Posts Tagged ‘Canberra’

Biodiversity weekend at Questacon

// September 10th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Science Communication

This here is Charles Darwin studying some stick insects. This vision greeted me in the entrance hall of Questacon, Australia’s national science and technology center. The insects were crawling all over this guy’s face. He’s one of the very talented Excited Particles who are, as their name suggests, particularly excited about science. Sometimes fire. But then, who isn’t excited by fire? They also do highly entertaining science shows.

This weekend, Questacon are holding an event for the International Year of Biodiversity. There’s critters from the zoo, aquarium and reptile sanctuary, and specialists on native Australian plants. If you’re in Canberra (or Sydney, it’s not that far) check out the program. If not, don’t die of FOMO.

It’s getting close to the end of the year, so make the most of the biodiversity while it’s still hot. Next year’s offerings are the International Year of Forests (snore) and the International Year of Chemistry (yippee!!!) In fact, they have also have a weird year that started in August and is running till August 2011 called the Year of Youth, which gets young people involved in making important decisions about the world. Sounds good, I think.

Man I’m excited about the Year of Chemistry. More excited than a particle, I’d wager. We should make us some old school explosions! I’ll start hoarding the gunpowder now.

Why moths circle lamps, and darkness is our friend

// July 16th, 2010 // 3 Comments » // How Things Work

Sydney Opera House. Image by Froge

I wear my sunglasses at night. It’s for the light pollution. New Scientist today sent out a plea to bring back the night for wildlife’s sake, particularly birds, bats and turtles.

Moths are also at risk to death by light. In Australia, the Bogong moths cause October plagues around Sydney and Canberra. They swarm houses, government buildings, and sometimes land on bosoms of opera singers during the Sydney Olympics (or was that the Hawk moth?)

The reason for the plague is simple, we stupidly built cities near their migratory paths. Every spring the Bogong moth travels from the plains to the mountains, to get away from the heat. They spend the summer lying dormant in caves, aestivating (hibernating in the summer.)

Aboriginal groups would sometimes collect them, cooked they taste nutty and are an excellent source of protein. Unfortunately it’s not an option anymore because they eat stacks of pesticide as caterpillars on the plains.

It’s a common thing to see a moth circling a lightbulb. Why do they do it? They aren’t actually attracted to the bright lights, it’s a mistake in navigation. At least, according to one theory, though there are others I like this one best.

Bogong Moths, Image by Pbpanther

When moths make the migration, they need to know how the hell to get to the mountains. I sail by the stars, but moths fly by the moon. By keeping the moon at a certain angle to the side, they can fly in a particular direction. For example, if you know the moon is in the north and you want to go west, you would keep the moon on your right hand side. I think a similar method was used in Apollo 11, when their navigation systems were down (I’m going by a vague recollection of Tom Hanks following the Earth out the window of the ship.)

It works because the moon is so far away the angle doesn’t change as you move. But imagine you tried the same thing with a street light. If you kept the light on your right, you’d end up going around in circles. Just like moths do.

Some moths don’t fly in circles around light, they just WAP into them. They might be using the same method, but aiming directly for the moon instead of keeping it to one side.

In Adelaide we have trees with lights mounted to shine up on them all night. I would like to know if it damages tree growth or the native wildlife around it. What are your thoughts, and when was the last time you really saw the stars?

A Schooner of Science could be Australia’s best science blog, but only with your vote! If you enjoyed reading, take a second to vote for me here.

The Big Blog Theory announces finalists

// July 13th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Science Communication

I’m pleased to announce A Schooner of Science has been named one of ten finalists for The Big Blog Theory.

As well as being named Australia’s best science blog, the winner will attend and blog about National Science Week events across Australia.

Now it’s up to you.

Three reasons to vote for A Schooner of Science:

1. I’ll make videos, tweet AND write posts, you can’t get better coverage than that.
2. I will have a system so you decide which events I should cover.
3. We could get a pirate to National Science Week.

Have a look at the list of finalists and vote for your favourite.

A Schooner of Science turns one

// April 22nd, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Jibber Jabber, Science Communication

Ahoy!

Today be an auspicious occasion. ‘Tis the first birthday of me blog! A year ago today the first post hit the internet. Since then, A Schooner of Science has grown. With 141 posts, 100 visitors daily and a mere 4 comments away from the 300 mark, the blog is going strong and there’s no sign of it slowing.

