From the Director

Expressions of Interest from students to attend the National Youth Science Forum in January 2016 closed on 31 May 2015.  Once again, I can report that the level of interest from students was high, and that we will again have more quality applicants than places available in the program.  That we have to disappoint so many young people who want to participate in the program and are motivated to submit an application is frustrating to me, our corporate team and our Council, and we continue to work hard to engage with new corporate and university partners to source the necessary funding to run and expand our program. Once again I would like to thank all of our funding partners, including our major sponsor Lockheed Martin Australia, as well as CSL and the Grains R&D Corporation.  Their support is vital to the ongoing sustainability of the program.

As our Rotary friends begin the difficult task of selecting students who will participate in the 2016 program, our student staff leaders are moving through the program of work they are required to complete to ensure they have the skills to deliver the 2016 program in January.  Outward Bound Australia is collaborating to run the program with us, and I am confident that the work they are doing with our student leaders will result in a quality outcome for all.

The last of the 2015 Next Step visits will be delivered early in July.  These visits allow our partner universities and companies to host the students each year on their own sites, explaining their facilities and activities.  Our thanks again to all of our partners who have offered this opportunity to the 2015 cohort, giving them insights and experiences often not available to the wider public.

This month we are welcoming a new Manager, STEM Education, Ms Madeline Cooper.  This a refreshed role will see, among other things, a greater focus on the educational stucture that supports the lab visit and site tours that are conducted in the January Program.  Madeline comes to the NYSF from a background in tertiary student engagement, and we look forward to welcoming her to our corporate team.

We have recently been surveying our Rotary, corporate and university partners, and some alumni, to gain insights and input into a strategic planning process we are undertaking.  If Australia is to have the skills it needs for the 21st century, our community needs to be investing in the best support programs for our young people.  With its national networks and community backing, the NYSF is well-placed to deliver this support.  We aim to continue the work of the past thirty years, with the goal of providing more opportunities for young Australians to consider a wider array of study and employment choices that include STEM study at a tertiary level.

I Ran Away To Join The Circus – Kate O’Sullivan, alumna NYSF 2006

“Before I went to the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF), if you had asked me where I would be in ten years’ time, the phrase “I ran away to join the circus” would have been furthest from my mind. I would never have thought that I would be touring all over Australia with a semi-trailer full of science exhibits and 14 other amazing people.

Questacon Science Circus image: Questacon

Questacon Science Circus image: Questacon

Let’s back up a little. Before I went to NYSF in the summer of 2006, my career trajectory was research. I was a stereotypical high school science student, with a bit of a passion for theatre and the arts, and I saw the laboratory as the place where I was going to end up, making the next big discoveries. But the two weeks of NYSF changed all that for me.

… that talking to people about science … as a career option was a revelation

I remember being in one of the seminars and listening to a talk about science communication. This was followed by a few hours at Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre. The idea that talking to people about science, which was something I enjoyed doing, as a career option was a revelation.

That’s where the Circus came in. After I finished my undergraduate Bachelor of Science and a one-year postgraduate diploma, I went looking for a way to get out amongst the community and continue my science communication journey. I discovered the perfect way—the Shell Questacon Science Circus, a program jointly operated by Questacon and the Australian National University (ANU) with support from Shell. This year, I am honoured to be a part of the program in its 30th Anniversary year. I get to talk about the amazing things that my scientist friends are doing, demonstrate some amazing things to the public (including safely holding fire in my hands and experimenting with liquid nitrogen) and generally making science more accessible to everyone.

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Kate O’Sullivan doing science image: Questacon

The Shell Questacon Science Circus team is made up of science graduates from all walks of life. The team takes lively presentations of science to towns and schools whilst studying for a Master of Science Communication Outreach through ANU. I spend every day surrounded by lively, intelligent and enthusiastic people with a passion for sharing the science that they love with other people. More than one NYSF graduate has come through the program, and we all have amazing stories to tell. As you read this, we’ll be out somewhere on the road with our truck, bringing interactive science to communities across Australia. We’ll be engaging local school students with our energetic in-school shows and presenting public exhibitions of our ‘pop-up’ science centre, which has over 40 exhibits.

Running away and joining the Science Circus was the best decision I have ever made. I have been given the chance to inspire future generations of Australians to pursue science. And it’s all thanks to one talk and one visit back when I was at the NYSF. It really can change your life.”

GSK Award for Research Excellence 2015

Applications are now open for the GSK Award for Research Excellence 2015, a longstanding and prestigious award which supports outstanding Australian research in the area of human medical health.

As an innovation-focussed company, GSK places high value on medical research. The award, with its accompanying grant of $80,000, has played a part in assisting some of Australia’s most important leaders and innovators in the medical research sphere. Its focus is on helping support career development with an emphasis on human health and Australian research.

The winner of the 2014 award was Professor David Craik, a biological chemist from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Professor Craik’s research has discovered the largest known family of circular proteins, called cyclotides, which he is using to develop drug design approaches to treat pain and disease, and insecticides to protect Australian food and fibre crops.

