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Penny Sackett appointed Australia's Chief Sci -

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Penny Sackett appointed Australia's Chief Scientist

Penny Sackett discusses her background and how she found it easy to pursue a path in science. An
excerpt from an earlier appearance on The Science Show.


Robyn Williams: Astronomer Penny Sackett has just replaced Jim Peacock as the nation's top boffin.
She's done great work in Canberra, not least in rebuilding Mt Stromlo after the terrible fires of
four years ago. We'll let her introduce herself.

Penny Sackett: Hello, my name is Penny Sackett, and I'm now an astronomer. Before that I probably
would have called myself someone who was interested in science generally, and before that I was
just a child who was interested in everything, and it's my view actually that all children are
natural scientists because they're curious and they want to know why. And they will not stop asking
the question until they understand why, and that's really I believe what a scientist is; someone
who is willing to use whatever tools are available, whether they be observation, mathematics,
literature studies, whatever is required to understand why.

I would say that I started thinking about why then at a very young age. I had the advantage of
parents who were not afraid of numbers. My mother was an accountant and my father repaired business
machines, things that we now call computers. And so because of that they viewed mathematics as
simply one of the languages that you can use to describe things, which I think was an advantage to
me in my youth. When I was in high school I had a teacher in physics who really changed my life and
it was at that point that I decided to spend less time on biology, which had been my previous love,
despite the fact that my father told me that physics was about the study of levers and pulleys,
which should have frightened me off. And then I went into college to study more physics still, not
even knowing at that moment what a physicist did, having no idea, only knowing that I loved

And physics is a wonderful study on which you can base further effort in science in many
disciplines, and the one that I've eventually found my way through in a very circuitous path is
astronomy and I'm very happy to be here indeed. And at this moment I have the pleasure of being the
director of one of the greatest research schools in the world in astronomy and astrophysics and
that's the Research School at ANU on Mount Stromlo.

Robyn Williams: Penny Sackett on The Science Show a little while ago. And our new Chief Scientist
on why youngsters should think of doing science these days, because it's stimulating and because we
need folk who can think scientifically.

Penny Sackett: I think two reasons come immediately to mind. One I would say is because it is...I
was going to say fun...fulfilling maybe is the word I would really want to use, it's fulfilling. So
if I use an example from my own discipline, why should it be that one human being on this small
planet could imagine, and occasionally even get right, how something works on the other side of the
universe? Why is it that the other side of the universe even obeys the same rules of physics and
science as we have here on Earth? When you think about it that's already an amazing statement. And
the second amazing statement is that somebody that's in school right now will discover even
something more amazing about the universe than we now know. So I think that's one reason.

And the second reason is the world needs you. I think that as we can see in our daily lives year
after year that more and more we rely on people that can give reasonable, considered answers, that
are curious and that can help us solve some of the challenges that we will have as a society going
forward. So it's fulfilling, you have a chance to do something that very few others will have done
up to that point and the world needs you.

Robyn Williams: Professor Penny Sackett, Australia's new Chief Scientist, and something tells me
it's going to be a lively ride. The word needs you.