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Small Flame, Great Illumination

Image by Bernard CaleoThere are candles on birthday cakes, candles in churches and candles at romantic dinners. It seems that unless there’s a power failure, candles are restricted to ceremony and set dressing. Of course it was not always this way. A candle represents some of humanity’s deepest needs and greatest achievements. We need warmth and we need light and with a candle we have that energy in our hand, we can carry light into darkness.

There is beauty and awe in a candle; the vulnerability of the flame, the power of the fire, and intrigue of holding this paradox in our hand. We have known this fascination since the first wick was ignited. More than 150 years ago Michael Faraday saw it too, but he saw so much more.

Faraday used the candle as the inspiration – indeed as the central character – of a series of six lectures at the Royal Institution, 'The Chemical History of a Candle'. Currently I am very happily directing a piece of theatre inspired by and based on Michael Faraday’s Christmas Lectures. Faraday was a fine science communicator, one who could see profound truths in the most humble of moments. He was a man who recognised the splendour of a good experiment and the power of a good question.

‘Faraday’s Candle’ is being produced by re-science and will be performed by Bernard Caleo, one of Melbourne’s most charismatic actors. It is a been a pleasure working with him, as always. We hope the show will be performed at various venues around Victoria in the coming months, but it all begins at St Paul’s Cathedral (corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets) on 20 and 21 May. Bookings are via Eventarc and I would encourage you to join us. 

Saving Science

Photo by Mary VailThe scientific community of Australia has been rattled by rumours that the National Health and Medical Research Council is to have its funding cut by close to 20% in the upcoming May budget. There is now a nervous wait to see if the federal government will really slash $400 million from the NHMRC.

Photo by Mary VailIt seems extraordinarily short-sighted that such a move would be considered, but what is perhaps more disturbing is that the government is unlikely to have developed any such plan without some research of their own. I assume there must have been some conversations, market research, focus group study or similar. If this is the case and the government’s considered opinion is that the Australian people will accept such an irresponsible act, I would be both surprised and very disappointed.

Participants in a recent ANU study rated their level of interest in health, medical discoveries, environmental issues, scientific discoveries and new inventions ahead of music, politics and sports news. In terms of their contribution to society, scientists were outranked only by doctors and teachers.

Photo by Mary VailAustralia has a rich history of scientific research and I’m pretty sure that the vast bulk of Australians would be outraged if they were aware of the mooted NHMRC Photo by Mary Vailfunding cut. The only fear is that they might not be aware and that it might slip quietly through in the background of the budget announcement. This is far less likely after rallies today in several Australian cities.

It’s rare that scientists protest, publically at least. They discuss and network; they debate and argue and sometimes they’ll even lobby, but public expressions of frustration, defiance and advocacy are very unusual. So when thousands of researchers take to the streets people should take notice and I think they will.

It was also pleasing to see the range of very clever posters and placards on display. I have included several of my favourites from the Melbourne rally here. I hope they give you a giggle and that the energy and creativity shown by our scientists may again be channelled into their work and appropriately supported by government.

Photo by Mary Vail
Photo by Mary Vail

All Roads Lead To Hell

Indexed's take on the seven deadly sinsThis is just a quick note to show you something fun. Having recently completed another season of 'Dante’s Laboratory', I was glad to have this clever bit of work from Indexed brought my attention. Click on the image on the right to enjoy it in all its glory and check out Jessica Hagy’s other offerings on the site.

Sounds of Sin

It's been more than a month since we completed the Adelaide Fringe season of 'Dante's Laboratory' and it just occurred to me that I never announced - at least on this site - that the soundtrack fom the show is available at Bandcamp.com. It's free to listen and if you want to download any of the tracks (or the whole album) it's one of those nifty pay what-you-think-it's-worth deals. 

Newton's Laws of Motion Sickness

Image by Daquella maneraRecently discovered in the Royal Society archives in London is a letter attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, in which he outlines three laws of motion sickness. Here they are.

First Law of Motion Sickness: the contents of a stomach will remain at rest unless there is an inconsistency between the motion sensed with the eyes and the motion otherwise sensed.

Second Law of Motion Sickness: the more dramatic and unpredictably changeable the conflict between what is seen and what is felt (see law 1), the shorter the delay between the sense of conflict and the movement of stomach contents and to some extent the vigour with which the contents of the stomach will tend to move. 

Third Law of Motion Sickness: the rate of movement of the stomach content as it leaves the stomach is proportional to the rate of movement of other people away from the stomach content. The movement of other’s near the ejection of stomach content is also proportional to the volume of stomach content and inversely proportional to the size of the vehicle.