From the CEO

The National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) 2017 January Sessions are now behind us and the 400 Australian and international students who participated have returned home to commence their final year in high school, full of new knowledge, inspiration and friendships to carry them forward during this pivotal time in their lives.

Both Session A and C were extremely successful and a testament to the extensive dedication and support we received from so many people who support our programs.  In particular, I would like to thank our Chiefs of Staff, Meg Lowry (Session A) and Martin de Rooy (Session C), and our teams of student staff leaders, whose efforts were instrumental to the success of program this year.

I would also like to recognise contributions by the NYSF Corporate staff, our volunteer Rotary parents, aunts and uncles, members of Rotary Clubs across Australia, Burgmann College, The Australian National University (ANU), our communications and teacher program interns, our many distinguished guest speakers and particularly our lab visit hosts, who provided access to leading research and industrial facilities. I encourage you to read back through the NYSF Outlook site to learn about some of the highlights from session.

Finally, the NYSF program could not exist without the financial and logistical support of our Partners and Sponsors. I thank them for their contributions during January and their continued support of the organisation and its programs.

Running in conjunction with the year 12 program in January was the NYSF National Science Teachers Summer School (NSTSS) – aimed at supporting teachers and their commitment to STEM education in their local communities. A group of 40 teachers from around Australia participated in this long-running professional development program. Teachers were exposed to cutting edge science via lab visits, workshops, and lectures as well as engaging and networking with their peers.

Exciting times are ahead for the NYSF as we continue to develop and grow the organisation. In January, our Chair, Andrew Metcalfe AO, announced the addition of a third January session (Session B) for NYSF 2018 hosted at The University of Queensland (UQ), providing an extra 200 places – 600 students in total at the ANU and UQ.  This is made possible through funding from the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). The extra places will give more students across Australia the opportunity to explore their study and career options in the STEM fields. This is evidence of the value of our year 12 program and its positive effect on students studying STEM subjects.

Although January is over, the NYSF engine room is still running hot with much planned for the remainder of 2017 and beyond. Applications for NSYF International Programs have opened with overwhelming interest.  March is looking busy – applications for NYSF 2018 will open on 1 March and will be accepted until 31 May. The Rotary District Chairs Conference will be held in Canberra, and our alumni will be out and about promoting STEM study and the NYSF at the World Science Festival in Brisbane. Our Next Step Programs for NYSF 2017 students will run throughout April to July in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, with alumni events co-hosted by IP Australia. The Student Staff Leadership Program kicks off in July and another first for the NYSF is our exciting pilot program, STEM Explorer, which will run for the in Adelaide in July 2017.  The STEM Explorer Program is a collaborative initiative between the South Australian Department of Education (DED) and the NYSF, targeting science engagement for school students in years 7 and 8. We also acknowledge the seed funding we received to develop this program from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

In other news, we also announced in January that Professor Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia, has taken on the role of NYSF Science Patron.  Professor Monro, a NYSF alumna (1990), was Chair of the NSSS Board from 2014-2016.  We are delighted that Professor Monro will continue her involvement with the organisation. We have also welcomed Professor Sally-Ann Poulsen and Loren Atkins to the NSSS Board. Professor Poulsen is also a NYSF alumna (1986) and will bring with her a wealth of knowledge and experience in industry and academica.  Loren Atkins (NYSF alumna 2005), the new NYSF alumni representative, holds a Bachelor of Law (Hons), and a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Environmental Science, and currently works for the World Bank as an Associate Counsel.

By now, our NYSF 2016 alumni will have made decisions about the next stage of their education.  Whatever field of study or institution you have decided upon I would like to wish you all the best for your future studies and hope that in some small way the NYSF has helped steer you on your path.

Dr Damien Pearce

CEO

The Right Chemistry — Professor Richard Payne at NYSF 2017 Session A Science Dinner

Richard Payne’s story of his journey from small-town New Zealand, via the Universities of Canterbury, Cambridge and Sydney, to receiving the Australian Prime Minister’s 2016 The Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, resonated with the NYSF 2017 Session A audience where he was the guest speaker at the Science Dinner.

