Royal Society of NSW Exhibition: NEXUS

RSNSW Exhibition: NEXUS Cover Image

Jean Garling Room
Mitchell Building, State Library of NSW
1 Shakespeare Place, Sydney



Delayed Opening: The opening of NEXUS, which was to occur on the weekend of 26 June 2021, has now been delayed due to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation in Sydney, and the lockdown of Greater Sydney declared on 26 June. The State Library will be closed until the cessation of the current lockdown, 11.59 pm on Friday 9 July, unless restrictions are further extended. This notice will be updated as soon as the Society is advised by the Library when the Exhibition can open. Please check back regularly.

About the Exhibition: This Exhibition begins a year of celebrations to mark the Society’s contributions to the intellectual life of NSW over 200 years. It is the perfect moment to reinforce our commitment to enriching lives through knowledge and inquiry. As we think about our future, we are informed by our history.

NEXUS has two meanings: a central or focal point; and a connection or series of connections linking two or more things. From the beginning, the Society has epitomised both meanings, as a forum for ideas and discovery, exposing us to the latest research and promoting awareness of some of the major issues confronting humanity. With 200 years of history, the exhibition can only showcase a fraction of the Society’s archives and achievements in telling the story of its Origins, Ideas, Advances, and Impacts.

Highlights of the exhibition include: 

  • Letters from Professor Sir T W Edgeworth David, Antarctic explorer, on sun thaw line observations and arranging a presentation on the British Antarctic Expedition (1907 – 1909) led by Sir Ernest Shackleton
  • Two original letters, including one with box-kite illustrations, of Lawrence Hargrave, a noted aviation pioneer and the first in Australia to fly (attached to four box kites of his own design), who published 23 papers on aeronautics in the Society’s Journal & Proceedings.

1296th OGM and Open Lecture

Professor Alison Bashford“The Intimate History of Evolution: The Huxleys 1825–1975”

A contribution to National Science Week

Professor Alison Bashford FRSN FAHA FRHistS FBA
Laureate Professor of History
UNSW (Sydney)

Date: Wednesday, 4 August 2021, 6.30 pm AEST 
Venue: Zoom webinar.  For assistance in getting started with Zoom, please click this link
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
Entry: No charge
All are welcome. 

Summary: At Life Magazine’s 1947 photoshoot, Julian Huxley self-consciously arranged himself in front of a portrait of his grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley. In the foreground, a well-known mid-twentieth century science writer, zoologist, conservationist—that generation’s David Attenborough. In the background, a mid-nineteenth century natural scientist – Darwin’s most outspoken spokesman.

Huxley Image Between them, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) and Julian Huxley (1887–1975) communicated to the world the great modern story of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Together, they were ‘trustees of evolution’, a phrase that Julian Huxley often used to describe all of humankind, but which I use to describe the Huxleys themselves.

What is yielded by considering these two particular Huxleys together? They were driven by the same momentous questions, but in different eras. What is the nature of time and how old is the Earth itself? What is the connection and distinction between human history and natural history? How are humans animals and how are we not? What is the deep past and the distant future of humankind? Can and should we actively seek to improve future generations? What might the planet look like 10,000 years hence? Through and with these high-powered Huxleys, I can track the problems and wonders of the modern world that they themselves raised, postured, and pondered over lives that spanned 1825-1975.

Alison Bashford is Laureate Professor of History at UNSW, and Director of the Laureate Centre for History & Population, and Honorary Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge. Previously she was Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge and Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University. Bashford is best known for her work on the modern history of population and human ecology, in two books, Global Population: History, Geopolitics and Life on Earth (Columbia 2014) and The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus (Princeton, 2016) with Joyce E. Chaplin. She is currently completing An Intimate History of Evolution: From Genesis to Genetics with a Scientific Dynasty, the Huxleys, 1825–1975 (Penguin RandomHouse). Alison Bashford is a fellow of the British Academy and the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She was awarded the Royal Society of New South Wales History and Philosophy of Science Medal for 2020 and the Dan David Laureate Prize in 2021.


Our Energy Future: a two-part event from RSNSW

Dr Saul Griffith
Our Energy Future:

The Unrecognised Opportunity in Glasgow — In Two Acts

Part 1: Context and Castle

Part 2: Crushed Rocks

Dr Adi Paterson
Dr Saul Griffith FRSN

including a conversation with

Dr Adi Paterson FRSN

Date: 12.30 pm AEST, Wed. 25 August 2021 (Part 1) and 15 September 2021 (Part 2)
Venue: Zoom webinars — Part 1 and Part 2
Entry: No charge
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Society Members and Fellows, and members of the public are welcome

This year, from 1–12 November 2021, Glasgow, Scotland will host the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Glasgow” is the current shorthand for this meeting — which may etch it into our consciousness for a generation as Rio de Janiero did in 1992 with the Rio 21 Principles.

Saul Griffith presents a future for our energy system and economy in the context of Glasgow. For Australia, understanding what we know (and why) about our energy economy allows us to think deeply about reimagining an energy economy without carbon dioxide and other emissions. The two sessions explore the Australian energy economy: domestic — “Our Castles” and global — “Our Crushed Rocks”. Using a new analysis of our emissions data and a cross-sectoral analysis, he will contextualise our machines (hardware in the economy) and climate targets (1.5 degrees, with and without negative emissions) to show why we now need nearly perfect execution of new solutions.

Part 1: Context and Castles — 25 August 2021

The Talk: Saul Griffith

Households as a political and economic unit are a natural focal point for climate policy. To win, we must transform household economics by “Electrifying Everything”. This includes near-term cost trends, a new study on Australian household economics, and why our electric vehicle (EV) policies and gas recovery policies are not commensurate with our goals.

