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Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Science Week RSNSW Lunchtime Science Talks

Science Week Logo

Four RSNSW  Lunchtme Science Talks as part of Science Week

Venue: The University of Sydney Business School CBD Campus, Level 17, Stockland Building, 133 Castlereagh St.

Free admission

Talk 1 “Smoking and lung cancer: How are we doing?”

John Murray  Professor John Murray
  School of Mathematics and Statistics
  University of NSW 


Date: Friday 11th August 12.30 – 1.30pm

What are the rates of smoking and lung cancer these days – are we doing better? Hear Professor John Murray share some of his extensive research in this field and learn what the latest evidence means for our future.


Talk 2: “Fred Astaire and the Science of Spontaneity”

Kathleen Riley   Dr Kathleen Riley
  Writer, classical scholar and theatre historian

Date: Monday 14th August 12.30-1.30pm


Join Dr Kathleen Riley, as she focuses on the science behind superstar Fred Astaire’s ability to make the technically complex and endlessly rehearsed look simple, spontaneous and effortless. The talk draws in part on her book The Astaires: Fred and Adele.


Talk 3: “Personalised medicine – healthcare in the 21st century”

Leslie Burnett  Professor Leslie Burnett
  Chief Medical Officer, Genome.One
  Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Date: Tuesday 15th August 12.30 to 1.30pm


The ability to know a patient’s most unique and personal information contained in their DNA is increasingly informing treatments and revolutionising health policy. Explore this revolution and discuss how governments must develop the strategies and vision for a healthcare system that takes advantage of these new opportunities to keep you healthy.

Note: owing to unforeseen circumstances, Associate Professor Kristine Barlow-Stewart is unable to give this talk and Professor Burnett has kindly agreed to replace her.


Talk 4: “Scientific and not-so-scientific fraud: crooks, cranks and charlatans”

Brynn Hibbert   Emeritus Professor D Brynn Hibbert
  School of Analytical Chemistry, UNSW
  President RSNSW

Date: Thursday 17th August 12.30-1.30pm


The use of science to sell strange and fraudulent information is not new. Join Professor Brynn Hibbert, President of The Royal Society of NSW, and learn some of the wackier examples of scientific and not-so-scientific fraud, starting in the Middle Ages in Europe and continuing in Sydney in the 21st century.

Everybody needs science in their lives

National Science week

National Science Week event, jointly sponsored by the Royal Society of NSW and the University of New England

Date and time: Wednesday August 16th, 2pm to 4pm

Venue: UNE Future Campus, 211 Church Street, Parramatta, NSW 2150

Admission: free

Contact: Charles Greenaway UNE, email: porjectexodusii "at" gmail.com,  phone: 0466 601 647

A short meeting on educational psychology, connectivism and the use of the scientific method in management, followed by a Q&A session.

Poggendorff Lecture 2017

"Applied remote sensing applications for Australian agricultural and horticultural industries"

Associate Professor Andrew Robson, University of New England

Poggendorff picture

Associate Professor Andrew Robson receiving the Poggendorff Medal from His
Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (ret'd.), Governor of NSW

Date and time: Tuesday 29 August 2017, 6.30 pm

Venue: Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000

Free entry

Registration: https://nsw-royalsoc.currinda.com/register/event/41

 With increasing awareness of global food shortages and a downturn in mining exports, Australian agriculture is currently receiving unprecedented industry support and funding for the development and adoption of new technologies. At the forefront of this renaissance is agricultural remote sensing, predominantly due to the advent of drones or UAVs. Whilst the UAV technologies themselves still require much research and development, they have inadvertently increased focus on satellite based imaging platforms, a technology that has been evolving since the 1970’s. The University of New England (UNE) Agricultural Remote Sensing Team (ARST), stands at the forefront of research within this discipline having established formal collaborations across multiple agricultural industries, and offering support to many more. 

In this lecture, Associate Professor Andrew Robson, will present a brief theory of remote sensing with relevance to agriculture, including an overview of commercial satellites and associated costings. The presentation will include a detailed discussion of applications currently being developed by ARST, in response to industry demand, ranging from the prediction of fruit size and yield at the individual tree level, the automated derivation and distribution of yield and nitrogen concentration maps to an entire industry and the generation of tools that support national biosecurity and post disaster monitoring.

