Monday 13 August, 2012 – National Science Week

13 08 2012

The BIG Questions!

For National Science Week BrisScience is presenting The BIG Questions in science! At this special, ninety minute, event you will see not one, but four, scientists present some of the BIG questions in their fields of research! This event will inspire and amaze, and is an evening not to miss!

Global Food Security: What Does it Mean for Australian Agriculture? 

Dr Graham Bonnett, CSIRO

With the global population to reach around 9 billion by 2050 the demand for food will increase by at least 50%. The types of food demanded will also change including an increase in animal products. This level of increase has been delivered in the past by agriculture. In the future more nutrients, water, land and energy consumption, key components of the previous increased productivity, will not be available.  So how will we produce more from less and what will this mean for Australian Agriculture?

Dr Graham Bonnett is an agricultural scientist and currently leads the Advancing Agricultural Productivity and Environmental Health research theme of CSIRO’s Sustainable Agricultural Flagship. Graham received his doctorate, focused on the mobilisation of stem reserves in barley, from The University of Leeds. After moving to Australia 20 years ago, Graham has based himself in Melbourne, Canberra, Townsville and most recently Brisbane, and is keenly aware of Australia’s leading role in world agriculture. Graham was awared the Queensland-Smithsonian Fellowship and is currently a member of the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee (GTTAC) that advises the Office of the Gene Technology regulator.


Personal Genomics: How Long Before Science Fiction Becomes Science Reality?

Dr Emma Huang, CSIRO

In 1997 the movie GATTACA explored a world in which genomic knowledge is ubiquitous, where children are selected based on their DNA, and a person’s genotype can determine their course in life. In 2001, the Human Genome Project was completed, and the price of sequencing a person’s entire genome has dropped dramatically since. While our world is clearly not yet that “not-too-distant future”, genetic information is now easily accessible. But what can we do with it? Is science fiction yet science reality or do we still have a long way to go?

Dr. Emma Huang is a statistical geneticist and research scientist with CSIRO Mathematics, Informatics and Statistics. She received her doctorate in Biostatistics from the University of North Carolina in 2007 developing methods to map association between genes and disease in humans. Since moving to Brisbane in 2007, her research has focused on modernizing genetic analysis in crop plants such as sugarcane and wheat. Dr Huang has received numerous awards in her career, including the Reynolds and Fryer Fellowships during her Ph.D. research; the Gertrude Cox Scholarship from the American Statistical Association; and an International Science Linkages Grant from the Australian Academy of Sciences. In 2011 she was awarded the Julius Career Award from CSIRO and a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award from the Australian Research Council to address the need for statistical methods to help produce wheat varieties that will contribute to Australian food security.

Quantum Mechanics: the Dreams Stuff is Made Of

A/Prof Ben Powell, The University of Queensland

Quantum mechanics is often said to describe the physics of the very small, such as atoms. This is the truth, but not the whole truth. As we add atoms to create larger systems, quantum behaviour still exists, and is observed in large, macroscopic materials. However, although we can describe the quantum world of the atom, scientists have discovered new quantum behaviours in large systems, many of which, such as high-temperature superconductivity, are not yet understood. This talk will present the big questions in quantum condensed matter physics, and describe how the answer to these questions will be the basis of a new age of technology.

Ben is an Associate Professor at the University of Queensland. His award winning research focuses on novel quantum effects that happen when many electrons interact with one another. This has led him to study a wide variety of materials ranging from fundamental questions in superconductors and magnets; applied research in organic solar cells and organic light-emitting diodes; and even biological materials and quantum computers. Ben gained both his MSc and PhD from the University of Bristol before moving to Queensland. At UQ he has held two prestigious fellowships, firstly an Australian Research Council (ARC) Post Doctoral fellowship and now an ARC Queen Elizabeth II fellowship.

You from around here? Defining introduced biota and potential impacts in Antarctica

Dr James Smith, Queensland University of Technology

The Madrid Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty prohibits introduction of non-native organisms to Antarctica. This was originally applied to macro-organisms, such as dogs and rabbits. Over time, focus has turned to smaller and progressively more difficult organisms to control and assess, such as insects and seeds. Antarctic operations discharge of often minimally-, or un-treated wastewater into the marine environment has raised the issue of whether associated wastewater/sewage microorganisms constitute non-natives, and what defines non-native at the level of complex, often diverse environmental microbial populations. Dr James Smith will discuss the big questions for Antarctic policy that science is trying to answer.

Prof James Smith completed his PhD in microbiology from Montana State University in 1995 while working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Dr Smith has worked on applied water, soil, food and air microbiology and chemistry issues in the US, Antarctica, Sweden, Brazil, New Zealand and Australia. He has acted in a research and consulting capacity for the US, NZ and Australian Antarctic programmes since 1991. He has held positions as owner and quality assurance manager of an analytical and consulting microbiology laboratory, and as a university academic in applied environmental microbiology and chemistry and quality assurance. Project areas include Antarctic environmental monitoring and impact assessment, marine cyanotoxin monitoring risk assessment and dispersion, microbial biocontrol, industrial and agricultural bioaerosol emission and transport, material biofouling, bioaerosol monitoring, quality assurance, microbial and chemical risk assessment and applied biogeochemistry.


  • Time: 6:30 – 8:00pm, Monday 13 August, 2012
  • Venue: Long Room, Customs House at Riverside
  • Arrangements: Doors open at 6pm. No need to book – just show up!
  • Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the talk, where all speakers will be available to answer any questions
  • Questions? For any further information please contact Andrew.

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