsible for the training, procedures and operation of all of Lion’s sensory evaluation panels. He also does the more complex flavour analytical work for Lion and some research work into the flavour chemistry of beer. He is well known within the Australian and New Zealand sensory science community and has made many presentations to a wide range of groups on beer science.

1251st OGM and Open Lecture

 Ferguson march 2017
  "Creative minds: Artistic and scientific endeavour on polar expeditions 1851 to 1951"

  Richard Ferguson FRGS
  Executive Director
  Craft Australia


Date: Wednesday 1st March 2017: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

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

Increased specialisation of academic disciplines in the twentieth century has for many lead to the view that Art and Science are at polar opposites when it comes to the value and contribution that art disciplines have made to scientific expeditions. Richard gave an overview of artistic endeavor on early scientific expeditions such as those of Cook / Endeavour 1768, 1771, Baudin / Geographe 1800 - 1803 and Fitzroy / Beagle 1831 - 1836, and how this directly influenced the application of photography on polar expeditions. There is a mounting body of illustrative and taxonomic artistic works being produced as documents of record on scientific and exploring expeditions. The more dramatic and romantic views such as, The Icebergs (1861), created by Hudson River School artist Fredrick E Church (1826 -1900) and Sealers Crushed in Ice (1876) by New Bedford born artist William Bradford (1823 û 1892) are what captured the imaging of the public. The productive mix of art and science was demonstrated through an analysis of over 1,000 images, from three nineteenth century arctic expeditions: William Bradford 1869; Benjamin Leigh Smith 1873, 1880; and George Strong Nares 1875 û 1876. Richard also discussed a re-photographic survey of the Antarctic work of Australian photographer Frank Hurley undertaken over five expeditions between 1987 and 1996.


Richard Ferguson has been involved in the cultural, heritage and education sectors for more than 30 years in both Australia and England. His initial tertiary training was at the National Art School, Sydney and later training in visual arts and photography enabled him to undertake original research and Antarctic field work on five expeditions with the Australian Antarctic Division and commercial operators. His particular area of interest is the use of photography on polar expeditions, which was initially based at the Mawson Institute for Antarctic Research at the University of Adelaide, Scott Polar Institute, Cambridge and then the South Australian Museum. This research, curatorial work and collections management gave rise to increasing involvement in the management of a variety of cultural projects at various museums and galleries. These include: Australian National Maritime Museum; Geelong Gallery; National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, one of twelve lead National Museums of England; and the Melbourne Cricket Club. Prior to that he was Manager of the Museums Australia Museums Accreditation Program. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1993 for his polar research and fieldwork. He is a member of the Royal Society of Victoria and currently a National Council Member of the International Council of Museums, Australia.





Annual Meeting of the Four Societies 2017

Four Societies 2017


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

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


Date and time: Thursday 23rd February 2017, 6.00pm to 8.00pm (reception from 5.30pm)

Venue: International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour

Cost: complimentary for both Members and non-members

Tickets and registration: Engineers Australia

This talk will focus on the challenge to Australia in moving to a reliable, low carbon and lowest possible cost electricity system. Nuclear power is a proven, low carbon energy source and may have a role to play in Australia. South Australia has abundant uranium resources and furthermore, with the combination of geological, political and technical factors, the State may provide a global solution for the permanent disposal of used fuel. The benefits of being a Nuclear State could be game changing.

Rear Admiral, the Honourable Kevin Scarce is the 16th Chancellor of the University of Adelaide and was the 34th Governor of South Australia from 2007 to 2014. He served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1968, retiring in 2004. His appointments included service on HMAS Sydney during the Vietnam War. Kevin also specialised in military logistics and procurement, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral and Head of Maritime Systems at the Defence Materiel Organisation. After retirement, as Head of the South Australian Defence Unit, he led a government team that contributed to ASC winning the contract to build air warfare destroyers for the Australian Defence Force. Kevin was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross in 1994, the Knight of Grace in the Venerable Order of Saint John in 2007 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2008. Rear Admiral Scarce completed a Bachelor of Financial Administrationfrom New England, Masters of Management Economics at the University of New South Wales (Australian Defence Force Academy campus), and a Masters Degree in National Security Strategy at the US War College (National Defense University) in Washington, DC. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Flinders University in 2009 for distinguished service to the public of South Australia and an Honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) from the University of New England in 2014. Kevin was appointed on 29 March 2015, as the Commissioner of the South Australia Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.

