Erica’s Blog

‘Young people want an inclusive future.’

So says the Vice Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, Professor Rufus Black, interviewed by Robyn Williams on our inclusive Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National’s Science Show, Wednesday, July 24th 2019.

This Vice Chancellor has a background that includes the humanities. In philosophy, he is an ethicist, wanting to promote the good, the true and the beautiful. He sees the sciences as the foundation on which we build. In his biography I learn “he has worked extensively for government at Federal and State levels, was a Board Member of Innovation Science Australia, conducted the Black Review into the Department of Defence and the Prime Minister’s Independent Review of the Australian Intelligence Community and was the Strategic Advisor to the Secretary of Education in Victoria. Professor Black holds degrees in law, politics, economics, ethics and theology from the University of Melbourne and Oxford University.”

For Australia, a major role of the University of Tasmania, is as a protector of the Antarctic. We do not want this continent misused. The abuse of the warming Arctic shows where we are going. We do not want mining companies, now pumping oil across Canada to USA, to be able to drill here and abuse Antarctica.

Professor Black applauds young people who left school to speak out for climate change. This Swedish student, Greta Thunberg,  wants us now to unite behind the science. Listen to her speaking to those with power to act on behalf of the future, in Paris in March 2019. Her understanding of the mathematics is very important.

From classics through chance to chemistry and beyond.

Quotations from Primo Levi’s comments on ‘To See Atoms’

one of the lectures chosen by Primo Levi

when he set out on his ‘Search for Roots’:

A Personal Anthology – his essential reading –

the thirty pieces of prose and poetry

he chose for this book that was

translated into English by

Peter Forbes.

At the age of sixteen a student

the youngest, smallest, cleverest

and the only Jew in this class

is studying the classics.

And no wonder, for the son of

a liberal Jewish Turin family in

Mussolini’s Italy might uncover

much in the story of ancient Rome

among poets, writers, historians

perhaps Virgil, Caesar, Seneca

even the work of the poet Lucretius

even De Rerum Natura.

And in 1935 he finds in lectures

perhaps in a library – call it chance -–

in English, Concerning the nature of things,

Lucretius’s poem about the Greek atomists

lectures given by a Nobel prize winner –

once the Elder Professor of Mathematics

who taught far from Europe’s centres of science

and found joy in life and physics in Adelaide.

Sir William Bragg had delivered them

in 1925 at the Royal Institution.

A decade on, Bragg’s words in ‘To see atoms

offer this boy a way to explore the universe.

He is ‘captivated by the clear and

simple things that they say’ – ‘divining’ in

Bragg’s vision ‘a great hope’ moving from

‘the world of minute atoms’ . . ‘infinitely far’.

He decides to be a chemist and again –

with chance on his side  – this student

matriculates and enters university

just before Jews are denied that right.

Chemistry will save him from German hands.

He is of value, worth keeping alive.

The SS in Auschwitz can use this chemist

to make synthetic rubber for their industries.

When he catches scarlet fever, fear of contagion

makes his guards isolate him in the sanatorium

where he lies while his compatriots are marched

to their death before the Russians arrive.

Auschwitz becomes the catalyst –

a writer and a poet comes back to Italy

ready to make all who would rather forget

feel and face their part in this genocide.

In different stories, in The Periodic Table,

chemist and story teller combine elements

in narrative for us – the general readers –

giving us the human connection we need.

Before he dies, in The Search for Roots,

he leaves us a legacy of four pathways and

there, is his conviction that William Bragg,

with Lucretius, Darwin and Clarke, belongs

on the pathway of ‘salvation through knowledge.’

                                                                                                Erica Jolly

The Periodic Table – science, art and literature.

Primo Levi The Periodic Table, First published 1975. Translated from the Italian by Raymond Rosenthal. With ‘An Essay on Primo Levi’, by Philip Roth. Published in Penguin Classics with the essay by Philip Roth, 2000. First translated edition published in USA in 1984.

The Periodic Table has been named the best science book ever by the Royal Institution of Great Britain – 2006 – and is considered to be Primo Levi’s crowning achievement. The stories are written in ‘luminous, clear, and unfailingly beautiful prose”.

The 21 short stories cover – Argon, Hydrogen, Zinc, Iron, Potassium, Nickel, Lead, Mercury, Phosphorus, Gold, Cerium, Chromium, Sulfur, Titanium, Arsenic, Nitrogen, Tin, Uranium, Silver, Vanadium, Carbon.

“In these haunting reflections, Primo Levi, a chemist by training, takes the elements of the periodic table for his inspiration. He ranges from young love to political savagery; from the inert gas argon – and ‘inert’ relatives like the uncle who stayed in bed for twenty-two years – to life-giving carbon. ‘Iron’ honours the mountain-climbing resistance hero who put iron in the young student Levi’s soul. ‘Cerium’ recalls the improvised cigarette lighters which saved his life in Auschwitz, ‘Vanadium’ describes an eerie post-war correspondence with the man who had been his ‘boss’ there.”