Associate Professor Robson, founded the ARST, a theme of the UNE Precision Agriculture Research Group (PARG) in 2016 on the back of his long standing research career in agricultural remote sensing. He has been engaged in agricultural research since 1996, with the last 15 years developing spatial applications (remote sensing/ GIS) across a number of cropping and farming systems both nationally and internationally. This research has attracted funding from a wide range of industries including Peanut (ACIAR, GRDC, University of Florida), Grains (GRDC), Cotton (CCCCRC), Sugar (SRA/SRDC, WWF/ Coca Cola), Rice (RIRDC/ NSWDPI), Avocados, Mangoes, Macadamia, Banana (Horticulture Innovation Aust/ Federal DAF), Vegetables (Horticulture Innovation Aust), Pineapples (QDAF) and Pastures (CRC-SI/ MLA). Throughout his career, A/ Professor Robson has developed an extensive network of industry, research and commercial collaborators that are regularly engaged for the development and delivery of practical and adoptable outcomes.

The Poggendorff Medal

Walter Poggendorff was a biologist and plant breeder with a particular interest in the breeding of rice.  In 1928, the Yanco Rice Research Station was established by the NSW Department of Agriculture with approximately 670 acres just south of Leeton on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River.  A brilliant young biologist, Walter Poggendorff was transferred there as an assistant plant breeder.

Poggendorff’s early accomplishments included recognizing the need to quarantine imported rice and producing strains of rice that were able to offer growers late, mid-season, early and very early short-grain varieties.  He also developed similar long-grain strains but these were not required by the market until much later.  Poggendorff is recognised as one of the major figures in establishing the Australian rice industry, developing high-yield crops for Australian conditions and maintaining controls on imports to limit the introduction of serious diseases.  Poggendorff’s work was not confined to rice – in the 1930s and 1940s, he worked with peaches, apricots, pears, almonds, grapes and rock melons.  Later, he became Chief of the Division of Plant Industry in the NSW Department of Agriculture.

When he died in 1981, he made a bequest to the Royal Society of NSW to fund a lecture.

RSNSW/SMSA Joint Lecture Series: Is the Enlightenment dead?

Susannah Fullerton   Lecture 1:  “Samuel Pepys, His Library
   and the Enlightenment”
  Susannah Fullerton
  Author, lecturer and literary tour leader

Date and time: 4 September 2017, drinks at 6pm, for 6.30-7.30pm

Venue: All sessions will be held at the Mitchell Theatre, Level 1, Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, 280 Pitt St., Sydney

Cost: $15 for Fellows/Members, $20 for friends (per lecture)

Register for Lecture 1 here: https://nsw-royalsoc.currinda.com/register/event/42

This series of five talks, co-hosted by the Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, brings together the two oldest institutions in NSW dedicated to education, the discussion of ideas, and discovery. The series is expected to initiate a period of interactive events and activities to the mutual benefit of both societies. The lectures will be presented by an outstanding group of experts in the field, with the topics chosen to represent a broad overview of the Enlightenment from its beginnings as the public recognized and discussed the meanings of change from a long period of mythology and dogma, to grasping reality and what that meant to them and their lives, to its impact on our society today.

The Enlightenment was founded on reasoned discourse and scientific enquiry, connecting with the idea of human equality and the rights of the individual. It was a powerful influence through disruptive revolutions in the 18th century on European and American societies. But what influence did it have on our Australian society, and the institutions entrusted to inform the population of new ideas and discovery? On a more concerning note, to what extent is Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz correct in his view that “Global Deflation is reversing international progress through rejection of the principles of the Enlightenment”?

These five Lectures will capture the beginnings of the Enlightenment, its immediate impact on Colonial Australia, and two portals of the Enlightenment and their adaptation to changes around them over 200 years. The series will conclude with an interactive Sophistry, taking the theme of the series, and discussing this in the context of contemporary Australian life.

Samuel pepysIn this first lecture Susannah Fullerton will discuss the life and diaries of Samuel Pepys and what they tell us about The Enlightenment. Susannah Fullerton is Sydney’s best known speaker on famous authors and their works. She has spoken at literary conferences around the world, and is regularly sought as an entertaining and informative speaker at fund-raising events, conference dinners, schools, libraries, universities, bookshops and clubs.

Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, has been President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia for the past 21 years. She is Sydney's best known lecturer on famous authors and their works. She is also Patron of the Rudyard Kipling Society of Australia. Susannah leads popular literary tours for Australians Studying Abroad to the UK, France, Italy and the USA. She is the author of several books about Jane Austen and also of Brief Encounters: Literary Travellers in Australia, and has written and recorded two audio CDs. 

