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Robyn Arianrhod

Robyn Arianrhod

Robyn Arianrhod is an affiliate in the School of Mathematics, Monash University, where she taught for many years; her research fields are general relativity and the history of mathematical science. As a science writer, she has published many articles and reviews, as well as four books blending popular science with history and biography. Her latest is Thomas Harriot: A life in science (OUP, 2019).

Robyn Arianrhod ‘The Best Australian Science Writing 2023’ edited by Donna Lu

January-February 2024, no. 461 18 December 2023
The Best Australian Science Writing (BASW) anthology is here again, and readers are in for a treat: a wide-ranging selection of easy-to-read articles describing some of the amazing science that is happening right now. Of course, it is an impossible task, choosing the ‘best’ writing, and in her introduction editor Donna Lu acknowledges her subjectivity. It is the same for a reviewer, and since ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'Here Be Monsters: Is technology reducing our humanity?' by Richard King

August 2023, no. 456 25 July 2023
Back in the day, I was wary about making a career in science. It wasn’t just the lack of women; it was also a sense of moving into alien territory. After all, I had absorbed feminist critiques suggesting that modern science had been shaped by (male) scientists’ urge to ‘penetrate’ nature by reducing it to its parts – an urge that had blinded them to the power of the whole. And I was all ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'What’s Eating the Universe? And other cosmic questions' by Paul Davies

March 2022, no. 440 22 February 2022
Paul Davies, the British physicist who brightened up the Australian science scene when he was a professor at the University of Adelaide in the 1990s, is currently director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. Beyond describes itself as ‘a pioneering center devoted to confronting the really big questions of science and philosophy’. It also aims t ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'The Art of More: How mathematics created civilisation' by Michael Brooks

October 2021, no. 436 28 September 2021
Were you one of those reluctant mathematics students who complained, ‘What’s the point of all this?’ If so, rest assured: Michael Brooks has made a compelling case for the role mathematics has played in making ‘civilisation’ possible. If you still need convincing, he also discusses research suggesting that doing maths is good for your brain. ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'Helgoland' by Carlo Rovelli, translated by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell

September 2021, no. 435 23 August 2021
Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli has a gift for writing short, conversational, popular physics books. His earlier works, notably Seven Brief Lessons in Physics (2015) and The Order of Time (2018), have been bestsellers, and Helgoland is continuing the trend. Helgoland is a barren island in the North Sea, where the twenty-three-year-old Werner Heisenberg found inspiration in his quest for the m ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'The Knowledge Machine: How an unreasonable idea created modern science' by Michael Strevens

April 2021, no. 430 23 March 2021
If you have ever wondered about the imaginative, wondrous side of science – for instance, how Einstein used maths to predict the existence of gravitational waves, or how a metaphor led to the astonishing discovery that the spinning earth drags space-time around it like molasses around a spoon, this is not the book for you. But if you want to know why scientists had the patience to keep refining ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'Celestial Tapestry: The warp and weft of art and mathematics' by Nicholas Mee

March 2021, no. 429 22 February 2021
Celestial Tapestry is a gem, indeed, a trove of gems: lavishly illustrated cameos from the science and history of art and mathematics, woven into a narrative about pattern and symmetry. We humans have an innate appreciation of symmetry, judging from 5,000 years of art, architecture, mathematics, and mythical and religious symbolism. After all, symmetry is all around us – in the shapes of our bod ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'Antimony, Gold, and Jupiter’s Wolf: How the elements were named' by Peter Wothers

March 2020, no. 419 24 February 2020
Imagine you’re trying to make sense of the universe five hundred years ago, when astronomers believe there are just seven visible ‘planets’ wandering about the Earth: the sun and moon plus Mercury to Saturn. Intriguingly, there are also seven known metals: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, lead, and mercury. For hundreds of years there have been just seven known ‘planets’ and seven metals ... (read more)

Robyn Arianrhod reviews 'The Best Australian Science Writing 2019' edited by Bianca Nogrady

December 2019, no. 417 26 November 2019
Reading good science writing is not just pleasurable and informative: it’s also necessary if we want to live engaged and examined lives in today’s hyper-technological, climate-changing world. The Best Australian Science Writing 2019 offers readers all these things – the delight in good writing, the satisfaction of learning, and the sobering reckoning with our society’s environmental impact ... (read more)