“I definitely knew I wanted to study science”

Dr Natalie Spillman attended the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) in 2003, and after school finished, went on to study for a Bachelor of Philosophy (PhB) at the Australian National University (ANU).

“When I started my degree at the ANU, I was really keen to study physics, so I studied mathematics, physics, chemistry and biochemistry in first year. Then I discovered how much I was interested in how cells work, so I swapped my major focus to biochemistry and that’s what I’ve been interested in ever since.”

Natalie grew up in Mackay, Queensland and knew she did not want to study at a regional university. Coming to Canberra, she says, “… was always going to be a big move for me and it was a good compromise between Mackay, a smaller town, rather than moving to a larger city such as Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne – which seemed a scary prospect at the time.”

The ANU’s PhB, is a research-focused degree that allows undergraduate students to study with leading researchers, starting in the first year of study. “It was great to get so much exposure to lab work so early, and it really confirmed for me that research was what I wanted to keep doing.”

Her projects were wide ranging, “…from cytokinin regulation in Arabidopsis, to the clustering of GABA receptors in mouse neurons. During my summer breaks I undertook an ANU College of Science Summer Research Scholarship on membrane transport in the malaria parasite, and a CSIRO Plant Industry Summer Student Program scholarship investigating the role of polycomb proteins in Arabidopsis vernalisation response. These lab experiences confirmed my passion for research, and allowed me to gain a comprehensive and far-reaching lab skill set.”

This passion for research fuelled Natalie to undertake a PhD in Biomedical Science and Biochemistry at the ANU. “In my PhD I studied how the malaria parasite maintains a ‘low-salt’ environment. Cells have to regulate how many sodium ions (Na+) they have. If the sodium levels get too high, other enzymes in the cells can’t work as efficiently and the cells can die. Too much salt is generally bad. High salt is bad for plants (saline soil), and high salt diets are generally bad for our health (hypertension and cardiovascular disease).”

Natalie Spillman

Natalie Spillman

Natalie is fascinated by the malaria parasite. “In particular, I am interested in how it lives inside a red blood cell. There are so many strange and amazing aspects of its biology that we need to continue to study to develop new drugs against this parasite. They are resistant or developing resistance to all of our current anti-malarials. So I definitely wanted to keep studying malaria during my postdoctoral research.”

In 2013 Natalie received a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) CJ Martin Overseas Biomedical Fellowship, administered by ANU, to research at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) in Saint Louis, USA. Now conducting post-doctoral research, Natalie’s current research is sponsored by an Amgen American-Australian Association Fellowship also at WUSM.

“I am now studying how the parasite can communicate and change the red blood cell. The parasite exports hundreds of proteins out into the red blood cell. But we don’t know how these protein effectors can alter red blood cell biology.”

The Centre for Disease Control estimates that, “3.2 billion people (half of the world’s population) live in areas at risk of malaria transmission in 106 countries and territories”, so the need for malaria treatments is significant. Natalie’s work and contribution can only be of benefit to us all.


By Julie Maynard

Defence science: a world of opportunities

The Defence Science and Technology Group (DST) provides the Australian Government with scientific advice and innovative technology solutions to meet Australia’s Defence and national security needs. It is part of the Department of Defence.

As the country’s second largest publicly-funded research organisation after the CSIRO, DST employs 2,100 scientists, engineers and researchers, all of whom have in-depth knowledge and experience in many science and technology disciplines.nysf-sessiona-partnertalks2-46-dstg

Whether it is improving personal protection armour and ration packs for the army, designing missile decoys to protect navy ships, putting wings on bombs to increase the Air Force’s missile range or building the world’s largest over-the-horizon radar network to keep a watch on our borders, DST scientists continually come up with clever science solutions that work.

It was a defence scientist who invented the black box flight recorder in the 1950s. Among other innovations, today’s DST scientists are developing equipment to protect Australian soldiers from improvised explosive devices and extending the life of fighter aircraft beyond their use-by-date.

