From the Director

Online Expressions of Interest for students to attend the National Youth Science Forum in 2016 opened on 1 March and have been steadily coming in. Rotary clubs should however continue to promote the program in their local areas to ensure the students who will benefit the most from attending the NYSF have the opportunity to consider applying. I also encourage potential applicants to not leave this process until the last minute as there are several key steps involved, including talking with a Rotary club about endorsing applications. Expressions of Interest close on 31 May.

Applications for our 2015 International Programs, which we expanded this year to include a program in Singapore, were again of a high standard making the selection of successful applicants a challenge. Congratulations to the 44 students who have been selected for programs in London, Canada, Singapore, Boston, Stockholm and Heidelberg. These opportunities are invaluable for people interested in building international professional networks.

Thanks to all of the 2015 students who have been able to participate in our Next Step Programs to date this year. The response has been unprecedented meaning that already, we have been able to take considerable numbers of students to Melbourne and Brisbane to visit our partner universities and organisations in those cities. See reports here. My thanks to Corporate Team members, Melanie Tacey and Anneke Knol, for their hard work in developing the programs to date, and managing the logistics so well. I would particularly mention Melanie for being on the ground in both Melbourne and Brisbane.

I am delighted to announce that the two Chiefs of (student) Staff for the 2016 January Sessions have been appointed. Brett Slarks attended the NYSF in 2011 and is now studying Medicine at the University of Adelaide, and will be responsible for the delivery of Session A. Meg Trinder-McCarthy attended the NYSF in 2012 and is studying Psychology at The University of Melbourne. Meg will manage the delivery of Session C. As is the case for all of our student Chiefs of Staff, Brett and Meg are remarkable young people who have a well-developed ethos of service to the community and responsibility for their actions. They are also lots of fun! Both are excellent role models for our developing student staff leaders and the program in general, and I am confident that they will guide their teams to deliver a rewarding program in January. The online training module for student staff began in March, and will continue through the course of this year, including a trek in the bush surrounding sunny Canberra in July. The commitment required to become a student staff member is considerable and none of our candidates takes it on lightly.

Of significance recently is the Commonwealth Government’s announcement that it will be pursuing the development of a National Science Strategy, with the key aim of developing a number of key research priorities to help direct research funding investments. The Prime Minister’s Science and Engineering Council recently endorsed nine new national research priorities: food, soil and water, transport, cybersecurity, energy, resources, manufacturing, environmental change and health. If these priorities are embraced, any investment in them will have an impact on the skills required in a future Australian STEM-related workforce, and is something that the NYSF needs to consider in its ongoing program development.

Say yes to opportunity

If you’d told young Liesl Folks at the 1984 inaugural NSSS (National Science Summer School) that one day she’d be the Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences at a major American university she wouldn’t have believed you. It certainly wasn’t part of the plan. There wasn’t one. “I’ve never had plans or expectations. I live in the moment. I have this mantra. You have to remember to say ‘yes’ to opportunity.”

Before I went to the Summer School I’d been thinking about doing chemistry but seeing the accelerator changed my mind. 

Portrait of Engineering Dean Liesl Folks Photograph: Douglas Levere

  Liesl Folks
Photograph: Douglas Levere


When Liesl was headhunted for the top job in engineering at the University at Buffalo (UB) it was a real surprise. “I kept saying you’re crazy. Why would they even want me?”

There were many good reasons. It wasn’t just her international reputation in the fields of nanotech and magnetism that elevated her above nearly 60 other candidates from around the world. Over time Liesl has acquired a diverse mix of industry and academic experience and built wide-ranging connections through government agencies, advisory panels and educational initiatives.

Her present trajectory actually began years before at the NSSS when the Perth native came to Canberra and visited the nuclear accelerator at the Australian National University (ANU). “Before I went to the Summer School I’d been thinking about doing chemistry but seeing the accelerator changed my mind.” She was staggered not only by the raw power of the machine but also by the possibility of experimenting with sub-atomic forces.

Liesl went on to study physics (with honours) at the University of Western Australia and then completed a PhD there on permanent magnetic materials because “she had no other plans”. She credits her supervisor, Prof Robert Street AO, with providing tremendous guidance at this time that still resonates for her decades later. When she was invited to work on nanoparticle arrays at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in California in 1998 she thought it would be just a two-year stint. She ended up staying in Silicon Valley for 15 years working in the hard disc drive business with both giants of the industry, IBM and Hitachi.

