ABC TV meteorologist Nate Byrne launches National Science Week

If you tune in to breakfast television, Nate Byrne on ABC TV will be a familiar face. Here he talks about the top events to attend during National Science Week.  

Weather presenter Nate Byrne spent 12 years in the Royal Australian Navy, working as a meteorologist and oceanographer before he took to morning TV. A physics alumni, he is honoured and thrilled to "get nerdy with cool scientists" during this year’s National Science Week (10-18 August).

Nate will MC this year’s public launch: Science at the Extreme, this Friday 9 August at Melbourne Museum.

First tell us about your role as weather presenter on ABC News Breakfast?  

I love it. It’s hard work, but it doesn’t feel like it – I get the opportunity to talk about the thing I know best every day. Sometimes it’s serious – like when there’s a cyclone or bushfire, and I get to provide a valuable service that could help to save lives. Other times, I get to be a nerd and explain just why the clouds look like that on the satellite or show off stunning pictures from around the country.

I was definitely nervous when I started on ABC News Breakfast; I was a big fan of the show long before I joined the team, but now it’s second nature. I’m solely responsible for all my segments, so that gives me a lot of freedom. The rest of the team are exactly who you think they are – an honest bunch of experts who genuinely get along. The mob behind the scenes are brilliant too. It sounds a bit sad, but I really miss going to work when I’m on holidays.

Before your current television gig, you spent time on the road delivering science shows across regional Australia. What can you tell us about that time?  

The touring was with the Shell Questacon Science Circus as a fieldwork component for my study as a Master of Science Communication (Outreach) in 2016. It took me through the Hunter region in New South Wales, from Orbost in Victoria along the south coast to Mount Gambier in South Australia, and from Darwin through Katherine to remote communities around Ngukurr in the Northern Territory.

Since joining the ABC, I’ve also done shows on the outskirts of Melbourne and in Gilgandra in the Central-West of New South Wales. I love getting out to see kids in communities who have less opportunity to see cool science in action, especially when any one of them could be the next great thinker that changes the world.

National Science Week is Australia’s annual celebration of science and technology, and has been running since 1997. What would you say to someone who has never attended before?

There’s something for you, near you. The week allows you to get up-close with the great science work going on in your community, and there’s a great chance that you’ll be blown away by something really interesting. Amazing science is often done inside small rooms hidden in big institutions, so having the opportunity to peek at some of the amazing work we do in Australia – and engage with the brilliant minds doing that work – is a treat.

Name a few of the Victorian events we should look out for.

For the family, check out Humans 2.0 at Bendigo Tech School which will look at a speculative future, while Lunar Planting at Balmoral K-12 Community College will show how students are planting crops to the lunar calendar.

Movie lovers can head to Scinema, the under-caffeinated can check out Coffee in Space, and if you have a thing forFatberg National Science Week the moon (and who doesn’t?), I’ve lost count of the number of lunar events.

My personal favourite might be the Fatberg – partly because I got the opportunity to help add to it, but mostly because the idea of a fatberg is just so gross and cool at the same time.

If you can’t make it to an event in person, you can go online. The SCIVR [Science in VR] team are running Immersive Science III – download the phone app to hear Swinburne astrophysicist Alan Duffy and astronomer Rebecca Allen talking about black holes.

Tell us about the intersection between science and your own work as a meteorologist. Are you involved in climate change research?  

As a forecaster, I use tools developed by researchers, rather than doing research myself; I tip my hat to those with the expertise to get into the research. I have a keen interest in the subject: we’re at a point where any debate over the existence of climate change is far behind us. New modelling allows us to determine how much of an influence climate change has on certain weather events, and the signal is clear. Scientists will keep refining the predictions, but the conversation needs to turn more directly to how we’re going to deal with the challenges ahead.

Is the public becoming more interested in climate change?  

I’m asked more and more about climate change – it’s gone from something ephemeral to an existential reality. Increasingly, people are noticing their local weather seems a bit different, that rainfall patterns are changing or that extreme weather events are more extreme both at home and abroad.

What is it about the weather that fascinates you?  

The vastness of it. When you start to understand how huge and chaotic the atmosphere is, the fact that we can predict what’s going to happen in the next few hours, let alone the next week, is mind blowing. On top of that, weather is a great equaliser – we all get wet if we’re standing in the rain.

Most people can easily name five Victorian athletes or artists, but struggle when it comes to scientists. In the spirit of National Science Week, can you tell us about five living Victorian scientists who we should know about?

In no particular order:

  • Dr Linden Ashcroft, Editor in Chief of both the Bulletin of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, and the Royal Meteorological Society’s Geoscience Data Journal. She’s a climatologist and a science communicator (so of course she comes to mind!). Linden takes huge amounts of historical data to find the signals of a changing climate, then makes sure that people hear about it.
  • And while we're in the realm of atmospherics, Professor David Karoly is an inspiration – his work is internationally recognised, and he speaks accessibly about the state of the climate.
  • Professor Sandra Kentish works at the University of Melbourne studying membranes, affecting everything from cleaning the air to securing fresh water in an uncertain future.
  • Dr Shalin Naik is an immunologist who appears regularly on the ABC. I have respect for anyone who has a grasp on biology, because the squishy stuff is fascinating, and very hard to nail down.
  • I met Professor Rachel Webster at Uluru, of all places. She’s an astrophysicist who specialises in looking at extragalactic systems, which blows my mind even more than meteorology.

Nate Byrne is the MC at the National Science Week public launch: Science at the Extreme this Friday 9 August at Melbourne Museum. The panel of speakers includes NASA geobiologist, Dr Darlene Lim, who The Victorian Connection also spoke to. Tickets are selling fast.

Nate’s personal recommendations, among hundreds of other events, are listed on the National Science Week website.