From the Chair

Dr Craig Cormick

I am very pleased (and not just a little bit proud) to have been recently elected Chair of the Council for the National Science Summer School – the body that runs the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF).

I first became involved in the NYSF back in the distant mists of the last century, in the late 1980s, and over the years have taken part as a sponsor or guest speaker at events in Canberra and Perth. It has always given me a buzz to meet former NYSF students at universities or in workplaces (though I’m usually a bit stuck when asked, ‘Do you remember me, you talked to our NYSF group a few years ago?’).

As to my background (to save you Googling me) I have been working in science communications for over 20 years, and have, over that time, worked alongside most of the people and organisations involved in science communications and education in Australia. And I currently work at CSIRO Education, so this is not an unfamiliar space to me – although it may take me just a little time to learn all the processes and people and acronyms involved.

this is a crucial time for Australia to really ‘get it right’ in relation to science and technology education and careers

Enough of the past though, for I’m more interested in the future – in consolidating the recent changes made by the NYSF and strengthening partner relationships, to put us in good shape for what I suspect may be some challenging years ahead of us all. I think this is a crucial time for Australia to really ‘get it right’ in relation to science and technology education and careers – and programs like the NYSF are clearly an important part of helping our talented youth discover the challenges and rewards of both careers in S&T or just having a better appreciation of science thinking and science processes. And I’m confident that with the talent that we’ve got in the office, on the Council, throughout the Rotary Clubs, with sponsors and of course through our program participants, we will rise to any challenges like a pack of Mentos dropped into a bottle of Coke (try it – though not indoors).

Craig Cormick

NYSF in the news

NYSF Alumnus James Moody is featured in the latest issue of the ANU College of Business and Economics magazine, Margin.

Below are links to stories about NYSF students in local media outlets. We want to know more — please send any links to stories about NYSF students to

Events diary

NYSF Next Step program dates have been set. Please note, they are provisional only and subject to change.

  • Melbourne — 5 – 7 March 2014
  • Brisbane — 9-11 April 2014
  • Canberra — 16-18 April 2014
  • Hobart — 24-25 April 2014
  • Sydney — 2-4 July 2014
  • Newcastle — 1 July 2014
  • Adelaide —  9-11 July 2014
  • Perth — 16-18 July 2014


NSYF Rotary District Chairs Conference will be held from 7-9 March 2014 in Melbourne.


Curtin University has a range of events, tours and support programs for students of science, maths and engineering.

The Curtin University Chemistry and Maths Tutorial Videos are designed to assist students with understanding particular topics that regularly cause difficulty.

There are six short chemistry videos available covering topics such as; equilibrium, electrochemistry, organic chemistry, buffers, bonding and polarity.

The six maths videos include differentiation, trigonometric functions, the chain rule and others.

To view these visit:

Curtin is also running Engineering Evening Tours, designed to give an insight into Curtin’s nationally award-winning program, multi-million dollar facilities and excellent teaching capabilities.

The evening includes a presentation overview, followed by a facilities tour and concludes with a Q&A session over some light refreshments.

Date: Tuesday 12 November 2013
Time: 6pm – 7pm (Please arrive at 5.45pm for a 6pm start)
Location: Building 215 – Engineering Pavilion, Curtin University Bentley Campus
More information:

Robots are awesome! Everybody knows it. You can view a range of robots at the 5th annual Curtin Robofair.

With industry, community, and education exhibitors, this is the best chance you’ll have to prepare for the future technology onslaught. At the 5th annual Curtin Robofair we’ll be demonstrating what robotics means to society and inspiring people to find out more about technology and innovation.

Come along for your chance to win a great range of prizes.

Date: Sunday 24 November 
Time: 10am to 2pm
Location: Curtin University, Bentley, Building 215
Cost: Entry is free
More information:

To sleep is to dream

When University of Queensland academic and researcher Philip Terrill attended the NYSF in 2000, it’s likely that sleep (or not enough of it) wasn’t an over-riding concern for him.

These days, however, he is very concerned with it. In fact, he approaches sleep from a scientific perspective. Phil is now a biomedical engineer interested in developing novel medical diagnostic and treatment systems, and his work is currently focusing on sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea.

