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.

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

NYSF 2017 visits University of Canberra Health Sciences

The NYSF 2017 Health and Medical Science groups Blackburn and Doherty visited the University of Canberra learning what it would be like studying nursing, pharmacy, or radiology.

First was a visit to the Nursing Laboratory. Here the workshop focused on the heart. The participants tested each other’s heart rates, learned how to use a stethoscope and measured the oxygen saturation of the blood using a pulse oximeter. After learning the basics, the participants devised a care plan for patients who had tachycardia, brachycardia, a fatal cardiac arrhythmia or asystole after looking at their ECG results.

Yes, you are alive!

Next – to the radiology department where the participants learned about X-rays including how they are produced, how they differ from other forms of radiation, and how the image is taken. Then they looked at a series of patient X-rays that included images of coins, sharp objects and broken bones, learning that multiple images need to be taken to know the positioning of an object inside the body as only 2D images are produced. They then tried to identify everyday objects which proved much more difficult than expected!

Participants try to identify 25 everyday objects hidden in a shoebox

The next workshop was very hands on with the participants exploring the pharmacy lab. Here they tested the dissolution rates of various analgesics and learned how this relates to how quickly the drugs are absorbed in the body as well as preparing a menthol cream to take home.

Participants test the dissolution times of paracetamol and aspirin

The visit was thoroughly enjoyed by all the participants, Hugh Churchill said he “really enjoyed the hands on experience in the pharmaceuticals lab. It gave us an insight into the different areas of pharmacy.”

Participants make a menthol cream

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

Advocacy, Activism, Academia.

In an intriguing and captivating lecture to the NYSF 2017, Associate Professor David Caldicott explored the politics of science, the rise of anti-science and some of the challenges that the world faces. Dr Caldicott is an Emergency Consultant at Calvary Hospital in Canberra, an Associate Professor at the University of Canberra, and a Clinical Senior Lecturer at the ANU Faculty of Medicine.

Dr Caldicott speaks to students

The presentation was enjoyed by all

Dr Caldicott is well known for his stance on the legalisation of medicinal cannabis and combating drug use through education and pill testing. He stressed to the participants his view that drug use should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. His research has shown that people are less likely to use drugs if they know the actual composition, reinforcing the evidence which routinely shows the best way to change behaviours is through science rather than morality.

Using his experience and knowledge, Dr Caldicott used this to emphasise the importance in being involved in politics as an advocate for the accurate representation of science, giving the participants advice for surviving in a world where even the truth is present. He concluded his presentation with a few important reminders for the participants as they finish their high school studies and head out into the world.

Be true to yourselves, your beliefs and what you stand for

“Be true to yourselves, your beliefs and what you stand for. Live in the intersections, talking to people in other disciplines.” He emphasised the importance of being a good communicator.

The presentation was thoroughly enjoyed by the participants with Dr Caldicott’s advice and humour engaging the students well. One participant, Adele enjoyed the lecture as it appealed to everyone no matter their interest area.

“The lecture was good whether you were coming from a health, physics or chemistry background as it was really relevant to everyone. This coupled with David’s presentation skills really got you interested and excited not only about the specific issue of drugs but the wider themes he was talking about like politics in science.”

Thankyou David for sharing your experience and for making an advocate out of all of us!


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

NYSF 2017 Session C: Welcome lecture

NYSF 2017 Session C started off with a visit to the Australian Academy of Science at the Shine Dome. In this iconic building, the participants were intrigued by the words of the Chief Executive of the Australian Academy of Science, Dr Anna-Maria Arabia and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation, at the University of South Australia, Professor Tanya Monro.

A common theme in both Dr Arabia and Professor Monro’s presentations were the importance of gender equity in STEM careers and the role that all of the participants have in ensuring equal opportunity for men and women.

Dr Arabia’s welcome emphasised the importance of thinking about science in a broad sense and not to limit your options by being fixated on one particular career path.

“Think about your passion for science and technology in the broadest way possible, and be open to the many career paths that may be open to you … be driven by your curiosity of the world.”

Furthermore, she highlighted the importance of being a ‘thinker’ stressing that scientific enquiry has “little to do with what you think, but how you think”.