Philip Roth, author of American Pastoral, calls Primo Levi, ‘the most delicately forceful enchanter I’ve ever known.’ In the essay, Philip Roth interviews Primo Levi.

I wish I had known these stories by Primo Levi, industrial chemist, survivor of Auschwitz and one of the finest writers of post 1945 Europe, when I was teaching Belinda at Marion High School, named a ‘lighthouse school’ in 1985 for South Australia. She was an outstanding student of literature. Her brilliant chemistry teacher, who enabled so many girls to enjoy and do well studying chemistry, was unable to help her to make sense of the periodic table. Primo Levi would have found a way. I invite teachers and students to find and read this book now on the 150th anniversary of the formulation of the Periodic Law by Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev. [Learn about the role of his mother in his education – it’s a wonderful story.]

Thank you to Ed Ayres and our ABC RN’s Art Show Wed July 17th 2019.

Across Australia, we discover the Director of Quantum Victoria is encouraging the connection of the sciences and the humanities by this decision to celebrate the elements of the periodic table through the arts. I have added the much-needed element of literature through Primo Levi’s book. His Periodic Table will add to the recognition of intersections.*

Image: Damon Kowarsky and Hyun Ju Kim bring art and science together with this collection of 51 artworks celebrating the periodic table. (Supplied)

To celebrate this anniversary, Quantum Victoria asked these artists to focus on elements of the periodic table. They chose 51 of them. The artists were talking to Ed Ayres about their approach to this work. Their approach is holistic. They want art to be useful, not merely decorative. So, as part of their exploration and celebration of the elements, the historical and geo-political aspects of their chosen elements have been brought in. (view full episode)

Art meets science for the 150th anniversary of the periodic table

Ed speaks with artists Damon Kowarsky and Hyun Ju Kim about their collection of 51 artworks—each one illustrates a significant element of the periodic table.

[* ‘Intersections’ is a maths/poetry blog here in ‘Sciences and Humanities’]

Thank you again to our public, inclusive Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Deadly Science Project and ‘Dark Emu’

For this continent’s First Nations’ living cultures, science is an integral part of the whole, that integrated knowledge with its spiritual component, has made possible the continuous occupation of this continent for more than 60,000 years. The artificial separation of a living culture, in the approach of the 2015 reviewers of the Australian national curriculum content, as just part of the humanities, arts, and social sciences is challenged by Bruce Pascoe in Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? published by Magabala Books, Broome, 2014. And he challenges it through the written observations and reports of the colonial invaders. What he challenges as well are the assumptions behind that separation of HASS from science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Corey Tutt, the founder of The Deadly Science Project wants everyone to read this book. He said so on Australia’s publicly-owned inclusive ABC’s Radio National ‘Breakfast’ program Wednesday, July 10th 2019. We have allowed oversimplifications and untested assumptions to undermine the history of Australia’s First Nations. We are waking up, thanks to this acclaimed Indigenous author, Bruce Pascoe.

“Deadly”, when used by First Nations people means brilliant, outstanding, remarkable, worthy of acknowledgement. That is why there are the “Deadly” Awards. So, The Deadly Science Project has been established by Corey Tutt for Aboriginal and Torres Islander young people fascinated by science. “ Corey Tutt is ‘a young Kamilaroi man [who] has turned his passion for science and animals into a project to empower Indigenous kids.’

The Deadly Science project: Empowering Indigenous kids with … – ABC…deadly-science…/1129491…

Because curriculum reviewers here are so slow to catch up, as other countries move to STEAM recognising the intersections and interconnections of everything, in Australia we still have this STEM divide. That is where the money is. That is what these young people are being encouraged to engage with, bringing with them that learning, the ancient Aboriginal science that has connected with the whole of existence. They need this connection for their future occupations.  But, why Dark Emu? And why does Corey Tutt want us all to read it. Bruce Pascoe writes: “The fate of the emu, people and grain are locked in step because, for the Aboriginal people, the economy and the spirit are inseparable.” Now there is Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu, Magabala Books. A Truer History of pre-Colonial life.

And there is the work of Billy Griffiths in Deep Time Dreaming, Bill Gammage’s book The Biggest Estate on Earth and Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country. And here is Corey Tutt, expanding avenues for Indigenous kids interested in science.

Deadly Science helps kids stick with science by distributing books and equipment to … Fran Kelly, Radio National Breakfast. Listen to the whole program with the words of Corey Tutt.

The Deadly Science project: Empowering Indigenous kids with … – ABC

Oh, Willow, Willow, Willow.

In the 2015 review of the Australian curriculum, we undermined learning. Separating STEM from HASS is reductive. We have reduced the possibilities of connections. Therefore, wherever we find revival – ‘rerooting to the living’ Maria Popova calls it – of connections, we need to grasp it, encourage public and school libraries to buy the books, and thank heavens for the dedication of Maria Popova who established this blog. Read on, as we move forward to her words about it.

Brain Pickings.Maria Popova’s introduction to The Lost Words: A Spell Book.

Imagine – words like ‘fern’, ‘willow’, ‘starling’ removed by an Oxford Children’s Dictionary!

