Reflections on 2023 National Science Week

card game on a table

What an incredible journey 2023 National Science Week has been! The response to the national campaign has been nothing short of amazing, and our major cities and regional areas witnessed a fantastic turnout at more than 150 public events and programs. Here, I’ll share some personal reflections from my second year as Manager of Inspiring Australia NSW.

Indigenous science

One of the standout features of this year’s program for me was the important focus on Indigenous science and knowledge woven into numerous programs. Events like the National Indigenous Science Experience at Redfern were a true celebration of Indigenous science alongside Western science. It was ably hosted by Indigenous students from Macquarie University and showcased the richness of Indigenous knowledge. Additionally, TIPIAC‘s webinars provided excellent educational resources for schools and teachers, offering insights into Indigenous knowledge that can still be viewed online.

However, what truly stood out were the two innovative events funded by Inspiring NSW. The Sydney Institute of Marine Science’s panel discussion on “Indigenous Knowledge and Marine Science in Gamay (Botany Bay)” was so popular that they had to set up a marquee outside the venue to accommodate the enthusiastic community. The robust discussions highlighted the challenges of integrating Western science into the management of environmental threats to biodiversity on Country, and why this is essential not only to their community, but to all of us.

In Central West NSW, Wyangala at the Corridor Project offered a unique weekend of Indigenous science immersion. Guided by artist and cultural educator Aleshia Lonsdale, participants delved into local First Nations knowledge, exploring topics such as fire, food, weapons, and kinship within her community. The stories and knowledge shared left a lasting impact on everyone involved.

Western Sydney

I was delighted by the fantastic family-friendly offerings in Western Sydney this year, and the impressive turnout reflected the appetite for science in the suburbs.

Science in the Scrub at Western Sydney Parklands drew more than 8,000 people of all ages, who engaged with scientists from our universities and leading research institutions. From bugs and reptiles to the awe-inspiring Erth dinosaurs, it was a day filled with wonder. The Meet a Scientist stalls were bustling with eager children declaring, “I want to be a scientist!” The scientists were thrilled with the positive reactions to their demonstrations, igniting curiosity in the next generation.

The Powerhouse’s Family Science Day at Parramatta was equally impressive, attracting another crowd of 8,000+ to Parramatta Square and PHIVE. The extensive program of stalls, demonstrations and shows exceeded expectations, creating an electrifying atmosphere that radiated excitement and interest.

The Australian Museum and Botanic Gardens expanded their Sydney Science Trail to southwest Sydney with their first Community Day at the Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan. Centred around the National Herbarium of New South Wales and the Australian PlantBank buildings on site, there was ample space for families to enjoy tours, shows, demonstrations, and talks, and science truly came to life.

We’ve seen that the kids of Western Sydney are hungry for science, and we’re committed to delivering more!

Citizen Science in the regions

While there were excellent events and programs across NSW, the regional events focused on citizen science truly struck a chord in engaging local communities in the scientific process.

In Northern NSW, the Border Ranges Richmond Valley Landcare Network hosted a panel on “Sounds of the Bush,” featuring local scientists monitoring frogs, owls, and koalas. Advances in technology have made it easier for the entire community to participate in monitoring efforts. The event concluded with a call to action for a catchment-wide koala monitoring program. It kicked off their wonderful Boodahbee – Festival of the Koala now on over the month of September.

Thanks to a Science Week grant, the Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP) offered a free scientific workshop on monitoring microplastics on beaches to locals in the Illawarra. Thirty enthusiastic locals learned the necessary scientific methods and are now eager to share their knowledge with their community and start collecting data.

In Bellingen, OzGreen host a Riverwatch macroinvertebrate monitoring program, the largest of its kind in Australia. With grant support, they offered free ” Wise Waterbugs” workshops during National Science Week to the community, even engaging grandparents and children at the local preschool. The kids discovered the importance of small water bugs in understanding river system health.

On the far South Coast, the Bega River and Wetlands Landcare, along with the Atlas of Life, hosted a beginner’s workshop on iNaturalist. Local botanists led a “walk, record, and ID” session along the Bega River Reserve, sparking immense interest within the community.

National Science Week serves as a focal point for these citizen science programs, reinforcing grassroots initiatives that strengthen communities and connect people to the science in their everyday lives.

Universities, Research Institutes and Centres for Excellence

Our universities delivered outstanding programs across NSW during National Science Week, showcasing their commitment to communicating research and engaging broader audiences. They embraced a holistic approach by incorporating engineering, health, and medicine into the Science Week program, epitomizing STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine).

UNSW Centre for Ideas hosted four evening events featuring local researchers and international guests, exploring intriguing topics like rewilding. UNSW alumni and reservist NASA astronaut Meganne Christian captivated audiences and media attention.

The University of Sydney filled Sydney Town Hall with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki in conversation with some of the the leading innovative researchers at the university.

The University of Wollongong introduced a new format with a “Science Showcase”, including a night of Indigenous Science at the Science Space and an Open Day at its Shoalhaven Campus, which was a resounding success.

UNE’s Discovery outreach team ventured out to local markets and shopping centres in Armidale, delighting families and shoppers alike.

ARC Centres for Excellence demonstrated a strong commitment to science communication and education during Science Week. The “National Quantum & Dark Matter Road Trip”, hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems made a grand journey through 24 cities and towns. They engaged schools, libraries, pubs, and community hubs, unraveling the mysteries of dark matter and quantum science.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology unveiled a novel synthetic biology-inspired card game, “Remediate!” Players used synthetic biology to create microbes that devour plastic. This interactive approach reached schools, pubs, and community groups during National Science Week and was a resounding success. (See feature images above!)

Our research institutions were a hive of activity during Science Week. The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) partnered with the Powerhouse Sydney Science Festival for a series of enlightening talks. The Hunter Medical Research Institute’s “Poo Palace,” an inflatable digestive system exhibit, educated audiences of all ages about the importance of gut health and was a highlight of the Hunter Science Festival.

One standout initiative this year was the captivating program on museum conservation by the Chau Chak Wing Museum, in collaboration with Sydney Analytical. The program delved into the incredible technological advancements transforming material analysis in museums, leaving visitors enlightened by the fascinating world of preservation.

These are just a few of the themes that defined 2023 National Science Week. From Lismore to Newcastle, Rhodes to Wollondilly, I attended events across the region and was continually impressed by the passion of the presenters, the professionalism of the organisers, and everyone’s shared commitment to celebrating and communicating science.

Lastly, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to our dedicated volunteers. A group of science students from the University of Sydney dedicated a Saturday to volunteer at the “Science of Nature” day, a wonderful new event at Sydney City Farm in Sydney Park. Many of them had never heard of this hidden gem in the heart of Sydney, but they embraced the experience wholeheartedly, sharing their passion and enthusiasm for science with the community.

Blog by Meredith Hall, Manager, Inspiring Australia NSW