Brisbane welcomes world renowned physicist by naming spider after him

World renowned physicist and World Science Festival founder Brian Greene with Queensland’s newest spider Dolomedes briangreenei. Photo: Chris Hyde World Science Festival founder Brian Greene with the spider, Dolomedes briangreenei. Photo: Chris Hyde
Nanjing Night Net

Queensland has welcomed a world renowned physicist in the most Australian way possible. We’ve named a spider after him.

Brian Greene, a science communicator and string theorist, graced Brisbane’s Cultural Forecourt at South Bank on Wednesday morning with his wife Tracy Day and their two children ahead of the World Science Festival launch to meet the spider lucky enough to be named after him.

Queensland Museum arachnologist Dr Robert Raven discovered the water spider, named Dolomedes briangreenei, while he was searching for specimens for the new display.

“I looked down and saw all these water spiders sitting there and then all of a sudden an insect hit the water and the spider raced out to get it, got it and dived under the water and then swam back to the shore and started eating it and then it twigged,” Dr Raven said.

He explained the water spider, common around Brisbane streams and a key component to keeping cane toad populations down, uses vibrations from the water’s surface to find its way around and catch prey, a procedure that relies on the waves created from something landing on the water to indicate movement.

“These guys are fantastic because they sit on the edge of the water with six of their eight legs out waiting for the water to tremble,” Dr Raven said.

“These guys are doing amazing things in physics, we just don’t understand a lot of things going on in biology so seeing this connection, waves though not quite string, I thought it was a great thing and was very special to get it to Professor Greene.”

Professor Greene said he shared more things than waves in common with the spider, who was one shedding away from becoming an adult.

“It is a tremendous to have a spider named after me and beyond waves we do have something in common, I am male as well as the spider and I too have one shedding to go before I become an adult and my wife will confirm that,” he joked.

“I was talking to my wife and was saying if we were to do this in New York we would have to name a cockroach after somebody so it is so much more gratifying to have a spider so thank you for this honour.”

The renowned science communicator, who has written extensively on “heady” scientific ideas in a digestible way for the public, spoke eloquently about the importance of waves and how they help us understand the universe, drawing on the recent discovery of Einstein’s gravitational waves.

“Remarkably, three weeks ago, a wave rolled by planet Earth that was generated 1.5 billion years ago on the other side of the universe when two colliding black holes had set off a tsunami of ripples in the fabric of space that washed by earth and remarkably we had two detectors standing at the ready and they caught that wave,” he said.

Professor Greene said the goal of the festival, which he co-founded with Tracy Day in 2008, was to “experience science in a way that feels compelling and dramatic, not intimidating and utterly inspiring.”

“I think it is critical that kids see science in a very different way to what they do in the classroom,” he said.

“There are many great teachers so I hate to generalise in this way but I see so many kids, at least in the United States, whose perspective of what science is is like the stuff in a textbook, you kind of memorise it and then spit it back onto an exam and that is what it is all about.

“When I get a hold of some of those kids and start to talk about black holes, the big bang or the weirdness of quantum physics, they look at me and their eyes go wide and they say, ‘Wow, that’s science?’.

“If kids can have that experience going from a state of confusion to understanding, if they can recognise science as the power of insight, then I think they start to look at science in a very different way.”

It seems Greene’s children obviously share their father’s love for all things science, however they weren’t too excited to hear a spider had found a namesake in their father.

“It is cool except I wish it was something else like a koala or a new type of lion, I don’t really like spiders that much,” Alec, 11, said. His sister, Sophia, 8, agreed.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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