Stem Talks

Stem Talks

National Science Week
Tuesday 15th August 2017

Showcasing the communication of science innovation and cutting edge research

A group of leading Monash scientists will share brief insights into the challenges they face when undertaking cutting edge STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) research.

Each speaker will tell stories from their research tackling some of the most pressing problems of the twenty first century. Their accounts will help to demonstrate that engaging in science is seldom formulaic or prescriptive, but can be exciting, creative, and often highly rewarding.

STEM Talks


Tuesday 15 August, 2017


Campus Centre Cinema
21 Chancellors Walk
Monash University
Clayton Campus

Session 1

1.00 – 2.00pm
Myth-busting Mathematics Professor Kate Smith-Miles
Musical instruments inspire engineering: how communications systems benefited from a love of music Professor Arthur James Lowery
What does the future hold for autonomous vehicles in Australia? Professor Brian Fildes

Session 2

5.00 – 6.00pm
Modelling the future of our climate – Beyond the crystal ball!
Professor Christian Jakob
The great unknown - how optimisation technology can help you find better solutions to everyday problems
Professor Maria Garcia de la Banda
Metals, insulators, and something new: The discovery of “topological insulators” and how they might change the world Professor Michael Fuhrer


Registrations for 2017 STEM Talks are now closed.

Session 1

Myth-busting Mathematics

Kate Smith-Miles is an internationally renowned mathematician and current President of the Australian Mathematical Society. After completing a BSc (Hons) in mathematics at the University of Melbourne in 1993, she successfully pursued a PhD in combinatorial optimisation in collaboration with the CSIRO and the University of Melbourne. Although curious about most branches of applied mathematics she has a strong research interest in optimisation, machine learning and the modelling of complex systems. Partnering with industry and researchers in other disciplines has helped Kate to appreciate the enormous benefits that mathematics can have in solving many of the challenges faced by society.

As chairperson of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s “Choose Maths” program, Professor Kate Smith-Miles is well aware of the current challenges faced in trying to increase participation rates in mathematics, especially for females. Throughout her career it has become increasingly evident that to achieve a gender balance there are many popular myths surrounding mathematics that need to be challenged. In this talk, Kate will share her own mathematical journey – why she became a mathematician, how her mathematics is applied to real world problems, and why it is that “mathematician” is consistently ranked as the No. 1 job in the world. In so doing, she will attempt to debunk many of the myths surrounding mathematics along the way.

Professor Kate Smith-Miles

ARC Laureate Fellow

School of Mathematical Sciences

Musical instruments inspire engineering: how communications systems benefited from a love of music

Arthur is the Director of the Monash Vision Group and internationally recognised for his innovation in optical communications and commercialisation of research ideas. He has used his love of music and musical technology to drive advances in global communications. He founded ‘Virtual Photonics Pty. Ltd.’ (now ‘VPIphotonics Pty. Ltd.’) which provides a sand- box of computer models of communications devices, enabling communications engineers to test their creations within minutes, rather than waiting years for hardware prototypes. In 2007 he founded his second company, ‘Ofidium Pty. Ltd.’, to commercialise ground breaking optical fibre multiplexing technology and still holds key intellectual property that enables optical signals to be transmitted further and faster along optical fibres.

Just how do you get innovative ideas in engineering? One way that has worked for Arthur is inspiration from the ancient art of creating musical instruments. Arthur’s talk will illustrate how lasers and guitars share common physics, which has enabled him to devise faster simulations of lasers. Using a chain of guitar effects boxes, commonly known as ‘stomp boxes’, inspired his development of a flexible computer interface that enabled 1000’s of engineers to benefit from his simulations. More recently, valve audio amplifiers, jazz and garage bands have inspired improved methods of increasing the efficiency of communications systems. (WARNING: a home-made fretless bass guitar may be played during this presentation).

Professor Arthur James Lowery

ARC Laureate Fellow

Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering

What does the future hold for autonomous vehicles in Australia?

