1269th OGM open lecture and Christmas party

Jak Kelly Award lecture and Christmas party

“Hydroxyl as a probe of the molecular interstellar medium”

Anita Petzler
  Anita Petzler, Jak Kelly Award winner for 2018

  Department of Physics and Astronomy
  Macquarie University

Wednesday 5 December 2018
State Library of NSW, Sydney

The Jak Kelly Award
This 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.
The winner was selected from a short list of candidates who made presentations at a recent joint meeting of the Australian Institute of Physics NSW Branch, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and the Royal Society of NSW, which was held at UNSW.

The interstellar medium is the collection of gas and dust between the stars of a galaxy and is the raw material from which new stars are formed. Its physical properties as well as a complex set of internal and external influences determine the mass distribution of stars formed. By observing the interstellar medium, we can begin to unravel these complex interactions and build robust models of star formation in galaxies. The interstellar medium consists of atomic gas traced by 1420 MHz hydrogen emission, and molecular gas traditionally traced by 115 GHz carbon monoxide emission.
My research recognises the limitations of carbon monoxide as a tracer of more diffuse molecular gas and employs an alternate tracer: hydroxyl. Hydroxyl is expected to coexist with molecular hydrogen in all environments, including those not well traced by carbon monoxide. The ground state of hydroxyl is split into four levels due to lambda doubling and hyperfine splitting. There are four allowable transitions between those levels at 1612, 1665, 1667 and 1720 MHz. The relative population of hydroxyl molecules in each level is determined by the local gas conditions which in turn determines the relative intensity of absorption or emission. I measure the emission and absorption in the transitions of hydroxyl along sightlines towards bright background continuum sources to determine the local conditions of the intervening hydroxyl gas. Modern observation techniques including large-scale surveys using telescopes with unprecedented resolution such as the Square Kilometre Array will give us an overwhelming wealth of data. Therefore, I am developing an automated analysis pipeline that will allow us to quickly extract our target parameters from these observations in a physically and statistically rigorous way. My work will allow us to take full advantage of these remarkable new facilities to complete our understanding of the mechanisms of star formation.

After growing up in Southern California, Anita Petzler moved to Australia at the age of 18 to complete a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Astrophysics at Monash University in Melbourne. This was followed by a Graduate Diploma of Education, an 8-year career as a High School Physics and Science teacher, and a move to Sydney. She returned to her studies in 2013, completing Honours at UNSW with a project on molecular clouds of the interstellar medium, supervised by Dr Maria Cunningham. Her interest in this field continued with a Masters by Research at Macquarie University supervised by Dr Joanne Dawson. She then began a PhD in July of this year under the supervision of Dr Joanne Dawson and Dr Mark Wardle.
“Ever since the age of 5, when my kindergarten teacher introduced me to the science of space, I've known that I wanted to be an astronomer. It's been a long journey, but the completion of my PhD will represent the realisation of the dreams of that little 5-year-old girl. Thank you for the opportunity to share my enthusiasm and interest in this grand field with such a distinguished group of like-minded scientists.”


RSNSW and Four Academies Forum 2018

“Towards a prosperous and sustainable Australia: what now for the lucky country?”

Government House

Hosted by His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (ret’d.), Governor of NSW and Patron of the Royal Society of NSW

Thursday 29 November 2018
Government House, Sydney

A day dissecting the big questions facing Australia today and into the future. Australia’s 27 years of uninterrupted growth, the longest period without a recession of any developed country, puts it in an enviable position. Yet polling of the Australian population shows a large diversity of opinion on whether people feel better off. Rising wealth inequality, unaffordable housing, increasing traffic congestion, under-employment and increasingly polarised political opinion are hardly signs of a prosperous and harmonious society. Our environment is also suffering – loss of biodiversity, wildlife habitat and topsoil through land clearing and land-use change; the health and resilience of our river systems, forests and agricultural industries are subject to an inexorably warming climate and greater weather extremes.

Is the focus on growth and GDP pushing Australia in the wrong direction? Does Australia have an optimal population? What happens when we stop borrowing from future generations to support our current lifestyles and incessant consumption? Is a steady-state society possible, or desirable, and if so what would it look like?

The 2018 Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum will examine the implications of the focus on growth (as measured by GDP) and population on our society, our economy and the environment. What are the social constructs and economic assumptions on which government policies are based? Our economy has become bifurcated towards resources and services – is this a healthy evolution or is it a hollowing-out of the economy that imperils Australia’s future? What role can science and technology play in a world of increasing automation and computer power? Is full employment possible, or desirable, and what will people do with their spare time?

The programme for the day is available here.

The day concluded with a drinks reception.


1267th OGM and open lecture

wallace   “3D printing of body parts: practical applications
   and fundamental explorations” 

   Professor Gordon Wallace AO FRSN
   Director, Intelligent Polymer Research Institute
   University of Wollongong

There was also a 3-minute thesis talk, “Knowing your alien”, by Mr Yingyod Lapwong, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney.

