Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events
JAN
13

Annual Meeting of the Four Societies 2017

Four Societies 2017   “South Australia: a nuclear State in a global
  solution”

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

Thursday 23 February 2017
International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour

This talk focused on the challenge to Australia in moving to a reliable, low-carbon and lowest-possible-cost electricity system. Nuclear power is a proven, low-carbon energy source and may have a role to play in Australia. South Australia has abundant uranium resources and furthermore, with the combination of geological, political and technical factors, the State may provide a global solution for the permanent disposal of used fuel. The benefits of being a nuclear State could be game-changing.

Rear Admiral, the Honourable Kevin Scarce is the 16th Chancellor of the University of Adelaide and was the 34th Governor of South Australia from 2007 to 2014. He served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1968, retiring in 2004. His appointments included service on HMAS Sydney during the Vietnam War. He specialised in military logistics and procurement, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral and Head of Maritime Systems at the Defence Materiel Organisation. After retirement, as Head of the South Australian Defence Unit, he led a government team that contributed to ASC winning the contract to build air warfare destroyers for the Australian Defence Force. He was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross in 1994, the Knight of Grace in the Venerable Order of Saint John in 2007 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2008. He completed a Bachelor of Financial Administrationfrom New England, Masters of Management Economics at the University of New South Wales (Australian Defence Force Academy campus), and a Masters Degree in National Security Strategy at the US War College (National Defense University) in Washington, DC. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Flinders University in 2009 for distinguished service to the public of South Australia and an Honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) from the University of New England in 2014. He was appointed on 29 March 2015 as the Commissioner of the South Australia Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission.

JAN
13

1250th OGM and open lecture

Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarship Award Winners for 2017

  Yik Lung (Jeremy) Chan,
  School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney
  Andrew Ritchie,
  School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney
  Isobel Ronai,
  School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

Wednesday 1 February 2017
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

The Royal Society of New South Wales Scholarships recognise outstanding achievements by individuals working towards a research degree in a science-related field within New South Wales or the Australian Capital Territory. Each year three scholarships of $500 plus and a complimentary year of membership of the Society are awarded. The award winners give talks about their research at the first OGM and Public Lecture each year.

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jeremy chan feb ogm
  Yik Lung (Jeremy) Chan

  School of Life Science,
  University of Technology Sydney

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

We do not understand well how maternal smoking and secondhand smoke exposure during pregnancy can cause lifelong adverse effects in the offspring, especially in their neurological function. Maternal cigarette smoke exposure is a risk factor for the shutdown of blood and oxygen supply to the brain. This can lead to several functional defects, including problems with movement, sensation, strength, and thinking, increasing the financial burden of both the family and government. My work aims to understand how maternal cigarette smoke exposure affects brain health, to allow the discovery of therapeutic targets for potential interventions. He described the various experiments he conducted with mice to identify the effects of smoke exposure on behaviour and brain function.

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  Andrew Ritchie

  School of Life and Environmental Sciences
  University of Sydney

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

Molecular dating, powered by increasing floods of genetic data, is allowing biologists to look ever more closely at the central mystery of evolution – the origin of species. At the same time, the digital revolution has led to the application of biological methods to surprising new types of data – such as the imprints of human history left in the relationships among world languages. To do this, biologists and linguists construct models that interpret genetic and lexical data in the light of our assumptions about the evolutionary process. In this talk, he described the available models and his findings regarding their powers and pitfalls for analyses of the ancient past.

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Isobel Ronai
  Isobel Ronai

  School of Life and Environmental Sciences
  University of Sydney

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

Currently little is known about the mechanisms that underlie worker sterility in the social insects.Studies into a mutant ‘anarchistic’ strain of honey bee identified a promising candidate gene for regulating worker fertility. My results suggest that this Anarchy gene is involved in the regulation of the worker’s ovary via the mechanism of programmed cell death. My findings indicate that a pheromone from the queen honey bee affects the Anarchy gene and triggers the reproductive inhibition of the workers. This is a breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of worker sterility in the social insects. In this talk she described some of the fascinating characteristics of bee colony behaviour and the experiments she conducted to show how the worker bees reproductive organs were affected by the Queen's pheromone.

NOV
18

1249th OGM and Christmas party

"Imaging with a deft touch: the scanning helium microscope – a modern pinhole camera!"

Dr Matthew Barr, School of Mathematical and Physical Science, University of Newcastle
Jak Kelly Award winner for 2016 (award presented by Irene Kelly)

Wednesday 7 December 2016

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

Inspired by the ancient pinhole camera, researchers have developed a technology to give new insights into the nature of matter. The scanning helium microscope makes it possible to generate images with fine details without the kind of damage to the delicate structures caused by traditional microscopes. For example, one can see the distinct flakes of chitin on a butterfly's wing that resemble plated armour, or the curve of a spider's fang. Matthew's talk will describe how the new technology works and show some of the new types of images that are now possible.

