Tales of diving, dark times and discovery from Professor Emma Johnston, UNSW Sydney

NYSF 2017 Session C’s Science Dinner provided a great opportunity for participants to network, talking to researchers, partners and NYSF alumni. However the highlight of the evening was Professor Emma Johnston’s address which inspired, motivated and encouraged the participants to pursue their dreams and passions. She also provided some useful advice for the audience, young and old alike, for when things don’t seem to be working out.

Professor Emma Johnston completed a Bachelor of Science and PhD studies at the University of Melbourne. She is the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) at UNSW Sydney, head of the Applied Marine and Estuarine Ecology Lab (AMEE), host of a BBC/Foxtel television series and Vice-President of Science and Technology Australia. Her research focuses on how human behaviour has impacts on marine ecosystems all over the world from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica.

Professor Johnston emphasised the opportunities that a career in science can bring and encouraged the participants to continue their scientific pursuits. “Science is the most rewarding career you can have,” and offered some advice when choosing which path to follow. “You want a career that is changing, that is challenging and you are finding out what is happening all the time.”

One theme evident throughout her address was the importance of being brave enough to challenge what is already accepted; only then will you be at “the frontier of scientific discovery.”

Professor Johnston offered the audience some sage advice, applicable to both life and scientific research. “When you are challenged and doubt your abilities, it is important to have a role model, someone you can look up to, who is only a few years ahead of yourself.  They will be an invaluable resource to guide you and inspire you.” Professor Johnston said she had often struggled with a lack of self-confidence, stressing that everyone feels this way. But when things are difficult, she said, “… believe in the people who believe in you,” and “… let their belief in you carry you forward.” Professor Johnston emphasised that this was especially important for women in STEMM who are often under-represented and lack role models.

Thank you to Professor Johnston for your compelling advice to us all, your career has shown us the importance of working hard and challenging ourselves as well as making sure we surround ourselves with a diverse and supportive group of people.

For more information on Professor Johnston’s work,click here.

Veronica O’Mara, NYSF 2017 Session C Communications Intern and NYSF 2014 alumna.

Hands-on lab visit to RSB at ANU for Session C

With food security a global issue, investment in primary research into plant research has never been more important.

Session C’s food, agriculture, and animal and plant biology group “Fenner” headed to the Research School of Biology to look at some of the latest in plant science research at the ANU.

The entire session was spent in the lab, run by Alisha Duncan, the education and events officer, supported by a team of PhD students and researchers. They work on improving plant photosynthesis, which can improve the yield of staple food crops; the Fenner group’s activity was a simple photosynthesis experiment.

The participants started by making a red cabbage pH indicator. The chemical anthocyanin in the cabbage naturally changes colour, based on the acidity of its environment. After creating this, they used a variety of substances to create a scale, such as bi-carb soda and egg whites.

PH can be used to measure photosynthesis by the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) present in a solution. In this particular cabbage solution, it is purple when neutral, which also equates to atmospheric CO2. The higher the CO2, the more acidic it becomes, and the solution turns pink. The lower the CO2, the more basic it becomes, and it turns blue-green, or even yellow. When CO2 is high in a plant, it indicates that respiration is happening at a faster rate than photosynthesis, therefore the solution will turn pink. When C02 is low, it indicates photosynthesis is at a faster rate than respiration, and the solution turns blue-green/ yellow.

The group were testing photosynthesis of algae, so next had to make algae balls. This is done by suspending many single-celled algae in a jelly-like substance, each with equal amounts of photosynthetic material. After measuring the algae, the participants discussed possible variables that would affect the photosynthesis rate. Each person was given a tube of algae balls and a tube of indicator to test this variable at home.

Participants with their take-home pH indicator and algae balls

 

Being able to have such a hands-on activity at their last lab visit for Session C was fun, and helped to ensure there’s more science to come!

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

Session C’s Specialist Lectures

With such a large and diverse group, catering to individuals’ interests is a key component of the success of NYSF, a philosophy further demonstrated in the specialist lecture program. Split up into similar interest groups, the participants were divided heard from three lecturers, Dr Dennis McNevin, Dr Damith Herath, and Dr Colin Jackson.

