I Ran Away To Join The Circus – Kate O’Sullivan, alumna NYSF 2006

“Before I went to the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF), if you had asked me where I would be in ten years’ time, the phrase “I ran away to join the circus” would have been furthest from my mind. I would never have thought that I would be touring all over Australia with a semi-trailer full of science exhibits and 14 other amazing people.

Questacon Science Circus image: Questacon

Questacon Science Circus image: Questacon

Let’s back up a little. Before I went to NYSF in the summer of 2006, my career trajectory was research. I was a stereotypical high school science student, with a bit of a passion for theatre and the arts, and I saw the laboratory as the place where I was going to end up, making the next big discoveries. But the two weeks of NYSF changed all that for me.

… that talking to people about science … as a career option was a revelation

I remember being in one of the seminars and listening to a talk about science communication. This was followed by a few hours at Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre. The idea that talking to people about science, which was something I enjoyed doing, as a career option was a revelation.

That’s where the Circus came in. After I finished my undergraduate Bachelor of Science and a one-year postgraduate diploma, I went looking for a way to get out amongst the community and continue my science communication journey. I discovered the perfect way—the Shell Questacon Science Circus, a program jointly operated by Questacon and the Australian National University (ANU) with support from Shell. This year, I am honoured to be a part of the program in its 30th Anniversary year. I get to talk about the amazing things that my scientist friends are doing, demonstrate some amazing things to the public (including safely holding fire in my hands and experimenting with liquid nitrogen) and generally making science more accessible to everyone.


Kate O’Sullivan doing science image: Questacon

The Shell Questacon Science Circus team is made up of science graduates from all walks of life. The team takes lively presentations of science to towns and schools whilst studying for a Master of Science Communication Outreach through ANU. I spend every day surrounded by lively, intelligent and enthusiastic people with a passion for sharing the science that they love with other people. More than one NYSF graduate has come through the program, and we all have amazing stories to tell. As you read this, we’ll be out somewhere on the road with our truck, bringing interactive science to communities across Australia. We’ll be engaging local school students with our energetic in-school shows and presenting public exhibitions of our ‘pop-up’ science centre, which has over 40 exhibits.

Running away and joining the Science Circus was the best decision I have ever made. I have been given the chance to inspire future generations of Australians to pursue science. And it’s all thanks to one talk and one visit back when I was at the NYSF. It really can change your life.”

Searching for CERN

A visit to Questacon on the evening of day 9 NYSF 2015 offered students an insight into an area of international research which is both answering and creating questions in the field of physics. And for the first time, Session A students engaged with the science teachers attending the National Science Teachers’ Summer School during the live cross to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Hosted by Questacon, the evening began with a presentation from Kaitlin Cook, an NYSF alumna. Kaitlin delivered an overview of the operation of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  Her background talk particularly explained about the discovery of the Higgs Boson which has enabled further verification of the Standard Model of particle physics.

Kaitlin Cook an NYSF alumna

This sparked the interest of both the students and science teachers, and questions began to arise from the crowd.  The special guest, Professor Rolf Landua – who was being viewed live from the LHC at CERN, (8:30am, Switzerland time) left no question from the audience unanswered. Perhaps he had heard it all before?  He has been conducting this session for the NYSF in Canberra for nine years – a very unique and exciting activity for all who participated.

Professor Rolf Landua live from CERN

by Brett Slarks

From the Director

Welcome to the December edition of NYSF Outlook.

At the time of writing there are 400 young people who are preparing to travel to Canberra for the January 2015 NYSF Sessions. This map shows just how widespread our reach is for young Australians.

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To say that there is a sense of excitement building would be an understatement! I know of at least one group of students that are already ‘counting the sleeps’. Thanks to the support of The Australian National University (ANU), in 2015 we have been able to increase the number of students by 40 places for each of the sessions, giving us a total cohort of 200 per session.

Our domestic students will be joined this year with students from Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and for the first time Brazil and Fiji. The international participation over January is relatively small, however is well justified in terms of the opportunities it provides for our young people for knowledge and cultural exchange. This also exposes the international students to the study and career opportunities that are available within Australia, which they share in their home communities.

