Science in ACTion – 2017 edition!

Science in ACTion – 2017 edition!

Science in ACTion, a free event showcasing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) organisations in the ACT, was held on Saturday the 12th of August at the Old Bus Depot. Over 3000 people visited 41 stalls throughout the day, learning about ecosystems, technology, dinosaurs, chemistry, and more.

The festival was full of family-friendly fun while also being interactive and educational. Stallholders presented a variety of cutting-edge research and demonstrated the practical applications of STEM.

People appreciated the opportunity to talk about STEM with professionals in those fields, with one attendee saying “they were really helpful and passionate about what they did and I feel inspired to pursue science.”

There were also lots of opportunities to win National Science Week prizes by playing fun science-themed quizzes from Quizling.

Attendees were also able to satisfy their hunger with delicious liquid nitrogen ice cream and yummy pastries.

So much science! So much fun!! See you next year 🙂

Art and Science: Creative Collaborations for Conservation

Art and Science: Creative Collaborations for Conservation

Local artists, scientists, and conservation aficionados were invited to an evening of collaboration and conversation in May at Extirpation: Local Extinction, an event held at the Australian National University.

Over 45 people attended the event, which included an art exhibition highlighting some of the species and ecological communities listed on the ACT Threated Species List. Eleven local artists contributed 16 artworks to the exhibition.

Photo: Rachel Robbins

Guests were also treated to a panel discussion featuring professionals from a range of fields, including Dr Eleanor Gates-Stuart, a visual media artist whose work focuses on scientific exploration and technology. Also participating were Stephen Sarre, a Professor in Wildlife Genetics at the University of Canberra, and Shoshana Rapley, an outreach officer at the Capital Woodlands and Wetlands Trust. The panel was rounded out by John Reid, a visual artist whose artwork addresses the environment and human rights.

Photo: Rachel Robbins

Both the panel and guests were involved in some great discussion, exploring how art can contribute to conservation efforts, the panellists’ experiences working in conservation, and what we can all do to help conserve our unique and threatened species.

Guests found the event highly enjoyable, with one guest stating, “[I] loved the concept and the ability to contribute by sharing my painting!”

Guests also described the event as interesting, informative, inspiring, and educational.

Photo: Rachel Robbins

Extirpation: Local Extinction was run by students from the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS), for a course where they learnt how to plan and manage a science communication event.

Photo: Rachel Robbins

Using a grant from Inspiring Australia ACT, the CPAS students were able to award two prizes to participating artists: the People’s Choice Award which was chosen by attendees, and the Professionals’ Choice Award chosen by the panellists.

2017 ACT National Science Week Seed Grants!

2017 ACT National Science Week Seed Grants!

We have another raft of exciting events coming your way this Science Week, thanks to the ACT National Science Week Coordinating Committee’s Seed Grants! Check out the successful Seed Grants for 2017 (and get along to at least one of their events!):

Australian Academy of Science – Super Science Pub Trivia!

The Academy is developing a night where trivia lovers can pit themselves against some of Canberra’s best scientific minds. Drawing on Fellows from the Australian Academy of Science and other local expert scientists, there will be several rounds of questions drawn from the Academy’s website Nova: science for curious minds (that’s where I’d go to brush up!). There will also be some “Who Am I?” and “Name this discovery” questions, receiving separate science-themed prizes. And never fear, not all questions will be science-themed! So get your geek on and be in it to win great prizes!

Australian Dance Party – ‘Mine!’ – A contemporary dance and science work

The  Australian Dance Party will be performing an excerpt of Mine! at the Science in ACTion Community Day on Saturday 12 August, at the Old Bus Depot. Mine! is  new contemporary dance work, drawing from research by the Australia Institute, media and popular culture. It will examine issues, behaviours, and idealogies around both the mining industry and an ideology around self-entitlement and excess. Established in 2016 by serial collaborator, dance and physical theatre artist, Alison Plevey The Party is inspired by the political identity of Canberra and in fueling its professional dance community. The performance will be FREE – so get along!

Photo: Lorna Sim

The Wholesome Show – Scientists Who Bloody Love Their Jobs!