The Conversation: Saul Griffith and Adi Paterson

The conversation will explore themes and outcomes from the research and the new opportunities and challenges of “Electrifying Everything”.

Part 2: Crushed Rocks — 14 September 2021

The second session will start with responses to questions and comments from the first session, and will allow people who did not see session 1 to get the background that will give context to the second talk.

Questions may be submitted by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. up until 14 September 2021.

The Talk: Saul Griffith

Given we can win the battle for our Castles in the domestic economy (Part 1), what about the export economy, given the fear of lost rural and regional jobs and export value that has traditionally driven Australian climate politics? This discussion has to deal with our hydrogen demons and global trade and economic security. It needs a very honest look at our primary exports in the context of a carbon-constrained world. Is Australia’s enormous opportunity (still) in metals? If it is, the processes need to be electrified, and we need to produce primary metals and not just ores. There is also an agricultural opportunity.

The Conversation: Saul Griffith and Adi Paterson

Saul and Adi will explore the export economy and the technologies that we don’t yet have, but which are predictably going to exist, to decarbonise the “hard to decarbonise” sectors such as steel, aluminium, cement, agriculture, forestry, paper, and pulp.

The Wrap

Saul Griffith will provide recommendations for what Australia could advance at the COP in Glasgow — if we aspire to be a country that wants to win the carbon Olympics as badly as we wanted to win at the Tokyo Olympics.

About the Speakers

Dr Saul Griffith

Saul Griffith PhD (MIT) ME (Syd) BMetEng (UNSW) is an engineer and energy entrepreneur.  Saul has been a recipient of the Macarthur Fellowship, MIT TR35, World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Tallberg Foundation Global Leadership Award, and Lemelson MIT Inventor Award. He has founded multiple technology companies including www.otherlab.com, www.instructables.com (sold to Autodesk), www.makanipower.com (sold to Google), www.sunfolding.com, www.gradientcomfort.com, www.voluteinc.com (sold to Linamar/McLaren), www.roamrobotics.com, and www.canvas.build.  Saul has been principal investigator on government research contracts from NASA, DOE, ARPA-e, DARPA, NSF, NIH, SOCOM, ONR and others and has converted many of the resulting technologies into valuable businesses.  He has studied national and global energy systems in detail, including www.energyliteracy.com, an unprecedented look into the details of energy flows and dependencies.  Saul is the co-founder of RewiringAmerica.org, an advocacy group for rapid electrification of the US economy as a climate solution commensurate with UN 1.5 degree goals. Through Otherlab, Saul works with top tier universities, government research agencies, and Fortune 1000 businesses, but retains his independence as a private R&D enterprise.

Dr Adi Paterson

Dr Adi Paterson has wide-ranging experience in energy policy, systems, technology, and innovation. He has had policy and management experience related to nuclear energy, hydrogen as an energy vector, energy in development settings, and battery innovation and industry potential. His current focus: energy sovereignty, security and low carbon energy options for established economies and the developing world, based on environmental sustainability to 2121. During his tenure as CEO of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Australia joined the Generation-IV International Forum — a treaty-level nuclear organisation developing nuclear reactor designs to be available from 2035. Prior to joining ANSTO he was Chief Operating Officer of the Pebble-Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) Company in South Africa, including responsibility for international outreach (primarily in the USA and Canada).

In the 1990s he led the Materials and Energy Division at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa, including the development of high-temperature battery systems and licensing of IP for lithium batteries. He is the Principal and Founder of Siyeva Consulting. He was recognised as Professional Engineer of the Year (Sydney Division) in 2012 and is an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia. He has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Wollongong.


Hunter Branch Meeting 2021-3

Professor Kathy Eagar“Did the Aged Care Royal Commission provide a blueprint to fix Australia's aged care system? If not, what else needs to happen?”

Professor Kathy Eagar
Director, Australian Health Services Research Institute
University of Wollongong

Date: Wednesday, 25 August 2021, 6.00 pm AEST 
Venue:  Zoom Webinar
Entry: No charge
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Society Members, Fellow, and members of the public are welcome

The following summary has been provided by the speaker.

Summary:  We all are aware of the deficiencies that have been exposed by the Royal Commission into Aged Care. Since 1997, aged care has been managed by the Department of Health and it could be argued that it has allowed such failures to develop. Since the Royal Commission, the Department of Health has further failed, as evidenced by its poor management of aged care during the COVID-19 crisis, accounting for most of the deaths occurring from COVID-19 in Australia during 2020. In 2021, the Department of Health has offered only poor oversight of the vaccination program for aged care workers. So, what needs to be done?

About the speaker: Professor Kathy Eagar is Professor of Health Sciences Research and Director of the Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI) at the University of Wollongong.  

Our speaker, Professor Eagar will be accompanied by a panel of two: Dr Max Thorpe, a clinician, and Ms Marie Coleman AO, an Australian feminist, social activist, public servant and journalist.  Dr Thorpe is very aware of inadequacies in the Aged Care System through his involvement in the management of community-based aged care, and both he and Ms Coleman are strong advocates for the better management of aged care.



1297th OGM and Open Lecture

Dr Jessica Milner Davis“Taking humour and laughter seriously: Exploring the multi-disciplinary field of humour studies”

Dr Jessica Milner Davis FRSN

Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

Date: Wednesday, 1 September 2021, 6.30 pm AEST 
Venue: Zoom webinar.  For assistance in getting started with Zoom, please click here.
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
Entry: No charge
All are welcome. 

Summary: From the time of Aristotle and Plato, philosophers have speculated about humour and laughter, proposing that ridere est humanum. But we now know that chimpanzees and rats also laugh. Sociologist Norbert Elias believed that laughter evolved as an antidote to aggression; but humour can also be damaging. This lecture explores the question of whether humour unites or divides the human race. Studies in neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, literature, performance, history, sociology, religion, health, and the emotions all now contribute to our understanding of the functions and consequences of humour. We honour its creators and practitioners, but we still can‘t define it.

