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Decades of discovery: Robyn Williams and the evolution The Science Show

  • 08 March 2024
  Recently, science journalist and national treasure Robyn Williams presented The Science Show’s Top 100 Australian Scientists on his weekly program on Radio National. ‘It’s not an official list, nor a final one — just a bit of fun, like Triple J’s hottest songs,’ he began, before adding, ‘But it does try to make up for the fact that most scientists in Australia are not known. And they should be. They are world class.’

He tells me, when we chat, that we trust scientists more if we know them. And our future depends on this.

Robyn Williams has been hosting The Science Show since 1975. It’s a 55-minute science program which airs on Radio National every Saturday at noon, and is repeated early Monday morning and at noon on Wednesday. The audience, thanks to technology, is not just Australia-wide but international.

The number of scientists he has interviewed would run into the thousands. Their fields of expertise, be they professors, PhD students or authors, range from astrophysics, quantum computing and immunology to counting koalas from the sky and communicating about climate change solutions.

There are guest interviewers too, but the bulk of the interviews are Robyn’s terrain.

What becomes apparent from these broadcast conversations is not just the intellect, creativity and lateral thinking of the interviewees but how articulate they are — no 'ums or ahs here — and the boundless enthusiasm for their respective scientific endeavour. I wonder how Robyn keeps up with it all, riding wave after wave of new scientific knowledge and discoveries.

Meeting him at 10am one weekday at the ABC studios in Ultimo, prior to being interviewed, offered some clues. He’d just returned from a conference at the Academy of Science, of which he is a fellow — the first journalist to enjoy that honour. There he’d had conversations with scientific luminaries as well as the prime minister. And it appeared, at least to me, work had overridden his need for a good night’s sleep.


'In his almost five decades as program host, Robyn Williams has seen significant changes: from the rise of new scientific areas and incredible breakthroughs (from cancer research, genome science, climate science and the energy transition), as well as ever-changing technology (from podcasts to artificial intelligence) to ‘the arrival of women in science’. All are important, and will have an impact on our future.'  

At his desk in the open-plan office, books and notepads were stacked across the floor. Shelves and the desktop