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Adrienne Clarke on science and uncertainty in the age of Sir Redmond Barry and today

  • Date recorded: 7 Jun 2018

  • Duration: 26:02

'Our aim should be for our children to learn about the scientific way of thinking, to be sceptical and to be able to interrogate data, to challenge assumptions and assertions.'

– Adrienne Clarke

About this video

In the 2018 Redmond Barry Lecture, Professor Adrienne Clarke, Emeritus Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, explores how strong science and mathematics education can help prepare us for the future, whatever it may hold.

Professor Clarke begins her lecture with an overview of the life and many achievements of Sir Redmond Barry (1831–80), who played a key role in laying the foundations for Melbourne's position today as one of the world's great knowledge cities. Indeed, 'his fingerprints are over almost every cultural organisation of the time', including the Library, established by Barry in 1854.

Drawing attention to the interest in science shared by Redmond Barry and Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe, Professor Clarke highlights the significance of the establishment of the Royal Society of Victoria in 1854 and the appointment of two government scientists at such an early stage in Melbourne's story: a government botanist, Baron von Mueller, and a government geologist. Also of note was the fact that of the initial list of books ordered for Melbourne's newly established Public Library, half were scientific works.

She argues that just as leaders of the past dealt with the uncertainties of daily life by implementing policies based on sound science, today's scientists have built on these developments to make advances that Redmond Barry would never have imagined. She postulates that the future changes that lie in wait for the next generation include interplanetary travel, the establishment of colonies on mars, the growth of artificial intelligence and big data, and our increased longevity.

Professor Clarke ends her lecture by noting that, with science and technology driving rapid, unforeseeable change, we need to follow Barry and La Trobe's example and ensure that the scientists of the future will be equipped to contribute to debates on policies relevant to the new technologies that will emerge.

Scientists are able to see the consequences of their discoveries earlier and more clearly than onlookers, for science is indeed the endless frontier.


Peter Ryan, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3 (MUP; 1969)
Alan Gross, Charles Joseph La Trobe (MUP; 1956)
Obituary, The Argus, 24 November 1860
Various ABE publications and newsletters

About the Redmond Barry Lecture

This free Redmond Barry Lecture was held at the State Library on 7 June 2018.

The annual lecture honours the work of Sir Redmond Barry – founder of the State Library and a key figure in the development of Australia's cultural and intellectual life.


Professor Adrienne Clarke AC is Emeritus Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) and Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004.