Jessica Milner Davis PhD FRSN is a research associate at the University of Sydney and at Brunel University London’s Centre for Comedy Studies Research. A life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, she has held fellowships and lectured at the Universities of Cambridge, Bologna, Bristol, and NSW, as well as Stanford, Hofstra, and the Jagellonian University. . A past president of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), she founded and continues to co-ordinate the Australasian Humour Studies Network (AHSN: https://ahsnhumourstudies.org/). In 2018 she received the ISHS Lifetime Achievement Award for her interdisciplinary research and publications on humour, comedy, and laughter.


1298th OGM and Open Lecture

Professor Toby Walsh“Privacy and Identity in an
AI world”

Professor Toby Walsh FAA FACM FAAAS

Scientia Professor of AI
School of CSE, UNSW (Sydney)

Date: Wednesday, 6 October 2021, 6.30 pm AEDT 
Venue: To be advised
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
Entry: No charge
All are welcome. 

 Summary: Artificial Intelligence is making great advances, many of which challenge our notions of privacy and identity. From face recognition to automated decision making, what are the most pressing problems and how should we navigate this future to ensure a prosperous, just, and sustainable society?

Professor Toby Walsh is a Laureate Fellow and Scientia Professor of AI at the University of New South Wales and Data61, and an adjunct professor at QUT. He was named by the Australian newspaper as one of the "rock stars" of Australia's digital revolution. He is a Fellow of the Australia Academy of Science and recipient of the NSW Premier's Prize for Excellence in Engineering and ICT. He appears regularly on TV and radio and has authored two books on AI for a general audience, the most recent entitled "2062: The World that AI Made".


RSNSW and Learned Academies Forum 2021

Power and Peril of the Digital Age image

Date: Thursday, 4 November 2021
Venue: In person at Government House, Sydney and live streaming.

The Society is delighted that the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences will join the other four Learned Academies — Humanities, Science, Social Sciences, and Technology and Engineering — to stage the RSNSW and Learned Academies Forum this year.

Mark your calendars with the date, Thursday 4th November 2021.

Our Patron, Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales, will be our host at Government House in Sydney. In addition to the opportunity to attend in person, the Forum will be made available to a wider audience in NSW and beyond via live streaming.

In choosing “Power and Peril of the Digital Age” as the theme, our goal is to consider digitisation and the use of data framed around the future life of a child born on the day of the Forum, 4 November 2021. This child will be born into a world of increasingly complex digital systems that hold great value and vulnerability. 

Starting with a technological framing, the Forum will explore several major aspects that will impact the journey of that child as we approach 2030 and beyond. We will explore aspects of technology, health, defence and security in a digital age, the changing nature of industry as the world and society evolves, and Australia’s future as a successful and safe democracy in the digital world.


[email protected]: July 2021

Governor of NSW Crest-Silver and Gold-2020[email protected]

Presented by

Her Excellency the Honourable
Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of NSW

Greta Bradman
“Music as a Superfood: How music can help us live longer, sleep better, calm down, find flow, and feel happier

Greta J. Bradman
Writer, broadcaster, psychologist, and performing artist

Date: Thursday, 22 July 2021, 6.30pm AEST
Venue: Zoom webinar. For assistance in getting started with Zoom, please click this link
Video Presentation: YouTube video
Entry: No charge
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Society Members and Fellows, and members of the public are welcome

About the talk: Greta Bradman will discuss how music can help us live longer, sleep better, calm down, find flow, and feel happier. The talk will include explorations of the evidence base, plus some personal anecdotes.

About the speaker: Greta Bradman consults with public and private organisations across technology and creative industries on culture, works in private practice as a psychologist, presents Weekend Brunch and is the creator of “Music for Wellbeing” offerings on ABC Classic. She hosts concerts and conversations, and provides workshops around wellbeing, human values, and decision-making. She is the founder of pre-launch, values-based tech startup, Eiris Inc. She still sings from time-to-time. 

Formerly an artist for Universal Music (Decca Classics), she had four No.1 solo albums and has featured on others. She has sung with opera companies, symphony orchestras and ensembles around Australia and the Asia Pacific, through Europe, the UK, and US. She has produced her own tours, and has toured alongside colleagues from around the world.

Alongside fundraising strategy and implementation, Greta advises and actively participated in the key development of evidence-based initiatives and programs that have demonstratively supported wellbeing-related outcomes.

Greta is a Trustee of Arts Centre Melbourne and holds advisory board positions with: Arts Wellbeing Collective; Arts Centre Melbourne Foundation; The Alfred Foundation; and, the Australian Mental Health Prize. Greta is a member of the Federal Government’s Creative Industry Taskforce. She is currently completing her Senior Executive MBA at Melbourne Business School.

About [email protected]: In late 2019, Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales and Patron of the Royal Society of NSW, invited representatives of the Society to discuss how the Governor might open Government House to a series of public events based on important and/or influential ideas. Her Excellency’s proposal was that the Royal Society of NSW and other organisations might devise a series of lectures, to be held at Government House, and known as [email protected] on topics of our choice for an invited audience of our Members and Fellows, together with others to be invited by Her Excellency. This is the third in the [email protected] series, the first being held in May 2020, and the second in April 2021.


Southern Highlands Branch Meeting 2021-6

Dr Helen Caynard-Casely Toby Walsh“ANSTO’s WOMBAT Project”

Dr Helen Maynard-Casely
Senior Instrument Scientist
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

Date: Thursday, 15 July 
Venue: Via email circulation



Dr Maynard-Casely was due to present this talk at the Mittagong RSL on 15 July 2021. Unfortunately, because of the updated COVID-19 restrictions associated with the Greater Sydney Lockdown in July 2021, this event has had to be cancelled. The Branch Committee regrets any inconvenience caused.

