Collection of profiles I’ve written.
Profile: Dr John Raison, published on World Wide Day in Science website, May 2009
Talking about a whole lot of gas… Greenhouse gas accounting with Dr John Raison
When the world is talking about trading greenhouse gas emissions and swapping gas for money, who do you talk to? The people figuring out how to measure it all!
One of these people is Dr John Raison, a chief research scientist with CSIRO in Canberra. Dr Raison’s specialty is managing Australia’s native forests – their nutrient cycles, their growth, and how they are affected by fire.
Dr Raison became interested in soil science doing agricultural science at high school, with the help of a great science teacher. He went into a rural science degree, which led him to projects looking at the effects of fire on forest soils.
After his degrees, Dr Raison was offered a job at CSIRO in forestry. ‘I learnt all my forestry and ecology on the job,’ he says. This furthered his interest in natural systems and forests.
Dr Raison’s early career involved lots of work outdoors then in the lab, measuring the physical and chemical properties of soil and plants in forests. This can tell scientists how water, nutrients and carbon interact to help trees grow.
Since 1999, Dr Raison has worked with governments to develop carbon accounting systems. Measuring greenhouse gas emissions is the first step in the process of reporting and trading gases, which will help to reduce climate change.
Dr Raison’s work can be very different day to day – today he led training for Tanzanian scientists learning about carbon accounting systems. Other days can involve going to meetings and doing project planning.
Even now, Dr Raison enjoys being in forests doing a few days of fieldwork. Other days can see him analysing new data and writing for the next scientific paper or book. ‘I think that is one of the beauties of a scientific career; it can be incredibly variable and interesting,’ he says.
Dr Raison says that making an enduring contribution to knowledge is one of the most satisfying parts of science. ‘Over your career, you can see the progress you’ve made compared with a lot of professions where things come and go,’ he says.
So the next time you’re talking fires or gases – keep Dr Raison’s climate change and forestry work in mind!
Profile: Heather Stevens, published on Econnect Communication website, April 2010
Remember those red-haired guys in the movie Braveheart? Their real-life counterparts were in line for a Scottish throne, and it turns out my family is related to them! Those ancestors date back to 60AD – I’ve uncovered that by researching my family’s genealogy.
Family history is a strong hobby and influence for me. I’ve followed in the footsteps of more recent relatives too, teaching music to children in a 5-generation tradition.
After moving back to Brisbane from running my own bookkeeping business in Toowoomba, I enjoy managing Econnect’s quiet, leafy office.
I feel very fortunate to have seen the incredible diversity and beauty of Australia’s landscapes. Over a 2-year work and travel journey, I travelled through the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
Fortunately, my favourite spot is close by: the Sunshine Coast’s relaxed township of Mooloolaba.
Now, I dream of visiting the north of France, and Scotland, with its family ties. In the meantime, I enjoy live music, theatre, and art exhibitions.
Profile: Sarah Cole, published on Econnect Communication website, April 2010
I always knew what I wanted to do. At 10 years old, it was chemical engineering. I’m sure I had very little idea what that was about; I just knew I’d be ‘doing’ science.
Here I am 17 years later, with an undergrad degree in neuroscience and psychology: a neophyte science communicator, learning the trade as an intern at Econnect.
In 2009, I started a Master in science communication at The University of Queensland, one of only three places in Australia you can do this. Isn’t that a shame?
I wonder how long it will be until Australia catches up with the UK and US, where science communication jobs, courses and institutions abound.
My passion is communicating the ‘wow’ of science to people – and there are so many moments and phenomena like that. Our natural world is so fascinating and complex, even before you include humans in that picture; I think that’s why I like the natural science ‘wows’ that little bit more than recent technological feats.
However, I do find gravity an inconvenient natural phenomenon at times. I love to rock climb (badly), ride down (then up) hills on my bike, swim laps to ‘zen out’ in the local pool, read lots of things I know nothing about to keep learning, and dream of the science blog I’ll start one day when I’m not quite so busy!
Profile: Dr Nick Menicucci, published on World Wide Day in Science website, May 2010
Star Trek science – for real!
“I was in high school when I started to realise that the technology in shows like Star Trek could be real.”
Nick Menicucci, a quantum physicist at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, has always loved science fiction – books, TV shows, you name it.
“I talked to my high-school physics teacher about sci-fi. He told me I should check out Einstein’s theory of relativity. Once I saw the maths behind the ideas, it was amazingly simple – but still mind-boggling!” Nick says.
“After I did a physics degree at uni, I realised I enjoyed doing research.” He has a funny way of describing the research process: “It’s a bit like panning for gold. You know something’s there, and when you get something significant, it’s really worthwhile. But sometimes ideas that seem good end up leading nowhere.”
However, it’s not just a hard slog, and it’s definitely not just random effort. Nick says, “It takes a lot of creativity and intuition. You don’t actually know before you start if something will be there – you have to go on your experience and trust your gut.”
Nick thinks his regular day might seem a little strange to some – but it can also be convenient since he works with researchers overseas. “The freedom means I get to wake up late – I’m not a morning person. So my workday starts with lunch.”
But that means his workday doesn’t have a specific finish time – nor does his week. Sometimes he works late at night or on weekends. “The cool part of the crazy schedule is working with people on the other side of the planet,” he says.
I asked Nick about an example of a physics problem he might tackle. “I’m working right now on building a computer out of laser beams – not using lasers in a computer; the laser beams are the computer itself!”
Some of his work is much more like science fiction: “I’m also researching what effect time machines would have on our lives. It’s crazy stuff, but it’s not fantasy. And that’s what I love about it.”
Nick says physics is a great field for someone who is good at maths. “Ever since I was young, I’ve always wanted to know how things work and why they are the way they are. That’s all you really need to be interested in physics.”