A report released in 2012 indicated that sleep disorders cost the Australian economy $5 billion a year. Phil says, “Sleep related conditions have long been unacknowledged in our community. We all recognise a poor night’s sleep can leave us cranky and unproductive the next day, but we now know that sleep disorders can have some more insidious consequences. In particular they can increase the risk of traffic and occupational accidents; and while the cause-effect relationship is complicated, they appear to lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and a range of mental health disorders. The main objective of our research is to develop more patient-friendly and cost effective ways of diagnosing and treating sleep disorders to improve the health of Australians. This is particularly important for rural Australians, to whom existing sleep medicine service delivery may be completely inaccessible.

Phil’s background is in electrical and biomedical engineering, having completed a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) in 2004 at The University of Queensland (UQ), followed by a PhD in Biomedical Engineering in 2008.

“When I attended NYSF, I knew that I wanted to combine my interests in biology and medical science with my skills in mathematics, physics, and … building stuff. Universities don’t really market a degree for that! NYSF gave me a new perspective on the flexibility of university studies, leading me to enroll in a general Bachelor of Engineering (building stuff … tick!). I drifted to the electrical program where I was able to complete advanced courses in biomedical engineering, and electives in mathematical physiology and mathematical biology.” 

NYSF gave me a new perspective on the flexibility of university studies

Professor Phil Terrill is developing novel tools to treat patients with sleep disturbance such as sleep apnoea. He attended NYSF in 2000.

Dr Phil Terrill is developing novel tools to treat patients with sleep disturbance such as sleep apnoea. He attended NYSF in 2000.

He is currently a lecturer and researcher in Electrical Engineering and Medical Electronics in the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at UQ where he gets to combine his research interests with his passion for Engineering and Science Education and Communication.

“It was traditionally believed that obstructive sleep apnoea was simply a problem with the upper airway anatomy. However, it turns out that other physiological factors — particularly the control of breathing during sleep – are important contributors to disease severity. We are working on an approach that combines the development of electronic instrumentation and mathematical modeling to non-invasively quantify these key physiological features during sleep. This information can be used by clinicians to improve diagnosis, to personalise treatment to the individual, and provides insight to help develop the new generation of treatments.”

“Our work involves extensive collaboration with a multidisciplinary team which includes engineers, physiologists, clinical scientists, and health professionals across UQ, the Harvard Medical School, The Mater Children’s Hospital and The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.”

Phil says the work is fascinating and rewarding because of the unique intersection of engineering, mathematics and the medical sciences to solve an important problem, which has the ability to make a positive impact on the health of the broader community.

Of his time on session at NYSF, Phil comments, “I have fond and enduring memories of NYSF, including the (often heated!) forum discussions and debates, which brought together a diverse range of points of view about some of the most important (and at the time, topical) applications of science to society.

The intense social atmosphere that comes from being immersed with hundreds of like-minded people from all over Australia forged lasting friendships and professional relationships

 “The intense social atmosphere that comes from being immersed with hundreds of like-minded people from all over Australia forged lasting friendships and professional relationships,” he says.

“For me, this was very much an ‘I’m not the only one’ moment in my life, that really shaped the direction I took in my further studies. Many of these people are still my closest friends and professional collaborators.”

pterrill_graduation1 C

Phil Terrill (l) graduated with his Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Queensland, pictured here with another former NYSF student, Robert Persello, who is now Project Commissioning Manager, at Powerlink Queensland

“… by the end of NYSF I was completely hooked on science”

Seven years ago I was lucky enough to go to NYSF, Session B, 2006. What followed was a two week blur of science, chanting, laughter, confidence building, friendship and that inevitable final day when you realise you have to go back home.

I was in Rutherford, being a chemistry enthusiast at the time, and wore a postcard sized golden-yellow nametag around my neck. The name on my golden-yellow nametag was Nicholas Blackburn and funnily enough that still is the name on the tag around my neck right now, except that it’s an ID and access card attached to a red lanyard that indicates the research institute I study in. I’m a PhD student in Hobart, Tasmania at the Menzies Research Institute. My area is human genetics / bioinformatics and I work on a large blood cancer project where we conduct whole genome sequencing of related blood cancer cases.