The industry is marked by being incredibly multi-disciplinary. You can’t make a hard disc drive unless you’ve got physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and computer engineering all lined up

“The industry is marked by being incredibly multi-disciplinary. You can’t make a hard disc drive unless you’ve got physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, and computer engineering all lined up. The complexity of the technology is keeping other players from entering the game. It’s a very thrilling industry in terms of how fast the technology evolves and the many different disciplines that have to be at the table to make products that work.”

After six highly productive years as a researcher with IBM, in 2008 Liesl moved to Hitachi and led the development and delivery to the marketplace of advanced new media technologies. Today she holds 14 US patents and is the frequently cited author of dozens of peer-reviewed research papers.

Her academic position in Engineering and Applied Sciences at UB does mean leaving all those bright, shiny machines behind, but it sounds as if Buffalo has plenty to offer. The historic city is going through something of a boom with millions invested and generous tax benefits for new start-up companies within a mile of the university. And with Niagara Falls hydro just up the road energy is cheap. The University has had a huge uptake in students wanting a place in its Engineering program. Liesl has a new set of goals and top of the list is increasing the percentage of women studying engineering. It’s currently hovering around the 20 per cent mark.

“It’s infuriating,” she says, “because every employer I talk to is desperate to improve their diversity statistics but they can’t actually get their claws into enough people to hire. There’s no issue with aptitude. It’s all about culture. Somehow, culturally within the US it’s just not acceptable for women who are bright and otherwise talented to do engineering. It’s the same in Australia.”

But Liesl has a plan to market engineering differentially. She’s currently trialling two streams of promotional information at a Buffalo high school and is hopeful that one of these will create more interest among females. She’s also a strong advocate of girls-only schools such as Penrhos Ladies College in Perth that she attended. “I think they offer girls a huge advantage,” she says “No one’s going to dissuade them from doing physics, chemistry, and maths because somebody has to be in those classes with those teachers.”

She also sees the role of programs like the NYSF where students get to see an engineering operation or meet a scientist in the laboratory as absolutely critical. “I think it’s almost a universal truth that no one ends up in engineering without having one of those experiences. If you don’t open those labs up, and get those students in there to see what you’re doing you won’t get them to follow that trajectory”

As for this latest twist in her own life Liesl now seems right in her element.

“It’s been quite the change but in a good way. I love the fact that I go from working with a fantastic faculty, dealing with marvellous students, and hearing from alumni who all have these interesting stories and have grown great businesses. And just being back in a university community is fabulous too. You know you’re interacting all the time with humanities, social sciences, medical sciences, whatever… just the diversity of things I get to do every day is very stimulating. I’m very happy.”

Story by Geoff Burchfield

Liesl Folks

Liesl Folks

NYSF’s Next Step Melbourne program very popular

The NYSF Next Step programs for 2015 kicked off in Melbourne in April, with visits to NYSF Partners CSL, GSK, Monash University, The University of Melbourne, as well as the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), and the Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC).

Next Step programs aim to promote our Partner organisations through laboratory and site visits in capital cities across Australia. They give the NYSF students a better understanding of the facilities available at different universities, and the kinds of jobs to which they can aspire.

“Having our industry partners open up their facilities to the students is an extremely valuable ‘add-on’,” says NYSF Director, Damien Pearce. “And our university partners love to show the students their teaching and learning facilities, residences and the other benefits of their institutions.”

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Christina from Wagga Wagga in NSW, says, “I am now seriously considering attending Melbourne University to do my Bachelor of Science and would love to gain experience working with CSL.The Next Step Program was a really good opportunity to see facilities and the universities and get a feel for the atmosphere, as well as catch up with NYSFer’s. Really well organised.”

Mahi from Melbourne, says “It was really nice talking to the scientists and seeing the different pathways they took to get where they are. The tour was really fun and the person who gave it went to NYSF ages ago!”

“I definitely like the range of topics covered because it has made me realise that there is so much more out there than what I thought. The sessions covering the specific degrees in the interest fields was extremely helpful because it gave me a clearer idea of majors and pre-requisites. Going to WEHI definitely made me want to work there and I actually have made it one of my future goals.It was so good!!!! I wish it was longer than just the four days though!!”

Oshini, also from Melbourne, says, “Each of the partners involved in the Melbourne Next Step provided valuable insight to study and life after high school, which is valuable as school sometimes doesn’t cover this content entirely.”

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Brisbane Next Step stepped up

The Brisbane Next Step visit in April was very well attended again this year, with 70 students participating in range of different visits arranged specifically for NYSF students: the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, The Edge at the State Library of Queensland, The Museum of Queensland, Tritium Engineering, the Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence, and one a half days of activities at our partner university in Queensland, The University of Queensland.

