Free biosciences exhibition sheds light on the meaning of life

Wednesday, 26 September, 2012

A new University of Sydney exhibition chronicles some of Australia’s most significant advances in the biological sciences during the past half-century.

‘The Meaning of Life: Celebrating 50 years of Biological Sciences’ marks the anniversary of the schools of Zoology and Botany’s amalgamation into the School of Biological Sciences in 1963.

The merger was largely a result of technological advances and the new ways zoologists and botanists were working together. The new school was further invigorated through new teaching methods (it won prizes for the early use of televised lectures) that gave students the necessary understanding in biochemistry and genetics.

“The merger allowed us to get better organised, gain more funds and buy more equipment,” said the school’s emeritus professor, Tony Larkum.

Biological sciences have continued to advance rapidly, marked by a surge in the understanding of genetic sequences, rapid computerisation and a growing emphasis on conservation, Professor Larkum says. The school’s researchers have examined life forms in every conceivable habitat, with the exhibition including information on:

  • Cane toads - Herpetologist Professor Rick Shine turned his attention to the toads when they invaded his research station in the Northern Territory and has been trying to curtail them ever since, even teaching native species to shun toads from their diets. The exhibition looks at his landmark discovery from observing the toads that, as species, evolve through space as well as time.
  • Marine Ecology One Tree Island Station - Professor Larkum was a founding member of the university’s research program at One Tree Island Research Station in the Great Barrier Reef. The station has underpinned the school’s role in building human understanding of marine fish and evolution, and how ecology works. Professor Larkum’s work in identifying chlorophyll types vital to the existence of microscopic blue-green algae, one of the earth’s oldest life forms, is also profiled and its potential application in telecommunications and ecofuels-fuels examined. One Tree Island is also featured through an engaging digital artwork created by artist and university academic Dr onacloV with two design students.
  • Life in the Simpson Desert - Professor of Terrestrial Ecology Chris Dickman leads regular expeditions to the Simpson Desert to monitor animal populations and ensure their continued presence in Australia’s central deserts. He has discovered the adaptations that frogs and desert mice use to cope with extreme conditions; how floods, wildfires and invasive species affect native small mammals; and how so many species seem to appear and disappear at different times and places in the desert. The exhibition pulls together some of Professor Dickman’s research group’s key findings, offering a valuable lesson on how patterns of biodiversity impact on our environment.

This free exhibition is running at the Macleay Museum on Gosper Lane at the university’s Camperdown Campus. It opens on 28 September and runs until January 2013.

For more information, call (02) 9036 5253 or visit

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