1250th OGM and open lecture

Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarship Award Winners for 2017

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

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

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

Date: Wednesday 1st February 2017: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

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

The Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarships recognise outstanding achievements by individuals working towards a research degree in a science-related field within New South Wales or the Australian Capital Territory. Each year three scholarships of $500 plus and a complimentary year of membership of the Society are awarded. The award winners give talks about their research at the first OGM and Public Lecture each year.



jeremy chan feb ogm

  Yik Lung (Jeremy) Chan

  School of Life Science,
  University of Technology Sydney

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

We do not understand well how maternal smoking and secondhand smoke exposure during pregnancy can cause lifelong adverse effects in the offspring, especially in their neurological function. Maternal cigarette smoke exposure is a risk factor for the shutdown of blood and oxygen supply to the brain. This can lead to several functional defects, including problems with movement, sensation, strength, and thinking, increasing the financial burden of both the family and government. My work aims to understand how maternal cigarette smoke exposure affects brain health, to allow the discovery of therapeutic targets for potential interventions. He described the various experiments he conducted with mice to identify the effects of smoke exposure on behaviour and brain function.



  Andrew Ritchie

  School of Life and Environmental Sciences
  University of Sydney

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

Molecular dating, powered by increasing floods of genetic data, is allowing biologists to look ever more closely at the central mystery of evolution – the origin of species. At the same time, the digital revolution has led to the application of biological methods to surprising new types of data – such as the imprints of human history left in the relationships among world languages. To do this, biologists and linguists construct models that interpret genetic and lexical data in the light of our assumptions about the evolutionary process. In this talk, he  described the available models and his findings regarding their powers and pitfalls for analyses of the ancient past.


Ronai Feb

  Isobel Ronai

  School of Life and Environmental Sciences
  University of Sydney

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

Currently little is known about the mechanisms that underlie worker sterility in the social insects.Studies into a mutant ‘anarchistic’ strain of honey bee identified a promising candidate gene for regulating worker fertility. My results suggest that this Anarchy gene is involved in the regulation of the worker’s ovary via the mechanism of programmed cell death. My findings indicate that a pheromone from the queen honey bee affects the Anarchy gene and triggers the reproductive inhibition of the workers. This is a breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of worker sterility in the social insects. In this talk she described some of the fascinating characteristics of bee colony behaviour and the experiments she conducted to show how the worker bees reproductive organs were affected by the Queen's pheromone.

1249th OGM and Christmas Party

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

Dr Matthew Barr, School of Mathematical and Physical Science, University of Newcastle
Jak Kelly Award Winner for 2016 (award presented by Irene Kelly)

Wednesday 7th December 2016, Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney.

Inspired by the ancient pinhole camera, researchers have developed a technology to give new insights into the nature of matter. The scanning helium microscope makes it possible to generate images with fine details without the kind of damage to the delicate structures caused by traditional microscopes. For example, one can see the distinct flakes of chitin on a butterfly's wing that resemble plated armour, or the curve of a spider's fang. Matthew's talk will describe how the new technology works and show some of the new types of images that are now possible.

Matthew recently completed his PhD at the University of Newcastle in the Centre for Organic Electronics. He specialises in microscope design and has a particular interest in free jet atomic and molecular beam sources. He also has experience in experimental vacuum science techniques, from vacuum system design through to x-ray techniques, and systems operation and analysis. In 2011 he received an Australian Nanotechnology Network travel fellowship that allowed him to travel to University of Cambridge. While there he was involved in the successful construction of a first-generation helium microscope. 

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.

1248th OGM and public lecture

Presentation of Distinguished Fellowship to Dame Marie Bashir AD, CVO, DistFRSN

The President presented the certificate of Distinguished Fellowship to Dame Marie Bashir at the start of the OGM. Past President Hector read the citation.

Jim Kehoe 2016 small “Finding the Right Course for the Right Horse:
 Recent Evidence-Based Advances in Instructional Design”

  Jim Kehoe
  Professor of Psychology
  UNSW Australia

Date: Wednesday 2nd November 2016

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

Students of all ages and stages can become disengaged in a new subject area, often right out of the starting gate. While a few top students forge ahead, many others progressively accept mediocrity or failure. Different types of one-size-fits-all solutions have been attempted, usually with little reduction in the wide variation among students' progress.

