Next Step … Perth hosted at Water Corporation

Water Corporation hosted students at Perth Next Step 2013

Water Corporation hosted students at              Perth Next Step 2013

Water Corporation (Western Australia)  again hosted a session of the NYSF Next Step program in Perth in July.

Human Resources Manager Jenny Thornton welcomed the group of 15 students and shared her own career journey. Her best advice? Always keep an open mind and seize the opportunities that come your way.

Water Corporation graduates in Civil, Electrical, Mechanical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, and Chemistry all talked with the students on the day. They shared what attracted them to their field of study, what a typical day of work is like and what they enjoy most about what they do.

Graduate Electrical engineer, Eirene Conocono explained the complexity of her field of work and the safety requirements that needed to be followed.

Environmental Engineer Cheng Zhu was able to take the students for a tour of the Operations Centre as part of the visit, showing them the breadth of Water Corporation’s activities.

Besides being a positive learning experience for the visiting students, the graduates were pleased that they could share their experiences and encourage the young visitors to study and work towards a meaningful career.

The long read — Alumnus feature — Professor Michelle Coote, ANU

Professor Michelle Coote, FRSC, ARC Future Fellow, Research School of Chemistry, Australian National University

1990 NYSF Alumnus

Michelle Coote attended the NYSF (then called National Science Summer School (NSSS)) in January 1990.

“I had always had an interest in science and particularly astronomy, and was in the Galileo group at the NYSF. The NYSF experience convinced me to try a career in science but when it came time to choose a university course, industrial chemistry won out over astronomy as it offered good employment prospects and an attractive scholarship.”

Studying at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Michelle spent 15 months working in the chemical industry, which was a valuable experience. “But it made me realise that my real interest was in a career in pure chemical research. So, I went back to university and ended up graduating in 1995 with the university medal.”

After that, Michelle enrolled in a PhD in polymer chemistry at UNSW where she used a combination of theory and experiment to tackle a long-standing question in copolymerization kinetics. Copolymers are polymers of two or more different types of chemical building blocks (known as monomers). Copolymers are very common as they allow favourable properties of different types of plastics to be combined in the same material. The improved models developed by Michelle can be used to tailor the compositions and microstructures of copolymers, and hence their properties, by changes to the reaction conditions.

Her thesis was awarded the Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s Cornforth medal for the best PhD thesis in chemistry in Australia and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry prize for the best five (5) theses in chemistry worldwide. This helped to open up opportunities for further research positions.

A post-doctoral position at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom led to research running experiments on beam-lines at big facilities – such as the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in Oxfordshire. But after a couple of years, she decided to change fields and study quantum chemistry instead. Michelle moved back to Australia and took up an Australian Research Council (ARC) postdoctoral fellowship at the Australian National University (ANU), to learn computational quantum chemistry from one of the greats of the field, Professor Leo Radom.

Late in 2004, Michelle was given the opportunity to start her own research group at the ANU when she was awarded a Rita Cornforth fellowship, which supports the careers of young women in chemistry. She was granted tenure in 2006 and became the first female Professor of chemistry at the ANU in early 2011. She is currently an ARC Future Fellow, and was recently awarded the Le Fevre memorial prize of the Australian Academy of Science and named by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute as a living luminary of Australian chemistry for the international year of chemistry.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities over the years to pursue fundamental research, and to work with many excellent students, postdocs and collaborators. I always thought academic careers were only for geniuses but actually

it is possible for a normal person to pursue their interest in fundamental science and make brand new discoveries about how the world works

it is possible for a normal person to pursue their interest in fundamental science and make brand new discoveries about how the world works.”

Michelle lives with her husband and their two children, two cats, five chickens, and large garden in country NSW.

About Michelle and her team’s research:

Michelle Coote’s research team uses accurate quantum chemical calculations, supported by experiments, to better understand chemical reactivity and to design improved reagents and catalysts. Her particular interest is radical chemistry, and particularly radical polymerization and autooxidation processes; more recently her group have been working toward a better understanding of enzyme catalysis. However, one of the advantages of computational chemistry is that it is not necessary to specialise and their computer-aided chemical designs include species as diverse as better control agents for free-radical polymerization, improved redox mediators for dye sensitised solar cells, and chiral auxiliaries for the resolution of amino acids. Whilst their focus is on the underlying fundamental chemistry, the team’s work does have direct practical applications and, for instance, Michelle is working with Bluescope Steel to improve the lifetime of the coatings on Colorbond steel, and Evonik Industries to tune the debonding temperature of self-healing polymers and printable networks.

