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Is the Enlightenment dead?

RSNSW/SMSA Joint Lecture Series

Diderot's Encyclopedie frontispiece
detail from the frontispiece of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1772

Dates: see below

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

Time: 6 pm drinks, for 6.30-7.30 pm

Cost: $15 for SMSA & Royal Society Fellows/Members, $20 for non-members and friends (per lecture) — all are welcome

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.

Lectures in the series:

Lecture 1: “Samuel Pepys, His Library and the Enlightenment” by Susannah Fullerton, on 4 September 2017

Lecture 2: “The freedom to use one's own intelligence: the Enlightenment and the growth of the Australian nation” by Professor Robert Clancy AM FRSN, on 6 November 2017

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

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

Lecture 5:  Sophistry: “Global deflation: the Enlightenment has failed!” by Scientia Professor George Paxinos AM, on 5 April 2018

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RSNSW & SMSA strategic partnership

SMSA logoThe Council of the Society is pleased to announce that it has reached agreement with the Board of the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts (SMSA) to establish a strategic partnership. This partnership reflects the similar heritage of the two organisations and their commitment to advancing knowledge and engaging with the broadest possible audience in New South Wales.

The Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts (SMSA) was established in 1833, following the Scottish example of providing open access to education for the working classes, who, historically, had been excluded from formal, traditional education systems. The Governor at the time was Sir Richard Bourke, who was a strong supporter of it with an annual allowance of £200. In 1886, the SMSA was incorporated by an act of the NSW Parliament, similar to the act which, in 1881, formally established the Society as a body corporate.

SMSA buildingOriginally, the SMSA occupied the building that is currently the Arthouse Hotel, at 271 Pitt Street. The SMSA sold this building in the 1990s to Alan Bond’s corporation for redevelopment of the site. With the proceeds, the SMSA bought a building at 280 Pitt Street that could house their activities and provide a source of rental income. The SMSA occupies three floors of this building. The third floor houses offices and meeting rooms and the Thomas Kenneally Collection, the private library donated to the SMSA some years ago by Thomas Keneally FRSN. The second floor houses an extensive lending library and the first floor has an auditorium that seats about 130 people, some smaller meeting rooms and has facilities for limited catering.

Over the last 18 months or so, the Council of the Society and the Board of the SMSA have had extensive discussions regarding ways in which the two organisations could collaborate to gain synergies from their similar objectives and activities and to enhance the standing of both organisations. The governing bodies of both organisations formally signed off on the strategic partnership in September.

Key elements of this agreement include:
• Development of a joint program of events that will be broadly attractive to members of both organisations and the general public;
• Display of important selections of material from the Society’s library;
• Reciprocal membership benefits between the two organisations when engaged in joint activities.

In addition, the Society will hold some of its own functions at the SMSA auditorium and meeting rooms, particularly when they are expected to attract larger audiences. The location near Town Hall station and one of the new Metro line stations is particularly convenient. The Society’s presence in the building will be identified in the main foyer with its name and seal.

signing the SMSA MoUThe Council believes this partnership is a very important initiative and will further consolidate our efforts to promote the Society plus increasing its influence in the intellectual life of New South Wales. We look forward very much to working with the SMSA in taking this arrangement forward.

A formal Memorandum of Understanding between the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts and the Royal Society of NSW was signed on 30 October 2017.  At the signing were [front row, L to R] Thomas Kenneally AO FRSN, Winsome Allen (SMSA President), Emeritus Professor Brynn Hibbert (RSNSW President), [back row, L to R] Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy AM FRSN, Denis Mockler (SMSA Board member) and John Hardie FRSN (RSNSW Councillor).

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Planned Sydney meetings 2017

Wednesday 1 February

1250th OGM and open lecture: 2015 Scholarship presentations

Yik Lung (Jeremy) Chan, School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney

“Effects of maternal cigarette smoke exposure on brain health in offspring”

Andrew Ritchie, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

“New ways of modelling the ancient past to understand evolution”

Isobel Ronai, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

“Anarchy in the honey bee colony: the genetic basis of worker sterility”

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Thursday 23 February

Annual Meeting of the Four Societies

“South Australia: a nuclear State in a global solution”

Rear Admiral, The Honourable Kevin Scarce AC CSC RAN (ret'd.)

Venue: International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour

Time: 6pm to 8pm (reception from 5.30pm)

Wednesday 1 March

1251st OGM and open lecture

“Creative minds: artistic and scientific endeavour on polar expeditions 1851 to 1951”

Richard Ferguson FRGS, Executive Director, Craft Australia

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

Wednesday 5 April

AGM and 1252nd OGM and open lecture

“The science of beer”

Dr Greg Organ, Chief Scientist, Lion Company

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

Time: 5.45 for 6pm start of AGM. Open lecture and OGM 6.30pm

Wednesday 3 May

Annual dinner of the Royal Society of NSW

Guests of honour: The Honourable General David Hurley AC DSC (ret'd.) Governor of NSW and Mrs Hurley

Distinguished Fellow's Lecture and presentation of Awards for 2016

Distinguished Fellow's Address: Peter Baume

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

Time: 6.30 for 7pm

Wednesday 7 June

1253rd OGM and open lecture

“Are you smarter than a slime mould?”