In the light of the current circumstances, the face-to-face event has been replaced by a YouTube recording titled “Exploring dwarf planets using neutron powder diffraction studies”.

 Dr Helen Maynard-Casely is an instrument scientist for the WOMBAT high-intensity powder diffractometer instrument. She assists and collaborates with visiting scientists, works with the sample environment team in commissioning new equipment for WOMBAT, and is co-responsible for improving and expanding the capabilities of the instrument.

Her own research expertise is in investigating the materials relevant to the surface of the icy moons, such as Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Titan. Her journey to exploring these icy moons began with her degree in Planetary Sciences from University College London and was followed by her PhD in high-pressure physics at the University of Edinburgh. Moving to Australia, first to undertake a post-doctoral position at the Powder-Diffraction beamline at the Australian Synchroton, where she developed her program of research on planetary ices - she then moved to the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering in 2013 to take up her current role.


1295th OGM and Open Lecture

Dr Erik Aslaksen“Society as an information processing system, and the influence of the media”

Dr Erik Aslaksen FRSN

Physicist, Engineer, and Author

Date: Wednesday, 7 July 2021, 6.30 pm AEST 
Venue: Zoom webinar
Video presentation: YouTube video 

Summary: We are concerned about our environment, and rightfully so: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and threats to this environment from global warming, loss of biological diversity, and many other concerns. These are all concerns about our physical environment, much as an ice bear is concerned about the melting of the ice, or as the koala is concerned about the reduction of its habitat due to deforestation. We are also concerned about many aspects of our society, such as overpopulation, economic growth, inequality, poverty, healthcare, and pandemics; again, concerns about physical features.

In this talk, Dr Erik Aslaksen will present a complementary view of our society — one peculiar to our species; a view of society as an information-processing system in which the physical aspects of society are both the results and the enablers of our mental processes. The system consists of individuals as processors and of the interactions between them in the form of information exchange, and as the processing capability and capacity of the individuals have not changed significantly over the last 10,000 years or so, the evolution of our society is, in this view, the evolution of this information exchange. This is an evolution characterised by the media involved and of the technology enabling them,  from the earliest cave art to the Internet. Correspondingly, our concerns for society change from the above concerns about physical features to concerns about the information exchange and the associated information technology — in particular, about the ability to use the technology to control the information flow. Two examples of this concern will be discussed; one being the increasing concentration of wealth in the West, and with it the ownership and control of the media by a small group of people; the other arising out of the fact that the world society has arrived at a unique point in its evolution, but with a great reluctance to talk about it.

Erik W. Aslaksen is an engineer and physicist, with over fifty years of industrial experience, gained in the USA, Switzerland, and Australia, and covering fields as diverse as microwave components, power electronics, quantum electronics, and telecommunications, and ranging from basic research to corporate management. He obtained a MSc (EE) from the Swiss Institute of Technology in 1962, and a PhD in theoretical physics from Lehigh University in 1968. Erik was a Director of Ewbank Preece Sinclair Knight from 1988 until 1993, a Principal of Sinclair Knight Merz from 1993 until 2003, and an Adjunct Professor at the UTS until 1995.

In recent years his main interest has been in the area of systems engineering, engineering management, philosophical aspects of engineering, and the interaction between technology and society, as well as the evolution of society. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and of the International Council on Systems Engineering, a Charter Member of Omega Alpha, and is the author of eight books (one with W.R. Belcher), four book chapters, and more than eighty papers.

His most recent publications are:

  • The Social Bond: How the interaction between individuals drives the evolution of society, Springer Nature, 2018
  • The Stability of Society, Springer Nature, 2020
  • Measures of Social Evolution, Springer Nature, 2021.

Hunter Branch Meeting 2021-2

Professor Jason Sharples“Extreme bushfires and the
age of violent pyroconvection”

Professor Jason Sharples

School of Science
UNSW (Canberra)

Date: Wednesday, 30 June 2021, 6.00 pm AEST 
Venue:  Zoom Webinar
Video presentation: YouTube video

(*) NotePlease note the change to both the time of the event and the venue/format. The current uncertainty regarding COVID-19 has necessitated a change in format from a face-to-face meeting to the Zoom webinar format.  Refund arrangements will be notified to those who have already made payments for the originally planned event (and dinner) at Noah's on the Beach.  

Summary:  Over the last few decades, Australia and other fire prone parts of the world have seen an apparent increase in the occurrence of large destructive bushfires, such as those experienced during the 2019/20 Black Summer. These fires defy suppression, consistently result in the loss of life and property, and further impact the cultural, economic, social and political stability of communities. They also produce significant environmental damage with ongoing implications for the ecology and biodiversity of many species. The types of behaviours exhibited by these fires are often at odds with traditional approaches to understanding bushfire, which have primarily relied on information gathered during smaller experimental fires in particular types of vegetation. In contrast, these fires tend to manifest as violent pyroconvective events, which often share more in common with an atmospheric storm than a surface fire. In this talk I will present an overview of recent insights into the occurrence and behaviour of these extreme bushfires and discuss some of the challenges they pose for bushfire risk management.

Brief biography: Professor Sharples is a mathematical scientist and internationally recognised expert in dynamic bushfire behaviour and extreme bushfire development. He has led several Australian Research Council and Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre projects and is involved in international wildfire research projects. These projects consider various aspects of extreme and dynamic bushfire propagation, the development of large conflagrations and bushfire risk management. His expertise is particularly relevant because of the large gap between the predictions of current mathematical models of fire behaviour and actual fire behaviour.