From the National Centre for Public Awareness of Science at ANU who bring you the Wholesome Show, is this Science Week special event! Come along to the Wig and Pen on the ANU Campus on Wednesday 16 August at 7:30pm for a beverage of your choice, a great pub dinner and to listen to Rod and Will interview a bunch of scientists who bloody love their jobs (a lot!).  After the event the interviews will be instantly (well, within the hour) podcasted on The Wholesome Show podcast channel. The goal of the evening is to humanise scientists (they aren’t all old blokes in labcoats, you know!) and to show the joys of a scientific career. And to have a great night out. Be there!

Photo: Ingrid McCarthy

Maffick – Sustainable Stand Up

From zero to standup in six weeks. . This is a rare opportunity for scientists, engineers and sustainability professionals to work in person with international stand up coach, Belina Raffy to become a better presenter and a powerful force for good. This is an innovative science communication workshop for scientists, engineers, and sustainability consultants who make the world better, comprising workshops leading up to a comedy show. It will equip participants with a powerful form of humour that engages, illuminates complex issues in clear ways, and inspires audiences to think differently. Canberra scientists have enthusiastically embraced the idea, with workshops now SOLD OUT! But get yourself along to Smiths Alternative Bookshop on Saturday 26 August at 7pm, to enjoy the fruits of their labours!

Shirty Science

Shirty Science aims to bring research out of the lab by sitting scientists down with artists to come up with a shirt design that represents their research. In order to extend the involvement of the community beyond scientists and artists, the shirts will be displayed both physically, in a public Canberra location and virtually online, where the concept of each shirt can be explored and purchased. All shirt designs will be displayed in a public location for the length of National Science Week, allowing anyone to come and see the shirts.

Photo: Shirty Science

Canberra Astronomical Society – Sidewalk Astronomy

Canberra Astronomical Society is aiming for the stars with 3 great events around Canberra. In Gunghalin, on 14 August from 6pm, amateur astronomers will set up telescopes (we are thinking outside of Gunghalin Library – keep an eye on the Science Week Website for details!) and show members of the public what they can see in the sky. Woden is next on the 16 of August and then on 18 August there is the usual ANU Public Night at Mt Stromlo from 7pm. It’s all weather dependent, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for those crisp, clear Canberra winter nights!

Australian National Botanic Gardens – Seed Treatment Workshops, Documentary Film Night and Speed Date a Scientist

A plethora of activities for Science Week at the Australian National Botanic Gardens! First up, Seed Treatment workshops – not all seeds germinate easily. Some need special physical or chemical conditions so that in natural habitats the seed only germinate in favourable conditions.Undertake a scientific experiment to test what seed treatments work best on one of our local natives. After the session take home your specimens to watch them grow! Suitable for all ages (children 5 and under need to be accompanied by an adult). At the ANBG on 13 and 20 August! Then, join the Australian National Botanic Gardens in highlighting Australian conservation and research stories during our movie night at the Gardens. With the screening of two Australian short films ‘Maratus’ and ‘Sticky’.

Photo: Simon Cunich

MYCOPOWER – Mushrooms VS School Waste

This year at Science in ACTion on both the Schools Day on 11 August and the Community Day on Saturday 12 August, Fungi Co are showing kids, teachers and YOU how mushrooms transform waste (mycoremediation for curious minds that need to know!). Through a series of workshops, demonstrations, case studies and discussion you will have the knowledge, skills material and resources to implement your own sustainability projects using fungi!

Photo: Ingrid McCarthy

Phil Up On Science – Science in the Pub

Dr Phil Dooley from Phil Up On Science will MC two highly entertaining, and certainly informative evenings at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop. The first on 1 August, is Physics & Astro (the “sexy” science!) – local physicists show off their research in a relaxed environment. From astronomy and satellites, through ocean circulation, and how visualising an eight-dimensional sphere can help you understand time travel, come along and get your mind blown. The second on 2 September, is Health & Medical (the “good” science!) – it could be icky, it could be confronting, it could be fun and it will certainly be interesting! Medical researchers from ANU, Canberra Hospital and the University of Canberra present the latest advances in their research, from gene therapy to Alzheimers to cancer treatment. Grab a drink and a snack and prepare to be amazed!

