Stars finally align at Canberra Writers Festival 2017

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC

It was probably only a matter of time before the universes of Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt and acclaimed science journalist Dava Sobel collided.

Given their mutual love of astronomy, it seems the stars have finally aligned in time for the Canberra Writer's Festival.

In a special prelude event, the pair will be in conversation at Questacon on August 7, discussing Sobel's latest book The Glass Universe: The hidden history of the women who took the measure of the stars.

Sobel tells the story of the women employed by the Harvard College Observatory in the 19th century, working as "human computers" to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night.

These women changed the history of astronomy, making extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim - they helped discern what stars are made of and how to categorise them as well as finding a way to measure distances across space by starlight.

Professor Schmidt, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for work on the expansion of the universe, admits that Ms Sobel is one his favourite writers.

"Dava Sobel has a wonderfully unique way of telling stories of how science and technology intertwine with the history of the progress humanity," Professor Schmidt said.

"Those stories capture the fundamental reason why scientists pursue their work. She captures how people and technology interact in a way that no one else does."

For Ms Sobel, bringing science to life, giving it a human face, has been a lifetime passion. At 70, she has lost none of the youthful vigor that saw her selected into the Bronx High School of Science in 1951 - "where we were told boys would be admitted preferentially over girls at a ratio of three or four to one, can you imagine that happening now?"

She said there are so many unfounded stereotypes around scientists and science and that it was part of her role to debunk those.

"The idea that science itself is just a body of factual information is so untrue, the interesting science stories are the human ones."

The Canberra Writers' Festival runs from August 25-27 with a full program of events and plenty of a-list authors. Kathy Lette, Tracey Spicer, Rutger Bregman, John Safran, Samantha Shannon and Tony Jones have joined the program, joining Maggie Alderson, Nikki Gemmell, Garth Nix, Julia Baird, Graeme Simsion and Richard Fidler, among others.

The festival opens on Thursday, August 24 with a special dinner at the National Portrait Gallery hosted by former food critic and now Tasmanian farmer Matthew Evans.

For a full program and booking details head to

This story Stars finally align at Canberra Writers Festival 2017 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.