In their place ‘broadband’, ‘cut’, ‘paste’. From the living, breathing world, to technology for a screen. Why? Meeting a deadline perhaps without thinking?  What are we losing? Possibilities for connections. quality and clarity in close observation, depth of engagement, exciting developments across disciplines.

Just consider ‘willow’. Do you see the willows that border Australia’s River Murray? Why are these exotic trees making ecologists weep at the University of Adelaide? 

Do you think of a game, of cricket bats made from willow wood in Kashmir?

What of a ‘willowy form’:  a tall, thin and graceful person!  What of Willow, the film? What of Shakespeare’s saddest song, in the tragedy Othello. “The earliest record of “The Willow Song” is in a book of lute music from 1583.  . . Shakespeare [makes] the victim in the song, a woman, making it more relevant to Desdemona.”

What of ‘Strip the willow’, the Old Scottish Dance. And “Willow, titwillow, titwillow’ in The Mikado?   All those possibilities replaced by ‘broadband’? Reductive thinking.

I thank Maria Popova for introducing me to the following book, The Lost Words: A Spell Book, feeding into connections. Here is her statement about it.

“In early 2015, when the 10,000-entry Oxford children’s dictionary dropped around fifty words related to nature — words like fernwillow, and starling — in favor of terms like broadband and cut and paste, some of the world’s most prominent authors composed an open letter of protest and alarm at this impoverishment of children’s vocabulary and its consequent diminishment of children’s belonging to and with the natural world. Among them was one of the great nature writers of our time: Robert MacFarlane — a rare descendent from the lyrical tradition of Rachel Carson and Henry Beston, and the visionary who rediscovered and brought to life the stunning forgotten writings of the Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd. 

Troubled by this loss of vital and vitalizing language, MacFarlane teamed up with illustrator and children’s book author Jackie Morris, who had reached out to him to write an introduction for a sort of “wild dictionary” she wanted to create as a counterpoint to Oxford’s erasure. Instead, MacFarlane envisioned something greater. The Lost Words: A Spell Book (public library) was born — an uncommonly wondrous and beguiling act of resistance to the severance of our relationship with the rest of nature, a rerooting into this living world in which, in the words of the great naturalist John Muir, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” just as each word is hitched to all words and to the entire web of being. “ Please buy the book.

A fine investigative Journalist

Robyn Williams and our wonderful Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National’s Science Show introduced me to Rose George and I thank him for it.

This is what we need. The investigative journalist crosses all boundaries, There can be no such thing as the separation of STEM from HASS, of the sciences from the humanities. Human engagement for good or ill is at the bottom of so much. Observation must be keen. Evidence must be collected and checked for its veracity. People must be consulted. There must be patience. A balance of emotion and intellect, integrity when so many in power would not want their actions uncovered. And the discoveries must be expressed so well we are engaged. And it is. Just now, I am learning about the abuse by profit hungry corporations selling contaminated plasma to sufferers of haemophilia in “Nine Pints”. Find her other books. Take time, then and, as she asks, protest. And value the courage of those who fight against ignorance and indifference.. Recognise ‘no one is an island’. Value the integrity of such a journalist who provides antidotes to fake news. Go to your library. Ask for her other books. We need people, citizens, in democracies who refuse to be sucked in by slogans.

Meet Rose George, author of “Nine Pints” about blood, that sine qua non for all human beings.

Bur first of all, find and listen to her TED Ideas worth spreading talk, TED 2013, “Rose George thinks, researches, writes and talks about the hidden, the undiscussed. Among the everyone-does-it-no-one-talks-about-it issues” …Rose George: Let’s talk crap. Seriously. | TED Talk –…en▶ 14:01
Apr 16, 2013TED Talk Subtitles and Transcript: It’s 2013, yet 2.5 billion people in the world … Get ready for a blunt, funny – revealing talk.

Do we care about this?

From The Guardian 17th May 2019 this photograph. The article is by Damian Carrington, the Environment Editor. In Australia, we have just elected a government with a Prime Minister who once waved black coal in the House of Representatives and told us not to be afraid of it. ‘Down Under’, I hear statements that the air and oceans we pollute is so little compared with the total as justification for our failure to think about facts. Fact 1. There are no boundaries in the atmosphere. Fact 2. There are no boundaries in ocean currents. The UK government has just recognised the climate crisis of global heating. Here, with our preferential system of compulsory voting, we chose a man and his party that avoided any mention of the significant changes in the climate.

What does it say about our Education system? Decisions for the future can be made without the slightest care about the science. This is what happens when a system of education separates the sciences from the humanities. Neither side wins. And the children suffer. Trump has just congratulated Australia’s new Prime Minister. He likens this decision with his success in 2016. In a democracy, we create our future. Do we care about this one? That’s a question for USA and here.

“It shows what the destruction of the Arctic ecosystems is doing. It is forcing animals to search for food on land, such as these polar bears in northern Russia must do.” Photograph by Alexander Grir/AFP/Getty images.