Photo: Dr Phil Dooley

Engineers Australia – Science/Fiction

Many see Science and the Arts as two polar opposites, one dealing in hard evidence based discussion, the other in imagination and emotion, but is this really the case? Science/ Fiction discusses how Science fact influences Science Fiction and how our modern literary works reflect current scientific discovery. Engineers Australia Canberra office brings us  Canberran and award-winning novelist, Daniel O’Malley (TBC), to discuss the research and science that influenced his award-winning book award-winning sequel ‘Stiletto’, and will source a panel of scientists will discuss their ‘Science fiction’ research that is happening right now, in this town. Keep an eye on the Science Week website for details!

Brain Break in CBR – Part Two!

Brain Break in CBR – Part Two!

It’s school holidays again and there is EVEN MORE for you to explore and enjoy of Canberra’s best science and technology!

1) The Shine Dome

This iconic building houses most of the Australian Academy of Science, whose role it is to champion, celebrate and support excellence in Australian science. Nick-named the Martian Embassy (because they need an embassy in Canberra too!), the building is a Canberra landmark. It was built in 1959 (and doesn’t it look like it?) and is on the National Heritage list. It is actually on the campus of the Australian National University and used to be called Becker House.

The Dome was designed by architect Roy Grounds and is 710 tonnes of copper covered concrete, surrounded by a narrow moat of water which was emptied, sand-blasted, re-sealed and re-filled in 2014. It has custom-designed furniture and inside  the domed ceiling of the main auditorium needed suspended baffles to muffle the echo, complicating its simple shape.Interestingly, t was then found that the striped eucalyptus walls created a dizzying sense of optical confusion that made people feel sick, but that was eventually fixed by adding strings between each panel of wood, which also act as a sound muffler (source: Radio National, Blueprint for Life).


At the very least, you have do to the obligatory selfie outside, inside there is a series of public science events (a new theme every year) that are fascinating – bringing science and innovation to the masses (well, those of us who care enough to buy tickets!). And did you know, you can even hire the Shine Dome for your next event? Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to grab your Shine Dome postcard from the National Library giftshop!


2) CSIRO Discovery Centre

The CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation for those that need to know) Discovery Centre is located on Black Mountain. Open on weekdays, it has self-guided interactive exhibitions that explain the history of the CSIRO and the innovations it has helped with in Australian science for 150 years. Aeroguard? CSIRO. Wifi? CSIRO. Polymer (plastic) banknotes? CSIRO. And much, much more!

An absolute hidden gem of Canberra where the kids can also learn a lot about scientific concepts.

And don’t forget (because goodness knows I’m all about the coffee and snacks) that they have the Discovery Cafe!


3) National Botanic Gardens

Another hidden gem on Black Mountain (well, maybe not such hidden and not something you automatically think of when you think “science”) is the National Botanic Gardens (we have all the “Nationals” here in Canberra!). The Gardens are an exquisite collection of Australian native plants – they have both a living collection and a herbarium – and the plants are displayed for everyone to enjoy as well as for research into plant classification and biology. The Gardens also cultivates plants threatened in the wild. This helps protect them against extinction and provides information which might assist reintroduction to their natural habitat.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens has received eco certification from Ecotourism Australia – the only national programme recognising Australia’s best sustainable businesses. It is only the second botanic gardens in Australia to receive such accreditation.

AND they have great activities for the kids, adults and families, including concerts, hands-on art and craft and guided walks.

AND if that wasn’t enough – there is the Visitor Centre, Botanical Bookshop, Cafe AND the Jindii Eco Spa!!!!


4) Telstra Tower

It’s one of Canberra’s most iconic buildings. You can see it from just about every part of Canberra and in my humble opinion, a Canberra vista is always improved with Telstra Tower in the background. You may or may not be aware that it is a fully-functioning telecommunications tower, which qualifies as “sciencey” enough for me. It centralises essential communication facilities on the one structure:

– Major trunk line radio-telephony facilities

– Television transmitters for national and commercial services.

– FM radio transmitters

– Radio paging (Telefinder services) facilities

– Mobile radio telephone base station services to vehicles

– Cellular phone base station

More science – the mountain is formed of early sedimentary rock (most surrounding mountains are igneous ie. produced by volcanic heat) the term “Black” most likely derives from the thickness of the dry sclerophyll vegetation. The mountain, predominantly quartz impregnated sandstone was, according to historical records, first climbed by white men on 8/12/1820. It is said that Charles Throsby-Smith and james Vaughn used it as a vantage point in an effort to locate the Murrumbidgee River.

It rises 195.2 meters above the summit of Black Mountain and also has 360 degree views of Canberra (but not on a misty day!).


Telstra Tower was originally named Telecom Tower, however locally it was simply known as Black Mountain Tower. It’s construction was not without controversy, however,  and protests against the Tower on aesthetic and ecological grounds were strongly voiced during the earlier stages of the approval procedures, and at the various hearings which included a lengthy Supreme Court case.

The lower level of the Tower’s entrance foyer, houses the Telstra Heritage Exhibition which traces the history of Australian telecommunications as well as a theatre showcasing a video, produced shortly after the Tower opened in 1980 on the tower’s design and construction.


5) National Rock Garden

I know, right??? I didn’t know we had one either! But we do! It’s actually just the start of a much bigger project, but a good spot to stretch the legs and maybe picnic if you are that way inclined. The National Rock Garden is located off Lady Denman Drive and will eventually celebrate Australia’s rich geological heritage  with a permanent display, showcasing the diversity of the rocks, and minerals that contribute so significantly to the nation’s landscapes, heritage and prosperity. In the interim, the rocks on display are still fairly impressive – with a series of Federation rocks from each State and Territory.

And the views! Don’t forget the views!


6) The National Arboretum

The National Arboretum Canberra is truly a jewel in the crown of an amazing city. Born out of burnt out pine plantations from the 2001 and 2003 bushfires, it is an amazing collection of 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees from around Australia and the world.

Wherever you walk, you are greeted by amazing vistas of the surrounding hills and over Canberra:

But it’s from the air that the design of the Aboretum really comes into its own!

The Village Centre is the is an award-winning, architect-designed building with panoramic views over Canberra provides a variety of high-quality visitor services and facilities, including a restaurant, cafe, gift shop, information hub, and the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection.

And if you feel like a bit of fancy lunch, the Conservatory restaurant is seriously good:

The unique nature-themed Pod Playground is a wonderland for kids:

And the science behind the the Aboretum is cool too! Check out theAnd the new opened Gallery of Gardens and the Canberra Discovery Garden:

And, Canberra company APositive has developed cool Augmented Reality – ARboretum also allows you to explore information on the site’s forests. Scan surrounding landscapes and immediately access the Arboretum’s web content on specific trees, their origins and their significance!

I think that’s enough to keep you busy for a bit more! But keep an eye out – we have EVEN MORE science to show off in the National Capital!!!

Brain Break in CBR – Part One!

Brain Break in CBR – Part One!

Sure, you could head down the coast on holidays, with everyone else. And deal with this:


OR you could explore the wonders of our nation’s capital – Canberra!  Inspiring Australia ACT is here to give you the heads up on all the best “science” that Canberra has to offer. Just because you are on holiday, doesn’t mean your brain is! (but shhhhh, don’t tell the kids they are learning – they’ll be too busy having fun!


1) Questacon

For many of us, Canberra is synonymous with the National Science and Technology Centre, aka, Questacon. It’s a national institution and the Freefall is an Australian right of passage. If the last time you were there was on your Year 6 excursion, then perhaps it’s time for a revisit?!


The great thing about Questacon is that it keeps refreshing itself and there is something new every time you visit and they have fantastic exhibitions that are always changing. Currently, you can explore the maths behind everything at Samsung’s Mathamazing and ByteWise (on until 1 March, 2017). The exhibitions encourage visitors to playfully explore maths concepts through logic puzzles and mathematical models.