Matthew recently completed his PhD at the University of Newcastle in the Centre for Organic Electronics. He specialises in microscope design and has a particular interest in free jet atomic and molecular beam sources. He also has experience in experimental vacuum science techniques, from vacuum system design through to x-ray techniques, and systems operation and analysis. In 2011 he received an Australian Nanotechnology Network travel fellowship that allowed him to travel to University of Cambridge. While there he was involved in the successful construction of a first-generation helium microscope.

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.

OCT
22

RSNSW & Four Academies Forum 2016

 forum crests

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

  “Society as a complex system: implications for
  science, practice and policy”

Tuesday 29 November 2016
Government House, Sydney

We live in an increasingly complex world, where the challenges of complexity must be taken seriously. The problems to be confronted challenge existing institutional structures because they cross national and interdisciplinary borders and cannot be reduced to component problems to be solved independently – they are intrinsically inseparable and interdependent. They include:  the world’s developed economies struggling to deliver the growth and prosperity that was achieved in the second half of the 20th century; increasing discrepancies between rich and poor sparking flight and fight; the impact of people on the environment in which they live; the pace of technological change. These “wicked problems” challenge traditional policy making process leading to policy paralysis. Decisions about economic policy, migration and refugees, environmental challenges, health, education and infrastructure development are delayed or abandoned because of the difficulty in gaining public acceptance.  Conflicting philosophical positions, widely differing worldviews and belief-systems, the increasing globalisation of firms and industries, the increased influence of special-interest groups made louder through new social media, the polarisation of political views, conflicting policy objectives coupled with an avalanche of data to make sense of are among the many contributors to this policy paralysis.  The complex-systems nature of these challenges means that small changes can have disproportionate effects, the future is impossible to predict, and multiple feedback loops multiply and accelerate in myriad ways.

How we can understand, cope and adapt to these challenges was the focus of the 2016 Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum.

Click here to see the programme of presentations.

OCT
10

1248th OGM and public lecture

Presentation of Distinguished Fellowship to Dame Marie Bashir AD, CVO, DistFRSN

The President presented the certificate of Distinguished Fellowship to Dame Marie Bashir at the start of the OGM. Past President Hector read the citation.

Jim Kehoe 2016 small  “Finding the right course for the right horse:
  recent evidence-based advances in
  instructional design”

  Jim Kehoe, Professor of Psychology
  UNSW Australia

Wednesday 2 November 2016
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

Students of all ages and stages can become disengaged in a new subject area, often right out of the starting gate. While a few top students forge ahead, many others progressively accept mediocrity or failure. Different types of one-size-fits-all solutions have been attempted, usually with little reduction in the wide variation among students' progress.

Fortunately, over the past 25 years, experimental research on instructional design – much of it originating in New South Wales – has revealed a set of principles for improving the speed and consistency of individual learning. These principles are themselves founded in earlier research that defined the “cognitive architecture” of human memory.

Jim's talk focused on human cognitive architecture and the key principles for instructional design, which include (a) recognise and optimise demands on short-term memory; (b) help students to organise their long-term memories rather than rote memorise the material; (c) help students to actively interact with the learning material; and (d) provide instructive feedback as well as knowledge of results. These principles have proved to applicable in an adaptive way as students gain proficiency.

Jim Kehoe came to the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 1977 after completing his PhD in experimental psychology at the University of Iowa. Apart from sabbatical appointments, he has remained at UNSW, rising from Lecturer to Professor in 1994. Although now part-time, he continues as a member of the academic staff.

His research has concerned pure and applied research in learning and memory. His early career was devoted the laboratory study of associative learning in animals and its neural mechanisms. He has also been a leader in the mathematical modeling of associative learning. Over the last two decades, he has increasingly turned his attention to applied research on learning and memory in humans in contexts ranging from frontline management to military populations to older adults. He is a project officer in the Australian Army, currently holding the rank of lieutenant colonel.

SEP
07

1247th OGM and public lecture

“From sand and rice bubbles to earthquakes and volcanoes”

Itai Oct 2016 
  Professor Itai Einav, School of Engineering,
  University of Sydney

  Director of the Sydney Centre in Geomechanics
  and Mining Materials

Wednesday 5 October 2016
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

The Universe is granulated. Stars, planets and asteroids are all relatively small particles when compared to galaxies (themselves, particles when seen from afar). They are relatively huge when compared to sand particles. The number of atoms in a single particle of sand is roughly the same as the number of sand particles in Australia¹s beaches, somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. Together with dry rice, M&M¹s and pharmaceutical powders, sand particles belong to the class of granular materials, the second-most manipulated material in industry (after water). But the motion of sand particles is far less understood than the motion of atoms in water or the motion of celestial bodies and galaxies. What is it about sand particles and rice bubbles that makes them so hard to describe? What governs their motion, and how can they inform us about important phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanoes? This talk will tackle those questions.