Fortunately, over the past 25 years, experimental research on instructional design – much of it originating in New South Wales – has revealed a set of principles for improving the speed and consistency of individual learning. These principles are themselves founded in earlier research that defined the “cognitive architecture” of human memory.

Jim's talk focused on human cognitive architecture and the key principles for instructional design, which include (a) recognise and optimise demands on short-term memory; (b) help students to organise their long-term memories rather than rote memorise the material; (c) help students to actively interact with the learning material; and (d) provide instructive feedback as well as knowledge of results. These principles have proved to applicable in an adaptive way as students gain proficiency.

Jim Kehoe came to the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 1977 after completing his PhD in experimental psychology at the University of Iowa. Apart from sabbatical appointments, he has remained at UNSW, rising from Lecturer to Professor in 1994. Although now part-time, he continues as a member of the academic staff.

His research has concerned pure and applied research in learning and memory. His early career was devoted the laboratory study of associative learning in animals and its neural mechanisms. He has also been a leader in the mathematical modeling of associative learning. Over the last two decades, he has increasingly turned his attention to applied research on learning and memory in humans in contexts ranging from frontline management to military populations to older adults. He is a project officer in the Australian Army, currently holding the rank of lieutenant colonel.

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.

1247th OGM and public lecture

 Itai Oct 2016 "From sand and rice bubbles to earthquakes and volcanoes"

  Professor Itai Einav, School of Engineering, University of Sydney

  Director of the Sydney Centre in Geomechanics and Mining Materials

Date: Wednesday 5th October 2016

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

The Universe is granulated. Stars, planets and asteroids are all relatively small particles when compared to galaxies (themselves, particles when seen from afar). They are relatively huge when compared to sand particles. The number of atoms in a single particle of sand is roughly the same as the number of sand particles in Australia¹s beaches, somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. Together with dry rice, M&M¹s and pharmaceutical powders, sand particles belong to the class of granular materials, the second-most manipulated material in industry (after water). But the motion of sand particles is far less understood than the motion of atoms in water or the motion of celestial bodies and galaxies. What is it about sand particles and rice bubbles that makes them so hard to describe? What governs their motion, and how can they inform us about important phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanoes? This talk will tackle those questions.

Working at the University of Sydney, Professor Itai Einav is the Director of SciGEM (Sydney Centre in Geomechanics and Mining Materials). He is an Honorary Professor of University College London, a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW, and has held visiting research appointments at Universities in USA, France, Spain and Japan. He is an Editor of granular matter and sits on the editorial board of Géotechnique. He received several international research awards, including medals from UK’s Institute of Civil Engineers and Europe’s ALERT Geomaterials. His work crosses many disciplines at the interfaces of Civil Engineering, Physics, Resources Engineering, Geophysics, and Applied Mathematics. Einav’s work in the disciplinary area of granular physics has yielded discoveries in heat transfer, mixing, segregation and melting. More recently he has developed strong affinity to rice bubbles


1246th OGM and public lecture

Richard Neville “A source of inspiration and delight: The Mitchell Library”

  Richard Neville

  Mitchell Librarian and Director, Education & Scholarship

Date: Wednesday 7th September 2016: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

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

The State Library of New South Wales can trace its history back to 1826. In many ways it history and development runs in parallel to that of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Its first iteration was as a private gentleman’s library, with a male only membership. Gradually its remit expanded, supported by a sense that libraries were institutions necessary for the public good, but it struggled to survive as a private organisation. Eventually the NSW Government stepped in and purchased it in 1869, when it became the Free Public Library. In this transition it threw away its editions of Jane Austen, and focused on useful, economic, knowledge.

From 1869 to today the Library, now known as the State Library of NSW, has embedded itself into the cultural life of NSW. The bequest of David Scott Mitchell in 1907, which lead to the inauguration of the Mitchell Library in 1910, and the various bequests of Sir William Dixson, were seminal gifts which established the Library as the premier documentary collection in the country. The library also holds some of the early archives of the Royal Society of NSW.

People are often surprised to learn of the extent of the the Library’s collections of photographs, manuscripts (more than 12 linear kms of them), These record the early discovery of the Pacific through to the colonization of Australia through to the archives of contemporary organisations and individuals, paintings, maps, architectural plans as well as books. Increasingly the Library is grappling with the impact of digital culture on the library collections and future collection strategies.

