Monday, May 07, 2012

Adelaide: The Hi-Tech Arsenal of Australia

For the last few days I have been in Adelaide for a meeting for the Australian Computer Society Education. I took the opportunity to look at learning spaces and science communication, while I was in town.

University of Adelaide Hub Central

With some time to spare before the meeting started, I visited the new learning space at University of Adelaide's "Hub Central". This was, as one proud local told me, designed in consultation with the students. While having design flair and a little whimsy, this space is designed with much more hard-wearing materials that the typical soft and comfy learning space, so should stand up to harsh treatment by students.

The space has mostly hard floors, varnished waffle board walls (a manufactured structural wood product usually covered up) and what looks like impregnated waffle board (usually used for concrete form-work) for the staircase.

While a little spartan, the upper level is very practical and has a couple of good food shops. There is a cozy mezzanine above and a large learning space below. In between is the student assistance desk.

The learning space has a mix of computers on long desks (students tend to form a work group around each end of the desk). There are four seat tables, which can be pushed together for larger groups. There are also bookable group areas with chest height partitions. There were some less formal areas with soft floors, so something there is somewhere for just about everyone to get comfortable.

My EduRoam account worked fine here and I was able to find a power point. This is a very livable and it appears well used space.

State Library of South Australia

Just down the road from University of Adelaide is the State Library of SA. As well as a good coffee shop in the foyer, the library has an informal seated space where people congregate to use the WiFi (one person seemed to be having a very long video chat with a friend in the USA).

The library has an excellent collection of recent magazines on display, much more extensive than State Library of NSW, National Library of Australia, and almost as big as State library of Victoria.

Science Exchange

A few blocks south from the library is the "Royal Institution of Australia", located in the old stock exchange building. RiAus models itself on the UK Royal Institution, but it is not clear if there is a role for another science promoting institution in Australia. Australia already has the Australian Academy of Science, Sydney's Powerhouse Museum and the National Science and Technology Centre. RiAus seems to be the South Australian government's attempt to have a stake in the science business, but I suggest they need to invest in something more focused than RiAus.

Adelaide: The Hi-Tech Arsenal of Australia

My last visit to the Science Exchange was to present "Engaging the Defence Sector with Open Source". This was about how software is key to major Australian defense projects, such as submarines and electronic warfare aircraft. Many defence administrators assume that the hardware is important: you weld together the hull of a submarine and most of the work is done. But has the failed Collins submarine project shows, the hardware worthless, if the software and systems are not properly designed to make it work. This is topical as the Australian Government has announced that 12 new submarines will be built in Adelaide.

In my view, South Australia should concentrate on promoting the state as a place for defense technology, not science in general. As part of that, the SA government could sponsor work on a feasible submarine configuration, which could be built in Adelaide. The Australian Defence Department's Future Submarine Project (SEA 1000) proposals are not feasible and it would be unfortunate if Adelaide hosted a second failed submarine project.

Australian Science Media Centre

This visit to the Science Exchange was to see the people at the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC), who have a mezzanine above the RiAus office. This is a non-profit organization which matches up scientists with the media. Getting useful and timely information out to the public about research can be frustrating for both scientists and the journalists they talk to. AusSMC smooth the process. I get regular alerts from AusSMC with details of queries from journalists on my areas of expertise. AusSMC also help scientists put out alerts about what they are doing, in a format usable by journalists. The service is free.

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