Working at the University of Sydney, Professor Itai Einav is the Director of SciGEM (Sydney Centre in Geomechanics and Mining Materials). He is an Honorary Professor of University College London, a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW, and has held visiting research appointments at Universities in USA, France, Spain and Japan. He is an Editor of granular matter and sits on the editorial board of Géotechnique. He received several international research awards, including medals from UK’s Institute of Civil Engineers and Europe’s ALERT Geomaterials. His work crosses many disciplines at the interfaces of Civil Engineering, Physics, Resources Engineering, Geophysics, and Applied Mathematics. Einav’s work in the disciplinary area of granular physics has yielded discoveries in heat transfer, mixing, segregation and melting. More recently he has developed strong affinity to rice bubbles.

SEP
08

2016 Dirac Lecture

Dirac image 2016  “Dark matter in the universe”

  The Dirac Lecture and award of the Dirac Medal

  Duffield Professor Kenneth Freeman FRS
  Australian National University

Thursday 13 October 2016
Tyree Room, John Niland Scientia Building, UNSW

The Dirac Medal is based on rules established in 1990 by the then Vice Chancellor of the University of NSW Sir Rupert Meyers. It is awarded in the name of Professor Paul Dirac who donated the royalties of his published lectures in Australasia in 1975. In its early years the award was organised by UNSW in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Physics. The first convenor of the awards was Professor Heinrich Hora FRSN, Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics. Of the first eleven Dirac Lectures nine awardees were Nobel Laureates. In 2010 the Governor of NSW presented the award to Lord Robert May of Oxford and the Royal Society became involved. Of the last five awards, two recipients are Nobel-Laureates.

Professor Freeman’s research is about the formation and dynamics of galaxies with a particular interest in the problem of dark matter in galaxies. He was one of the first to point out that spiral galaxies contain a large fraction of dark matter. He is active in international astronomy, as a division past-president of the International Astronomical Union, and serves on visiting committees for several major astronomical institutions around the world.

AUG
19

1246th OGM and public lecture

Richard Neville “A source of inspiration and delight:
  The Mitchell Library”

  Richard Neville

  Mitchell Librarian and Director, Education &
  Scholarship

Wednesday 7 September 2016
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

The State Library of New South Wales can trace its history back to 1826. In many ways it history and development runs in parallel to that of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Its first iteration was as a private gentleman’s 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, when 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 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 explored its history and development, the motivations and drive for which are no doubt very similar to those to drove the Royal Society.

Richard Neville is the Mitchell Librarian and Director Education and Scholarship at the State Library of NSW. With a research background in nineteenth century Australian art and culture, he has 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.

AUG
14

2016 Sydney Science Festival lunchtime science talks

Royal Society of New South Wales Sydney Science Festival lunchtime talks

More details about the Festival are to be found at: https://sydneyscience.com.au/

Venue: The University of Sydney Business School CBD Campus, Level 17, Stockland Building, 133 Castlereagh St.

 

Talk 1 “Complex Systems and Swarm Intelligence”

Professor Mikhail Prokopenko

University of Sydney

Date: Friday 12 August 12.30 – 1.30pm:

Mikhail started by distinguishing complicated from complex systems, the latter being self-organising and having emergent properties.  They are also not subject to any central control or design.  Their behaviour depends on how the actors involved interact.  These rules can be quite simple yet produce suprising patterns like the dynamic schooling behaviour of fish or the building of a termite nest. Mikhail explained how the flow of influence or information within such a system takes place, how it relates to artificial intelligence and how these insights have beeb used by his team to win the 2016 World RoboCup - a simulated football game. 

 

Talk 2: “The Royal Botanic Gardens 200th Birthday”

Dr Brett Summerell

Royal Botanic Gardens

Date: Tuesday 16 August 12.30-1.30pm

Brett described the beginnings of the Gardens and how the site has changed over the years. We learned about the way the science agenda has developed over time, the nature of the valuable collections they have, and the important research they are and have been involved in. 

 

Talk 3" “Courts, Criminals and Chemistry: Forensic Science in NSW”

Professor Brynn Hibbert

President of the Royal Society of NSW and Emeritus Professor, University of NSW

Wednesday 17 August 12.30 to 1.30pm

Brynn explained the role of the expert in court proceedings and how they work for the court rather than either side, even though they are hired by one side. He explained how forensic science developed and some of the important contributors. Lastly, he used examples from his many times as an expert witness to show the problems of communicating scientfic results in a way that can understood and used by the court. 

