Tag Archives: National Science Week 2010

Pokémon Vs The Royal Botanic Gardens

I’m not going to lie. I was practically dragged out of bed last Sunday morning. “I just want to play Pokémon. That’s all I want to do. Yes I’m serious.”

And of course that old adage that would haunt me as a child every Wednesday night at Brownies and every Thursday night at swimming training – You’ll enjoy it when you get there – stings just as much now as it did then. YES, okay, I had a good time. And I got to play Pokémon afterwards when I got home anyway. Now leave me the hell alone.

As part of National Science Week this year, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney had an Open Day on Sunday 22nd August, offering guided tours of their labs and nurseries and collections, as well as self-guided tours around the gardens and other family-oriented activities. Having attended the Plant Pathology Tour, run by their resident pathologists, and the Herbarium Tour, which took us through the National Herbarium of New South Wales, I was so impressed by the organisers’ ability to cater to both kids and adults in their programming.

Sure, neither of these tours I attended were particularly suited to children, all but one of the four that showed up to the Herbarium Tour slipping out within the first ten minutes, but there was an entire hall filled with activities like plant mounting, botanical illustration and microscope viewing, plus an insect-themed self-guided mystery tour, and guided “bush tucker” and wildlife walks, so no one – not even this grumpy Sunday morning Running Ponies correspondent – could have been bored.

Honestly, how great does this look:

Hands on Science - Royal Botanic Gardens

Hands on Science - Royal Botanic Gardens

Exactly.

Having adults and kids simultaneously fascinated – that’s what Science Week should be about, but it’s a very tricky business to get right.

The Plant Pathology Tour took a group of six of us through one of the new labs at the Gardens, and we learnt about the disease cycle of chestnut rot, funguses, and how to extract, process and photograph DNA. The adults asked a lot of questions. I played it cool and asked nothing. #brainsabbath

Next I did something really stupid and opted not to line up for the sausage sizzle, all like, “Oh my God, there isn’t time!” The Herbarium Tour was in fifteen minutes. I’m not sure who I thought I was at that particular moment, but in hindsight I could’ve probably eaten about three before the tour started. (It was 2pm and I hadn’t had breakfast yet. Don’t judge me.)

I did get a charmingly eclectic sample bag though, its contents going progressively off-topic:

* Science magazines

* A magnetic waratah bookmark

* Stickers of a smiling water droplet

*A ruler with a T. Rex in space on it

* Toothpaste.

Irrelevance aside, it was definitely one of the better free sample bags I’ve picked up at an Open Day. At least this shit I can use.

The National Herbarium of New South Wales looks like this:

National Herbarium of New South Wales
National Herbarium of New South Wales

Thousands and thousands of plastic red boxes in rows and rows and rows containing 1.2 million specimens from Australia and around the world. It might look and sound a bit dull, and I’m not even that into, you know, plants, but they’ve got an art exhibition in the foyer, a library, and every one of those red boxes are filled with these, which are surprisingly fantastic to look through:

National Herbarium of New South Wales
Herbarium specimen mounts

And it’s all open to the public. I went in not knowing that the Herbarium existed, and came out seriously considering coming back and spending an entire day there.

We also had a tour of one of their labs and got an even more thorough walkthrough of the process of DNA extraction. We finished up and went outside and the sausage sizzle was gone. I panicked and wondered if they had food in the Gardens’ Shop. They did not.

National Herbarium of New South Wales
Herbarium bottled specimens

Like the Melbourne Museum, the Botanic Gardens have a great Science Week program. I would have stayed and done the self-guided tour because it was a stunning Sydney day, but I don’t keep biscuits in my bag.

Visit PlantNET – the Herbarium’s online plant identification site here.

– bec

11 Comments

Filed under Art, Events, Free Stuff, Insects, Science

“The Oscars of Australian Science” – Eureka Awards Dinner 2010

eureka awards 2010

From one madcap taxi ride to Randwick Pavilion to regrettable post drinks at an open-till-5am bar on Oxford Street, the Eureka Awards Dinner is pretty much one of the best parties in town. Established in 1990, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are awarded annually to those with outstanding achievements in science and science communication. This year the highlights included chickens with feelings, photogenic insects and nicely-dressed scientists as far as the eye could see. I love a nicely-dressed scientist.

