Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

AGM & 1133rd General Monthly Meeting

"A hundred years after Einstein's extraordinary year"

Ms Karina Kelly, President of the Society

Wednesday 6 April 2005
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney, City Road


It's been a hundred years since Einstein's extraordinary year known as his Annus Mirabilis. In 1905, he published four remarkable papers and finished his doctoral dissertation. Any one of these papers would have established him as one of the new century's greatest scientists but what made this such an achievement was that each paper spawned a completely different branch of physics. Kelly's talk ranged from the Einstein centenary to other areas of science that have caught her interest in her nearly two decades of reporting on science for ABC TV. These include the chaos being experienced in the Nutrition discipline, mass species extinction, the demise of the Superconducting Supercollider, the effect of Post Modernism on Science and the notion that we may be living in a psychopathic society. Time will pass quickly because, as Einstein knew only too well, time is relative.


Karina Kelly is the retiring President of the Royal Society of New South Wales; a position she has held for two years. It is a long-standing tradition of the Society that each retiring president gives a presidential address on a subject of their choice and this is one such. Karina has worked in television since 1981, first for the news department of SBS television, then Channel 7 news before joining ABC's TV science program Quantum in 1986. She left ABC in 1996 and spent five years at home with her children before re-joining ABC's Catalyst program in 2001. She has won numerous international awards for her television work (including a World Gold Medal at the New York Film and Television Festivals), but her real claim to international fame is not as a science journalist but as the narrator of the renowned children's program, Bananas in Pyjamas.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

The 138th Annual General Meeting and the 1133rd Ordinary General Meeting were held at Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, Sydney University, 174 City Road, Darlington on Wednesday 6th April 2005. 37 Members and guests attended. Election of Council Members for 2005/2006 was held during the Annual General meeting. The Council's new President is Prof. J.C. Kelly, who was formerly Hon. Sec., and Ms Jill Rowling is now Honorary Secretary. Alan Buttenshaw is now Honorary Treasurer. Karina Kelly as the immediate past President joins the Vice Presidents. The Annual Report of Council and the Annual Financial Report by the Auditors for 2004 were presented and accepted by the Members.

The Presidential address "A Hundred Years After Einstein's Extraordinary Year" was delivered by Karina Kelly. The speaker began by stating that in 1905, Albert Einstein published three extraordinary papers which established him as one of the greatest minds humanity has produced and earned him the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. To celebrate the centenary of Einstein's 'Annus Mirabilis', 2005 has been declared the International year of Physics. We were given a brief summary of the significance of some of this work, including the fact that E=mc2 does not appear in this form in his paper on the equivalence of mass and energy. There were many splendid, little-known photographs of Einstein. I can see now why once, when asked by an official, he gave his profession as "Photographer's model".

A quotation, attributed to him, "Only two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity and I am not sure about the former", led on to a discussion of some more recent examples supporting this contention. The Superconducting Supercollider, abandoned after $2 billion had been spent excavating the site in Texas, which is now used for anti-terrorism firearm training instead of hunting the Higgs Boson. War however can always be afforded. The website shows that the Iraq war has so far run up a bill of some $160 billion.

Although science has recently come under attack in the media, many fields seek to support their activities by copying what they see as the scientific method of translating everything into numbers. Economists particularly are prone to this, but usually leave out the costs to the environment and to society. It works because it is easier to count than read. Einstein again stated "It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure."

The speaker went on to consider the psychopathology of large organizations, global inequality, ecosystem collapse and the support for research in Australia. We do not have space for here for all the details but the full text of the talk will be published in our Journal in the near future. Let us close with another of her quotations: "it is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a man in a chaotic period." Ending on a controversial note, most of us, including the Speaker, would disagree with the Chinese on this. Bringing order out of chaos is what science is all about and for which there is a greater need now than ever, and it will have to be done by men and women, not mad dogs.

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