The 2016 Astronomical Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting is over for another year – congratulations to all involved for a wonderful conference.

Naturally enough, I’ve been pondering conference posters for the last week. Here is my unsolicited advice.


I’ll probably read a poster in spite of a boring title, but do yourself a favour and make it interesting. In particular, make your title a scientific claim. I got this idea from Josh Peek, who makes the title of every slide of his talks a summary of the slide, not just the theme. E.g. instead of “Observations”, put “We observed 234 galaxies”. Instead of “Modelling”, put “A warped disk fits our data”.

My preference (comment if you disagree) is for titles that are claims. E.g. Instead of “The GALAH Survey: An Overview”, put “GALAH will survey 1 million stars”.

Also, consider a subtitle: a one sentence summary of your poster.


Always start the main body of text with an abstract or summary. I won’t read every word on every poster, so don’t make the point of your poster hard to find.

Also, put the introduction after the abstract. I found myself being irritated by posters with vague titles that then started with “There are lots of stars in the sky. Stars are bright. …” I found myself scanning through the poster to try to find what was new, what I could learn.

Language and Layout

  • This is a lesson from writing grant proposals, but beware of soft verbs like characterise and classify. Even probe can be a bit weak. Tell us what the science goal is, even if you’re not there yet.
  • Flow charts and diagrams are very useful. Equations are particularly useless on a poster.
  • Light text on a dark background, or vice versa. Contrast,contrast,contrast.
  • Don’t make the text too large. Readable from a metre away, not from across the room.
  • Include a photo of yourself
  • Labels, comments and arrows on plots are great. In particular, summarise the point of the plot in one sentence. E.g. “This model (arrow to line), which includes stellar feedback, best fits the data.”

Have I missed anything? Comment below!


Next Wednesday (6 July, 2016), I have the honour of presenting the 2016 Harley Wood Lecture, which was inaugurated in 1984 as an annual lecture in honour of the first President of the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA). Harley Wood was Director of Sydney Observatory for over thirty years from 1943 to 1974.

The event is sponsored by Sydney Ideas. After my talk, there will be a response by Professor Mark Colyvan, a philosopher at the University of Sydney who has published on philosophical aspects of fine-tuning.

The lecture is free; register online here. Continue Reading »

I recently gave a brief introduction to the evidence for the Big Bang theory to Year 10 students as a part of the Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics’s CAASTRO in the Classroom program. They do video conferences by scientists for school kids of all ages. If you are or know a primary or science teacher anywhere in Australia, then get involved!

Here’s the video. It’s already got one thumbs down on YouTube! Thanks, internet!

Book Proofs!

Look what arrived in the post! Pre-order today! Or wait patiently for the (simultaneously released) e-book! Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.


The book blitz begins …

Due to be released in September 2016, you can now pre-order “A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos”, by Geraint F. Lewis and Luke A. Barnes! Just visit Cambridge University Press, Amazon, The Book Depository, or Booktopia. An e-book will be released at about the same time, we’ve been assured.

While you’re at it, why not …


I’m speaking as part of a panel on Sunday (29th May, 2016) at the Powerhouse Museum, as part of Sydney’s Vivid Festival. I’ll be joined by Dr. Vanessa Moss (CAASTRO/Univ. of Sydney), Dr. Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQU) and Dr. Elizabeth Mannering (AAO/ICRAR), and our host is Dr. Alan R. Duffy (Swinburne University). It should be great!

The Story of Light: Deciphering the Data Encoded in the Cosmic Light

The information encoded in the light emitted by stars, gas, and galaxies provides the key for understanding the Universe.

For decades, astrophysicists have developed novel approaches to exploring the light of the Cosmos, most recently through data-intensive techniques, analytics and visualization tools to extract the information collected by extremely sensitive telescopes and instruments. Astronomers have been pioneers in developing data science techniques to make sense of this huge data deluge, many of which are now used in other areas.

In this event, four professional astrophysicists will discuss what astronomy provides in the context of exploiting big data:

  • The light and light-based technologies developed in Australian astronomy for both optical and radio telescopes; the tools, platforms, and techniques used for data analysis and visualization
  • How astronomers create simulation data
  • How some of these techniques are being used in other research areas and;
  • The major scientific contributions toward our understanding of the Universe.

Hear about the exciting challenges in detecting planets around other stars, learn about how galaxies form and evolve, what dark matter and dark energy are, how we search for extra-terrestrial life, and more. The the panel will happily answer any questions about the Universe, so bring yours along.


  • Dr. Vanessa Moss (CAASTRO/Univ. of Sydney)
  • Dr. Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQU)
  • Dr. Luke Barnes (Univ. of Sydney)
  • Dr. Elizabeth Mannering (AAO/ICRAR)
  • Hosted by Dr. Alan R. Duffy (Swinburne University)

This event is presented by the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO).

An emailer asked for my comments on this video, so I thought I’d post them here. It’s a video by William Lane Craig, with help from some nifty graphics and a narrator. Craig here defends the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, as he has been doing for some time.

While Craig has done his homework on fine-tuning, the video has problems. I’ll be commenting here on the physics of fine-tuning, not the fine-tuning argument for God. I’ll leave the metaphysics to the philosophers, for now. (The previous two sentences will be copied and pasted into the comments section as many times as necessary.)

Before addressing the video, I’ve heard Craig say a few times that “there are about fifty constants and physical quantities simply given in the Big Bang themselves that if they were altered even to one part in a hundred million million million the universe would not have permitted the existence of life.” There can’t be 50 fine-tuned constants. There aren’t even 50 fundamental constants of nature, including cosmic initial conditions. There are, in the usual count, 31. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Craig is thinking of the large numbers of fine-tuning criteria compiled by Hugh Ross, which are of varying quality.)

Let’s look at the video; all quotes are from the transcript.

From galaxies and stars, down to atoms and subatomic particles, the very structure of our universe is determined by these numbers.

So far, so good.

Speed of Light: c = 299,792,458 ~ m ~ s^{-1}
Gravitational Constant:G = 6.673 \times 10^{-11} ~  m^3~ kg^{-1} ~ s^{-2}
Planck’s Constant: 1.05457148 \times 10^{-34} ~ m^2 ~ kg ~ s^{-2}

The final value is actually the reduced Planck constant (h / 2 \pi ), and the units are wrong; it should be m^2 ~ kg ~ s^{-1}. But there’s a bigger problem here. Continue Reading »