Current Issue #488

National Science Week

National Science Week

I have to confess to being torn by the notion of devoting a day, week or a season to a particular idea.

A classic example is Christmas as the ‘season of goodwill to all’. Yes, it’s great that we do have an occasion to think about such a noble ideal, but shouldn’t we have such sentiments every day? But, on the other hand, would such universal observance lead to goodwill-burnout? Perhaps it is better, then, to have a period within which to focus on the ideal rather than attempt to burden ourselves at the risk of becoming blasé.

And it’s not just Christmas but all the special days and weeks crammed into the modern calendar. Do Mother’s and Father’s days detract from our parental thoughts for the remaining 364 days of the year? Shouldn’t we also be mindful of the various cancers and other ailments that have their own days or weeks marked through the year when they continue their corrosive course 24/7? Or is there some deeper benefit in marking an occasion to reflect on these issues with more focus?

For me, no week of the calendar is as challenging as National Science Week because my life as a science communicator and as a research scientist sees every day as a meditation on the marvels and wonders of science. But then I know I’m being churlish here! Not everyone is as immersed in science as I am. In fact, on a population basis, very few people are! So an annual opportunity for science to strut its stuff, to take centre stage and reveal why those of us on the inside think that it is such a powerful and engaging subject, should be marked as a celebration. And that celebration is coming up this month.

The irony for me is that, of all the science weeks I’ve been involved with over the years, none have been restricted to a seven-day period! There’s just too much to get through, too much energy and excitement to contain within a mere week of the annual cycle. This year National Science Week (NSWk) runs from Saturday, August 11 to Sunday, August 19. Officially that is. In reality there are events across the country in celebration of NSWk starting before that date and ending long after.

For example, here in Adelaide the Science Alive! spectacular at the Goyder Pavilion, Wayville opens its doors on Friday, August 10 to school groups, before being opened to the public over the weekend of August 11 and 12. There are more than 50 booths lined up with all kinds of science fun and games from inside microbes to the edge of the universe. Last year was my first experience of Science Alive! and I have to say I’m impressed with the vitality and accessibility of the venture. There really is something there for everyone.

Perhaps there is something more local for you, something just down the street or in the next suburb. You can find out at the NSWk website which includes a searchable map. Just plug in your postcode and voila! – all the science you can handle at your own front door!

Of course the major science institutions are organising NSWk activities, too, including The Art of Science at the South Australian Museum and a chance to see some of the most advanced microscopes in the world at the University of Adelaide. There are behind-the-scenes tours at breweries and a variety of factories, testament to how science underpins so many of the manufacturing processes that are vital to our economy and society.

And how could I conclude a rousing cheer for NSWk without mention of what we are up to here at RiAus? It is one of our busiest times of the year and includes a return performance of maths comedian: Simon Pampena with his show The Fame Algorithm on Thursday, August 9 (don’t be scared, this is hilarious fun for all!) breaking the NSWk boundaries; our Sci-ku competition gives you a chance to write your own science haiku; and award winning play: Rocket Town tours to regional centres across the state. And if that isn’t enough, SCINEMA: Science meets cinema, is a great showcase of entries from this year’s international festival of science film and the value of science/art is highlighted in our SALA exhibition: Domestic + Science. Details are available on the RiAus website:

We are only halfway through 2012 but it has already proven to be a milestone year in the history of science. We found the Higg’s Boson (and for an explanation, see my blog, we’ve had our best view ever of the Transit of Venus and commemorations of a century since Sir Douglas Mawson set off on his epic Antarctic Voyage. Coming up we have an eclipse of the Sun in November and the centenary celebrations for the announcement of Bragg’s Law. We really do have something to celebrate and NSWk is your chance to join in the celebrations.

Whatever you choose to do, have a wonderful Science Week!

Dr Paul Willis is the Director of RiAus (Royal Institution of Australia)

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