From the Chair

Autumn has arrived in Canberra, reminding us how much of the year is gone already. The leaves are changing colour and we are turning our attention to next year’s Sessions.

Applications for 2015 opened on 1 April and students have been making enquiries. This emphasises the important role that the Rotary partnership plays and how effective Rotary members’ involvement is in not only the vital role of selecting students to attend Sessions in January, but increasing awareness about the program. Thank you once again Rotary!

We are also having a hard look at the strategic direction of the NYSF. At a time when there is increasing focus on whether our economy will have enough STEM professionals in the future, programs such as the NYSF are even more relevant because they provide exposure for young people to a wide range of science and technology-related fields, and also a greater understanding of the increasing points of intersection among various disciplines. How well we are achieving this needs to be constantly considered.

And on the topic of intersections, along with several members of the office staff and Council, I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of a great collaborative project – Australia’s Future. The magazine profiles individual success stories in STEM areas across Australia and was led by the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA) and funded by the Office of the Chief Scientist for Australia, but also had the support of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, the Australian Mathematics Trust, Australian Science Innovations, the CSIRO, the National Mathematics Summer School and of course the National Youth Science Forum.

You can view the magazine online at:

Craig Cormick

Lab visits and other contributors vital to NYSF

The NYSF is fortunate to be supported by a large number of organisations that host visits to their facilities and research teams during the January Sessions and the Next Step programs.

“Access to these world leading organisations is one of the things that makes the NYSF unique,” says NYSF Director, Damien Pearce.  “Whether it is the National Wildlife Collection at the CSIRO in Canberra, or the Defence Science and Technology Organisation’s (DSTO) Stirling Research Facility in Fremantle, I think it is fair to say that without the support from our lab and site visit providers – many of which develop content specifically for the NYSF students – the NYSF would be a lesser program. We are very grateful for their support and acknowledge loudly the effort and resources that go into their contributions to the program.”

Shona Blewett, from Geoscience Australia’s Education Centre says, “NYSF students who visit Geoscience Australia undertake geophysical surveys or chemical and core sample analyses then combine their results to find the location of an underground water resource. Staff are enthusiastic about sharing their love of geoscience with a new generation and gain immense satisfaction from their interactions with the students.”



A full list of the NYSF lab and site visit hosts is available at here.

NYSF 2014 International Program: the view from the assessor’s chair.

You’d think that gaining a place in one of the January sessions was exciting enough but for 120 of this year’s NYSF students, the chance to compete for a place in our 2014 International Program obviously proved irresistible … even though winning one of the 37 coveted places might mean missing as much as six weeks of Year 12.

The NYSF has been running an International Program for 25 years now. Originally it was open only to those selected for the student-staff training program, and the trips were regarded as another opportunity for future leaders to manage challenges.

In 2010 applying for the program was opened to anyone who attended that year’s January sessions. We wanted to offer the same horizon-broadening opportunities to all NYSF students. Who wouldn’t benefit from meeting other like-minded individuals and seeing extraordinary science in places such as London, Boston, Pretoria, Vancouver, Heidelberg, and Copenhagen? Two students even get the chance to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Not surprisingly everyone wants to go, at least in principle.

So how do we select students to attend? Well, assuming there’s permission from parents and the school principal – and the latter may be the greatest hurdle for some – the would-be global travellers must answer four questions about science interests, long-range goals and life outside school, plus document their recent academic performance rounded out with teacher references. It’s quite a straight-forward process. However if we ever wondered about the diversity of interests, activities and talent of NYSF students it’s on show in spades in these applications. It’s a snapshot of a remarkable group of young Australians.

Sure, there are common threads. For example this year there was an unusually high level of interest in the big physics questions like the origin of time and space, the role of black holes, and speculation about the nature of dark matter. Nanotechnology, neuroscience, and genetics also featured, as did curing cancer, alternative energy and climate change. In their “spare time” many excelled in science competitions, played every kind of sport imaginable (some at national level) and got involved in artistic, cultural, and community events.

Mixed in with these are more home-grown pursuits clearly triggered by an event, location or influential person encountered perhaps years ago. What makes these applicants stand out is that the interests drive their hobbies as well as academic achievement. There are birdwatchers and backyard experimenters (building engines, flying drones), amateur astronomers and algorithm writers. One student uses his diving skills to pursue interests in marine ecology and fish biodiversity. Another rural student is intrigued by the concept of modifying the diet of livestock to include native shrubs that reduce methane emissions.

With so much talent on display, and I haven’t even mentioned academic excellence, we selected candidates with clearly written, strong answers to each question, taking into account school performance and references. There are never enough places to give every deserving applicant a guernsey but I think that, as in previous years, we’ve ended up with a remarkable bunch of young ambassadors to represent the NYSF abroad. Congratulations!!

However, based on the calibre of all the applications received I think it’s very appropriate to commend everyone who made the effort to apply.


Geoff Burchfield

Program Development


Melbourne Next Step

The NYSF Next Step programs for 2014 kicked off in Melbourne in March, with visits to NYSF Partners CSL Ltd, GSK and The University of Melbourne.

“The purpose of the Next Step visits is to provide exposure for students who might be interested in studying at specific universities that provide us with funding, or in careers such as those provided by our partner organisations,” says NYSF Director, Damien Pearce. “Being able to provide the students with these opportunities adds real value to the program.”

Students toured the two industrial labs and facilities, and gained valuable insights into the complexities of the processes associated with the development of commercial products.

Outside CSL

Students’ comments included:

“I was surprised to hear about the breadth of jobs available in the pharmaceutical industry. I also did not expect that the flu vaccine encompassed so many eggs to produce.”

“(I learned about …) the size of the biomedical industry in Australia.”

“… the strong engineering side to the company.”

“The tour was brilliant, to be able to suit up and go around to all the different stations and seeing the whole production run was fantastic.”

“I really enjoyed how much of the facility we were able to tour as well as finding out how the products worked. It was nice being able to see the science behind products I use everyday as an asthmatic.”

The visit to partner The University of Melbourne offered students a full day of lectures, lab visits and opportunities to inspect specific areas of the university, such as the genetics and microbiology labs.  There was also opportunity to do some hands-on activities, such as gram staining.

After the visit, students commented:

“I have always wanted to go to Melbourne Uni and this cemented this even further.”

“As a student that does not study physics I was astounded about how I found the presentation ‘From the Higgs Boson to the Bionic Eye’ so interesting, entertaining and engaging. I would attribute this to the absolute passion of the speaker and his excellence in communicating this, and I wish to thank Melbourne University for this experience. All of the seminars were incredibly interesting and certainly were the highlight of Next Step. Furthermore, I am now considering applying for Melbourne as my primary choice.”

UniMelb Next Step 2014 Alistair Chandler

“It was really good to see the facilities up close, Melbourne has always been where I wanted to study but it was good to see up close where I may want to study and also to see up close the job opportunities that come from it, it was all so interesting and pretty cool to get these opportunities that most people don’t have access to.”

“I would like to thank these financial partners and encourage them to continue to support such an amazing program. The allowing of us to tour their facilities and learn about their companies is just another generous thing they have done. This forum as well as the subsequent programs nurtures the future of science in Australia and allows us insight into field of science which we may not have considered before. Thank you so much for contributing as a financial partner, personally NYSF has been life changing and I would like future generations of scientists to experience it.”

Applications for NYSF 2015 now open

In case you missed it, applications opened for the 2015 National Youth Science Forum on 1 April.  Information about how to apply is at

Applicants must be in year 11 now, to be eligible to attend in the January before they start year 12. Please use your networks to make as many year 11 science students aware of the program.

CSL has recently produced a video about why it supports the National Youth Science Forum.

What happened next? NYSF Alumnus Matt Wenham

Matt Wenham has packed a lot into the years since he attended the National Youth Science Forum in 1998. Selected for a place in the NYSF International Program at the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar, three days after his final year 12 exams he found himself at the Nobel Prize ceremony. He returned as an NYSF student staff member in 1999 and was Chief of Staff in 2000.

Matt Wenham Nobel Ball 0105

A Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Adelaide set Matt up well to follow on to postgraduate work in biochemistry and genetics, and coupled with his time as a youth advocate in Adelaide, he was able to develop and consolidate a range of research and communication skills for future career roles.

Matt’s PhD at The University of Oxford looked at the cell biology of proteins involved in the function of killer T cells in blood, and provided long nights in the lab, yielding research and results that contributed to an understanding of an important part of the immune system.

Apart from the actual findings of his work, Matt says this research experience was constructive because it taught him the value of conducting thorough scientific research and he gained a real understanding of the resources that are required.

His successful selection as a Rhodes scholar to Oxford University provided exposure to a broad canvas of life, and he met students from a range of Commonwealth countries, entering a world of European history previously unconsidered. Along the way, he had also picked up a Diploma of Education, which allowed him to spend time teaching in Africa.

Matt has recently returned to Melbourne, after three years in Washington, most recently as Associate Director, Institute on Science for Global Policy, where he managed programs and staff working on emerging and persistent infectious diseases (EPID), food safety, security, and defense (FSSD), and synthetic biology. He is now a Senior Policy Adviser at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy.

Matt addressed the Rotary Dinner at Session A of the 2014 January Sessions, and his messages to the students were many and multi-faceted. But key were:

  1. If you want to study further, follow your passion not the ATAR ranking. Your motivation to succeed will come from what doing what you enjoy.
  2. Develop at least an understanding of the political process, so that you know where your work will fit in, in terms of serving the wider community.
  3. Volunteer with organisations you are interested in to develop skills you don’t have, but take care not to be exploited.
  4. Develop communications skills to a level with which you are comfortable. Scientists need to be able to tell people about their work.

Matt Wenham Session A Rotary Dinner 2014

But perhaps his most important message was emphasising the key role of science in underpinning policy development within the political context, and the importance of having policy makers who are science literate and understand the research process. “We need more scientists involved in policy development,” he says. “… people who have scientific knowledge and who understand the importance of scientific rigour.”

Are you an NYSF alumni and would like to tell us What Happened Next?  Email; we’d love to hear your story.

It’s not that far from country NSW to Chiang Mai in Thailand, is it?

 Rob Baird reports:

When I was in High School, a career in science seemed a natural fit. After all, both my parents taught science, and my brother, grandfather and uncle are all, or have been, engineers. When I attended the NYSF in 2005 those plans were coming together: Chemistry, Advanced Maths and Physics for the HSC, followed by a BSc., a Masters in architecture, and a career specialising in renewable materials. In 2007, however, I landed my first job in journalism editing the local newspaper and fell in love with news, and that’s been my raison d’être since.

Instead of a degree in science, I enrolled in the journalism program at RMIT University. While in Melbourne I led newsreaders at a youth radio station as an Executive Producer, hiring and training newsreaders, as well as hosting its flagship current affairs show. I also spent time in the US, covering the 2012 US Senate race for a congressional newswire and helping plan Al Jazeera English’s coverage of the US & Mexican presidential elections. Last year I relocated to Chiang Mai, a creative and technology mecca in the north of Thailand.

Screenshot - AJE standup Jul12

Rob Baird 2005 et al

While I’ve left behind those plans in my teens, that doesn’t mean my passion for science has just been gathering dust on the shelf. Now I’m writing a tech blog with Asian Correspondent, and trying to wrap my head around the elaborate marvel that is the Internet, I’m very grateful for a background in maths and science. Sadly – with a few notable exceptions – I feel an appreciation of scientific rigour and evidence is in short supply among Australian journalists. The scientific process can be highly inconvenient for those caught in the daily news cycle. But I’m certain if there were more NYSF alumni working in the media that antipathy would begin to change.

A snapshot of where Rob came from:

Rotary District 9700,

in the west of New South Wales, reaching from Oberon to Condobolin;

south to Wagga and Hay.

Murrumburrah High School, in Harden,  NSW.

2005 (Session B).

Newton Group.

FEAST or famine? Uni of Qld FEAST Program set for June

A group of 100 senior school students will explore global issues such as food security, fuel production and animal welfare at The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Gatton campus at the end of June.

The five-day Future Experiences in Agriculture, Science and Technology residential program (FEAST) highlights career paths and opportunities available within agriculture, science and technology.

Students will participate in a range of activities related to animal and veterinary science, biosecurity, plant pathology, soil science, parasitology, genetics, food security and the environment.

Past NYSF and FEAST participant, Sasha Laws-King, is now working at Toowoomba Veterinary Hospital.  She says, “I still remember that feeling of not knowing what it was that you wanted to do for the rest of your life. So many decisions, people always asking you what you want to do. I found myself looking for opportunities … asking people for advice. When the opportunity to apply for NYSF came along, little did I know that it would be a truly life changing experience. Upon returning from NYSF with my eyes more wide open to the possibilities that my future could hold, the head of science encouraged me to apply for FEAST at the University of Queensland, Gatton campus. FEAST again opened my eyes and cemented my passion to study the Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree. I also got a feel for the UQ campus, met MANY people and again was motivated to cruise through year 12 and get excited about University. Now, some 7 years on, still keeping in touch with friends from both NYSF and FEAST and working as a veterinarian, what can I say – I am just so lucky to have had both of these amazing opportunities and I love what I do – a dream come true.”

FEAST co-ordinator Karli Kollegger said the program is designed to give students a full university experience, learning from UQ Academics, researchers and industry experts who share their science experience and knowledge through practical workshops and plenary sessions.

“Each morning we will hear from UQ experts and industry guests covering new developments in science and research in the agriculture, animal and food sectors,” she says.  “The workshop activities are held throughout the day. The night program consists of career talks from recent UQ graduates, sporting challenges, trivia and a semi-formal dinner.”

The FEAST program offers students in years 11 and 12 unparalleled access to the university.  They stay on campus at the Halls of Residence and tour facilities such as the Dairy, Wildlife Facility, Queensland Animal Science Precinct and the Veterinary Medical Centre as well as visiting UQ’s St Lucia campus.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for students to make new friends, chat with current students and researchers and really hone in on their interests,” Mrs Kollegger said.

“After the completion of the program, we feel that students are more confident about pursuing tertiary study and are more aware of the rewarding careers in the agriculture, animal and food industries.”

Participant Matthew Rogan, who also attended both the NYSF and FEAST, says, “FEAST is an amazing program that opened up many windows about the experiences of living on halls at UQ Gatton, courses available, back doors and also meeting fellow students that are also interested in studying the same degree as you. NYSF opened up the same windows and I also gained life experiences that wouldn’t come by in everyday life. The FEAST program helped me finalise on what degree I wanted to study and the location to where I should do my studies. Both NYSF and FEAST are great opportunities that helped my decide on what I wanted to do with my studies and looking back now, I’m glad that I took those opportunities to help me decide.”

For more information on the UQ FEAST residential program visit or contact Karli Kollegger (07) 5460 1279.


ANSTO Graduate Program seeks new intake of applicants

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) Graduate Program is run every two years. The next intake of graduates will be in February 2015 (recruitment campaign began in March 2014). – See more at the ANSTO website.

Helen Maynard-Casely ANSTO

Dr Helen Maynard-Casely attended the Session A Partners’ Day on behalf of ANSTO.  She is an Instrument scientist at ANSTO and holds a MSc Planetary Sciences (University College London, UK), PhD in Physical Crystallography/High Pressure Physics (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Helen Maynard-Casely was hooked by planetary sciences as teenager when she saw a TV program that told of planets and moons in our solar system with exotic geological materials unlike anything found on earth.

Her undergraduate planetary sciences degree introduced her to crystallography, where neutrons and X-rays are used to detect the structure of materials on an atomic and molecular scale. The technique played a starring role in her PhD in Scotland, where she continued to follow her passion for extra-terrestrial materials.

Maynard-Casely’s research recreated the extreme high pressures found on Uranus, Neptune and Titan to synthesise the materials found there, probing them in detail using crystallography. Now at ANSTO, she uses WOMBAT, one of the most powerful neutron diffractometers in the world, to investigate the geology of the moons of Jupiter.

As a crystallography expert, she also helps other scientists and is currently working on projects in renewable energy and forensic science. She loves the variety in her work, collaborations with interesting people and opportunities to work around the world. “I genuinely believe I have the best job in the world,” she says.

She advises students interested in a career in science to keep studying maths and is grateful for “awesome” advice from a family friend who persuaded her not to drop the subject when she was 16.

“It really kept my options open when choosing uni courses,” she says.

From the NYSF Partners

Run the River

Students who attended Sessions A and C in January 2014 and visited the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s stand at our Partners’ Day Expo, played an interactive game designed to show the challenges associated with “running the river” to meet the demands of an evolving population.

The game is based on over 100 years of historic and modelled data from the Murray–Darling Basin, making it a great simulation of the water cycle, and water management issues.

Run the River – a water sharing challenge, is now available for free download for both Android and Apple smart devices (phones and tablets). You can find out about the app, and links to download at the MDBA web page.

Australian National University MOOC

The ANU is running a massive open online course (MOOC) that might be of interest to NYSF students and alumni alike.

The “Greatest Unsolved Mysteries of the Cosmos” is presented by Professor Brian Schmidt and Professor Paul Francis and will interest students keen on astronomy and astrophysics, offering a good opportunity to be exposed to how university courses operate.

More information is available at the ANU EDX website.

University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne is committed to nurturing future generations of researchers, to developing new insights, and promoting a wider understanding of the world in which we live.  Its new website showcases stories that illustrate the breadth of research being undertaken at the university.  Take a look and be inspired.