To sleep is to dream

When University of Queensland academic and researcher Philip Terrill attended the NYSF in 2000, it’s likely that sleep (or not enough of it) wasn’t an over-riding concern for him.

These days, however, he is very concerned with it. In fact, he approaches sleep from a scientific perspective. Phil is now a biomedical engineer interested in developing novel medical diagnostic and treatment systems, and his work is currently focusing on sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea.

A report released in 2012 indicated that sleep disorders cost the Australian economy $5 billion a year. Phil says, “Sleep related conditions have long been unacknowledged in our community. We all recognise a poor night’s sleep can leave us cranky and unproductive the next day, but we now know that sleep disorders can have some more insidious consequences. In particular they can increase the risk of traffic and occupational accidents; and while the cause-effect relationship is complicated, they appear to lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and a range of mental health disorders. The main objective of our research is to develop more patient-friendly and cost effective ways of diagnosing and treating sleep disorders to improve the health of Australians. This is particularly important for rural Australians, to whom existing sleep medicine service delivery may be completely inaccessible.

Phil’s background is in electrical and biomedical engineering, having completed a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) in 2004 at The University of Queensland (UQ), followed by a PhD in Biomedical Engineering in 2008.

“When I attended NYSF, I knew that I wanted to combine my interests in biology and medical science with my skills in mathematics, physics, and … building stuff. Universities don’t really market a degree for that! NYSF gave me a new perspective on the flexibility of university studies, leading me to enroll in a general Bachelor of Engineering (building stuff … tick!). I drifted to the electrical program where I was able to complete advanced courses in biomedical engineering, and electives in mathematical physiology and mathematical biology.” 

NYSF gave me a new perspective on the flexibility of university studies

Professor Phil Terrill is developing novel tools to treat patients with sleep disturbance such as sleep apnoea. He attended NYSF in 2000.

Dr Phil Terrill is developing novel tools to treat patients with sleep disturbance such as sleep apnoea. He attended NYSF in 2000.

He is currently a lecturer and researcher in Electrical Engineering and Medical Electronics in the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at UQ where he gets to combine his research interests with his passion for Engineering and Science Education and Communication.

“It was traditionally believed that obstructive sleep apnoea was simply a problem with the upper airway anatomy. However, it turns out that other physiological factors — particularly the control of breathing during sleep – are important contributors to disease severity. We are working on an approach that combines the development of electronic instrumentation and mathematical modeling to non-invasively quantify these key physiological features during sleep. This information can be used by clinicians to improve diagnosis, to personalise treatment to the individual, and provides insight to help develop the new generation of treatments.”

“Our work involves extensive collaboration with a multidisciplinary team which includes engineers, physiologists, clinical scientists, and health professionals across UQ, the Harvard Medical School, The Mater Children’s Hospital and The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.”

Phil says the work is fascinating and rewarding because of the unique intersection of engineering, mathematics and the medical sciences to solve an important problem, which has the ability to make a positive impact on the health of the broader community.

Of his time on session at NYSF, Phil comments, “I have fond and enduring memories of NYSF, including the (often heated!) forum discussions and debates, which brought together a diverse range of points of view about some of the most important (and at the time, topical) applications of science to society.

The intense social atmosphere that comes from being immersed with hundreds of like-minded people from all over Australia forged lasting friendships and professional relationships

 “The intense social atmosphere that comes from being immersed with hundreds of like-minded people from all over Australia forged lasting friendships and professional relationships,” he says.

“For me, this was very much an ‘I’m not the only one’ moment in my life, that really shaped the direction I took in my further studies. Many of these people are still my closest friends and professional collaborators.”

pterrill_graduation1 C

Phil Terrill (l) graduated with his Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Queensland, pictured here with another former NYSF student, Robert Persello, who is now Project Commissioning Manager, at Powerlink Queensland

From the Director

Geoff BurchfieldMid-winter here in Canberra is generally a quiet time for the National Youth Science Forum. But this year the place is buzzing with significant developments, some perhaps surprising.

First up, I have decided to step down from my role as Director of the NYSF, effective from the end of August. It’s a been a wonderful nine years for me but it’s time to move on and pursue other interests. My succession program is already in place and I feel I’m leaving the NYSF in very good hands.

The interim director, Damien Pearce, is already on board. He is a Fulbright scholar with a strong background in education. And he is no stranger to the organisation. In his former role as NYSF Assistant Director, he will be known to many who have attended the Canberra sessions over the past two years. Additionally, Damien has been closely involved in the student-staff training program.

the place is buzzing with significant developments

Recently he has been an architect of major office re-structures that have not only streamlined portfolios and brought operations under one roof but made possible some new staff changes. In particular we are delighted to welcome Amanda Caldwell as our Manager, Communications & Partnerships. Also there are now three part-time positions in our office, specifically for former NYSF students. This is an important way of maintaining connections with the student body while also providing training opportunities.

As I write, the Next Step Program is in full swing around the country and the International Program is underway too. Currently we have students at programs in Boston and Pretoria with others soon to leave for Heidelberg and London.

The re-vamped Outback Leadership Treks are also about to get underway. This year our young student staff leaders are trekking in Southern Queensland under the guidance of Adventure Out.

While I am leaving to explore new personal opportunities, I am keeping options open for the possibility of continuing my involvement in some way, so strong is my belief in NYSF, its future and the organisation’s ability to achieve change in the lives of the young people we support.

Geoff Burchfield

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.