One of the highlights of the NYSF January sessions this year will be the Science Dinners. Instead of having a single keynote speaker as we have had in the past, the dinners this year will be run as a symposium. We have secured some of the best thinkers, researchers and practitioners to participate and offer us their insights. The theme for the Session A Science Dinner is engagement of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). The Session C Science Dinner will focus on Indigenous Engagement and Knowledge with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). We believe both of these discussions and the Q&A sessions that will follow will be stimulating for the students. If you are interested in coming along to the dinners, you can buy a ticket.  Email nysf@nysf.edu.au and we can send you the information.

For the 2015 National Science Teachers’ Summer School (NSTSS) we will be welcoming 50 science teachers from across the country from primary, secondary and senior secondary schools. The NSTSS is an NYSF program that is currently conducted in collaboration with the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA). The aim of the NSTSS is to immerse teachers in cutting edge STEM research and feed their – often infectious – motivation. The NSTSS challenges the participants to consider the question, “What do we want our students to know about science?” The resulting discussions regularly transcend curriculum frameworks. I would like to acknowledge Questacon and the Federal Education Minister, Minister Pyne, for their financial support for this much-needed program. Negotiations are ongoing to secure the longevity of NSTSS program into the future with the hope of it being extended to other locations.

On behalf of the NYSF Council, Executive and everyone here at NYSF Central, I would like to extend our best wishes for the Festive Season and New Year! And to the 2015 students … we’ll be seeing you soon!

From the science forum to science policy

Dr Subho Banerjee attended the NYSF (then known as the National Science Summer School) in Canberra in 1987. Nowadays he is responsible for preparing science policy advice in the Commonwealth Government.

Subho had always had an interest in science through his high school days in Newcastle, including being a national finalist in the BHP Science Prize. So he was very excited to get the chance to attend the NYSF, and it didn’t disappoint.

“Attending the NYSF was an inspirational experience. The program gave us exposure to such a wide range of high-quality science research being done in Canberra, across universities and research agencies. I was blown away by the possibilities.”

“I remember particularly a fantastic talk given to us by a graduate student up at Mt Stromlo Observatory, at the ANU. He really captured how excited he was to be exploring the fundamental questions of the universe – and he made it fun as well.”

“But the best thing was definitely the chance to connect with students from all over Australia who were interested in the same stuff that I was. I made friendships there that I carry forward to today.”

Subho credits his NYSF experience as being crucial in encouraging him to study science at the ANU.   He went on to do a PhD in physics, using lasers to study the structure of the oxygen molecule.

After his PhD, Subho made the decision to move into public policy. He received a Rhodes scholarship to go to the University of Oxford, studying economics and social history, and then environmental policy.

“When I was doing my PhD, I got more and more interested in the interface between science and public policy – so many policy issues are framed by science, but relatively few people with a science background are involved in the policy deliberations.”

Subho joined the Australian Public Service on his return from Oxford. He has since worked across policy issues spanning economic, social and environmental policy, as well as on organisational reform of the public sector itself. In addition to public service roles, he has worked for a not-for-profit Indigenous policy think-tank, and a private sector management consulting firm.

… a grounding in science, such as that provided by the NYSF, is a fantastic foundation. It encourages rigour and clarity in thought

In his current role as a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Industry, Subho is responsible for preparing science policy advice to the Federal government. This spans whole of sector advice on issues such as science funding and infrastructure, as well as policy oversight of Questacon, the National Measurement Institute and the Australian Astronomical Observatory. Subho is also on the board of the international organisation responsible for delivering the Square Kilometre Array – the largest radio telescope in the world.

“I’m really enjoying having a science-based role again. I think a grounding in science, such as that provided by the NYSF, is a fantastic foundation. It encourages rigour and clarity in thought, which makes you better at what you do (whether science-based, or not). But it also encourages enthusiasm about ideas and about the world, which helps you to enjoy doing it.”

Subho Banerjee Siding Springs telescope

Subho Banerjee Siding Spring telescope