Professor Madeleine Beekman, University of Sydney

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 5 July

1254th OGM and open lecture

“Understanding quantum theory”

Professor Andrea Morella, University of NSW

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 2 August

1255th OGM and open lecture

“Self-driving cars: will they help?”

Professor Ann Williamson, University of NSW

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Dates in August 

Science Week: Royal Society of NSW lunchtime science talks

Wednesday 6 September

1256th OGM and open lecture

“The complexity of music”

Helen Mitchell, Conservatorium of Music

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 4 October

1257th OGM and open lecture

“Understanding social networks”

Professor Pip Pattison, Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Sydney

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 1 November

1258th OGM and open lecture

“Women in art”

Pamela Griffith

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

Wednesday 29 November

Royal Society of NSW and Four Learned Academies Forum

“Science and society in a post-truth world”

Venue: Government House

Time: 8.30am to 5pm, with a reception the preceding evening

Wednesday 6 December

1259th OGM and open lecture

Royal Society of NSW 2016 Jak Kelly Award and Christmas Party

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

Time: 6 for 6.30pm

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See the slides from the 2016 Forum

The slides used by the speakers at the 2016 RSNSW and Four Academies Forum, held on 29 November at Government House, are now available for download.

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Sydney meetings in 2016

Wednesday 3 February

Royal Society 2014 Scholarship Presentations – the 1240th OGM and Public Lecture

“Problems and prime numbers”
Adrian Dudek, Australian National University

“How old are flowers?”
Charles Foster, University of Sydney

“Manifestations of dark matter and variation of fundamental constants”
Yevgeny Stadnik, UNSW

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

Thursday 25 February

Four Societies Meeting

“Energy sources in Australia’s future”

Professor Robert Clark AO FAA FRSN

47th Floor MLC Centre, Sydney

Wednesday 2 March

1241st OGM and Public Lecture

“How to win an Ignoble Prize: communicating science”

Dr Len Fisher, Bristol University

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

Wednesday 16 March

RSNSW and Australian Institute of Physics Meeting

“The science of sleep”

Professor Ron Grunstein, University of Sydney

Venue: Trinity Grammar School PD Centre, 5 Thomas St. Lewisham

Wednesday 6 April

AGM and 1242nd OGM and Public Lecture

President’s Address

Dr Don Hector, President of the Royal Society of NSW

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

Wednesday 4 May

Annual Dinner and Distinguished Fellow's Lecture

“Science policy”

Professor Eugenie Lumbers, UNSW

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

Wednesday 1 June

1243rd OGM and Public Lecture

Professor Peter Hiscock, University of Sydney

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

Wednesday 6 July

1244th OGM and Public Lecture

“Royal”, not “Philosophical” - W.B. Clarke's inaugural address to the Royal Society of NSW

Associate Professor Rob Young (ret'd.), University of Wollongong

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

Wednesday 3 August

1245th OGM and Public Lecture

“Celebrating the 200th birthday of Royal Botanic Gardens: a personal history of 57 years of science”

Dr Barbara Briggs, Royal Botanic Gardens

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

Wednesday 7 September

1246th OGM and Public Lecture

“A source of inspiration and delight: the Mitchell Library”

Richard Neville, Mitchell Library

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

Wednesday 5 October

1247th OGM and Public Lecture

“From sand and rice bubbles to earthquakes and volcanos”

Professor Itai Einav, University of Sydney

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

Wednesday 2 November

1248th OGM and Public Lecture

“Finding the right course for the right horse: recent evidence-based advances in instructional design”

Professor Jim Kehoe, UNSW

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

Wednesday 7 December

1249th OGM and Public Lecture and Christmas Party

Jak Kelly Award Winner 2016 (presented by Irene Kelly)

“Imaging with a deft touch: The scanning helium microscope – a modern pinhole camera!”

Mathew Barr, School of Mathematical and Physical Science, University of Newcastle

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

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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

Date: Wednesday June 1

Venue: Union Universities & Schools Club, 25 Bent St, 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.

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New webmaster for RSNSW

As of April 2016, Chris Bertram has taken on the job of RSNSW Webmaster.

Chris Bertram 2010

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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 Em. Professor Eugenie Lumbers AM DistFRSN

Wednesday 4 May 2016
Union, Universities, & Schools Club, 25 Bent St, Sydney

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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.

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1228th Ordinary General Meeting

2014 Jak Kelly Award presentation, followed by the Society’s Christmas Party

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Union, University & Schools Club, 25 Bent St, Sydney

Linh TranThe 2014 Royal Society of NSW Jak Kelly Award was presented to Ms Linh Tran of the School of Physics at University of Wollongong (here seen at the AIP Awards Day on 18 November), for her work on development of 3D semiconductor microdosimetric sensors for RBE determination in 12C heavy ion therapy.

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.

