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

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

Session C earth science lab visit rocks!

An obvious pun, but it had to be done…

Earth and Environmental Science Group Darwin visited the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, to get a good look at the many areas of research that the school covers. As an introduction, the group heard the 3-Minute-Thesis speeches of three different post-graduate students – their captivating talks demonstrated the how vast earth science research fields are.

Next the group visited the SHRIMP – the Sensitive High-Resolution Ion Microprobe – used to determine ion ratios in geologic materials. Liane Loiselle, a PhD candidate, talked to the group about the process of radiometric dating, showing the equipment and a range of samples, the oldest of which was a meteorite that predates the earth itself. Liane discussed at length the benefits of uranium-lead dating, including a dice experiment to demonstrate decay rate, before the group participated in a timeline activity. Using both real samples and props, participants placed dinosaurs, trilobite fossil, and the meteorite  (to name a few) along a roll of paper where each square equalled 10 million years.

Next was a tour of Professor Greg Yaxley’s lab, and the experiments he works on. Professor Yaxley’s field is experimental petrology, which focuses on the origin, structure, and composition of rocks. In his work, he recreates the conditions in the earth’s crust using complex machinery, to create samples similar to those found thousands of kilometres below our feet.

After leaving Professor Yaxley’s lab, the group received a brief presentation on seismology from Dr Michelle Salmon. The participants discussed the world seismic monitor, which looks at recent worldwide earthquake activity, before they used the seismograph installed in the room to simulate an earthquake with a group jump, showing the magnitude on the screen.

Professor Yaxley explaining how they create the conditions in the earth’s crust

Finally, the group visited the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics ‘Wet Lab’, which researches fluid flow problems on earth, including ocean circulation and ice melting due to climate change, among others. The group firstly conducted an experiment to show the effect of gravity currents, mixing salt into a portion of water and watching it interact with fresh water when released. This was repeated with different water sodium levels in a larger tank, before the group got a look at the new rotating table machine that models the currents of the southern ocean, and holds a lot of promise for future research.

In the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics ‘Wet Lab’

To have a look at that research, and everything the Research School of Earth Sciences is up to, have a look at their website: http://rses.anu.edu.au/

 

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

Van Dooren Lab at ANU offers NYSF a hands-on visit

The NYSF 2017 Food, Agriculture and Animal & Plant Biology group ‘Hill’ visited the Van Dooren Lab this afternoon, located in ANU’s Research School of Biology. Hosted by Dr Giel Van Dooren and his team of postgraduate students, the Hill group spent anafternoon learning about parasitology.

Parasitology is the study of parasites, organisms that feed off a ‘host’ organisms, usually with negative effects to this host. The group was specifically looking at protozoan parasites, single-celled organisms that are found in the bodies of hosts, and often with the host’s own cells. The four parasites the participants were focusing on in the Van Dooren Lab are known to be responsible for malaria, chagas disease and toxoplasmosis.

The participants had to determine what parasite was infecting a ‘patient’, with one assigned to each group of four. The participants had to examine blood and tissue samples of a patient, through microscopy, as well as conduct a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) experiment. Each patient also had a scenario attached, to help narrow down what parasite it could be, such as ‘she has recently travelled to the rainforests of Borneo, and upon her return has begun to have headaches, fevers, and chills’.

Dr Van Dooren teaching students how to use the mechanical pipette

Firstly, the group used the PCR technique on DNA from the patients. PCR is a process that replicates DNA, which is then pipetted into an agarose gel solution plate and exposed to an electric field. The field causes the DNA molecule to migrate through the gel, with smaller molecules moving faster than larger ones. This is photographed and shows as ‘bands’ of DNA, with infected patients, containing parasitic DNA as well, showing extra ‘bands’. The actual PCR process can take about an hour after being set up, but the participants were excited to try this new technique, which also meant using tools they had never used before.

Whilst the PCR was running, the group used microscopy to examine the blood and tissue samples. As most protozoan parasites enter their host’s cells, they can often be seen easily under the microscope, and can even give an estimate of how long the patient has been infected. Once the PCR results were found, the group then sat with their demonstrators and discussed the literature behind the parasites, including prevention, treatment, and the struggle for treatment as parasites become resistant to drugs. Groups then presented their findings, combining results from microscopy, PCR, and based on the scenario given, to the rest of participants, including the prognosis and treatment of their patients.

Participants presenting their findings

To Find out more about Dr Van Dooren and his work, check out the university website: http://biology.anu.edu.au/research/labs/van-dooren-lab-cell-biology-and-metabolism-apicomplexan-parasites

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

Session C engineering lab visits start with robotics by Robogals

The first science visit for the Session C engineering and advanced manufacturing group ‘Newton’, was a visit to ANU’s College of Engineering and Computer Sciences. Here Matthew (an NYSF 2012 alumnus) and Theresa, an ANU Physics undergraduate and an ADFA UNSW Mechanical Engineering undergraduate respectively, ran the workshop on behalf of Robogals. Robogals is a student-volunteer based organisation that encourages primary and secondary school girls to get into engineering and technology, through workshops such as the one delivered for the NYSF.

