On Thursday night, I attended the 2012 Western Australia Science Awards Gala Dinner where the top scientists, science educators and science communicators are recognised. I was lucky to receive an invitation from the WA Department of Commerce to attend as a science blogger and also as the President of the WA Branch of the Australian Science Communicators.
The dinner was held in the Astral Ballroom at Crown Perth and it was beautifully decorated. There was even a red carpet leading to the stage to walk on. It was clear from the onset that the science community of Western Australia was the star attraction.
And there was even a little jazz throughout the night.
To complete the celebratory occasion, there was also a WA Science Awards wall to stand in front of to have photos taken. It was quite possibly my most favourite discovery of the night. I delighted in the opportunity to be in front of it.
The MC of the events was Ruben Meerman, The Surfing Scientist. He was affable, funny, and knew his audience. There is talent in eliciting genuine laughter for science jokes from a room of scientists.
What I did like this year at the WA Science Awards was the emphasis on science engagement and science communication and that was where the awards of the night began.
I especially liked the comment made during the awarding of these awards, “What is the point of doing fantastic science if we tell no one about it?”. I have yet to hear strong arguments for staying silent about science. This is the stuff that can change lives. It rankles me when science news is left out of mainstream news unless there are centimetres to fill on a page of the newspaper or a sudden silence to fill on air. We can have nightly finance and sport news presented with aplomb, enthusiasm and jargon but we can’t have nightly science news but yet we tell ourselves that science is important for the future and we should encourage a new generation of scientists.
Engineers without Borders High School Outreach Program won the next award, Science Engagement Initiative of the Year. This program has been developed by the WA Chapter of Engineers without Borders. It aims to improve students’ understanding of climate change, sustainability and technology. In addition to this, the program is used as an assessment tool for university engineering students and allows working engineers to become involved and use it as a professional development opportunity. Any engineers reading this should really look this up and break the stereotype of the socially awkward engineer.
Western Australia’s Student Scientist of the Year went to UWA PhD student Mr David Erceg-Hurn whose research is evaluating strategies used to reduce stigma surrounding seeking professional help and treatment for clinical depression. He has also evaluated programs designed to reduce drug and alcohol misuse. The announcement of this award was beautifully and coincidentally timed with Australia’s national Mental Health Week.
Australian Research Fellow, UWA Associate Professor Ajmal Mian was awarded Early Career Scientist of the Year for his pioneering research on 3D face and object recognition for a wide range of multidisciplinary applications.
Professor Stephen Hopper AC FLS FTSE who recently served as the Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew was inducted into the Science Hall of Fame. Prof Hopper is a plant conservation biologist who has contributed significantly to preserving biodiversity in Western Australia as well as improving conservation programs and infrastructure within the state. He has also been named a Companion of Order of Australia for his service as a global science leader.
The Scientist of the Year award went to the Director for International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Professor Peter Quinn. Prof Quinn is an astrophysicist whose area of specialty is galaxy formation and dark matter. He does this using large astronomical facilities and supercomputers. In recent times, his efforts in developing WA’s radio astronomy capabilities have been central in the success of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Telescope campaign.
Unfortunately Prof Quinn had to be in Germany on the night of the WA Science Awards but he was able to Skype in his acceptance speech. It was such a lovely and warm touch to the evening.
It was a great night out celebrating the very best science in Western Australia. There is an incredible depth and breadth of scientific research happening in the state. In a state dominated by the mining industry, I noted that not one award was mining related. I am constantly stating that there is much more to science in Western Australia than mining technologies and the 2012 WA Science Awards has epitomised that this year.
For more photos of the gorgeous night, I have created an album on my Facebook page that is publicly available so no account needed.