Distinctly different cities

Volume 7 Number 1 January 10 - February 13 2011

Professor Craig Pearson, Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, previews a major conference on sustainable urbanisation to be held in Melbourne.

The 2011 Sir Marcus Oliphant conference, to be in Melbourne on 16-18 February, focuses on ‘Sustainable Urbanisation: a resilient future’ and it will be quite a different style. I think it addresses, uniquely, Melbourne’s commitment to public engagement and sustainability. It is also an example of institutional – and indeed, family – co-operation, as the co-hosts are myself from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, and Dr Leonie Pearson, senior lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology. A true intergenerational conference from organising to speakers to participants!

For a start, the opening session at Zinc in Federation Square will be a free public TEDx event. International and national speakers will talk provocatively on planning, people and pragmatic aspects of creating sustainable, resilient cities, but unlike your usual conference, their talks will be videoed and available for public access long after the in-person conference is over. Speakers include Chris Brown, chief executive of Igloo Regeneration, UK, which the United Nations calls ‘the world’s first responsible real estate fund’, Sein Way-Tan (Green World City Organisation) Australia, one of the world’s most successful property developers who thinks the best way to make cities more sustainable is to show governments and large-scale developers cost-effective solutions that create business opportunities for green companies and Professor Peter Roberts, Leeds University, UK who has over four decades experience in spatial and sustainable regeneration and planning throughout Europe. The second day of the ‘Sustainable Urbanisation’ conference starts off more traditionally, with wise owls such as Professor Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate and MSSI Associate, speaking about the need for change, or transformation, in our cities. Then, we have four concurrent workshops. Our objective is to attract, engage, and hear the views of young professionals, and the workshops will be a mix of wise owls and the enthusiasm and freshness of professionals starting work in the city space. It’s not simply targeted to academics; hopefully, the participants will be drawn equally from private industry, government, community organisations and academics. Some will go away re-invigorated, some with a renewed commitment to “making a difference”, and all will feel they have had an opportunity to make an input into how we should transform our cities so that they are more sustainable, equitable and resilient.

The third segment of the Sustainable Urbanisation conference begins with walks through various parts of Melbourne, prefaced by a talk from Professor Rob Adams, Director, Design and Urban Environment, City of Melbourne and also an MSSI Associate. The purpose of the closing plenary session, at which we expect Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Penny Sackett, is to bring together the three strands of public TEDx speeches by experts and practitioners, workshops, and first-hand experiences through the city walks. We – Leonie and I – aim that participants will go away with fresh, multi-disciplinary insights into how to make cities more sustainable. We also plan a tangible output: Leonie is committed to editing a book on transforming our cities. It will be co-edited by Professor Roberts OBE from Leeds and Professor Peter Newton at Swinburne, and include the outputs from the conference workshops.

I look forward to the mix of experts, practitioners and academics, and particularly a strong percentage of younger participants, that will, together with the unique format, make this conference fun, different, and very much aligned with our university’s commitment to community engagement.

For more details of all the speakers, check the conference website

/    www.sustainableurbanisation.com.au.

Celebrating women in science

Zoe Nikakis talks science with 2010 Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Professor Suzanne Cory.


At school, 2010 Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and President of the Australian Academy of Science Professor Suzanne Cory wanted to be a writer until a passionate biology teacher introduced her to science.

It was a fortunate introduction. Professor Cory has made world changing contributions to science.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Fellowships were founded in 1997 to provide ‘in residence’ status for distinguished public intellectuals who contribute to the public life of the University.

A world-renowned molecular biologist, Fellow of the Royal Society and recipient of its Royal Medal, and Knight of the Legion of Honour, Professor Cory was also Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) from 1996 to 2009.

Professor Cory is using her fellowship to continue her research at WEHI while also fulfilling her duties as President of the Australian Academy of Science at the University of Melbourne.

The fellowship continues Professor Cory’s long association with the University of Melbourne. She graduated with a Bachelor and Master of Science and studying first year genetics sealed her passion for and future in science.

“Our genetics professor arrived at class one day incredibly excited by new research showing that each of our chromosomes contains a single molecule of DNA,” she says.

“This vision of a giant DNA molecule with thousands of genes strung along it like beads on a string obviously blew him away. His enthusiasm imprinted itself on me, and all the work I’ve done since has focused on DNA and genes.”

Professor Cory completed her PhD at what she calls the “Mecca of molecular biology”, the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, where she worked in the department of Francis Crick, renowned for his discovery, with James Watson, of the structure of DNA.

Working at Cambridge put her at the cutting edge of scientific discovery and set the goals for her subsequent career.

“I wanted to work somewhere where big questions were being asked and answered, a place that was competing with the best in the world. My experience at Cambridge made me content with nothing less,” she says.

Professor Cory found such a place at WEHI.

Of her many scientific achievements, she is most proud of her lab’s cancer research. “I’ve found it both challenging and exhilarating; it has been amazing to see the progress in the field.”

Her lab is currently focused on understanding how cells decide whether to live or die.

“Cells have an inbuilt suicide program, called apoptosis, so that every cell can die when it has reached the end of its usefulness, or when it has accumulated genetic damage that could be harmful to the body, she explains. “Blocking the natural cell death process is a dangerous step towards cancer.

“By understanding apoptosis in molecular detail, we will be able design agents that overcome this block and trigger cancer cells to die.”

This research program stems from a finding made by a PhD student, David Vaux, working with Cory and her husband, Professor Jerry Adams in the late 80s. Vaux discovered that the function of a newly isolated gene called BCL2 is to promote cell survival by blocking apoptosis.

The discovery started a new era of work for Professor Cory’s team and since that time apoptosis research has been embraced also by other labs at WEHI and become a huge research area internationally.

“We were fortunate to make a critical discovery and now, after two decades of fundamental research, our WEHI apoptosis consortium is in collaboration with two American pharmaceutical companies to develop more effective chemotherapeutics, Professor Cory says.

“It would be absolutely fantastic if our work leads to new and more effective cancer treatment.”

Professor Cory combines her research with her work as President of the Australian Academy of Science. The academy rewards excellence through the election of Fellows and by awarding prestigious medals to early career and established investigators, across all science disciplines. It also fosters science excellence – by holding conferences, promoting international linkages and developing innovative science education programs for primary and secondary schools.

The Academy also tries to ensure that politicians and opinion-makers can evaluate the best scientific evidence before they make policy decisions.

“The Academy needs to be alert to major issues and make sure there’s a solid body of scientific evidence to draw upon to inform societal decisions,” she says.