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Elizabeth Blackburn: The Telomere Effect

16 August 2019
6.30pm – 7.30pm AEST
City Recital Hall
This event has ended
Elizabeth Blackburn portriat

Due to an unforeseen circumstance, this event has been cancelled. Ticket holders will be notified and refunded with an email from the City Recital Hall.

Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn delivers the inaugural Gerald Westheimer Lecture, chaired by UNSW Sydney's Dean of Science, Professor Emma Johnston.

Why does ageing take such different paths for different individuals? Why do some of us remain healthy and active into later life, while others age more rapidly?

Elizabeth Blackburn’s discoveries about telomeres; the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes, and the enzyme telomerase have transformed the way we think about these important questions and earned her a Nobel Prize in 2009.

Although we have long understood the impact of our genetic inheritance on our health, Blackburn’s work has shown us the key role that telomeres and the enzyme telomerase play in the ageing process.

Be part of a special event with Elizabeth Blackburn as she discusses her work in this fascinating space and its implications for the future of ageing.

This event is supported by the Crawford Fund and Science & Technology Australia.


General Admission – $35 + booking fees
UNSW Alumni & Staff – $25 + booking fees
UNSW Students & Under 18s – $15 + booking fees

Booking fee per transaction: Online $5.50, Phone/Mail/Email: $6.60. Bookings made over the counter at the City Recital Hall Box Office do not attract a transaction fee. 

UNSW Student tickets are only available to currently enrolled students who are able to produce their UNSW identification (zID). Such identification must be produced at the event.

UNSW Alumni & Staff tickets are only available to individuals who graduated from UNSW or who are currently employed by UNSW. UNSW staff must be able to produce their UNSW identification (zID). Such identification must be produced at the event.


This talk is part of the program of events UNSW Sydney is presenting for the Sydney Science Festival and National Science Week.

UNSW x Sydney Science Festival includes talks, tours and events that will reveal the science that blows your mind – from an unexpected method to measure dark matter to the feminist history of the internet. The full program of events will be available from 17 June.

Gerald Westheimer Lectureship

The Gerald Westheimer Lecture is a new biennial lecture series for UNSW Science thanks to a generous gift from Professor Gerald Westheimer AM FRS. This flagship initiative will invite eminent international researchers to spend time in residence at the University. While in residence, the Westheimer Lecturer will also conduct workshops for students and early career researchers from UNSW Science.


Wheelchair Accessible

City Recital Hall has two main entrances. The Pitt Street entrance has level access from the street leading into the ground floor foyer. There is also lift access at the Ash Street entrance to the ground floor foyer. Wheelchair accessible seating, toilet facilities and parking are available. Visit the City Recital Hall website for further information.

Hearing Loop Available

Hearing Loop Patrons using hearing aids can access the hearing induction loop available in the auditorium. To utilise the loop, please switch your hearing aid to the "T" position. Please note: Seats 51-54 in every row are not serviced by the induction loop. For further information call the Box Office on 02 8256 2222 or email

Companion Card

The Centre for Ideas supports the Companion Card program. For patrons who require assistance of a companion or carer, a second ticket is issued at no cost to the Companion Card holder.


The Centre for Ideas can provide Auslan interpreting services for selected talks upon request. 


To discuss your access requirements and to book selected access services (excluding hearing loop – see above section), please call the Centre for Ideas on 02 9385 1000 or email

The Centre for Ideas is happy to receive phone calls via the National Relay Service. TTY users, phone 133 677, then ask for 02 9385 1000. Speak and Listen users, phone 1300 555 727 then ask for 02 9385 1000. Internet relay users, visit, then ask for 02 9385 1000.

Elizabeth Blackburn portrait

Elizabeth Blackburn

Dr Elizabeth Blackburn has been a leader in the area of telomere and telomerase research, having discovered the molecular nature of telomeres – the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving the genetic information – and co-discovered the ribonucleoprotein enzyme, telomerase. She is also known for her championing of diversity and inclusion in the sciences. Blackburn and her research team also collaborate in a range of investigations of the roles of telomere biology in human health and diseases, through clinical and other human studies. Born in Australia, Dr Blackburn earned degrees from the University of Melbourne, University of Cambridge and Yale University. She has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award for Basic Medical Research, and in 2007 was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

Emma Johnston Headshot

Emma Johnston

Professor Emma Johnston AO is a marine scientist at UNSW Sydney and a national advocate for improved environmental management and conservation. Emma studies human impacts in the oceans including pervasive threats such as climate change, plastic pollution, and invasive species. Emma conducts her research in diverse marine environments from the Great Barrier Reef to icy Antarctica and provides management recommendations to industry and government. In recognition of her contributions to environmental science, communications, and management, Emma has received numerous awards including the Australian Academy of Science’s Nancy Millis Medal, the Royal Society of New South Wales Clark Medal, the Eureka prize for Science Communication, and in 2018 she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). She is immediate past President of Science & Technology Australia, a current Board Member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Co-Chief Author of the Australian Government’s State of Environment Report 2021. Emma is a high-profile science communicator and television presenter for the ongoing BBC/Foxtel series, Coast Australia and has appeared multiple times on ABC CatalystThe Drum and Q&A. Emma is currently Dean of Science and Professor of Marine Ecology and Ecotoxicology at UNSW Sydney. 

Gerald Westheimer portrait

Gerald Westheimer

The donor who enabled this Lectureship, Professor Westheimer, is an Australian Scientist living in California. At 95, he is still active at the Berkeley School of Optometry where he conducts research on the eye, its optics and how we see details in space and in three dimensions. Professor Westheimer has seen firsthand the benefits of exposure to a diversity of knowledge and culture around the world, and hoped to share this influence with his alma mater. Born in 1924, he migrated to Australia from Germany in 1938 and later enrolled in the professional Optometry program at the Sydney Technical College (UNSW’s precursor institution), graduating in 1943 with Honours and the College Medal. In 1951, he moved to California where he has built a long and successful career in neurobiology. Professor Westheimer ‘still calls Australia home’ and has remained a proud long-time supporter of UNSW. In 2016, the University graduated the third generation of the Westheimer family.