He is Director of the UNSW Bushfire Research Group, which aims to improve understanding of the fundamental processes that drive extreme bushfire development and their relation to firefighter and community safety.

Professor Sharples has acted an expert witness in several Coronial and Parliamentary Inquiries, most recently at the 2020 Bushfire Royal Commission, and has been a key contributor to the international dialogue around wildfire modelling and risk management. His research has been adopted in national firefighter training materials and into the operational procedures of bushfire management agencies such as the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Professor Sharples graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics/Physics) and Bachelor of Mathematics in 1995 and an Honours degree in Mathematics in 1996, all from the University of Newcastle (UON). He then completed his PhD in pure mathematics and mathematical physics at the University of Canberra. He was UON’s first indigenous student awarded double degrees in Bachelor of Science/ Bachelor of Mathematics and a recipient of the University Medal.


Southern Highlands Branch Meeting 2021-5

Max La Galle “Burnout — the hottest issue”

Max La Galle
introduced by
Dr Ken McCracken

Date: Thursday, 17 June, 6.30 pm AEST
Venue: RSL Mittagong, Nattai/Joadja Rooms
All are welcome 

Summary: Science has progressed beyond our wildest predictions in these 200 years and it is no wonder that young aspiring scientists these days are now walking in the footsteps of the eminent scientists who have done so much to advance science, philosophy, and medicine before them. Our 17 June lecture will demonstrate this very clearly as we listen to a presentation from a gifted young scientist, Max La Galle, who will be introduced to the audience by one of our internationally acclaimed scientists, Dr Ken McCracken. This presentation we have called “Reach for the Skies” – which is exactly what both do on a daily basis in the true tradition of the Royal Society. 

Dr Ken McCracken In introducing Max La Galle, Ken McCracken will reflect on the pervasive role of scientific societies in the development of science in the past, including in his career in space research and in applied science in the CSIRO. Incidentally, Ken has just been awarded the senior medal of the international space research body, COSPAR, there having been only 70 such awards in the 64 years of space research. His award included naming Minor Planet 8258 in his honour as Minor Planet (8258) McCracken. In so many ways, Ken has literally “Reached for the Skies”.

Max la Galle is an outstanding young scientist who has recently been interviewed by Robyn Williams on the ABC Science Show. In this presentation, he will discuss Hydrogen Fusion, a technology that has been in the development for decades. Humanity is finally on the verge of cracking this “Holy Grail” of energy production. Max will talk you through how this technology captured his interest early on his scientific journey, where this interest took him, and why emerging technologies are so important for aspiring STEM students to look towards. He too is clearly “Reaching for the skies”.


1294th OGM and Open Lecture

Professor Richard Kingsford“Murray-Darling Basin turmoil:
past, present, and future”

Professor Richard Kingsford FRSN

Professor of Environmental Science
Director, Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW (Sydney)

Date: Wednesday, 2 June 2021, 6.30pm AEST 
Venue: Zoom webinar
Video presentation: YouTube video

Summary:  The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia's most developed river system, supporting extensive irrigation industries, pastoralists, traditional owner communities, fishers, tourism and ecosystems. More than a century of river development through the building of dams, development of floodplains, and diversion of water has had devastating impacts on ecosystem services and ecosystems. The Millennium Drought was a catalyst for change. The Australian Government took over control of the Basin with the Water Act 2007, implemented by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Commonwealth Government's external powers, particularly in relation to wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention and migratory shorebirds were the primary driver for this, but States still remained in control of their rivers under the Federal Constitution, through their planning. A principal objective was to restore the health of the Murray-Darling Basin River system.

More than $13 billion dollars later, there are many challenges and questions about what has been achieved and at what cost. The number of inquiries continues to rise. The NSW Government is planning to build three large dams and smaller weirs on the rivers. Unfortunately, the ecological state of the Murray-Darling Basin continues to decline, albeit potentially at a slower rate than would have occurred otherwise. In this talk, I will present my research on wetlands and waterbirds within the context of these major changes, past and present, as well as identify some of the major challenges for the future.

Brief biography: Professor Richard Kingsford is a river ecologist and conservation biologist who has worked extensively across the wetlands and rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin. He also worked with many different communities and governments across this region. His research has influenced the policy and management of rivers in Australia, including through his involvement on state and federal advisory committees. He also leads a reintroduction or rewilding project, Wild Deserts, in Sturt National Park (NSW). He is the Director for the Centre for Ecosystem Science UNSW, Sydney. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW in 2018.


Hunter Branch Meeting 2021-1

Dr Alan Finkel AO“On readying our region for low emissions technology”

Dr Alan Finkel AO FTSE FAA
Former Chief Scientist of Australia

Date: Wednesday, 26 May 2021, 5.30pm AEST 
Venue: Newcastle Conservatorium of Music (cnr Auckland and Laman Streets, Newcastle) and Zoom live-streaming
Video presentation:YouTube video

In Conversation with Dr Alan Finkel AO.

This presentation, from the University of Newcastle and the Royal Society of NSW, coincides with the visit by Dr Finkel to the University of Newcastle.  It includes a public address, and an in-depth interview which will allow his audience to understand and explore the vast opportunities available through low emissions or carbon neutral technologies. 

In particular he will share insights into the government and technology directions and how regional industries might respond, particularly in the context of the Hunter in which the University of Newcastle is leading research in clean hydrogen energy, the transition to zero emission mining of aluminum, iron ore and steel, renewable energy storage technology, and bio-sequestration in regional farming practices.

Dr Alan Finkel AO is one of Australia’s most distinguished scientific, engineering, and academic advisers and advocates for innovation in technology. In 2021 he completed his tenure as Australia’s Chief Scientist and has since been appointed Special Adviser to the Commonwealth Government on the research, development, transition, and application of low emissions technology.

