NYSF Alumna Nana Liu, Scientist by day, Opera Singer by night

STEM, Science, Alumna, Alumni, NYSF, National Youth Science Forum

Invited to Israel by Prof. Jacob Bekenstein (one of my heroes as a teenager, known for the Bekenstein-Hawking radiation in black holes) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Here is me enjoying the Old City in Jerusalem

“I’ve always liked what Winston Churchill said, that no failure is fatal and no success is final.”

Twelve years has passed since I was fortunate enough to attend the National Youth Science Forum, and what a ride it has been so far! Looking back, I feel so lucky to have interacted with so many amazing people and to have been inspired by each one of them to better reach my own goals. Interacting with my new friends at NYSF has certainly helped me to learn from interesting and diverse groups of people. I’m looking forward to the next twelve years! Bring it on!

Around the time of attending the NYSF, I became a member of a research group at the University of Melbourne studying the behaviour of granular materials. This dynamic area of research exposed me to the importance of the cross-pollination of ideas coming from different fields, which is still influencing the way I’m viewing research now. During the time I was in this group, I majored in pure mathematics at the University of Melbourne before completing a master’s degree focusing on theoretical physics. My thirst for more physics and the `outside world’ led me to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Oxford, where I was fortunate enough to be offered a full scholarship as a Clarendon scholar. This was a very exciting and also a very difficult time, where I was given a great deal of freedom to pursue my own research interests. I began work on finding out how quantum mechanics (the physics governing atomic scale phenomena) can enhance the processing of information. This required a lot of cross-disciplinary research, which my experience in earlier years in granular materials had prepared me for. This led me to study how quantum mechanics can improve the power of computation and also precision measurement, like imaging. After completing my PhD, I began work as a full-time researcher at two research institutions in Singapore, continuing research on how quantum mechanics can make computers so much more powerful than any computer existing today.

I feel blessed everyday that I am living my dream of being a scientist, something I’ve wanted since I was eight or nine. There is no feeling quite like finally being able to feed yourself (to buy as much ice-cream as you want!), house yourself and to buy gifts for your family and friends from what you earn doing what you always dreamed of doing.

One of the best things about scientific research is working with fantastic fellow scientists who also become your friends. Bouncing back sometimes crazy ideas and trying them out with colleagues often feels just like building a treehouse, digging into a new ant’s nest or acting in imaginary worlds with your friends in the playground.

My colleagues live all over the world and I travel all around the world to work with them and share my research with them at international conferences. I have visited colleagues throughout England, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Israel, China, Singapore, United States and of course Australia. From each scientist I meet, I always learn an important lesson. Sometimes it is about how to better clarify ideas, how to be more rigorous in demonstrating an idea or learning different habits to enhance creative moments. Other times, it is being inspired by their enthusiasm, their optimism, their love of learning and most of all their kindness. I have also had the privilege to meet and work with many world-class researchers, some of whom I’ve wanted to meet since I was at NYSF. So sometimes dreams do come true!

STEM, Science, Alumni, Alumna, NYSF, National Youth Science Forum, Oxford University

Left: This is the first ever banquet dinner for the first Women in Physics Society in Oxford, which I helped to organise. We are standing outside the hall of Merton college, one of the oldest colleges in Oxford. Right: Invited to Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. I was born in Shanghai before moving to Australia when I was six, so physics has taken me back to my earliest roots.

Social activities outside my own research have also kept me quite busy and I have found these vital to keep life balanced and in perspective. Oxford has been the perfect place for me to learn from people dedicating themselves to different areas. Every other evening, I would be dining and engaged in discussions with a biologist, a chemist, an archaeologist, a linguist, an anthropologist, a mathematician, an historian, a free-lance adventurer, an economist, a roboticist, a musician, a writer, an engineer, a philosopher, a neuroscientist, an environmental scientist, or the occasional politician and ambassador. It is always super interesting and helpful to learn about the struggles of different people trying to overcome different obstacles in different fields of endeavour. These conversations are always an endless source of inspiration.