The future of libraries is much debated, but the future for the State Library and its Mitchell Library is very strong. The Library’s archives and publications are critical in telling the story of Australia’s history, and this talk explored its history and development, the motivations and drive for which are no doubt very similar to those to drove the Royal Society.

Richard Neville is the Mitchell Librarian and Director Education and Scholarship at the State Library of NSW. With a research background in nineteenth century Australian art and culture, he has published widely on colonial art and society. He has also been extensively involved in the acquisition, arrangement, description and promotion of the Library’s renowned Australian research collections.

2016 Sydney Science Festival lunchtime science talks

Royal Society of New South Wales Sydney Science Festival lunchtime talks

More details about the Festival are to be found at:

Venue: The University of Sydney Business School CBD Campus, Level 17, Stockland Building, 133 Castlereagh St.


Talk 1 “Complex Systems and Swarm Intelligence”

Professor Mikhail Prokopenko

University of Sydney

Date: Friday 12 August 12.30 – 1.30pm:

Mikhail started by distinguishing complicated from complex systems, the latter being self-organising and having emergent properties.  They are also not subject to any central control or design.  Their behaviour depends on how the actors involved interact.  These rules can be quite simple yet produce suprising patterns like the dynamic schooling behaviour of fish or the building of a termite nest. Mikhail explained how the flow of influence or information within such a system takes place, how it relates to artificial intelligence and how these insights have beeb used by his team to win the 2016 World RoboCup - a simulated football game. 


Talk 2: “The Royal Botanic Gardens 200th Birthday”

Dr Brett Summerell

Royal Botanic Gardens

Date: Tuesday 16 August 12.30-1.30pm

Brett described the beginnings of the Gardens and how the site has changed over the years. We learned about the way the science agenda has developed over time, the nature of the valuable collections they have, and the important research they are and have been involved in. 


Talk 3" “Courts, Criminals and Chemistry: Forensic Science in NSW”

Professor Brynn Hibbert

President of the Royal Society of NSW and Emeritus Professor, University of NSW

Wednesday 17 August 12.30 to 1.30pm

Brynn explained the role of the expert in court proceedings and how they work for the court rather than either side, even though they are hired by one side. He explained how forensic science developed and some of the important contributors. Lastly, he used examples from his many times as an expert witness to show the problems of communicating scientfic results in a way that can understood and used by the court. 


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

Professor Pascal Perez

University of Wollongong

Thursday 18th August 12.30-1.30pm

Pascal explained how the Internet of Things(IoT) is misrepresented because the focus is on the things and ignores the people involved. He gave many examples of the way the IoT is pervasive and changing our lives.  He also discussed both the benefits and dangers arising such as social inequities (financial and knowledge), privacy, "uberveilannce" and security breaches.  For example, how a big solar flare could have devasting effects. He provided a detailed example of a recent project in which crowd sourced information from mobile phones and Twitter feeds has changed the way Djakarta can know about and deal with flooding disasters. Lastly, he told us about a new type of disruptive technology, low power long range (LoRa) communication, that is already present in Australia.

1245th OGM and public lecture

Briggs    “Celebrating the 200th Birthday of Royal Botanic Gardens:
    A Personal History of 57 years of Science”

    Dr Barbara Briggs

    Honorary Research Associate, Royal Botanic Gardens

Date: 3 August 2016: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

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


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 celebrates 150 years since it received Royal Assent from Queen Victoriai, though its origins go back to 1821.  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 took us through the history of the Gardens. One area she focused on was the way the development of DNA data that has given a far more complete and robust knowledge of evolutionary relationships than she ever expected to see. She also told us about how the Gardens survived in part 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 and how her skills in identifying a tiny leaf fragment helped solve a murder case. Laslty she described 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. Dr Briggs 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.

1244th OGM and public lecture

Bob Young OGM 1243   "Royal" not "Philosophical" - W.B. Clarke's Inaugural Address
  to the Royal Society of NSW

  Dr Bob Young

  Associate Professor of Geoscience (ret’d), University of Wollongong

Wednesday 6 July 2016: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney

The Royal Society of New South Wales is 150 years old this year. 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.

Bob Young Book OGM 1244 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 delved into the personal life of and described the development of Clarke's ideas about science, as well as some of his contemporaries, and the impact they had based on his recent biography This wonderfully strange country: Rev W.B. Clarke, Colonial Scientist.