 

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

Professor Pascal Perez

University of Wollongong

Thursday 18th August 12.30-1.30pm

Pascal explained how the Internet of Things(IoT) is misrepresented because the focus is on the things and ignores the people involved. He gave many examples of the way the IoT is pervasive and changing our lives.  He also discussed both the benefits and dangers arising such as social inequities (financial and knowledge), privacy, "uberveilannce" and security breaches.  For example, how a big solar flare could have devasting effects. He provided a detailed example of a recent project in which crowd sourced information from mobile phones and Twitter feeds has changed the way Djakarta can know about and deal with flooding disasters. Lastly, he told us about a new type of disruptive technology, low power long range (LoRa) communication, that is already present in Australia.

JUL
07

1245th OGM and public lecture

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

  Dr Barbara Briggs
  Honorary Research Associate
  Royal Botanic Gardens

Wednesday 3 August 2016
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

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 celebrates 150 years since it received Royal Assent from Queen Victoriai, though its origins go back to 1821.  The Royal Botanic Gardens turns 200. In this talk we look at the founding of the Gardens and the early challenges it faced. We also celebrate the many achievements and contributions the Gardens have made to science and the life of Sydney. We do so through the eyes of Dr Barbara Briggs, the Garden’s longest serving female scientist.

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 took us through the history of the Gardens. One area she focused on was the way the development of DNA data that has given a far more complete and robust knowledge of evolutionary relationships than she ever expected to see. She also told us about how the Gardens survived in part 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 and how her skills in identifying a tiny leaf fragment helped solve a murder case. Laslty she described 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. Dr Briggs 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.

NOV
20

Liversidge medal winner lecture 2014

"Recent studies on the total synthesis of natural products and related systems"

Liversidge2015 Professor Martin Banwell

 Research School of Chemistry
 Institute of Advanced Studies
 Australian National University
 Canberra

Thursday 20 November 2014

Lecture Theatre 4, School of Chemistry, University of Sydney

Professor Banwell is an organic chemist and is one of Australia's most accomplished researchers into the synthesis of complex organic compounds. In this year's Liversidge Research Lecture, he described work that has been done in his group over a number of years to synthesise materials that have wide-ranging applications, especially as pharmaceuticals. The starting point for his work is a family organic chemicals called arenes. These are substances based on a structure of six carbon atoms arranged in a ring, with each carbon atom having a hydrogen atom attached – this substance is known as benzene. Some of the hydrogen atoms can be replaced by other substituents, for example, instead of one of the hydrogen atoms, methyl, bromine, chlorine, trifluorocarbon, hydroxyl, carboxyl etc groups can be substituted. These can then be used as building blocks, using a variety of synthetic pathways, to make much more complex substances.

Until quite recently, many of these syntheses were done using a variety of chemical reactions that have been developed by organic chemists over the last 150 years. One of the problems that arises with this approach is that substances with the same chemical formula can have different shapes. For example, substances that have the same chemical formula but be mirror images of each another, in much the same way as the right-hand is the mirror image of the left-hand – these are called enantiomers. Often, one enantiomer will have little physiological effect in comparison to the other. In the last 15 years or so, genetically-modified organisms have been developed that allows synthesis of these substances that favours production of the biologically-active enantiomer.

Professor Banwell described his work to develop synthetic pathways, starting with the simple substances described above and reacting these with genetically modified e. coli to produce an arene with two adjacent hydroxyl groups, in addition to the other reactive site. This results in an intermediate that allows a great variety of subsequent synthetic pathways, allowing synthesis of a very large number of biologically active substances. Two examples of these are vitamin C and the influenza drug Tamiflu. Professor Banwell went on to describe a complex sequence of reactions that has enabled his group to synthesise a substance called Ribisin C, the substance that, at very low concentrations, appears to have a marked effect on the stimulating neurite growth in PC12 cells. (Neurites are projections that growth from neurons [nerve cells] as they develop and PC12 cells are particular type of rat neuron that is used in medical research.) It is hoped that this research work may lead to new treatments for neurological diseases and damage to the nervous system. Professor Banwell's group is also working on novel pathways for making codeine, an opioid that is currently derived from opium poppy production. A synthetic pathway could, potentially, lead to a much less expensive production process for opiates.

