O Canada!

Six NYSF students attended the Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF) in May 2014 as ambassadors for Australian science. Emily-Grace Nicholson Gartley, Tarra Brain, Shoshana Rapley, Courtney Paton, Riley Le Lay and Kenny Purohit applied to attend the NYSF International Program in February 2014, and were selected for CWSF.

CWSF is Canada’s leading youth science event, and functions as the national finals of an annual science competition. More than 500 successful Canadian participants present a scientific project, which has previously been ranked highly in regional science fairs.

As guests of this year’s host city of Windsor, Ontario, the Australian group visited local primary and high schools, meeting with students and educating them about Australia and its science activities.

“From the moment we arrived at the Fair, we were treated like celebrities. The Canadian students wanted to talk to us, hang out with us and learn as much as they could about our country. The atmosphere was fantastic, a mix of culture, ideas, opinions and most of all, science,” said Emily-Grace.

Canada 3 Canada 2

Emily-Grace said she was astounded at the high calibre of the students at the fair. “There were so many talented, innovative and passionate students, who had been working on their projects for years. Fifteen year olds were delving into areas of science I had never heard of.”

The NYSF students held their own stall as an introduction to Australian science and culture. This included science projects such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Pathfinder, and unplanned events such as a ‘great vegemite challenge’, Aussie trivia, and teaching the national anthem.

The main task of the Australian group was to judge the projects of Canadian students who had elected to be considered to attend the NYSF 2015. After a round of interviews, three students – Mohamad Kadri, Katherine Brent and James Lee will travel to Canberra to participate in the 2015 January Sessions.

Canada 6

Canada 5

NYSF has a well-established relationship with CWSF, sending NYSF students there and hosting Canadians for many years. Past Canadian attendee Jessie McAlpine attended the NYSF in 2014, is now 18 and in her first year at the University of Toronto. She recently gave a TEDx talk about the importance of Science Fairs and her own research into the development of new malaria drugs. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYzLcpN8dso).

The NYSF group also visited some of Canada’s sights such as the Niagara Falls – experiencing the power of the “Hornblower” jet boat taking the group under the falls; and hiking in Point Pelee National Park. From Calgary, the students travelled through Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, Squillax, and finally to Vancouver for a hike in the snow at Mount Sulphur.

The group walked away from their adventures with new friendships and experiences that they won’t easily forget.

“The trip inspired me to strive and achieve through my studies, while enjoying my life and taking value in my surroundings,” said Tarra Brain.


Story:  Julie Maynard; Original reports and photos: Tarra Brain and Emily-Grace Nicholson-Gartley


Building a bridge from Charleville to Copenhagen and back

When Sebastian Kohli first received the application form to chaperone the six National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) delegates to the Euro Science Open Forum (ESOF) 2014 in Denmark, he really thought it a little far-fetched. What chance would he, a science teacher from Charleville State High School in south-west Queensland – a school of only 230 students – have of being selected for such an opportunity? Straight away though he reconsidered. Limiting thinking in that way can stop people from reaching their highest goals or even getting involved to start with. And isn’t that what he tries to help his students to overcome?

What better way … than to get involved myself

Sebastian knew this opportunity would give him an excellent platform from which to promote the NYSF to his students. “What better way to make this kind of involvement in the science community seem more possible, than to get involved myself?” he said.

“The prospect of travelling from a rural town of 3 000 people in outback Queensland to an international forum in Copenhagen, with 4 800 attendees, and almost 14 000 members of the public also involved with the associated Science in the City Festival, was both exciting and daunting.”

Sebastian had only formally met the six NYSF students with whom he was to spend almost three weeks, in a country he had never visited, a few hours before departure from Sydney. “In truth, the whole venture did not seem real until the very last moment despite the time I had spent preparing for my absence from school and the events ahead,” he said.

“Fortunately, they were a great group of outstanding young men who were more eager to learn, had more to gain from ESOF than any other group there, and certainly made the most of our packed time at this amazing event.”

CIMG5367 CIMG5196

ESOF is held every second year in a different European city, and NYSF offers six places to students through its International Program.   ESOF provides a platform where researchers, journalists, policy makers, and the public at large can meet and debate cutting-edge research, research policy and global challenges. The highlights of the forum were the presentations at the Opening Panel Debate, the five Plenary Lectures, and the nine Keynote Lectures selected to inspire and motivate ESOF’s diverse audience.