Bob Young was, before his retirement, an Associate Professor of Geoscience at the University of Wollongong. He has been a member of the Geological Society of Australia and the Geographical Society of New South Wales and was Associate Editor of Australian Geographer from 1981 to 1992. He has published 5 books and over 100 research papers on topics ranging over weathering and erosional sequences, sandstone landforms, sea level change, tsunami, and the history of landform studies.

1243rd OGM and public lecture

 Peter Hiscock 1“The curious case of the scientist in cinema: how Indiana Jones turns out to be the bad guy!”

  Professor Peter Hiscock
  Tom Austen Brown Professor of Australian Archaeology
  University of Sydney

Date: Wednesday June 1

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club, 25 Bent St, 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 delved into the history of cinema and provided 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.

Annual black-tie dinner 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 Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret'd), Governor of New South Wales

The Distinguished Fellow's Lecture delivered by Em. Professor Eugenie Lumbers AM DistFRSN

Wednesday 4 May 2016

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



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


Eugenie Lumbers AM DistFRSN, Michael Burton and Brynn Hibbert

The Clarke Medal for 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 for 2015 was presented to Associate Professor Simon Ho, ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney.

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

1242nd OGM, AGM and public lecture

 don hector

  "Royal Society of NSW – relevance in the 21st century"

   Dr Donald Hector FRSN
   President of the Royal Society of New South Wales

Date: Wednesday 6th April

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

Donald Hector was President of the Royal Society of NSW for four years from 2012 to 2016. This is an excerpt from his Presidential Address delivered immediately following the AGM. The full address will be published in the Journal and Proceedings.

Dr Hector noted the success introduction of Fellowships of the Society and the appointment since then of well over 100 Fellows. He also referred to the importance of extending the Society's activities across all its disciplines of science, art, literature and philosophy. Of particular significance is the relationship that is developing with Australia's four learned Academies. At the Forum held at Government House in September 2015, all the issues that were identified as the major challenges facing the world today are highly-complex, socio-techno-economic problems. How may the Society contribute to their solution? Dr Hector set the stage with a historical perspective and then explored issues around philosophy and cognitive psychology that are important in framing these problems and identifying solutions to them.

The way in which we define and attempt to solve problems today originates in the philosophy of ancient Greece. It was rediscovered in the 14th century and was a major influence on the development Renaissance. Its importance can be seen in two great paintings of the Renaissance, Raphael's works Knowledge of Causes (or The School of Athens) and Disputation over the Most Holy Sacrament. The first is a representation of natural truth as acquired through reason (arithmetic, astronomy, rhetoric, the arts, music and poetry; the second shows the relationship between God and man. Taken together, the two juxtaposed paintings represent the thinking and belief-system of that era and upon which the Renaissance developed. The point is that art can give great insight into human thought.

The model of the world that evolved in the Renaissance and continued until the early 20th century was a mechanistic one – the great philosophers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment considered the universe to be like a clock. It behaves linearly, with any disturbance producing an effect in proportion to the disturbance. The Padua method, developed in the Renaissance, of breaking a problem into its component parts and finding a solution by reassembling solutions to the components work well. But by the 20th century biology, ecology in a number of other challenges were not well explained by the mechanistic model and systems theory evolved.

Systems are non-linear – a tiny disturbance in one part can result in a large disturbance in another. They are unstable – they can flip. The outcome for the whole system cannot be found by adding the responses of component subsystems together – every part influences every other. In the last half-century, with the increasing population and complexity of the world, a new type of problem emerged – "wicked problems”. In these, there are masses of data but no clear way to analyse it. Human stakeholders hold apparently irreconcilable differences in beliefs and values and are willing to exploit power imbalances coercively to achieve their own ends.

At the time of the Renaissance, there was a clear relationship between the value-system represented by religion and a thirst for knowledge, as represented in Raphael's painting but today, in the Western world at least, value-systems are far less clear. Science follows a rationalist philosophy – seeking truth through rational analysis, recognising that social influences affect the outcome. Economics and politics are utilitarian – attempting to maximise public good or benefit. The legal system is deontological or duty-based. But there is no overarching value-system as there was during the Renaissance. The conflict between today's value-systems is further complicated by the limitations in human thinking.