Plants with peptide-based drugs in their seeds and leaves, and pain relief from cone snail venom are two of the innovative applications from his research. Professor Craik’s groundbreaking research was originally inspired by a Norwegian doctor’s discovery of an African tea for childbirth. “The tea shortened labour,” Professor Craik says, “but at the time they didn’t know why the plant-based medicine worked.”

Twenty years later Professor Craik made his discovery. “It was the unusual circular structure of the molecules. We knew peptides had great potential, but were previously unable to be taken orally as the digestive system would break them down. Our circular peptides are joined from head to tail, which makes them much stronger,” he says. “I did extensive fieldwork in Africa and elsewhere searching for plants with similar circular peptides to understand their structure.”

Professor Craik went on to develop the chemistry for making ‘designer’ cyclotides, which can be used to develop new drugs with improved oral availability with few side effects. “My team has been working on using cone snail venom as a pain relief drug 100 times more potent than morphine,” he says. “We are also producing peptide-based drug leads for chronic diseases in edible plant seeds, which we hope will give developing countries access to produce vital medicines at relatively low cost.”

“Human trials are still a few years off, but winning a prestigious award such as this helps us raise awareness of the exciting developments happening in our lab and brings us closer to our goals.”

Further information about the awards – https://www.gsk.com.au/research-development_awards-grants_gskaawardforresearchexcellence.aspx

Undertake research in your first year at university at ANU

Rarely do you get the opportunity to undertake research in your first year of uni but The Australian National University (ANU) offers three programs that allow you to do just that. The Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) ScienceBachelor of Engineering (Research & Development) (Honours) and Bachelor of Advanced Computing (Research & Development) (Honours) are programs developed specifically for students that want that little bit extra from their degree.

These exciting degrees give you the flexibility to discover your own passions and extend your knowledge in the field that excites you most. If you want to find out more about these programs you can visit one of the following ANU information sessions:

Perth – Thursday 18 June

Brisbane – Monday 20 July

Sydney – Wednesday 22 July

Melbourne – Monday 27 July

Canberra – Monday 3 August

For more information and to register visit http://science.anu.edu.au/degreesforhighachievers

Claire Demeo, NYSF alumna 2014, on studying at The University of Melbourne

Claire Demeo is a first year Bachelor of Science student at The University of Melbourne.

“First year university is a very fun and exciting time, with lots of new experiences to be had, and lots of fun memories to make. As many people would have already told you, university is very different from school, and not just in terms of the content, but in the amount of freedom you have, and the structure of the subjects.

you get to choose the subjects you enjoy

I am a first year Bachelor of Science student at the University of Melbourne, living on campus at one of the colleges at the university. I am thoroughly enjoying the course, as you get to choose the subjects you enjoy and are passionate about, which makes studying and doing the work a whole lot easier. Doing science, there are so so so many subjects to pick from, which makes for some very tough decisions at the start of the year. Don’t feel that you are locked into the subjects you pick first semester though, as you can always change and try out other areas of science.

Claire Demeo, at The University of Melbourne

Claire Demeo, at The University of Melbourne

At Melbourne Uni, you also get to pick a breadth subject, which is a subject outside of the science field. You go into a lot more detail in the science subjects than you do in year 12, as to be expected, but all the other students are at the same level as you, so you’re all in it together. The lecturers are very engaging, with some lecturers even encouraging audience participation, which is both entertaining and useful in helping students to understand the content.

Most science subjects also have tutorials, where you are in smaller groups and get to really understand the course material with your tutor and other students. For science, there are around 20 – 24 contact hours a week, depending on your subject choices, as some science subjects have practical classes/labs, while others don’t. Compared to school, 20 – 24 hours a week sounds very minimal, but once again, uni is very different from school, and there is more to be done outside of your classes then there was in year 12.

Work hard to get into your dream course

Being at uni is a lot of fun though – not just all study – and you get to meet so many like-minded, fun people from all over the world. Make sure you join lots of clubs and societies and get involved in university life to get the most out of the opportunities you are given. Work hard to get into your dream course, and I’m sure you will thank yourself later for the effort you put in during year 12.

Good luck, and hopefully I’ll see you at Melbourne Uni next year!”

Lui Lawrence-Rangger, NYSF Alumnus 2014 at University of Queensland

Lui Lawrence-Rangger is an NYSF alumnus (2014) who started a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Ecology, at the University of Queensland (UQ) this year.

Lui Lawrence Rangger and Sophie Noble, both NYSF students at the University of Queensland

Lui Lawrence Rangger and Sophie Noble, both NYSF students at the University of Queensland

“Coming from a class of a mere 22 students, I had always figured that moving up to university was going to be a massive lifestyle and social change. I have however been pleasantly surprised with the overall setting of UQ, and the work required of it.

Completing a major in Ecology, I had originally intended to apply for UQ because it was renowned for its environmental research programs, and it has not disappointed. A substantial amount of each of my week is taken up by practical and field work, which provides a great balance of challenging work, interesting content and real world applications to what we are learning in lectures.

