Event: Science fans gather

Dr Derek Muller and Elise Andrew on stage
Thursday, 15 August, 2013
Deborah Smith

National Science Week opened on a high note with an evening of music, comedy and scientific insights at the world’s first IFLS Live! event, co-partnered by UNSW Science.

More than 600 people crowded into the Powerhouse Museum on Monday night to meet internationally famous online science communicators, including Canada-based Facebook star, Elise Andrew.

The show began with a rock song about electricity by Sydney physicist, Dr Derek Muller, of the Veritasium YouTube channel, and finished with a rendition of the periodic table of elements by Mitchell Moffitt and Gregory Brown of the AsapSCIENCE YouTube channel.

Elise Andrew’s I Fucking Love Science Facebook page is so popular, with more than 6.5 million “likes”, that when she links to other websites – even those of big scientific institutions – the high traffic load can crash their servers.

Her favourite cartoon, she told the audience, is a Tyrannosaurus rex with grabbing devices attached to its tiny arms, dubbed Unstoppable.  And she is partial as well to a cute image of otters holding hands when they sleep, captioned with the information that they also rape baby seals to death.

“Nature isn’t always cuddly. Nature is scary,” she said.

She can’t understand why exciting new discoveries don’t appear on the front pages of newspapers.

So, when she comes across a top science story that deserves a lot of attention, she makes it news herself.  “I put it on the front page of my “newspaper” and millions of people see it,” she said.

Australian Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt, gave an amusing talk, entitled “Everything you need to know when you win a Nobel Prize.”

He said he initially thought the phone call from Sweden alerting him to his win was a student hoax, and he recounted his experiences meeting the US President, Barack Obama, Irish musician, Bono, and conservative Australian commentator, Andrew Bolt.

He also encouraged the audience to lend their weight during the election campaign to the push to get science on the political agenda.

Animal sex also featured in the show, with Dr Carin Bondar of Wild Sex YouTube channel interviewed  by ABC presenter, Adam Spencer.

“It’s good to be female,” she told him, describing how male praying mantises have their heads devoured by their partners while still copulating.

Her description of a barnacle penis that is 40 times longer than the mollusc’s body was followed by a procession through the crowd of a similarly-sized human member made of pink material, carried by a team of helpers led by the doyen of science broadcasting, Robyn Williams.

Dr Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy, was among the presenters who expressed concern at the influence of those who deny evolution, misrepresent climate change science or are opposed to vaccination. “No creationist ever cracked the genetic code,” he said.

Science is about “not fooling ourselves”, and enjoying the "thrill of discovery", he said: “You can know something that no-one has ever known before - just you and your brain and the ability to think.”

Henry Reich, of MinutePhysics, sang a song about why the night sky is dark and Destin Sandlin, of SmarterEveryDay, demonstrated a high-speed camera. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, of the University of Sydney, gave a wide-ranging and amusing presentation and UNSW’s Dr Justine Rogers starred in a funny video spoof about science communication.

The event was attended by eight UNSW scientists, including the Dean, Professor Merlin Crossley, who discussed their research with members of the audience during the intervals.

IFLS Live! was organised by ScienceAlert, a popular Australian science website, and Ms Andrew announced that, based on its Sydney success, two more similar events will be held soon in New York and Toronto.