Dr Anna-Maria Arabia

Following Dr Arabia’s welcome, the participants were addressed by Professor Tanya Monro. Throughout her presentation she focussed on her area of specialisation, photonics, as well as explaining the pathways she took in achieving her goals.

Professor Tanya Monro addressing participants

Professor Monro was a NYSF alumna, attending the National Science Summer School as it was, in January 1990. She credits the program as her “first chance to absorb science beyond the classroom”.

She told the NYSF 2017 cohort that while at school, she planned on studying astrophysics, however as she was exposed to new fields in science she found that her interest was elsewhere. Throughout her career she has completed a PhD at the University of Sydney, undertook a fellowship at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of South Hampton and was the Director of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) from 2008 to 2014 and was also the inaugural Director for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), both at the University of Adelaide. Further information about her career can be found here.

Professor Monro concluded her talk with some advice for the participants to use throughout their studies, career and life underlining the importance of having “passion, persistence and patience”.


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

Paleoanthropologist Dr Rachel Wood speaks about human development research

This year, NYSF 2017 participants were able to attend one of three specialist lectures which catered to their personal interests in STEM. Students with an interest in anthropology and biology attended a lecture presented by Dr Rachel Wood. Dr Wood completed her master’s degree in archaeological science at the University of Oxford, she then worked at the Salisbury Museum before returning to Oxford to complete a PhD in radiocarbon dating. In 2011 Dr Wood moved to the ANU as part of a research offer, before joining the ANU as a post-doctoral fellow in 2015.

Dr Rachel Wood is a paleoanthropologist, which is the study of the formation and development of characteristics possessed by modern humans. “It’s time to solve old mysteries,” said Dr Wood. She is dedicated to studying the dispersal of humans and the last Neanderthals. Palaeoanthropology is a mixing pot that combines nuclear physics, engineering, anthropology, chemistry and biology into one discipline, which means that palaeoanthropology projects require a team of scientists with a diverse range of skills.

“It’s time to solve old mysteries.”

Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthals) originated in Eurasia approximately 300,000 years ago, Dr Wood explained, and Homo Sapiens originated in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago. “Neanderthals aren’t brutes, they weren’t savages,” Dr Wood said in regards to the common portrayal of Neanderthals. Dr Wood explained that genetic research showed that modern humans and Neanderthals interbreeded, and that approximately 2% of the DNA of modern humans comes directly from Neanderthals.

Dr Rachel Wood speaking about biological samples from Neanderthals

There are many methods of dating archaeological samples, but radiocarbon dating is the most accepted. Carbon isotopes with six (12C) or seven (13C) neutrons are stable, that is, they don’t decay into any other atom. The carbon isotope with eight neutrons (14C) decays slowly, at a rate such that after 5,730 years, half of the carbon would have turned into nitrogen. Therefore, by measuring the amount of 14C in bone samples, paleoanthropologists can accurately determine the age of the samples. Due to the timescale of 14C decay, radiocarbon dating only works reliably for samples that are less than 50,000 years old.

Dr Wood focuses on cleaning and pretreating samples before they are dated. “Contamination often causes older samples to appear erroneously young,” Dr Wood explained, which is why effective management of samples prior to radiocarbon dating is imperative.

Spain is an area of interest for Dr Wood, because it is a region where modern humans and Neanderthals appeared to live next door to each other approximately forty to fifty thousand years ago. Detailed investigations have determined that there was likely an overlap period of 2500 to 4600 years where modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted in the region.

To find out more about Dr Rachel Wood and her research, click here.

By Daniel Lawson, NYSF 2017 Session A Communications Intern and NYSF 2015 Alumnus.

Welcome to the Family: NYSF 2017 Session C Volunteers

At each session of the NYSF, we welcome a series of amazing volunteers who are there for participant and student staff wellbeing and support. For 2017 Session C we welcome our Rotary Aunts and Uncles, Sandra Quintemeyer, Stephen Porter, Sue Neale, Brendan Stevenson and Vera Liondas. Furthermore, their sharing of their experiences about involvement in the program provides an opportunity for Rotary to learn more about the NYSF, with their support critical to the program’s success.