UQ also has a fantastic support network

UQ also has a fantastic support network; for every problem you could think of and more, there is always someone around who can help you out, be it through peer assisted study sessions, or one-on-one advice from your lecturers at allocated time slots. And there is a massive amount of traffic on its community websites, especially around the times to submit assessments, which can be a bit challenging.

UQ did an amazing job at providing me with the options I need

UQ did an amazing job at providing me with the options I need, and the prerequisites to get where I want to go before my original attendance at the campus. The Advanced Study Programs in Science (ASPinS) has been an extremely informative part of my UQ experience, giving you personalised lectures from renowned researchers in their respective fields, as well as next year, giving valuable experience in what you are interested in pursuing – the sky is the limit. The workloads at times may be tough in comparison to high school, but so far it has been invaluable in providing the next natural step to what I want to pursue in life, and hopefully it will stay that way.

The university has massive diversity of social activities from groups, sporting clubs, and university sponsored events. One day there will be a multicultural market day set up right in the middle of the food court, the next a huge bubble soccer field arranged to use when you want. You are constantly surrounded by amazing people who are willing to help you out, whether they know you or not.

UQ also provides facilities for peer assisted study sessions for a selected slot each week, and there are plenty of groups and meet-ups which are arranged to help you with your studies, or just to enjoy uni life. There are 24/7 libraries, complete with refreshment rooms, group presentation rooms, and massive amounts of computers and desk space.

there’s always someone new and interesting

It’s extremely reassuring to know that when you come into uni each day, that there’s always someone new and interesting, who you can learn from and have a great time getting through uni life with.”

 

From Monash to Princeton

Tasman Powis, is a graduate of Monash University with a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering/Bachelor of Science with Honours.  In September 2015 he will begin his PhD in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University.

Tasman Powis studied a double degree in Aerospace Engineering and Science at Monash University from 2009-2014, with majors in Physics, Mathematics and Aerospace Engineering.

During his degree he had the opportunity to undertake cutting-edge research in cold atom physics under the supervision of Dr Tapio Simula and with fellow Honours student Steven Sammut in the School of Physics. The research was published in one of the world’s most prestigious Physics journals, Physical Review Letters (PRL) and attracted media attention.

Tasman Powis (right) with supervisor Dr Tapio Simula (centre) and fellow student Steven Sammut (left) image: Monash University

Tasman Powis (right) with supervisor Dr Tapio Simula (centre) and fellow student Steven Sammut (left) image: Monash University

After receiving offers from a number of world-leading universities, Tasman will later this year be starting a PhD at Ivy League University, Princeton, where he will be working on plasma physics, in particular with applications to electric propulsion for spacecraft and fusion power plants for use on Earth and in space.

“One of the main reasons that I chose to study at Monash was because it gave me the option to study a double degree. I knew that this would provide me with a deeper understanding of mathematics and physics to complement my engineering degree.

“I have also always fostered a fascination with the strange and wonderful physics of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s relativity. Studying Science at Monash allowed me to pursue these interests alongside engineering, in one of Australia’s most reputable science faculties.

“One of the greatest experiences I had at Monash was the opportunity to work on cutting-edge research in cold atom physics with my colleague Steven Sammut and under the supervision of Dr. Tapio Simula. Through a lot of hard work and Dr. Simula’s mentorship we were able to publish a paper on our findings in one of the world’s most prestigious physics journals (Physical Review Letters). Not only was it incredibly exciting to discover something that no one had ever seen before, but I believe that this publication is one of the main influencing factors for my acceptance into a PhD program at Princeton. When applying for a PhD most universities want to know if you have the skills to write and publish your notable work. Fortunately, graduating from Monash I already had that experience. Not only did this make me desirable to other universities but provided me with the best kind of preparation for my PhD.”

 

 

New Nova website set to ignite interest in science

The Australian Academy of Science’s flagship science information website for adults and older students, Nova: science for curious minds, is undergoing an exciting transformation that is set to ignite interest in science.

Due to be launched in late June, the new Nova will be beautiful to look at, engaging, user-friendly and accessible to people of all abilities. Above all it will remain topical and accurate, with visitors to the site knowing that the content has been reviewed by Fellows of the Academy.

Nova began in 1997 with funding from Telstra, and at the time was at the forefront of science communication. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people, teachers in particular, have come to Nova for accessible scientific information, finding understandable answers to complex questions. Fast-forward 18 years and many things have changed—the internet is now a louder, brighter and more competitive space, and the ways in which we find and consume information has evolved. Nova needed to change too.

Image: Stuart Rankin

Image: Stuart Rankin

The website will be launching with around 30 topics, and the Academy aims to have more than 100 up by the end of the year. The range of topics is broad—think speeding cars, bioplastics, quantum computers, life on Mars, the chemistry of cosmetics and the maths of voting as just a few examples.

Telstra continues to see the benefit of good science content online and has provided funds for this exciting new phase of the Nova website.

A video about the new site can be viewed here.

Register at nova.org.au to find out when the new website goes live. The Academy will welcome feedback on the new site, including ideas for new topics.