From the CEO

Not long to go now until Session A of the National Youth Science Forum 2016 program kicks off, and you can be assured, both sessions are going to be outstanding experiences for the young people involved.

During the year, we have worked hard on refreshing and reshaping the program, resulting in an extra lab and/or site visit for students in 2016 – now up to seven, and a program that focuses on three central ideas: ways of engaging with science, technology, engineering and maths – STEM in action; understanding the role of STEM in society; and preparing the next generation of STEM professionals.

Students will go through a set of activities, lectures and visits that aim to build an improved understanding of the role of science in our lives, and how studying STEM at a tertiary level can lead them in many different directions – it’s not just about lab coats and research grants. In fact, it can be whatever you want it to be.

We launched the 2016 program in October at the Australian National University, where our Council’s new Deputy Chair, Mr Andrew Metcalfe AO, represented Chair, Professor Tanya Monro, and welcomed special guest speakers Professor Ian Young, outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the ANU and Ms Laura Frank, Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Lockheed Martin Australia – a major sponsor of the NYSF. Both expressed significant support for the program and its unique role in offering year 12 students with insights and opportunities to discuss their possible future study and career choices.

Andrew Metcalfe AO, Deputy Chair NYSF at the NYSF 2016 launch (image NYSF/Sarah Samsara)

Andrew Metcalfe, Deputy Chair NYSF at the NYSF 2016 launch (image NYSF/Sarah Samsara)

STEM occupations are at the leading edge of economic competitiveness

Professor Young noted that there has never been a more important time for Australia to grow the ranks of STEM graduates. “STEM occupations are at the leading edge of economic competitiveness in an increasingly globalised world, and STEM workforces of sufficient size and quality are essential for any 21st century economy to prosper.”

“The Forum is a fantastic way to achieve these aims, enabling later year high school students to sample the academic opportunities that are available to them in the STEM field,” he said.

Ms Frank said that Lockheed Martin Australia was proud to support science, technology, engineering and maths education initiatives, like the National Youth Science Forum. “We are proud to support the NYSF and ensure that young Australians – including young men and women from diverse backgrounds, living in both urban and remote areas – will have access to participate for many years to come.”

Ms Frank also had some valuable advice to share with NYSF participants, having started her own career as a young and eager engineering graduate. “Take risks, grow your network, and broaden your view.”

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Dr Damien Pearce, Professor Ian Young, Laura Frank and Andrew Metcalfe at the NYSF 2016 launch (image NYSF/Sarah Samsara)

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NYSF Alumni Shoshana Rapley and Merryn Fraser, with Dr Roslyn Prinsley, Chief Scientist’s Office (image NYSF/Sarah Samsara)

Rob Woolley, Andrew Metcalfe and NSYF Alumnus Ben Galea (image NYSF/Sarah Samsara)

Rob Woolley, Andrew Metcalfe and NSYF Alumnus Ben Galea        (image NYSF/Sarah Samsara)

In 2015, two leading Australian companies committed to continuing their financial support for the NYSF for another three years – CSL Ltd, and Cochlear through its Cochlear Foundation.

Today CSL is a global specialty biotherapeutics company that develops and delivers innovative biotherapies that save lives, and help people with life-threatening medical conditions live full lives. You can learn more about its growth and business here. The decision to continue its investment in the NYSF illustrates the commitment it has to the Australian community, and its young people in particular, and we thank them for this action.

Similarly, Cochlear is another world-leading Australian company that has taken a technology through development and commercialisation to meet a very specific market and community need. We welcome its continued support for the program, through the Cochlear Foundation. All of our partners are listed here. Their financial support is vital to the ongoing sustainability of the NYSF, and we thank them again for their commitment.

