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Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

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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.

New Fellows appointed 2014

On Wednesday 2 July 2014, a group of eleven Fellows were presented with their certificates. Thirty-six Fellows have been appointed since the new Rules were introduced in December 2013.

Left to right: Donald Hector (President), Bill Hogarth, Heather Goodall, Ron Johnston, Roy MacLeod, Robert Marks, John Simons, Judy Raper, Brynn Hibbert, the Hon Peter Baume AC, Thomas Maschmeyer, Des Griffin AM.

Annual awards evening and dinner 2014

On Wednesday 7 May, the annual awards evening and annual dinner was held at the Union University and Schools Club in Sydney. The dinner was extremely well attended and the address by Professor Barry Jones AC FAA FACE FAHA FASSA FTSE DistFRSN on the attack on the scientific method stimulated a lot of discussion. During the evening, the Society's 2013 awards were presented and the inaugural group of eleven Fellows were presented with their certificates.

Back row: Benjamin Eggleton, Jerome Vanclay, Richard Banati, Ian Dawes, John Gascoigne. Front row: Aibing Yu, Ian Sloan, Judith Wheeldon, Donald Hector (President), Heinrich Hora, Merlin Crossley, Trevor Hambley

The President, Dr Donald Hector, presented the Society's 2013 awards. The Edgeworth David Medal was presented to Assoc Prof David Wilson, for his outstanding work on modelling HIV/AIDS and using this information to develop treatment and prevention strategies. Prof Michelle Simmons DistFRSN was awarded the Walter Burfitt Medal and Prize and Professor Brien Holden was awarded the James Cook Medal for his work in treating myopia (a leading cause of preventable blindness), particularly in developing world countries. The Clarke Medal could not be presented to distinguished geologist William Griffin, as he was overseas and unable to attend.

Left to right: Assoc Prof David Wilson, President Dr Donald Hector, Prof Brien Holden and Prof Michelle Simmons DistFRSN.

Distinguished Fellow's Lecture 2014

The Society was proud to have Professor Barry Jones AC DistFRSN present the second annual Distinguished Fellow's Lecture at the Society's annual dinner on Wednesday 7 May 2014. Professor Jones is the only person to be a Fellow of all four of Australia's learned Academies.

Prof Barry Jones AC DistFRSN delivers the second Royal Society of NSW Distinguished Fellow's Lecture.

Governor invests new Distinguished Fellow

On Wednesday 16 April, Prof Peter Doherty AC Dist FRSN was formally invested by our patron, the Governor, Prof Marie Bashir AC CVO at a ceremony at Government House. Professor Doherty was appointed a Fellow in September 2013 and a Distinguished Fellow in December 2013.
President Dr Donald Hector (left), Prof Peter Doherty after receiving his Distinguished Fellowship, the Governor and Vice President Em Prof Brynn Hibbert (right) at Government House, Sydney.

Compendium of 2013 news

The Poggendorf Lecture

"Biodiversity and the future of agriculture" - Professor Geoff Gurr

After a hiatus of 20 years, the Poggendorf Lecture was delivered in conjunction with Charles Sturt University, Orange, on Tuesday, 13 August 2013. The lecture was delivered by Professor Geoff Gurr, a biologist and entomologist and Professor of Applied Ecology at Charles Sturt University, where he specialises in the utilisation of natural solutions to control agricultural pests to partially or completely replace synthetic pesticides. 

The population of the world is increasing by 170,000 souls per day. Currently, 40% of land is used for some agricultural purpose and the demand for agricultural products is expected to increase not only as a consequence of population growth but by the increasing living standards of people in the developing world. For example, the growth in meat demand is very strong and it takes 10 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of animal protein. This leads to the conclusion that food production needs to double by 2050. The so-called "green revolution" of the last few decades has enabled the increase in food production to largely match population growth, largely through the application of nitrogen, phosphorus, some trace elements, water and the wide-scale use of pesticides. But was this revolution truly "green"? Human inputs are largely non-renewable but, importantly, do not actually address the root cause of the problem – pest outbreaks are not due to a lack of pesticide, they are due to other imbalances in the environment. So the world is faced with a "wicked problem" of seeking food security, having finite renewable resources, a declining availability of agricultural land, changing climate and a moral obligation to preserve biodiversity (human activity, including agriculture, causes biodiversity loss at a rate about 10,000 times greater than the background rate). 