Dr Colin Jackson is an Associate Professor, researcher, and senior lecturer at the Research School of Chemistry at ANU. His research focuses on understanding the fundamental chemistry that underlies biological functions, and spoke to the group about insecticide resistance. He talked about the Australian sheep blowfly, a longstanding introduced pest that has formed some insecticide resistance. After explaining the science behind organophosphate insecticides; the group discussed the resistance crisis that threatens agriculture, and how it happens on a molecular and evolutionary level.

Dr Damith Herath is an Assistant Professor in Software Engineering at the University of Canberra, as well as CEO and co-founder of Robological. His research on robots in society was the focus of his lecture, where after discussing his long and varied career, he led the group in a discussion of the concept of robot-human interaction.

Dr Damith Herath’s lecture

Dr Dennis McNevin is an Assistant Professor of Forensic Studies at the University of Canberra, based at the National Centre for Forensic Studies. He first discussed with the group what he described as his ‘non-typical’ career path, before talking about his current role as a forensic geneticist. He described the field as revolutionary to forensics, giving the ability to use DNA to determine individual’s identity, which can also be applied to other fields, such as disaster victim identification. The group then were shown real life examples of how DNA profiling is applied.

All three of the lectures were interesting and engaging,allowing the participants another opportunity to access knowledge through the NYSF program.

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

ANU’s Zoology labs opens up a world of animal life

Session C’s food, agriculture, and animal and plant biology group “Hill” paid a visit to the Gould Building at ANU to get a tour of the zoology labs and facilities.

The group was greeted by Liam Bailey, a PhD student who has been researching changes in shore birds’ behaviour  in response to extreme climates. After completing his Bachelor of Environmental Science, his PhD has taken him to Schiemonnikoog in the Netherlands to study the Eurasian oystercatcher. He gave the group an overview of other research being conducted in the labs – from work on brood parasites and hosts, fiddler crabs’ mating systems, and climate change and its impact on alpine plants.  The following presentations from the PhD students really emphasised how varied zoology research is. The group was particularly interested in the work of Jochen Ziel, who has created a virtual reality system for jumper jack ants, to research how their sense of direction can be applied to robotics and navigational systems.

The Skeleton Museum, talking to a researcher who was working on geckos

The first stop on the lab tour was at the skeleton museum, which also houses preserved creatures. Collections such as these are excellent learning resources for students of the ANU, and during the tour, researchers were working on characterising a new species of gecko that had just been brought in from the field.

In the possum lab,  researchers were measuring the metabolism requirements of marsupials, and the participants got to say hi to some of the animals in their care. From here, it was a short walk to the fish labs, where PhD students were focusing on the mosquito fish, an invasive species, and the effects of inbreeding. Finally, PhD student Ian Brennan talked to the group on why biology is worth studying, before the participants were able to hang out with blue tongue lizards and pat a python.

Holding blue-tongued lizards

To have a look at this research, and everything the Research School of Biology is up to, check out their website: http://biology.anu.edu.au/

 

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

Extra 200 places for NYSF 2018 at The University of Queensland

Another 200 places will be available for year 12 students to attend the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) next January due to the NYSF’s new in-principle agreement with The University of Queensland  (UQ) announced today.

“We are very pleased to welcome The University of Queensland as our second host university next year,” said Mr Andrew Metcalfe AO, chair of the National Youth Science Forum. “This commitment from UQ will allow the NYSF to offer a wider range of experiences to all of our student participants, both in January and through our follow up programs.”

The addition of the 200 places at UQ will bring the total number of participants at the NYSF 2018 program to 600; this increase in numbers is supported through funding from the Commonwealth’s National Science and Innovation Agenda (NISA). The complete 600 student cohort will be able to access information about all of the NYSF corporate supporters and their employment opportunities along with our university hosts and supporters, through our Partners’ Days and follow up Next Step programs.

