Events - The Royal Society of NSW - Royal Society of NSW News & Events - Page 6

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1245th OGM and public lecture

Barbara 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

Wednesday 3 August 2016
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

“Royal” not “Philosophical” - W.B. Clarke's Inaugural Address to the Royal Society of NSW

Bob Young OGM 1243   Dr Bob Young

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

Wednesday 6 July 2016
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

Wednesday 1 June 2016
Union, University & Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, 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 Emeritus Professor Eugenie Lumbers AM DistFRSN

Wednesday 4 May 2016
Union, University & Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

Wheeldon.etal.4May16.croprsz

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

LumbersBurtonHibbert.4May16.47k

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

Wednesday 6 April 2016
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, 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”

Len Fisher OGM 1241 small  Dr Len Fisher
  Visiting Fellow in Physics,
  University of Bristol

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

Four Societies 2016  “Australian energy policy”

  Professor Robert Clark AO FAA DistFRSN
  Chair of Energy Strategy and Policy, UNSW

Thursday 25 February 2016

Hamilton and Parkes Rooms, Level 47, MLC Centre, King and Castlereagh Streets, Sydney

Professor Robert Clark has had a distinguished career, having headed a research group in experimental quantum physics at Oxford's Clarendon Laboratory and been the Chair of Experimental Physics at UNSW. He has been head of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology at UNSW and has been Australia's Chief Defence Scientist and CEO of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

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 a 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.

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.

1240th OGM and public lecture

Note: the OGM number 1239 is not used for administrative reasons.

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

Wednesday 3 February 2016
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

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

“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 and Christmas party

“From quantum devices to quantum machines”

colless  James Colless
  ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered
  Quantum Systems (EQuS),
  University of Sydney

  Jak Kelly Award winner for 2015

Wednesday 2 December 2015
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

The Jak Kelly Award was created in honour of Professor Jak Kelly (1928 - 2012), who was Head of Physics at University of NSW from 1985 to 1989, was made an Honorary Professor of University of Sydney in 2004, and was President of the Royal Society of NSW in 2005 and 2006.  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 the most recent Australian Institute of Physics, NSW branch postgraduate awards.

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”

dchristian  Professor David Christian

  Director, The Big History Institute
  Macquarie University

Wednesday 4 November 2015
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”

Sadler  Professor Elaine Sadler

  University of Sydney

Wednesday 7 October 2015
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”

Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum

Governor

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

Tuesday 15 September 2015
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.

afinkel

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 also 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, emphasizing 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”

westoby  Professor Mark Westoby

  Department of Biological Sciences
  Macquarie University

  NSW Scientist of the Year 2014

Wednesday 2 September 2015
Union University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, 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.

Dirac Lecture 2015

“Quantum entanglement and superconductivity”

sachdev  Professor Subir Sachdev

  Professor of Physics, Harvard University

Held in conjunction with UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics

Tuesday 1 September 2015
John B. Reid Theatre, AGSM Building, UNSW

Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance". Entanglement is a counter-intuitive feature of quantum theory by which two particles are deeply correlated even when separated by vast distances, such that a measurement of one particle instantaneously determines the state of the other. Remarkably, quantum entanglement can also happen en masse, determining the macroscopic properties of many electrons in certain crystals. Such states of matter can exhibit superconductivity, the ability to conduct electricity without measurable resistance, at much higher temperatures than was previously possible.

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

Science Week 2015 lunchtime talk 4

“The wonders of the Hubble Space Telescope”

Picture1  Professor Michael Burton

  School of Physics, UNSW

Friday 21 August 2015
University of Sydney Business School CBD campus, Level 17, 133 Castlereagh St., Sydney

25 years ago, on 24 April 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into Earth orbit. Aside, perhaps, from Galileo’s original telescope of 1609, Hubble has done more than any other telescope to transform our view of the cosmos, certainly from the perspective of the general public. Its contributions to improved understanding of the Universe range from new knowledge of our own Solar System, across our Galaxy and the stars, gas and dust within it, to the galaxies at large and their part in the evolution of the Universe itself. The science case crafted to inspire and then drive the Hubble mission was, of course, cogent. But in fact much of the science that Hubble then performed wasn’t even envisaged when the telescope was launched, testament to the vision that led to the building of a multi-capability observatory rather than one devoted to a single science mission. In particular, the ability to be able to regularly upgrade its instrument suite as the technology for photon detection developed has meant that Hubble has continued to both amaze and do new science a quarter of a century on from its launch.NASA has released a wonderful slide set - 25 years of the Hubble Space Telescope - to mark this notable anniversary, providing a glimpse of many of its science highlights, images that have themselves become iconic over the intervening years. This talk will present this slide set, interspersed with the presenters personal interpretation on their role and significance in the scientific endeavour that is modern astronomy. It will both provide a spectacular picture show of the cosmos, as well as, hopefully, explaining some of the scientific background behind Hubble’s exploration of it.

