Scientists on stage and screen (our actual Dramatis Scientificae)
We have had many scientists perform in our plays, The Poet’s Guide to Science and Rumpelstiltskin and the Case of the Missing Research Grants, and in our online videos.
We would like to thank the following scientists for the immense contribution they have made to our work.
[NB the external links to their names are current as of 2019, thence at the time of their work with us]
Australian Capital Territory
Venues: Smith’s Alternative @Smiths_Alt; Questacon @questacon
Associate Professor Susan Scott
Susan Scott has made ground-breaking discoveries in the fields of general relativity and gravitational wave science. Her theoretical work includes advancing our understanding of both singularities and the global structure of space-time. Professor Scott has also been a pioneer in the analysis of astrophysical signatures in gravitational wave experiments. She has recently won the top science prize in Australia.
As an Associate Research Physicist (i.e. post-doc) in the Theory Department at PPPL, I work closely with the Advanced Projects Department to investigate and advance theoretical understanding of nonlinear magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) phenomena in stellarator plasmas.
Associate Professor Nerilie Abram
My research focuses on how the Earth’s climate has behaved over the last millennium, and what that tells us about the climate changes we are seeing now. The past climate records that I develop come from corals, caves and ice cores, and I combine these with climate model data to study climate changes.
My research is supported by ARC-funded projects through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, and through an ARC Future Fellowship. I’m actively involved in a number of the international reconstruction teams for the Past Global Changes 2k projects, and a Coordinating Lead Author for the IPCC special report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.
Harry Sutton – I am a 3rd Year PhD student at the John Curtin School of Medical research, studying how your immune system responds to Plasmodium, the parasite that causes the disease Malaria. I was born and raised in Canberra and completed my undergrad at ANU. I rounded off my undergrad experience with my honours year, where I studied how B cells (an important type of immune cell) respond to malaria vaccines. I enjoyed the research I did in that year so much, I decided to stay on and complete a PhD in the same lab.
As well as scientific achievements such as journal publications and conference presentations, I have been actively involved in the local sci comm scene in Canberra. In my hopefully successful attempts to explain the importance of my research to the general Canberra community, I have presented at Pint of Science and spoken on the Fuzzy Logic podcast as well as writing an article of the Ask Fuzzy column in the Canberra times.
Dr Anne-Sophie Dielen is a scientist/feminist/enthusiastic baker/parent/fan of bad puns. She started her career as a plant scientist, trying to help farmers grow better crops. Why? Because her grandfather was a master storyteller when it came to sharing memories of growing up on a small farm in the north east of France… After ten years of research and moving to Australia, she realised that she could help farmers and local communities even more by working in science policy and communication. She has recently joined CropLife Australia as their Director of Crop Biotechnology Policy.
Professor Ross Thompson is Director and Chair of Water Science in the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra. Ross is a freshwater ecologist with interests in the study of biodiversity and the restoration of landscapes. His fundamental research is in food web ecology; seeking the rules that determine how natural communities assemble and persist. His applied research addresses the ways in which food webs can be influenced by anthropogenic factors including urbanisation, land clearance, pharmaceutical contamination, river flow diversion and restoration, and invasion. He has an active research program on aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem function in urban and rural landscapes. Ross has published more than 90 papers, 10 book chapters and more than 200 scientific reports. He sits on the Australian Research Council College of Experts and has recently stepped down from the NZ Marsden Panel. His work has strong links to government and industry, and Ross sits on a number of senior technical advisory panels for local, state and federal research programs.
Dr Rebecca Colvin is a social scientist and knowledge exchange specialist with the Climate Change Institute at ANU. Bec’s research interest is in how groups of people interact with each other – especially in settings of social and political conflict – with regard to climate and environmental issues. Much of this work has a focus on the dynamics of formalised processes for including citizens and stakeholders in decision-making, and leverages on perspectives from social psychology to understand the complexities of people and process. Recent research projects have included the study of conflict about wind energy development, the psychological underpinnings of a constructive governance regime for negative emissions, the role of trust between climate researchers and policy-makers, and the relationship between aggregate public opinion and conflict in environmental messaging. At the Climate Change Institute, Bec’s role is to facilitate the strengthening of links between climate change researchers and end users of the research. Before joining the ANU Climate Change Institute in 2017, Bec undertook a PhD and lectured with The University of Queensland.
Anukriti Mathur currently works at the Immunology Department, Australian National University. Anukriti does research in innate immunity and infectious diseases. Her most recent publication is ‘Molecular mechanisms of inflammasome signaling’ in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
Dr Tory Clarke is a plant molecular biologist and early career researcher at The Australian National University. Her research uses cutting edge technologies in molecular biology, proteomics and physiology to elucidate the fundamental properties of plants. Tory’s research focuses on genetically engineering more productive plants to feed a growing world population by delivering more food for our investment, while preserving our natural ecosystems.