Royal Society of NSW Forum 2013

Left to right: Antony Funnell, Prof Schmidt, Ms Wheeldon, Prof Schwartz, Prof Crossley.

The Royal Society of NSW Forum 2013 was held at the Powerhouse Museum on Thursday 6 June before a large audience. Antony Funnell of the ABC's Radio National moderated the discussion between: 

  • Professor Brian Schmidt AC FRSN, Nobel Prize winner 
  • Professor Steven Schwartz AM, former Macquarie University Vice Chancellor 
  • Ms Judith Wheeldon AM, former Principal of both Queenwood School for Girls and Abbotsleigh 
  • Professor Merlin Crossley, Dean of Science at the University of NSW 

Among other questions, our panellists discussed: will a falling focus on science and technology in education really be a problem for innovation in Australia? Is it a matter of basic education? Is it poor teaching? Is there a fundamental aversion to maths and science in Australia? Given our reliance on technology, why is there not a greater desire to utilise it and to develop it? Is there a "science literacy" problem in Australia? Why have we become passive about science and technology, rather than embracing it at its fundamental levels? 

In case you missed it, it was broadcast on ABC Radio National Big Ideas on Monday 17 June (click Forum 2013 to download a recording of the broadcast).

Annual awards evening and dinner

On Friday 19 April, the annual awards evening and annual dinner was held at the Union University and Schools Club in Sydney. The dinner was extremely well attended and the address by Judith Wheeldon AM was very topical and stimulated a lot of discussion. Ms Wheeldon presented the Clarke Medal to distinguished zoologist Marilyn Renfree, the Edgeworth David Medal to Dr Joanne Whittaker, a remarkable young geophysicist who is doing ground-breaking work on plate tectonics, and the Royal Society of NSW medal to John Hardie in recognition of his 40 years of contribution to the Society, six of which have been as its President.

Left to right: The President, Dr Donald Hector, Judith Wheeldon AM, Professor Marilyn Renfree AO, John Hardie MRSN, Dr Joanne Whittaker.

Inaugural Fellows Lecture held

The Society was proud to have Professor Michael Archer AM present the inaugural Fellows Lecture on Wednesday, 3 April 2013. Professor Archer was one of the first Fellows appointed by the Society, recognising his outstanding work as a palaeontologist, particularly in relation to the Riversleigh fossil find in Queensland, one of the richest fossil deposits in the world.

Prof Mike Archer AM FRSN delivers the inaugural Royal Society of NSW Fellows Lecture.

Governor invests new Fellows

On Wednesday13 March, the two Fellows appointed in 2012, Prof Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS FRSN and Prof the Hon Barry Jones AO FAA FAHA FTSE FASSA FRSN were formally invested by our patron, the Governor, Prof Marie Bashir AC CVO at a ceremony at Government House. We were delighted that our awards advisory panel, chaired by the Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, Prof Mary O'Kane, and consisting of the Deans of Science of the NSW-based universities were able to attend, together with a number of other distinguished guests.

Prof Brian Schmidt (centre-left) and Prof the Hon Barry Jones (cenre-right) with the the Governor after receiving their Fellowships with Vice President Em. Prof Heinrich Hora (left) and President Dr Donald Hector (right) at Government House, Sydney.

2013 awards evening & dinner

On Friday 19 April, the annual awards evening and annual dinner was held at the Union University and Schools Club in Sydney. The dinner was extremely well attended and the address by Judith Wheeldon AM was very topical and stimulated a lot of discussion. Ms Wheeldon presented the Clarke Medal to distinguished zoologist Marilyn Renfree, the Edgeworth David Medal to Dr Joanne Whittaker, a remarkable young geophysicist who is doing ground-breaking work on plate tectonics, and the Royal Society of NSW medal to John Hardie in recognition of his 40 years of contribution to the Society, six of which have been as its President.
Left to right: The President, Dr Donald Hector, Judith Wheeldon AM, Professor Marilyn Renfree AO, John Hardie MRSN, Dr Joanne Whittaker.

Inaugural Fellow's Lecture (2013)

The Society was proud to have Professor Michael Archer AM present the inaugural Fellow's Lecture on Wednesday, 3 April 2013. Professor Archer was one of the first Fellows appointed by the Society, recognising his outstanding work as a palaeontologist, particularly in relation to the Riversleigh fossil find in Queensland, one of the richest fossil deposits in the world.
Prof Mike Archer AM FRSN delivers the inaugural Royal Society of NSW Fellow's Lecture.