He is noted for making the topics of science, engineering, technology, accessible and exciting to young people through his advice and contributions to the development of the nation’s modern STEM curriculum. 


Southern Highlands Branch Meeting 2020-4

Professor Gordon Parker “Burnout — the hottest issue”

Professor Gordon Parker AO
Scientia Professor of Psychiatry
UNSW (Sydney)

Date: Thursday, 20 May, 6.30pm AEST
Venue: RSL Mittagong (face-to-face)
All are welcome. 

Summary:If constant stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. In this lecture, Professor Gordon Parker will discuss what you can do to regain your balance and feel hopeful and positive once again.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. Listen to this lecture by psychiatrist Professor Gordon Parker to hear all about the history of burnout, its key symptoms, who gets it, its causes and prevalence, what happens in the brain and most importantly…how to correct it.

Professor Gordon Parker AO is Scientia Professor of Psychiatry, UNSW, was Founder of the Black Dog Institute and its initial Executive Director, Head of the School of Psychiatry at UNSW, and Director of the Division of Psychiatry at Prince of Wales Hospital. His positions with the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists include being Editor of its Journal. Positions with legal organisations include the NSW Guardianship Board and the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In 2004 he received a Citation Laureate as the Australian Scientist most highly cited in ‘Psychiatry/Psychology’. In 2018 he received the prestigious James Cook Medal from the Royal Society of New South Wales, and was recipient of the 2020Australian Mental Health Prize. His research has focussed on the mood disorders. He has published 23 books and over 1,000 scientific reports. His first of fiction was published in 1966 and his latest novel (“In Two Minds”) in 2017. In the 60’s, he wrote for The Mavis Bramston Show and OZ Magazine, was an ABC Science broadcaster, a book reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, and in 2004 had a play (“Personality Games”) produced by La Mama in Melbourne. His autobiography “A Piece of My Mind: A Psychiatrist on the Couch” was published in 2012. His co-authored book on Burnout will be published on 1 July 2021.


1293rd OGM and Open Lecture

Emerita Professor Mary O'Kane“Big, bad fires in NSW”

Emerita Professor Mary O’Kane AC FRSN FTSE Hon FIEAust

Chair, NSW Independent Planning Commission

Date: Wednesday, 5 May 2021, 6.30pm AEST 
Venue: Zoom Webinar
Video presentation: YouTube video

Summary:  As noted in the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, “The 2019-20 bush fire season was extreme, and extremely unusual. It showed us bush fires through forested regions on a scale that we have not seen in Australia in recorded history, and fire behaviour that took even experienced firefighters by surprise. The total tally of fire-generated thunderstorms in south-eastern Australia since the early 1980s increased from 60 at the end of 2018-19 to almost 90 at the end of the 2019-20 bush fire season – an increase of almost 50% in one bush fire season. Fire-generated thunderstorms are extremely dangerous phenomena that produce extreme winds, lightning, tornadoes and black hail.  The season showed us what damage megafires can do, and how dangerous they can be for communities and firefighters. And it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019-20, or potentially worse, to happen again.”

This talk will examine the nature of the 2019-20 bushfires, why they were so extreme, and why they are likely to happen again.

Mary O’Kane is Chair of the NSW Independent Planning Commission, a company director, and Executive Chairman of O’Kane Associates, a company advising governments and the private sector on innovation, research, education and development. She was NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer from 2008-2018; Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide from 1996-2001 and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Adelaide from 1994-1996. Before that, she was Dean of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra.

Mary has served on several boards and committees in the public and private sectors, especially related to energy, engineering, ICT and research. She is currently Chair of the boards of Aurora Energy Pty Ltd and Sydney Health Partners. She also carries out reviews in a wide range of fields in many countries. She recently was one of the two leaders of NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

Professor O’Kane is a Companion of  the Order of Australia, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia, a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and the recipient of the 2020 Royal Society of NSW Medal.  


Southern Highlands Branch Meeting 2021-3

Professor Anatoly Rosenfeld “Particle radiation therapy and human space exploration: commonality in challenges and solutions”

Professor Anatoly Rosenfeld
University of Wollongong

Date: Thursday, 15 April, 6.30pm AEST
Venue: RSL Mittagong, Nattai/Joadja Rooms (face-to-face)
Entry: No charge
All are welcome. 

Summary: Particle therapy is advantageous for the treatment of solid tumours when compared with conventional therapy with electron and X-ray beams. This is due to highly localised energy deposition at the end of the ion range, known as the Bragg peak (BP), and the sharp dose fall-off at large penetration depth. Heavy ions have further advantages over protons and lighter ions in treating deep-seated, radio-resistant tumours by producing an increased radiobiological efficiency (RBE) in the stopping region at the BP while preserving the normal tissue surrounding the tumour. Our better understanding of radiobiology of heavy ions led recently to multi-ion therapy opening new horizons in better cancer treatment.

While heavy ion radiation is efficiently killing cancer, it is a major obstacle for human space exploration. This is due to the increased risk of cancer in astronauts through space radiation in comparison to the terrestrial radiation environment. Risk prediction in space radiation environments is challenging due to the mixed particle radiation field, especially of charged particles of high energy and charge (HZE) in galactic cosmic rays (GCR) and protons from solar particle events (SPE). It can be quantified in terms of probability for radiation exposure induced death (REID) from cancer.

Australia is on the way to taking a world-leading role in cancer treatment with radiation therapy including particle therapy. The same applies to space exploration. This is reflected in the building of the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research in Adelaide and the planned National Particle Therapy and Research Center (NPTRC) with heavy ion and proton therapy facilities at Westmead Hospital in Sydney. The Australian Space Agency recently announced the Moon to Mars initiative which is a $150 million investment to grow the space industry and enhance international collaboration with ESA and NASA. It will partner with NASA in the Artemis human exploration program to the Moon and later to Mars.