Before NYSF, I had been pretty keen on studying music at university but by the end of NYSF I was completely hooked on science. Being in that NYSF environment with all these other young science enthusiasts really showed me how much fun science can be. 

 by the end of NYSF I was completely hooked on science 

So fast forward a few years, I graduated from UTAS with a Bachelor of Science in 2009 with a Biochemistry major and then completed an honours research year in 2010 in Neuroscience. In my undergraduate degree I worked with a research group at Menzies for the second and third years of my degree, which really exposed me to the world of medical research and drove my passion to work in that field. After the end of honours I began a PhD in Cancer Genetics in 2011. My PhD project started off in the lab at the bench but over the last few years it’s transformed into a more computationally based bioinformatics research project as I trawl my way through whole genome sequences to identify inherited mutations contributing to disease. I am working at the ‘cutting edge’ of research in a rapidly expanding genomics field. It’s damn exciting stuff, and a bit overwhelming at times.

Nick Blackburn NYSF 2006

So, seven years on from NYSF, what are the key influences I still draw on?

I was a bit of an introvert pre-NYSF. Admittedly I still am and I’m cool with that. But NYSF developed within me a level of comfort in my own skin that enabled me to step forward more, take more opportunities and speak up for myself. It took a number of months for me to grow into this new confidence but I use it every day now as a researcher, be it throwing my hand up to ask a question at a seminar (you’d be surprised at how many PhD students where I’m from don’t), talking for an hour in front of my group about my research, speaking off the cuff to community groups that tour our institute, as well as regularly visiting high schools and primary schools to get my science out there.

I think in many ways, my love of science communication also began at NYSF. Seeing people passionate about science has made me want to inspire that passion in others. And let me tell you, explaining your work to early primary school kids, at their level, and seeing them excited about science is a truly rewarding experience.

Also embedded within me from NYSF is this feeling of whatever I do and wherever I go in science I should be excited and passionate about what I am doing. If I don’t, it’s time to figure out why not and consider that I may need to move into a different area and re-spark my imagination. Thankfully, as a third year PhD student I still get excited about my project, it gets me up and going in the morning and keeps me up late at night.

A final piece of NYSF I still carry with me is the amazing network of fellow NYSFers we all possess. As well as keeping in touch by social media, occasionally you’ll see someone in a crowded room of scientists and think to yourself ‘wow, you look so familiar’ and then it’ll click and you’ll soon be reminiscing and catching up as if no time at all has passed. I look forward to the day when I bump into a fellow NYSFer in my field of research (any other geneticists / bioinformaticians out there?).

For me, right now, I’m past the half way mark of my PhD and heading towards the end of it. My work has recently taken me to San Antonio, Texas to work with colleagues for a month. Then I’ll be thrown into the midst of an American Society of Human Genetics’ conference in Boston alongside thousands of other researchers. After that, sometime next year I’ll finish this PhD and head off into the big wide research world as a postdoctoral researcher. Who knows, maybe I’ll bump into a few NYSFers along the way.

The view from the road — Geoff Burchfield

If it’s Monday this must be Townsville. That’s what it sometimes feels like when you’re on the NYSF Orientations circuit. Actually it was Mackay and this was the Queensland leg of the 2013 tour. As people arrived for the 6 o’clock event at Mackay’s Ocean International Hotel I was struck again by how far many of the attendees had travelled and how much work goes into organising and coordinating these meetings.

Geoff Burchfield makes a point during Orientations 2013 comp

Geoff Burchfield makes a point during Orientations 2013

This year four of us from the office – Damien Pearce, Sandra Meek, Tom Grace, and myself – shared the privilege of attending Orientation meetings around the country — all 26 of them. There’s at least one meeting in each of the Rotary districts but some districts are so large that there can be as many as three meetings. District 9550 for instance takes in much of the Northern Territory as well as the top end of Queensland necessitating separate gatherings in Darwin, Cairns and Townsville.