“We are excited about the possibilities for our science tour program and the access to industry that the south-east Queensland location offers the NYSF,” added Mr Metcalfe. “And more importantly, it allows us to meet the continuing and increasing demand for places at the NYSF January program from young people and their families, as they consider future options for study in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields.”

“This is a stand out program and a unique opportunity for students passionate about  science, engineering  and related disciplines,” said The University of Queensland’s Provost, Professor Aidan Byrne, who has been instrumental in securing the partnership between UQ and NYSF. “I have been involved in NYSF in some form since its inception and am confident that expanding the program into Queensland will provide valuable experiences and skills to those who participate.”

Applications to participate in the NYSF 2018 program open on 1 March 2017 and all documentation must be submitted by 31 May 2017. Applicants must be in year 11 in 2017 to attend the 2018 program.

 

Further information: Amanda Caldwell 0410 148 173

Professor Tanya Monro new Science Patron for NYSF

Professor Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia has agreed to become the Science Patron of the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF).

“I am delighted to be able to continue to support the NYSF as its Science Patron,” Professor Monro said. “This amazing program makes a real impact on the lives of many of Australia’s future leaders and scientists.”

When speaking to the NYSF 2017 cohort last week, Professor Monro encouraged the students to stick to the three Ps as a guide – passion, persistence, and patience, and to keep an open mind to “choose your own adventure” in science.

Andrew Metcalfe AO, Chair of the NYSF Board, said it was exciting that Professor Monro had agreed to continue her advocacy for and involvement in the NYSF at a strategic level.

“Tanya’s insights and experience were invaluable when she was Chair of the Board and we acknowledge and thank her for her contribution in that role. As our Science Patron, I am sure she will continue to provide context and connections for our future direction.

Professor Monro is an alumna of the NYSF (or the National Science Summer School as it was), attending in 1990. She was Chair of the NSSS Board from 2014-2016.

NYSF 2017 visits Canberra firm Seeing Machines

Seeing Machines is a company started out of a robotics lab at ANU. The company develops technology which tracks the movement of eyes. This has a series of applications in the mining, automotive, aviation and medical industries. During the visit, the participants were able to try the ‘fovio’ system which is used in mining vehicles to detect drivers’ micro sleeps and when they need to stop and have a break. If a driver was to fall asleep loud noises and vibrations would wake him/her and alert supervisors.

Trying out the system

In addition to learning about the company and the technology they develop, the participants had the opportunity to hear from nine of their employees and their own journey through science. This was a unique opportunity to see where particular degrees could take the participants in the future but at the same time revealed that the skills a STEM degree gives you can be applicable in a wide range of areas.

revealed that the skills a STEM degree gives you can be applicable in a wide range of areas

The participants heard from software engineers, mechanical engineers and research scientists. One theme that was common throughout the presentations was the importance of having the right attitude, mastering maths, and the need to “always be learning, your whole career” (Seeing Machines software engineer, Andrew Medlin).

Kate Robinson, a NYSF 2017 partcipant said that she, “found it really interesting seeing how the different engineers went from one place to another and how they have been able to travel with their jobs, not just staying in Australia but travelling overseas. The lab was interesting being in the workplace, seeing how everyone works together and what they do on a day to day basis”.

The participants really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the engineers and discover what path could lie ahead for them.

Veronica O’Mara, NYSF 2017 Session C Communications Intern and NYSF 2014 alumnus.

 

NYSF 2017 has fun with physics at ANU

NYSF 2017 physics interest group, Wu was treated to a visit to the Physics Education Centre at the Australian National University. The visit was well received by all the students as they performed experiments about the physics of light and asked thoughtful questions of the physicists.

Led by Mr Andrew Papworth (a long-term and committed NYSF supporter) with a team of postgraduate students, the participants were guided through first and second year university experiments. The participants used a spectrophotometer to investigate the wavelength of light emitted by different elements, using several known sources to find the composition of an unknown lamp. Next was a series of experiments with lasers to learn about the Michelson interferometer and then one to learn about the detection and absorption of gamma rays.