Professor Payne’s talk was well received not just because his work is world-leading and significant, but mainly because his story was one of perseverance, being in the right-place, right-time, hard work, and a commitment to excellence. From his days working as a trolley pusher while at university, to managing his own research lab and commercialising new drug candidates, Professor Payne entertained the audience, while also providing sound advice about being focused on where you want to go, and being pragmatic when it comes to funding research.

Isabel from Canberra said, “Professor Richard Payne was my personal favourite speaker at the NYSF.  He spoke about his research into antimicrobial resistant superbugs (in particular tuberculosis) which I found really interesting. Having lived in South Korea for two years, where I first learnt about TB, Professor Payne’s talk really resonated with me personally.”

Louis from Sydney also enjoyed Professor Payne’s address. “He enlightened us all on his life journey into scientific research and his ground-breaking research in biochemistry; he has really inspired me to study this field.”

Marilee from South Australia, said, “The most memorable speech at the NYSF was from Professor Richard Payne at the Science Dinner. His achievements at such a young age really inspire and amaze me, with his focus on tuberculosis and superbugs was extremely engaging and educational.”

The generosity of keynote speakers who share their insights and knowledge is a valuable element of the NYSF Science Dinners, and the participants at NYSF 2017 Session A were not disappointed.

Learn more about Professor Payne’s work — sydney.edu.au/science/people/richard.payne.phpwww.scienceinpublic.com.au/prime-ministers-prize/2016physical

Generation Beyond — Lockheed Martin’s STEM Program on Display at Avalon Airshow, Victoria

The first person to visit Mars is in school today. Will it be you?

In an Australian first, NYSF’s major partner Lockheed Martin is bringing its Generation Beyond STEM display to the Avalon Airshow in Victoria next month.

Generation Beyond is an educational program designed to inspire the next generation of innovators, explorers, inventors and pioneers to pursue STEM careers.

With a number of fun and interesting interactive displays, Generation Beyond will take visitors on a journey from today, into the future and beyond and will feature the F-35, the Orion spacecraft and Mars exploration.

Generation Beyond will be open to the public on the weekend of March 4 and 5 at Avalon.

IP Australia at the NYSF

After signing on as a major funding partner for the first time in 2016, IP Australia was actively involved in the program for the NYSF 2017 January Sessions. In both Session A & C, IP Australia ran lab visits for the students, introducing them to the world of intellectual property, patents, trademarking and more.

The site visit included a number of activities, starting with an explanation of intellectual property and why it is so important. As an interactive activity the students were each given a KeepCup and asked to think about the design of the product that made it unique, with relation to Intellectual Property rights.

The students had the opportunity to speak with a number of IP Australia Patent Examiners over afternoon tea to discover more on the work they do there. Finally, to finish off the session, the students heard from an entrepreneur about their experience applying for Intellectual Property rights and protecting their inventions.

For many of the NYSF participants this was an aspect of STEM that they had not considered, but realised just how important it could be to their future careers and endeavours. It also showed them another area where they could potentially use their STEM skills in the future, with IP Australia employing hundreds of scientists, engineers and other professionals, all around the country.

“I enjoyed the light this visit shed on careers I had not previously considered, it offered me a fresh perspective on job opportunities in a work environment that I found appealing,” said Jack Roussos (Session A 2017) from NSW.

Representatives from IP Australia also attended the Opening Ceremony at Parliament House, the Science Dinners, and both of the Partners’ Day events where they presented to all of the students, had a stall at the expo and involved a number of IP Australia staff in the Speed-date-a-Scientist session. You can read more about IP Australia’s involvement in the NYSF here in their own coverage of the events.

Matt Lee (Right) from IP Australia at the Session A NYSF Science Dinner

Summer Science Satisfaction for Teachers at NYSF NSTSS

Forty teachers of high school science from around Australia made the most of their own week-long excursion to Canberra in January to re-connect with their inner “nerd” and work out why they were inspired to teach science in the first place.

Participating in the NYSF National Science Teachers Summer School (NSTSS) offered science teachers with an exciting opportunity to visit a wide range of science and education destinations in and around the Canberra region over the five-day program held each January. Visits included the Canberra Deep Space Complex at Tidbinbilla, the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory, CSIRO Black Mountain, Geoscience Australia and other ANU Science facilities. They took part in a variety of hands-on activities that helped them to connect with science in a meaningful way, and also reviewed and shared resources that they could be applied in the classroom.

