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Sydney Science Festival guide

Put on your whitecoat and dive into a month of stargazing, talks, exhibitions and wonders

Sydney Science Festival hits town this month (Aug 11-21) in a flurry of workshops, talks, tours and test tubes. Here's Time Out's guide to getting involved in the scientific side of Sydney, from visiting the new Collider exhibition to speed-meeting a scientist

Astronomer Dr Alan Duffy tells us about Sydney Science Festival
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Astronomer Dr Alan Duffy tells us about Sydney Science Festival

The astrophysicist and science communicator is like an Australian Brian Cox with a Northern Irish accent. He calls himself a “tremendous geek” who “grew up on a diet of Star Trek, Star Wars and great sci-fi authors like Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke”. And he’s the ambassador for this year’s Sydney Science Festival, which features an exhibition about CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, “the most exciting, enormous and impressive feat of human engineering and science,” says Duffy.

Swot up on science
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Swot up on science

These major talks and festivals celebrate discovery, experimentation and discussion. Even if you sucked at science subjects in school, you'll enjoy these scientific events around Sydney.

Two Sydney artists sent a camera into space
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Two Sydney artists sent a camera into space

Blue Mountains-based artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding sent a payload 33,722 metres into space, with recording devices to capture the audio and footage. A few hours later, they retrieved it – with the recordings intact. You'll be able to see and hear the results of that mini space odyssey when Haines and Hinterding unveil their latest artwork as part of the exhibition Gravity (and Wonder), at Penrith Regional Gallery from September 3.

The best stargazing near Sydney
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The best stargazing near Sydney

Although on clear nights you can spot a few stars from Sydney, if you go just outside of the city centre, you will have a much better view. Be careful you’re not trespassing, and happy viewing!

Art vs science

There's a biodome parked at Circular Quay
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There's a biodome parked at Circular Quay

Inside the biodome is a sickly scene: towards the back stands a hollowed out and lifeless-looking tree trunk; in the foreground its companion lies surrounded by blackish branches, some partially submerged in stagnant pools of water. A soundtrack of extinct birds adds a haunting quality to the atmosphere, compounded by a quality of light that (thanks to the kind of horticultural plastic covering the dome) is unearthly.

Seeing is Believing
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Seeing is Believing

Stop for a second, and define “pain.” When we ask artist Eugenie Lee to do this, her face twists in a smile: “this is still being defined,” she says, and quotes the International Association for the Study of Pain’s current definition: “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” This definition, from their Chronic Pain manual, is followed by a long note that stipulates, among other things, that “Pain is always subjective”; that “It is unquestionably a sensation in a part or parts of the body, but it is also always unpleasant and therefore also an emotional experience”; and that pain “is always a psychological state.” “There’s still so much we don’t know [about the brain],” Lee concludes. “As we know more about the brain, we’ll find out more about pain.” Lee’s latest work, a participatory installation called Seeing is Believing, pitches its tent at the frontier of pain science. Part of the installation involves a latest-model neuroscientist-designed machine called ‘The Mirage’, which visitors can roadtest for free as part of her artwork. The other key component of the installation is an experience, led by Lee, that takes place in a small custom-built anechoic chamber and involves an virtual reality headset and a sensory experiment involving the participant’s hand. Start to finish, the experience (which is free but must be booked in advance) takes about 30 minutes, and after it you

Booze is science, right?

The science of natural wine
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The science of natural wine

If we were going to pin our happiness on any one scientific discovery, it would probably be fermentation. 

Where to drink natural wine
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Where to drink natural wine

Why people are loving low intervention, organic and biodynamic wines.