Thursday, June 20, 2013

STEM and the human atom

For Frances, on the theme of travel.

Travel is a wonderful thing; to live amongst others is a great source of wisdom for people of all ages. I love physical travel, but I also love intellectual travel, and one of the best ways to travel with one's intellect is to keep learning. I am a particular fan of learning something that is not in your area of expertise, which is why I am so dedicated in attending lectures given to increase the public understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

I grew up alongside a STEM man, I have been lucky enough to have amazing STEM women as friends and I have worked with the men and women of STEM since I was 18. As a proud social historian, I have made it my mission to understand as many STEM first principles as possible by attending lectures, engaging in discussions with friends and absorbing everything I can in the workplace. I have always found that the way that STEM practitioners think is incredibly useful to frame ideologies in my area of social history, allowing a new perspective on some of the oldest prejudices in history hidden in the sources and literature I love so much.

I dubbed the last month of Institute of Advanced Studies lectures at UWA "Marvelous May" for the extensive program I attended, two of which were given by the Chief Scientist of Australia and the WA Chief Scientist. Ian Chubb's lecture on the need for a Scientific Enterprise for Australia to provide leadership in schools, universities, industry and government to encourage and utilize STEM graduates was timely and challenging. Lyn Beazley's lecture took the concept of vision and mapped out one of many knowledge trajectories from the photoreceptors of human and animal eyes through the advances in Australian bionic eye technology to looking at the stars and talking to Indigenous Australians about the Milky Way. It was an incredible talk that was informative, inspiring and grand in scale.

The most exciting thing about STEM is the ability to travel through every layer of the world. The open communication of STEM is a worthy travel companion and it can expand and contract at your wish. Perth is home to some of the best STEM thinkers and communicators in the world right now, ready to expand our minds and understanding of our place in the universe with the building of the Square Kilometre Array, the development of the attendant technologies and the reporting of the discoveries made. Perth is going to be a top-level intellectual travel destination, and I am thrilled to be along for the ride.

In addition to the pure STEM issues involved in each talk, both talks also provided me with the chance to travel in other intellectual directions. Ian Chubb made room in his speech to address my relationship to STEM directly by championing the role social sciences have in contextualizing STEM. I gave an internal cheer! The communication of STEM is important, and social scientists can be a communication channel as well as STEM practitioners. Following on the heels of the Chief Scientist of Australia including the artists of Australia in his Scientific Enterprise, the WA Chief Scientist was the epitome of the most extraordinary STEM communicator. While she was taking us on a dizzying ride through intricate cross sections of STEM endeavor in Australia, she touched on one of my other great interests, the place and number of women in STEM.

I am vitally interested in the rights of women across the world, how we may secure full rights for all women, and how to enhance the world by the full involvement of women in all areas, including STEM. I personally think that intellectual travel is one of the finest ways to spend one's time, especially if one is hunting down that elusive and irreducible human atom, equality. And I am interested in the strengths of the intellectual rigor of STEM processes practised by women to be used in that hunt.

CHUBB lecture (recording available)

BEAZLEY lecture (recording available)

Climate Change: Human Behaviour and Economic Modelling

Carmen Lawrence, Centre for the Study of Social Change, speaking on the ways in which the actions to mitigate climate change sit in the weaknesses of human psychology.

Richard Denniss, The Australia Institute, speaking on the ways in which economic modelling is used to circumvent democracy and shut down debate.

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