FEB
16

Four Societies lecture 2015

"Latest developments in small modular reactors"

adi patterson ANSTODr Adrian (Adi) Paterson

Chief Executive Officer,
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation

Held in conjunction with the Nuclear Engineering Panel of the Sydney Branch of Engineers Australia, the Australian Nuclear Association and the Australian Institute of Energy

Date: Monday 16 February 2015

The largest source of energy today is fossil fuel which we know has significant CO2issues. The second largest source is nuclear, using uranium. Dr Paterson began his talk by showing that the country generating the most energy per capita is France with its successful harnessing of nuclear technology, but interestingly Brazil is also successful with its use of ethanol from sugar cane. Australia was shown to be in the worst sector with almost the highest cost per capita of electric power generation, more than twice as expensive as France and similar to the high cost in Denmark which relies heavily on wind energy.

Dr Paterson is a world authority on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). In his talk he stated that this new type of nuclear reactor is given too little prominence against the backdrop of the very large power reactors, such as China's new 1750 MWe power plant in Taishan, which have captured our attention until now.

Dr Paterson touched on Australia's recent shifts politically in which the nuclear component of an optimal energy mix is growing in acceptance, as seen from the recent announcement of a Royal Commission in South Australia, in view also of its rich resources of uranium. The lecture showed how SMRs are ready to fill the vacuum in countries like Australia.

Once again, the Four Societies Lecture was an outstanding success with a full house attending. The Society thanks the Australian Institute of Energy for organizing this year's event and Clayton Utz for supporting it.

SEP
15

Four Academies Forum 2015

“The future of work”

Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum

Governor

His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (ret'd), Vice Regal Patron of the RSNSW

Tuesday 15 September 2015
Government House, Sydney

The Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum was the inaugural collaborative event between the Society and the NSW-chapters of the four national Academies. The Forum was hosted by the vice-regal patron of the Society, His Excellency The Hon General David Hurley at Government House on Tuesday, 15 September 2015.

The speakers at the forum were Professor Mary O'Kane, Chief Scientist and Engineer of NSW who provided framing comments about the technological challenges that the working environment would face over the next 20 years or so and the need for NSW and the nation to embrace innovation and change and the introduction of new business models. Professor Andrew Holmes of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Fitzgerald, President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Dr Alan Finkel, President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering gave valuable insights from their various perspectives, and a panel discussion responding to these issues was led by Professor Glenn Withers, President-elect of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. In addition, there were five other speakers drawn from senior Fellows of the four Academies. They were Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, Professor Hugh Durrant Whyte, Professor Amarjit Kaur, Professor Bettina Cass, and Professor Julianne Schultz. The discussion panel, led by Professor Withers, consisted of Dr Eric Knight, Professor Vera Mackie, Mr Anthony Roediger and Mr Jeremy Webster.

afinkel

Professor Alan Finkel

Issues covered were far-reaching: "techno-optimism" – humanity has a good track record for solving problems by the application of technology. We should not forget the enormous challenges of the changing environment that will take place over the next couple of decades but we should also not forget the capacity of humans to adapt. One of the best ways that this adaptability presents itself is through innovation of entrepreneurship and resort examples of development of start-up technologies that have become very successful businesses. Yet many of the challenges that face the workforce will not be technological in their nature, even though they may have their origins there. The role of social policy, particularly around carers as the population ages and families with both parents participating in the workforce become the norm. Indeed, despite the fact we largely focus on the changes that face the workforce that originate in technology, many of the drivers are not technological in their nature – globalisation, climate change, resource conflicts, population movements and cultural change will be major influences in the coming decades. Although we tend to think of technological change as the driver of change, this is perhaps the wrong way to look at it – it suggests that we have no option. In fact, whether or not we choose to adopt particular technologies is a matter of policy and choice.

Education emerged as a major theme. A society cannot progress unless it educates its people. The challenge is to ensure that education is well directed and that we educate our people the right fields. We heard about the extraordinary advances in computing technology and how this would change the nature of work over the next 20 years – perhaps 40% of today's jobs will disappear. But this need not be a looming social disaster because headlines about such projections tend to overlook the rate of job creation. If job creation is greater than job destruction, the technology will end up providing a net benefit. But such disruption itself causes problems and the workforce and the communities in which they work need to be resilient and to be able to embrace change. Historically, Australia has done well in this, as evidenced in places like Newcastle and Wollongong, but there are always winners and losers – we need to be sure that communities in individuals are not destroyed in the process. It is also important that as a nation, we do not consider these issues in isolation. Workforces in Asia, for example, have very high migrant workforces – the movement of people and the cultural and social issues and challenges that these introduce will be an important factor as we plan for the future.

The Governor summed up, emphasizing that our future might be defined in terms of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Over the next 20 or 30 years, the rate of change will be great and the challenge for the nation is how we engage with these issues. Technology should not be the driver – it should be the tool to help us define what we want to be as a nation.