Sebastian, just like any other teacher, aims to bring what he learned on his trip back into his classroom. “If the stories of the outside world can be my own, if my interactions with the researchers, mathematicians and scientists are authentic, then they hold much more weight in the classroom.”

Sebastian’s key lesson to take back to Charleville is that science is happening everywhere. “The level of involvement of the citizens of Denmark and neighbouring Sweden was astounding, with the large grounds of the former Carlsberg Brewery seemingly at capacity with the influx of visitors to the program there. Through the Science in the City events held in parallel with ESOF, members of the public were able to participate in activities ranging from the capture of energy from renewable sources, and the production of beer, to the dissection of crabs, producing electronic music, and of course demonstrations involving the staples of science demonstrations; liquid nitrogen and static electricity.”

Sebastian now has to connect his school, classrooms and students to the science and mathematics of the real world. “The metaphor used throughout ESOF was Building Bridges. With bridges, the impassable is spanned, the unreachable is connected and the distant is brought near.”

Through his experiences and observations, shared with many thousands, but most closely with that small group of six NYSF students, Sebastian knows he can bring more answers, ask harder questions, and guide the inquisitive minds of his students.

Sebastian whole-heartedly thanks the staff members and director of the NYSF, Damien Pearce, for his amazing opportunity. “It has truly been a highlight of my teaching career, and will furnish me with stories and ideas for decades to come,” he said.

By Julie Maynard

Fundraising ideas to share

Fundraising for any kind of extra-curricula activity can be challenging, especially for year 12 students. Most of the NYSF students selected to participate in the 2014 NYSF International Program have undertaken a wide range of activities, including cake stalls, selling chocolates, raffles, trivia nights and bowling nights to raise money to pay for their trips.

Jordan Epstein from Sydney was selected to attend the London International Youth Science Festival this year. Fortunately, he had lots of ideas for raising money for the trip, having been an active fundraiser for many years. “I’ve done a lot of fundraising for worthy causes and charities in the past. When I was 12, I did the MS Readathon and raised $5,000. This time, though, the task was focused on my own activities.”

Seeking advice from the NYSF Alumni Facebook group, Jordan says he received incredible support. “They definitely steered me in the right direction. Contacting science-based companies and local MPs provided me with good contacts for funding requests.”

“I wrote a personal letter to the contacts, attached the media release we received from the NYSF about the international program, and offered to come to present about my trip on my return. This seemed to be viewed as a fair exchange for donations.”

Jordan also tapped into his school’s charity program, offering to organise a bowling night for an existing fundraising target, with the left-over funds donated to his own trip. “We raised $4,500 in total, with 120 people attending the bowling night. The venue cost $500 to hire, and we needed to set aside $1000 for the school charity program. We sourced raffle prizes and sold tickets at $5 or 3 for $10.” Prizes included a case of wine, and a dinner at a local restaurant – both donated by parents whose children attend Jordan’s school.

Blues signed Jersey

A silent auction focused on two big ticket items – a signed and framed 2003 Sydney Roosters’ jersey, and a signed 2014 Blues 100th game memorial jersey from the first rugby league State of Origin win for New South Wales in nine years. “This was an incredibly valuable piece of memorabilia, also donated by a parent at the school.” It sold for $1000, and the Roosters’ jersey sold for $500.

The upshot for Jordan was that $3000 from the total funds raised was directed to the London trip, with those two pieces of sporting memorabilia key to this success.

“It was a really efficient way to raise large amounts of money and I would recommend this approach to others who need to fund-raise.”


All of the students from New South Wales, including Jordan, received funding from NSW Trade & Investment in support of their trip.

level 1 master two lines

Internationally speaking

Congratulations to the NYSF 2014 students who were selected to take part in the NYSF International Program, attending science extension activities in Canada, South Africa, London, Heidelberg, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Geoff Burchfield wrote in our last newsletter about the difficulty in selecting the students who will attend these programs – the standard of applications is always so high.  We look forward to hearing about the students’ experiences in the coming months.

Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF) – 9 – 25 May 2014

Tarra Brain, NT

Riley Le Lay, NT

Emily Grace Nicholson Gartley, SA

Courteney Paton, NSW

Kenny Purohit, NSW

Shoshana Rapley, NSW


Euro-Science Open Forum (ESOF) – 17 June – 6 July 2014

Andreas Baruhas, Vic

Sam Glazebrook, NSW

Harley Gray, NSW

Aaron Murphy, Qld

Charlie New, NSW

Jake Sheath, NSW


Research Science Institute (RSI) – 21 June – 2 August 2014

Lochie Ferrier, ACT

Lachie Oberg, Qld


London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) – 20 July – 6 August 2014

Amy Behrendorff, ACT

Charlott Brew, NSW

Emily Chen, NSW

Jordan Epstein, NSW

Brody Hannan, NSW

Savannah Reali, NSW

Hannah Ryan, Vic

Bec Spillane, NSW

Ainsley Sydun, NSW

Michael Valceski, NSW


National Youth Science Week (NYSW), South Africa – 23 July – 11 August 2014

Andy Douw, Qld

Sarah Morcom, Qld

Veronica O’Mara, NSW

Lee Schultz, SA

Jake Silove, NSW

Erica Soon, NSW

Ben Webster, Qld

Karli Williamson, Vic


International Science Summer School Heidelberg (ISSSH) – 27 July – 25 August 2014

Timothy Gilchrist, NSW

Lachlan Patterson, NSW

Scott Watts, NSW


Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS) – 21 November – 22 December 2014

Matt Snell, Vic

Dechlan Victory, SA

Our thanks to NSW Trade & Investment for the funding support it is providing to the NSW students.


We also need to thank the three chaperones who are accompanying the students this year on the programs where provision of a supervisor is a program requisite:

Canada – Matt Dodds (a science teacher from Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in Tamworth, New South Wales who attended the National Science Teachers Summer School in 2014);

South Africa – Tayla McKechnie (an NYSF alumna and 2014 Chief of Staff [Session C]); and

Copenhagen – Sebastian Kohli, (a science teacher from Charleville State High School in Queensland, who also attended the National Science Teachers Summer School in 2014).

These chaperone roles are voluntary and it takes a special kind of person to give up their free or holiday time for a job like this … really!

To those people who put in the time and effort to apply for the chaperone roles, please note that we are keeping your applications on file for future opportunities as they arise.

Another international opportunity came our way recently when our colleagues at Australian Science Innovations (ASI) asked NYSF to identify two of our alumni to be part of an Australian delegation to attend the World Science Conference Israel in August 2014.  WSC Israel is initiated by Nobel Laureate Professor Roger Kornberg (USA), in collaboration with the Hebrew University, the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state of Israel.  The WSCI will bring young students from all around the world for an intensive five-day program. During the conference the participants will have a chance to attend lectures, to interact, and to be inspired by 20 Nobel Laureates and other leading scientists from around the world. The students will also experience a unique opportunity to meet and get to know some 300 bright students from around the world.

Again, identifying NYSF candidates was a difficult task; ultimately Rebecca Ainscough (2013 alumna) and Alec Pokarier (2013 alumnus and staff member 2014) are heading off to Israel, along with Shoshana Rapley (2014 alumna) who was selected by ASI to attend.  This promises to be a very unique experience, and we wish them well.


NYSF 2014 International Program: the view from the assessor’s chair.

You’d think that gaining a place in one of the January sessions was exciting enough but for 120 of this year’s NYSF students, the chance to compete for a place in our 2014 International Program obviously proved irresistible … even though winning one of the 37 coveted places might mean missing as much as six weeks of Year 12.

The NYSF has been running an International Program for 25 years now. Originally it was open only to those selected for the student-staff training program, and the trips were regarded as another opportunity for future leaders to manage challenges.

In 2010 applying for the program was opened to anyone who attended that year’s January sessions. We wanted to offer the same horizon-broadening opportunities to all NYSF students. Who wouldn’t benefit from meeting other like-minded individuals and seeing extraordinary science in places such as London, Boston, Pretoria, Vancouver, Heidelberg, and Copenhagen? Two students even get the chance to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Not surprisingly everyone wants to go, at least in principle.

So how do we select students to attend? Well, assuming there’s permission from parents and the school principal – and the latter may be the greatest hurdle for some – the would-be global travellers must answer four questions about science interests, long-range goals and life outside school, plus document their recent academic performance rounded out with teacher references. It’s quite a straight-forward process. However if we ever wondered about the diversity of interests, activities and talent of NYSF students it’s on show in spades in these applications. It’s a snapshot of a remarkable group of young Australians.