I also became the first social events coordinator for the first Women in Physics Society in Oxford and this provided an excellent opportunity to learn from amazing women physicists. I was also very lucky to belong to one of the oldest colleges in Oxford (Merton) and sang in the college choir for many years and performed regularly. One of the highlights is performing in the 750th anniversary celebration of the college and singing with world-class performers. Since coming to Singapore, I have been fortunate enough to join the chorus of the Singapore Lyric Opera Company and am due to perform in my first major opera production. Working with a fantastic team towards a thrilling goal is incredibly inspiring, whether it is in science or not!

In the twelve years since I attended NYSF, I have discovered that science is not a solitary island or an ivory castle in the clouds (you guys are smart and probably already know this, but I’m a bit slow). It is a vibrant marketplace, populated and run by people, with all the pluses and minuses that come with people. The direction of a field can be more often led by beliefs than by solid demonstrations. Therefore, to navigate better in science, I have found that it is important to better understand other people and how to interact with different kinds of people. Doing science is not a pure intellectual activity. It can be more often than not a heavily emotional activity. So it is important to take good care of yourself, to be kind to yourself and to keep the company of good friends. Resilience and enthusiasm counts for more than being clever. Success only happens perhaps 1% or less of the time (maybe you’ll be luckier than me), so it is important to keep yourself happy and motivated the rest of the time. I’ve always liked what Winston Churchill said, that no failure is fatal and no success is final. There’s no final destination and no real dead-ends, so it must be the ride that counts. You NYSFers are all amazing, resilient and unique, so just go for it and keep positive during the exciting ride that awaits you!

Carl Pinson, NYSF 2002 Alumnus — A Passionate Science Teacher

Written by Carl Pinson.

In 2001, I was contemplating becoming an Osteopath; I liked the idea of healing using manipulation of the body. Then I achieved a place in the 2002 intake of NYSF. The entire two weeks was amazingly memorable. I met some fascinating characters and enjoyed learning more about the study and application of science. Highlights included visiting the telescope at Mt Stromlo (the big one was still operating until bushfires in 2003), watching people research with lasers at ANU, and participating in a number of thought-provoking discussions and debates.

After that, I was confident that I needed to study something to do with science. I applied for and was granted a NSW Department of Education and Training scholarship to study a Bachelor of Science / Bachelor of Teaching at Newcastle University — this degree offers more than twice the minimum amount of practical teaching, and you’re learning about education all through your degree. I was offered casual work in 2006 before I even graduated, and then was appointed to Chatham High School in Taree.

Working as a teacher is constantly challenging and exciting. I am a people person, so interacting with other like-minded professionals as well as helping inspire and shape young minds is a real positive for me.

Carl (second right) on an excursion at laser tag with his students

Working as a teacher is constantly challenging and exciting. I am a people person, so interacting with other like-minded professionals as well as helping to inspire and shape young minds is a real positive for me. The best teaching experiences I’ve had include coaching the winning team in the 2007 National Solar Boat Regatta at Penrith, going on water bug surveys with Mid Coast Water personnel, and participating in the University of Newcastle Science and Engineering Challenge. I also accompanied students to ANU with Professor Murray Batchelor as part of a Scientists in Schools program through CSIRO. Getting the students out of the classroom helps to show them the relevance of science to their everyday life and also makes teaching much more fun!

I have just finished three years teaching on Norfolk Island, a remote island 1600km from Australia and actually closer to New Zealand! It was a job advertised through the NSW Department of Education and involved a very significant lifestyle change. Activities included scuba-diving, snorkelling on an impressive coral reef, participating in conservation projects and meeting a whole range of wonderful people including the local Flora and Fauna Society. I also urged one of my students to attend the NYSF, which he did at the beginning of 2016. I have enjoyed the opportunities provided in education, and recommend it to suitable people with a lot of patience.

Carl Pinson’s students from Chatham High at the 2007 Solar Boat Regatta

Carl Pinson (right)

NYSF 2017 Session A: Speed Date A Scientist

Speed Date A Scientist is an annual event at the NYSF that allows small groups of students sit and chat with many a variety of scientists from various disciplines and backgrounds. The turnout of scientists willing to be interrogated by the NYSF 2017 Session A cohort was phenomenal, resulting in an average of one scientist per group of four students.

The students have the opportunity to ask these scientists about their field, their career path, and their life in general. This article is a collection of quotes (including some bombs of wisdom) from some of incredible scientists who made the event possible.