The NYSF’s NSTSS focuses on scientific engagement rather than exploring pedagogical practice – although no-one can stop teachers talking shop!

NYSF CEO, Dr Damien Pearce explains, “The purpose of the NYSF’s NSTSS is to maintain the spark, or in some cases re-spark, that passion for science that science teachers have when they start their careers. In contrast to other professional development opportunities for teachers, we come from the position that all those who come to the program are great teachers. What we aim to do is show them the latest technologies and discoveries, so they can return to the classroom and share their excitement with their students.”

Another key part of the NYSF NSTSS program is networking. While teachers are able to meet a variety of scientists and researchers during their time in Canberra, they also make meaningful connections with one other.


Long after everyone has gone home, the teachers are continuing to share ideas, experiences and resources. Cornelia Cefai, from Victoria says, “I met almost 40 other teachers searching for something similar at the NSTSS. We learned so much that was awe-inspiring from the researchers involved in the program, but we also gained a wealth of information from each other, such as how to run a fun science class on a budget, or novel ways to deliver the curriculum. Attending definitely reinvigorated my love for and faith in science.”

From practising synthesis and titration skills at the ANU Research School of Chemistry, to feeling the earth move at the Research School of Earth Science, and understanding how – at Geoscience Australia (including the intricacies of the SHRIMP!), the NYSF’s NSTSS continues to meet its goal of engaging teachers of science in the equation of STEM engagement.

NYSF’s NSTSS will run in two locations in 2018 — at The Australian National University and at The University of Queensland. To register your interest for the 2018 program, email nysf@nysf.edu.au

NYSF Updating Amgen Australia

In January, NYSF’s CEO, Dr Damien Pearce, and four NYSF alumni presented to the annual Amgen Australia kick-off event in Sydney.

The Amgen Foundation, the US biotech company’s philanthropic arm, had provided funding to the NYSF in 2016. The presentation was designed to inform the Australian-based staff about the NYSF activities, especially the flagship Year 12 program, and the benefits for the young Australians who attend.

The four alumni — Dr Peter Vella, Anneke Knol, Amanda Ling and Vehajana Janu — all spoke passionately about their NYSF experiences, offering a range of insights about what the Year 12 program covers, their individual experiences, the opportunities that arose from attending, and their subsequent career choices.

Dr Peter Vella, who attended the NYSF in 2003, is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Structural Biology Division at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Peter studied for his Bachelor of Science and PhD at The University of Queensland, graduating in 2012.

“My work involves discovering new drugs for antibiotic-resistant bugs – to put it simply! So I was really pleased I could participate in this briefing at Amgen. It is good to see private companies being involved in supporting the NYSF, as young people need to know that there are science careers outside of academia. Attending the event with Damien was very interesting. As well as sharing my own experience about the impact of the NYSF, various Amgen staff came to chat with me about their backgrounds, which covered a variety of roles including medical researchers, managers of medical and regulatory compliance.”

Anneke Knol (NYSF 2011) studied Advanced Science (Hons) at The Australian National University, and is currently a Technology Graduate at Westpac Group. “Having the opportunity to talk directly to people in business about the NYSF and its impact was very powerful, and we were very well received by the people at Amgen. Many of them had studied science in the past and were quite passionate about its importance. It was also an opportunity to share stories about the value of a science degree more broadly.”

The NYSF is grateful to Amgen for this opportunity to engage directly with their staff to illustrate the benefits of the Year 12 program and acknowledge the support provided through the Amgen Foundation.

Let’s Hear it for the Communications Interns at NYSF 2017!

Every year, the NYSF offers places for alumni to return as volunteer Communications Interns. The role is fairly wide-ranging – to attend various program activities, and report on what occurs during the NYSF, filing stories for the NYSF Outlook blog.

Our NYSF 2017 interns provided an overview of their experience in January:

Jackson Nexhip

Returning to the NYSF triggered some strange emotions; something akin to returning home.

On the surface it seemed as though it should have been an entirely different experience; I was a few years older, I was in Canberra this time rather than Perth, and was returning somewhat as staff rather than student. But despite the differences, the NYSF spirit was alive and well.

