This is an incredible honour and something I'm delighted to finally announce but after a national application process I've been chosen as the new Lead Scientist of the Royal Institution of Australia, home of Australia's Science Channel.
Australia, and the world, faces significant challenges ahead but it will be more science and technology not less that will see us through. That’s why it’s so critical we continue to explain and share the latest breakthroughs by Australia’s researchers and inspire the next generation into STEM. At Australia’s Science Channel we can ensure the best and most inspiring science stories are fed directly into classrooms around the nation, and further shared around the world.
I hope I live up to the great legacy of the Royal Institution and am able to play a positive role in raising science's profile, and science literacy more generally, in Australia!
I loved making this short ABC ME series with the wonderfully talented and ever enthusiastic Grace Koh trying to explain the answers to questions that we all think of, while restricting ourselves to a green screen and about 3 minutes in total. You can watch all 5 episodes on iView or catch them as interstitials between your favourite shows on ABC ME. Also who doesn't love a big red button?!
Todd Sampson is insane. There. I said it. I understand physics, I trust 100% in the universality of the laws we explore in Life on the Line, but I certainly don't have 100% trust in the engineering. In episode 3 we discuss Friction by throwing Todd off a bungee jump without it being secured (simply interleaved pages of a phonebook). The principle of geometric amplification of the friction means that these phonebooks won't slip by. Everything else however could go wrong. In episode 4 we discuss Conversation of Energy by using a one tonne wrecking ball. This actually DOES go wrong. Yet still he risks his life. I love Todd's trust in my calculations, I just wish he wouldn't actually put his Life on the Line with them.
Awesome. In the truest sense of the word. How else to describe Stargazing Live? A national science extravaganza that involved the great on screen scientists of our age (Prof Brian Cox, Prof Chris Lintott, A/Prof Lisa Harvey-Smith) explaining the latest science from the gorgeous Siding Spring Observatory. I was a permanent panel member trying to answer the public's questions on the Back to Earth show that followed Stargazing each night. The public were asked to help us find alien worlds using Exoplanet Explorer, by the of the three nights Brian was able to announce a world with four super-Earths all closer in than Mercury... Insane. I still can't understand how it formed. Truly one of the most incredible experiences I've ever been part of, thanks Stargazing!
I've been involved in some mammoth science communication events, and I firmly believe to ensure the role of STEM in our society we need these huge shows to make science cool again. I shared my thoughts on this and alarming decline in STEM enrolment rates on theconversation.
A stunningly beautiful project to explain the night sky to a younger audience on ABC ME by Camilla Hannan. If you don't feel captivated by the visuals, and awed by the wonderful dialogue (my bits aside) then you have no soul. Seriously though, have a watch on iView, I'm so proud to have been involved in this.
The new ABC Radio National science podcast hit the airwaves and I cannot be prouder of this show. Alongside my rantings is the insightful, measured yet ever enthusiastic explanations of my friend and co-star Dr Amanda Bauer. The entire series is run by the ABC's astoundingly talented producer Joel Werner. Subscribe and have a listen wherever you get your podcasts (iTunes).
The alignment of the setting Sun with Melbourne's Hoddle Grid only occurs twice a year, causing a beautiful sight of the Sun framed by a mile-long corridor of skyscrapers. The astronomy is easy, but where is the best location to view this? Which of the East-West streets (Collins, Bourke, Lonsdale or LaTrobe?) and what intersection as the trams and trees can get in the way... I asked the City of Melbourne to get out and snap photos and post online with their location using the hashag #Melbhenge to crowd-source the answer. Incredibly the request was shared on ABC Melbourne radio, The Age, Broadsheet and finally to a world-wide audience on the BBC. Amazing. Stay tuned for the best location for November 3rd's event as I go through all the incredible photos (like the image I've grabbed from Rachel Dexter on Collins St) from this event.
My regular column in theconversation (as well as appearance on ABC Breakfast News) explored a Thanksgiving meal that was out of this world, as well as the beginning of the end for the Cassini mission (but not without a spectacular final view) and a new fuel-less rocket that set the internet alight might be a misfire after all.