Sure, there are common threads. For example this year there was an unusually high level of interest in the big physics questions like the origin of time and space, the role of black holes, and speculation about the nature of dark matter. Nanotechnology, neuroscience, and genetics also featured, as did curing cancer, alternative energy and climate change. In their “spare time” many excelled in science competitions, played every kind of sport imaginable (some at national level) and got involved in artistic, cultural, and community events.

Mixed in with these are more home-grown pursuits clearly triggered by an event, location or influential person encountered perhaps years ago. What makes these applicants stand out is that the interests drive their hobbies as well as academic achievement. There are birdwatchers and backyard experimenters (building engines, flying drones), amateur astronomers and algorithm writers. One student uses his diving skills to pursue interests in marine ecology and fish biodiversity. Another rural student is intrigued by the concept of modifying the diet of livestock to include native shrubs that reduce methane emissions.

With so much talent on display, and I haven’t even mentioned academic excellence, we selected candidates with clearly written, strong answers to each question, taking into account school performance and references. There are never enough places to give every deserving applicant a guernsey but I think that, as in previous years, we’ve ended up with a remarkable bunch of young ambassadors to represent the NYSF abroad. Congratulations!!

However, based on the calibre of all the applications received I think it’s very appropriate to commend everyone who made the effort to apply.


Geoff Burchfield

Program Development


What happened next? NYSF Alumnus Matt Wenham

Matt Wenham has packed a lot into the years since he attended the National Youth Science Forum in 1998. Selected for a place in the NYSF International Program at the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar, three days after his final year 12 exams he found himself at the Nobel Prize ceremony. He returned as an NYSF student staff member in 1999 and was Chief of Staff in 2000.

Matt Wenham Nobel Ball 0105

A Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Adelaide set Matt up well to follow on to postgraduate work in biochemistry and genetics, and coupled with his time as a youth advocate in Adelaide, he was able to develop and consolidate a range of research and communication skills for future career roles.

Matt’s PhD at The University of Oxford looked at the cell biology of proteins involved in the function of killer T cells in blood, and provided long nights in the lab, yielding research and results that contributed to an understanding of an important part of the immune system.

Apart from the actual findings of his work, Matt says this research experience was constructive because it taught him the value of conducting thorough scientific research and he gained a real understanding of the resources that are required.

His successful selection as a Rhodes scholar to Oxford University provided exposure to a broad canvas of life, and he met students from a range of Commonwealth countries, entering a world of European history previously unconsidered. Along the way, he had also picked up a Diploma of Education, which allowed him to spend time teaching in Africa.

Matt has recently returned to Melbourne, after three years in Washington, most recently as Associate Director, Institute on Science for Global Policy, where he managed programs and staff working on emerging and persistent infectious diseases (EPID), food safety, security, and defense (FSSD), and synthetic biology. He is now a Senior Policy Adviser at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy.

Matt addressed the Rotary Dinner at Session A of the 2014 January Sessions, and his messages to the students were many and multi-faceted. But key were:

  1. If you want to study further, follow your passion not the ATAR ranking. Your motivation to succeed will come from what doing what you enjoy.
  2. Develop at least an understanding of the political process, so that you know where your work will fit in, in terms of serving the wider community.
  3. Volunteer with organisations you are interested in to develop skills you don’t have, but take care not to be exploited.
  4. Develop communications skills to a level with which you are comfortable. Scientists need to be able to tell people about their work.

Matt Wenham Session A Rotary Dinner 2014

But perhaps his most important message was emphasising the key role of science in underpinning policy development within the political context, and the importance of having policy makers who are science literate and understand the research process. “We need more scientists involved in policy development,” he says. “… people who have scientific knowledge and who understand the importance of scientific rigour.”

Are you an NYSF alumni and would like to tell us What Happened Next?  Email amanda@nysf.edu.au; we’d love to hear your story.

In the news

NYSF students and alumni hit the local news:







International Program

Applications for the 2014 International Program closed today, and already we can tell that we will be sending another high calibre group of Australian students to participate in the programs hosted by our overseas counterparts.


