Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

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. 

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.

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.

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.


Site by

Privacy policy  |  Links to other societies

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