This lecture will address innovations in cancer treatment with heavy ions, as well as challenges in space explorations for future Moon and Mars human missions. These human activities, cancer treatment and space exploration, while appearing completely unrelated, have a strong commonality in that they both rely on their ability to accurately monitor ion radiation fields. The Centre for Medical Radiation Physics at UOW is a world leader in the development of radiation sensors.

Professor Anatoly Rosenfeld was is a Founder and Director of Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP) at University of Wollongong which is a largest education and research multidisciplinary medical radiation physics centre in Asia-Pacific with 18 academics and postdocs, 20 adjunct fellows from hospitals and industry and more than 65 postgraduate students.
His scientific interest and expertise is in a field of radiation semiconductor sensors development and their applications for advanced medical radiation dosimetry and space radiation. Many radiation sensors developed at CMRP under his leadership were successfully implemented in practice of radiation oncology in Australia and overseas to improve confidence in cancer treatment with radiation.

Professor Rosenfeld served as Chair of International Solid State Dosimetry Organization (ISSDO) and Member of IEEE Radiation Instrumentation Steering Committee. He was elected General Chair of the IEEE Nuclear Science Symposium (NSS) and Medical Imaging Conference (MIC) 2018, which was held in Australia for the first time in that year and attracted nearly 2000 delegates and 70 industrial companies. Professor Rosenfeld has initiated particle therapy research in Australia and is a Member of National Particle Therapy Treatment and Research Centre Steering Committee. He is a member of the International Committee on Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) Committee on a new microdosimetry report and a member of Space Medicine Committee of Australian Space Agency. He has published more than 400 peer review papers and hold 18 patents in a field of radiation detectors for medical and space applications with two his inventions have been commercialised.


[email protected]: April 2021

Governor of NSW Crest-Silver and Gold-2020[email protected]

Presented by

Her Excellency the Honourable
Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of NSW

Thomas Keneally AO DistFRSN
“Australia and the Dickens Boys”

Thomas Keneally AO DistFRSN

Date: Thursday, 15 April 2021, 6.00pm AEST
Venue: Zoom Webinar
Video Presentation: YouTube Video

Image credit: Tom Keneally in the Tom Keneally Centre at Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts. Photo by Helen White.

 About the talk: Australia was the British Hades where unpromising young men were sent to find the other half of their souls. In the curious second wave of transportees were the unsatisfactory sons of the gentry. We follow Plorn and his experiences in early Australia — Plorn being Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, scion of the well known Charles Dickens, who arrived in Melbourne in the late 1860s during the last years of his father’s life. What happened to Plorn and why? What is the importance of historical fiction and how is it written — at least, how and why is it written by Thomas Keneally?

About the speaker: Thomas Keneally AO DistFRSN was born in Sydney in 1935 to Irish parents. He became a prolific writer with a deep knowledge of and reverence for history, especially of the working class and people oppressed because of ethnic or class background. Two good examples are The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, whose protagonist is an indigenous man, and Schindler’s Ark, about a hero of the Holocaust, a book that became the Oscar winning film, Schindler’s List. Nationally and internationally, Tom Keneally has become a most significant figure in Australian literature and culture. It is no wonder he has been named an Australian Living Treasure.

 With his first novel published in 1964, he now has a list of close to sixty novels and non-fiction works. Novels include The People’s Train, Daughters of Mars, Napoleon’s Last Island, and The Crimes of the Father. Tom’s love of history led to non-fiction titles including The Great Shame, Australians and The Commonwealth of Thieves as well as his most recent novel, The Dickens Boy and four convict-era mysteries, including The Soldier’s Curse and The Unmourned, with his daughter Margaret.

Literary prizes begin at home with the Miles Franklin Award and the Booker Prize. Internationally he has won the Los Angeles Times Prize, the Mondello International Prize, the Helmrich Award (US), the Trebbia International Prize (from the Czech and Slovak governments) and the University of California Gold Medal.

Tom has been made a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library, an Officer of the Order of Australia, a National Living Treasure, and is now the subject of a 55 cent Australian stamp! In 2014 he received an Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award for his services to Irish culture worldwide. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW, Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of Literature. He has honorary doctorates from Rollins College (US), Fairleigh Dickinson (US) and from the National University of Ireland, the University of Queensland, the Catholic University of Australia, the Western Sydney University, University of Technology Sydney, the University of New South Wales, the University of Wollongong and the University of South Australia. He has held academic posts at New York University and the University of California.

Tom lives with his wife, Judith, in Manly (Sydney) and is still writing.

About [email protected]: In late 2019, Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales and Patron of the Royal Society of NSW, invited representatives of the Society to discuss how the Governor might open Government House to a series of public events based on important and/or influential ideas. Her Excellency’s proposal was that the Royal Society of NSW and other organisations might devise a series of lectures, to be held at Government House, and known as [email protected] on topics of our choice for an invited audience of our Members and Fellows, together with others to be invited by Her Excellency. This is the second in the [email protected] series, the first being held in May 2020.


Inaugural David Cooper Lecture (UNSW)

Dr Anthony S. Fauci“From the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the COVID-19 pandemic, what have we learnt and what do we still need to learn?”

Dr Anthony S. Fauci
Director, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Date: Wednesday, 14 April, 6.30pm AEST
Venue: Online via UNSW Centre for Ideas
Entry: No charge
Registration: through Eventbrite is required 
All are welcome 

 About this event 

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating in the USA, Dr Anthony S. Fauci has remained a voice of authority and reason, bringing scientific evidence to the fore.

