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The Royal Society of New South Wales

The Society is the oldest learned society in the Southern Hemisphere, tracing its origin to the Philosophical Society of Australasia, founded in Sydney in 1821.

Our purpose is to advance knowledge through "... the encouragement of studies and investigations in Science Art Literature and Philosophy".

Membership of the Royal Society of New South Wales is open to anyone interested in Science, Art, Literature or Philosophy and their relationships. For more information, go to About us, visit our Membership Page or download our Brochure.


Forthcoming events

Wednesday 7 September 2016

1245th OGM and open lecture

"A source of inspiration and delight: The Mitchell Library"

Dr Richard Neville
State Library of NSW
Mitchell Librarian and Director, Education & Scholarship

Richard Neville is the Mitchell Librarian and Director, Education and Scholarship at the State Library of NSW. With a research background in 19th century Australian art and culture, he could rated numerous exhibitions and published widely on colonial art and society. He has also been extensively involved in the acquisition, arrangement, description and promotion of the library's renowned Australian research collections.

The State Library of NSW can trace its history back to 1826. In many ways its history and development runs parallel to that of the Royal Society of NSW. Its first iteration was as a private gentlemens' library, with a male-only membership. Gradually, its remit expanded, supported by a sense that libraries were institutions necessary for the public good but it struggled to survive as a private organisation. Eventually the NSW Government stepped in and purchased it in 1869 and it became the Free Public Library. In this transition it threw away its editions of Jane Austen, and focused on useful, economic knowledge.

From 1869 to today the Library (now known as the State Library of NSW), has embedded itself into the cultural life of NSW. The bequest of David Scott Mitchell in 1907, which lead to the inauguration of the Mitchell Library in 1910, and the various bequests of Sir William Dixson, were seminal gifts which established the Library as the premier documentary collection in the country. The library also holds some of the early archives of the Royal Society of NSW.

People are often surprised to learn of the extent of the Library's collections of photographs, manuscripts (more than 12 linear kms of them). These record the early discovery of the Pacific through to the colonization of Australia through to the archives of contemporary organisations and individuals, paintings, maps, architectural plans as well as books. Increasingly the Library is grappling with the impact of digital culture on the library collections and future collection strategies.

The future of libraries is much debated but the future for the State Library and its Mitchell Library is very strong. The Library's archives and publications are critical in telling the story of Australia's history and this talk will explore its history and development, the motivations and drive for which are no doubt very similar to those to drove the Royal Society.

The Royal Society of NSW has made many of its records and archives available to the State Library of NSW on a permanent loan basis. There has been a close connection between the Society and the Library. Richard's talk is sure to bring new insights on the history of the Society and the importance of the collection held by the Library.

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

Time: 6:00 for 6:30 pm

Dress: Jacket and tie.
Cost: Members: $10; non-members: $20.

Dinner (two courses including wine) after the meeting: $80 per head (members) or$90 per head (non-members).
Please note that numbers for dinner following the meeting are limited and attendance must be registered by the Friday before the meeting.

Register on-line for dinner after the meeting. NOTE: registrations for dinner close on Friday 2 September.



Recent events

Royal Society of New South Wales Sydney Science Festival Lunchtime Talks

The Sydney Science Festival is part of National Science Week and sees a range of events held across Sydney. The Festival aims to encourage an interest in science among the general public and young people and provides an opportunity to highlight Sydney's scientific credentials and foster partnerships between the community, research organisations and industry.

More details about the Sydney Science Festival may be found at: https://sydneyscience.com.au/

Talk 1 "Complex systems and swarm intelligence"

Date: Friday 12 August 2016

Professor Mikhail Prokopenko
University of Sydney

Find out how the extraordinary dynamic schooling behaviour of fish can teach us to design complex systems with artificial intelligence.https://sydneyscience.com.au/event/complex-systems-and-swarm-intelligence/

Talk 2: "The Royal Botanic Gardens 200th Birthday"

Date: Tuesday 16th August 2016

Dr Brett Summerell
Royal Botanic Gardens

Stories of botanical discovery from the past 200 years of the Royal Botanic Gardens, as well as a vision for the future of science at the Gardens.

