Ruben is a surfer with a physics degree and a passion for all things scientific. He appears on the ABC’s flagship science program, Catalyst and was the first resident scientist on Play School. He visits primary and high schools, speaks at conferences, MC’s events, writes online science education resources for teachers and children’s books full of experiments. He has appeared on Studio 3, Sleek Geeks, Roller Coaster, Triple J’s Super Request, ABC Local Radio, Can We Help, Sunrise, Today and Mornings with Kerri-Anne.
It’s a long story…
Ruben studied physics at the Queensland University of Technology. His first job was designing thin film, multilayer optical coatings and manufacturing them using physical vapour deposition (evaporative and electron beam) for gas and solid state laser applications at Laserdyne Technologies Pty Ltd on the Gold Coast.
Ruben returned to his studies and completed his Graduate Diploma in Science Communication at the Australian National University in 1995. As part of the coursework, Ruben and fourteen other young scientists toured regional Australia with the Shell Questacon Science Circus performing science shows in primary and high schools as part of a graduate diploma in science communication. He had found his calling.
The “surfing scientist” school program was launched at Griffith University in 1997 with support from the School of Environmental Science where he had also enrolled for a Ph.D. He has been visiting schools as the “surfing scientist” continuously to this day.
Ruben’s Ph.D topic was an “Assessment of the impact of shark meshing on the risk of shark attack” but, sadly, he got extremely distracted by a grand idea and never completed the study (Christopher Ness is now working on the question at the University of Sydney.)
While trawling the literature for everything he could find to read about sharks, Ruben also taught primary science education in Griffith University’s School of Education and Professional Studies. To address the distinct lack of self confidence about teaching science he noticed among his students and even practicing teachers, Ruben decided to design and run a hands-on whodunit competition with the Gold Coast Mayor playing the “victim” and local celebrities the “suspects”. With the University’s blessing, he took leave from his Ph.D, won a National Science Week grant and in 1999, launched “Who Stole the Mayor’s New Malibu?” More than 5000 kids analysed the crime scene “evidence” in their classrooms and the culprit was brought to justice with green slime at a public court case argued by Griffith University law students and presided over by a former high court judge.
After a brief and unexpected interlude as a runner on Paramount Pictures’ Mission Impossible II (yes, yes, with Tom Cruise in Sydney while he was still with Nicole but sadly, no, Ruben’s name does not appear in the film’s credits or IMDB entry) and as producer’s assistant to Anthony Winley on The Jim Henson Company’s Farscape, Ruben headed back to the Gold Coast to take his forensic competition format national.
“Who Stole the Minister’s Malibu?” was launched on Triple J in 2002 and more than 130 000 listeners and school kids joined in the hunt for the celebrity crooks (Adam Spencer and Wil Anderson, who were duly slimed.) Ruben’s forensic whodunits soon attracted attention from the UK so, in 2003, he packed his bags for London and produced “The Planet Science Whodunit” which attracted more than half a million participants throughout the United Kingdom.
Upon his return to Australia, Ruben took up an exciting offer to write science education materials for ABC Science Online. The The Surfing Scientist website was launched in 2004 and Ruben is still writing new content for it to this day.
He also took up the equally exciting offer of writing and co-hosting an online video program with Bernie Hobbs called The Experimentals. Soon after the Experimentals began airing on ABC1, Ruben came to the attention of Elliot Spencer and the producers of Roller Coaster. Initially joining Elliot on set for National Science Week in 2006, Ruben’s weekly science segments on Roller Coaster soon became a smash hit with Aussie kids. In 2008, Elliot and Ruben also appeared in character as the bumbling Professor Slo and Doctor Mo every Thursday, performing strange stunts and replaying them in super slow motion.
In 2007, Ruben accepted yet another exciting offer, this time, to write a children’s science book. He went on to publish three more books and is currently working on a fifth. Later that year, while performing liquid nitrogen demonstrations at the ABC’s 75th Anniversary celebrations in Sydney in a tent shared with the Catalyst team, Ruben caught the program’s executive producer’s attention. His first Catalyst story aired the following year.
Not from around here…
Ruben was born in a quant little house in the coastal village of Vlissingen in the Netherlands (the house was for sale when Google took this photo). His family emigrated to Australia eight days before his ninth birthday in 1980 and he immediately fell in love with everything about the place, particularly the Coral Sea.
Unable to speak more than just a few words of English upon arrival, Ruben landed in the care of Mr Greg Mallet, his year 4 teacher at Thabeban State School in Bundaberg. In less than six months, Ruben’s English was not only fluent but he had developed a broad Aussie, a reflection of Mr Mallet’s patience, kindness and skill as a dedicated educator and carer for children. Ruben completed his high school education at Kepnock State High School.
Ruben is proud to be a product of Australia’s free public education and is passionate about literacy, numeracy and science education for all. He has visited his old primary school twice and was “Principal for a Day” there in 2008. He has also visited Kepnock State High School to perform science demonstrations twice since 1995.
When Ruben isn’t blowing things up, standing in front of a camera, reading peer-reviewed scientific literature, thumbing through a popular science book or tapping away on a keyboard, you’ll find him at a beach running up and down the soft sand or drifting around on a piece of foam somewhere just off shore.