• Tools of Science is a series of meetings hosted by The Physics Museum, at The University of Queensland.

Students, scientists, engineers, historians of science and technology, teachers, collectors, and all those fascinated by old scientific instruments are encouraged to attend.

In 2015, the lectures are held in LR 7-222 in the Parnell Building at the St Lucia campus.


How do I find out when the lectures are on?

You can subscribe to receive email reminders about Tools of Science at http://lists.sps.uq.edu.au/mailman/listinfo/tools-of-science or by sending an empty email message to tools-of-science-join@physicsuq.edu.au.

You can unsubscribe from the service at http://lists.sps.uq.edu.au/mailman/listinfo/tools-of-science or by sending an empty email to tools-of-science-leave@physics.uq.edu.au.

If you miss a lecture, in most cases, a vimeo recording will be available a few weeks later. Look for links below or here.

For further details contact Prof Norman Heckenberg (pictured above) on (07) 3365 3369  or 0405685813 or email heckenberg@physics.uq.edu.au.

The second lecture for 2015 was presented at 4:30pm on Friday May 22 by Dr Timo Nieminen of the School of Mathematics and Physics.

The many roads to radiation pressure

From its early beginnings as a largely-ignored and mysterious phenomenon, radiation pressure has become a widely-used laboratory tool, has been tested for spacecraft propulsion, and has been seen on popular television comedies. The first steps leading to the science of radiation pressure are (perhaps wrongly) attributed to Kepler in the early 1600s, but little certain was known, and even less measured, until Maxwell's electromagnetic theory. Remarkably, theoretical explanations and quantitative predictions were developed almost simultaneously from all three major branches of theoretical physics of the time: field theory, mechanics, and thermodynamics. As relativistic and quantum versions of these branches of physics grew, so too did the diverse range of theories of radiation pressure, all giving the same predictions. How many other phenomena can make the same claim of being correctly explained by all major branches of theoretical physics

Timo Nieminen is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland. The body of his research interests sits in the field of optics, with tentacles non-exclusively extending into physics education, the history of physics and science, and the application of physics and computational modelling to problems in history.



The first lecture for 2015 was presented at 4:30pm on Friday April 17 by Prof Jenny Martin from the Institute for Molecular Biosciences

Bragging about Crystallography

Last year was the UNESCO International Year of Crystallography, a field of science established 100 years ago in large part by Lawrence Bragg, Australia's first Nobel Prize winner. This year we celebrate the centenary of that first Australian Nobel prize. Who was Bragg? What is crystallography? How has it impacted life on earth? And on Mars? How did we celebrate IYCr? What are #crystalcakes? Come along to this seminar to find out the answers to these questions and many more.


 Jenny Martin trained as a pharmacist in Victoria and was the Gold Medallist of her year. Her DPhil in protein crystallography and drug design was awarded from the University of Oxford. After postdoctoral research at Rockefeller University in New York, Jenny returned to Australia in 1993 to establish the first protein crystallography laboratory in Queensland. Since then, she has held several nationally competitive fellowships including an inaugural ARC Australian Laureate Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience in the University of Queensland. From 2008-2011, she chaired the National Committee for Crystallography of the Australian Academy of Science. From 2007-2009 she was a member of the Australian Synchrotron Scientific Advisory Committee and she is currently the Vice-President of the Asian Crystallography Association.

Unfortunately, no recording of this talk is available.



The fourth lecture for 2014 was presented at 6pm on Tuesday November 11 by Neil Boucher. (Access a recording here)

Tesla the Showman

We begin with a look at a current model Tesla machine that stands at 2 metres tall and plays music.  This is not a machine that Tesla ever made.

Tesla's life can be divided into a few periods.  First his failure to qualify as anything in particular in Europe, followed by a 10 year stint of brilliant fabrication in the US (under direction), where he made a significant contribution for AC transmission on the Niagara Falls line. He did not invent AC (as is often claimed) as this occurred before he was born. Parallel development in Europe saw much of his work on AC transmission replicated there. However his productivity in this period in undeniable.

Tesla explained little (mainly because he couldn't) and published mostly through the popular press. After about 10 years on the Niagara line Tesla began working alone.  He funded his work on investors’ money saying that his aim was to invent long distance communications (like Marconi) but secretly he was trying to invent long distance power transmission and "free power" from the universe.

What he really invented was the Tesla coil which could have set particle physics 5 or 10 years forward, but instead he kept the coil more or less to himself.  Even his own engineers were not permitted to make measurements on his coils.