National Science Week seemed to extend through into October this year. There were a lot of science-related announcements – the winners of the 2015 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes were revealed at a Gala Dinner in Canberra. And we learned of the Commonwealth Government’s appointment of Dr Alan Finkel AO to the role of Chief Scientist. NYSF attended the Science & Technology Australia seminar on the relationship between Australian science and business, what’s working well, and where improvements could be made; and the outgoing Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, released a report on why Australia lags behind other similar economies in the level of research and technology commercialisation. Key recommendations include experienced commercial entrepreneurs teaching innovation in tertiary institutions, and supporting internships in successful businesses. NYSF had already planned a new session on entrepreneurship for the 2016 program, and another on critical thinking skills, introducing students to the concepts and ways of thinking behind these processes.

The Chief Scientist’s report is a good example of the critical mass of information and discussion that Professor Chubb and his team members have compiled during his tenure in the Chief Scientist’s role – the landscape and policy discussion has changed over these years, and we are all the richer for it. We thank him for his involvement as the NYSF’s Science Patron, and during his tenure previously as Vice-Chancellor of the ANU, through support of the program in regularly addressing the students in January, and wish him all the best in his next role.

Our Rotary friends across the country have worked hard again in helping to promote the program in local schools, endorsing students for district selection, and conducting interviews to select successful participants. Estimating the number of volunteer hours that contributes to the success of our program is a difficult task – countless is not a number! But we thank our volunteers – Rotarians, student staff and alumni, and other volunteer groups – for their contribution to the NYSF and its activities.

The NYSF is running its well-established National Science Teachers Summer School in January, in conjunction with Session A of the student program. NSTSS 2016 will once again offer teachers of science from around Australia with the opportunity to engage with leading researchers both at the Australian National University and other Canberra-based facilities at CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, Tidbinbilla, as well as networking with each other to share experiences and learn about what is working in the classroom (and what’s not!).

Finally, I would mention the changes to our Board and Council structure, adopted with our new Constitution in August. This allows for a more stream-lined decision making process, and also affords us with the opportunity for wider consultation about the organisation’s activities and future strategic direction. Information about our Board and Council members is here. I am particularly pleased that these changes allow for an additional four alumni of the NYSF/NSSS to contribute to the organisation. Along with Professor Tanya Monro, Dr Renée Kidson has joined the Board as alumni representative; Dr Alison Shield, at the University of Canberra has joined the Council; and Ms Amy Norman and Mr Steven Falconieri, who have served the organisation as volunteer student staff leaders over the previous four years, were appointed to the Council for one year. It is vital that the young people who benefit from our programs have a visible presence and a voice in the organisation’s future direction.

At the time of writing, it’s eight weeks until Session A begins. We look forward to welcoming another year’s cohort of young Australians who will laugh, listen, chant, and talk their way through January, and into a science-based future.

Damien Pearce

2015 Governors’ Receptions

Our very sincere thanks to each of the state Governors who generously hosted NYSF 2016 students at receptions in September and October. Participating in these events allows the students from each of the states and territories to meet up with each other, and begin their networking experience through the NYSF. It also offers recognition of their achievements to date and of the support from their families and wider communities.

In this remarks, The Governor of Queensland, His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC welcomed the students, families and supporters and congratulated them on their achievement of being selected to attend the NYSF in January.

He also thanked the Rotary districts for encouraging and supporting the NYSF. “We are told over and over by people we respect that our nation lags in science education, and education in the traditionally hard sciences, like physics.  That an exceptional service organisation Rotary, acknowledges this and is helping in this way is superb.”

NYSF Governor's Reception Tasmania

NYSF Governor’s Reception Tasmania

Students were received at receptions held by:

His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales

His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AO, Governor of South Australia

Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AO, Governor of Western Australia

His Honour the Honourable John Hardy OAM, Administrator of the Northern Territory

Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner AM – represented by the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania, the Honourable Justice Alan Blow

His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland

NSW Ministers’ Award for Excellence in Student Achievements

The New South Wales Minister for Education Awards for Student Achievement were announced in September with five NYSF Alumni receiving an award.

The New South Wales Ministers’ Awards in Student Achievement is a prestigious award presented to students who have demonstrated a high achievement in academic excellence, sporting successes, arts, leadership and commitment to the school and education community and values such as integrity, excellence, respect, responsibility, cooperation, participation, care and fairness.