Irrespective of where the meetings are staged, each is quite special. At diverse venues ranging from a heritage lawn bowls club in Rockhampton to CSL’s magnificent lecture theatre in Melbourne people come to hear more about the NYSF’s upcoming January sessions. And if the gathering is quiet to begin with they’re invariably lively by the end. That has much to do with the fact that most of the attendees — a mix of parents, Rotarians, teachers, students, and community representatives — have never met before. They quickly discover they have much in common even if their home-towns are miles apart. The students in particular connect almost instantly. You’d think they’d grown up together.  

The students in particular connect almost instantly.

The formal proceedings vary considerably too. Sometimes there are interesting guest speakers and often a Rotary District Governor will have found time in their busy schedule to address the students.

Professor Nasser Khalili, Associate Dean (Research), Head of Geotechnical Engineering from University of New South Wales at the Sydney District 9675 Orientations 2013

Professor Nasser Khalili, Associate Dean (Research), Head of Geotechnical Engineering from University of New South Wales at the Sydney District 9675 Orientations 2013

Orientations 2013 in South Australia for District 9520

Geoff Burchfield and Ben Galea at Orientation Session in Brisbane October  2013

Geoff Burchfield and Ben Galea at Orientation Session in Brisbane October 2013

Parents of past NYSF students may speak about their own experience of having a son or daughter travel to Canberra or Perth and reassure the ‘new’ parents that they really have nothing to worry about. Finally members of the student staff help to deliver a presentation about the NYSF and share their own experiences. Mention of the International Program always generates interest and you can tell by the knowing looks between students and parents that negotiations have already begun.

What may not be immediately obvious, however, is that the flow of information is two-way. We learn a great deal about local opportunities for future employment, study options and community support. Representatives of Rotary clubs speak proudly of past students whose careers they’ve followed. Teachers remind us of the difficult paths some students have taken, perhaps having to do independent study because the school is only small. Hearing all this on a student’s home turf adds real perspective to what we’re trying to achieve at the NYSF. There’s a sense of making a difference not just to the lives of these young scientists but to entire communities.

Often the meeting ends with a meal or afternoon tea, sometimes generously provided by an NYSF partner organisation or even assembled by members of a local Rotary Club. (The caramel slices in Armidale this year were particularly good.)

As people head for home it’s obvious the networking has already begun. And not just among the students.

I know that it can be a lot of work for the NYSF Rotary District Chairs around the country who organise these Orientation meetings and I want to acknowledge our gratitude to each one of them and their teams.

IYSF encourages Indigenous students in WA

The third Indigenous Youth Science Forum was held in Perth in October, supported by Rio Tinto, IBM and the Defence, Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

Aiming to engage indigenous students in years 10 and 11 to continue their studies in science, technology, engineering and maths, the IYSF brings together young people from regional and remote areas of Western Australia – including Karratha, Derby, Port Hedland and Geraldton – for a week-long camp.

Rio Tinto’s Superintendent, Communities, Shannara Sewell said, “We are proud of the Indigenous education and training programs that we deliver, and strive to support initiatives such as the IYSF, that broaden opportunities for young people living in regional communities allowing them to reach their full potential.”

Run along similar lines to the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF), the IYSF provides participants with hands-on experiences, visiting laboratories and science and engineering related corporate sites, and talking with scientists about their work.  Consulting with the WA Department of Education’s Follow the Dream coordinators, young people are identified who have an interest in science at school, and who may have the potential to follow a study and career path in the science areas.

IYSF Chem Centre 2013 C Indigenous students at IYSF 2013 UWA Sports Exercise program C

This year’s program covered the broad strokes of science content looking at physics, chemistry, energy, technology, and water. The students visited

  • The University of Western Australia – International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and the Department of Sport Science, Exercise and Health,
  • Bankwest Office of the Future
  • IBM
  • DSTO at Stirling Naval Base
  • NCEDA (Desalination Centre of Excellence), located at Murdoch University
  • Curtin University – Physics lab and Renewable Energy Fuel Cells
  • ChemCentre

Presentations were made after dinner by representatives from Rio Tinto, IBM, Elementaurs, and Shane Nannup, who talked to the students about the night sky, and provided a reading of the Milky Way seen through Indigenous eyes.

