Tag: Melbourne

Gender Equality: The Final Frontier

Last Friday, I gave a talk at the Final Frontier festival on gender equality in space. This talk focussed on two things: the unsung stories of women involved in space travel (from Margaret Hamilton to the scientists and engineers behind the Mangalyaan mission to Sally Ride, Mae Jemison and Valentina Tereshkova), and secondly, space menstruation and how we’re gonna deal with that when we go to Mars.

You can have a listen and watch below – unfortunately the only closed captions currently available are youtube’s automated captions, but I’ve asked if this will change soon (hopefully it will!). A link to this, any other media I’ve been in or created, can also be found on my “Other Media” page.

The tampon giveaway at the end has been described as “Oprah-esque” which may make it one of my proudest moments.

The power of storytelling to inspire and engage us is incredible – Mae Jemison is the fantastic example I flag in my talk, as she was inspired by Lt. Uhura in Star Trek – but it’s so important to have a range of role models and inspirations available so people can gravitate towards ones that most represent them rather than choosing the best of a bad bunch.

Recently I got the wonderful opportunity to speak to young women at the Spark Engineering camp (as part of a group from WISE) about amazing women who have changed the world, and a number of them said how nice it was to hear about the women doing this work. Telling stories only about men alienates women from areas where they could excel – and this holds true for when we only talk about white people, or straight people, or able-bodied people.

Not being part of a majority group isn’t a disqualification for being a good scientist, and we need to start reflecting that in the stories we tell.



The Research Bazaar

From February 1st to 3rd, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Research Bazaar, a free three-day intensive set of workshops in digital tools for researchers. I attended the one in Melbourne, but Bazaars were also held in Dunedin, Vancouver, Perth, and many more sites worldwide. (If your city missed out, and you want to host your own, check out the cookbook for making your very own ResBaz)

The origins and development of the Research Bazaar is covered here, but the short form is: there are a lot of digital tools that researchers need. It’s hard to find out about them, and once you do, there’s not a lot of support. Teaching yourself takes valuable time out of saving lives/increasing food security/understanding the world, and honestly, it’s hard.

The Research Bazaar (“ResBaz” to those in the know) comes to the rescue by running two days of intensive workshops for particular tools – this year, Melbourne included R (the statistics package), Python, MATLAB, D3 and many more – and short sessions for introductions to tools on the third day. They bring experts and researchers together, but it’s not the opportunity to upskill (for free) that makes this special. It’s the focus on community, networking, and helping each other.

There was a session on Twitter, and I’m not saying I won the session on Twitter, but I definitely won Twitter (with this tweet).

It’s been a long time since I sat down in a class for more than an hour, so two days of Python workshops was always going to be a struggle. Arriving on Monday morning (late, without coffee) to have my boots sink into damp grass while I tried to hear the “key story” didn’t set me up particularly well but, like the weather, my mood improved.

ResBaz worked us school hours (9:30-3:30-ish) and the afternoons were left for more social events. The lack of structure gave this time an unconference vibe. On the Tuesday afternoon there were professional masseuses, a personal trainer, and yoga sessions available. The one possible problem was there was very little to force people to mingle – you could go through the entire event without meeting anyone. However, leaving all social events opt-in contributed to the relaxed feeling of the Bazaar.

Top left: the ResPlat(y) branded chocolates they plied us with. Bottom left: my (in theme) reading material while at the Bazaar. Right: Jess Vovers and Rosie the ResPlat(y), ready to change the world.

ResBaz in Melbourne this year had a focus on diversity, reflected both in the attendees and in the three key stories across the conference. It was therefore slightly disappointing that the final panel appeared entirely Caucasian and was four men and one woman. While they were clearly all heavyweights in their respective fields, it was more than a little jarring after the rest of the Bazaar had been such a celebration of diversity.

The Research Bazaar 2016 was a very fulfilling experience – I learned some things, I met some people, and I maintained my flexibility with the yoga session. The catering was A++ and the relaxed feel meant I didn’t get overloaded. I intend to return next year, possibly as a helper for one of the sessions, and would thoroughly recommended keeping Research Platforms and ResBaz on your radar – and trying to attend ResBaz 2017.


