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
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.
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.
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.