Teachers, school principals, community members and fellow students nominated year 12 students in government secondary schools or attending Technical and Further Education (TAFE).

From left - Hannah, Karl, Vivienne, Sam and Thomas

From left – Hannah, Karl, Vivienne, Sam and Thomas

Congratulations go to:

Hannah Worsley

Karl Price

Sam Bannister

Thomas Ellis

Vivienne Wells

NYSF recipient Sam Bannister was nominated by his school principal. “It’s a huge honour to be a recipient of this prestigious award. It really validates the hard work that we’ve all put in to our studies and our community involvement over the last few years. I’m incredibly thankful to my principal for nominating me, and for all the people that gave me the wonderful opportunities that I have embraced during my time at school.”

 

Queensland Department of Education Peter Doherty Awards

Congratulations go to NYSF 2015 alumni who have won Peter Doherty Awards for Outstanding Senior Science Students and Outstanding Senior Mathematics and Technology Students.

Winners were announced during National Science Week in August and include:

From left - Joshua, Daniel. James and Dominic

From left – Joshua, Daniel. James and Dominic

Outstanding Senior Science Student Awards

Jocelyn Glencross – Sandgate District State High School – Rotary District 9600

Daniel Lawson – Kingaroy State High School – Rotary District 9600

James Shaker – Rockhampton Grammar School – Rotary District 9570

Outstanding Senior Mathematics and Technology Student Awards

Dominic Albertson – Mackay North State High School – Rotary District 9570

Joshua Liaw – Tannum Sands State High School – Rotary District 9570

The Peter Doherty Awards for Excellence in STEM Education recognise students, teachers, support officers, schools and education partners (volunteers, mentors and organisations) who demonstrate an outstanding and innovative contribution to STEM education in Queensland.

This year 29 awards worth $145,000 were available in eight categories.

The awards are named after Professor Peter Doherty, a Brisbane-born Nobel Prize winning scientist who was educated at Indooroopilly State High School and the University of Queensland.

ACT Government STEM 4 Business internship program

As in all businesses, the National Youth Science Forum requires staff with the kinds of skills, knowledge and understanding that study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) offer.

An ACT Government initiative – STEM 4 Business Internship program – has made it possible for the NYSF to access some extra skills to support our corporate team. Through the program, financial support is provided to hire an undergraduate student intern studying a STEM course at a Canberra-based university and the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT).

As part of ACT Government’s Digital Canberra Strategy, this program aims to build a job-ready STEM skill capability in ACT undergraduate/CIT STEM students whilst contributing to ACT businesses’ longer term STEM skill requirements, enabling them to take full advantage of the digital economy.

Max Jones – coincidentally an NYSF alumnus from 2014 – was appointed as the STEM Education Program Assistant.

NYSF’s Manager, STEM Education, Madeline Cooper said, “We were incredibly impressed with the quality of the applications we received for the position. I’m thrilled to have Max on board to assist with a range of projects related to the STEM Education program, including analysis of our application numbers and research into potential providers for our lab visits. These are projects we wouldn’t have the capacity to do otherwise, so we’re incredibly thankful to the ACT Government for supporting the NYSF in this meaningful and direct way.”

ACT Government logoFor more information about the ACT Government initiative, visit, http://www.business.act.gov.au/grants-and-assistance/grants/stem-4-digital-business-internship-program

“NYSF was a turning point for me” – NYSF Alumnus Chris Hatherly

Chris Hatherly is the Director of Science Policy and Projects at the Australian Academy of Science. His journey into science began in 1996 at the National Youth Science Forum.

“Full immersion into the National Youth Science Forum began in January 1996. Student accommodation with several hundred like-minded friends by night, and lab-tours, lectures and mind-expanding science by day.

NYSF was a turning point for me, but perhaps not in the same way as it was for others

Almost 20 years on, the specific memories are hazy, but the overall impression is still clear: what an opportunity, what a privilege and what a monumental couple of weeks developing lasting friendships and shaping a future.