Day for Days for Girls

About a week ago (5th December), myself and esteemed WISE president Jess Vovers, headed along to a Days for Girls fundraiser at the Fitzroy bowling club. The fundraiser was run by Isabel Zbukvic, a Tweep I was getting the opportunity to meet in the flesh, and it featured some of the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten.

Days for Girls is a non-profit organisation that creates and distributes feminine hygiene packs to people who need them. Each hygiene kit includes absorbent pads, soap, zip-lock bags, moisture shields – everything needed to learning and working while menstruating.

Most women bleed a lot, and in the first world with our scented disposable pads and our moon cups and our (relative) lack of stigma we can forget how much of a difference it would make if we could’t attend school or work for all of those days. I was annoyed and inhibited enough by my (roughly) two days off a month due to suspected endometriosis. Triple that to get the time many girls and women are losing from school and work. That’s not an insignificant dent in learning, earning, and functioning, and it helps explain why women are more likely to be in poverty worldwide.

You can volunteer to make your own but as my sewing ability begins and ends with hems and buttons, I’m more than happy to shell out a few dollars for a feed and bowling. The spread was glorious, featuring donations from  Organic Wholefoods, Mayfield Café and Babka Bakery – and a potato salad that may have changed my life. Isabel made a lot of the food herself, including some quality tzatziki and hummus, and deserves ongoing congratulations for a successful event.

2015-12-05 13.29.24
The potato salad is second from the right, third from the bottom.
Rachel Zbukvic and Millie O’Sullivan provided the music. Photo by Jess Vovers.
Natalia gets her bowl on. Photo by Jess Vovers.

The weather pitched in, bowls were bowled (at the Fitzroy Victoria Bowling & Sports Club), music was provided, and far too much food was eaten. I met great people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and had a relaxing afternoon outside.

It can feel a little bit like slacktivism to have a great afternoon while at the same time helping get menstruating people out of poverty. But really it just isn’t that hard to create meaningful change. It can be as simple as picking up a pair of underwear next time you go to the supermarket.


Days for Girls are a great cause, and I thoroughly recommend liking their Facebook page and watching out for the next fundraising event they have near you. They’ve made it easy to make a difference – take advantage of that.


Last Friday the 27th of November a group of us from WISE headed along to the end of year event for Robogals, the Robogals Industry Gala (RIG).

From left: Wakiuru Wohoro (WISE Vice President 2015), Jess Vovers (WISE President 2015), Sophia Frentz (WISE Secretary 2015)

Robogals was founded in Melbourne 2008 by Marita Cheng, the 2012 Young Australian of the Year. It has subsequently spread to 32 chapters worldwide. The Melbourne chapter is the oldest and is sponsored by Caterpillar, NAB, and Training Systems Australia. All the members buzz with enthusiasm for the Robogals mission – to help young girls explore engineering, build robots, and become confident in their passions and skills.

Robogals is only getting more popular. In 2015 they trained 76 new volunteers for schools outreach and taught over 1500 students, and haven’t even finished! 2016 looks even bigger, and gender equity in STEM is a hot button topic for everyone. The incumbent president, Qalissa Othman, is capable, passionate, and brilliant. She is certain to rise to any and all opportunities the new year will bring her and her team.

The gala was hosted in the NAB village. NAB support services technology general manager Dayle Stevens spoke about her involvement with both Robogals and the NAB program for Women in Technology. NAB aims to be an employer of choice for Women in Technology, and is making great strides in that field external to their support of Robogals.

Dayle Stevens talks about her interactions with Robogals and the NAB Women in Technology Program

The evening was fantastic – a great mix of people, from Robogals, WISE, Research Bazaar, NAB, Silicon Beach, and many more. The event married promotion of women in STEM, education, networking, and playing with robots incredibly effectively. Personally, it’s always been a life goal to wear a pretty dress and play with robots at the same time.

