It's hard to put into words how significant Prof Stephen Hawking was for me on a personal level. His book "A Brief History of Time" was a defining moment as a young teenager to realise that you could have a career to explore the Universe; to spend a life studying the nature of expanding universes, blackholes and dark matter. More important than even his science he also showed the value of communicating that science.
His death hit me hard and it was a crazy day speaking on radio, TV and print to explain just why he was such an incredible and unique figure. I've shared a few of these TV interviews below. The first TV interview I ever gave was about him, and I was honoured that I could also speak at the end.
The Australian Space Agency review is to be released in a matter of days but do you know what it means for you, your children's future careers or even how much you already use space in your everyday life? Well with the team at The Royal Institution of Australia we put together a package answering all of these issues on Australia's Space Future. I'm really proud of the team's exhaustive efforts and also amazed by the careers of talented female scientists and engineers like Andrea Boyd, Flavia Nardini and Lisa Stojanovski who we were able to feature. In space our future really is unlimited.
Incredibly excited to announce that Inspiring Australia has once again decided to support the Science in VR live experience with a National Science Week grant! We will give two live Virtual Reality (VR) talks using the SciVR app with bespoke Google cardboard VR headsets, as well as coordinated regional viewing parties, all with tailored educational material for the hidden universe! This year I will joined by my amazingly talented colleague Dr Rebecca Allen, can't wait to reveal more info soon on this! But you don't have to wait for the show to enjoy the app, just head to the Apple AppStore or Google Play and download SciVR for free, and can buy headsets from the Swinburne Bookshop for an even more immersive experience.
One of the coolest parts of my job is that I can take film-crews around the world and showcase the incredible science and technology that is out there, but seeing the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre just tops everything. My huge thanks to ABC Catalyst for letting me reveal the change space race that means the return to the moon is a competition between startups not superpowers. This is a topic I raved about in the Sydney Morning Herald, and there was also a really nice review of the TV episode in The Australian. You can watch the episode online on ABC iView.
At the truly epic World Government Summit I was privileged to lead the discussion of Mars settlement by the best and brightest from the UAE Space Agency and make the broader case for space with an international panel. Apart from that I got to hear from Forest Whitaker, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku all in one day..! The #worldgovsummit is truly an extraordinary meeting of the world’s best minds. Just as exciting will be to see the new businesses and activities that come from this meeting, I certainly aim to work more closely with an international range of impressive people, all with varied backgrounds I could never hope to have met at any other meeting. It was a genuine pleasure to meet and discuss space technologies with the extraordinary young engineers of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. I have to say the task facing the program director for Mars 2117, Saeed Al GerGawi, are humbling - but he and his team are more than up to the task if this gorgeous VR tour of their Mars City is anything to go by!
The grassroots effort to map out the best place to view MelbHenge as the Sun sets between a mile long corridor of Melbourne's skyscrapers continues to grow. This headline photo courtesy of LookAboutPhotography is just one incredible example of that.I'm always amazed at how many people get out and share their photos of this epic event... but we still don't know where best to view it! So we asked Melbournians to take a photo, share the location and use #MelbHenge so Swinburne University of Technology astronomers could update our map of the city to make this event bigger and better each year. Last time was featured on the BBC world news, let's see what we can do in the years ahead.
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.