Sitting at the Science Week table I learnt about Questacon’s badly-behaved talking robot who said inappropriate things to children before they removed and reprogrammed him, and watched the 19 prizes being handed out over dinner.

Chicken sympathisers, Chris Evans and K-Lynn Smith, trumped researchers working on a way to replace animal testing and saving dogs from inherited disorders for the Research that Contributes to win the Prize for Scientific Research That Contributes To Animal Protection:

“Groundbreaking research using new high-tech chook-friendly testing facilities challenges the concept of the feckless fowl… titled Sentient chickens: the scientific case for improved standards, it portrays chickens as social, intelligent creatures complete with Machiavellian tendencies to adjust what they say according to who is listening.”

Given that chicken was being alternated with barramundi that night, I’m assuming they switched meals with whomever was sitting next to them while they waiting in the queue for the bathroom.

“What’s barramundi?” friends from Europe asked me.

“An Australian fish.”

“Sounds like a good name for a cat, or a baby girl.”

Europeans.

A world-first collaboration between a cattle breeder and six scientists won the Prize for Research by an Interdisciplinary Team for their work with Meat Standards Australia, and Amanda Barnard from CSIRO the prize for Scientific Research as she develops an invisible, environmentally friendly sunscreen.

I visited the COSMOS table up the front where things were getting suitably anarchic, before the saddest moment in the evening when our two nominees for the Science Journalism Prize, John Pickrell and Elizabeth Finkel, were beaten by the ABC. Read Pickrell’s incredible piece on feathered dinosaurs and Lizzie’s elegant exploration of genes here and here.

I tweeted/texted double sad faces from across the room.

“Are you blogging right now??”

“No. I’m just texting…”

Guys, I’m not that clever. Sorry.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Film, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science

Science Week Begins With Melbourne Museum Stealing My Heart

museum victoria qantassaurus

Qantassaurus

Melbourne Museum – I could totally live in you. I know that sounds like something a psychopath would say, but there’s no other way to put it. And it doesn’t have to be the whole entire building, just the Science and Life Gallery would be fine. And yes, both floors please. Just rope it off and everyone else can go crazy everywhere else. Quietly. I get the dinosaurs and the taxidermy and the insects.

Except you’re going to have to move the spiders elsewhere, particularly the live ones and particularly the live ones that aren’t even in boxes. What is that, MM? I honestly stood there for like five minutes straight trying to come to terms with the fact that there’s literally nothing except a giant room-sized web between those orb-weavers and us, and I know they aren’t particularly dangerous and have no reason to come out of their giant room-sized web and mingle with the humans, but that’s not the point. They’re still spiders, MM. You’re playing with fire in a giant room-sized web.

Science on Show

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Mammology Display

National Science Week kicked into gear yesterday and Melbourne Museum was the absolute best place to spend the first day. And I’m not just saying that because that’s what I did and obviously have no comparison. But…

* Live insects

* Museum experts

* Australia’s best scientific illustrators

I rest my case.

I began with Science on Show, which involved half a dozen display tables filled with stuffed, bottled and boxed specimens, Australian megafauna fossils and a model crab the size of a curled up human child and so on, all manned by various experts from the Museum. I got to pat a taxidermied tapir and made some dumb comment about how it looks like it’s stuck in a really powerful wind tunnel with that posture (well it does), rifle through a trolley’s worth of poltergeist-esque sea creatures in jars, and get mad at the terrestrial invertebrates expert for holding up two huge bottled spiders and making me compare their fangs. DO NOT WANT, as they say.

Then I may or may not have rendered myself the creepiest person in the building by deciding I wanted these for my livingroom:

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Ornithology Display

Yes. Rows and rows of tiny dead birds. That’s what I want in my house. Jesus. But it might come as less of a shock to you now when I tell you I want this room as my bedroom:

Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Fossils, Free Stuff, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science, Sea Creatures