If you’re interested in being involved with Robogals or want to keep up with what they’re up to, like their facebook page and get in touch to find your local chapter.


BioQuisitive Launch Party: Art, Music, and Science

I’ve been watching the Melbourne DIY bio crowd since before they had their current name and they’ve grown so much over this year. The launch party and fundraiser for BioQuisitive on the 15th of November was a co-production with Beyond Surreal at the Railway Hotel in Brunswick, and ended up running almost twelve hours from 2pm until the wee hours of Monday morning. The space was a mix of trance and electronic music outside and science-inspired art and talks inside, and present throughout was the endlessly energetic and positive Andrew Gray, the proud dad of BioQuisitive.

A large multicoloured model of a bacteriophage in front of a brick wall
A giant phage marks the entrance to the BioQuisitive fundraiser

BioQuisitive aims to set up a citizen science laboratory in Melbourne, and have been holding fundraisers for the better part of 2015 to help achieve this. With the decreasing cost of technology and increasing accessibility to information the BioQuisitive team have seen a need they can provide for.

And they’re certainly engaging the public on science. The range of people at their launch party were completely foreign to those I had met at Future Assembly or would see at a public talk. The free drink offered if you dressed up “as a scientist” only added to the array of outfits on display. (I argued that as a working scientist, I should just be able to show up and retrieve the free drink. I was unsuccessful.)

The art installations inside included the captivating light-inspired works by Molly Patton. Molly describes her work as turning the idea of photography around, making the interactions of light and glass the subject, rather than just the medium of photography. Her photographs on display were created by refraction of light through glass and were stunning in their beauty and simplicity.

Image by Molly Patton.

There were also pieces from Martin Leipziger and Palm Tree Scipt, but more excitingly, these two artists competed in an Art Battle in two one-hour sessions. I only caught the second session, but to see science-inspired art take shape before your eyes was an amazing experience.

I wasn’t just there to admire and soak in the folk-festival-esque energy. Along with some experiments present for all to see (including a tank of spirulina), talks on the subjects of bioethics, collaboration, and DIY bio started from 6pm and continued into the evening. I was up first, opening a talk on bioethics and genetics with a beat poem. After my fifteen minutes of fame, Alicia Boyd spoke about genetically modified organisms and the capacity for citizen science to alleviate many of the social problems surrounding current implementation of genetically modified organisms. Antoinette Bode-Higgerson also talked about “Leave no Trace” and the idea of a rubbish-neutral life – particularly impressive when you note she was a lot of the organisation behind the event.

Unfortunately, I needed to leave shortly after my talk. It was excellent to see science appealing to such a diverse group of people, all of whom were excited and interested to talk to me about the latest breakthroughs. I hope they stay engaged and that BioQuisitive can help stretch their curiosity.

A crowd of people shot from above, dancing in the sun. Some of them have dreadlocks or beanies on.
Hopefully this gives you some of an idea of the range of people present at the Launch party – and how I should never be allowed to try and take a panorama shot.
Three picutres: Top left: green algae growing on fabric within a bell jar. Bottom left: two pieces of artwork, one predominatly brown, the other a pink brain surrounded by eyes. Right: Women with dreadlocks in a top hat, lab coat, black shorts and crop-top.
Top left: Spirulina in a jar. Bottom left: the end of the art battle! Martin Leipziger is on the left, Palm Tree Scipt on the right. Right: Emma Moonshine shows off her science garb and pushes the boundaries of what’s “lab-safe”…

Disappointed you missed out? Worry not, BioQuisitive are having another launch party as part of innovation week! You can also subscribe to the BioQuisitive mailing list on their website.

Future Assembly 15

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Future Assembly (“Australia’s newest emergent technology festival”) on Saturday the 14th of November as part of WISE UniMelb through the Wade Institute. The expo ran over the Friday and Saturday, with workshops and talks on both days. I was slightly disappointed to have missed the genomics panel on Friday, but the experience was still fantastic – and the talks may be going online, so I can live in hope!