NYSF was a turning point for me, but perhaps not in the same way as it was for others. Like everyone, I’d come to NYSF with interest and aptitude for science, and like most, I wasn’t entirely sure how these interests might pan out into further study and eventually a career.

But rather than narrowing my focus, the range of science on show during NYSF left me less certain than ever about what I wanted to do. What had become clear though is that whatever further study I might do, ANU was the place I wanted to do it.

So with that in mind, I finished year 12, deferred a Science/Arts degree, and headed off on a gap year: in my case, pedalling a bike around Australia.

I returned to the ANU in 1998 and experienced all the delights of first year, but the travel bug had got me, and a year later I deferred again for more travel: first with a friend on an 18-month bike trek across Russia and Mongolia, then a few years later with my wife along the Silk Road from Istanbul to Hong Kong.

Chris riding through Siberia 1999

Chris riding through Siberia 1999

These were great experiences cementing life-long friendships, learning new languages, seeing places un-visited by westerners for decades, and landing travel awards, a successful book and a documentary along the way.

But the fascination with science was still there, and over time (and with a number of detours along the way), this coalesced into a degree with honours in psychology, and eventually a PhD in cognitive science. All of this at the ANU which I’d first fallen for during NYSF some 14 years earlier.

And then the real world!

My first job took me out of academia to management of a research-funding program at Alzheimer’s Australia. Over the course of five years my responsibilities expanded to include a high profile ‘knowledge translation’ program, and involvement in a targeted and strategic program of research advocacy. These roles gave me the opportunity to work closely with leading health and medical researchers on cutting-edge research projects, and also at the interface between science, public awareness and government policy.

And finally, back to science proper, commencing a job in 2015 as Director of Science Policy and Projects at the Australian Academy of Science (a supporting organisation of NYSF).

The breadth of issues I now deal with is much larger than at Alzheimer’s Australia, and the calibre of scientists I have the opportunity to work with couldn’t be higher. But the overall challenges remain the same: ensuring science informs government policy making on the one hand, and working through a variety of channels to try and persuade governments to do more science on the other.

It’s not where I imagined I’d end up during my January at NYSF nearly 20 years ago, and it’s not how I imagined I’d get there. But for someone with a broad and lifelong interest in science, I couldn’t be happier.”

Australian Museum Eureka Prize for NYSF Chair Professor Tanya Monro

Congratulations to NYSF Chair Professor Tanya Monro who was part of a national team awarded the 2015 University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research in September.

Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are presented annually and reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership, science communication and journalism and school science.

Professor Monro, Professor Dayong Jin from the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University and Professor Bradley Walsh from Minomic International and Macquarie University, were awarded for their Super Dots research into the ‘world’s smallest, brightest nano-flashlights finding a diseased needle in a haystack’. The work was completed within the Australian Research Council Centre for Nanoscale Biophotonics based at the University of Adelaide.

Commenting on the win, Professor Monro said she was particularly thrilled to be part of the team that won the prize for Interdisciplinary Science, as this is a real area of focus for research at UniSA.

“At UniSA we take particular pride in working on problems inspired by the end-users of our research, and this typically results in research that straddles discipline boundaries,” Professor Monro said. (Source: UNISA News, 2015 September)

For more information about winning entries, visit: http://australianmuseum.net.au/2015-eureka-prizes-winners

NYSF Alumna Kelli Francis-Staite is Oxford Bound

Kelli Francis-Staite 2009 NYSF Alumna and Adelaide University student has recently been announced as the 2015 South Australian Rhodes Scholar.

For three years she will work alongside some of the world’s best academic minds as she completes her doctorate in her field of differential geometry, nutting out solutions to Einstein’s field equations to expand knowledge about curves of gravity, time and space.

Kelli completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Adelaide, majoring in pure mathematics. “I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for a two-year masters degree, which I completed earlier in 2015.”  During that time, she started applying for scholarships to begin a new journey overseas.