The robots used in the workshop were Lego Mind-Storms, and although most of the group had used them before, the session was anything but ordinary for the young scientists. The first exercise was to demonstrate how exact instructions had to be for a low-level thinking machine to process. One participant, the ‘programmer’, had to instruct two others to draw a symbol they had never seen, with their eyes closed. Whilst one ‘robot’ participant managed to do a fairly accurate job, the other ‘robot’ became a little confused by the programmer’s instructions…

The robot-participant attempts

Next, they flashed coloured cards in front of the robots’ sensors to instruct it which way to move, which was the basis of the program they went on to start using. The group’s goal was to program their robots to complete a maze, with all successfully completing the task. From here, the instructors showed the participants how to modify the program so the robot now created sound when its sensor moved over a certain colour. Suddenly the engineers were musicians as they began replicating nursery rhyme tunes!

Matthew brainstorming with the group

The last half hour was special to the group, as they were given the opportunity to problem solve concepts set by the presenters. Matthew worked with a group to figure out a way to program the robots as an etch’n’sketch, combining their usual program with paint and having the robot’s trajectory tracked on the screen. Theresa was helping the students figure out a way to program the robots to follow their hand movements. Both groups were brainstorming ideas, and going through the trial and error process to figure a solution. Although the groups did run out of time to complete their projects, they agreed this section of the afternoon was definitely the most challenging, having never been given this opportunity when using the robots before.

To find out more about Robogals, check out their website: http://robogals.org/.

The Lego Mind-Storm

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

NYSF 2017 Session C welcomed to Parliament House

NYSF 2017 Session C NYSF Participants found themselves in the heart of the nation on Wednesday at Parliament House as they attended the official opening of NYSF 2017 Session C. Dressed to the nines, the group were warmly greeted by an impressive array of speakers.

Dr Andrew Metcalfe AO, chair of the NSSS Board, opened the event. With a personal connection to the program through his son, who is an NYSF alumnus and currently completing a science PhD, Mr Metcalfe conveyed to the participants the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in science that they had been given. Next, Mr Steve Hill, the District 9710 Rotary Governor, addressed the group. He highlighted the importance of Rotary to support youth programs, and encouraged the students to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities and experiences that are to come.

The group also heard from Ms Glenys Beauchamp PSM, the current Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. Having a business and economic background, the way she spoke so highly of science emphasised to the participants the importance of science in a political setting. After all, as she made a point of saying, ‘you can’t look at innovation without science’.

Ms Beauchamp shared many of her own views on the science community, equating scientists with rock stars, and the need to celebrate science. She proudly outline the many scientific achievements of Australia, and also the need for more entrepreneurial endeavours from scientists. Being in an age where technology and science are reaching exciting new levels, she stressed the importance of finding ways to let science translate into commercial and economic benefits for the whole nation. She concluded with inspiring words, ‘hope to see some of you in business, academia, and government’,  – which is fitting as all are possibilities with the varied pathways science can lead to.

Finally, Dr Anna Cowan addressed the group, outlining the great community that the NYSF creates, with many colleagues and students being NYSF alumni. Being the Deputy Director of Education at ANU’s college for Medicine, Biology and Environment, as well as the ANU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, her inspirational words were especially significant to the group of future scientists.

Once the speeches concluded, the group was treated to an exclusive tour of Parliament House, including the opportunity enact the process of passing a bill in the House of Representatives through a mock proceeding. The growing confidence of the group was evident in this activity, and with lab visits looming on the horizon, things are only just getting started for the Session C participants.

 

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

Photos by Veronica O’Mara, Communications Intern NYSF 2017 Session C and NYSF Alumna 2014

Session C’s first workshop has them thinking

Interactive, relaxed, entertaining; all excellent descriptors of the ‘Critical Thinking Skills’ Workshop the NYSF 2017 participants attended this afternoon.

The workshop was presented by Dr Will Grant, a University of Queensland graduate with a PhD in Political Science. Dr Grant currently works at ANU as a researcher, lecturer, and graduate studies convener at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

Critical Thinking is important for everyday life and future careers, and participants were engaged from the start, questioning and delving deeper and deeper into the topic. And developing a thorough understanding of these skills was about to immediately come in handy for the participants, as the practical section of the workshop began.

The opportunity to practice Critical Thinking Skills in a supportive environment encouraged a lively debate. Example scenarios with five possible solutions were shown, with Dr Grant prompting participants to discuss their answer with those around them, before taking a group consensus.  Constructive arguments were presented and rebutted as the scenarios became more difficult, and many differing opinions emerged from the group.

Dr Grant wrapped the workshop up with a discussion on Critical Thinking in everyday life, and as the group exited the lecture hall, the excited chatter confirmed the afternoon was a great start to the many activities and discussions yet to come in Session C.

 

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