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Emily from Inglestone in Queensland says, “The Next Step Program was extremely beneficial for me to attend. I really felt that I was given a true representation of the University and that will certainly help my future decisions. Next Step has certainly made me feel that UQ is a great university that I would love to attend.

Hannah from Inverell in NSW says, “I found the trip around UQ helped me to see what they had to offer, and I’m now considering it as a potential university much more seriously than I was before.”

Adrian from Noosa in Queensland visited Tritium Engineering to learn more about their electric vehicle facility … He says, “I learned … how three engineering students started up a company now delivering orders around the world. Tritium is really awesome. It would be good to run a few more visits to those guys.”

Karla from Maryborough in Queensland also enjoyed the day at The University of Queensland. “… especially the lab visits to Institute for Molecular Biology and the nano-tech labs at UQ influenced me to consider research more seriously. The insights from the PhD students at the Speed Date a Scientist encouraged me to investigate bioluminescence, marine biology, and nanotechnology further.”

Heroes of the sky

Victorian NYSF 2015 Alumni Hayley Houston and Dane Seaver were among the huge crowds at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport in February / March, which featured aerobatics and battle re-enactments.

This year’s Airshow celebrated the Centenary of ANZAC, saluting the heroes of the sky.

2015 alumna Hayley Houston says she has always had an interest in flight and hopes to someday pilot an aircraft. So it was no surprise when she told the NYSF how much she enjoyed her day at the Airshow. “I am very interested in military planes and old bi-planes. I am keen to learn about the physics of flight. I am also fascinated by the sophisticated design and impressive manoeuvrability of military planes.”

NYSF major partner Lockheed Martin engineers and field support team led career discussions for students interested in learning more about careers in science, technology, engineering and maths at the industry stands during the Airshow.

“I was quite excited to see the full-sized model of the F-35 Lightning II at the Lockheed Martin stand…”

Visiting the Lockheed Martin stand reminded Hayley of her experience at the NYSF in January 2015. “I was quite excited to see the full-sized model of the F-35 Lightning II at the Lockheed Martin stand at the entrance to the show. It reminded me of my recent lab visit as part of the Maxwell group at the Lockheed Martin HQ in Canberra during Session A.”

Hayley’s favourite performance of the day was the final flyby of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet. “The pilot flew a high-speed pass at approximately 0.8 of the speed of sound. The Hornet is known for its high angle of attack manoeuvrability, made possible by the lifting surfaces forward of the wings known as leading edge extensions. We also saw condensation develop for a moment over the wings due to low pressure.”

Images courtesy of Dane Seaver, Alumnus 2015.

Avalon Airshow image  Dane Seaver Alumni 2015

Avalon Airshow image Dane Seaver Alumni 2015

Avalon Airshow image  Dane Seaver Alumni 2015

Avalon Airshow image Dane Seaver Alumni 2015


What NYSF means to me – NYSF Alumnus Stuart McKelvie

My National Youth Science Forum experience started a little over five years ago and continues to this day. And I feel the affect it has had on my life every day.

Attending the NYSF was a profoundly life-changing fortnight, one that I will never forget and one that I have been fortunate enough to repeat three consecutive times as a student staff leader, as well as internationally while attending the National Youth Science Week in South Africa. Each year of participation was vastly different to the one before, and each time taught me something about myself and about others. I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

The NYSF was really the defining factor that transformed me from an introverted nerd at high school, to an outgoing introvert who is proud to be called a nerd


Stuart McKelvie

Stuart McKelvie

The NYSF is one of the most cleverly structured programs that I know of in that it combines science with personal development in a two-week furnace of self-discovery, intense friendship building, cutting-edge science experiences and sleep deprivation, expertly moulded by an incredible office staff and beaten into shape by crazy staffies.

The NYSF was really the defining factor that transformed me from an introverted nerd at high school, to an outgoing introvert who is proud to be called a nerd. I love just how easy it was to have in-depth conversations with other students, and it is this feeling of comfort around one another which allows such strong bonds of friendship to form in a short period of time.

Despite a curiosity for many things science-related, I actually decided to pursue Business and Accounting at Bond University on the Gold Coast simply for the reason that I could finish a four year degree in two and a half years; I received a partial scholarship and I was eager to be an adult and make my mark on the world.

one thing I do know is that my time at university would have been vastly different had I not participated in the NYSF 

Now that I’ve finished my degree as well as a year in the workforce as an accountant at KPMG, I sometimes wonder what I missed out on by not pursuing a science-related degree. I don’t regret my decision to study at Bond University as I had an absolutely incredible time and I highly recommend it to anyone, but one thing I do know is that my time at university would have been vastly different had I not participated in the NYSF. There is always the option to continue further studies in a science/technology field – because that’s another thing I learned at the NYSF – we can keep making choices and keep learning.