L to R: Rotary Volunteers: Sue, Vera, Stephen, Brendan and Sandra.

Sandra comes from Townsville, Queensland and has previously been on the Rotary selection panel for the NYSF in her area. She is now retired but has worked in teaching vocational training and hospitality. For Sandra, this is a great opportunity to report back to her club on the work that the NYSF does and encourage continued involvement and support for students wanting to attend the NYSF in the future.

Stephen is from Hobart in Tasmania and is a long-time member of Rotary, with his club supporting the NYSF for a number of years. He is looking forward to learning more about the program and is particularly interested in seeing science in action through the lab visits and lectures.

Sue is from Echuca in Victoria and works as a Chemistry and Mathematics high school teacher. Her keen interest in science and a desire to further promote the program in her own school prompted her to volunteer. She is looking forward to learning more about the NYSF and what students who have attended in the past have experienced.

Brendan has just finished his Bachelor of Science at Monash University in Melbourne, majoring in Biochemistry and Pharmacology. Next year he will be at The University of Melbourne doing his Honours in Biochemistry and then plans to go onto further postgraduate study. He has been active in Rotary’s community work since he was 16. He is most looking forward to the science visits, experiencing ANU and says he is excited to see the change in the students at the end of the program as they come out of their shells.

Vera is from the Rotary club of Holtoid in Sydney and has been involved with the NYSF over the last 3 years, being on the interview panel for her district. She is now retired but has worked as a science teacher at TAFE and is looking forward to seeing “if science has changed in half a century!”

Thank you to Sandra, Stephen, Sue, Vera and Brendan for your assistance over the next 2 weeks and the role that Rotary plays in the ongoing support of the NYSF.

Now let’s begin NYSF 2017 Session C and let the science begin!


Written by NYSF 2017 Session C Communications Interns and NYSF 2014 alumni, Veronica O’Mara and Megan Stegeman.

Professor Brian Schmidt on a life in science … and the future of the universe: NYSF2017

NYSF 2017 Session A students were treated to a lecture presented by Professor Brian Schmidt, Nobel Laureate and now Vice-Chancellor of The Australian National University.

Along with Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter, Professor Schmidt was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for his role in the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt (Source: http://theconversation.com/australian-astrophysicist-wins-nobel-prize-3707)

Professor Schmidt’s work has revolutionised the way we think about our universe, but the building blocks for his research were established over a hundred years ago when Einstein watched a man fall from a roof. From this, Einstein postulated the theory of general relativity, which brought him into the public eye.

It’s important to understand the past to know our future. If the gravitational forces in the universe became more powerful than its expansion, the universe would contract into an event that Professor Schmidt referred to as the ‘gnaB giB’, which is the Big Bang backwards. Professor Schmidt was determined to figure out the fate of our universe, so in 1994 he formed the High-Z team.

Picture of the High-Z team, who discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe (Source: https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/supernova/highz/members.html)

The search then began. “I had two things, unbridled enthusiasm and 100% of my time. That’s something you all have, it’s how the world goes round,” Professor Schmidt said to the Session A cohort. The High-Z team discovered that distant supernova were moving away from us more slowly than closer supernova. This was the opposite of what the High-Z team was expecting to find, so they started to doubt their method.

“I had two things, unbridled enthusiasm and 100% of my time. That’s something you all have, it’s how the world goes round.”

“Sometimes in science, the accepted idea of what the universe or world is doing is wrong. Proving this idea wrong is how science advances,” Professor Schmidt says. The team’s results were indeed correct, and were corroborated by the results of Saul Perlmutter’s team at the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Schmidt’s presentation to the NYSF then transitioned into a discussion of the unknown, in particular the fate and composition of our universe. Only 4.9% of the universe consists of matter made from atoms, the other 95.1% is a composition of dark matter and dark energy. We know that dark matter has to exist, but we don’t know what it is, “I fear I may die, not knowing what’s there,” Professor Schmidt said in reference to dark matter. “The universe is approximately 25% dark matter and 70% dark energy. These numbers have predicted, in advance, every single calculation we’ve made on our universe,” Professor Schmidt said.