A new rocket that seemingly can create thrust without using fuel to push backwards has just been published. My thoughts in news.com.au were not entirely positive. Simply put this would break Newton's 3rd law, and also translation invariance (or the idea that the laws of physics don't change in one spot to another). If this rocket really doesn't need fuel to create thrust than that would be the end of physics as we know it. Instead my guess is that this is likely just thermal expansion as the microwaves (inside the EM drive) are turned on and heat it.
Amidst the exciting news of landing on comets and SpaceX plans to get to Mars, NASA released astounding findings that the smallest planet Mercury actually has tectonic activity just like Earth. Such a small world should be geologically dead and yet it has features that appear unweathered by bombardments from meteors meaning that they are no older than a few million years. It means Mercury joins Earth as the only rocky planet to have tectonic activity, and also means it may have Earthquakes (or should that be Mercury-quakes?)
I wrote about it in theconversation and chatted to ABC Breakfast News TV as well as ABC 702 radio.
An amazing opportunity to be the official Ambassador for the Sydney Science Festival a role which meant I got to give the opening lecture on the incredible Large Hadron Collider at CERN which you can watch here. There was a great write up of the event in the Sydney Morning Herald (where the image came from) and which featured in several TV and radio interviews.
I was interviewed as part of the Born Digital Week by National and State Libraries Australasia to raise awareness of how much data we create, what it's value is and how best to preserve it. Far from being preserved forever online, the digital world is potentially entering a Digital Dark Age as a book two thousand years old is still readable while I haven't got a clue what to do with a floppy disk from just two decades ago.
Fun chat in my regular space segment on ABC Breakfast News about the astoundingly ambitious Juno mission to Jupiter, seriously it's still wondrously madly insane to try this orbit but NASA managed. Here's my thoughts in ABC The Drum. I then got to show off a beautiful new image by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Crab Nebula and finally a triple star system found by ESO that has a planet around it (and which doesn't experience night for hundreds of years at a time).
I truly adore chatting with Richard, he has an insatiable curiosity and that fact he loves science (astronomy in particular!) means our hour long chat flies by... This time we focussed on the hunt for dark matter with SABRE, the world's first dark matter detector in the Southern Hemisphere, and the science of scifi which films do it well and which don't, I'm looking at you Armageddon.
An amazing opportunity to sit at the desk on The Project and discuss the science behind solar studies of the Sun's activities, that we going into a regular Solar Minimum, although it may be heralding the beginning of a Maunder Minimum which saw Europe plunged into a 'Mini-Ice Age'. Read here and here about why that's not the case (for starters the Mini Ice-Age began before the 70 year lack of sunspots in the Maunder Minimum!) but even if it were to occur now we've warmed things on Earth so much it would only slow the heating down not reverse it.
Fun chat on the ABC Breakfast TV couch describing the latest in 3D printing tech - on board the International Space Station! It allows astronauts to print off any spares as needed, including a new tool designed by a high school student! I also chatted about Saturn's flawless rings seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft to have a blemish by a nearby moon's gravity and CSIRO's upgrading of the largest telescope on Earth, China's FAST.
An amazing discovery by the ALMA telescope of giant clouds of cold gas falling towards a supermassive black hole, seen as shadows against the bright glow from this feeding black hole. In addition I discussed the worsening global light pollution phenomenon and a surprise chain galaxy found by citizen scientists from Russia using the Australian Radio Galaxy Zoo!
What an experience getting to chat to the legendary Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM for an hour on astrophysics, dark matter, aboriginal astronomy and of course my five songs with a surprising twist to the idea of 'classical' music. Have a listen.
Read my thoughts on an incredible week for commercial exploration of space at theconversation or watch on ABC Breakfast News. It started with Bigelow Aerospace successfully inflating their BEAM attachment to the ISS. If the two year long test of this inflatable space module works then they plan to launch larger inflatables to form a commercial space laboratory as well as potentially even a space hotel! This week also saw the landing at sea of a rocket for the third time in a row by SpaceX. Now they need to demonstrate an economic refurbishment and relaunch of any of these three rockets to usher in a new era of space travel.