FA (#fa15) was held at the Melbourne Showgrounds in a large, open-space building, with easy flow between the stalls and talks. The entire space had an excited and hopeful buzz.

To spend any less than half a page on each of the (20 + stalls) present would be to do them an injustice, and so I apologize in advance. The Wade Institute were present, spreading the news of their brand new Masters of Entrepreneurship, and it was nice to check in with our pals at Robogals!

Various groups from the Microsoft “More Personal” Hackathon had stalls as well. The two I took particular note of were Dr. Band, an app  to connect clinicians and their patients more effectively using wearables, and Ani, a robot that one day will (hopefully) provide in-home help.

Picture of a computer screen with the bot (Ani) saying "Don't worry, our conversation is confidential"
Ani occasionally said things that were ah… slightly unnerving.

Plattar gave me a taste of home, as the Augmented Reality company were demonstrating an AR game they made for Hell’s pizza, set on a pizza box/in the Auckland CBD. They also filmed me for a reality augmentation for the WISE 2015 membership card – watch this space!

There were at least four different 3-D printing stalls, and almost all of them had a printer in action, which was capitvating to see. The two particular stalls that caught my eye were make-create, a maker space in Brunswick, and Avargadi.

Avargadi uses a corn-based polymer to print eco-friendly lampshades, drawing inspiration from flowers for their design. They fit eco-friendly bulbs, and the use of a corn base means  you can just throw your old lampshade in the compost. I was incredibly taken with their designs, and spent a long time watching a lamp being printed.

8 illuminated lampshades modelled on flower shapes including jasmine, rose, and lily.
Examples of Avargadi lampshades, illuminating the space. The grooves left by 3-D printing made the lampshades look incredibly organic, bringing to mind ceramics or pottery.

Further into the darkened part of the display hall, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Semantrix, right at the back in the cold. They seemed to get a similar flow of people to the rest of the hall. Their sensor to detect various forms and types of movement will hopefully make a major difference in aged care and independent living.

The final stall that requires mention is Cheeky Chameleon, a stall presenting Depthless. Depthless is a game designed for the Oculus Rift using the Unity engine that is a science-fiction horror, “along the lines of Alien”. You are the first manned mission to Europa, and you get trapped under the ice and have to find drones, survive, and conserve your power. The demo version (thankfully) was peaceful. I’m not sure if I’d be up for Virtual Reality with jump scares, but the ability to motor around some clams was fun and incredibly immersive. I’m a big fan of Virtual Reality, and that this group from AIE has built an Oculus game in 8 weeks suggests a large number of VR games may be just around the corner. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

I only attended one talk, as one of the (very few) drawbacks of Future Assembly was that the stalls were so fascinating I didn’t want to stop looking and talking. The talk I attended was Phil Goebel of Quanticare, discussing technology in the form of preventative healthcare. At that point my FA companion was Shaz Ruybal, a malaria researcher, so we absolutely could not miss the health talk.

Phil did not disappoint. The first half of the talk discussed the general use of technology, apps, and wearables in healthcare, and how greater patient access to data could empower them and decrease hospitalizations. The second half was more specifically about Quanticare:

We are building a walking frame with an integrated sensor that measures how well a user is walking, allowing clinicians to enable more proactive falls prevention management of our seniors. By collecting continuous, passive and contextual gait performance data, Footprints will deliver the right data set to the right people at the right time, keeping our seniors mobile and independent. – Quanticare Website

Senior care is a rapidly growing field, as 15% of the Australian population are currently over the age of 65 and that proportion is only going to increase. People at FA had definitely picked up on that; both Semantrix and Quanticare are geared towards geriatric care.

Two things surprised me about Future Assembly 15: firstly, how complimentary a lot of the stalls were. Very few of the stalls and groups appeared to be in direct competition with one another. I hope that FA15 inspires a few collaborations between particularly complimentary businesses.

Secondly, the diversity of the attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. Before any tech event I always clench slightly in preparation for the deluge of obnoxious boys. Future Assembly was so far removed from that as to be in the future, and I hope that this is what the future of tech looks like, because it’s somewhere I can belong.