The Director of Science Outreach and Inclusion at DST, Rebecca Halliday, says a skilled and motivated workforce is an essential prerequisite for the organisation to continue delivering outstanding scientific support to Defence.



DST is committed to attracting talented people such as those who attend the NYSF. We believe we can offer them a unique opportunity to pursue a rich and rewarding career in science while contributing to Australia’s national security.

”There are many different career pathways available within DST including cadetships and scholarships for students, a summer vacation placement program, an industry experience placement program, and a graduate program.”

Industry Experience Placement student Stephen Pidgeon says that it’s a great opportunity to work within DST, as it is such a unique experience that you will not find anywhere else.

“It’s allowing me to develop and implement the skills I have learnt during my university studies and will assist in my final year before graduation,” he said.

There is an amazing breadth and depth of scientific research undertaken by defence scientists in Australia today, with great career opportunities on offer.

For more information  please refer to: www.dst.defence.gov.au/careers/career-options, or email your enquiries to: DSTGroupSTEMCoordinator@dsto.defence.gov.au.

Science meets Business 2016

The second annual Science meets Business will take place on 24 October  in Melbourne, with a range of outstanding speakers representing politics, industry and research.

The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, Vice-President and Lab Director for IBM Research, Dr Joanna Batstone, and CEO of ANSTO, Dr Adi Paterson are just a few of the speakers who will join us for this forward-looking and engaging day of information, brainstorming and networking. Click on the link above to learn more.

Lockheed Martin Australia’s commitment to R&D boost

Representatives from the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) were honoured to be invited to participate in a roundtable discussion in Canberra in August, led by Dr Keoki Jackson, Chief Technology Officer of Lockheed Martin. Dr Jackson was in Australia for a series of meetings and to announce the company’s new investment in Australia’s R&D community, through the establishment of the STELaR Lab in Melbourne, to be headed by Dr Tony Lindsay.

The $13million investment in the STELaR Lab will support a variety of research programs including hypersonics, autonomy in robotics, quantum computing and communications and data analytics to be conducted at the Melbourne site, providing opportunities for Australian PhD students. Australia was selected for the establishment of STELar Lab after a world wide evaluation of prospective locations.  This investment is a nod to Australia’s credentials as a smart nation investing in and driving growth and prosperity through innovation and science.


Dr Keoki Jackson, Ms Karen Duneman, Caitlin Sweeting and Emily Rees at the Lockheed Martin Roundtable in August 2016 (image Lockheed Martin Australia)

Ms Karen Duneman, Lockheed Martin’s Director of Global Science and Technology Engagement and a senior and long-standing Lockeed Martin employee, spoke to the group about her experience as an engineer, and Lockheed’s commitment to a diverse workforce.

The NYSF was represented at the event by two alumni, Caitlin Sweeting and Emily Rees, who were invited to share their experience of attending the NYSF and the benefits it offered.

Caitlin, a graduate of Curtin University’s Bachelor of Engineering (Petroleum Engineering), attended the NYSF in 2011. “Motivated by my experience at the NYSF,  I went on to study engineering after high school and graduated in 2015. During my degree I undertook engineering internships at both Woodside and Shell Australia to gain valuable industry experience. As a university student I was also selected to attend the International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC) Education Week in Kuala Lumpur in 2014 to compete in a project team made up of students from all over the world. Additionally, I was awarded the Engineering Australia (WA Division) Digby Leach medal for the best overall course performance in Engineering at Curtin. I am currently undertaking a graduate program at Shell Australia specializing in Reservoir Engineering and am a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers.”

Emily is currently studying engineering at The Australian National University. She attended the NYSF in 2014, and decided to apply for the ANU as a result of her participation in the program. Previously, she had not even considered studying inter-state, but was particularly attracted to the ANU because of its undergraduate research study opportunities.

In the Engineering R&D course, Emily has undertaken projects on semiconductors and green nanotechnology. She is also a student ambassador for the ANU, is involved in the Engineering Association, the ANU’s Solar Car initiative, the debating club, and is a mentor and committee member of Fifty50 – which promotes gender equity in the ANU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS).