No two individuals see a problem in exactly the same way – we all look at things through "lenses” that distort our view of reality according to our perceptions and experience. We form images of problem situations that are heavily influenced by our philosophical framework and belief-system. Our immediate response to problems is intuitive but this is subject to bias. A more measured analytical approach – rational thought – is able to be learnt but we must remain aware that we can make mistakes. These two thought processes have been described as two different systems but that misunderstands the fundamental nature of cognition – they are a single system responding to different stimuli and this system exhibits all of the non-linear and unexpected characteristics that one would expect. In order to make sense of the enormous complexity we encounter, we use narrative to confabulate to make sense of things that we do not understand to make them conform to our notions of reality.

Recognising the limitations imposed by our value-systems and our cognition, we can use our capacity for rational analysis to gain much greater insight into problems that were previously unassailable. We can imagine what futures might look like. Because we can recognise that various stakeholders in situations will approach the problem from different perspectives, we can accept this as fundamental to the human condition and that should facilitate understanding. The big challenge is to embrace the complexity of the problem – particularly the sociological dimensions – to overcome the inherent bias that we all hold to find common ground, rather than focus on the differences. Most importantly, we can write narratives. Drawing upon our diverse experience, these narratives can engage people with a wide range of worldviews and draw them along with us.

The Royal Society of NSW is uniquely placed to provide leadership in this type of complex analysis. The wisdom of the founders in defining such a broad remit of human knowledge – science, art, literature and philosophy – was truly prescient and recognised the ever-increasing complexity of modern life. But we need to change if we are to maximise our impact. Historically, the Society has focused largely on the sciences. Only recently, have we extended into the other areas of human knowledge encompassed by our charter. We need to attract Fellows and Members from all fields of human knowledge, if we are to engage in the representation and solution of the highly complex problems that exist in the world today. We need more writers, artists, sociologists, musicians and historians. Only then, will we be able to completely engage with the community. That is not to say that we should abandon our scientific heritage – quite the opposite, most of the problems that the world faces today have enormous technological challenges. But these solutions will not be found in science and technology alone – they will require the engagement of non-scientists in terms they can understand.


1241st OGM and public lecture

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

Dr Len Fisher

Visiting Fellow in Physics, University of Bristol

Len Fisher OGM 1241 small

Date: Wednesday 2 March 2016

Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney

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.

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.


1240th OGM and public lecture

Note: the OGM number 1239 is not used for administrative reasons.  Hence this OGM is numbered 1240.

Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarship presentations

OGM 1240 v stadnik a dudek c foster

The scholarship winners with the President of the Royal Society of NSW, Dr Donald Hector: l-r Yevgeny Stadnik, Adam Dudek, Don Hector, Charles Forster

The Royal Society of New South Wales has a long tradition of encouraging and supporting scientific research and leading intellectual life in the State. The Council of the Royal Society has established the Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarships in order to acknowledge outstanding achievements by young researchers. The talks this evening were by the 2015 scholarship winners

Time: February 3 2016

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

"Problems and Prime Numbers" Adrian Dudek

Adrian Dudek works 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 his talk, Adrian recounted some of the history of this ancient branch of mathematics, whilst describing some of his own results in this area.  

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

Charles Forster is a 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, Charles has provided the most comprehensive combination of analyses of the angiosperm evolutionary timescale so far. The results he has 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 his talk, Yevgeny presented an overview of some of the group's 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.


1238th OGM, public lecture and Christmas party

"From Quantum Devices to Quantum Machines"

James Colless, University of Sydney

Winner of the Royal Society of New South Wales Jak Kelly Scholarship Award for 2015


Date:December 2 2015:

Venue:University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney

The Jak Kelly Award was created in honour of Professor Jak Kelly, who was Professor of Physics and The University of Sydney and UNSW and also President of the Royal Society of NSW; Its purpose is to encourage excellence in postgraduate research in Physics. It is supported by the Royal Society of NSW and the Australian Institute of Physics, NSW Branch. The winner is selected from a short list of candidates who made presentations at a recent meeting of the Australian Institute of Physics, NSW Branch.

Quantum computing, the use of quantum phenomena to process information, has begun the long journey from hypothetical possibility to real-world applications. In the same way that the theoretical development of quantum mechanics fundamentally changed the way in which we understand the universe, quantum computing offers the potential to revolutionize the way in which we are able to interact with it. In particular, this counter-intuitive nanoscale world of superposition and entanglement may allow previously intractable computational problems to be solved efficiently.