Throughout an extraordinary career as a scientist, a physician and a public servant, Dr Anthony S. Fauci has been an adviser to seven US presidents on HIV/AIDS, and domestic and global health issues. A key figure in the global response to HIV/AIDS, his experience of this epidemic has informed his career ever since.

As the world struggles to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Anthony S. Fauci sits down with Tegan Taylor, co-host of the ABC’s Coronacast, to discuss the past, the present and the future - from what we learned from the HIV/AIDS epidemic to what the ongoing impact of COVID-19 will be.

The inaugural David Cooper Lecture honours the legacy of the Kirby Institute’s Founding Director. Professor David Cooper AC, who passed away in 2018, was an internationally renowned scientist and HIV clinician, who laid the foundations for Australia’s ongoing global leadership in the fight against the global HIV epidemic.

This event is co-presented by the Kirby Institute, the UNSW Centre for Ideas and UNSW Medicine & Health.


Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. is Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, where he oversees an extensive research portfolio focused on infectious and immune-mediated diseases. As the long-time chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation, Dr Fauci has made many seminal contributions in basic and clinical research and is one of the world’s most cited biomedical scientists. He was one of the principal architects of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program that has saved millions of lives throughout the developing world.

Tegan Taylor (Chairperson) is co-host of the ABC’s Coronacast, the multi-award-winning daily podcast about the coronavirus, and a health reporter in the ABC Science Unit, where she reports on topics from stem cells to fad diets and, yes, coronavirus. In 2020, Coronacast won a Walkley award and the Eureka Prize for Science Journalism. Tegan was previously a producer on the ABC's national digital newsdesk, where she curated the ABC News homepage and commissioned, wrote and edited news stories. Before that, she was a journalism lecturer at The University of Queensland and, long ago, a newspaper reporter at the Queensland Times in Ipswich.

About Professor David Cooper

David Cooper AC FRSN FAA FAHMS FRACP FRCP was an eminent Australian HIV/AIDS researcher, immunologist, Professor at the University of New South Wales, and Director of the Kirby Institute. He and Professor Ron Penny diagnosed the first case of HIV in Australia.  He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW and the winner of its most presigious award, the James Cook Medal, in 2016.  He passed away in March 2018 after a short illness.   



1292nd OGM and Open Lecture

Lea Kannar-Lichtenberger“Antarctica, this ain’t no mirage: the value of art in disseminating scientific information”

Lea Kannar-Lichtenberger
Contemporary Artist

Date: Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 6.00pm AEST (preceded by the Annual General Meeting)
Venue: Zoom Webinar
Video Presentation:YouTube Video

About this Event

In this talk Lea Kannar-Lichtenberger will explore just one of the islands she has investigated and, through her art, has raised awareness about the impact that our contemporary society is having on these often-idealised environments. Through the use of her time-based installations, photography and sculptures, along with her paintings and drawings, Lea works to make science more accessible to the community at large.

In January 2017 Lea travelled to Antarctica. This journey was unusual, not just because it was with a not-for-profit organisation, no room service or cabin attendants, but also as it was in many ways in the footsteps of the adventurer explorer. Her journey here resulted in artworks and exhibitions that have been seen across Australia in universities and art galleries, with her goal to bring the plight of the remote into the lives of the everyday person.

Lea Kannar-Lichtenberger is an Australian contemporary artist who disseminates her research and artistic vision, as an ‘artist at large’ by presenting her response and advocacy for environmental issues. Her investigations into evolution, contemporary society, and the impact of tourism on island environments has seen Lea do onsite examinations through immersive residencies or eco-tourism inquiries in; the South Shetland Islands specifically Deception Island (Antarctica) 2017, the Faroe Islands (The North Sea) 2015, the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) 2014, Lord Howe Island (NSW Australia) 2014 & 2015 and in 2021 an Artist at Sea residency with the Schmidt Ocean Institute. Lea creates artworks and installations that examine a window into the impact of the Anthropocene and contemporary consumerism on the viewed utopian destination. Lea has disseminated this research and her unique perspective through lectures, paper presentations and peer reviewed journals.

Lea Kannar-Lichtenberger has exhibited widely including solo exhibitions at Edith Cowan University Western Australia, and Griffith University, Queensland, and group exhibitions including Sculpture by the Sea (Sydney and Cottesloe), the Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing and the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize. Internationally her work has been shown at the Venice Summer Academy, Stunning Edge Exhibition Taiwan, the New York Hall of Science, Galway International Arts Festival Ireland, the SVA (the School of Visual Arts) at the Flatiron Building in Manhattan and the NYABF at the MOMA annexe PS1, New York.

Lea Kannar Lichtenberger Deception Island Antarctica 600px


Royal Society Events

The Royal Society of NSW organizes events in Sydney and in its Branches throughout the year. 

In Sydney, these include Ordinary General Meetings (OGMs) held normally at 6.00 for 6.30 pm on the first Wednesday of the month (there is no meeting in January), in the Gallery Room at the State Library of NSW. At the OGMs, society business is conducted, new Fellows and Members are inducted, and reports from Council are given.  This is followed by a public lecture presented by an eminent expert and an optional dinner.  Drinks are served before the meeting.  There is a small charge to attend the meeting and lecture, 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.

Since April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face meetings have been replaced by virtual meetings, conducted as Zoom webinars, allowing the events program to continue uninterrupted.  It is hoped that face-to-face meetings can be resumed in the latter half of 2021. 

The first OGM of  the year, held in February, has speakers drawn from the winners of the Royal Society Scholarships from the previous year, while the December OGM hears from the winner of the Jak Kelly award, before an informal Christmas party.  The April or May 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 — the Australian Academy of Science, with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia
  • The Dirac lecture — with UNSW Sydney and the Australian Institute of Physics
  • The Liversidge Medal lecture — with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute

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