Is art more truthful than science? - The University of Sydney
woman staring against backdrop of space

Is art more truthful than science?

Australian dramatist Alana Valentine, poet Tricia Dearborn and scientists Geraint Lewis, Tara Murphy and Zdenka Kuncic explore some home truths as they face off for a lively debate about the authenticity of art and science.

Stage plays can present human characters in action and show them in all their contradictions, perversions and complexities. Often what we see in such artworks are authentic, distilled portraits of human nature under pressure and, through dramatisation, we glimpse profound and deeper understanding of human life. So which is more truthful – facts and statistics or emotions and lived experience?

In Alana Valentine’s Ear to the Edge of Time, a poet writes a contentious verse about the life of a contemporary radio astronomer and it sends her into a life-changing crisis about the role of teamwork in 21st century science. The play is the result of extended conversations, interviews and observations of radio astronomers working specifically in the field of neutron star physics, both in Australia and internationally, and provides a provocative starting point for this lively forum about the relationship of art to science, and of both disciplines to the nature of truth in the 21st century.

This event was held at the Seymour Centre on Tuesday 16 October 2018.


  • Alana Valentine is an Australian dramatist, and was a Writer-in-Residence for 2017 at the Charles Perkins Centre, an innovative research facility addressing diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Her play Ear to the Edge of Time, researched at Parkes Observatory and in consultation with prize-winning astrophysicists won the S.T.A.G.E International Award in 2012. Alana works with Bangarra Dance Theatre as dramaturg. Recent books include Dear Lindy (NLA) and BowerbirdThe art of making theatre drawn from life (Currency Press).
  • Professor Zdenka Kuncic is Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney. Her research is highly interdisciplinary and focusses on how physics can help to solve challenging problems in medicine and biology, from developing next-generation technologies for early disease detection to unravelling the physical nature of intelligence. She is an enthusiastic supporter of STEAMM.
  • Professor Geraint Lewis is Professor of Astrophysics at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on cosmology, gravitational lensing and galactic cannibalism, all with the goal of unravelling the dark-side of the universe. He has published more than 300 articles in astrophysics, as well as speaking to varied audiences on cosmology and the nature of the universe. He is co-author of A Fortunate Universe: Life in a finely tuned cosmos, which examines why the physical properties of the universe appear to be just right for complexity and life.
  • Associate Professor Tara Murphy is an astrophysicist working at the University of Sydney and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. She leads an international team of researchers trying to detect and study transient and highly variable astrophysical phenomena with the MWA and ASKAP radio telescopes in Western Australia. In 2017 her team detected the first radio emission from a gravitational wave event caused by the merger of two neutron stars. Tara is also passionate about teaching and public outreach. In 2014 she co-founded a start-up company, Grok Learning, to get high school students around the world excited about computational thinking.
  • Tricia Dearborn is an award-winning poet whose work has been widely published in Australian literary journals, as well as in the UK, the US, Ireland and New Zealand. Her poetry has been featured in significant anthologies including Contemporary Australian PoetryAustralian Poetry since 1788 and The Best Australian Poems. She has a degree in Chemistry/Biochemistry with Honours in Biochemistry, as well as a Master of Arts, and worked briefly in scientific research. Her third full-length collection, Autobiochemistry, was completed with the support of a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts, and is forthcoming from UWA Publishing in 2019.

Image: promotional image for Ear to the Edge of Time, a play by Alana Valentine, and presented by Sport For Jove Theatre Co. at the Seymour Centre from 11-27 October, 2018. 

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