I grew up in the southern state of a country in the Southern Hemisphere, South Australia. No geography confusion there. At the moment I’m living in the northernmost region of another country in the same hemisphere, which means I’m living in the north, even though for most of the world with internet access it’s still the south. However from my perspective, and that of Chileans, Arica is a northern extremity. It’s also extreme thanks to its exceptionally dry climate, which trumps that of my home town, Adelaide, which is also noted for aridity.
Arica is also an interesting place to be right now because Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, popped up this week for a celebration. The occasion was the day during the War of the Pacific (not to be confused with the Pacific War), when Chile took this region from Peru. Or more specifically, a big rock by the beach in Arica.
You might ask what I’m doing here, besides brushing up on South American history and international relations and taking South American Spanish classes. Despite reaching intermediate level in Spain, I needed classes because the language on this continent is different. So much so that I’m reading a book called “How to survive in the Chilean jungle,” which is not a guide to a jungle at all (I’m on the edge of the Atacama Desert), but rather the vocabulary unique to this skinny but vast nation.
As well as polishing my thesis I’ve been editing on a series of videos. They’re for one of the research institutes based at the University of Adelaide I’ve worked with before, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. You can see one here. I filmed the content before I left the country. I have my camera with me, so you can expect content from South America down the track.
I leave for Chile this Saturday! So forgive me for being brief, but I still have much packing and organising to do. Over the next month you can expect updates on my travel blog about the big move and my first experiences in South America.
This post is mostly to share the slides from my presentation at the Royal Institute of Australia on Monday night. It was great to discuss some issues from my thesis with other members of Australian Science Communicators (ASC) and some members of the public. The slides can accompany the RiAus audio recording of the event, but beware the recording is of more than just my presentation, there’s 25 minutes of preamble first.
This talk was more focused on how my work relates to Federal Government policy, rather than democracy in general, which was the focus of my session at the national ASC conference in February. Kristin Alford from Bridge8 blogged about the session in Canberra; it’s interesting to see what people take away from my talks! I always try and get my audience to participate somehow, given I’m presenting about public engagement. The bits people actively participate in are the bits that stand out most in people’s minds. This is reflected in the impromptu poll I ran at the very start of my presentation in Canberra, which was the focus of half of Kristin’s writeup of it. More evidence to suggest participatory, two-way engagement is most fruitful!
This might mean that people will remember my presentation last night more for the trivia question about a quote from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than the main messages from my thesis, but I guess that’s my own fault for pitting my work against that of Douglas Adams.
Me voy a preparar para viajar a Chile ahora. Deséame suerte!
I continue to lament the lack of the ‘published high’ I get from journalism while I work on my MPhil. However I’m emerging from this academic fugue for two conferences next month.
Firstly I’m heading to Canberra to present at the Australian Science Communicators conference, among other things. One of those other things is an interview – in Spanish – at the Chilean consulate, to get a working holiday visa for my move there at the end of April. You can keep up to date with that on my travel blog.
After Canberra I’ll return to Adelaide to volunteer at the Australian International Documentary Conference, following my fantastic adventure at WCSFP (the subject of my previous post). I wrote a roundup of my highlights from the WCSFP on my Nature blog, which has been woefully neglected since.
In Canberra I’ll be talking about how to avoid preaching to the converted in science engagement, as well as being part of a panel discussion on “Tools for Democracy and Dialogue”. This is the summary of my presentation:
Events aimed at public engagement with science often attract the same crowd.
They’re sometimes planned with little consideration for who will participate, beyond sheer numbers. So rather than representing a broad public, outcomes may represent people with above average interest in science and, studies suggest, socioeconomic status and education to match.
This raises issues of equality, and can limit the value of feedback from such events. As part of my research, I’ve looked at different ways participants have been recruited and what implications this has for outcomes of public engagement with science.
I’m super excited because I’ve just found out that I’ve won a place in the Wellcome Trust Mentoring Program for Emerging Talent, to attend the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers in Melbourne in a couple of weeks.
As well as covering all costs associated with the congress, the prize means I will also be mentored by a senior producer, be introduced at the opening plenary of the congress, have one-on-one meetings with commissioning editors and go to an opening day VIP session.
As you may have noticed, my freelance media work has been less frequent of late as academia has consumed me, so this opportunity could not have come at a better time. I think it may influence what I choose to do next year, when my ANU research is due to finish.
I need to get some new business cards sorted now!
This journalist-turned-researcher thing means I’m increasingly using my portfolio as a place to share opinions. That’s not what I set it up for, so now I’ve got a blog on the Nature Network, where I’ll be discussing science, society and policy issues, so this can remain the portfolio it’s meant to be.
I’ll continue to post news and research articles that I write here following their publication, with links. Plus summaries of my books, when they eventuate.
As a journalist-turned-academic, I find the hardest change is waiting for things to be published. When I was a radio journalist I had deadlines every hour. Now I have deadlines every couple of months, and after the deadline I have to wait months more for what I’ve written to be published.
There’s a lot to be said for the satisfying feeling of having your work broadcast within a few hours (or minutes sometimes) of completing it. Though there’s also a lot to be said for not starting work at 6am and not having the pressure of deadlines every hour, which was partly why I changed to specialist writing, which is more lifestyle-friendly.
In the past, when I edited academic documents that had publications “in press”, I used to roll my eyes, because I thought that people were reaching a bit. But now I understand! I probably won’t have anything published in 2009, though there are several things “in press”, not to mention various draft papers that are floating around, waiting for input from busy people.
Such is academia. Welcome to the slow lane.
I got an email the other day approving my articles for the Encyclopedia of Science and Technology Communication, which is being published by Sage. It’s due to be published in July 2010. I wrote about science circuses around the world, a biography of J. Craig Venter, and the theory of deliberative democracy.
I hope at least some of my journal articles are published before then! Watch this space… or grass grow. That might be quicker.
An international team of scientists has developed salt-tolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification (GM), bringing salt-tolerant cereal crops a step closer to reality.
The research team – based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus – has used a new GM technique to contain salt in parts of the plant where it does less damage.
Salinity affects agriculture worldwide, which means the results of this research could impact on world food production and security.
The work has been led by researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK.
The results of their work were published recently in the top international plant science journal, The Plant Cell.
“Salinity affects the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one third of the world’s food is produced. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse, as pressure to use less water increases and quality of water decreases,” said the team’s leader, Professor Mark Tester, from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).
“Helping plants to withstand this salty onslaught will have a significant impact on world food production.”
Professor Tester said his team used the technique to keep salt – as sodium ions (Na+) – out of the leaves of a model plant species. The researchers modified genes specifically around the plant’s water conducting pipes (xylem) so that salt is removed from the transpiration stream before it gets to the shoot.
“This reduces the amount of toxic Na+ building up in the shoot and so increases the plant’s tolerance to salinity,” Professor Tester said.
“In doing this, we’ve enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We’ve used genetic modification to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do – but to do it much better.”
The team is now in the process of transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley.
“Our results in rice already look very promising,” Professor Tester said.
This story was written with David Ellis and published in Adelaidean magazine.