Next was a series of ‘magic tricks’ were the students learnt about resonance tubes, magnetic breaking and the polarisation of light.  A visit to the ANU gravitational wave lab gave the students an inside view of the discovery of gravitational waves, how gravity has been calculated to 19 decimal places and the implications of this research in the real world, in particular in regards to gravity mapping. The participants also asked some meaningful questions about general and special relativity which they found particularly fascinating.

we were shown a variety of actual things which could be implemented into the world

The group left the visit inspired with one participant, Wade Clark, saying that he “really enjoyed that we were shown a variety of actual things which could be implemented into the world rather than just theoretical physics which we find at school. Things that actually will create a difference in the world rather than just sit on a shelf somewhere.”

 

Veronica O’Mara, NYSF 2017 Session C Communications Intern and NYSF 2014 alumnus.

NYSF 2017 tries paramedicine!

NYSF 2017 participants visited the Australian Catholic University’s smallest campus here in Canberra to learn about its paramedicine and nursing courses that are on offer here. As part of their visit, the students had the opportunity to learn more about the human body as well as some practical techniques used by paramedics and nurses.

Using the stethoscopes

The visit started with a tour of the university, visiting the science labs as well as their practical nursing laboratory which was set up like a hospital ward. Here the participants learnt about the structures of the brain and which area was responsible for which function. The students theorised how different brain injuries such as a stroke or a head trauma can affect patient functioning depending on which area of the brain was injured.

Next was a race to name the muscles of the body, the bones of the skull and the pulse points of the body. They used their new knowledge to find their own pulses and to listen to each other’s hearts using stethoscopes, then listened to the breathing, hearts and bowel sounds of a computerised mannequin.

Finding pulses

The participants heard from a current nursing and paramedicine student about her university experience as they explored an ACU ambulance used by the students to practice, managing to fit 16 people in the tiny van!

The visit concluded with the participants practicing how nurses and paramedics would transfer patients between beds, learning the correct technique then practicing on each other using the hospital beds and a pat slide.

Learning how to move patients.

The participants loved the hands on nature of the visit and being able to practice skills on each other with one student especially excited about learning to take a patient’s blood pressure.

Thanks to ACU for an informative and practical visit!

Veronica O’Mara, NYSF 2017 Session C Communications Intern and NYSF 2014 alumnus.

Session C #medsci interest group visits ACT Health

Health and Medical Science group ‘Doherty’ visited the labs of ACT Health, where they spent the morning getting a look at some of the work that happens in a large hospital. Upon arrival, the group talked to Dr Hannah Clark, senior research operations manager of ACT Health, about future possible careers and the research undertaken by the facility.

The group toured the liver research lab, which focuses on fatty liver disease, liver cancer, and the links this has to obesity. Researcher Sharon Pok, who is currently focusing how normal liver cells change into liver cancer cells, discussed her own research project. The participants then had some hands-on practice, pipetting homogenised liver tissue into gel wells, the first step to a long research process. Following Ms Pok was Dr Fahrettin Haczeyni, who led a discussion on the link between high fat/ cholesterol diets and liver cancer, the process of how this happens, and the negative side effects. The participants then had a look at real tissue samples to show the comparison between healthy and unhealthy livers.

Sharon Pok showing her research

The participants moved on to the Trauma and Orthopaedic Research Unit, where trauma nurses Dr Rebekah Ogilvie and Kate Evans discussed their own experiences, including a positive story of a 19-year-old car crash victim. The group then split up, and Kate explained the trauma emergency room process of receiving patients. An interactive discussion followed, including who needs to be told, who is there when a critical patient arrives, how does the team communicate, and how they save lives.

Kate discussing how a trauma victim is received

The other group was taken by Dr Ogilvie to the research clinic and discussed orthopaedics, specifically research into knee replacements. After watching footage of how the replacements are attached, they then toured the research lab, which was an excellent example of transdisciplinary work within science. Many engineers, bioengineers, and medical scientists were working together, all aiming to improve the current technology offered to patients. For the budding scientist, the afternoon opened up a whole new world of opportunities to pursue.

To see more of the excellent research conducted at ATC, check out their website: http://www.health.act.gov.au/research-publications/research

Meg Stegeman, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014