The fundamental building blocks of a quantum information processor are isolated quantum mechanical two-level systems known as quantum bits or ‘qubits'. Ideally such systems are easy to manipulate while being decoupled from noise in their local environment - goals that are often contradictory. In order to outperform their classical cousins at meaningful tasks quantum computers will conservatively require the control of thousands to millions of qubits. While this is still orders of magnitude less than the billions of transistors on a modern microprocessor, it is still far beyond what is currently possible.

The 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.

James Colless is a postgraduate research 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.

1237th OGM and public lecture

"Big History"

Professor David Christian

Director, The Big History Institute

Macquarie University


Date: Wednesday November 4 2015

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

Since the beginnings of human history, taking stories from the past and synthesising them has delivered far more than the sum of the parts – it is an enormously powerful way that humans use to place themselves in context. All human societies use this approach to create origin-stories that define their place in the world. Astronomy, geology, biology, human history, anthropology, taken within the context of prehistory, ancient history and modern history can create an enormously rich origin-story for modern civilisation. Indeed, when modern science is brought to bear, this becomes even more powerful.

Modern astronomy and theoretical physics suggest that our universe is about 13.8 billion years old. We have been able to observe and to delve into this history, at least in part, to a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. It is thought that within seconds of the Big Bang an almost-instantaneous inflation took place, causing the universe to expand, a phenomenon that continues and, indeed accelerates, even today. A consequence of this (as described in what is known as the "second law of thermodynamics”) is that complexity continues to increase. Stars formed, some exploded causing formation of the elements, these gradually came together to form new stars and planets and, at least on one planet in the universe, life evolved. To put this in context, the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, life began about 1 billion years later, with more sophisticated lifeforms not appearing until about 500 million years ago. It is hard to think in billions of years so to give some sense of scale, if rather than 13.8 billion years, the age of the universe was 13.4 years, the Earth formed about five years ago, the more sophisticated forms of life such as insects, plants and other animals started to form 3–5 months ago, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs hit 2½ weeks ago and humans have only been around a day or two.

Professor Christian describes human history as a sequence of "thresholds” – the big bang, the influence of gravity, the formation of chemicals and so on. The fifth of these thresholds was the formation of life. Lifeforms that we know a distinctive because they are complex adaptive systems – they behave in unpredictable ways. The only way in which life can be successful is if it develops the capacity to store and manage information so that it can respond to unpredictable changes in its environment. The second law of thermodynamics says that energy is required to overcome the natural tendency to disorder so all life on earth is reliant on energy to overcome complexity and on DNA to store and pass information to subsequent generations. Hence, at the heart of life is energy and information.

In the case of humans, we have developed a very sophisticated way (called language) to communicate that allows us to pass information to one another. Virtually all the energy available on Earth originates from the Sun. Human evolution progressed quite quickly when farming and fire allow greater utilisation of energy, so the capacity to control information became substantially greater. This took off exponentially when humans develop ways to utilise fossil fuels, and, later, nuclear power thereby gaining access enormous amounts of energy beyond that which is immediately available from sunlight.

We now have so much energy and so much information that it is potentially enough to destroy the biosphere. The question is do we have the capacity and the wisdom now to control this? That remains to be seen.

1236th OGM and public lecture

"The Revolution in Radio Astronomy"

Professor Elaine Sadler

University of Sydney


Date: Wednesday October 7

Venue: Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street 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. I 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. I'll 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.She was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2010. She has served as President of Division VIII (Galaxies and the Universe) of the International Astronomical Union (2009-2012) and Chair of the National Committee for Astronomy (2010-2012). As CAASTRO Director, she overseas a 140-strong team of scientists and research students across seven Australian university nodes and 11 partner institutions here and overseas.


Four Academies Forum 2015: the future of work

"The future of work"

Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum


His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (ret'd), Vice Regal Patron of the RSNSW

Date: Tuesday 15 September 2015

Venue: Government House, Sydney

The Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum was the inaugural collaborative event between the Society and the NSW-chapters of the four national Academies. The Forum was hosted by the vice regal patron of the Society, His Excellency The Hon General David Hurley at Government House on Tuesday, 15 September 2015.