Wednesday 3 October 2018
Gallery Room, State Library of NSW

In recent times we have witnessed medical breakthroughs enabled by advances in cell therapies, biomaterials science and 3D printing. The convergence of these three areas has enabled rapid progress. We have seen this impact on customised wearable prosthetics as well as implantable components (such as 3D metal printed jaw or heel implants) that provide structural support. The ability to replicate not just 3D shapes but also the distribution of mechanical properties from medical imaging data is being used to create models to understand airway collapse and to develop innovative intervention strategies in sleep apnoea. Polymer-based 3D printed structures have been used to provide scaffolds that facilitate tissue regeneration through strategic distribution of bioactive molecules including drugs and growth factors.

Perhaps the ultimate regenerative platform is a 3D printed structure that contains stem cells configured in an appropriate chemical and mechanical environment to induce appropriate tissue regeneration. This ability to create 3D structures containing living cells is impacting on diverse clinical challenges. These include cartilage regeneration using adipose stem cells and corneal regeneration using limbal stem cells. Professor Wallace’s research team is developing 3D printing protocols to allow for more effective transplantation of islet cells to treat Type 1 Diabetes. These new approaches to the assembly of cells within 3D structures are also enabling unprecedented fundamental explanations in the development of stem cells.

His research team is particularly interested in the development into neural lineages. Their quest to create a ‘brain on a bench’ is expected to enable us to better understand the development of illnesses such as epilepsy and schizophrenia and to devise more innovative interventions. Professor Wallace reported on their most recent studies on printing stem cells and the impact of the printed environment on stem cell development, also touching on some non-technical challenges arising in this rapidly developing area of medical research: ethical and regulatory issues.

Professor Wallace is Executive Research Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science and Director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility, Materials Node at the University of Wollongong. His research focuses on the design and discovery of new materials for use in energy and health. In the health area this involves using new materials to develop biocommunications from the molecular to skeletal domains in order to improve human performance. In the energy area this involves use of new materials to transform and to store energy, including novel wearable and implantable energy systems for the use in medical technologies.

Professor Wallace was named NSW Scientist of the Year 2017 and was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2017. He received the Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science and Innovation in 2016 and was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Knowledge Nation 100 in 2015.

He has published more than 900 refereed publications that have attracted in excess of 35,000 citations, plus a monograph on Organic Bionics (published 2012), and he recently co-authored an eBook on 3D BioPrinting. He led the presentation of a MOOC on 3D Bioprinting on the FutureLearn platform (


About the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition brings together some of the best and brightest PhD students, who have just three minutes to explain what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why it is important. The competition cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills, and their capacity to communicate complex ideas to a non-specialist audience. Competitors are allowed one PowerPoint slide, but no other resources or props.

Mr Yingyod Lapwong, a PhD student from University of Technology Sydney, gave a 3MT on his research: “Know your alien”. It focuses on alien species, which are an important environmental problem in Australia. Every year, the government spends a lot of money and effort to try to control these unwanted species. His research is about better understanding such species in order to develop better management systems to control them.


Great Australians you’ve never heard of

   Lecture 4

   “A geologist, geographer and anthropologist”

    Professor Alison Bashford FRSN
    School of Humanities & Languages

Monday 12 November 2018
Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney

This is the final in a series of four talks co-hosted by the SMSA and the Royal Society of NSW on the topic “Great Australians You’ve Never Heard Of”.  Our speakers reveal the stories of remarkable Australians who have not received the recognition they deserve.

Our final Great Australian was a geologist, geographer, and anthropologist.  His travels took him from Scott’s final expedition in Antarctica to every continent on Earth, in a life that stretched from the South African War to the Cold War.  Highly controversial in 1920s Australia, he relocated to the University of Toronto, pursuing a stellar career.  Yet this Great Australian has been both acclaimed and derided as one of the twentieth century’s most insistent environmental determinists.  Join Alison Bashford to learn this Great Australian’s identity and to hear about his remarkable life.

Alison Bashford is Research Professor in History.  Her work connects the history of science, global history, and environmental history into new assessments of the modern world, from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.  She has recently focused on the geopolitics of world population, presented in two books: The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus: Re-reading the Principle of Population, with Joyce E. Chaplin (Princeton University Press, 2016) and Global Population: History, Geopolitics and Life on Earth (Columbia University Press, 2014).  Before taking up her Research Chair at UNSW, Alison Bashford was the Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and Trustee of Royal Museums, Greenwich, UK.  In 2009-10, she was the Whitlam and Fraser Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University’s Department of the History of Science.  She has researched and taught at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University.  Alison Bashford is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Australian Academy of Humanities.  In May 2018, she presented the Wiles Lectures at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Other lectures in the series
22 June 2018 — Thomas Keneally AO DistFRSN ‒ A Tasmanian convict who went from an Irish Rebel to Governor.
23 July 2018 — The Hon Em Prof Peter Baume AC DistFRSN ‒ A Victorian scientist who once injected himself with the myxoma virus.
6 September 2018 — Emeritus Professor Brynn Hibbert AM FRSN ‒Three great Australians and the horse racing industry.


1268th OGM and open lecture

tara murphy compressed
   “Breakthrough! The detection of gravitational
    waves from a neutron star merger”

   Associate Professor Tara Murphy
   School of Physics
   The University of Sydney

There was also a 3-minute thesis talk, “Bio-Nano Robo-Mofos”, by Mr Jonathan Berengut, UNSW 2018 3MT winner.

