NSW Department of Industry supporting NYSF International Program Participants from NSW

NYSF alumni from NSW who are travelling this year on NYSF International Programs have again had the good fortune to receive a grant contributing to their travel costs from the NSW Department of Industry through the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer.

The Department has been offering this support to NYSF students for several years now. In 2016, 11 NSW students received the grant.  Programs attended by those students included the Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF), the National University of Singapore Summer Science Camp (NUS SSC), the Research Science Institute (RSI) at MIT, and the London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF).

The opportunity to travel on these International Programs is often life changing for the students who take part. For some it is the first time they have been overseas. Alysse Cook from Moruya, a small town on the south coast of NSW, shared her experience of visiting the Canada Wide Science Fair:

“I arrived home with an entirely new perspective on life. Being able to witness first-hand the work that young students all over Canada are doing, and the unique and society-changing ideas that they are presenting to the world, I developed a new sense of self-purpose and motivation. I have always wanted to pursue a career in medicine, though I doubted my abilities to do so. The Canada Wide Science Fair unleashed a whole new world of possibilities, and helped me realise my full potential.”

Viney Kumar from Sydney, attended the Research Science Institute – the most competitive and challenging program on offer. Here is what he had to say:

“The RSI allowed me to forge new friendships and interact with many peers with both similar and diverse interests from around the world. This strong and close community that I am now a part of will inspire me to do more, step outside my comfort zone, and become a better person as a result.”

In 2017, the Department is supporting 10 NSW students. The students are attending LIYSF, NUS SSC and XLab – a program based in Goettingen, Germany. We look forward to hearing the highlights from the 2017 cohort throughout the year as they complete these programs and on behalf of the students would like to thank the Department for their contribution.

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

 

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