The speakers at the forum were Professor Mary O'Kane, Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW who provided framing comments about the technological challenges that the working environment would face over the next 20 years or so and the need for NSW and the nation to embrace innovation and change and the introduction of new business models. Professor Andrew Holmes of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Fitzgerald, President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Dr Alan Finkel, President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering gave valuable insights from their various perspectives and a panel discussion responding to these issues was led by Professor Glenn Withers President-elect of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. In addition, there were five other speakers drawn from senior Fellows of the four Academies. They were Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, Professor Hugh Durrant Whyte, Professor Amarjit Kaur, Professor Bettina Cass, and Professor Julianne Schultz. The discussion panel, led by Professor Withers consisted of Dr Eric Knight, Professor Vera Mackie, Mr Anthony Roediger and Mr Jeremy Webster.


Professor Alan Finkel

issues covered were far-reaching: "techno-optimism" – humanity has a good track record for solving problems by the application of technology. We should not forget the enormous challenges of the changing environment that will take place over the next couple of decades but we should not forget the capacity of humans to adapt. One of the best ways that this adaptability presents itself is through innovation of entrepreneurship and resort examples of development of start-up technologies that have become very successful businesses. Yet many of the challenges that face the workforce will not be technological in their nature, even though they may have their origins there. The role of social policy, particularly around carers as the population ages and families with both parents participating in the workforce become the norm. Indeed, despite the fact we largely focus on the changes that face the workforce that originate in technology, many of the drivers are not technological in their nature – globalisation, climate change, resource conflicts, population movements and cultural change will be major influences in the coming decades. Although we tend to think of technological change as the driver of change, this is perhaps the wrong way to look at it – it suggests that we have no option. In fact, whether or not we choose to adopt particular technologies is a matter of policy and choice.

Education emerged as a major theme. A society cannot progress unless it educates its people. The challenge is to ensure that education is well directed and that we educate our people the right fields. We heard about the extraordinary advances in computing technology and how this would change the nature of work over the next 20 years – perhaps 40% of today's jobs will disappear. But this need not be a looming social disaster because headlines about such projections tend to overlook the rate of job creation. If job creation is greater than job destruction, the technology will end up providing a net benefit. But such disruption itself causes problems and the workforce and the communities in which they work need to be resilient and to be able to embrace change. Historically, Australia has done well in this as evidenced in places like Newcastle and Wollongong but there are always winners and losers – we need to be sure that communities in individuals are not destroyed in the process. It is also important that as a nation, we do not consider these issues in isolation. Workforces in Asia, for example, have very high migrant workforces – the movement of people and the cultural and social issues and challenges that these introduce will be an important factor as we plan for the future.

The Governor summed up, emphasising that our future might be defined in terms of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Over the next 20 or 30 years, the rate of change will be great and the challenge for the nation is how we engage with these issues. Technology should not be the driver – it should be the tool to help us define what we want to be as a nation.

The Society thanks the speakers and the panellists for their extremely rich and diverse insights and, in particular, thanks the organising committee of the Forum, Dr Donald Hector, Dr David Cook, Professor Ian Dawes, Professor Max Crossley, Professor John Gascoigne, Professor Heather Goodall, Dr Des Griffin, Mr John Hardie, Dr Richard Sheldrake and Professor Ian Wilkinson for putting together such a stimulating programme. We also thank The University of Sydney Business School for their sponsorship of the event

1235th OGM and open lecture

"Trait-based Ecology"

Professor Mark Westoby

Department of Biological Sciences

Macquarie University

NSW Scientist of the Year 2014


Date: September 2 2015

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

Ecological strategies summarize the variety of styles that different plant species have adopted to sustain their populations in different settings. Beginning in the mid-90s, ecological strategies began to be described on the basis of measurable species traits. This made worldwide comparisons possible. Over the past 20 years collaborative international networks have accumulated large quantitative databases and very much clarified the global picture. More recently, the relationship of traits to plant growth rates has begun to be elucidated. The long-standing problem of how a large number of species are able to coexist at a site is being revisited on the basis of measurable traits.

Mark Westoby has degrees and postdoc experience at University of Edinburgh, Utah State University and Cornell University. He came to Macquarie University as a raw lecturer in 1975. Together with his late wife Barbara Rice he developed a comparative ecology lab that has graduated 50 PhDs and postdocs into continuing research careers. He developed and taught for 10 years a national 1--day postgrad course in current ecology and evolution. Currently his lab is supported by a Laureate Fellowship from ARC. He is chair of the Academy's National Committee on Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, and leader of the Genes to Geoscience Research Centre at Macquarie University.


Site by

Privacy policy  |  Links to other societies

All rights reserved; copyright © The Royal Society of NSW.