Wednesday 7 November 2018
Gallery Room, State Library of NSW

On August 17th 2017 the LIGO-Virgo interferometer detected gravitational waves from a neutron star merger in a galaxy 130 million light years away. This was a breakthrough for physics and astronomy. What followed was a frenzy of activity as astronomers around the world worked to detect electromagnetic radiation with conventional telescopes. After this unprecedented effort the event was detected in gamma-rays, x-rays, visible light and radio waves. Professor Murphy described this incredible scientific result and its implications, including predictions made by Einstein, the production of gold and other heavy elements, and our understanding of black hole formation. She also gave a ‘behind the scenes’ perspective of how it happened, and discussed the changes in the way we do science in this era of big astronomy.

Associate Professor Tara Murphy is an astrophysicist working at the University of Sydney and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. She has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Sydney and a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Edinburgh.  Tara leads an international team of researchers trying to detect and study transient and highly variable astrophysical phenomena with the MWA and ASKAP radio telescopes in Western Australia. In 2017 her team detected the first radio emission from a gravitational wave event caused by the merger of two neutron stars. Tara is also passionate about teaching and public outreach. In 2014 she co-founded a start-up company, Grok Learning, to get high school students around the world excited about computational thinking.

Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition brings together some of the best and brightest PhD students, who have just three minutes to explain what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why it is important. The competition cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills, and their capacity to communicate complex ideas to a non-specialist audience. Competitors are allowed one PowerPoint slide, but no other resources or props.

This month’s presentation was by Mr Jonathan Berengut, winner of the UNSW 2018 3MT competition. In the field of bionanotechnology, complex, precise nanoscale structures are assembled from biological molecules like DNA. It is even possible to build flexible, modular ‘nanobots’ capable of relatively simple tasks like targeted drug delivery and biosensing. To increase the scale and complexity of the tasks that these nanobots can perform, it is necessary to program them to assemble into larger formations. Jonathan’s research centres around the design and synthesis of DNA-nanobots that assemble into specific formations such as rows of fixed length. This research furthers our control of matter at the nanoscale and thus may lead to novel nanomaterials, nanoelectronics and nanomedicines.


Great Australians you’ve never heard of

Brynn Hibbert  Lecture 3

  “Three great Australians and horse racing”

  Emeritus Professor Brynn Hibbert
  School of Chemistry
  University of NSW

Thursday 6 September 2018
Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney

Professor Brynn Hibbert AM FRSN talked about three great Australians: two scientists and a sports person; or two men and a woman; or two of British descent and an indigenous person; or two law-abiding people and an embezzler; or a stalwart of the RSNSW and two who probably never heard of the Society.  These great Australians did not know each other but are connected by one of the oldest activities in the colony: horse racing.  The first horse race was in 1810, and Royal Randwick, where some of the story evolves, became the home of the Australian Jockey Club in 1860.

Brynn Hibbert AM FRSN occupied the Chair of Analytical Chemistry at the University of New South Wales from his arrival from England in 1987 until his retirement in 2013  His research interests are in metrology and statistics in chemistry, ionic liquids and electroanalytical chemistry, but he also does a sideline in expert opinion, scientific fraud and presenting science to the public.  More recently he has become a go-to expert witness in matters of drugs (of abuse, and sports).  He is the immediate Past President of the Royal Society of New South Wales, and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2018.  He has published around 260 papers, 5 books and 3 patents.

The Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts — the two oldest institutions in NSW dedicated to education — are proud to present a collaborative lecture program, Great Australians You’ve Never Heard Of.  Following the success of the Enlightenment series, Great Australians You’ve Never Heard Of follows the underpinning Enlightenment idea that “the freedom to use your own intelligence” enabled remarkable people to create the extraordinary society we live in.  Yet few of those special people are recognized today, nor is the context of their contributions understood by the beneficiaries of their initiatives.  Over the course of four lectures, this series sets about identifying some of those people.

Other lectures in the series

22 June 2018 — Thomas Keneally AM DistFRSN “A Tasmanian convict who went from an Irish rebel to become a Governor”
23 July 2018 - Hon. Em. Professor Peter Baume AC DistFRSN “The man from Ballarat who injected himself with the myxoma virus”
6 September 2018 — Emeritus Professor D. Brynn Hibbert AM FRSN "Three great Australians and horse racing”
12 November 2018 — Professor Alison Bashford FRSN FAHA FBA, “Griffith Taylor: geology and geography from the Terra Nova to Seaforth”


1266th OGM and open lecture

Richard Kemp

   “The psychology of eyewitness memory”

   Professor Richard Kemp
   School of Psychology
   University of NSW

There was also a 3-minute thesis talk by  Hema Umapathy, University of Sydney, on "Fat knees: inflammation of the infrapatellar fat pad and clinical outcomes of the knee"

Wednesday 5 September 2018
Gallery Room, State Library of NSW, Sydney

In criminal investigations eyewitnesses often provide police with vital information leading to the identification of a suspect. However, a detailed examination of cases of wrongful conviction from the USA shows that, while providing compelling evidence, eyewitnesses can be mistaken. In this presentation Professor Parker described how psychological research into eyewitness memory can be used to inform policy change to reduce the risk of erroneous conviction. Using an interactive format he demonstrated the surprising fragility of human memory and described research he has undertaken with colleagues to identify procedures that increase the risk of memory distortions, and measures which can be employed to safeguard against these risks. He ended by describing some challenges and opportunities for the future, including the increased use of machine face recognition systems to monitor public spaces, and a new smart phone App developed in conjunction with police that is designed to help witnesses provide detailed, accurate accounts of events.

Professor Richard Kemp is a cognitive scientist and forensic psychologist who seeks to apply research in the fields of human memory and perception to aspects of the legal system. Richard obtained his PhD from London University and moved to UNSW Sydney in 2001. His current research interests include, identity verification and face perception, eyewitness memory, police interviewing and forensic science evidence. Richard has undertaken his research in collaboration with a variety of partner organisations, including State and Federal government agencies, Police and emergency service organisations and banks and financial service providers. He has provided expert evidence in a number of significant court cases in Australia and overseas, and is regularly asked to address conferences of judges, lawyers, police and other legal professionals. Current projects include work with the Australian Passport Office to detect identity fraud in passport applications, the development of a smart phone App to help people recall details of events they have witnessed, the impact of police body-worn cameras on officers’ recall of events, and the validation of forensic science techniques. He has about 100 peer-reviewed publications which have been cited more than 4500 times. He has been awarded over $3 million in competitive research funding from ARC and other bodies.

Three Miniute Thesis Talk

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition brings together some of the best and brightest PhD students, who have just three minutes to explain what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why it is important. The competition cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills, and their capacity to communicate complex ideas to a non-specialist audience. Competitors are allowed one PowerPoint slide, but no other resources or props. 

Abstract: Obesity-linked Osteoarthritis (OA) in non-weight bearing joints has implicated a biological role of adipose inflammation. The infrapatellar fat pad (IFP) is a local adipose depot in the knee associated with OA. However, the relationship between IFP inflammation and clinical outcomes of knee OA has not been well-defined. This research aims to investigate the relationship between IFP inflammation and clinical outcomes in end-stage knee OA in an observational study with a study visit (to assess pain, and function) before surgery. During knee replacement surgery, all joint tissues including IFP and a piece of subcutaneous-fat will be removed for inflammation analysis.



1265th OGM and open lecture

Muireann Irish small   “The final frontier –
   on the complexity and
   frailty of human memory”

   Associate Professor Muireann Irish
   Brain & Mind Centre
   University of Sydney

Wednesday 8 August 2018
Gallery Room, State Library of NSW, Sydney

Human memory remains one of the great scientific enigmas and one which continues to perplex neuroscientists, philosophers, and psychologists alike. Our memories are our most prized possessions, enabling us to revisit defining events from the past and guiding us towards adaptive behaviours in the future. The relative ease with which we mentally navigate back and forth through subjective time, however, belies the incredible complexity of these processes. With the advent of high-resolution neuroimaging techniques, it is now possible to map the regions of the brain that activate when we recollect the past; however, it is only when memory begins to fail that we can truly appreciate its intricacies. In this lecture Associate Professor Muireann Irish gave an overview of work from her group exploring different facets of memory dysfunction across a range of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, semantic dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Using a combination of novel experimental tools and advanced neuroimaging techniques, we are moving towards a refined understanding of how progressive atrophy to distributed brain networks impacts the capacity not only to remember the past but also to envisage the future. In doing so, she highlighted the neurocognitive mechanisms that must be functional to support a range of memory processes as well as considering the devastating effects of losing these uniquely human functions.

Muireann Irish is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Psychology at the Brain & Mind Centre, University of Sydney. Originally from Ireland, Muireann completed a Bachelor degree in Psychology at Trinity College Dublin (1st Class Honours), then a PhD in Cognitive Neuropsychology before relocating to Australia in 2010. Since then, she has produced over 80 publications and has received over $2.5million in competitive funding from such sources as the ARC, NHMRC, Brain Foundation, and Alzheimer’s Australia. Muireann’s research focus is the cognitive neuroscience of memory and how pathological insult to large-scale brain networks compromises sophisticated expressions of memory. Ultimately, she hopes her research will inform the early and accurate detection of dementia as well as the development of interventions to improve quality of life and wellbeing for those affected.


Poggendorff Lecture 2018

Kaiser Poggendorff
   “Establishing a sustainable nitrogen diet to
    agricultural intensive cropping industries”

   Professor Brent Kaiser 
   School of Life and Environmental Sciences
   The University of Sydney

Wednesday 1 August 2018
Room 432, New Law Annexe, University of Sydney

The Poggendorf Lectureship is awarded periodically for research in plant biology and more broadly agriculture. Walter Poggendorff was 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. When he died in 1981, he made a bequest to the Royal Society of NSW to fund a lecture.

The 2017 Poggendorff Lectureship was awarded to Professor Brent N. Kaiser of University of Sydney's School of Life and Environmental Sciences. Professor Kaiser is a molecular plant physiologist, whose research into the sustainable use of nitrogen in cereal and legume grain crops has not only advanced the field, but also achieved tangible improvements in agricultural production and environmental stewardship.

About the talk

Across the globe, approximately 120 million tonnes of nitrogen fertilisers are applied each year to grow crops that support the dietary and fibre requirements of humans (FAO 2017). The majority of nitrogen fertiliser expenditure (~60%) is dedicated to the production of common cereals (wheat, rice, barley and maize) of which only 30-40% is retained in the harvested product in the form of either protein or dietary nitrogen. Unused or underutilised nitrogen is often lost to the environment through soil leaching of nitrate into the ground water, atmospheric release of nitrous oxide (N2O) and the volatilisation of ammonia from both the soil and the plant canopy. Nitrogen release into the environment is a global concern due to its devastating impact on water qualities and its (N2O) potent capacity as a greenhouse gas.

Agricultural intensive countries around the world have increasingly invested in technologies to lessen the requirement of nitrogen fertilisers through improved agronomy and the selection of nitrogen use efficient plants. However, the high dependency of reduced nitrogen to maintain crop growth and achieve sufficient yields remains a challenge to modern farming systems where nitrogen-enhanced yields are now plateauing. Moreover, the rapid increase in global population is driving an independent need to deliver even further increases in productivity and quality that unfortunately is increasingly subject to the detrimental effects of climate change on farm systems.

Professor Brent N. Kaiser is the Professor of Legume Biology and Molecular Genetics in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at University of Sydney. He is the current Director of the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub – Legumes for Sustainable Agriculture and Theme Leader in Plant Breeding and Production in the Sydney Institute of Agriculture. Brent is originally Canadian, and migrated to Australia in 1994 to complete a PhD at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. Prior to coming to Australia, he completed a BSc (Agriculture) and MSc at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. He has worked as a postdoctoral fellow in France (Nice), Canada (UBC) and Australia (ANU). He arrived at The University of Sydney in 2015, and prior to that was a teaching/research academic at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Kaiser’s research focus is on the management of nitrogen nutrition in plants. His research group examines the genetic and biochemical mechanisms by which plants access, assimilate and redistribute nitrogen across their developmental life cycle. The research involves the use of two model systems that include symbiotic nitrogen-fixing legumes (chickpea, soybean, medicago) and cereals (maize and wheat). Across both programs, the research aims to deliver genetic-based traits which enhance nitrogen utilization and which contribute to improved plant health, productivity and sustainable nitrogen use qualities of Australian cropping plants.


RSNSW/SMSA 2018 Science Week talks

Science Week logo

The Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts are combining to offer a series of four talks as part of Science Week (

Venue: Mitchell Theatre, Level 1, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney
Registration essential
All are welcome
Enquiries: phone SMSA on (02) 9262 7300

Talk 1: “Will self-driving cars make us safer?”

Professor Ann Williamson FRSN, Director, Transport and Road Safety Research Centre, UNSW
Date and time: Monday 13 August 2018, 12.30–1pm
Cost: free
Further details and registration at

Talk 2: “Nanotech: What is so special about small stuff?”

Rosie Hicks, CEO Australian National Fabrication Facility
Date and time: Tuesday 14 August 2018, 12.30–1pm
Cost: free
Further details and registration at


Talk 3: “Ethics, emotions and elegance in artificial intelligence”

Professor Simeon Simoff FRSN, Dean of School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, Western Sydney University
Date and time: Tuesday 14 August, 6–7.30pm
Cost: $15 members of RSNSW or SMSA, $20 non-members and guests (light refreshments will be served)
Further details and registration at


Talk 4: “Wine and medicine: an Australian perspective”

Dr Phillip Norrie FRSN, General Practitioner
Date and time: Friday 17 August, 6–7.30pm
Cost: $15 members of RSNSW or SMSA, $20 non-members and guests (light refreshments will be served)
Further details and registration at


Great Australians you’ve never heard of

Peter Baume   Lecture 2

   “The man from Ballarat
     who injected himself
     with the myxoma virus”

   The Honourable Em Prof Peter Baume AC

Monday 23 July 2018
Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney

The Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts — the two oldest institutions in NSW dedicated to education — are proud to present a collaborative lecture program, Great Australians You’ve Never Heard Of.

The Great Australian featured in this lecture was born in Ballarat, and then grew up in South Australia. During WWII, he helped Australia to win the War in the Pacific. After the war, when there was public concern about myxomatosis, he and two other scientists injected themselves with myxoma virus to prove that it did not affect humans. He also chaired the group that eliminated an infectious disease from the world—the first and only time this has been done. In recognition of this he received many international awards, and much international recognition. As an old man he was a beloved figure in academe, and is still held high regard by those in his trade.

Peter Baume was Professor of Community Medicine and Head of the School of Community Medicine at University of New South Wales from 1991 to 2000. He was a Senator for New South Wales between 1974 and 1991, and was successively Government Whip, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister Assisting the Minister for National Development and Energy, Minister for Health, Minister for Education, and a Minister in Cabinet. He was Chancellor of the Australian National University from 1994-2006, was Foundation Chair of the Australian Sports Drug Agency, a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Deputy-Chair of the Australian National Council on AIDS, President of the Public Health Association (NSW Branch), Patron of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of NSW and of its successor body Dying with Dignity NSW. He was the Chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association in NSW (he remains a Director) and was Chairman of the Kolling Institute for Medical Research. He has been an Official Visitor to psychiatric hospitals and a member of the Official Visitors’ Advisory Committee. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales. He is a physician who holds a doctorate, two honorary doctorates, and several fellowships and is a Companion in the Order of Australia (having previously been an Officer of the same Order). He has published extensively, reviews for a number of journals and has received a number of competitive grants.

About the Great Australians You’ve Never Heard Of lecture series

Over the course of four lectures, we will share the fascinating stories of some remarkable Australians who have helped create the extraordinary society we live in, but have not received the recognition they deserve. Neither is the context of their contributions understood by the beneficiaries of their initiatives. This series sets about identifying some of those people.

Other lectures in the series

22 June 2018 — Thomas Keneally DistFRSN
6 September 2018 — Emeritus Professor D. Brynn Hibbert AM FRSN
12 November 2018 — Alison Bashford FRSN


1264th OGM and open lecture

Joanna Mendelssohn
 “Can art really make a difference?”

   Honorary Associate Professor
   Joanna Mendelssohn
   College of Fine Arts, UNSW

Wednesday 4 July 2018
Gallery Room, State Library of NSW, Sydney

Artists have long tackled global issues, throughout centuries of wars and humanitarian crises. Artists persist in challenging assumed knowledge in their attempts to awaken the conscience of the world. Artists can become witnesses for the prosecution of the crimes of our times, as well as enabling some viewers to see the world differently. Can we really expect it to truly make a difference in the real world? While Picasso's celebrated Guernica may not have stopped the Spanish Civil War (or any war), art still holds value, as witness and as truth teller.

Joanna Mendelssohn came to an academic career after an extensive curatorial background in art museums and as the award-winning art critic of The Bulletin.  She was for many years the coordinator of the Master of Art Administration at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW.  In 1980 she was a research assistant on the University of Sydney's Dictionary of Australian Artists project.  In 2003, after Professor Joan Kerr indicated problems in publishing her new research on Australian illustrators (black and white artists), she suggested that the ideal publishing future for Australian art historical scholarship lay in online publishing.  After Kerr was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Mendelssohn was instrumental in organising the national collaboration of universities and cultural institutions that ensured the future of Kerr's research in the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online.  She has been a CI on each of the successful ARC LIEF grants for this ongoing and expanding project, which has now evolved into Design and Art of Australia Online ( and is currently Editor-in-Chief.  Her first book was the seminal study on Sydney Long (1979).  This was followed by a series of studies on Lionel Lindsay.  The research for her book, Lionel Lindsay: an artist and his family (Chatto & Windus, London 1988) was supported by a Literature Board Fellowship.  She later revisited the ways in which the mythology of the Lindsay family had been created in her PhD thesis, which was then reworked and published as Letters & Liars: Norman Lindsay and the Lindsay family (Angus & Robertson 1996).  She also wrote the catalogue for the 1990 Yellow House exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and was curator for the touring exhibition Larter Family Values (2006).

For the last five years she has been the lead researcher in an ARC Linkage Project in collaboration with the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia and Museums Australia.  The principal results of this research is about to be published by Thames and Hudson as Australian Art Exhibitions: Opening our Eyes, co-written with her fellow researchers, Catherine De Lorenzo, Alison Inglis and Catherine Speck.


1263rd OGM and open lecture

BenOldroyd.crp   “No sex please, we’re Cape bees”

   Professor Ben Oldroyd
   School of Life and Environmental Sciences 
   University of Sydney

Wednesday 6 June 2018
Gallery Room, State Library of NSW

This was the first OGM and Open Lecture held at the Society's new home venue, the State Library of NSW.

Ant and bee colonies have often served as allegorical models for ideal human societies. This view is nicely illustrated by Shakespeare’s King Henry V, in which a bee colony is depicted as a benevolent dictatorship with the workers carrying out coordinated tasks and living in harmonious obedience to a caring monarch, much like Elizabethan England should have been.
Professor Ben Oldroyd has spent a career trying to prove that this idea is wrong. In particular, Ben bred a line of ‘anarchistic’ honey bees, in which the workers laid eggs all the time. Such worker misbehaviour has devastating colony-level effects, because the worker-laid eggs develop into useless male drones. Ben’s work uncovered the gene network that regulates worker sterility in normal bees, showing that in normal workers with a queen and her pheromone, egg development is aborted by programmed cell death in the ovaries of workers. This solved a 50-year-old puzzle as to how a gene that causes sterility could operate. Think about it: if a gene makes you sterile, how could it spread?

But that’s not what this lecture was about. Rather, Ben described a remarkable honey bee subspecies from South Africa, Apis mellifera capensis. Capensis is unique because when an unmated Capensis worker lays an egg it develops not as a male, but as a female – a clone of the worker. This gives a Capensis worker the opportunity to be reincarnated as a queen, much like a pawn in chess. And this completely disrupts their societies because Capensis workers are always plotting revolutions. Ben explained the biological basis of their behaviour and described the march of the clones across the commercial industry, triploid queens, gassed virgins, fusion nuclei, social parasitism, social cancers and more besides.

Ben Oldroyd is Professor of Behavioural Genetics at the University of Sydney. He completed a BSc(Agr) at Sydney in 1980 and a PhD on bee breeding in 1984. Ben’s research focuses on the genetics of honey bees, the evolution of social behavior and evolution more broadly. In 2001 Ben was awarded a Doctor of Science for his contributions to the understanding of the evolution of honey bee societies, and he is past-President of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects. Ben is heavily involved with the Australian beekeeping industry, including helping beekeepers breed better, healthier strains. In recognition of this, Ben was awarded the NSW Science and Engineering award in Biology in 2014. Ben has made important contributions to our understanding of the biology of Asian honey bees. His book Asian Honey Bees: Biology, Conservation and Human Interactions (Harvard University Press) is the authoritative text on the subject. Ben has authored nearly 300 scientific papers on honey bees and stingless bees.


Great Australians you’ve never heard of

Keneally small
   Lecture 1

   “A Tasmanian convict who went from
     an Irish rebel to become a Governor”

   given by Thomas Keneally AO DistFRSN

Friday 22 June 2018
Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney

The Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts — the two oldest institutions in NSW dedicated to education — are proud to present a collaborative lecture program, Great Australians You’ve Never Heard Of.

Following the success of the Enlightenment series, ‘Great Australians You’ve Never Heard Of' follows the underpinning Enlightenment idea that “the freedom to use your own intelligence” enabled remarkable people to create the extraordinary society we live in. Yet few of those special people are recognized today, nor is the context of their contributions understood by the beneficiaries of their initiatives. Over the course of four lectures, this series sets about identifying some of those people.

Other lectures in the series:

23 July 2018 — Peter Baume DistFRSN
6 September 2018 — Emeritus Professor D. Brynn Hibbert AM FRSN
12 November 2018 — Alison Bashford FRSN


RSNSW Annual Dinner 2018

Hurley cropped 2   Guests of honour:

   His Excellency General The Honourable David
   Hurley AC DSC (ret’d.), Governor of New South
   Wales and Patron of the Royal Society of New
   South Wales, and Mrs Hurley

Keneally   Distinguished Fellow’s Lecture

   Thomas Keneally AO DistFRSN

   “Mungo Man imagined:
    writing the ultimate historical novel”

Friday 18 May 2018
Mitchell Galleries, State Library of NSW, Shakespeare Place, Sydney

Award of Medals:

Clarke Medal for the natural sciences: 
   Professor David Keith

Edgeworth David Medal for distinguished research by a young scientist:
   Associate Professor  Angela Nickerson

James Cook Medal for contributions to science and human welfare:
   Professor Gordon Parker

History & Philosophy of Science Medal: 
   Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith

Pollock Memorial Lectureship:
   Professor Andrea Morello

Poggendorff Award for plant biology and agriculture:
   Associate Professor Brent Kaiser

Royal Society of NSW Medal:
   Dr Donald Hector

Pollock Memorial Lecture 2018

morello small   “Engineering for understanding:
   how building quantum devices unveils
   the meaning of quantum mechanics”
   Professor Andrea Morello
   Professor of Quantum Engineering
   UNSW Sydney

Wednesday 2 May 2018
Club Bar, Roundhouse, UNSW Sydney, Kensington

The Pollock Memorial Lectureship is awarded for research in physics.  It is jointly sponsored by the University of Sydney and the Royal Society of NSW in memory of Professor J.A. Pollock, Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney (1899-1922) and a member of the Royal Society of NSW for 35 years.

Over a century after the establishment of quantum mechanics, the popular – and sometimes even the professional – literature is still permeated by the myth that quantum mechanics is weird and no one understands it. Yet the 21st century will probably go into history as the era of quantum engineering, when the peculiar effects allowed by quantum physics were first harnessed to create unprecedented functionalities.  In this lecture, Professor Morello explanied and illustrated how the ambitious project of building a quantum computer can help us gain intimacy with the quantum world and, with it, deepen our conceptual and practical understanding of it.

Andrea Morello is a Professor of Quantum Engineering at UNSW Sydney and a Program Manager in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He grew up near Torino and graduated from the Politecnico di Torino in 1998. He then completed his PhD in the birthplace of low-temperature physics, the Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratorium in Leiden, Netherlands, followed by a postdoc at UBC in Vancouver. He joined UNSW in late 2006. He and his team were the first in the world to demonstrate the operation of a single-electron and a single-nucleus quantum bit in silicon. They still hold the record for quantum memory time, and the most accurate demonstration of quantum entanglement in the solid state. For these achievements, Andrea was awarded a Eureka Prize (2011), the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year (2013), the David Syme Research Prize (2013), and the NSW Science & Engineering Award (2014), and he was the inaugural winner of the R. Landauer & C.H. Bennett Award for Quantum Computing (2017).

The lecture recording is now available to watch on YouTube, whilst a news story and gallery is available on the UNSW Engineering website.


Combined AIP and RSNSW event

Richard Garrett  “Big science - exploring the future of the world’s
  most exciting STEM challenges and developments”

  Professor Richard Garrett
  Manager, Industry and External Engagement
  Australian Nuclear Science and Technology

Tuesday 26 June 2018
ANSTO Discovery Centre, New Illawarra Road Lucas Heights

Presented by the Australian Institute of Physics, NSW Branch, the Royal Society of NSW, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation


Annual Meeting of the Four Societies


Robin Grimes   “Exciting materials for energy
    applications in 2050”
  Professor Robin Grimes
  Professor of Materials Physics,
  Imperial College London,
  and Chief Scientific Advisor,
  UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Wednesday 14 March 2018
UNSW Colombo Theatre

Professor Grimes’ talk focused on exciting developments in materials for energy applications and how they will improve the reliability, safety and economics of future energy systems.

Professor Grimes is Professor of Materials Physics at University College London. He has been Director of the Imperial Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College, London, since 2008 and became Director of the Imperial College Rolls Royce University Technology Centre in Nuclear Engineering in 2010. His research is focused on the use of high performance computing techniques to understand the behaviour of materials for energy applications including nuclear fission and fusion, fuel cells, batteries and solar cells. He is also Principal Investigator of the Research Council’s UK Nuclear Fission consortium project. In 2013 he was appointed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Chief Scientific Advisor responsible for providing advice to the Foreign Secretary, Ministers and officials on science, technology and innovation.

Four societies logos


151st AGM, and 1262nd OGM and open lecture

Paul Fennell

  “The decarbonisation of industry”

  Professor Paul Fennell
  Professor of Clean Energy
  Imperial College London

The evening began with the AGM, at which there was an election of Council members

Wednesday 4 April 2018
Union, University & Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

In order to meet the IPCC recommendation for an 80% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050, industries will be required to drastically reduce their emissions. To meet these targets, technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) must be part of the economic set of decarbonisation options for industry. Options for decarbonising four of the largest industrial sectors (the iron and steel industry, the cement industry, the petroleum refining industry and the pulp and paper industry) as well as selected high-purity sources of CO2 were discussed. The factors found to have the greatest overall impact were the initial cost of CCS at the start of deployment and the start date at which large scale deployment is started.  The talk then moved on to the applications of high temperature solid looping cycles (Calcium and Chemical Looping) and their integration with different industries, including research conducted at IC investigating the applications of pressurized calcium looping.  The presentation also included an update on research conducted as part of the EU ASCENT and LEILAC projects.

Paul Fennell talking

  Paul Fennell giving his talk

Paul Fennell is a Professor of Clean Energy at Imperial College London. He obtained his degree in Chemical Engineering and PhD from the University of Cambridge. He is a Chartered Chemical Engineer and Scientist and Fellow of the IChemE. He also has Chaired the Institution of Chemical Engineers Clean Energy SIG, was a previous member of the International Energy Authority High-Temperature Solid Looping Cycles Network Executive, and has written reports for the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on future technologies for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and carbon capture readiness. He has been director of Imperial College’s Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage and is the deputy director (CO2 capture) of the recently re-funded UKCCSRC. He has published 100 + papers since 2005 and is the 2015 winner of the Institution of Chemical Engineers’ Ambassador prize. His interests are broad, encompassing waste utilisation, cement production and phytoremediation, as well as carbon capture and storage.


Is the Enlightenment dead? Lecture 5: sophistry


  “The Enlightenment has failed”

  Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO
  School of Medical Sciences, UNSW

This event’s unique format featured an optional buffet dinner followed by the sophistry and live music.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, 280 Pitt St, Sydney

Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO led an interactive sophistry that discussed the statement “the Enlightenment has failed” and the extent to which Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz is correct in his view that “global deflation is reversing international progress through rejection of the principles of the Enlightenment”. Attendees were encouraged to participate in the discussion.

Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO completed his BA at The University of California at Berkeley, his PhD at McGill University, and spent a postdoctoral year at Yale University. He and Charles Watson are the authors of The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates. With over 50,000 citations across its 7 Editions (March 2014), it is the third most cited book in science after Molecular Cloning and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Prof Paxinos has also published another 45 books on the structure of the brain of humans and experimental animals, his most recent being MRI/DTI Atlas of the Rat Brain. His work was recognised by an AO, Ramaciotti Medal, Humboldt Prize, a $4 million NHMRC Australia Fellowship and the NSW Premier’s Prize for Excellence in Medical Biological Sciences in 2015. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens. His novel In His Image was published in Greek in 2015 (English version pending).

This was the fifth and final in a series of lectures on the theme "Is the Enlightenment dead?" co-hosted by the Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts

Other lectures in the series:
Lecture 1“Samuel Pepys, his library and the Enlightenment” Susannah Fullerton OAM FRSN, Author, lecturer and literary tour leader, 4 September 2017
Lecture 2: “The freedom to use your own intelligence: The Enlightenment and the growth of the Australian nation” Emeritus Professor Robert Clancy AM FRSN, 6 November 2017
Lecture 3: "Learning, adaptation and the Enlightenment: the museum” Kim Mckay AO, Director and CEO, Australian Museum, 5 February 2018
Lecture 4: “Learning, adaptation and the Enlightenment: the library” by Paul Brunton OAM FAHA, Emeritus Curator, New South Wales State Library, 1 March 2018

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.