Dr A J Mitchell – Nuclear Physics, RSPE ANU

“If you’re passionate about what you do, it makes going to work a whole lot easier.”

“At the heart of every atom you have a collection of protons and neutrons that really shouldn’t be held together – there is a whole lot of positive charge very close together so they should repel apart. The work we do is study that nuclei.”

“We collide them together, see what radiation comes off, and use that as a fingerprint to determine properties such as shape. This gives us a fundamental understanding of nuclear forces.”

“I always enjoyed mathematics and physics, and just always pursued what I enjoyed and now people pay me to do it.”

“If you’re passionate about what you do, it makes going to work a whole lot easier.”


Matt Lee – Assistant Director of Strategic Communication, IP Australia

“Doing a double degree you meet a whole bunch of different people, and you can demonstrate to employers that you have skills in many different fields.”

“Doing a double degree you meet a whole bunch of different people, and you can demonstrate to employers that you have skills in many different fields. For me I’m able to quickly read documents and give a sharp overview. It also gave me a strong understanding of global politics.”

“I go around to a lot of startup companies in IT, ag-tech, drone-tech, fin-tech and see a lot of amazing things.”

“One discipline in huge demand at the moment is data science. Everything involves data, but how do you make sense of it? People are needed to take the data, figure out how to interpret it, and make decisions.”


Gerard Dwyer – Teacher (Canberra Institute of Technology) and Education Officer (National Zoo and Aquarium)

“I used to like picking up and playing with lizards, but never realised it could be a job.”

“I used to like picking up and playing with lizards, but never realised it could be a job. Then I went to Questacon and got a job feeding the spiders – I love spiders so it was the easiest job I’ve ever had.”

“If you want to work in environmental areas, it pays to be interested in everything. ACT is good, because we have really strong legislation when it comes to the environment.”

“I realised that I can’t fix everything, but at least I can teach a lot of people.”

Gerard’s lizard friend, Sally


Claire Howell (Manager at National Forest Inventory)

“Do what you’re passionate about, and if you’re not sure what that is then do what you’re good at because that’s also motivating.”

“When I was in year 11 and 12 I knew I loved being outdoors, and I wanted to do Forest Science at university but I didn’t get in. So I did really well in my first year in another degree and then made my case with the Dean of the faculty and was transferred into second year Forestry.”

“Don’t think that your career will always be your career, because it will change.”

“Do what you’re passionate about, and if you’re not sure what that is then do what you’re good at because that’s also motivating.”

Students meet Claire Howell (Manager at National Forest Inventory) and Stuart Davey (Forest Ecology, Institute of Foresters Australia)

By Jackson Nexhip, NYSF 2017 Session A Communications Intern and NYSF 2013 Alumnus

GRDC launches secondary school resources


The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), which has been a proud supporter of the National Youth Science Forum over several years, has recently released a range of curriculum-linked resources which explore the latest science, technology, engineering, mathematics, nutrition, research and innovation in the Australian grains industry.

The resources present the professional nature of grain production and reference the types of technology that grain growers use on-farm. They also embed relevant Australian grains science and technology into a range of food and fibre teaching units, enabling teachers to teach mainstream subjects (such as science, geography, agriculture, home economics and nutrition) using grains as the teaching context. Each set of enquiry based resources includes activities, practicals, investigations and discussions.

The resources have been developed with input from reference teachers, researchers and growers and have been trialled at schools throughout Australia – with feedback hugely positive.

The resources include:

Agricultural Studies

  • The cost of frost – investigating weather (Year 9-10)
  • Smart grains – technology on farms (Year 9-10)


  • The importance of soil for growing great grain (Year 9-10)

Home Economics and Nutrition

  • Good grains for good gut health – the benefits of fibre (Year 9-10)
  • Grains, gluten and carbohydrates – focusing on grains as part of a healthy diet (Year 9-10)


  • Science behind dough quality (Year 10-11)
  • Science of stems, stomata and sustainability (Year 11)
  • Science of crossing and crops – plant breeding (Year 10-11)
  • Science of living soils – focus on nematodes (Year 10)

The full suite of resources are available to download from the GRDC website www.grdc.com.au

Or contact Sarah McDonnell for further information sarah.mcdonnell@agcommunicators.com.au