A Rhodes Scholarship is far more than just a scholarship. It is an invitation to an amazing network of people in Oxford

Kelli Francis-Staite

Kelli Francis-Staite

The Rhodes Scholarship presents an opportunity for graduate students with proven leadership skills to apply to The University of Oxford, with tuition fully paid for, along with a scholarship stipend for living allowances.

“A Rhodes Scholarship is far more than just a scholarship. It is an invitation to an amazing network of people in Oxford, including previous and current Rhodes Scholars, as well as a wider network of industry and opportunities.”

The Rhodes Trust has a selection committee for each state of Australia. “In South Australia, I filled in an online application which included detailing my leadership experiences and extra-curricular activities. The core of this application was a 1500 word personal statement about why I was interested in the Rhodes Scholarship and what I wanted to study. The process of applying is a little daunting, but even the experience of writing a personal statement and being interviewed is a valuable process.”

The committee selected seven students for interview where Kelli was questioned extensively, including the inevitable question, ‘Why should anyone study pure mathematics?’

“I’m not sure I felt I answered the questions as convincingly as I could have, but I hoped they saw the determination I had to continue my studies overseas.”

On learning of her successful selection, Kelli says she spent the next couple of weeks in shock. “I’d never had so many emails, phone calls, and text messages with so many congratulations. I was still at University, completing my masters, and students and lecturers would stop and chat to me. It was an incredibly strange experience for a few weeks, almost as though I had become famous.”

I thoroughly encourage any young NYSF student to apply to the Rhodes Trust if they are considering continuing their studies beyond undergrad, and beyond Australia

Kelli is studying a DPhil in Pure Mathematics, focusing on Differential and Algebraic Geometry. “I think it is a testament to my initial engineering aspirations I had while attending the NYSF – which started the process of discovery for me – that I retained a focus on the geometrical aspects of mathematics.”

“For those who have not heard of these subjects before, they are essentially studying differential and algebraic equations on geometric objects. In simpler terms, this is akin to applying calculus techniques on circles and spheres and doughnuts. In my time here, I hope to learn and create more mathematical tools to solve these kinds of equations.”

For Kelli, a lot of the motivation for her work comes from theoretical physics, and the mathematics she has been using is the same mathematics that physicists used to describe Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity, which allows GPS devices to work. So while it may seem that there is no direct application to pure mathematics, is it more likely that the application is yet to be invented.

“Another example is the incredible work on prime numbers. Prime numbers have over 2000 years of pure mathematical interest, and the pure mathematical theory behind them is the main reason we have secure internet communication. This is one of the many areas where mathematics that has been seen as ‘pure mathematics’ has become very applied too. In this lies the answer to the question, ‘why study pure mathematics?’ Although there may be no current application, this does not mean there won’t be one in the future.”

“I thoroughly encourage any young NYSF student to apply to the Rhodes Trust if they are considering continuing their studies beyond undergrad, and beyond Australia.”

Braving the cold in the Antarctic – NYSF Alumna Sandra Kerbler

NYSF Alumna Sandra Kerbler is one of 78 women worldwide to be selected to participate in Homeward Bound, a leadership and strategic program for women in science, set against the backdrop of Antarctica.

It feels absolutely amazing to have been selected. It’s a journey of a lifetime and I can’t wait to do what I can to raise awareness of the issues women in science face

Homeward Bound is an Australian initiative developed by leadership expert Fabian Dattner and Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. 170 applications were received in the first round and 250 in the second.

“I submitted a two-minute YouTube Video, a three-page resume and cover letter outlining why I should be chosen for the program.”

“It feels absolutely amazing to have been selected. It’s a journey of a lifetime and I can’t wait to do what I can to raise awareness of the issues women in science face. I hope to make a difference too,” she said.

Within her PhD research at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, Sandra investigates how plants are affected by changing temperatures, in particular cold stress. “My studies aim to identify how plants adjust their metabolism in response to changing environmental conditions, with such knowledge contributing to the global effort to produce crop plants that can thrive in future changing climates.”