You learn so much at the NYSF that you can almost feel your mind expanding. Just like in 2013, the presentations and institution visits were of an extremely high calibre – it was humbling and inspiring to be so out of my depth in so many different fields.

The intellectual side was great, but I think the best part was the opportunity to hang around with and get to know the NYSF 2017 students. I think that as the years go on you lose sense of the impact the NYSF can have, and having the chance to chat and get to know the students brought back all kinds of nostalgia.

I really admired the energy, curiosity, and sheer determination of some of the students, and it left me feeling somewhat inspired to go and do bigger things in my own life. It’s a huge privilege to meet these young scientists and future leaders, and I look forward to seeing them do all kinds of crazy things as the years roll on.

The media intern position is a sweet gig, and I’d highly recommend it for any students with an interest in writing and/or science communication (I don’t think I need mention the longing to return to the NYSF). The media team are very supportive, you’ll have a lot of fun, and you’ll learn a lot.

Daniel Lawson

“Writing about the NYSF experience was an amazing opportunity and I’d definitely recommend it to any NYSF alumni interested in science communication and science education. Most of all, attending the NYSF 2017 as a communications intern confirmed my confidence in the future of Australian science. To see 200 young scientists build lifelong friendships reminded me of my own session, and I realised that although the names and faces had changed, the students’ attitudes and passion for science had remained just as strong.

Being a communications intern also gave me a unique perspective on the NYSF, as I was able to chat with students and academics about their interests and goals in science, I was also able to observe how being there changed the students. When you attend the NYSF, the experiences and moments you share with 200 other passionate science students changes you. Personally, I didn’t realise this until my local Rotary club of Murgon mentioned how much more confident I was after attending the NYSF. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to witness these transformations in students at the NYSF 2017 as they grew into (more) confident young scientists.

Megan Stegeman

The NYSF science communications internship was an amazing two weeks. Being back at the NYSF was exciting enough, but witnessing how it is organised, and the amazing work that went on behind the scenes, gave a real appreciation for my own session.

My own NYSF experience meant that I understood and knew what to expect in the program, which I think is an advantage when trying to work in such an exciting and (as all alumni remember) unique environment. The work was fun, going to lab sessions and lectures and writing them up, and the environment was supportive and friendly. I was encouraged to take lots of photos, and especially to develop my own style of writing, which I’m sure is not common across all internships.

Watching the participants learn new things, and witnessing some of them in their first professional labs was rewarding in itself. I saw students in a pathology lab use the mechanical pipette for the first time, and it occurred to me that that participant could go on to be a great scientist, and it was here that they got their first lessons.

I would recommend this internship to anyone and everyone, I think it’s an amazing opportunity, that I hope others will realise and take advantage of as well.

Veronica O’Mara

Coming back to the NYSF as a Communications Intern in January 2017 was a wonderful experience. It was incredibly useful hearing similar things to what I heard three years ago but without the HSC looming over my head. Coming back reaffirmed my decision to study science and major in genetics and molecular biology and made me much more sure of my choices and of myself.

My favourite event on session was the Science Dinner with Professor Emma Johnston’s address. It was incredibly encouraging as a woman studying in STEM and definitely demonstrated to me that many people such as Professor Johnston who have achieved incredible things and are doing so well in their chosen field still have doubted their ability in themselves. I think this was definitely something that also resonated with the participants, leaving them with an important message, “To believe in those who believe in you,” when you are doubting yourself.

Being an NYSF Communications Intern provided us with a unique opportunity to experience the NYSF again as well as to gain some valuable skills in science communication. It was wonderful to be given a lot of freedom in our writing styles and what and how we wanted to record the session.

It gave me a chance to develop my communication skills which is extremely important in any career in STEM. Without good communication skills, there is little point in research. You have to be able to effectively communicate your ideas to others in an accessible way.

My experience at the NYSF this year has definitely shown me that studying a science degree was the right path and reaffirmed my goal of completing a PhD in medical research, but has also opened up more possibilities in science communication and outreach.

If you are an NYSF alumni and would like to register your interest in returning to the NYSF in 2018, where there will be six positions on offer, email communications@nysf.edu.au

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