Governor invests new Fellows

On Wednesday13 March, the two Fellows appointed in 2012, Prof Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS FRSN and Prof the Hon Barry Jones AO FAA FAHA FTSE FASSA FRSN were formally invested by our patron, the Governor, Prof Marie Bashir AC CVO at a ceremony at Government House. We were delighted that our awards advisory panel, chaired by the Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, Prof Mary O'Kane, and consisting of the Deans of Science of the NSW-based universities were able to attend, together with a number of other distinguished guests.
Prof Brian Schmidt (centre-left) and Prof the Hon Barry Jones (cenre-right) with the the Governor after receiving their Fellowships with Vice President Em. Prof Heinrich Hora (left) and President Dr Donald Hector (right) at Government House, Sydney.​

Compendium of 2012 news

The Liversidge Lecture 2012 - Professor Thomas Maschmeyer

Low carbon technologies: from brown coal and biomass to solar hydrogen

Monday, 19 November 2012

Donald Hector and Thomas Maschmeyer

The 2012 Liversidge Lecture was presented by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer FAA FTSE of the University of Sydney. About 180 people heard Thomas describe his work on catalysis, particularly its application in the transformation of brown coal into a crude oil substitute and black coal. Thomas also described his work using supercritical water to convert biomass into a liquid fuel product. Thomas intends to write a paper for the Journal and Proceedings summarising his work. This is expected to be published during 2013. 

The Liversidge Lecture is presented in conjunction with the University of Sydney.

The Dirac Lecture 2012 - Professor Brian Schmidt

The accelerating universe

Thursday, 19 July 2012

In conjunction with the University of New South Wales and with the Australian Institute of Physics, the Society proudly presented the 2012 Dirac Lecture on Thursday, 19 July 2012. This year's lecture was delivered by Professor Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Laureate for Physics. 

Professor Schmidt took us on a fascinating journey of astronomy and cosmology, describing the work that he and his colleagues have done over the last two decades and where it fits in our understanding of the nature of the universe. 

To establish a reference framework, we were taken on a quick tour of the universe using the speed of light as a ruler (the Moon is less than two light seconds from us. The Sun is 8 light minutes away. The nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. We are 30,000 light years from the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The nearest galaxy, Andromeda, is 2 million light years from us. The cosmic ray background establishes that the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years, with the Hubble telescope being able to detect objects 12 billion light years away). 

Although astronomy is one of the oldest sciences, modern cosmology had its beginnings in the 19th and 20th centuries when techniques such as spectral analysis began to be applied to light from the skies. Of particular importance was phenomenon known as the Doppler effect – objects that are moving towards us have their light shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum, while objects moving away have their light shifted to towards red. By analysing the spectra of galaxies, in 1916, Vesto Slipher found that all galaxies he observed were shifted towards red and therefore were moving away from us. The conclusion from this was that the universe is expanding. 

Einstein's special theory of relativity published in 1907 proposed that acceleration due to gravity and acceleration due to motion are equivalent. This led to his general theory of relativity and the notion that space is curved. The solution to Einstein's equations are dynamic, implying that the universe should be in motion. To avoid the conclusion that the universe was expanding, Einstein introduced a "fudge factor" called the cosmological constant (Einstein later referred to this as his greatest blunder!). 

One conclusion from the concept of an expanding universe is that at one point must have been a big bang. Observations suggest that the age of the universe could be as young as 9 billion years if its expansion was slowing due to gravity but this is contrary to observations that the oldest stars appear to be at least 12 billion years old. 

Not only was Brian Schmidt interested in solving this problem and determining the age of the universe but he wanted to understand what its eventual fate might be. In the 1990s, by observing faintness/brightness plotted against high/low red shift it had been found that supernovae appeared to have very constant brightness and therefore could be used as a standard "candle". (It was later found that this was not quite so but further work to better understand Type 1A supernovae allowed for corrections that gave a very good correlation.) 

Improved digital detection technology and data processing capability in the 1990s set the stage for major advances in astronomy. Many more supernovae could be observed and this gave the team led by Brian (whose area of specialisation was data processing) to study many high-resolution images and by tracking these images and filtering out background noise, to find supernovae candidates for much more detailed analysis. Brian's team found that distant supernovae were outside the range expected for a universe whose expansion was slowing. Detailed analysis of their data suggested that the expansion of the universe was in fact accelerating. This was contrary to the mainstream view of physicists at the time and, indeed was contrary to the findings of another team using a different approach to analysing the data. Professor Schmidt's team published their work and in 2011 were awarded the Nobel Prize. 