“As the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, one of the biggest challenges mankind will face is the ability to feed everyone, which is complicated further by changing environmental conditions,” Sandra said.

The Homeward Bound expedition will focus on building leadership skills, with a parallel focus on the changing environment and how polar science can inform about the health of the planet.

“(Having) women in leadership matters to me because there is still such disparity between men and women in leadership positions,” she said. “By taking part in Homeward Bound I hope to gain the knowledge and skills to change current trends and influence policy and decision-making.”

The first trip, departing Ushuaia, Argentina in December 2016, will seek to significantly elevate how women at the leadership table might provide a more sustainable future, where climate change is used as an example.

Sandra has launched a crowd-funding campaign, together with three other UWA participants, to help raise $25,000 each toward the cost of their journey.

For more information about the Homeward Bound initiative, visit the UWA Crowd Funding Page.

Unravelling microscopic evidence of supercontinents … in three minutes

NYSF 2008 Alumna and student staff leader Catherine Wheller was one of eight grand finalists to compete in The University of Melbourne’s Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT®) in September this year.

The Trans-Tasman Three Minute Thesis is an annual research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland celebrating the exciting research conducted by PhD students. The exercise cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills, allowing the opportunity to develop their capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes, in a language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.

“To reach the grand final, we went through initial heats, then semi-finals and then into the grand final. This was the final stage for me, however the winner of the grand final travelled to Queensland for the Trans-Tasman competition competing against winners from universities in Australia and New Zealand.”

Catherine’s presentation concentrated on the question of “Microscopic Evidence of Supercontinents, how do we uncover the evolution of the Earth’s continents by the mineral assemblages that make up rocks?”

Presenting my research to a general audience is … a skill which is seldom taught, but incredibly useful

Catherine Wheller 3MT

Catherine Wheller 3MT

While travelling in the remote south of Madagascar last year for her research, Catherine picked up a rock. Under the microscope, she found that the rock’s mineral assemblage showed that it had been through an extraordinarily high temperature event around 520 million years ago.

“This is a remarkably different evolution than an average rock would have experienced, so what story has my rock recorded? This is around the time that the supercontinent of Gondwana was forming – so what I’ve found is evidence that the southern part of Madagascar was involved in a collision of two plates at this time. From studies like this around the world, we can really start to piece together past movements of our Earth’s crust.”

Catherine has always enjoyed public speaking and teaching, but her audience has always been one educated or interested in her field. “Presenting my research to a general audience is a challenge that I was motivated to try because this is a skill which is seldom taught, but incredibly useful.  I chose a degree that I am passionate about and it has allowed me to explore some incredibly remote and unique places, which I then use to investigate the evolution of our planet – and I want to communicate that.”

The competition was tough. Catherine was representing the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Sciences in a competition dominated by biomedical students. “At this level you can expect a certain degree of competitiveness, however I was blown away by how willing everyone was to help each other. Some of us started a practice group during the heat stages of the competition and we gave each other tips on presentation style and content – I’ve made an incredible group of friends though this program.”

The University of Melbourne’s other competitors in the competition came from the Faculty of Science; Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences; Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Melbourne School of Engineering. Humanities and the Arts were well represented in the heats and semi-finals.

The Melbourne University competition winner was Eamonn Fahy who discussed early signs of glaucoma. He later won the grand final held at the University of Queensland in October.

Other topics included: the rise of the superbug (Claire Gorrie); The uses of spider silk in Kevlar (Steven Harris Wibowo); How much oxygen is needed to grow stem cells (Jarmon Lees); Malaria screening in women to prevent birth of premature babies (Kerryn Moore); Growing healthy wheat (Rebecca Vandegeer); and Shedding light on diabetic blindness (Sam Mills).

Watch Catherine’s 3MT here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhvFJKoUVtI

Catherine’s Blog about field stories here: https://catinthefield.wordpress.com/