Who says people don’t “get” mathematics? Look at all the mathematicians!


I love the way Questacon always manages to make complex concepts interesting with “hands on” options. But read the writing too, because you learn more!


The thing I love about Questacon (OK, one of the things!) is that you can you can go as deep or as not-so-deep as you want – you can just push the buttons and see what happens, or you can read all the info and get a deep understanding. And you can visit multiple times as your kids grow up, and get a bit more out of each exhibit each time as they get old and wiser.

The other new-ish exhibit is The Shed maker-space. I am loving this! Just watching kids (and big kids!) tinker away, designing, testing, playing and making is a cool thing to watch. It’s even better to do. Trust me!


And most of the other exhibits you may know and love have been tweaked, shiny-ed up and added to. LOVING the Awesome Earth Gallery and the cloud chamber and the new Ice Bodies – seriously, I could watch those for hours!


And you really need to watch at least one Excited Particles show – I’m an (ex) science teacher, and I still learn something new every time I watch one. Plus, they are funny!


My hot tip is to get there early – it does get a tad crowded in the holidays, particularly on a hot day, so if you don’t want to be elbowing all the little kids out of the way to have a go (what, me?), so try to make this your first stop for the day. There is a cafe on-site, but also lots of lovely picnic spots nearby.


2) Walk of Wonder!

Once you’ve exhausted all the exhibits inside the big Q, did you know there is a world of hidden science to explore outside? Apart from the big granite ball (who doesn’t love that?), you can download the Questacon Walks of Wonder app from your preferred app store before you even leave home. These guided tours take you on a 30-60 minute wander around Questacon and the Parliamentary triangle, to explore the sneaky science hidden in the things you never even noticed. A fantastic way to spend some time out in the fresh air and also explore some very cool public art!


3) Jerrabomberra Wetlands

What a hidden oasis, right in the heart of Canberra, after your lunch/coffee stop at Kingston Foreshore (Max Brenner chocolate, anyone?), there lies an amazing ecosystem (albeit, man-made when they dammed the Molonglo River to make Lake Burley Griffin) that is now home to an amazing array of birdlife. Take your walking shoes, hat, sunscreen and binoculars (but leave Fido at home please!) and see if you can spot migratory birds from Japan, turtles, water dragons or a platypus. There are also plenty of organised activities, lots especially for kids, including drawing, clay sculpture and bug hunts – check the website for the latest!


4) Geoscience Australia

After the animal spotting, you might want to try something a little less active and movable. Head down to Symonston, where the enormous Geoscience Australia building is surprisingly welcoming! There are LOTS of displays of rocks, minerals, and everything geological. Learn about earthquakes, the science of Minecraft or check out the Periodic Table of Mobile Phones – all for FREE (my favourite cost of admission). There’s even a library, with dinosaurs on display and where you can delve into someone’s PhD on geology (quite fascinating). And I learned that the earth is really active and movable!


Outside, there is the amazing Geological Timewalk. This will really put things in perspective for you! It’s a physical representation of geological time in the landscaped gardens of the Geoscience Australia. The TimeWalk leads you on a 1.1 kilometre journey through the Earth’s 4600 million year (Ma) history and represents the evolution of the Earth from its formation though to the present day. There is an accompanying app to help you discover even more, as you ponder the vastness of geological time and check out some pretty cool rocks!


5) Mulligans Flat Twilight Tour

After dinner (check out the Visit Canberra site to help you choose – lots of family-friendly options too!), why not experience the amazing work that the folk at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary are doing in helping conserve and restore the wildlife of Canberra! While you can go any time during the day (except on Total Fire Ban days), it is at its best during the night, when the nocturnal animals come out! And they include eastern bettongs, quolls, stone curlews and a host of other things. Tours are led by an ecologist, so you know you are getting the best knowledge as well as spotting unique Australian wildlfe (plus, the cute!!!).


Get a great night’s sleep, because tomorrow is Day 2 of your Brain Break – Canberra has so much more to offer!