Tory has a diverse plant science research background, researching in areas such as plant hormone biosynthesis, legume nodulation and nitrogen allocation in plant leaf cells. She obtained her B.Biotech (Hon) at the University of Tasmania in 2008 and her PhD in Plant Molecular Biology at the University of Sydney in 2014. She completed a short post-doc at Macquarie University where she used proteomics to determine absolute quantification of cellular protein components in native Australian plant leaves.
Tory joined the ANU in 2017 where she has worked as part of the Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis and the International Wheat Yield Partnership. She is a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates-funded Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) consortium, an international collaboration that is engineering plants to photosynthesize more efficiently and address global food security challenges.
Tory is passionate about communicating science and being a STEM role model through her outreach work.
Matthew Witney is a 2nd year Immunology PhD student at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, studying how the human body recognises viral infection. In particular, he studies the vaccine that was used to help eradicate smallpox (although he doesn’t use the smallpox virus!) to try to understand why this vaccine worked so well. This vaccine was so effective that even 80 years after some people were vaccinated, the effects of the vaccine likely still protected against infection! In 2015, Matthew competed in the international Genetically Modified Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston, where his team was awarded a Bronze Medal. In his spare time, he plays violin with ensembles such as Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
Meena Sritharan is a PhD student at the Australian National University with a strong interest in plant ecology.
Her research focuses on plant rarity. She is interested in understanding what factors influence plant rarity and commonness in different ecosystems, and hopes to use this knowledge to aid threatened species management.
Ultimately, she aims to provide a practical example of how exploring purely intriguing, ecological questions (such as ‘what makes a species rare?’) is not only meant to satisfy one’s curiosity but can also be important and applicable in the realms of ecology, management, and conservation. “Curiosity-driven research,” she says, “can and does play an important role in society, even if we may not see its impacts in the short term. After all, Charles Darwin and Agnes Robertson Arber (an 18th-century female botanist) produced fundamental contributions to the fields of ecology and biology by simply exploring their interests.”
Dr Ed Simpson is a physicist at the Australian National University researching nuclear reactions and their applications. He completed his PhD in nuclear theory at the University of Surrey in 2009, and has since held research positions at the University of Surrey, the University of York, and the Australian National University. He was winner of the inaugural UK Institute of Physics Nuclear Physics Group Prize, and recipiant of a 2018 Young Tall Poppies Award. He has won two ARC Discovery Project Grants and computer time from the National Computational Infrastructure.
His research spans the theory and measurement of nuclear collisions, applied to a wide range of topics including:
- Nuclear fusion
- Nuclear structure
- Radiation effects in space
- Proton and hadron beam cancer therapy
Venues: Powerhouse Museum; Sly Fox, Enmore
Catharina Vendl is a wildlife health researcher and science communicator in the Inter-Disciplinary Ecology and Evolution Lab (I-deel) at the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre in the School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Science (BEES).
Janet Salem, Economic Affairs Officer, Circular Economy, Sustainable Urban Development Section, Environment and Development Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
Janet Salem has over 13 years of experience working in circular economy and sustainability at the United Nations. She is passionate about developing sustainability strategies that capture market opportunities and is committed to shared value solutions that reduce resource use, waste, carbon emissions, while increasing economic growth, jobs, and revenue for businesses and governments.
Janet manages projects on technology and circular economy innovation at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Previously, she designed and launched the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge, a start up competition for entrepreneurs in low carbon mobility, energy and plastic waste prevention, as well as the Asia, Circular Economy Leadership Programme.
She is currently completing a PhD in Integrated Sustainability Analysis at the University of Sydney.
Saoirse Connor Desai is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Sydney Thinking and Reasoning (STAR) Lab. Her research focuses on the cognitive processes involved in human reasoning and judgment. People increasingly face snippets of information that they must combine to arrive at a judgment or decision (e.g. deciding whom to vote in an election, issues surrounding climate change). Are people sensitive to ways in information was initially generated? Moreover, do people take into account the reliability of the information and its source? A key goal is of Saoirse’s research is to apply rigorous experimental approaches to questions concerning real-world problems. A central theme of her work has been to examine the effectiveness of corrections to misinformation and the cognitive processes involved in successful (and unsuccessful) corrections.
Dr Miguel Hernandez-Prieto conducts research on Photosynthesis at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis.
Researchers at the centre work together to guarantee a future without global famine.
His work focuses specifically on the role of photosynthetic pigments in the adaptation to different environments.
During his career, he has worked at Universities in the USA, Sweden, and Portugal. His accent gives away his Spanish origin.