The Society thanks the speakers and the panellists for their extremely rich and diverse insights and, in particular, thanks the organising committee of the Forum, Dr Donald Hector, Dr David Cook, Professor Ian Dawes, Professor Max Crossley, Professor John Gascoigne, Professor Heather Goodall, Dr Des Griffin, Mr John Hardie, Dr Richard Sheldrake and Professor Ian Wilkinson for putting together such a stimulating programme. We also thank The University of Sydney Business School for their sponsorship of the event

MAY
06

Annual black-tie dinner 2015

bashir  Guest of Honour Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO

  Vice Regal Patron of the Society
  and Governor of NSW

Tuesday 5 May 2015
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

Dame Marie Bashir was made a Distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society, was presented with the 2014 Royal Society of NSW Medal, and gave the Distinguished Fellow's Address.  She reflected on the origins of the Society and on the contributions of Lachlan Macquarie, 5th Governor of NSW.

Other awards presented at the dinner were:

History & Philosophy of
Science Medal
Dr. Ann Moyal AM
Clarke Medal (Botany) Professor Robert F. Park
James Cook Medal Scientia Professor Martin Green AM
Esgeworth David Medal Associate Professor Richard Payne
Clarke Medal (Geology)
for 2013
Distinguished Professor Bill Griffin

Awardees at the Annual Dinner 2015

L to R: Prof. Bill Griffin, A/Prof. Richard Payne, Prof. Robert Park, Dr. Ann Moyal, Dame Marie Bashir, Ms. Judith Wheeldon (Vice President), Prof. Brynn Hibbert (Vice President), Donald Hector (President)

APR
01

1231st OGM, AGM and public lecture

“Is the brain the right size?”

Paxinos and Hibbert  Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO

  School of Medical Sciences, UNSW

Wednesday 1 April 2015
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

Scientia Professor George Paxinos described the outstanding body of research that he has conducted over many years on mapping the structure of the brain. His work is some of the most cited research in the scientific literature. Virtually every map of the human brain found in hospital operating theatres, doctors’ surgeries and medical practices is based on his work.

Descartes famously made the distinction between mind and brain but, Professor Paxinos argues, there is no ghost in the brain. The mind is a function of brain activity, nothing more. One of the primary differences between the brain and other organs is the extraordinary number of neurones that it contains. The human brain has many more neurones than the size of its body suggests.

Professor Paxinos described the approach taken to understand the structure of the brain. Mostly this revolves around looking at other animals, such as rats and research monkeys to determine the difference in brain structure and, from the differences conclude the function of various aspects of the human brain. One of the main techniques in studying brain tissue is histology. In this approach, tissue is cut it into very fine slices that are then stained to be observed under a microscope. About 40 years ago, a major breakthrough was made when it was realised that staining brain tissue using a variety of stains gave a much richer understanding of neurones structure – the stains were able to differentiate between different types of tissue.

More recently, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been used to map brains, in particular mouse brains. This enables construction of three-dimensional images with different stains revealing different details. These can be then synthesised into many different types of image. Combining the histological approach with MRI has enabled highly detailed maps of brain structure to be synthesised using data from many sources.

Professor Paxinos’s group is now looking at the “ontology” of the brain (borrowing the term from philosophy) to better understand the way in which the structure of the brain relates to human thought. Of particular interest is the nature of thought processes, such as belief. All human belief derives from brain function.

So is the brain right size? If it was smaller it would not have allowed us to have achieved the quite extraordinary advances in human thought over the last several thousand years. We would not have been able to go to the moon or puzzle over challenges of quantum mechanics. But the brain is by no means infallible and indeed it may be the wrong size to enable us to come to terms with some of the highly complex issues such as climate change that challenge the very future of humanity.  

OCT
07

1236th OGM and public lecture

“The revolution in radio astronomy”

Sadler  Professor Elaine Sadler

  University of Sydney

Wednesday 7 October 2015
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

Radio astronomy is currently entering a 'golden age', when new telescopes of unprecedented sensitivity will allow us to explore the Universe in ways that have never been possible before. Australia is at the forefront of these developments, as one of the two countries chosen to host the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. I will show some of the first science results from two new Australian 'SKA precursor' radio telescopes which have recently started operations in a remote area of Western Australia, and describe some of the novel technologies which make these telescopes so powerful. I'll also discuss how the remoteness of the Western Australian site makes it possible for us to search for the faint signature of hydrogen gas in distant galaxies.

Elaine Sadler is Professor of Astrophysics in the School of Physics at The University of Sydney, and Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO).

Professor Sadler started her career with an undergraduate physics degree at the University of Queensland, followed by a PhD in astronomy at the Australian National University. She held postdoctoral fellowships in Germany and the United States before returning to Australia to take up research positions at the Anglo-Australian Observatory and the University of Sydney.