Staffie training? Tick

National Youth Science Forum’s (NYSF) student staff leader training partner Outward Bound Australia welcomed the 2017 staffies to their Tharwa training facility south of Canberra in July.

Our trainee staffies were put to the test on their first morning with a giant ladder climb, which is designed to test the resilience and build team work skills to reach certain vantage points.  As well as learning more about what is required of them to be a staffie, and what their responsibilities will be in January, the training session offered a supportive environment for moving outside of their comfort zone.  Which leads to … the trek experience!



Trekking in Canberra in the winter is certainly an experience.  But it helps to form bonds and understanding of different people’s contributions to achieve an outcome.  They are also given the opportunity to critically reflect on their own performance and the performance of others within a shared leadership approach.


NYSF Chief Executive Officer Dr Damien Pearce said, “This program is unique because the student staff leaders are selected by their peers from the previous January Sessions. This represents the youth stewardship of the NYSF as a contemporary, meaningful, and legitimate development opportunity, by youth for youth.”


When too much science is never enough!

National Science Week 2016 has been and gone, with another hugely successful program of national events being delivered across the country. It’s Australia’s annual celebration of science and technology and thousands of individuals – from students, to scientists to chefs, dancers and musicians took part in more than 1000 science events across Australia.

In Canberra, National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) alumni volunteers helped out at in Science In ACTion where Daleks roamed and rockets exploded, and more than 950 students from across the Canberra region visited during the schools day on Friday.


NYSF Chief Executive Officer Dr Damien Pearce said, “NYSF could not participate in Science in ACTion without the support from our wonderful alumni, who share their time, experience and enthusiasm for STEM with the wider community. Our sincere thanks to the team involved.”

National Science Teachers Summer School 2017 applications now open!

Applications for the NYSF’s National Science Teachers Summer School (NSTSS) 2017 are open now. Teachers of science can register here and learn more about our well-established program, to held once again at The Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra from Monday 9 January – Friday 13 January 2017.

Mohammed, Monil & Sabra Belinda Sharkey & Casey McCallum 2

The aim of the NSTSS is to ignite the participant teachers’ passion for science, to engage them in a professional dialogue about teaching and learning, and to explore ways of engaging students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Delivered in collaboration with the ANU and other NYSF supporters, the NSTSS offers teachers of science a great opportunity to reboot and refresh, in preparation for the new school year.

Inquiries – nysf@nysf.edu.au; or read more here.

From the Chair

Chair of NYSF Board, Andrew Metcalfe AO (image Julie Maynard/NYSF)I am very pleased to be taking on the role of Chair of the NYSF, after 12 months as Deputy Chair. I want to acknowledge the work that Professor Tanya Monro has achieved in her two years as the Chair, particularly on the constitutional review of the organisation, and the focus on to strategic planning. Our sincere thanks to Tanya for her commitment, which is particularly of value as an alumna of the National Science Summer School (NSSS)/NYSF, and as a leading Australian scientist and educator – we are hoping that we can continue to entice her to share her insights with future cohorts of NYSF students.

Our sincere thanks to Tanya … we are hoping that we can continue to entice her to share her insights

Recently, during National Science Week, a report from the Grattan Institute identified that, “… only half of bachelor degree science graduates seeking full-time work had found it four months after completing their degrees.”  It also noted that only half of the recent science graduates who found full-time jobs reported that their qualification is required or important for their job. Three-quarters of engineering graduates however reported being in full-time work – presumably in engineering fields.

For some in the NYSF’s stakeholders, and the wider community, these findings will be somewhat disappointing and concerning – a university degree is an expensive investment, often driven by passion for a specific area. This is particularly the case in the science and technology areas, and definitely how most NYSF participants approach their tertiary study choices. To find at the end of that investment in time, effort, energy and money that your degree is not leading to a job of direct relevance will make many second guess their decision upfront.