Tesla claimed to have invented all kinds of things which were in 1943 appropriated briefly by the war office who in 3 days pronounced them "largely speculative and of no use", He died a disbeliever in Relativity and E=MC^2 (he didn't understand these either)

We show a 100,000 volt Tesla coil and a 750,000 volt coil with some of the things it could do.

Finally we show the famous picture of Tesla reading a newspaper by the light of   3-5 metre Tesla flashes and reveal that it too was a fake. 


Neil Boucher is an electrical engineer and author of a number of books including the 770 page

"Cellular Radio Handbook", J. Wiley, now in its third edition. He has a passion for old-world

technologies and has an impressive collection of Radios and Gramophones (all

working) from yesteryear. He has previously presented Tools of Science talks on telegraphy and wireless communication.

The third lecture for 2014 was presented at 6pm on Tuesday October 14 by Dr Timo Nieminen. Access a recording here.


World War One is famously known as the "chemist's war", largely due to the widespread usage of chemical weapons, while World War Two is the "physicist's war", with major contributions being radar and atomic weapons. This is, of course, an oversimplification, and physics was no more absent in World War One than chemistry was in the second. While the role of physics to World War One is not well-known, there were important successful contributions, for example in optics, acoustics, radio communications, and the use of x-rays in treatment of the wounded. There were also notable failures, and lost opportunities. Military institutions are often bastions of conservatism, and attempts to bring about change can be strongly resisted. On the other hand, changes that can provide advantages on the battlefield can be highly attractive. Thus, different elements of the military displayed quite contradictory attitudes towards science and innovation, contributing to success or failure of scientific contributions. Some examples illustrating this will be discussed. The success or failure of these attempts helped shape the way in which scientific resources were deployed in World War Two.

Timo Nieminen is a Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland. The body of his research interests sits in the field of optics, with tentacles non-exclusively extending into physics education, the history of physics and science, and the application of physics and computational modelling to problems in history.


The second lecture for 2014 was presented on Tuesday September 9 by Prof Richard Yeo. (access recording here)


The subject was

‘The Notebook: making scientific notes in the early Royal Society of London’

Today’s ‘lab notes’ have their precursors in the notes of leading figures of the Scientific Revolution, such as Galileo and Newton. As now, the notes made by scientists (called natural philosophers) in the 1600s served several purposes: as aids to memory, as records for storage, and as a way of registering priority in discovery. Many of these early scientific notes and notebooks were personal, rather than institutional; but early scientific societies, such as the Royal Society of London (from 1660), did confront the question of how best to make and keep notes in collaborative projects. In this talk, I will consider some of the issues, as seen in the cases of Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke.


Richard Yeo is a historian of science, who studies debates on the nature, practice, and communication of science from the 17th to the 19th centuries. He was educated at Sydney University, and taught for many years at Griffith University, Brisbane where he held a Personal Chair; he is now an Adjunct Professor. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2002. His books include Defining Science: William Whewell, Natural Knowledge and Public Debate in Early Victorian Britain (Cambridge, 1993); Encyclopaedic Visions: Scientific Dictionaries and Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge, 2001); and, most recently, Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science (The University of Chicago Press, 2014).


The first lecture for 2014 was presented by Dr Colin Kennard (access recording here)

The subject will be Max von Laue, a Nobel Prize winner in 1914, and at the time a member of the Ludwig Maximillians Universitaet Muenchen (LMU). Because of this award, the International Union of Crystallography has named 2014 the Year of Crystallography, and this talk will trace some history, some personal reminiscences of Colin, a retired Chemical Crystallographer from the then Department of Chemistry, and an overview of the development of x-ray crystallography from the first structure to today's half a million compounds.

Further Tools of Science talks in 2014 will be as follows (please check nearer event or subscribe to the email list):

Tools of Science Program  Semester 2, 2014



 Short Title


12 Aug

Leo Moloney

Telecom museum


9 Sept

Richard Yeo 

Scientists’ Notebooks

St Lucia, 7-222

14 Oct

Timo Nieminen

Physics in WW 1

St Lucia, 7-222


Neil Boucher

Tesla the Showman

St Lucia, 7-222




Where exactly on campus are the lectures? Where can I park?

Lectures are normally held in the Parnell Building (7-222)  Follow Sir Fred Schonnell Drive into the campus, when you will see  two parking buildings on your right. Take the third exit from the roundabout with the solar collector, and continue up the hill to an open air car park (P6). The cost is $1.50/ hour.



Tools of Science lectures are sponsored by:

The School of Mathematics and Physics, and

The Queensland Branch of the Australian Institute of Physics


Warning! Do not click on the links below!