The notion of a universe whose expansion is accelerating poses some interesting questions for cosmologists, not the least of which is what could be pushing it apart? Einstein's theory allows for the concept of "dark energy". The data from analysis of Type 1A supernovae can be explained if the forces are assumed to be about 30% "pull" from gravity and about 70% "push" from dark energy. For the universe to be flat (and an analysis of the background radiation of the universe shows that indeed it is flat, that is, the universe is not closed and it is not open), 27% of the universe would need to be matter and 73% would need to be dark energy. But the problem is that this is much more matter than appears to exist. The solution to this currently most favoured by cosmologists is the concept of "dark matter" - matter that we cannot see. And it is no small amount - less than 5% of all matter is thought to be observable. 

Professor Schmidt concluded his lecture with some long-range forecasts for the future of the universe. In some places, gravity will win and matter will merge; in others, space will accelerate faster and light from those areas will never reach us. There could even be a "big rip". In this scenario, a few million years before the end, gravity would be too weak to hold the Milky Way and other galaxies together. Our solar system would become gravitationally unbound, the stars and planets would be torn apart and at the very end, individual atoms would be ripped apart.

The Royal Society Forum 2012 - Mark Scott and Jill Trewhella

The influence of the media on scientific research

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Forum 2012

​The Society's second annual Forum was held on Wednesday 4 April at the Powerhouse Museum. The discussion was between Mark Scott AO, Managing Director of the ABC and Professor Jill Trewhella FRSN, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at Sydney University. The forum was moderated by Robyn Williams AM of the ABC.

Mark Scott

Mark pointed out that the role of national broadcasters (originally established to produce programmes that commercial companies could not or would not) has changed very significantly. The internet has made available thousands of TV and radio stations worldwide. The consumer is flooded with content. Gone are the days when listeners needed a licence – now all that is necessary is an internet connection. Nor are there barriers to entry for broadcasters. There are over 200 million web-sites worldwide and 60,000 blogs are introduced to the internet every day. The role of the ABC is now even more important than it was formerly. It now provides a "town square" for content and opinion. It provides a broad plurality of views. Whereas the challenge for science is the narrowness of focus of much research is, the ABC provides a place where there is breadth not narrowness of interest. The gap between the ABC and content providers is growing every day due to the challenge facing commercial providers in delivering a profit in a rapidly changing media sector. The challenge for scientists is to become effective communicators and, particularly, to cultivate interest among journalists.

Jill Trewhella

Jill said how important it was to have institutions like the ABC that produce quality content and encourage public education and debate. The key roles of the media are to educate, to inspire and to promote public discourse, particularly as the world faces critical issues, not least the state of the natural world. Nonetheless it is regrettable that the media often confuse opinion, fact and belief. Too much of the current debate focuses on belief. But belief is not important in many issues – what is important are matters of fact. This is particularly significant in major issues such as health and climate change where scientific knowledge is important. For example, in health investment in research is generally seen as overwhelmingly good. And it probably is but what about the unavoidable trade-offs in research in other areas? It is also regrettable that advertising is a major influence on public opinion and political processes. Robyn then moderated a discussion that included questions from the audience and covered such issues as the "priesthood status" of peer-review, the polarisation of public opinion, climate change, the state of critical argument in Australia and the necessity for the scientists to produce a compelling story in order to engage the media.

Annual General Meeting – new President elected

At the AGM held on Wednesday 4 April 2012, Dr Donald Hector was elected President of the Society, following John Hardie. John has been President of the Society twice, once in 1994 and from 2007-2011. The meeting moved a vote of thanks to John for his many years of devoted work to furthering the interests of the Society. John will continue as ex officio Vice President.

Click here for John's address to the annual general meeting.

Chief Scientist Invests New Fellows

The Society was very pleased to have two Fellows of the Society, Professor Jill Trewhella FAAAS FRSN and Emeritus Professor Noel Hush AO FAA FRS FRSN invested with their Awards by Professor Mary O'Kane, Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW, at our Annual Dinner on Friday 18 February 2012.

Professors Jill Trewhella (left) Noel Hush with the Professor O'Kane after receiving their Fellowships at the annual dinner at St Paul's College, Sydney.

