2010 Liversidge Lecture in Chemistry

"Belief in science"

Professor John White CMG FAA FRS, Australian National University

Friday 26 November 2010 at 5.30 pm

Lecture Theatre 1, Merewether Building, University of Sydney

The achievements of science in the last 400 years have been of great benefit to humanity and are appreciated widely. Less well understood is how personal attributes of awareness, excitement, frustration and recognition of beauty are central to successful science. These very human qualities play a role in making discoveries. Scientists' optimism, suspended disbelief, and a reliance on empiricism are as much part of the scientific method as clear logic. Science requires absolute honesty and care about conclusions to be believable. Science is not autonomous and the sometimes necessarily tentative opinions are often incomprehensible and even unacceptable to the public – we must do better in explaining! Professor White's lecture will also examine some of his recent work on the structure and function of industrially valuable explosive emulsions – understood by the novel neutron scattering methods of 'contrast variation' pioneered in his research.

John White is currently Professor of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University. Graduating from Sydney University, he went to Oxford University on an 1851 scholarship in 1959. He became a Research Fellow of Lincoln College before finishing his DPhil and an official Fellow of St John's College Oxford in 1963. He is one of the discoverers of isotopic contrast variation in neutron scattering – which is currently used worldwide for understanding the structure of "soft matter".

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