Spider scientist takes top NSW prize

Wandering through a spider’s web in your rush to the bus is an urban peril that we all face living in a city. So it was particularly interesting to learn from the University of Sydney’s PhD candidate Lizzy Lowe that spiders don’t simply survive in our cities, they positively thrive.

At Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum last night with a few Golden Orbs as somewhat unnerving props, Lizzy convinced the judges in three captivating minutes that her work on adaptation in the face of drastic alteration of ecosystems was worthy of top prize at last night’s NSW FameLab awards.

FameLab is the British Council’s science competition and is now in around 30 countries. Contestants have three minutes to entertain and inform an audience by explaining their work, without resorting to jargon or powerpoint.

“Lizzy brought a wonderful authenticity to her presentation and she not only told us clearly what her research was about, she also explained why it was important,” said Helen O’Neil, one of the judges and the country director of the British Council Australia.

“She was a real standout and I am thrilled that she will go on to represent NSW in the national competition to be held in Fremantle in May.”

Lizzy Lowe, an urban ecologist, says she finds it comforting that the spiders at the centre of her research – the Golden Orb – actually grow bigger and fatter than their country relatives.

“These spiders build great big golden webs and particularly love man-made objects and expanses of concrete. I’ve been able to determine that the spiders actually change their behavior in order to deal with their highly modified environment,” Lizzy said.

If Lizzy wins the national finals, she will be off to the Cheltenham Science Fair in the UK where she will compete for the international title.

The runner up in the NSW FameLab heat was Astrid Zeman from Macquarie University, while the winner of the People’s Choice award was Barbara Padalino from the University of Sydney.

The event was MC’d by the ABC’s ‘surfing scientist’, Catalyst presenter Ruben Meerman.

 

Further information: Vivienne.skinner@britishcouncil.org.au  0411 206 224