Michael Burton is an astronomer in the School of Physics at UNSW. His postdoctoral career included a stint with NASA in the late 80’s, in the interregnum between the Challenger disaster of ‘86 and the launch of the Hubble in ‘90. He has been fortunate to have played a small role in some of the ventures undertaken with Hubble, and has had the opportunity to pursue several parallel investigations with ground based telescopes inspired by discoveries made by Hubble, in wavebands that Hubble cannot access; He is also the Editor of the Royal Society's Journal - the second oldest scientific publication in the southern hemisphere.

Science Week 2015 lunchtime talk 3

“Big science and big history: From the big bang to us”

David Christian  Professor David Christian

  Director of Big History Institute
  Macquarie University

Thursday 20 August 2015
University of Sydney Business School CBD campus, Level 17, 133 Castlereagh St., Sydney

Big History examines our past, explains our present, and imagines our future. It's a story about us. An idea that arose from a desire to go beyond specialized and self-contained fields of study to grasp history as a whole. This growing, multi-disciplinary approach is focused on high school students, yet designed for anyone seeking answers to the big questions about the history of our Universe.

The Big History Project is a joint effort between teachers, scholars, scientists, and their supporters to bring a multi-disciplinary approach to knowledge to lifelong learners around the world. www.bighistoryproject.com. David Christian is by training a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, but since the 1980s he has become interested in World History on very large scales or Big History. In 1989, he began teaching courses on 'Big History', surveying the past on the largest possible scales, including those of biology and astronomy; and in 2004, he published the first text on ‘Big History; He was founding President of the newly formed International Big History Association, and a co-founder with Bill Gates of the Big History Project, a project that is building a free on-line high school syllabus in big history released in 2013. David Christian has given numerous talks and lectures on aspects of Russian, Inner Eurasian and world and Big History. In March 2011, he gave a talk on “13.7 billion years of history in 18 minutes” at the TED conference in Long Beach and he has given talks at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Big History. He also appears regularly in the media talking about Big History.

Science Week 2015 lunchtime talk 2

“Aboriginal astronomy and the clash of cultures”

Ragbir  Dr Ragbir Bhathal

Tuesday 18 August 2015
University of Sydney Business School CBD campus, Level 17, 133 Castlereagh St., Sydney

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been observing the night sky for thousands of years. In that period of time they named the celestial objects and created fascinating stories about them. Their astronomy was social-cultural astronomy and as such some aspects of it clashed with the dominant culture in Australia with significant consequences for Australian society.

Ragbir Bhathal was awarded the CJ Dennis Award for excellence in natural history writing and the prestigious Nancy Keesing Fellowship by the State Library of NSW.  He has written 15 books including two on Aboriginal astronomy. His latest book with Professor Harvey Butcher and Dr Ralph Sutherland is Mount Stromlo Observatory: From Bush Observatory to the Nobel Prize. He teaches engineering physics at the University of Western Sydney and is a Visiting Fellow at the Research School for Astronomy & Astrophysics at the Australian National University. He has served as the President of the Royal Society of NSW and was awarded the 1988 Royal Society of NSW Medal.

Science Week 2015 lunchtime talk 1

“Failing to learn: using artificial worlds to teach science in a new way”

Mjacobson  Professor Michael Jacobson

  Professor of Education
  University of Sydney

Friday 14 August 2015
University of Sydney Business School CBD campus
Level 17, 133 Castlereagh Street, Sydney

We are going through a major transition in our ability to understand the complexity of our world, one that rivals the move from Roman numerals to the Hindu-Arabic system we use today. Before this move multiplication and division and algebra were nearly impossible for mere mortals. Afterwards it became easy – well, for most! The move today is from algebra to computer-based visualization and experimentation, which enables us to re-see and understand the behaviour of complex systems in new and exciting ways, which is technically called restructuration. It opens up new opportunities to teach and learn science and actually draws on what kids these days naturally do – play computer games. Before, only super math geniuses had any chance of understanding them, now we all can. A great example is the publicly available NetLogo platform, maintained by Northwestern University in the USA, that was originally designed to teach programming skills to primary school kids – are you smarter than a 5 year old?

Professor Jacobson explained how we can introduce these methods into the classroom, how it will transform the way we teach science and produce future generations that are more scientifically literate and enthused. He illustrated some of the ways he is doing this with high school students. One part of this is what we call Productive Failure, which reverses the normal order of teaching. Instead of teach first and then apply, we apply first, fail and learn better. Students confront challenging problems up front which opens up their minds in new ways that lead to a deeper understanding of the how and why things work. It is also fun for students and teachers and can transform the learning of scientific knowledge and skills in Australian schools.

Michael J. Jacobson is a Professor and Chair of Education at The University of Sydney. He is also the Founder and CEO of Pallas Advanced Learning Systems Pty Ltd, an Australia edtech startup company. His research has focused on the design of learning technologies to foster deep conceptual understanding, conceptual change, and knowledge transfer in challenging conceptual domains. Most recently, his work has explored learning with immersive virtual worlds and agent-based modeling and visualization tools, as well as cognitive and learning issues related to understanding new scientific perspectives emerging from the study of complex systems. Professor Jacobson has published extensively in areas related to the learning sciences and technology, including numerous scientific papers, book chapters, and two books. He chaired the 10th International Conference of the Learning Sciences, on “the future of learning.” And he is a member of the Global Access Partners (GAP) Taskforce on Leadership in Education - public policy think-tank and research house.

2015 Clarke Lecture

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

Griffin  Professor Bill Griffin

  Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry,
  Macquarie University

Date: Thursday 6 August 2015

Venue: Building Y3A, Theatre 1, Macquarie University

Bill will tell the story of the journey to the surface of the remarkable rocks of Southern Tibet.  These are large fragments of the Earth’s mantle that originate from very great depths (>500 km down) under extreme conditions not ordinarily expected within the mantle and which play an important role in the evolution of igneous systems. To learn the story of these remarkable rocks, we have to understand both the mechanisms that have brought them up to the surface, and the origins of these super-reducing conditions in the mantle. This has involved field studies, geodynamic modeling, a range of techniques for micron-scale chemical, microstructural and isotopic analysis, and a bit of good luck.  One of the keys to the Tibetan riddles lies near the Sea of Galilee in Israel, and involves a remarkable, still poorly-understood type of volcanic activity.  Bill will lead you through this story, which is still evolving by the day; it illustrates the diversity of approaches required in modern geological research, and some of the excitement of that research work.

Bill Griffin is Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry at Macquarie University and Program Director at the RC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems. Before that he spent 20 years at the University of Oslo, mainly in the Geological Museum, which is the centre of geochemical research in Scandinavia. He moved to Australia in 1985, to be with his Aussie wife and to help develop geological applications for the CSIRO’s new proton microprobe.  In 2006 he left the CSIRO and moved to Macquarie University.

1234th OGM and public lecture

"Cultural transitions over the last 100,000 years and the future"

Roland Fletcher  Professor Roland Fletcher

  Professor of Theoretical and World Archaeology

  University of Sydney

Date: Wednesday 5 August 2015

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

Professor Fletcher described and explained the major cultural transitions that have shaped mankind and discussed what they mean for the future.

Over the past hundred thousand years four major cultural transitions have occurred in human settlement patterns, of which the first is only partially known and the other three are the development of sedentary communities, from about 10,000 years ago; the formation agrarian-based urbanism from 5000 years ago;  and the formation of industrial-based urbanism in the past two hundred years.

The pattern of these great transitions has been logically organised by a progressivist Stage Theory model since the 19th century in which each stage is characterised by cultural type fossils e.g. writing and initial urbanism. This model still dominates the large-scale, long-term perspective we use to comprehend cultural behaviour. But conventional definitions of sedentism and urbanism have become increasingly vague. The cultural-type fossils are known from context other than the ones for which they are supposed to be stage-diagnostic.

What is required is to replace the progressive model with a model of transitions for which the ‘type Fossils’ are actually antecedent prerequisites - operational requirements that must come together to enable major transitions in settlement size to occur. Critically, economic transformations are also required but do not seem to occur just because cultural, material prerequisites come together. The ‘Industrial Revolution’ is a singular case. Crucially, changes in the material assemblage are essential; the characteristic social organisation of each ‘stage’ derives from the material changes and social and material conditions, which can be at odds with each other. The path to these large, long-term emerging patterns is not deterministic and has implication for comprehending the characteristics of future transitions.

Roland Fletcher is Professor of Theoretical and World Archaeology at the University of Sydney. He attended St. John’s College at Cambridge University completing his undergraduate degree in 1970 and his PhD in 1975. He has worked at the University of Sydney since 1976 where he is Director of the University’s Angkor Research Program. By implementing a global, multi-scalar, interdisciplinary approach to Archaeology he has initiated extensive cross disciplinary collaboration within the University and worldwide. The Greater Angkor Project - funded primarily by the Australian Research Council - is an international collaboration with the French agency, EFEO, and with APSARA the Cambodian government agency that manages Angkor. As a result of his international collaborative research he has been an invited speaker and academic guest all over the world. He was a Distinguished Fellow of Durban University’s Institute of Advanced Study in 2007 and invited speaker at the Falling Walls Conference in Berlin in November 2014.

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.

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
Site by ezerus.com.au
All rights reserved; copyright © The Royal Society of NSW.

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.