Elaine's main research interest is galaxy evolution - using large observational data sets to study how galaxies form and change on timescales of billions of years. Much of her research involves the analysis of data from large-area optical and radio surveys of the sky. She has designed and undertaken several major astronomical surveys over the years, and currently leads the ASKAP-FLASH project. This project is using the new Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia to learn more about the amount and distribution of neutral hydrogen gas in very distant galaxies.She was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2010. She has served as President of Division VIII (Galaxies and the Universe) of the International Astronomical Union (2009-2012) and Chair of the National Committee for Astronomy (2010-2012). As CAASTRO Director, she overseas a 140-strong team of scientists and research students across seven Australian university nodes and 11 partner institutions here and overseas.

 

JUL
01

1233rd OGM and public lecture

“Science in literature”

JLey  Dr James Ley

  Editor, Sydney Review of Books

Wednesday 1 July 2015
Union University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

Literature and science have historically been seen as competing and sometimes opposed disciplines, confined to their own discrete modes of comprehension. James Ley will consider some of the ways in which contemporary literature has sought to embrace and naturalise scientific understanding, while grappling with the moral implications of advances in scientific knowledge. It will argue that the language of literature has the potential to humanise complex scientific views and thus render them comprehensible, and in doing so play a role in disseminating scientific truths.

James Ley is the Editor of the Sydney Review of Books and the author of The Critic in the Modern World: Public Criticism from Samuel Johnson to James Wood (2014). In 2014, he was awarded the Geraldine Pascall Prize for Australian Critic of the Year. According to the judges’ report, “He operates at the point where scholarly precision and essayistic liberty intersect. ... In a Ley review, you may be sure that an independent opinion informed by wide reading and sharp thinking is being stated.” See http://www.sydneyreviewofbooks.com/

AUG
06

2015 Clarke Lecture

"From the Solar Nebula to the Deep Earth – a Geological Journey"

Griffin  Professor Bill Griffin

  Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry,
  Macquarie University

Date: Thursday 6 August 2015

Venue: Building Y3A, Theatre 1, Macquarie University

Bill will tell the story of the journey to the surface of the remarkable rocks of Southern Tibet.  These are large fragments of the Earth’s mantle that originate from very great depths (>500 km down) under extreme conditions not ordinarily expected within the mantle and which play an important role in the evolution of igneous systems. To learn the story of these remarkable rocks, we have to understand both the mechanisms that have brought them up to the surface, and the origins of these super-reducing conditions in the mantle. This has involved field studies, geodynamic modeling, a range of techniques for micron-scale chemical, microstructural and isotopic analysis, and a bit of good luck.  One of the keys to the Tibetan riddles lies near the Sea of Galilee in Israel, and involves a remarkable, still poorly-understood type of volcanic activity.  Bill will lead you through this story, which is still evolving by the day; it illustrates the diversity of approaches required in modern geological research, and some of the excitement of that research work.

Bill Griffin is Distinguished Professor of Geochemistry at Macquarie University and Program Director at the RC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems. Before that he spent 20 years at the University of Oslo, mainly in the Geological Museum, which is the centre of geochemical research in Scandinavia. He moved to Australia in 1985, to be with his Aussie wife and to help develop geological applications for the CSIRO’s new proton microprobe.  In 2006 he left the CSIRO and moved to Macquarie University.

SEP
01

Dirac Lecture 2015

“Quantum entanglement and superconductivity”

sachdev  Professor Subir Sachdev

  Professor of Physics, Harvard University

Held in conjunction with UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics

Tuesday 1 September 2015
John B. Reid Theatre, AGSM Building, UNSW

Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance". Entanglement is a counter-intuitive feature of quantum theory by which two particles are deeply correlated even when separated by vast distances, such that a measurement of one particle instantaneously determines the state of the other. Remarkably, quantum entanglement can also happen en masse, determining the macroscopic properties of many electrons in certain crystals. Such states of matter can exhibit superconductivity, the ability to conduct electricity without measurable resistance, at much higher temperatures than was previously possible.

Professor Sachdev also described newly emerging connections between the theory of macroscopic quantum entanglement and Hawking's theory of black holes.