Professor O'Kane also presented the the Clarke Medal for 2011 to Emeritus Professor Byron Lamont for his life-long work on Australian flora, and the 2011 Edgeworth David Medal (for a young scientist under the age of 35) to pharmacologist, Dr Trent Woodruff.

Professor Lamont (left) and Dr Woodruff with the Professor O'Kane after receiving their awards at the annual dinner.

RSN Fellow & Medallist win NSW Scientist of Year Awards

Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons from UNSW was elected Fellow of the Society in 2010 and was presented with her award by our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, at our 2011 Annual Dinner. Professor Simmons was named the 2011 NSW Scientist of the Year and winner of the Mathematics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy category.

Professor Rick Shine from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney was awarded the 2010 Walter Burfitt Prize by our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, at our 2011 Annual Dinner. He won the Plant and Animal Research category at the awards.

More details can be found at the website of the "Office of NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer" NSW-Scientist-of-the-Year-2011

Governor Invests New Fellows

The Society was very pleased to have the remaining two Fellows of the Society for 2010 invested with their Awards by our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW, at a private function at Government House on 9 November 2011. Professor Kurt Lambeck and Professor Elizabeth Blackburn were overseas when Her Excellency presented our Awards at our Annual Dinner on 18 February so she very kindly agreed to bestow these Awards on them at this time. Lord May was also unable to be present in February and Her Excellency was able to perform his investiture on 29 April during his visit to Australia. 

At this most recent event Professor Blackburn was represented by Professor Roger Reddel, Lorimer Dods Professor and Director, Children's Medical Research Institute Westmead, who indicated that he was able to pass the Award to Professor Blackburn the following week. Our congratulations go out to our new Fellows.

Professors Roger Reddel (left, on behalf of Professor Elizabeth Blackburn) and Kurt Lambeck with the Governor and the President after receiving Fellow Awards at Government House, Sydney.

President delivers Occasional Address

The Society's President was honoured with the opportunity to address new graduates and their families and friends at a graduation ceremony held at the University of Sydney on Friday 20 May 2011. The ceremony was for the Faculty of Science and for the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, and was presided over by the university's Chancellor, our Patron, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir. Over 200 new graduates had their degrees conferred, with the majority coming from the Science Faculty.

In his Occasional Address the President referred to the importance of communicating science to a wider audience by all who practise it. He also referred to the value of scientific professional associations and learned societies, particularly as a means of enabling science communication. He cited Professor Archibald Liversidge, the first Dean of Science at the university and a mainstay of the Society for the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as an embodiment of the broad approach that needs to be taken by all, especially today.


The Dirac Lecture 2011

"Beauty and truth: their intersection in mathematics and science"

Robert, Lord May of Oxford, AC FRSN

Friday 29 April 2011 at 6:30 pm

Scientia Building, University of NSW

Meeting report by Donald Hector 

On 29 April 2011, Robert Lord May of Oxford, arguably the greatest mathematician that Australia has produced, was invested as a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW by the Governor. Earlier that day, Lord May presented the Dirac Lecture at the University of New South Wales, jointly sponsored by the Society. He took us on interesting exploration of some of the important concepts of mathematics, from Euclidean geometry via the concept of imaginary numbers to the mathematics of fractals and chaos theory and the extraordinary power of mathematics to describe observed real-world phenomena. 

Updating the observation by Galileo, "this grand book is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric objects", Lord May pointed out that rather than triangles and circles, today the mathematical objects are more likely to be fractals and "strange attractors". Nonetheless, as Galileo observed, and referring to the examples of Julia sets and Mandelbrot sets, there is great beauty in the elegance with which we can both describe and understand the immense complexity of the universe. He went on to explore the paradigm shift that Einstein divined from the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment that had found that the speed of light was the same for all observers. Einstein's formulation of the special theory of relativity led to a profound shift in our understanding of the relationships between momentum, mass and energy that has enabled extraordinary insights and understanding of the nature of the universe, from gravity to nuclear fission. Lord May pointed out that, regrettably, many of the great contributions do not get the recognition that they deserve. In his view, Paul Dirac was such a person – his formulation of the Dirac equation and its implication of the existence of positrons was one of the greatest steps forward in theoretical physics in the 20th century, yet his name is nowhere near as well known as that of Einstein. 

Quoting Keats "beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know", Lord May observed: well yes, but not really.

Governor's Reception for Lord May of Oxford

The Society was honoured by the decision of our Patron, Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW, to hold a reception at Government House, Sydney for the formal investiture of Lord May of Oxford, a distinguished Australian scientist now residing in the UK, as Fellow of the Society. This took place in the late afternoon of Friday 29 April 2011 following Lord May's delivery of the Dirac Lecture at the University of NSW that morning. The presence at the event of several leaders of the scientific community in NSW was testament to the value that is placed on excellence and achievement in science, and on the importance of the Society's Fellows.

Footage of the event can be found here: Dirac Lecture 2011 - Beauty and truth: their intersection in mathematics and science
Lord and Lady May (centre) with Her Excellency the Governor and the President following Lord May's investiture as Fellow of the Society at Government House Sydney.

the Royal Society of NSW Forum 2011

"Belief and science: the belief/knowledge dilemma"

Barry Jones and David Malouf

Wednesday 6 April 2011 at 6:00 pm

The Darlington Centre, University of Sydney

David Malouf
Have scientists become polarised into the believers and non-believers? Barry Jones posed this question to David Malouf and members of the Society at the 1190th General Meeting​ on Wednesday, 6 April 2011. Reflecting upon this, Barry referred to the scientific paradigm that has emerged over the last several hundred years: scientists gather information in order to try to make sense of observed phenomena using rational analysis. Science has evolved to become not so much a matter of belief but rather of acceptance of the most sensible explanation based on the accumulation of evidence. Nonetheless, when major paradigm shifts in scientific thinking take place, there are often eminent experts who disagree and refuse to accept the new theory. This slows down the acceptance of a new paradigm but ultimately in most cases rational thought prevails.
Barry Jones

David Malouf pointed out that non-scientists have to rely on what they are told in order to evaluate scientific theories. He pointed out the significant shift since the 18th century when early scientists put their theories to learned academies (such as the Royal Society, London) for expert examination and they determined what was accepted as scientific knowledge and what was rejected. Today, however, with the highly complex issues that society faces there are significant public policy implications that need to be resolved based on expert advice. But what do we do when the experts disagree? We are largely dependent on the media to inform us. This is further complicated because important issues are usually not just scientific in their nature but often have economic and social imperatives that commercial groups, governments and other interests seek to manipulate. Barry commented that the sheer complexity of science has forced scientists to increasing specialisation. Furthermore, scientists are heavily reliant on research grants from government and private enterprise and this has discouraged them from entering into controversies. This is quite different to the era of only 50 or 70 years ago when renowned scientists were not afraid to comment outside their area of specific expertise.

In their final comments, Barry emphasised that the task of a scientist is to analyse inconceivably complex data and make sense of it but the public policy imperatives are driven by media outcomes and necessarily requires the debate to be simplistic. David is fascinated by the rate of change of technology and almost unexpectedly has come to the realisation that the more we know about the complexities of nature, of the human body, the weather and so on, it simply exposes ever more questions. Science has been enormously successful and exciting in bringing an understanding in a world that we know so little about.

Annual Dinner and Awards 2011

The Society held its Annual Dinner for 2011 at St Paul's College, University of Sydney on Friday 18 February 2011. Our guest-of-honour was the Governor of NSW, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, one of our two Patrons and a long-standing supporter of the Society. We were also pleased to have three Deans of Science from universities in Sydney present. In her Occasional Address Her Excellency made reference to the antecedents of the Society and the work of one of her predecessors, Governor Lachlan Macquarie, in creating a climate in which Societies such as ours might germinate. We appreciate her support and that of the unbroken line of her predecessors.
The Governor, Marie Bashir, presents Fellowship to Professor Michelle Simmons.
The Governor, Marie Bashir, presents Fellowship to Emeritus Scientia Professor Eugenie Lumbers.
The Governor, Marie Bashir, congratulates Dr Ken Campbell on his award of the Clarke Medal.​
The Governor, Marie Bashir, presents Assoc. Prof. Angela Moles with the Edgeworth David Medal.​
The Governor, Marie Bashir, presents Prof. Rick Shine with the Walter Burfitt Prize.​
The Governor, Marie Bashir, presents Dr Julian King with the joint AIP/Royal Society of NSW Studentship Award.​
The Governor, Marie Bashir, with Society President John Hardie after he presented her with a token of the Society's appreciation.​
Vice President, Heinrich Hora, gives the vote of thanks.​

Five New Fellows Honoured

(Note: A change to the Rules of the Society in December 2013 changed Fellowships to Distinguished Fellowships.)