Find out more at https://sydneyscience.com.au/event/the-royal-botanic-gardens-200-years/

Talk 3 "Courts, criminals and chemistry: forensic Science in NSW"

Wednesday 17th August 2016

Professor Brynn Hibbert
President of the Royal Society of NSW
Emeritus Professor, University of NSW

Drugs, murders, doped sportsmen, horses and greyhounds – what really goes on in court!https://sydneyscience.com.au/event/nsw-courts-criminals-chemistry-and-forensics/

Talk 4 "Community-driven Internet of Things: the new revolution?"

Thursday 18th August 2016

Professor Pascal Perez
University of Wollongong

Connected devices are everywhere but what does the Internet of Things actually mean to you, your community or your business?


Wednesday3 August 2016

1245th OGM and public lecture

Dr Barbara Briggs

Honorary Research Associate, Royal Botanic Gardens

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

The Royal Society of New South Wales and the Royal Botanic Gardens are two of the oldest institutions of science in Australia and each is celebrating a significant anniversary this year. The Society is nearly 200 years old (Royal assent being granted 150 years ago this year) and this year, the Royal Botanic Gardens turns 200. In this talk Dr Barbara Briggs, the Garden's longest serving female scientist, looked at the founding of the Gardens and the early challenges it faced. She also noted the many achievements and contributions the Gardens have made to science and the life of Sydney.

Botany featured early in the young settlement, notably with Joseph Banks and Botany Bay. Plants were cultivated at Farm Cove from the first settlement of Sydney but the foundation of the Garden is marked as the 'particular and auspicious day' when Mrs Macquarie's Road was completed on 13 June 1816.

While much has changed over the decades, science at the Garden still has important roles in maintaining the National Herbarium of NSW, our archive of botanical specimens, and in providing botanical information in enquiry services, publications and on-line. The role of the Garden has expanded with two satellite gardens and education programs, and it is valued for its beauty, its attractive site, its horticulture and heritage, and as green space for the city.

Barbara spoke about her life as a scientist at the Gardens. She has seen the development of DNA data that has given a far more complete and robust knowledge of evolutionary relationships than she ever expected to see. How the Gardens survived because its soil was so poor for growing plants. The 80 new plant species she has identified and others she has reclassified. The discovery of the Wollemi Pine. How her skills in identifying a tiny leaf fragment helped solve a murder case. And what the challenges and opportunities are facing the Gardens over the next 200 years.

Dr Briggs is one of the foremost Australian botanists and comes from a distinguished family of scientists. She is the daughter of Edna Sayce, who, in 1917, became the first woman Physics graduate from The University of Sydney and her father was also a distinguished physicist. She joined the Gardens as a botanist in 1969 and rose to become its senior assistant director and head of the science program at the National Herbarium of New South Wales at the Garden until her retirement. Her special interests include plant evolution and southern hemisphere biogeography. She has published over 100 research papers and named 80 new species, as well as reclassifying others.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

1244th Ordinary General meeting and public lecture

"'Royal", not 'Philosophical' - W.B. Clarke's Inaugural Address to the Royal Society of NSW"

Dr Bob Young
Author of "This Wonderfully Strange Country: Rev. W. B. Clarke, Colonial Scientist"

It is 150 years old this year since the Royal Society of New South Wales is granted Royal Assent. The Inaugural Address in 1867 by Rev. William Branwhite Clarke is the key not only to understanding the origin of the Royal Society of New South Wales, but also, to a very considerable extent, its continuing role in supporting scholarly research. Clarke (1798-1878) not only announced a change in name from the Royal's forerunner, the "Philosophical Society" but launched into an attack on contemporary philosophy which he described as "a desert, whose only semblance of vegetation is a mirage". What was needed, he argued, was factual science, not metaphysical speculation. He was Vice-President of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1861 to 1878, gave important annual addresses to the Society, and published many papers in its Proceedings. The Clarke Medal, awarded by the Society each year for contributions to Geology, Zoology or Botany, was established in his honour.