I’d like to thank you, my cherished readers. Some of you I know have been reading for the whole time, some have just recently climbed on board. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it without you, and I hope you enjoy reading me words as much as I enjoy writing them.

With that, I’d like to open the floor to you. I’d like to know more about you, dear reader. Tell me whence you came, tell me what you do, tell me your loves and your hates, tell me how you came to be on board the schooner. The rest of this post is yours to complete, dear reader.

And the fourth person to comment will be the lucky 300th! If that ain’t cause to comment I don’t know what is!

Australian Science Communicators Conference Day One

// February 9th, 2010 // 8 Comments » // Science Communication

Just got home after a massive day at #asc2010. Though I’m exhausted I’m feeling too excited to sleep, so instead I’ll give you my blow by blow account of the conference.

Welcome session
The day opened with a welcome from an Aboriginal elder who was not at all interested in science (actually, she said she hated it in school), but was nonetheless entertaining and welcoming. Later the minister did the “official” opening of the conference and also unveiled a new report on science communication policy called Inspiring Australia, which is in my bag to be tackled in all the free time I have. After opening the conference, he left, which was a shame. Guess he’s a busy man.

Plenary session #1
What is a plenary anyway? This was a panel discussion on the challenges for science communication with speakers from some major organisations, the NHMRC (National Health Medical Research Centre), the ARC (Australian Research Centre) and CSIRO. On the whole, it was great to hear from directors and managers from those kind of organisations, but a lot of it was beyond me… We talked a lot on what we SHOULD be doing for science communication strategically, but it seemed to lack that follow through of funding and prioritisation that you need in a business. Eh. It was definitely interesting, but not terribly relevant.

Sub-plenary
Described in the program as “the future of science reporting” I was really disappointed to find the session only heard from print media reporters… sure, it was interesting to hear their ideas about the future of magazines and newsletters, but the future of science reporting encompasses radio, television, blogs and STACKS more than print media. Plus one of the speakers actually said that newspapers were more reliable and accurate then blogs. Uh huh. Sure. Newspapers are accurate eh? Have you heard about Bad Science? And you think blogs are inaccurate? Have you even TRIED reading The Loom and Not Exactly Rocket Science? I’m sorry, but if you think blogs are bad and newspapers are good, you’re living in the past and it’s time to update.

Session Three – Denialists, sceptics and quackery
The panel included the president of the Australian Skeptics. It was described in the program as TACKLING these kind of viewpoints. Damn it if we didn’t just describe the damn problem in a self-rightous way! Yes, I KNOW homeopathy, chiropractics and the anti-vaccine lobbyists say some whacko stuff and have a scary amount of followers, but how do we REACH those believers and talk to them about the actual science? I’m already aware of the problems, I want to talk about solutions, and sadly we barely hit the very tippy top of the iceberg in this session. I’d like to come back to that idea later in this blog while I’m still in swashbuckling scientist mode.

Session Four – Freelancing
“Be a media slut until you can get paid!” No… I actually found this professional development session really worthwhile. Their “get published anyway you can” approach was, I think, good advice to someone starting out. I am certainly keen to start writing for anyone and everyone to garner up a folio of clippings! Ideas included writing for a uni newsletter, contributing to refereed websites, writing for local newsletters, and getting involved with community TV and radio. Yep, I can do that.

Session Five – Determining Junk Science
Our speaker was like Ben Goldacre for peer reviewed journals. OMG the things he said were scary! Over 50% of published journals mess up their statistics or do not explain their error bars! That’s just bad science! Worse than that, a basic knowledge of Poisson distribution should show reviewers when results have been fudged, because the given standard distribution is insanely narrow for the cell counts they are doing. Worst of all are the western blots, who under pretty rudimentary scrutiny by increasing contrast are shown to be cut and pasted, in some cases duplicated or mirror images used later on – basically results completely fabricated and falsified to create results that are flawed in their flawlessness. This session was an eye-opener, and it was good to remember the old stats homework and find some use for them.

Overall though, a conference is about networking, and I met some great people who are doing fantastic things with science communication. If you met me at the conference and scored a business card (yes, I have those now!) then it was lovely to meet you. It was also great to hang out with the gang from the RiAus, who were my SciComm pals in bonny Adelaide and are still doing some amazing things there. Wish I could attend the conference Tuesday and Wednesday, but sadly study calls and I must answer the siren song of commitment.






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