Can AI save humanity? - Tuesday 8 August

Photo provided to UNSW

To kick off National Science Week (and before it had even officially begun) the UNSW School of Mathematics & Statistics and The UNSW Data Science Hub (uDASH) hosted the first event - ‘Can AI Save Humanity’?

The panel discussion included a stellar line up with some of the world’s top scientists who are using AI to address the most urgent global issues including health, climate change, sustainability, inequity and justice, and much more.

Researchers across UNSW have been pairing science with machines to monitor plants and wildlife, grow teeny human organs in petri dishes to personalise medicine for rare diseases, scan years of court documents to detect bias in court judgements, and use toaster-sized satellites in space to see the detail of places on Earth that are too harsh for humans to go to.

But at the end of it all — can AI actually save humanity? Panelist A/Prof Shane Keating says: “We need all the help we can get.” 

If you missed it, you can watch the panel discussion, here

Science in the Scrub – Sunday 13 August

UNSW

This family-friendly event saw science experiments and displays, lessons on bush survival skills at the bush craft village, and even a roaming dinosaur, who took onlookers for a prehistoric tour through the scrub!

The attendees got to meet real life scientists, geologists, biologists and researchers from over 25 awe-inspiring stalls and activity stations, including a number of UNSW researchers.

Materials for the future – Monday 14 August

Professor Sir Konstantin ‘Kostya’ Novoselov FRS is a Russian-British Physicist, best known for isolating graphene at The University of Manchester in 2004. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 for his achievements with graphene.

During this captivating Nobel Laureate Lecture, Professor Novoselov, an expert in condensed matter physics, mesoscopic physics and nanotechnology, explored the fascinating world of 2D materials and their growing significance in research, development, and real-world applications.  

These relatively recent materials have already made significant impacts, with a plethora of exciting phenomena being unveiled on a regular basis.

Rewilding – Monday 14 August

Photo provided to UNSW

Australia has borne witness to the disappearance of scores of native species over the past hundred years – earning us the nickname ‘extinction central’.  

In our ‘rewilding’ event, UNSW experts were joined by ABC journalist Ann Jones, to investigate whether we can save endangered species through rewilding. 

UNSW Sydney’s Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science, Professor Richard Kingsford, Principal Ecologist for the Wild Deserts project Dr Rebecca West, Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor Katherine Moseby and Lead Researcher for the Platypus Conservation Initiative Dr Gilad Bino reflected on their experiences of rewilding, and key learnings to take into the future. 

Katherine reflected on what rewilding means in Australia specifically: “The thing in Australia is that we have a lot of introduced species. We have a lot of plants and animals – over a thousand introduced plants and animals in Australia, so if we just let nature have the time and space, it's not going to heal itself.” 

The panel also discussed The Biodiversity Convention – setting aside 30% of Earth’s land and seas for nature by 2030 – and how this can be achieved by collaborating with farmers and the agricultural sector, looking to grow more in our cities, and using less waste.

Meganne Christian - Tuesday 15 August

Photo provided to UNSW

Meganne Christian, is a trailblazer and a UNSW Engineering alum whose unconventional path has led her to the stars.

Meganne took the audience on a journey from the lecture halls of UNSW, through to a scientist working in one of the isolated research stations in the world – Concordia station on the Antarctic Plateau. 

Here, Meganne experienced 100 days where the sun didn’t set, 100 days when the sun didn’t rise and temperatures that reached a wind chill of minus 104°C.

Meganne described moonless nights, where the glow of the Milkyway was so bright that she could see her shadow reflected on the ice. It was here, in a place of such extremes, that Meganne set her sights on space.  

The European Space Agency (ESA) last opened applications for their astronaut program in 2021, 13 years after their last application process. Meganne went through a year and a half of tests and interviews as part of the selection process. Out of 22,500 applicants, Meganne was one of 17 people to be selected for ESA astronauts in 2022. 

On the reserve list, Meganne could be called into a space mission at any point. In the meantime, she works for the UK Space Agency, leading on exploration commercialisation, where she is instrumental in shaping the future of space-based systems, technologies, and applications.

In conversation with Chief Technology Officer of the Australian Space Agency, Aude Vignelles, Meganne covered some inspiring questions from the budding astronauts in the audience and confirmed that if she could name a planet, she would call it ‘Matilda’! 

ECxSE – Tuesday 15 August

Photo provided to UNSW

What’s more important: Earth’s conservation or space exploration?

It’s a tough question, and one explored in our interactive event hosted by the School of Physics. 

Attendees had the chance to learn about renewable energy and the physics that connects us to the cosmos, or the incredible space technology that allows us to glimpse into space and understand how it works. 

There was liquid nitrogen ice cream to tantalise your tastebuds, a planetarium to take a ride through the Milkyway and telescopes set up on the Physics Lawn to explore Sydney’s night sky.  

You can check out the pictures from the ECxSE event, here

The Secret to Happiness - Wednesday 16 August

Photo provided to UNSW

Over a remarkable 85 years, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has conducted an unprecedented investigation on happiness.  

Through this extensive research, led by distinguished Harvard researcher (and TED talk celebrity) Robert Waldinger, the study unearthed a profound truth: the key to a fulfilled life lies not in financial wealth or our work, but rather in the power of our relationships.

The audience joined Robert Waldinger for an evening of discovery as he discussed his remarkable study, which revealed key insights into the recipe for a happier life. 

Psychedelics – Thursday 17 August

Photo provided to UNSW

Last month, psilocybin and MDMA were made available for prescription by authorised psychiatrists for the first time, following the approval of ketamine to treat severe depression.

The expert line up for this event included Adam Bayes, Wayne Hall, Norman Swan and Collen Loo, who explored whether psychedelics are the answer to managing complex mental health issues.

Psychedelics are defined as drugs that produce hallucinations, and as Colleen Loo described, ‘alters your state of consciousness, so that things may be brought into your mind like dreams’. 

The panel discussed the history of psychedelics for medicinal use, and how the use of LSD for therapeutic purposes in the 1960s has largely shaped the depiction of psychedelics.  

The discussion followed the case for psychedelic assisted therapy for treatment-resistant psychiatric disorders, meaning that they are used alongside therapy and within a controlled environment. Adam emphasised “The therapy is considered important as a container around the drug.” 

The panel explored the success of early trials and the many questions that remain unanswered, including the scalability and affordability of the psychedelic-assisted therapy model. 

Science in the Swamp – Sunday 20 August

UNSW

The sister event to Science in the Scrub, Science in the Swamp also returned for 2023.  

Families got to dive head-first into a world of discovery, engaging in hands-on science experiments and captivating displays.  

The crowds at Centennial Park learnt invaluable bush survival skills at the enchanting Bush Craft Village, and met real life scientists, geologists, biologists, and researchers, from across UNSW Science.

Lasers: Making Light Work – Monday 21 August

This year’s Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) Einstein Lecture is a fascinating exploration of lasers, presented by Professor David Coutts, Deputy Dean of Research at Macquarie University. This event is hosted by the AIP and Macquarie University, in partnership with UNSW Sydney.   
 
Professor Coutts, who is an expert in photonics, physics, and astronomy, will delve into the world of lasers, showcasing his research in building innovative laser technologies, manipulating laser colours and properties, and using lasers to tackle diverse challenges, from measuring complex fluid flows to detecting planets orbiting distant stars. 
 
This sold-out event will take a look at the science behind lasers with practical demonstrations that highlight the astonishing capabilities of these powerful beams of light.

If you missed any of these events and would like to catch up, stay up-to-date with the On-Demand content from National Science Week.