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Geeks, Freaks and Eggheads

In early September 2011, I attended the Brisbane Writer’s Festival and participated in a number of events. One was an excellent discussion with Ian Lowe, my co-author on the book “Why vs Why: Nuclear Power“, which unfortunately wasn’t recorded, but was a terrific exchange. The other was a joint session I did with Prof Bryan Gaensler, called “Geeks, Freaks and Eggheads“.

This event was filmed by the ABC and broadcast this week on ABC’s program “Big Ideas“. Here is the blurb:

Science has transformed our world in many ways, but the popular image of the lab-coated scientist with Coke bottle glasses persists.

Barry Brook is a leading environmental scientist with a slew of awards for his research. Former Young Australian of the Year, Bryan Gaensler, is known around the world for his groundbreaking work on dying stars, interstellar magnets and cosmic explosions. Neither fits the “geek boy” stereotype.

So, at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Radio National’s Paul Barclay drills them on why it’s so hard to shake.

Barry Brook is a leading environmental scientist, holding the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. He’s published three books, over 150 refereed scientific papers and regularly writes popular articles for the media. Brook runs a popular climate science and energy options blog, He is also co-author of the book, “WHY vs WHY: Nuclear Power”.

Bryan Gaensler is an award-winning astronomer, former Young Australian of the Year and winner of the Young Tall Poppy award. His new book is called “Extreme Cosmos”.

Paul Barclay is a Walkley award-winning broadcaster and journalist with ABC Radio National. He is the presenter of “Australia Talks” and “Big Ideas”, and co-presenter of “Australia Talks Movies”.

Click on the image below to access the .MP4 video file (198 MB), or click here to go the ABC page and see other viewing options.

We cover a wide range of issues, from the perception of science in the community, the need for better communication by scientists (written and spoken), ‘hot button’ issues like climate change, biotech and the Big Bang, and the future of science in Australia. The moderator, non-scientist Paul, is terrific. For me, it was a 54 minutes enjoyably spent. I hope you get something out of it too.

Science is fun and exciting — let’s always keep that in mind!

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

8 replies on “Geeks, Freaks and Eggheads”

The program was, indeed, a lot of fun, informative and thought provoking. I would not have guessed, visiting BNC this evening, that I would come away itching to learn more (on a layman’s level) about magnetic fields around pulsars. Come to think of it, did not the explosions that created pulsars and stellar black holes also create the uranium and thorium we may use to power the planet?


Thanks Huon and Bern, I’m glad you both enjoyed it.

Brian has written a fascinating and entertaining book, “Extreme Cosmsos” (just out) where he answers these sort of questions. I read it on the weekend I was at the BWF. Huon, you are quite right that it is only in the most spectacular ‘hypernova’ type explosions that we get the very heaviest elements (Th, U and even Pu) produced naturally. Imagine that, humanity can live, as a global society, for millions of years off the energy produced by a titanic explosion in the space of a few seconds, in some far-distant solar system!


Following, just like Finrod, but also in part because of an interest in science education which dates back over a decade and is aimed at Y11 (17 year old) students throughout Australia.

See: for a taste of why I am hooked.


Brian Cox ran a show this year called “Wonders of the universe” that had truly awesome graphics of the explosive death of stars and how they created the heavier elements necessary, such as uranium.

PS: With scientists like Brian Cox, Adam Spencer, and of course, Barry …. how can this ‘science nerd’ stereotype continue!? ;-)



Dr Karl is more egghead in nature than looks; but in a lovable nerdy sort of way; whereas you’d probably suit cruising down the Highway on a Fat-boy Harley. Burning nuclear-powered synfuel of course! ;-)


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