Professor Robert Booy is a medical graduate of the University of Queensland (1984) and trained in Paediatrics at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Brisbane. He held a range of positions in the UK including Professor of Child Health with the University of London; Lecturer in Paediatric Infections at St Marys Hospital, London; Research Fellow with the University of Oxford; and was the recipient of a Wellcome training fellowship in epidemiology focusing on genetic factors important in meningococcal disease.
Professor Booy’s research interests extend from understanding the genetic basis of susceptibility to, and severity of, infectious diseases especially influenza, RSV and invasive disease caused by encapsulated organisms; the clinical, public-health and social burden of these diseases; and meanReadabilitys by which to prevent or control serious infections through vaccines, drugs and non-pharmaceutical measures in both children and adults.
Over the past 15 years, Professor Booy has been increasingly recognised as an expert in the respiratory virus field, supervising many studies addressing the burden and prevention of influenza disease in children and adults in the UK, Australia and among Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. In addition he has led intervention studies with new vaccines, new vaccine delivery methods and alternate methods for preventing disease and transmission such as antivirals and personal protective equipment.
Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick is a senior research associate, 2014 DECRA, 2018 Future Fellow awardee in the Climate Change Research Centre at UNSW. Sarah has undertaken two postdocs at the CSIRO division of Marine and Atmospheric Research, as well as the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. Due to her research activities and communication profile, Sarah was named a 2013 NSW Young Tall Poppy. Her research interests reside in temperature extremes, namely heatwaves. Sarah has investigated trends in heatwaves both globally and over Australia, as well as exploring the role of human activity behind such changes. Her research program includes understanding future changes in heatwaves, and how they may be driven by humans, as well as meteorological systems and natural climate phenomena.
Professor Matthew England is currently a Scientia Professor of Climate Dynamics at the University of New South Wales. He has previously held an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship and was one of the founding Directors of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC)(2006 – 2012). He was the Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science during 2017-2018. In 2014 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and in 2016 a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.
Professor England obtained his PhD in physical oceanography and climate modelling from the University of Sydney in 1992 after being awarded the University Medal and 1st Class Honours from the same University in 1987. After completing an EU Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France during 1992-1994, he worked as a Research Scientist at CSIRO within the Climate Change Research Program during 1994-1995. Since 1995 he has lectured in the physics of the ocean and climate system at the University of New South Wales, where he was awarded an ARC Federation Fellowship in 2005 and an ARC Laureate Fellowship in 2010. In 2006 he established the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre together with Professor Andy Pitman. The CCRC became the host institution for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science in 2011.
He held a Fulbright Scholarship at Princeton University during 1990 and a CSIRO Flagship Fellowship in 2005. He coordinated and led the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists; a major international statement by the scientific community that specifies the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to minimise the risk of dangerous human-induced climate change. He was the convening lead author of the 2009 Copenhagen Diagnosis. He is a former Co-Chair of the CLIVAR Southern Ocean regional panel, and was a contributing author and reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Second and Third Assessment Reports.
Professor England’s expertise covers the dynamics of the oceans and their role in climate variability and climate change on time-scales of seasons to millennia.
Professor Nicholas Wood is a staff specialist general paediatrician and Associate Professor and Academic Lead (Higher Degree Research) in the Discipline of Child and Adolescent Health at The University of Sydney. He holds an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship. He leads the NSW Immunisation Specialist Service and coordinates the Immunisation Adverse Events Clinic at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. He is interested in maternal and neonatal immunisation, as well as research into vaccine safety, including genetics and long-term outcomes of adverse events following immunisation.
Dr Michael Leach – Adjunct Research Associate, School of Rural Health, Monash University
Dr Michael Leach is a Bendigo-based statistician, researcher, and freelance writer and poet. He works across hospital, university, and government settings at the Loddon Mallee Integrated Cancer Service within Bendigo Health, the Monash University School of Rural Health, and Cancer Australia. He holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy, a Graduate Certificate of Science (Applied Statistics), a Master of Biostatistics, and a PhD in Pharmacy. Michael is also a Certified Health Informatician Australasia (CHIA) with the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA). His research interests encompass the sciences and the humanities, from pharmacoepidemiology to science poetry. Michael has published research papers in scientific journals, such as Drugs – Real World Outcomes and Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, as well as poetry in both scientific and literary journals, including the Medical Journal of Australia and Cordite Poetry Review. His website is Images of Health: http://imagesofhealth.wordpress.com
Dr Kumi de Silva is a Senior Research Fellow at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science. She is an immunologist and an advocate for equity and active inclusion. She earned her undergraduate degree and a University Medal from the University of Canberra and her doctorate from the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University. Her research career started with an interest in immune cell migration in response to oxidised lipids in atherosclerosis and subsequently in burn injury in humans, and now focuses on immune cell responses to infectious diseases in ruminants.