At the NYSF, we are confident that our program’s approach actually assists in preventing this kind of disappointment.  We aim to assist our participants in exploring options, explaining the cross-collaboration that occurs in industry, and allowing a better understanding than a school-based, siloed, subject focus. We support informed decision-making for future study and careers. We also encourage the development of critical thinking skills, and illustrate how an entrepreneurial approach – which is not everyone’s bent, of course – can turn a “science career” into more than being in a lab, wearing a white coat. There are many different kinds of scientist – attending the NYSF can help to guide our participants through their decision-making, both immediately after school and into the future.

At the time of writing, all of our participants for the NYSF 2017 year 12 program have been selected by our friends and colleagues in Rotary Districts across Australia.  We look forward to welcoming the participants in January and seeing their understanding develop as a result of their involvement and investment in the NYSF opportunity.  They will have exposure to a wide variety of interesting lectures, science visits and outreach activities, supported by many in the Canberra region, but particularly at our host university, the Australian National University.

I also look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on the Board and the corporate team to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the NYSF, its programs and the impact on the young people who participate.

Andrew Metcalfe, AO

“A career in engineering was the right fit for me”

Sophie Dawson attended the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) in 2008 and like many students before her, was encouraged to apply by her (physics) teacher.

Sophie says she knew she wanted to study engineering due to her interests in physics and mathematics, but it wasn’t until she experienced the NYSF lab visits and workshops, and the Next Step Program in Adelaide, that she developed a better understanding of the variety of work that engineers perform.

“Before attending the NYSF, I wasn’t aware of or had been exposed to the many career opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or even which of the many fields of engineering, design and technology I was interested in.”

I am still in touch with friends that I made at NYSF

For Sophie, the NYSF was also a great networking opportunity. “I am still in touch with friends that I made at NYSF – I think because it brought together so many like minded people. The NYSF helped confirm that pursuing a career in engineering was the right fit for me based on my interests.”

Sophie studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical and Aerospace) at the University of Adelaide and undertook an Honours project examining ways of reducing the induced drag of aircraft wings. “At times during my study, I found the work hard and questioned whether I still wanted to be an engineer, particularly in the aerospace industry. I would then try and imagine doing something else but couldn’t see myself anywhere else. The passion, intelligence and hard work of the people around me was, and still is, inspiring.”

During her time at university she was involved in organising the Australian Youth Aerospace Association AeroFutures conference. “This was another great opportunity to find out about the careers available in the aerospace industry. This also made me realise the breadth and scope of an industry I thought was small in Australia.”

Sophie Dawson - Jetstar graduates

Sophie Dawson with other Jetstar graduates

She has recently completed a two-year graduate program with Jetstar Airways where she was able to explore several roles though rotations in different parts of the business. “I think the appeal of this type of program is the ability to explore different interests and better understand the everyday tasks involved. This was the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate pursuing a technical engineering career or moving into other applications. From this experience, I found that I really wanted to continue working in a technical role, and was fortunate to find my current position as an operations engineer.”

Sophie is now part of a team that is responsible for technical support covering all aspects of aircraft performance and aircraft loading. “The work is varied and involves many different aspects of airline operations. I work on projects that involve the evaluation of new aircraft and modifications to existing aircraft and equipment. Other aspects are the management of systems and software that effect aircraft loading and weight and balance.”

“This role has huge scope for continued learning and development and is where I see myself for the next few years to make the most of this opportunity. Every day is different, and there is a large variety in the type of work including analysis, engineering and project management. Two of the most exciting things that I am involved with are projects that encompass the whole airline and aim to balance commercial outcomes and operational challenges, and quick responses to operational requests to ensure safe and efficient flight dispatch.”

Remember that there are many different and varied pathways to get to where you want to be

For others considering a specific career, in engineering or otherwise,  Sophie’s advice is to get involved in the industry. “Seek out opportunities and be proactive. Remember that there are many different and varied pathways to get to where you want to be and much of the enjoyment and satisfaction comes from the journey. It takes ingenuity and hard work and you can learn something from every experience, even if the lesson is very unexpected.”

By Julie Maynard