Society has witnessed a rising level of science denial, with various publics increasingly disputing scientists’ findings and their relevance to contemporary society.

Finding ways to bridge the gap between science and diverse publics through deeper and more meaningful engagement of stakeholders including various communities and industry is critical to establishing a more scientifically-engaged population and to improving scientific practices and science policy.


Our aim

The Public Engagement in Science and Technology Adelaide (PESTA) research cluster is an interdisciplinary group which seeks to improve public engagement in fields associated with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Our aim is to encourage more scientifically-engaged citizens, whether by working in collaboration with academia, industry, or government, and to do so based on novel and emerging methods. We are particularly interested in involving more diverse community members and citizens in science, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, older persons, persons with disabilities, and members of Indigenous communities. By improving public engagement in STEM-related issues, we hope to broaden the legitimacy, justifiability, and effectiveness of STEM policy and enable individuals to make informed decisions particularly about emerging technologies and other uses of science in everyday life. Finding ways of sharing responsibility for future directions of STEM research and applications is critical for all of us, and particularly for researchers working in STEM fields.

Our approach and methods

The PESTA research cluster is composed of an interdisciplinary cohort, comprised of researchers from all five University faculties:

Our researchers have a diverse array of interests related to the study and implementation of public engagement in relation to STEM. We use a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods in our citizen science and participatory engagement projects and in our study of public engagement more broadly.

Our research groups

  • Citizen science

    The aim of the citizen science group is to encourage more involvement of non-professional scientists in various stages of different types of scientific research, including planning as well as data collection and analysis, and to analyse and establish best practices for such projects. In ‘citizen science,’ individuals can actively engage in important research whilst broadening their own scientific knowledge and having diverse experiences in the process. Participants also can help to shape the outcomes of research, thus potentially leading to more accurate analysis and policy decision making, as well as making research more meaningful and relevant for society. Key projects in this area include:

    • EchidnaCSI: This project is led by Prof Frank Grutzner (School of Biological Sciences) and PhD student Ms Tahlia Perry (School of Biological Sciences). Members of the public are invited to submit echidna sightings through the EchidnaCSI app and to send samples of echidna scat to the lab for molecular analysis. This data will be used to gain a better understanding of the distribution and biology of the echidna species with the aim to aid in their conservation. For more information visit our website.
    • Green Spaces, Public Spaces and Ageing Well: This is a joint project by Dr Helen Barrie (School of Social Sciences), Prof Veronica Soebarto (School of Architecture and Built Environment) and PhD student Ms Celeste Hill (School of Biological Sciences) and is funded by the SA Office for Ageing Well. Outdoor and indoor environments are considered to have major impacts on older people’s mobility, independence and quality of life, and ability to ‘age in place’. The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a guideline for achieving an “age-friendly city” and specifies eleven areas relating to ‘outdoor spaces and buildings’ to be addressed. This project takes into account the appraisals or perceptions of older residents about their own neighbourhood public and green environments through the use of a co-designed online audit tool and innovative citizen science approach to data collection. Participants’ data will be used to inform better design and delivery of public spaces that promote health and wellbeing, social engagement with others and engagement with the environment.
  • University-industry-government engagement

    Research in this space is targeted at improving the quality and extent of collaboration between industry, government, academia, and the public. Improving collaboration among these actors can result in more targeted projects based on current needs. Key projects in this area include:

    • Collaboration Readiness: This project is led by Prof Carolin Plewa, Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre (ECIC) and Prof Rachel Ankeny (School of Humanities). The aim of this project is to investigate ways of improving industry/government readiness to collaborate with academic researchers and to develop strategies to enhance the effectiveness of such collaborations.
  • Participatory public engagement

    The objectives of this research group are to improve community participation in important STEM-related issues through research on novel ways of engaging publics including participatory and deliberative methodologies. In this way, citizens are able to directly influence debates surrounding contemporary scientific and technological issues relevant to their communities. Key projects in this area include:

    • Social, Ethical and Economic Considerations of Smart Technologies for Ageing Well: This project is being conducted by Dr Helen Barrie (School of Social Sciences), Dr Teresa Burgess (School of Public Health), Prof Annette Braunack-Mayer (School of Health and Society-UOW), Dr Jackie Street (School of Health and Society-UOW), Dr Andreas Cebulla (SA Centre for Economic Studies), and Dr Christophe Treude (School of Computer Science); funded by the SA Office for Ageing Well. Increasingly, technological solutions such as surveillance and monitoring, driverless cars and robotics are suggested as smart solutions for ageing societies. These ideas are usually driven by developers of technologies as technical solutions to physical problems, and policy makers can see such technologies as facilitators for ageing in place; both groups, however, may overlook the social and ethical challenges these technologies may create for an older population. The aim of this project is to understand what it is that older people value most aboutageing in place and if older people (both the current generation and the future generations) see a place for new technologies within these perceptions of ageing well at home. A key component of this research is the effective inclusion of older people - not as research participants, but as co-designers of a good and ethical ageing future.
    • Marine Plastics: This project is overseen by Assoc Prof Melissa Nursey-Bray (School of Social Sciences) and Prof Bronwyn Gillanders (School of Biological Sciences) in partnership with Dr Joanna Vince (Centre for Marine Socio-Ecology-UTAS). The researchers in this space are interested in using engagement processes to better understand community perceptions of marine plastic pollution and possible strategies for its mitigation.
  • Science communication and public understanding of science

    In this sub-group, we are interested in understanding the ways in which scientists present themselves and their research outcomes to the public. Through this research, we aim to improve the effectiveness of a variety of science communication techniques, and to develop training for scientists including students and early career researchers. Key projects in this area include:

    • Scientists’ Persona: This is a joint project between Dr Kim Barbour (School of Humanities), Prof Rachel Ankeny (School of Humanities), Assoc Prof Jodie Conduit (Adelaide Business School), and Prof Carolin Plewa (Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre). We are interested in how scientists develop their online personas through the use of social media. The aim of the project is to investigate how scientists describe themselves to the public using online biographies, with the intention of developing guidelines to constructing engaging, accessible online personas for scientists who wish to communicate the impact of their research to non-expert audiences. We will also be conducting a range of interviews with science communicators in order to gain a better understanding of how online personas are created and how they change over time.


Tahlia Perry, Alan Stenhouse, Isabella Wilson, Imma Perfetto, Michael W. McKelvey, Michelle Coulson, Rachel A. Ankeny, Peggy D. Rismiller, and Frank Grützner (2022), "EchidnaCSI: Engaging the public in research and conservation of the short-beaked echidna," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119.

Rodrigo Riera, Ricardo Rodríguez, Dominic McAfee, and Sean D. Connell (2021), "The COVID-19 lockdown provides clues for better science communication on environmental recovery," Environmental Conservation 49: 1-3.

Benjamin S. Freeling, Zoë A. Doubleday, Matthew J. Dry, Carolyn Semmler, and Sean D. Connell (2021), "Better Writing in Scientific Publications Builds Reader Confidence and Understanding," Frontiers in Psychology 12.

Dominic McAfee, Sarah-Lena Reinhold, Heidi K. Alleway, and Sean D. Connell (2021), "Environmental solutions fast-tracked: Reversing public scepticism to public engagement," Biological Conservation 253.

Kim Barbour, Rachel A. Ankeny, Carolin Plewa, and Jodie Conduit (2021), “Scientific Persona Performance through Online Biographies and Their Relationship to Historical Models,” in Kirsti Niskanen and Michael Barany (eds.), Gender, Embodiment, and the History of the Scholarly Persona: Incarnations and Contestations. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 215–33.

Lisa Jamieson, Cristin Kearns, Rachel Ankeny, Joanne Hedges, and W. M. Thomson (2021), “Neoliberalism and Indigenous Oral Health Inequalities: A Global Perspective,” Community Dental Health Journal 38: 44–47. 

Rachel A. Ankeny and Ernst Wolvetang (2021), “Testing the Correlates of Consciousness in Brain Organoids: How Do We Know and What Do We Do?” American Journal of Bioethics 21: 51–53. 

Rachel A. Ankeny, Megan Munsie, and Joan Leach (2021, forthcoming), “Developing a Reflexive, Anticipatory, and Deliberative Approach to Unanticipated Discoveries: Ethical Lessons from iBlastoids” (target article), American Journal of Bioethics, accepted 31.07.21

Rachel A. Ankeny (forthcoming), “Gender and Science and Technology,” in Wendy Rogers, Stacy Carter, Vikki Entwistle, and Catherine Mills (eds), Routledge Handbook of Feminist Bioethics. New York: Routledge, accepted 02.09.21. 

How to get involved

Our researchers supervise high-quality higher degree by research projects in their particular areas of expertise: please see our people for more details, or contact us below.

Contact us