Murray Bruce, Director of Natural Resources at IBM Australia & New Zealand, says supporting the IYSF was a good opportunity for IBM to engage with indigenous communities in WA.   “Through interacting informally with a wide range of IBMers to discuss career ambitions and thoughts on success and lessons learned in their careers, we were able to bring the students’ studies of science alive and demonstrate where these studies can take them in the future. The students were particularly interested to hear first hand from one of our key clients about the role that IBM is playing on one of the region’s largest and  most complex liquefied natural gas projects.”

Feedback from the students who attended the IYSF was very positive and enthusiastic, with the majority indicating that they would recommend the program to other students in a similar position to themselves.

Science is actually going to be difficult to study, but worth it in the end 

Sarah from Mount Barker Community College said she learned, “a lot of different things, such as how naval bases can help in (the) everyday… how IBM has changed and developed the way we interact with and navigate through our world.  I also learned that camp is always worth it!  Science is actually going to be difficult to study, but worth it in the end.”

Indigenous students at Chem Centre 2013 C IYSF Flying Fox 2013 C

IBM at IYSF 2013

The visit to the Desalination Centre for Excellence elicited a number of feedback responses from the students, relating to how it improved their understanding of the process of turning saltwater into drinking water.

And the outdoor activities designed to establish communication and break down barriers were a big hit.  Joseph from Derby said, “I learned how to tie a harness and do some epic tricks on the flying fox.”

At ChemCentre, the students listened to real-life stories of how chemistry is being used every day. They toured a working laboratory, investigated microscopic physical evidence from ‘crime scenes’, explored an Emergency Response van and related equipment.

It was clear from the students’ responses that they enjoyed the hands-on activities, presentations and tours. Through their visit to ChemCentre, the students demonstrated high levels of chemistry knowledge, understanding and inquiry skills.

“ChemCentre is committed to inspiring the community with real-world, relevant science and to enhancing chemistry education in WA”, says Yvette Leong, from ChemCentre. “The IYSF was a great opportunity to do this for a group of bright and budding science students who were, in essence, ambassadors for their communities across WA.”

Indigenous students IYSF 2013  C

 NYSF recently announced that IYSF participant, Kyah Henderson from Geraldton Senior College (above with student mentor, Isaac Alexander) has been offered a place at the second January Session in Canberra; Kyah will be supported by NYSF partner CSL Ltd to attend the NYSF.

Receptions across the country for NYSF 2014 students

Each year, NYSF students and Rotary representatives are privileged to be invited to attend functions hosted by State Governors and the Administrator in the Northern Territory at Government House in most states.

The functions aim to celebrate the students’ selection to attend the NYSF and are seen as acknowledgement of their hard work and high level of achievement. Many students travel from regional areas to attend.

Each Governor and Administrator spends time with the students, giving a brief address that focuses on a particular area of interest or concern.

NYSF Director, Damien Pearce says that these receptions are a very unique opportunity available to NYSF students and recognizes the importance that science education plays in our community.  “We sincerely thank all of the Governors and the NT Administrator and their staff members for their support this year.”

Tas Gov Reception 2013 group

Tas Gov reception 56)
Tasmanian Governor’s Reception for NYSF, September 2013


West Australian Governor’s Reception for NYSF, September 2013

Adelaide Governor's Reception 2013 1

South Australian Governor’s Reception for NYSF, October 2013

NT Administrator's REception Oct 2013

Northern Territory’s Administrator’s Reception, October 2013


Queensland Governor’s NYSF Reception, October 2013

NYSF 2014 NSW Governor's Reception 2013

New South Wales Governor’s Reception, September 2013

NYSF student receives Peter Doherty Award

Congratulations to Queensland NYSF student from 2013, Myky Tran who received a Peter Doherty Award in August.  The Awards conferred by the Nobel Laureate recognise students, teachers, support officers, schools, volunteers, mentors and organisations that have made outstanding and innovative contributions to science and science education in Queensland.

Myky Tran and John Paul Langbroek C

Myky is pictured here with John-Paul Langbroek, MP, Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Employment, receiving the award at the Queensland Academy of Science, Maths and Technology on 15 August 2013. (Image courtesy Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment)