From the Director

I can report this month that all of the NYSF 2015 Orientation sessions have been completed – they kick off in September and run for a six week period, and are a really valuable way for the NYSF corporate team to present its credentials, if you like, to our incoming student cohort, their families, teachers and Rotary supporters. At Orientation, we provide important information about the NYSF, how we operate and what the students can expect when they come on session. They give a real insight into the NSYF and what it is about.

This year, I was supported in the delivery of Orientations by Sandra Meek and Geoff Burchfield. Between us we talked to 25 groups – large and small – across the country, ably assisted by our student staff members who have been fitting in their NYSF training course work between year 12 commitments. I thank them all, as well as our Rotary District Chairs and their assistants, for their organisation and coordination in this very big and important task in the NYSF calendar. Once Orientations are completed, we are set for the run up to the January program.



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 PDG Mark Lean, Hamza Ashraf, Holly Coyte, Muhammad Khan, NYSF District Chair Marty Eiteneuer, NYSF Program Coordinator Geoff Burchfield at Mackay Orientation Oct 2014




A number of parents let us know during Orientations that they had attended the NYSF themselves, and it is very rewarding to learn that they valued the program so much that they were supporting their own child’s attendance. Similarly, we have science teachers of students advising that they attended the NYSF, or have attended the National Science Teachers’ Summer School, our professional development program conducted each year in collaboration with the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). I believe that all of these referrals support the claim that our students are our best ambassadors … even twenty or thirty years on.

Another recent development is the establishment of NYSF societies and associations at various universities across the country (see story below), but particularly at those who are funding partners of the NYSF. Established by the university students, the associations aim to continue the relationships among program participants as they move through the tertiary system, and hopefully will also provide a mechanism for ongoing contact once they enter the workforce. We welcome all opportunities to connect with our alumni, formal or informal. Once in the workforce, alumni may consider approaching their employers to become involved in the NYSF, particularly as a funding partner, as we are always looking for new partners to ensure the sustainability of the program.

The 2015 session will provide challenges due to increases in numbers here in Canberra but I am confident that with the support of our partners, staff, Rotary volunteers and the team at the Australian National University (ANU), we will once again deliver a program of fascinating speakers, exciting debates, interesting insights and lots and lots of interaction among the 360 young people who are heading towards a career in science, technology, engineering and maths. Bring it on!

Governors’ receptions recognise NYSF students

NYSF is fortunate in the support it garners from the state governors across the country, who kindly host our students at receptions, where possible, as part of our Orientation activities. These receptions acknowledge the work the students have done to date and their achievement on being selected for the NYSF, reflecting the importance of science education and learning to our wider community.  Invited representatives from NYSF funding partners also attended the receptions in each state.

This year, our NSW students were privileged to be welcomed by the outgoing Governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO in one of her last official events, and in South Australia, newly appointed Chair of the NYSF, Professor Tanya Monro attended the reception held by the incoming Governor of South Australia, His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO.

We extend our thanks to all involved in hosting these receptions, including parents and teachers who ensure the students can attend, and the staff at each Government House.

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Science in ACTion 2014

Canberra and regionally based NYSF alumni volunteered their time to participate in Science in ACTion at the Australian National University (ANU) in August – a two-day event, which runs annually as part of National Science Week, celebrating science and technology.

This year, the NYSF hosted a booth at the event, and a number of local schools visited on Friday, allowing the promotion of our programs to year 10 and 11 students and their teachers.

Saturday was the community day, keeping NYSF volunteers busy demonstrating the very popular Van der Graaff generator and the Wimshurst machine, which were kindly loaned by the ANU Physics Education Centre.

NYSF alumni from the 1988 session and from 2008 dropped by the booth to say hello – both have moved into successful careers in science. One enthusiastic student who will be attending the January session in 2015 was very excited to see the NYSF at this year’s event.

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Due to the success of the event, Chair of the ACT Science Week committee, Dr Merryn McKinnon, has invited the NYSF to participate next year.

NYSF Director, Damien Pearce, said participating in this Science Week event was important for the NYSF to raise its profile on campus at ANU. “I would like to thank Dr McKinnon for the opportunity to be involved in this very successful event. It was great to see displays from organisations as diverse as Lockheed Martin, NICTA and the Australian Society of Parasitology. And astronaut Rick Hieb was a real draw-card on the Saturday.”

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“A big thank you to our volunteer alumni for providing their time, enthusiasm, knowledge and ability to communicate with the public for a hands-on learning experience.”


Story: Julie Maynard

Outward Bound Australia partner with NYSF in student staff training

In the lead up to the NYSF January Sessions, incoming student staff leaders travelled to Tharwa, 35 kilometres south of Canberra in August to participate in a leadership training program. A key component is the outdoor trekking experience and student camp environment, delivered by Outward Bound Australia.

This trek experience helps participants to develop awareness and social connection and to gain an understanding of individual and group values, development of supporting and trusting relationships, and the opportunity to critically reflect on their own performance and the performance of others within a shared leadership approach.

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High ropes The student staff learn about:

  • the NYSF and its history and philosophy;
  • the responsibilities of being a student staff leader;
  • the importance of planning and analysing a situation;
  • handling specific tasks during the January NYSF sessions;
  • leadership, professionalism and decision making;
  • running NYSF orientation, and public speaking; and
  • team-building.

It was a very cold start to day one with the temperature a mere -1 degree outside. The students broke into two groups, with one heading outside for their first Outward Bound experience – the high ropes course. Each participant navigated their way across a series of elements 12 meters above the ground. The second team’s first experience was a little warmer, starting with activities that tested the brain.

The second day saw the students head indoors to the lecture theatre to develop and fine-tune their presentation skills in front of their peers.

On the third day, the students headed into Namadgi National Park with the opportunity of applying the teamwork and leadership skills they had learned.

Director Damien Pearce says that the new partnership with Outward Bound Australia is a good fit with the NYSF. “I am pleased with the ease with which OBA has taken on this training task for the NYSF. Through its accredited training processes, our student staff will now attain both Enterprise Trainer – Presenting Skills and Mentoring Skill Sets from the Training and Education Training Package. I would like to acknowledge the support of Margot Hurrell from OBA in her support and facilitation of this initiative.

Further information can be found here



Story:  Julie Maynard

O Canada!

Six NYSF students attended the Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF) in May 2014 as ambassadors for Australian science. Emily-Grace Nicholson Gartley, Tarra Brain, Shoshana Rapley, Courtney Paton, Riley Le Lay and Kenny Purohit applied to attend the NYSF International Program in February 2014, and were selected for CWSF.

CWSF is Canada’s leading youth science event, and functions as the national finals of an annual science competition. More than 500 successful Canadian participants present a scientific project, which has previously been ranked highly in regional science fairs.

As guests of this year’s host city of Windsor, Ontario, the Australian group visited local primary and high schools, meeting with students and educating them about Australia and its science activities.

“From the moment we arrived at the Fair, we were treated like celebrities. The Canadian students wanted to talk to us, hang out with us and learn as much as they could about our country. The atmosphere was fantastic, a mix of culture, ideas, opinions and most of all, science,” said Emily-Grace.

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Emily-Grace said she was astounded at the high calibre of the students at the fair. “There were so many talented, innovative and passionate students, who had been working on their projects for years. Fifteen year olds were delving into areas of science I had never heard of.”

The NYSF students held their own stall as an introduction to Australian science and culture. This included science projects such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Pathfinder, and unplanned events such as a ‘great vegemite challenge’, Aussie trivia, and teaching the national anthem.

The main task of the Australian group was to judge the projects of Canadian students who had elected to be considered to attend the NYSF 2015. After a round of interviews, three students – Mohamad Kadri, Katherine Brent and James Lee will travel to Canberra to participate in the 2015 January Sessions.

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NYSF has a well-established relationship with CWSF, sending NYSF students there and hosting Canadians for many years. Past Canadian attendee Jessie McAlpine attended the NYSF in 2014, is now 18 and in her first year at the University of Toronto. She recently gave a TEDx talk about the importance of Science Fairs and her own research into the development of new malaria drugs. (

The NYSF group also visited some of Canada’s sights such as the Niagara Falls – experiencing the power of the “Hornblower” jet boat taking the group under the falls; and hiking in Point Pelee National Park. From Calgary, the students travelled through Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, Squillax, and finally to Vancouver for a hike in the snow at Mount Sulphur.

The group walked away from their adventures with new friendships and experiences that they won’t easily forget.

“The trip inspired me to strive and achieve through my studies, while enjoying my life and taking value in my surroundings,” said Tarra Brain.


Story:  Julie Maynard; Original reports and photos: Tarra Brain and Emily-Grace Nicholson-Gartley


Which NYSF group are you in?

Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton are well known scientists but have you heard of Australian scientists Sir Marcus Oliphant, or Dorothy Hill? These science greats along with Professor Elizabeth Blackburn and Marie Sklodowska-Curie, are the names chosen for four new interest groups introduced for January 2015 session.

An additional 80 students will be attending Sessions A and C in 2015 which prompted the establishment of the new interest groups.

Incoming students are required to enroll in an interest area based on where they see themselves in their chosen career in eight years’ time. This then determines the type of lab visits and excursions students will participate in. If for example the student has chosen animal and plan biology as a field of study, they will be placed in the interest group Darwin – named after biologist Charles Darwin. However, all students also take part in activities outside of their interest group, meeting the aim of the NYSF to open up students to new possibilities for their career.

NYSF interest groups are named for the following scientists:

Galileo – Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Italian born mathematician who made pioneering observations of nature with long-lasting implications for the study of physics. He also constructed a telescope and supported the Copernican theory, which supports a sun-centered solar system.

Einstein – Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) was a German born theoretical physicist and philosopher of science. He developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). He is best known in popular culture for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”). He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”. The latter was pivotal in establishing quantum theory.

Maxwell – James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879) was a Scottish mathematical physicist. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism have been called the “second great unification in physics after the first one realised by Isaac Newton.

Newton – Sir Isaac Newton (1642 –1726) was an English physicist and mathematician (described in his own day as a “natural philosopher”) who is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics and shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of calculus.

Lyell – Sir Charles Lyell (1797 – 1875) was a British lawyer and the foremost geologist of his day. He set out to prove that all geologic processes were due to natural events rather than supernatural events and that the Earth was extremely ancient rather than the few thousand years old most Bible scholars purposed. Lyell is best known as the author of Principles of Geology, which popularised James Hutton’s concepts of uniformitarianism – the idea that the features of Earth were in perpetual change, eroding and reforming continuously and at a constant rate. This was a challenge to the traditional view, which saw the history of Earth as static, punctuated by occasional catastrophes.

Lyell was also one of the first to believe that the world is older than 300 million years, on the basis of its geological anomalies. Lyell was a close and influential friend of Charles Darwin.

Pauling – Linus Carl Pauling (1901 – 1994) was an American chemist, biochemist, peace activist, author, and educator. He was one of the most influential chemists in history and ranks among the most important scientists of the 20th century. Pauling was one of the founders of the fields of quantum chemistry and molecular biology.

Rutherford – The Right Honourable The Lord Rutherford Nelson, born Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1871 – 1937) was a New Zealand-born British physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics. He discovered the concept of radioactive half-life and proved that radioactivity involved the transmutation of one chemical element to another, and also differentiated and named alpha and beta radiation. It was the basis for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he was awarded in 1908 “for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances”.

Darwin – Charles Robert Darwin (1809 – 1882) was an English naturalist and geologist, best known for his contributions to evolutionary theory. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and in a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding.

Florey – Howard Walter Florey, Baron Florey of Adelaide, (1898 – 1968) was an Australian pharmacologist and pathologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Sir Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Alexander Fleming for his role in the making of penicillin. Although Fleming received most of the credit for the discovery of penicillin, it was Florey who carried out the first ever-clinical trials in 1941 at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. Florey’s discoveries are estimated to have saved over 82 million lives.

Doherty – Peter Charles Doherty AC (1940- ) is an Australian veterinary surgeon and researcher in the field of medicine. He received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1995, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Rolf M. Zinkernagel in 1996 and was named Australian of the Year in 1997. His research in immunology has focussed on how killer T-cells in the body recognise and target viruses. In the Australia Day Honours of 1997, he was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his work with Zinkernagel. Zinkernagel was named an honorary Companion. He is also a National Trust Australian Living Treasure.

Oliphant – Sir Marcus “Mark” Laurence Elwin Oliphant, AC (1901 – 2000) was an Australian physicist and humanitarian who played an important role in the first experimental demonstration of nuclear fusion and also the development of nuclear weapons. He was awarded an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship in 1927 on the strength of the research he had done on mercury. He studied under Sir Ernest Rutherford at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. There, he used a particle accelerator to fire heavy hydrogen nuclei (deuterons) at various targets. He discovered the nuclei of helium 3 (helions) and tritium (tritons). He also discovered that when they reacted with each other, the particles that were released had far more energy than they started with. Energy had been liberated from inside the nucleus, and he realised that this was a result of nuclear fusion.

Hill – Dorothy Hill was Australia’s first female professor at an Australian university, and the first female president of the Australian Academy of Science. She was a geologist, graduating in 1928 from the University of Queensland, with a First Class Honours degree. She studied at Cambridge University for her PhD, and returned to Australia to undertake comprehensive and ground-breaking work dating the immense limestone coral formations of continental Australia, a feat that gave geologists a new way of understanding the age of the continent. After active service in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service during World War II, she became a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and its President in 1970.

Curie – Marie Sklodowska-Curie (1867 – 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, (in 1903 for physics shared with her husband Pierre), the first person (and only woman) to win twice (in 1911 for Physics), the only person to win twice in multiple sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first female professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

Blackburn – Professor Elizabeth Helen Blackburn, AC, FRS, FAA, FRSN (1948 – ) is an Australian-American biological researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies the telomere, a structure at the end of chromosomes that protects the chromosome. Blackburn co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomere. For this work, she was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, sharing it with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak.


Story: Julie Maynard

“Being a nerd was a good thing!” – David Snowdon, Alumni 1998

It sounds like an overstatement, but the NYSF was one of the truly formative experiences of my life. The two weeks in Canberra during 1998’s Session A were a critical step. Most of my best and lasting relationships stem from
 my time at NYSF, the people I met through it, or the confidence I gained
 as a result of meeting a load of truly like-minded people.

Most importantly, I learned that being a nerd was a good thing. Some might think of science as a pursuit of the anti-social, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Being a leader and being a scientist or engineer are one and the same thing.

Being a leader and being a scientist or engineer are one and the same thing.

The NYSF also taught me to think and aim big; this only being reinforced during the intervening 16 years by the achievements of my fellow
 NYSF attendees.

Offered a scholarship, I studied Computer Engineering at University of New South Wales (UNSW). While the engineering course was fantastic, it was the extra-curricular that allowed for the real education. The university bar was one of the best classrooms — we taught ourselves how to think via argument and debate.

Doing a PhD was another fantastic education. I studied power management and operating systems, and it took far longer than it should have. Being a nerd is good but it can be distracting when you’re interested in so much. In how many professions can you find people who are really excited about what they’re doing? I’ll bet that the people who study science and engineering rank high on that scale.

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David Snowdon 1

One of the biggest thinking, extra curricular activities I got into at University was the UNSW Solar Racing Team. I learned to build cars — which drove 3000 km across the desert —
with a diverse team with real deadlines. Ten years, six races and three solar
 cars later, it culminated with my picture in the Guinness Book of Records (2012). I’m now a member of the technical faculty of the World Solar Challenge.

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So where did I end up? Over the last five years, since finishing my PhD, I’ve been involved in a race of a different kind: optimising financial systems around the world. I started, and now run, a business, which designs and manufactures the network hardware carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in trades each day. We are the best in the world at what we do, and we do it from Australia.

Not bad for two weeks at the beginning of year twelve!

“… there are so many careers relating to science …” Tayla McKechnie, NYSF 2010

Tayla McKechnie is an NYSF alumna who recently graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Genetics.  Attending the NYSF in Canberra in 2010, she returned as a student staff member in 2011 and 2012, and in January 2014 was responsible for leading the student staff team that delivered the Session C program.

Tayla always wanted to be a scientist. “I fell in love with science in high school, and initially wanted to be a stereotypical scientist and do research. As I got older, though, I learned more and realised that I have so many more career paths available. I have heard many talks by various scientists who addressed the NYSF – an advantage of being a volunteer staffie – and there are so many different careers relating to science.“

In year 11 Tayla’s intention was to major in physics at university, and move into a career in research of cosmology or quantum mechanics. In her first year at The University of Melbourne she joined the Physics Students’ Society, and quickly became involved on the committee as the First Year student representative. “I would never have had the confidence to do this if I hadn’t been to the NYSF as a student or a staffie.”

Tayla says she chose The University of Melbourne for a number of reasons. “Firstly it has an international reputation and consistently ranks as one of Australia’s best universities, so if I apply for jobs overseas people will recognise the University. It also has a very diverse and multicultural mix of students from all over the world, so there are a lot of different cultures and social/political groups contributing to the atmosphere on campus. This keeps it a vibrant and interesting place to be. I also love that it is so close to the CBD, that was a major drawcard, but there are also lovely parks and really eclectic suburbs nearby.

“As I started my third year studies, I realised that the University of Melbourne is literally surrounded by world-class biomedical research institutes and medical facilities, which the University has affiliations with. In my experience, the genetics faculty really values their students and works hard on retaining them into graduate programs. The professors are also supportive throughout the semester to help go over concepts outside of lectures, and do love talking about their research. I know this is echoed across other science faculties too. (These are) My “top five” reasons why I think The University of Melbourne is a great place to study.”

In second year of university, Tayla made the difficult decision to switch majors from physics to genetics. “This was a very hard decision to make as I felt I was losing a part of my identity, as I had wanted to be a physicist for so long. But having been to the NYSF, I learned that changing your mind is not the end of the world, and sometimes it’s a good thing or the best thing. I am so glad that I made this decision … the world of DNA and gene regulation continually astounds me, I am so glad I found that passion and excitement for science again.”

Tayla was volunteer chaperone for the 2014 NYSF students on their trip to South Africa

Tayla was volunteer chaperone for the 2014 NYSF students on their trip to South Africa

Tayla is now taking a year off from study to work and travel, but intends to return to study for her Masters of Genetics. “I’m contemplating what my career may look like … up until a few months ago, I thought I was definitely going to be a researcher, in a white coat, at a lab bench all day, and that image excites me and still does. But now I am thinking of all the other areas that need people that have studied science. The policy makers and regulators, the science communicators, the entrepreneurs creating start-up biotechs, the researchers in industry … through the NYSF, I have met all of these different types of scientists. “

“I know I am going to have a career related to science, and at some point I want to ‘be’ the white coat at the lab bench. I just don’t know when or for how long … but NYSF has taught me that not knowing exactly what my future will look like is ok, and opportunities may come out of nowhere and from the most unlikely places. What is most important is that you take those opportunities no matter how daunting they might be.”

NYSF alumni society at University of Melbourne

Students at the University of Melbourne have recently decided to form an alumni society. President, Kushani Hewage, tells how it came about:

The National Youth Science Forum Alumni Society at the University of Melbourne was founded this year after a gruelling semester-long process full of applications. We collaborated to create this group after finding out that despite the enthusiasm to start a society, there was a need for someone to make the dream a reality. We knew that a couple of other universities around Australia had NYSF alumni groups or had annual gatherings, but this was not so in Victoria. Throughout last year and in particular this year, monthly gatherings were generally organised and co-ordinated by students who attended NYSF in 2013. We felt that by creating clubs affiliated with our universities, we would create a more prominent presence in the community.

While we are only a new, tiny club for now, we hope that as we are able to promote ourselves and bring in more members, we will be able to fulfil our aims.

The aims of the club are:

  1. To allow students who are a part of the National Youth Science Forum to remain connected with their peers in the University of Melbourne.
  2. To represent the cohort of NYSF who live/study in Melbourne, similar to NYSF alumni societies created interstate.
  3. To act as ambassadors on behalf of the NYSF organisation, promoting the program and play an integral role to help future NYSF students assimilate to the program easier.
  4. To hold events within the University as well as in collaboration with other Universities to raise funds for scientific research/projects.
  5. To hold an annual gathering to celebrate the newest NYSF students into the program.

We have already held our first event with a casual meet and greet (and drink) with a good turnout of NYSF alumni from various years. There are plans to hold a number of fundraisers so that we can grow our community and hold events on a larger scale, extending to not only past members but also to show potential NYSF participants in the coming years how the National Youth Science Forum can benefit them.

We are really excited to have this society at our University and we encourage alumni who want to keep in touch, whether you’re a student at the University of Melbourne or at a different institution you are welcome to join our lovely community!

Stay nutty and remember to always go bananas!

Further information: Search on Facebook – NYSF SOCIETY @ Unimelb or email

NYSF students feature in 2014 Qld Peter Doherty Awards

Congratulations to NYSF alumni who have won an Outstanding Senior Science Student Award as part of the Peter Doherty Award for Excellence in Science and Science Education. Of the ten students who won awards this year, five were NYSF alumni.

Winners were announced by the Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Employment during National Science Week in August and include:

Jackson Huang – Queensland Academy of Science, Mathematics and Technology

Jordanna Mladenovic – Townsville State High School

Lachlan Oberg – Ormiston College

Rosalie Petersen – Mansfield State High School

Victoria Poon – St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School

The Peter Doherty Awards for Excellence in Science and Science Education, which commenced in 2004, recognise students, teachers, support officers, schools, volunteers, mentors and organisations that have made outstanding and innovative contributions to science and science education in Queensland.  They are named for Professor Peter Doherty, a Brisbane-born Nobel Prize-winning scientist who was educated at Indooroopilly State High School and the University of Queensland.