At the Liversidge Research Lecture for 2010 held on 26 November, the President announced that the Society had created five new Fellows. The formal presentation ceremony occurred on 18 February 2011 at the Society's Annual Dinner in Sydney. The Society's new Fellows will continue their work to promote the importance of scientific endeavour in Australia.

The Society's Fellows for 2010 are:
Professor Lord May of Oxford, OM AC Kt FRS FAA FRSN;
Professor Elizabeth Blackburn AC FRS FRSN;
Professor Kurt Lambeck AO FRS FAA FRSN;
Emeritus Scientia Professor Eugenie Lumbers FAA FRSN and
Professor Michelle Simmons FAA FRSN.

For their citations see the Distinguished Fellows page.

Inaugural Fellows Honoured at Admiralty House

On Monday 29 March 2010 Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Chief Patron of the Society, presented the Society's Inaugural Fellows with their certificates. This splendid occasion, held in the delightful surrounds of Admiralty House in Sydney in front of an invited audience of over 50 distinguished guests of the Society, honoured the achievements of these seven great scientists:

Professor Michael Archer AM FAA
Professor Gavin Brown AO FAA CorrFRSE
Professor Robert Clark FAA
Professor David Craig AO FRS FAA
Professor Jak Kelly DSc FInstP (London) FAIP
Professor Richard Stanton AO FAA
Professor Bruce Warren DSc FAIM FRCPA FRCPath


For their citations see the Distinguished Fellows page.

Admiralty House​

Annual Dinner and Awards 2010

The Society's Annual Dinner was held on Friday 12 March 2010 at the Forum Restaurant, Darlington Centre, Sydney University. We were fortunate in having the NSW Chief Scientist and Scientific Engineer, Professor Mary O'Kane, as Guest-of-Honour to present the Society's Awards for 2009 and give an Occasional Address to the nearly 70 members and guests at the dinner. Three Awards were presented:

The James Cook Medal was awarded to Dr Michael Goldsworthy FAIP, CEO of Silex Systems, for his discovery, development and commercialisation of the world's best isotope separation techniques. Dr Goldsworthy's work is highly significant for the energy sector in that his techniques have increased isotope enrichment efficiency by a factor of 60 times over the earlier centrifuge techniques. He is now regarded as one of the leading authorities on both nuclear power and solar energy in Australia. The citation was read by Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora.

The Clarke Medal for 2009 was awarded to Dr Winston Ponder of the Australian Museum for his lifetime's work on molluscs. Dr Ponder's work has focussed on phylogenetic relationships and taxonomy, and his detailed research, published in over 200 papers in refereed journals, has been essential in recognising Australia's biodiversity. The citation was read by Julie Haeusler.

The Edgeworth David Medal for 2009 (for a scientist under the age of 35) was awarded to Associate Professor Nagarajan Valanoor of the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of NSW. Professor Valanoor works on nanoscale functional materials and thin-film polar oxide structures. He has put Australia on the world map in leading-edge research in these areas. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed papers internationally which have been cited over 2,400 times, a remarkable achievement for a relatively young researcher. The citation was read by Associate Professor Bill Sewell.

For more information see Bulletin 333 (PDF file).

Royal Society events

The Royal Society of NSW organizes a number of events in Sydney throughout the year.  These include Ordinary General Meetings (OGMs) held on the first Wednesday of the month (there is no meeting in January).  Society business is conducted, new Fellows and Members are inducted, and reports from Council are given to the membership.  This is followed by a talk and optional dinner.  Drinks are served before the meeting.  There is a small charge to attend the meeting and talk, and to cover refreshments.  The dinner is a separate charge, and must be booked in advance.  All OGMs are open to members of the public.

The first OGM in February has speakers drawn from the Royal Society Scholarship winners, and the December OGM hears from the winner of the Jak Kelly award, before an informal Christmas party.  The April event is our black-tie Annual Dinner and Distinguished Fellow lecture.

Other events are held in collaboration with other groups, including:

  • The Four Societies lecture (with the Australian Institute of Energy, the Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia [Sydney Division] and the Australian Nuclear Association)
  • The Forum (with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia)
  • The Dirac lecture (with UNSW Australia and the Australian Institute of Physics)
  • The Liversidge Medal lecture (with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute)
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