Annie Handmer is a Masters of Science (History and Philosophy of Science). She is researching how science is carried out in extreme environments under international law. She is currently investigating the interface between science, society, and military activities in space.
Tom Gordon has a Masters in Space Studies (MSS) from the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France, and a Graduate Diploma of Scientific Communication from the Australian National University (ANU). He has begun a PhD in Physics education focusing on Inquiry Oriented Learning in Secondary, Tertiary and outreach program with the Sydney University Physics Education Research (SUPER) group.
Venues: Rob Roy Hotel
Associate Professor Paul Willis’ career in science communications has seen him on television across the country with the ABC and acting as Director at the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus). His Directorship of RiAus spanned 6 years during which he established Australia’s Science Channel. Paul spent fourteen years with the ABC as a dedicated science reporter mostly on the TV science program Catalyst.
Paul has spent time as a museum curator in natural history and a live presenter of science to early-aged school children. He’s acted as an expert guide for tour companies operating in Antarctica and western USA and has authored several books on geology, palaeontology and natural history themes.
Paul’s PhD looked at Australian fossil crocodiles after a double major in geology and zoology. He currently owns and runs his own research media company, Media Engagement Services.
Professor Paul Ward is Professor and Head of Public Health and Coordinator of the PhD Program at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University. He is a sociologist with a PhD from the University of Manchester in the UK. Of relevance to this show, he conducts lots of research about public trust in different healthcare services across the Asia Pacific, and has a large ongoing national study on parental trust in childhood vaccinations.
Professor Helen Marshall MBBS DCH MPH MD is a medical researcher and NHMRC Practitioner Fellow with specialist training in child health, public health and vaccinology having completed a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, Doctorate of Medicine, Master of Public Health and Diploma in Child Health and the Advanced Vaccinology Course at the Pasteur Merieux Institute, France. She is Professor in Vaccinology in the Adelaide Medical School and is the Deputy Director of the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, Senior Medical Practitioner and Director of the research unit, VIRTU, at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
She is a member of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which makes recommendations to the Health Minister on immunisation. Her main interest is in meningococcal disease and vaccines. In recognition of her research excellence she was awarded NHMRC’s “10 of the Best” research projects in 2016 and the South Australia Science Award for Excellence in Research for the Public Good. Her greatest inspiration comes from her 3 beautiful children and from the opportunity to improve child health through evidence based research.
Dr Pallave Dasari is a senior postdoctoral fellow in the Breast Biology & Cancer Unit at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and University of Adelaide. Her research focuses on the immunological underpinnings of breast cancer risk, specifically how the immune system in the breast switches off so it can’t destroy any lurking pre-cancerous cells. She is also a science communicator, convening the Science in the Pub Adelaide series and was named as one of 30 “Superstars of STEM” in a new initiative of Science and Technology Australia in 2017. Pallave has also recently completed a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University.
Professor Rachel Burton is based at the Waite Campus, University of Adelaide where she is the Head of the Plant Science Department. She is a molecular biologist, passionate about plant cell walls, dietary fibre, weird crops and biofuels. She was one of the inaugural Superstars of STEM and loves communicating her science to the public.
Dr Nicole Hellessey (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
I have previously worked on large scale and complex datasets. My masters was on fine-scale diving behaviour of Antarctic Fur seals in relation to mesoscale features. My current research is on Antarctic Krill lipids and how they change seasonally, spatially and with environmental variables. I am interested in the Antarctic ecosystem as a whole and how it interacts and feeds back into the environment.
Associate Professor Emily Baird (Stockholm, Sweden)
My research program is focussed on understanding the link between the visual world of animals and how the brain uses visual information to guide behaviour in different environments. To do this, I take a comparative approach that uses a combination of behavioural experiments and anatomical analyses using X-ray micro computed-tomography using bumblebees and dung beetles as primary model systems.
Dr Rajika Kuruwita (Copenhagen, Denmark)
I am a Sri Lankan born Australian astrophysicist. I received my Bachelor of Science (majoring in Astronomy and Astrophysics) and Master of Research (majoring in Physics and Astronomy) from Macquarie University. I completed my PhD at the Australian National University. I am currently a Postdoctorate Researcher at the University of Copenhagen
My master’s thesis research consisted of hydrodynamical simulations of the fall back of bound material onto binary star systems undergoing common envelope evolution.
My PhD research is focused on the formation and evolution of discs in binary star systems. My PhD research primarily consists of ideal MHD simulations with FLASH of binary star formation. I also have an observational component focused on creating a census of the fraction of proto-planetary discs hosted by young binary stars in various star forming regions.
In my current work I continue to investigate multiple star formation and disc evolution in binaries via simulations.
We would like to thank all the experts who have taken part in our shows and films for donating their time and inspiring our audiences in all things science and arts.