Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Career Begins by Candlelight

By Stephen Luntz

Robyn Arianrhod studies general relativity and writes books on the history of science, but it is her own history that is most unusual.

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Few scientists today first learnt about their field by candlelight, particularly in the developed world. For Dr Robyn Arianrhod the experience proved useful when she came to write about her predecessors, for whom there was no alternative.

In the 1970s Arianrhod dropped out of her Honours course in mathematics to live in a remote environmental community without access to the grid, mains water or the telephone. At a time when photovoltaic panels were in their infancy, this meant no access to electricity.

“When I was an undergrad we were concerned about the nuclear arms race, and there was a growing realisation of the impact of unquestioning use of chemicals in agriculture. So there was a lot of ‘counter-cultural’ interest in environmental, feminist and other critiques of science,” Arianrhod says. “In this radical context, I found mainstream study very alienating.”

Some of the locals were suspicious of urban environmentalism, although Arianrhod says that “eventually they showed interest in what we were doing”.

After a while she felt the community was becoming too insular so she got a radio powered by an old car battery. “It seemed a magical thing out in the wilderness, something I had not appreciated in the city. I was connected to the world in a way I found thrilling. I started reading about electromagnetism, and I discovered Maxwell’s...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.