Other lectures in the series:

Lecture 2: “What the Enlightenment Meant to Australia” by Emeritus Professor John Gascoigne, UNSW, on the 6th November 2017

Lecture 3: “Learning, Adaptation and the Enlightenment: The Museum” by Kim Mckay AO, Director and CEO Australian Museum,on the 1st February 2018

Lecture 4: “Learning, Adaptation and the Enlightenment: The Library” by Paul Brunton OAM Emeritus Curator, State Library of NSW, on the 1st March 2018

Lecture 5:  Sophistry: “Global Deflation : The Enlightenment has Failed!” by Scientia Professor George Paxinos AM, on the 5th of April 2018

1256th OGM and Open Lecture

Helen Mitchell  "Multisensory music:
  listening by ear and eye?"

   Dr Helen Mitchell
   Sydney Conservatorium of Music
   University of Sydney

Date: Wednesday 6 September 2017, 6 for 6:30pm
Venue: Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street Sydney
Entry: $20 for non-members, $10 for Members and Associate Members of the Society, which includes a welcome drink.  Dress code: business
Dinner (including drinks): $80 for Members and Associate Members, $90 for non-members. Reservations must be made at least 2 days before.
Reservations:  https://nsw-royalsoc.currinda.com/register/event/36
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or phone 9431 8691
All are welcome

Listening is regarded as the most fundamental way to engage with music performance but this is challenged by a growing body of research which suggests that sight trumps sound. Music is now widely recognised as a multisensory experience, and the challenge for music education is to absorb and include these recent research findings in the music curriculum. This presentation will decipher the complex perceptual skills required for listening to music performers. It will consider how new experiential learning strategies in music education can prepare future music professionals as critical thinkers about music performance.

Dr Helen Mitchell has a multidisciplinary background in music, as a singer, music scholar and music performance researcher. Listeners’ perception of sound quality is central to Helen's music performance research. Her current work investigates how listeners recognise and describe individual performers’ sound identities, and how listeners ‘hear’ music performers to see to what extent audiences integrate audio and visual information to identify individual performers. 

The Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum 2017

“The future of rationality in a post-truth world”

Date: Wednesday, 29 November 2017, 9am–5:30pm (8:30am registration)
Venue: Government House, Sydney

Booking: not yet available

Outline (more details to come)

Rationality is one of the greatest steps forward in the development of human civilisation. What do we mean by “rationality”? It is an approach based on the philosophical proposition that reason rather than sense or belief is the basis for certainty in knowledge. It had its origins in ancient Greece, was rediscovered in the Renaissance and further developed in the Enlightenment. It is based upon the position that the human mind has the capacity to analyse data, extract meaning from it and to build a body of logically-consistent knowledge that we believe to be true, while accepting the ever-present risk of error. It encourages the critique and falsification of theories to develop, improve and refine knowledge continuously. Rationally-determined knowledge is one of the pillars of scientific enquiry and is a cornerstone of virtually all the institutions of modern, open societies.

“Post-truth” (the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016) dismisses rationally-determined knowledge. Rather, it appeals to emotion and personal belief and selectively picks information, true or not, to reach whatever conclusion is desired. It appears to have emerged from a once-fashionable but now largely discredited post-modernist position of “multiple truths”. These “alternative facts” are then used to shape public opinion, using whatever forms of dissemination are most effective, particularly those that make no effort to establish the veracity of the information that they distribute.

Rationality and, in particular, the scientific method is under attack. How can and should we respond? We live in a world in which people have ready access to all kinds of information, misinformation and deliberate lies, through social media and online search engines. People can know more but also not know more, as truth and fact are increasingly drowned out by an avalanche of lies and distortions. The algorithms of Google and Facebook and their like lock us into knowledge bubbles of truth and lies that pander to our prejudices. Experts are no longer experts but another opinion, another form of advocacy from a lobby group of evidence-based ideologists feathering their own nest. Evidenced-based advice and action are reversed and the fundamental tenets of science are being questioned. Ideology and prejudice drive evidence and selectivity. Has the world gone mad? Is the world any different to the past? Has human nature and the way we perceive and respond to the world changed? Or are we just seeing human behaviour manifested in different forms in the modern social context? What can and should we do about this?

These are the issues to be addressed at this year’s Forum of the Royal Society of NSW and the Four Academies. In particular, the 2017 Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum will examine the implications of the rise of a post-truth approach to shaping public opinion. Does it, as some claim, have the potential to undermine the institutions upon which open, democratic societies are built? Does it advantage the propagandists and those who wish to pursue sinister agendas? What responsibilities do the media (in particular, the newly emerging mass-media) have in presenting information to the public? What should – or can – those who believe in evidence-based, objectively-determined policy do about it?



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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