As the universe expands, the density of conventional matter decreases, whereas the pushing force of dark energy only grows stronger over time. “Dark energy has won the battle for the universe,” Professor Schmidt explained. That is, the universe is likely to continue expanding at an accelerating rate until the eventual heat death of the universe.

Students of the session A cohort were captivated by Professor Schmidt’s presentation (image Jackson Nexhip)

Professor Schmidt concluded his presentation by providing some pertinent advice for the Session A cohort. “Ask yourself, after every year, is this where I want to be?” Professor Schmidt said, emphasising the importance of being happy with your work, career, and life.

“It’s not the really big things that matter the most. It’s the little things that add up which make you happy.”

To also succeed as a scientist, Professor Schmidt emphasised that it is more important that you are happy. In response to a question regarding how he felt receiving his Nobel Prize, Professor Schmidt said, “It was a day, but it was just that, a day. It’s not the really big things that matter the most in life. It’s the little things that add up which make you happy.”

By Daniel Lawson, NYSF 2017 Session A Communications Intern and NYSF 2015 Alumnus.

NYSF 2017 Session A: This is CERN calling – come in Canberra

One of the unique experiences of the NYSF program is a live video conference with Dr Rolf Landua, the head of the CERN education outreach group. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), is a research organisation that employs 13,000 scientists, engineers and IT specialists. They also operate the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. Students were able to ask Dr Landua questions about CERN, particle physics, and his general advice for those interested in pursuing STEM careers.

Live Video Conference with Dr Rolf Landua

The Session A conference  began with a presentation from Aqeel Akber, a PhD candidate at the Australian National University’s department of nuclear science. Aqeel’s PhD research focuses on nuclear structures, in particular the structure of heavy ions. He has always looked at the world with a scientific eye, pondering the underlying physics. “Physics is absolutely a part of my identity,” he says.

Aqeel’s presentation personified particles, making particle physics more accessible for students who had limited background knowledge on the subject. “Particles are the fundamental requisite for [understanding] the greater,” he says, but he emphasised that it’s important to remember that particle physics is “not yet a theory of everything,” and that more research is required.

“Particles are the fundamental requisite for the greater.”

This is where CERN excels, with their 27 kilometre long circuit of superconductive magnets, they are able to accelerate protons to 99.9999991% the speed of light. You may have heard of the LHC through CERN’s observation of the Higgs boson in 2013. A beam in the LHC consists of around 300 trillion protons, which may sound like a lot, but if these protons were stationary they’d only weigh a billionth of a gram. Due to their immense velocity, a beam of protons in the LHC is more energetic than a million speeding bullets. When two beams collide, scientists are given a brief opportunity to gaze upon the fundamental building blocks of our universe.

At 8:00PM in Canberra, or 10:00AM in Geneva, two hundred excited students were met by Dr Rolf Landua through Skype. Dr Landua has been working at CERN for 35 years, initially working on antimatter but more recently focusing on education outreach.

“We all work together in a constructive way, it’s a really nice place to be. It’s what the world should be like in a hundred years.”

When asked about what it’s like to be part of such a dynamic organisation, Dr Landua said he was “really impressed by the diversity. For every question relevant to your research, you find someone who is an expert in it. We all work together in a constructive way, it’s a really nice place to be. It’s what the world should be like in a hundred years.”

Students and teachers lining up to ask Dr Landua a question, while the rest of the Session A cohort watches on

Dr Landua believes that effective communication of science to taxpayers is of paramount importance. “They pay for our research, they’re basically our employers,” he stated.  A common question, Dr Landua says, is “what is particle physics good for?” Dr Landua and a large number of scientists are committed to researching particle physics to satisfy their innate curiosity, but the technological advances that have been made possible by their research are immense. The World Wide Web, Wi-Fi, and digital photography are all physical manifestations of man’s endeavour to satisfy our curiosity.

Find out more about Dr Rolf Landua’s previous research here

By Daniel Lawson, NYSF 2017 Session A Communications Intern and NYSF 2015 Alumnus.