MAR
05

1230th OGM and public lecture

“Super-resolution microscopy: understanding how T-cells make decisions”

Kraus  Scientia Professor Katharina Gaus

  ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced
  Molecular Imaging
  Program in Membrane Interface Biology, UNSW​

Wednesday 4 March 2015
Union, University and Schools Club, 25 Bent Street, Sydney

Professor Gaus described her ground-breaking work on understanding the structure of T-cells, one of the major components of the immune system. Professor Gaus is a cell biologist who uses super-resolution microscopy to explore the structure of cell membranes. Hopefully, this will lead to improved treatments for infectious, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The adaptive immune system is the body’s first line of defence against infection. It is acquired over the life of the organism, developing a ‘memory’ for antigens (antigens are the invading agent). This highly sophisticated system is antigen-specific and must be able to distinguish between foreign antigens and substances made by the host. It is mediated by T-lymphocytes – a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in cell-mediated immunity. T-lymphocytes are characterised by the presence of a T-cell receptor (TCR) on the cell-surface. Antigens bind to T-cells through major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a set of cell-surface molecules that controls a major part of the immune system in all vertebrates. Humans can make up to 25,000,000 different TCRs, representing an enormous variety of substances against which the body can mount an immune response.

The role of T-cells is to hunt for antigens. Over the last 50 years or so, the way in which T-cells identify antigens has been characterised: TCRs can only recognise peptides on MHC, T-cells do not recognise self-peptides on self-MHC, and T-cells that react to self-peptides on self-MHC result in autoimmunity. T-cells are responsible for life-and-death decisions – they have to distinguish between self-peptides and foreign peptides. This is like looking for a needle in a haystack; there are many more self-peptides and foreign peptides. Gaining a better understanding of the structure and function of T-cells is important in developing treatments for autoimmune diseases and cancer. For example, it is known that T-cells play a role in the body's resistance to various types of cancer. However, one of the problems in cancer immunotherapy is to determine why some cancers escape T-cells and whether or not they can be retrained.

Professor Gaus’s work is focused on using microscopy to identify the structure of T-cell membranes. There are two major problems that need to be solved to investigate this. T-cells are very mobile – they move rapidly through the blood and it is difficult to capture images of them. Fortunately, once they bind to an antigen, they become almost stationary. The second problem is one of resolution. The molecules being investigated are 10–20 nm in size. The diffraction limit for a visible light microscope is about 250 nm which means that they cannot resolve these molecules. This requires super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, form of light microscopy that allows capture of images that at a much higher resolution than the diffraction limit. Super-resolution fluorescence microscopy enables investigation down to the to the size range of the T-cell molecules of interest.

By acquiring very large samples of data (20,000 frames), x-y coordinates can be determined and statistical methods can be used to analyse structure of specific molecules. Professor Gaus’s research has identified a number of interesting observations about the function of T-cells. It seems that only some T-cells trigger on exposure to an antigen and receptors seem to be triggered in dense clusters. TCR clustering appears to a key element in antigen recognition and some antigens appear to induce TCR clustering. This raises interesting questions such as, can we use nanoparticles to induce clustering?

Recently, Professor Gaus has been investigating ways in which the z-axis can be explored so that molecules can be investigated in all three spatial dimensions as her earlier work suggests that the dynamics of the molecules (such as oscillating like a yo-yo) may be important in their function.

Royal Society Events

The Royal Society of NSW organizes events in Sydney and in its Branches throughout the year. 

In Sydney, these include Ordinary General Meetings (OGMs) held normally at 6.00 for 6.30 pm on the first Wednesday of the month (there is no meeting in January), in the Gallery Room at the State Library of NSW. At the OGMs, society business is conducted, new Fellows and Members are inducted, and reports from Council are given.  This is followed by a public lecture presented by an eminent expert and an optional dinner.  Drinks are served before the meeting.  There is a small charge to attend the meeting and lecture, and to cover refreshments.  The dinner is a separate charge, and must be booked in advance.  All OGMs are open to members of the public.

Since April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face meetings have been replaced by virtual meetings, conducted as Zoom webinars, allowing the events program to continue uninterrupted.  It is hoped that face-to-face meetings can be resumed in late 2020. 

The first OGM of  the year, held in February, has speakers drawn from the winners of the Royal Society Scholarships from the previous year, while the December OGM hears from the winner of the Jak Kelly award, before an informal Christmas party.  The April or May event is our black-tie Annual Dinner and Distinguished Fellow lecture.

Other events are held in collaboration with other groups, including:

  • The Four Societies lecture — with the Australian Institute of Energy, the Nuclear Panel of Engineers Australia (Sydney Division), and the Australian Nuclear Association
  • The Forum — the Australian Academy of Science, with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia
  • The Dirac lecture — with UNSW Sydney and the Australian Institute of Physics
  • The Liversidge Medal lecture — with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute

Sydney meetings 

Hunter meetings

Southern Highlands meetings

 

 

Details of events scheduled for the remainder of the current year by the Southern Highlands branch can be found on its website.

Details of past events held by the Southern Highlands branch can be found here.

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