Michelle Coote group_2012

Taking the Next Step in Brisbane

From speed dating with a working scientist to speed breeding — of plants, not scientists — NYSF’s Next Step Program in Brisbane in April this year had it all.

The Next Step Program offers students who attend the NYSF January sessions of the National Youth Science Forum with a follow up opportunity to learn more about future study and career options in science in their local area. Next Step programs are held in other capital cities through the course of the year.

Hosted by NYSF partners in Brisbane, 108 students visited a wide range of facilities allowing them a valuable insight into just what is possible in a career in science.

QUT Sc Eng Centre

The Queensland University of Technology’s state of the art Science and Engineering Centre, provided students with an overview of the Centre and what it can offer.


Workshops at Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute, where pharmaceutical discovery research is undertaken, was a highlight for many students, who commented that it was, “Great to hear about science collaboration,” and “I really enjoyed visiting Eskitis facility as it was in an area (drug discovery) that I’m really interested in.”

UQ Labs1

The program’s second day provided an array of workshops and presentations at the University of Queensland, including talks about Scanning Electron Microscopy, Genetic Blueprints, Fuels for the Future, Animal Diseases, “Speed Breeding” and Plant Diseases, Medicinal Chemistry, and a trip to the world of quantum weirdness! And then it was off to the Anatomy Museum, also on site at UQ.

Feedback from students that attended the Brisbane Next Step program was positive, with many grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with people they had met at NYSF sessions in January.

“Interesting, especially to hear from the guy who got the pictures of the atom’s shadow and also to see the layers.”

“Amazing to see real physics lab. Would have loved more time. Speaker was cool.”

Next Step programs are operating with NYSF partners in Newcastle, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth in July in 2013.

Life after NYSF: a student’s view

NYSF Staffie and Student, Patrick Haylock, is moving on from his role with NYSF to a new and exciting job. Here he reflects on his time with NYSF:

To say that the experience was transformative understates the impact the program had on me.

So I am reaching the end of my student career. Over four years of work will shortly produce one of the most important pieces of paper I will ever receive. This piece of paper, which I won’t possess for a few weeks yet, has already landed me an exciting job and the promise of a career. Whenever I go through periods of big changes, I tend to grow quite reflective. This time is no different, and I have been focusing on the events that have led to my current circumstances. No matter where I begin though, I always end up passing through my time with the National Youth Science Forum. To say that the experience was transformative seems to understate the impact the program had on me.

Patrick Haylock

Patrick Haylock

I attended the National Youth Science Forum in 2007 as a student and I returned twice as a “staffie” – NYSF participants who are invited back to work on the program. I came from rural Victoria and the opportunities to extend myself into areas of science were thin on the ground. The Forum presented a chance to break from this restriction and find out where my passion for science could take me. For the first time I could meet working scientists. But when I finally talked to them face-to-face it was not their work or the letters after their name that I found admirable. It was their passion, their kindness and their patience which affected me profoundly. They became role models for me as a young scientist. I used the opportunity to find out as much about the researchers as I could, with the intention of emulating their journeys. I can even trace my current degree choice to one scientist in particular, who conducted research in microbiology but had a PhD in geology. He talked me through his strange educational background and showed me that I could fearlessly follow my interests. I have followed his example and will be graduating with disparate majors in chemistry and philosophy.

This is sort of what the NYSF became for me, both as a student and a staffie. Whilst I learned a lot about potential careers, I learned even more about the sort of person I wanted to be. I was inspired to develop the skills I found exemplified by the students, staffies and scientist I met. These skills have given me a head start on my career. Because of the NYSF, I am graduating with confidence in my public speaking skills and my ability to communicate scientific ideas effectively and passionately. Most of all, I am graduating with an openness to life-long learning and new opportunities. The NYSF deeply affected how I see the world, and I believe that many of the successes I have had since the program in 2007 owe much to the time I spent there.

I will be beginning work as a chemistry patent examiner at the end of July. I will get to combine my love of science and philosophy into the one career, thanks in no small part to the sage advice of a scientist I met at the NYSF. My life could have taken many directions and I may have been in a dozen different circumstances right now. But of all those other circumstances, without the NYSF few would leave so many possibilities for me to explore.

Patrick and the candles