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SPECIAL EPISODE! Go behind-the-scenes of the creative process, as Mona Foma curator Brian Ritchie deep-dives into his musical choices for this Sci Art Walks podcast soundtrack.

The field of phylogenetics describes how all living things are related, and can be traced back to a common ancestor (one of Darwin’s key insights). As you wander through the ancient geological formation of Launceston’s Cataract Gorge, a reflection on using mathematical tools to understand evolution, species diversity, and what ties us all together.

Talk by Professor Barbara Holland with music by Brian Ritchie.

Suggested walking location

Cataract Gorge

Find Cataract Gorge Reserve just outside the city center, where the South Esk River courses down a deep, rugged trench. Trails run along both sides of the river to give hikers a variety of excellent views. From the first basin there are multiple walks around the Gorge and a chair lift across the first basin itself. Click here for more information. The Gorge is mostly accessible, but there are some uneven and steep sections, and assistance may be required for wheelchairs and prams. More information for those using wheelchairs here.

Photo Credit: Luke Webber

Meet the presenter

Professor Barbara Holland

Barbara Holland is a Professor in the discipline of Mathematics within the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Tasmania, Australia. She works within the Theoretical Phylogenetics research group and lectures in Statistics. Barbara completed a PhD in Mathematical Biology at Massey University in New Zealand followed by postdoctoral studies at the Ruhr Universität Bochum (Germany) and in the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution (New Zealand). Prior to joining the University of Tasmania she worked as a Mathematics lecturer and researcher at Massey University. Since beginning her PhD she has enjoyed the challenge of working with biologists in trying to translate the problems they face into the language of mathematics. Biology is awash with data since the advent of DNA sequencing technology and this has opened up a range of very interesting research questions that require a combination of skills from mathematics, biology and computer science.

Meet the musician

Photo Credit: MONA/ Jesse Hunniford 

Brian Ritchie

Brian Ritchie is a musician and curator residing in Tasmania. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, Brian moved to Australia in 2006. Brian’s musical career extends across the fields of rock, classical, folk, blues, Japanese traditional music, musique concrete, and beyond. He first came to international prominence as the bassist/multi-instrumentalist with post-punk trio Violent Femmes.  

Brian is a licensed Shihan (master) of shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo Zen flute). His Japanese professional name is Tairaku. Shortly after moving to Tasmania, Brian met gambler David Walsh and they conceived of MONA FOMA (Museum of Old and New Art Festival of Music and Art).

Feature image credit: Jarrad Seng


Sci Art Walks is a project by Beaker Street Festival, an annual celebration of science and art in Hobart, Tasmania. The unusual circumstances of 2020 inspired us to innovate, and create something that would get people away from their screens and out into nature. You might say Sci Art Walks is a project for a pandemic. In times of uncertainty and anxiety, many of us find solace in our natural world. Creating these episodes was also a great opportunity to continue to facilitate collaborations between scientists and artists, and showcase some of the amazing talent and groundbreaking scientific research coming out of Tasmania.