Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research
Dr Rob Brander, University of New South Wales
Ripper of an idea reduces surf drownings
Studying the science of the surf and sand sounds like code for goofing off on a surfboard, but for the man known as Dr Rip his research at the beach is quite literally a life saver.
Coastal geomorphologist Dr Rob Brander has pioneered our scientific understanding of rip current flow behaviour through innovative and at times dangerous field measurements. A senior lecturer in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of NSW, this academic is determined that his work will make a difference and not simply gather dust on library book shelves.
To ensure this legacy, Dr Brander has worked tirelessly to promote his scientific research to a wider general audience, and his unparalleled success in doing so has earned him the 2012 Australian Government Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research.
The prize is part of the most comprehensive and prestigious national science awards, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. Last night at this supernova of science awards, in a room of distinguished and illustrious guests, the winners were announced and science's brightest new stars blazed their names into Eureka history.
This is Australian science at its best. For more than 20 years, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes have recognised the role of science in our community and rewarded the excellence of scientists, educators and communicators who continue to shape our society. Being awarded an Australian Museum Eureka Prize is a life-changing moment for the winner.
"It is no exaggeration to say Dr Rob Brander has saved lives through his research into surf dynamics and outstanding ability to communicate to the general public," says Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum. "The fact he is known as Dr Rip demonstrates how he is identified as the man who has not only studied rips but has also developed ways to show the public their dangers."
In a typical year there are up to 90 coastal drownings and more than 25,000 surf rescues on Australian beaches. The vast majority of these incidents are caused by rip currents, a beach hazard that is poorly understood by most beachgoers. The strong channels of water can drag swimmers out to sea and is a common cause of beach drownings.
To combat these statistics, Dr Brander developed the Science of the Surf (SOS) initiative that ran counter to traditional approaches focusing on teaching people how to survive a rip. Instead, he concentrated on teaching beachgoers how to identify a rip current so they would not get caught in one in the first place.
The success of Dr Brander's approach is evident - surveys by Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) reveal that the number of people who can recognise a rip current has increased from about 20 per cent to more than 80 per cent.
In the past two years the SOS program, which began as a small series of visually powerful presentations at Sydney's Tamarama Beach, has gained significant momentum. Dr Brander's talks have been heard by more than 25,000 people in NSW; his approach is used by SLSA and other surf safety organisations; and he regularly appears in mainstream media.
An international audience has also been reached through a website, YouTube videos in six languages, a Facebook site and the bestselling book, Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book: Everything You Need to Know About Surf, Sand and Rips. The website alone receives more than 1,000 visitors a month, while his YouTube video Don't Get Sucked In by the Rip passed 250,000 views in May.
The $10,000 Australian Government Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research is awarded to a research scientist who has effectively communicated their research outcomes to the public.
More information can be found at www.australianmuseum.net.au/eureka
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Dr Rob Brander
The University of New South Wales, NSW