An astrophysicist’s voice

Michael Burton lectures in Astronomy and Physics at the University of New south Wales. He has worked for several weeks at a time at the south Pole, developing Antarctic astronomy. We met some weeks ago when I went to the main UNSW campus looking for someone to talk to about the Milankovitch cycles. Yesterday he agreed to a recorded interview, to describe his experience of the Antarctic landscape.

In most ways his experience was different from mine. He has approached Antarctica from different angles: he flew, I sailed; he is English, I am Australian; He is male, I am female; he went to develop Antarctic astronomy, I went to develop Antarctic art; Neither of us, however, have known an Antarctic winter. Few people have. I find that winterers will talk more to me than most others about their Antarctic experiences, yet are the least agreeable to speaking for recordings.

Michael told me he thought it impossible to winter in such an alien landscape as Antarctica and not be changed in some way.

He began describing landscape at the Pole as flat white and void, but that essentially it was indescribable; Antarctica is something you need to experience.

[The sound files take some time to load.]

Michael believes it is important for scientists to communicate with the public. He writes on his web site that:

Communication is an important ability for the professional scientist, not just to one’s peers or even the scientific community, but to the public at large. In today’s world of economic rationalism it is ever more important to explain both the excitement of leading edge science, and its importance to the development of our society, to a wide audience. I contribute to this in several ways, such as through giving public talks, speaking about astronomy on the radio (here me every second Monday at 5:45pm on ABC radio with James O’Brien) and through the `Australian Science Communinicators’. I am one of the organisers of an exciting new venture, `Science in the Pub’ , or SciPub! Come to the Duke of Edinbugh pub in Pyrmont the last Wednesday of every month to hear two prominent scientists debate hot issues in science.

Many people who work in Antarctica express their care about the environment. For example, Michael is very active in working to conserve the only remaining extant wetland in Randwick, in Sydney.