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1218th Ordinary General Meeting

Presentations by Royal Society of NSW scholarship winners 2014

Date: Wednesday 5 February 2014

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

John Chan (Pharmacology, University of Sydney)
Jessica Stanley (Chemistry, University of Sydney)
Jiangbo (Tim) Zhao (Advanced Cytometry, Macquarie University)

This presentation was delivered by A/Prof. Judith Dawes.

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1217th OGM and Christmas party

"Probing the nano-world with the symmetries of light"

Xavier Zambrana-Puyalto  Xavier Zambrana-Puyalto
  Department of Physics and Astronomy
  ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered
  Quantum Systems, Macquarie University

  Winner of the RSNSW Jak Kelly Scholarship
  Award for 2013

Wednesday 18 December 2013

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.

In 1959, Richard Feynman gave a seminal lecture titled “There’s plenty of room at the bottom” which pushed scientists to set out on the journey of controlling light/matter interactions at the nano-scale. Since then, nanotechnology has rapidly developed. Nowadays it is inconceivable to think of any new information devices whose circuits are not in the nano-scale. Whereas nanoelectronics is a well consolidated technology producing transistors of less than 50 nm, nanophotonics has yet to overcome some drawbacks. So far, probably the most successful way of pushing light technology to the nano-scale has been plasmonics. In plasmonics, plane waves are used to excite smartly designed nano-structures to couple light with free electrons oscillations on a metallic surface and transmit information. Xavier showed that if symmetry considerations are taken into account and more elaborate beams of light are used, extra information can be retrieved from the same samples. To prove this, he presented a recent experiment carried out in his group where the complex behavior of a circular nano-metric aperture is easily predicted using symmetry considerations. The experiment deals with an old problem – the circular dichroism (CD) of a sample. CD is a widely used technique in science, and its uses range from DNA studies to protein spectroscopy. It is defined as the differential absorption of left and right circular polarization. Typically, it is established that CD can only be found in interactions with chiral structures, i.e. structures whose mirror image cannot be superimposed with them. Xavier showed that non-chiral structures, such as a circular nano-aperture, can also produce CD when light beams with cylindrical symmetry are used. This allows one to reconcile the experimental results and extend the current understanding of this phenomenon using symmetry considerations.

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The Dirac Lecture 2013

"Semiconductor Nanostructures and Quantum Phenomena"

Michael Pepper  Professor Sir Michael Pepper FRS
  Pender Chair in Nanoelectronics
  University College London

Dirac Lecture and Medal Presentation

Professor Pepper was also presented with an Honorary Degree from UNSW after his lecture.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Law Theatre, UNSW

Industry innovation has developed a combination of electron beam lithography and advanced semiconductor growth. This has stimulated interest in discovering more about the basic properties of semiconductor nanostructures.

The Lecture showed how advanced semiconductor growth technology, which was developed for the information technology industry, has allowed the creation of new types of structures for investigating the quantum aspects of electron transport. It also showed how the dimensionality which is experienced by the electrons can be reduced from 3 to 2 to 1 and then to 0.

History of the Dirac Lecture:

The Dirac Medal for the Advancement of Theoretical Physics is awarded by the UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics. The Lecture and the Medal commemorate the visit to the university in 1975 of Professor Dirac, who gave five lectures. The lectures were subsequently published as a book Directions of Physics. Professor Dirac donated the royalties from this book to the University for the establishment of the Dirac Lecture and Prize. The prize includes a silver medal and honorarium. It was first awarded in 1979.

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1216th OGM and public lecture

"Re-thinking science education in Australian schools: development and implementation of the National Science Curriculum"

Mark Butler  Dr Mark Butler

  Department of Education and Communities

Wednesday 6 November 2013

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

Dr Butler examined the development and nature of the new national senior high school science curriculum. In 2008 the Federal Government secured agreement with all state and territory governments to develop a national F-12 school curriculum. Responsibility for developing the curriculum was assigned to the newly established, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The national F-10 Science curriculum was completed in 2011 and will be implemented in NSW schools from 2014.

In December 2012 the curricula for senior courses in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Earth and Environmental Science were completed and signed off by the state and territory governments. Provided the newly elected Federal Government continues to support the new curriculum, the national senior science courses will be introduced in NSW schools in 2016.

The senior science curriculum was developed to reflect international best practice in science education. The courses were designed to cater for students who wished to pursue further study in science and for those who would not continue to study science beyond school level. But in spite of two extensive rounds of public consultation and over two years of refinement, the national senior science curriculum remains controversial and the content chosen, and the three strands (Science as Human Endeavour, Science Inquiry Skills and, Knowledge and Understanding) used to present it, continue to cause some concern. While the new courses will undoubtedly address the issues of comparability and consistency, only time will tell if the new courses will attract more students to study science and/or more effectively prepare students for studying science at tertiary level.

Dr Mark Butler is currently Head Teacher of Science at Gosford High School and the National Education Convener of the Australian Institute of Physics. He has taught science in secondary schools in NSW and has been an active member of the professional science education community for over thirty years. Dr Butler is particularly interested in developing strategies to encourage more students to study science in senior high school and at tertiary level.

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