This is quite frankly an astounding feat of engineering but NASA's MMS mission has flown through a magnetic reconnection event - this is where titanic eruptions from the Sun slam into Earth's protective magnetic field and it snaps, releasing energy which we see as an aurora (at best, at worst it destroys our electricity grids!)
One of the most challenging computational puzzles and these observations will be key to understanding this physics. It's also the same physics that limits us in perfecting nuclear fusion power on Earth so something we can all hope is solved and soon!
Some huge stories this week (which I covered in theconversation as well as ABC Breakfast News) on ESA's Swarm satellites measuring the pulsing of the Earth's magnetic field, it's so called magnetic heartbeat. This then lead on to the topic of the magnetic poles swapping places (always a startling fact!) and then the measurements from Australian rocks that a younger Earth had a thinner atmosphere than today when we always had assumed it must have been thicker... These stories were so huge that the fact we found 1284 planets around other stars by NASA's Kepler satellite was left to the end!
My piece in ABC The Drum on what the 2016 budget means for science in Australia. Essentially things continue as we had hoped from earlier in the year with welcome long-term sustained funding. There was a welcome one-year extension to the Australian Astronomical Observatory delaying the end of that world-leading telescope facility by a year to 2019/20 which it is hoped will give time for a sustained and long term solution to astronomical funding in the nation.
I was able to spend some time on the astoundingly ambitious Breakthrough Starshot mission to Alpha Centauri (which I've written about in Cosmos Magazine and theconversation). A private enterprise initiative that will see some incredible technologies pursued to try and reach a star within a human lifetime. Then onto a critical tech development as NASA technology to get CO2 from the Martian atmosphere finds its way into craft beer... Finally a little shout out for the ESO observation of the Fornax cluster.
The incredible success of Elon Musk's SpaceX in landing on a barge at sea opens the way to potentially reusable rockets, slashing the costs of space travel. The same Falcon 9 had launched a potentially groundbreaking new space module, a blow-up (or inflatable) habitat by Bigelow Aerospace known as BEAM that has now docked with the International Space Station.
A strange opportunity to speak, well, about myself. Usually I only chat to the media about the latest breaking science but this time the Sydney Morning Herald asked how I got into astrophysics and my thoughts on STEM education. Suffice to say I'm pretty keen on everyone getting to learn at least a little science!
A fun chat on ABC Breakfast News TV about 500,000 never-before seen stars found by the Hubble Space Telescope in the centre of our galaxy, incredible observations of a 10 million year old star with planets forming (one at the same distance from it as the Earth is from the Sun!) and an inflatable space room for the International Space Station launching this weekend!
I gave a full write up of it in theconversation too..!
I dragged the tone down slightly by discussing ESA's hunt for life on Mars with ExoMars trying to sniff out signs of life in the Martian atmosphere by searching for methane as, on Earth at least, this gas can be produced by life (typically in the ‘farts’ of sheep and cows as methanogens form it in their guts) however it’s also formed by geological processes so it’s not clear cut, yet..!
What an incredible year it’s been for Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko orbiting 5440 times around the Earth and 340 days later they have traveled a distance equal to that too Mars. This is the test needed to know what humanity will experience getting to the red planet and the science from this has only started. As a control sample there’s Scott's twin brother Mark Kelly, who offers the best (though even as an identical twin not perfect) comparison to try to observe changes in Scott’s genetic profile due to space.
Also a big shout out to NASA's awesome Hubble Space Telescope finding the most distant galaxy. Madness that it’s forming so vigorously when the universe was just a few hundred million years old.
Fun way to start a week chatting to ABC Breakfast News about NASA's WFIRST mission, a former spy satellite now repurposed as a new wide-eye Hubble space telescope! I also explained how we measured the atmosphere of a (roasting hot) super Earth for the first time (it's cyanide, don't move there) and how the Sun destroyed potentially dangerous asteroids by baking them into oblivion..!