Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus): Keith takes a walk down a scientific history lane in the Adelaide City region of South Australia

The old Adelaide Stock Exchange building in the heart of the city has a very new role – it’s now the Science Exchange – inspired by the esteemed and centuries old Royal Institution in London.

The Federation Edwardian style edifice went up in Exchange Place in 1901. Despite being overshadowed by a collection of bland, modern glass office towers, this landmark building, complete with its distinctive corner tower was once a powerful meeting place for the state’s financial mover and shakers. Leading businessmen, politicians, bankers, lawyers and merchants graced the grand stairway now, it’s the power-brokers of the hi-tech science world…

Professor Gavin Brown is the Director of the Royal Institution of Australia, which has the challenging but exciting national brief of ‘bringing science to the people’. In the History Room there’s a very appropriate connection between cutting edge science, Adelaide the esteemed Royal Institution back in London.

Nobel winning father and son team, William and Lawrence Bragg are two of the most important scientists of the 20th century – celebrated for the development of X-ray Crystallography.

The display is a tribute to the two University of Adelaide men who helped put SA on the world stage for producing great scientific minds. It includes a copy of the Nobel Prize medal they won in 1915. They were the only father and son team to win the coveted gong and Lawrence was not only the youngest to win – he was the first ever Australian.

Their research goes to the very heart of what the RI’s Science Exchange is all about because, besides being at the cutting edge of science, the Bragg’s were good at explaining it too.

Prof. Gavin Brown, Ri Aust Director: “Absolutely, and both of them in their time were directors of the Royal Institute in London.”

The South Australian Film Corporation has produced a great new documentary, ‘Driven to Diffraction’ which tells the amazing story of the Braggs and their pioneering scientific beginnings here in Adelaide. It also tells us they were great communicators – particularly Lawrence.

Prof Frank James, Royal Institution of GB: “He wanted to make science interesting. He wanted to inspire children with an interest in science. And this is perhaps best summed up by a comment he once made to a very famous science demonstrator here when he said ‘don’t talk to them about science – show it to them’.”

The Bragg’s desire to bring science to the people is what the Adelaide connection is all about.

Prof. Gavin Brown, Ri Aust Director: “They certainly had the flair for getting them excited by making stuff accessible by the way they spoke about it which is really important. So that’s a task for us – we want to continue the tradition here.”

The main auditorium is the centrepiece for RI Australia’s modern day attempts. With seating for 200 and a state of the art audio-video system, events can be beamed in and out of here all over the world. Upstairs, another charming connection with the past – the Boardroom. No doubt a few deals – good and bad were done in here.

Amanda Tyndall, Head of Programs: “The boardroom is a beautiful heritage space. The entire left side of the building has been restored to its former glory. The other side’s a more modern space. In here we can hold our own events, anything that needs a special touch. We have our own events in here but it’s also available fore hire as are all the spaces in the building.”

The smaller reading room downstairs can be hired too complete with a few features that were once state of the art including the Boyle Ventilator. It delivered a burst of fresh air into the reading room which was adjudged to be a great advantage in the case of a sudden stock market slump!

Lighting the main staircase is the magnificent Federation Window. A creation of the famous Morris and Company, it was commissioned for the original Sock Exchange and depicts Australia as part of the British Empire united by Britannia. It’s now the property of the Art Gallery and is on loan.

The Federation Windows were all about a new nation and a new Adelaide Stock Exchange. Now you are welcome to come and have a look at them – the old building has an entirely new life – it’s the Science Exchange.

It’s open daily from 10am until 5pm for you to pop in and have a look around. The various rooms and facilities are all for hire and keep a lookout for public science events.