Brian is one of the founding team members that assisted in establishing the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in 1987. He completed a PhD in research science and brings a strong background in engineering and the automotive industry to his research into vehicle design and driver behaviour. His special areas of interest are in occupant protection, vehicle safety and driver speeding and perception. Throughout his career, his research and expertise has been instrumental in informing and assisting government agencies in implement a number of injury prevention programs and evaluating real world crash performance data for the automotive industry.

There is much media discussion and speculation about the impact that new disruptive technologies in clean energy and autonomous vehicles may have on the future of private transportation. World-renowned visionary, educator and entrepreneur, Tony Seba from Stanford University, predicts that by 2030 all vehicles will be electrically driven, will become autonomous (not human driven), and that vehicle ownership will shift to car sharing with considerable community benefits of reduced costs and improved safety. Even if only a few of these bold predictions eventuate, they are likely to have profound effects on reshaping the future of society’s transportation needs and services - up to a 20% reduction in the number of vehicles on our roads and almost zero crashes. In his talk Brian will addresses the potential implications of these disruptive technologies and how they may lead to reductions in road trauma and a cleaner, more liveable society.

Professor Brian Fildes

Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC)

Session 2

Modelling the future of our climate – Beyond the crystal ball!

Christian Jakob is a Meteorologist at Monash University. He received his MSc from Humboldt University in Berlin in 1992 and completed his PhD in Meteorology in 2001 at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. Christian learned to walk the mazes of modelling the weather at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, UK, where he worked in the Research Department from 1993 to 2001. He came to Australia in 2002 to join the Bureau of Meteorology and follow his passion to better understand thunderstorms in the tropics. He started his career in Academia continuing to develop climate models in 2007 by joining Monash University and is currently the Director of the ARC Centre for Climate System Science.

One of the silent scientific revolutions has been the development of models that allow us to predict the future of our climate. Their use underpins major decisions for our long-term future. But aren’t climate predictions highly uncertain because the models are not accurate enough? What is a climate model anyway? Where do its uncertainties come from? Join us for an excursion into the black box that is a climate model!

Professor Christian Jakob

Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science

School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment

The great unknown - how optimisation technology can help you find better solutions to everyday problems

Maria successfully completed her PhD thesis in the Faculty of Informatics winning the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's best PhD Award in 1994. Following this, she moved to Australia to work as a research fellow on an ARC grant at the University of Melbourne and then accepted an appointment to the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University. In 1997 she was awarded a coveted Logan Research Fellowship, a position she held for 6 years to further her research in programming languages. Since then she has made Monash University her home.

Maria's current research focuses on the challenge of finding optimal solutions to complex everyday problems. These problems involve ‘combinatorial optimization’ and can vary from finding the best combination of transport that will take us to ‘Seville’ as cheaply and quickly as possible, to the optimum combination of radiation targeting and dosage to eradicate a cancer tumour whilst maintaining patient health. These problems all require the best combination of decisions to achieve the optimum outcome. While finding inefficient solutions to these problems can be quite easy due to the variety of options available, establishing the optimal choice remains extremely challenging, even for experts. Maria’s talk will explore the impact that these problems have in society and how computer science is helping to determine high quality solutions.

Professor Maria Garcia de la Banda

Caulfield School of Information Technology

Metals, insulators, and something new: The discovery of “topological insulators” and how they might change the world

Michael Fuhrer is a physicist at Monash University. Michael completed his BSc in Physics at the University of Texas in 1990 and his PhD at the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Michael is an experimental physicist who works to uncover the unusual electronic properties of new materials. Michael directs the ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET) which will develop new kinds of transistors which can reduce the electrical power consumed in computing, based on new materials called topological insulators.

Scientists once believed there were two types of materials: metals which conduct electricity, and insulators which don’t. Recently they discovered a third: Topological insulators, with insulating interiors but conducting edges or surfaces, a discovery recognised by the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. Under the right conditions topological insulators can even conduct electricity perfectly, without resistance. New types of transistors based on topological insulators have the potential to significantly reduce the power used in computing and extend the advances of the Information Age well into the future.

Professor Michael Fuhrer

Director, ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low Energy Electronics Technologies

School of Physics and Astronomy