Q & A with Amy Norman, Chief of Staff, Session C January 2015

1. Did your attendance at NYSF at the beginning of year 12 have an impact on your university choice? For example, did the NYSF show you that there was more than one university to choose from when it came to selecting which courses you chose to study?

 The NYSF definitely had a major impact on my university selection. Coming from Queensland, I was only familiar with Queensland universities. You can imagine my shock when I discovered there was a University of Melbourne, as there isn’t a university of Brisbane! The NYSF not only made me realize there were other university options, but also gave me the tools to investigate further and the opportunity to speak directly to people from those universities.

 Over the course of the forum, there are workshops and opportunities that directly focus on university preparation. From discussing scholarships and university entry, on top of living in university accommodation for two weeks, I left NYSF more informed about my options and excited to begin my tertiary studies. Being surrounded by passionate students from all corners of Australia only amplified my excitement to begin. Studying in another state was no longer a daunting concept, as through NYSF, I knew I could decide to go anywhere and there’d be an NYSF student to welcome me.

2. What were some of the challenges of being Chief of Staff on session?

The NYSF is such an incredible program, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return to session. Being Chief of Staff is a unique experience where you get to see the whole cross section of the program, continuously interacting with students, staffies, NYSF staff and our partners in both industry and university.

This year we had more students then ever before which created new challenges and forced us to re-evaluate and alter aspects of the program. To see the positive reaction of students enjoying new features of the program was very rewarding.

Aside from the logistics though, the glue that holds the session together is the passion brought by both the students and the staffies, which made my role much easier.

3. What advice would you offer year 12 students when it comes to selecting a Bachelor Degree and University?

Weigh up your interests and options, and make a decision that is your own. I had a number of fields of interest pulling me in different directions, but what I found helpful was considering the question ‘If I could only do one thing for eight hours straight, which would I prefer to do?’

For university, consider the size of classes you would prefer and the facilities you value. A great way to compare the same degrees at different universities is to compare course lists (which can be found on university websites) and see how the degree is structured. It also gives you glimpse into the types of areas you’ll be studying. But truly, the best way to get a feel for universities is to get on campus and talk to people there, so definitely try to attend at least one Next Step Program. It was an experience that made my decision a lot easier.

Amy Norman, Chief of Staff Session C January 2015

Amy Norman, Chief of Staff Session C January 2015

4. Have you had any work experience / internship in your chosen field of study?

One of the requirements of an engineering degree is to complete 60 days of work experience. I’ve been fortunate to work at GHD, a multinational engineering consulting company, working in both regional and metro centers. I’ve been exposed to an array of engineering and have even been given my own projects to complete – from designing a playground swing set to flood mapping. Work experience has allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in my degree directly to the workplace and given me the opportunity to talk directly to engineers about study advice and career direction.

Finding work experience placements can be difficult, so I’d definitely recommend attending any networking functions university student clubs may offer and talking to people from the industry if they have any work opportunities available.

5. Last words? 

To be a NYSFer is to have the world open up before your eyes, with opportunities abounding down every pathway. I’d encourage all NYSF students to stay in contact, wear your NYSF bag proudly and you’ll be surprised the interesting people that you meet. Enjoy the Year 12 experience and remember to think big!


Were you at NYSF and visited DSN (Tidbinbilla) 10 years ago?

Did you visit the Canberra Deep Space Station at Tidbinbilla in 2005? Our friends at Tidibinbilla would like to know what you have been up to since then. Both Professor Steve Tingay and Dr Subho Banerjee cite their visits to Tidbinbilla as a major influence on their future study and careers. But what about other NYSF/NSSS alumni who have visited there … where are you now?

Please send NYSF an email at

NYSF 2015 Alumna accepted into Harvard Summer School

Congratulations to Kathrin Orda, an NYSF Alumna 2015, who has been accepted to attend the Harvard Summer School at Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts later this year.

The secondary school program offers a seven-week residential summer program that runs from 22 June to 14 August 2015 for domestic and international students who graduate in 2015. Students can choose from over 200 courses with the opportunity to attend classes alongside college and adult students.

Kathrin was the only Australian to be selected for the program and hopes to study neurobiology or biology.

Harvard Summer School began in 1871 and is the oldest academic summer program in the United States and continues to offer a unique opportunity for intellectual exploration and cultural enrichment through the remarkable resources of Harvard University.

Kathrin Orda, NYSF Alumna 2015, accepted into Harvard Summer School

Kathrin Orda, NYSF Alumna 2015, accepted into Harvard Summer School

To learn more, visit the Harvard Summer School website.