Although known as "the Father of Australian Geology", for more than a decade after his arrival in Sydney in 1839, Clarke wrote numerous articles that laid the foundations of the study of meteorology and climatic change in Australia; and he played an important practical role in the development of hydrology, especially with regard to the water supply of Sydney. By mid-century he had become regarded as the foremost authority on various aspects of Australian Geography, notably in his journalistic support of the expeditions of Leichhardt and Kennedy. After 1860 he was a major player in the controversy over evolution, but his role in it was hardly that of "Darwin's bulldog" as some authors have considered him. In this talk Bob Young outlines the development of Clarke's ideas about science and the impact that they had on the understanding of "This wonderfully strange country."

Bob Young, was, before his retirement, an Associate Professor of Geoscience at the University of Wollongong. He has been member of the Geological Society of Australia and the Geographical Society of New South Wales and was Associate Editor of Australian Geographer from 1981-92. He has published 5 books and over 100 research papers on topics ranging from weathering and erosional sequences, sandstone landforms, sea level change, tsunami, and the history of landform studies.



Wednesday, 1 June 2016

1243rd Ordinary General meeting and public lecture

"The curious case of the scientist in cinema: how Indiana Jones turns out to be the bad guy!"

Professor Peter Hiscock DSc FSA FRSN FAH
Tom Austen Brown Professor of Australian Archaeology, University of 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 will dig into the history of cinema and provide 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.



Wednesday 4 May 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 Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Ret'd), Governor of New South Wales.

Above: Judith Wheeldon AM (Vice President), Stephen Ho, Warwick Anderson, His Excellency General Hurley, Christopher Dickman, Brynn Hibbert (President) and Peter Baume

Left: Eugenie Lumbers AM DistFRSN, Michael Burton and Brynn Hibbert


The Clarke Medal 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 2015 was preseted to Professor Simon Ho, ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney.Annual general meeting.

The Hon Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC DistFRSN was presented with his distinguished fellowship certificate by the Patron.



Wednesday, 6 April 2016

1242nd Ordinary General meeting - Presidential address

Dr Donald Hector FRSN

Donald Hector was President of the Royal Society of NSW from 2012 to 2016. In an address marking the conclusion of his presidency, he considered the nature of the complex problems that face 21st-century Australia, the way in which people tend to approach these highly-complex socio-techno problems and the cognitive and cultural limitations they have in identifying solutions. In particular, he will consider the role that the Royal Society of NSW might play as it becomes re-established as a leader in the intellectual life of NSW and of the country.

Donald is a chemical engineer whose career has been in industry, 25 years of which were with Dow Corning Corporation. His early career was in process engineering, R&D, manufacturing and engineering and became managing director of its operations in Australia and New Zealand and was the executive director responsible for operations in India and the ASEAN countries. He was also the executive management board of Dow Corning Asia. Later, he was also managing director of Asia Pacific Specialty Chemicals Ltd and has had various non-executive chairmanships and directorships of both listed and unlisted companies. Prior to becoming President of the Society in 2012, he was editor of the Society's peer-reviewed journal.

The address will be published in the next edition of the Journal and Proceedings.

Seal of the RSNSW


2016 Annual Dinner – Vice Regal Patron Presents Awards
Distinguished Fellows Lecture

The Society's 2016 annual dinner was held on Wednesday 4 May 2016 and was attended by the Vice Regal Patron, His Excellency the Hon General David Hurley (ret'd) AC. His Excellency presented the society's 2015 awards and presented newly-appointed Distinguished Fellow, Em. Professor Peter Baume with his certificate. The Distinguished Fellows Lecture was delivered by Em. Professor Eugenie Lumbers AM.


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