 Successful selection for the program will be advised by telephone or email around the middle of March.  Any inquiries please contact Sandra.meek@nysf.edu.au

From the Director

The three January sessions of the 2014 National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) are behind us, with 440 Australian and International students back at home, full of new knowledge, experiences, ideas and friendships for future study and career options within science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The highlights of this year’s January Sessions are covered within this edition of NYSF Outlook, however I would like to acknowledge the active participation of the students and our student staff members. Their engagement in the whole twelve days of the program is what makes it a success, and this year was no exception.

Our access to leading research and industrial facilities is … what helps to make the NYSF special.

It is also important to acknowledge the ongoing help from the many organisations that support the NYSF by facilitating and hosting lab and site visits , as well as other activities.  Our access to leading research and industrial facilities is often unique, and again, is what helps to make the NYSF special.

And finally, we must acknowledge the financial and logistical support of all of our Partners and Sponsors, which allows us to continue this valuable program year in and year out.

I would like to extend a particular thank you to Stuart McKelvie, Caroline Leach and Tayla McKechnie who were the Chiefs of Staff (P1) for the respective sessions. This role is pivotal to the success of each session and their efforts leading the student staff team into, and during the January NYSF sessions cannot be over stated.

A common question at this time of year is ,“When do you break out the banana lounges?”  But despite popular opinion, the NYSF Office does not go into hibernation in February. Currently we are planning the Rotary District Chairs Conference where we brief our Rotary partners on the program and its latest developments and hear first hand about their members’ experiences of the program; and we are evaluating the 2014 January Sessions; we are planning for the Next Step Programs which run in school holidays through from March to July; and the Student Staff Leadership Workshop, which will be delivered before the end of July.

Additionally we are also in full swing with the organisation and selection of students for the International Program; and preliminary planning is underway for the 2015 NYSF and the National Science Teachers Summer School (NSTSS).

So while the 2014 January Sessions are behind us, we’re always planning for the next cohort of young people to come and take part in the National Youth Science Forum and show them things they’ve never considered.

Damien Pearce


NYSF International Programs open up opportunities

In June this year eight National Youth Science Forum students travelled to South Africa to attend the National Science Olympiad Focus Week and spend two unforgettable weeks traveling around the south of Africa.

 Central … was the interaction by the NYSF students with such a diverse group of like-minded students from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Before heading to the Focus Week, the students stopped off in Cape Town, including a visit to the infamous Robben Island in what one of the students, Ashly Vu, described as, “a particularly sombre experience”. There was “a strange feeling of serenity on the island that has witnessed so much pain and hardship.” After visiting a local township and taking in the majestic views from Table Mountain, the students were excited to fly on to Johannesburg for the Focus Week.

The National Science Olympiad Focus Week is held for the top 100 science students from over 30,000 participants from across Africa who took the Science Olympiad exam.  Like NYSF, it aims to introduce the students to how much they can achieve in a career in science. Eight Australian NYSF students took part in the event.

During the week the students attended lectures by world-class scientists, visited various cutting edge research laboratories and industry workplaces and had the chance to speak to mentors in a wide variety of scientific fields. Ashly particularly enjoyed visiting the Cullinan Diamond Mine and debating the ethics about how science is applied at Denel Dynamics, a company that produces defence equipment. Another student, Lauren Booth, enjoyed visiting the Nuclear Energy Corporation and the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Sth AFrica 2 2013 Ashly Vu C

Central to the experience of the Focus Week was the interaction by the NYSF students with such a diverse group of like-minded students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Along with the official activities the students played cards, baked cakes and successfully introduced Tim-Tams to their newfound friends. Although the Tim-Tams were a big hit Vegemite definitely did not go down so well!

Salt Pans Sth Africa Ashly Vu C

Before heading home after the Focus Week, the students experienced a ten-day safari through the wilds of South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.  They watched magnificent sunrises from the backs of elephants, saw lion cubs feeding, a rare white lion and even two rhinos. Along with visiting a wildlife rehabilitation centre, participating in traditional meals and dances, and a night-time cruise along the Zambezi River, Lauren said, “a personal highlight was watching a spectacular sunset from the Botswana salt pans and eating braai under a starry night sky.”

“It was truly a life-changing experience,” said Lauren, “that opened my eyes to the beauty of Africa and intensified my passion for science and my interest in pursuing a rewarding career in this area.” Ashly perhaps summed it up best by saying she’d “taken enough photos and videos to fill 40GB of an SD card and enough memories to last a lifetime.”

Story by Max Rintoul, based on report from Ashly Vu