Highlights of NYSF STEM Explorer 2017

“I thought it was very interactive, interesting and fun to learn about how things can be structured.”

NYSF STEM Explorers were kept busy throughout the five-day program in Adelaide.

Arriving on Monday afternoon, participants spent the first afternoon getting to know each other, their Youth Advisors and the NYSF team.

On Tuesday, the day kicked off with a critical and scientific thinking workshop hosted by Ellen from NYSF designed to encourage analytical thinking and questioning, so important in this era of fake news. That afternoon was the first off-site lab visits, where the participants were split into five groups, visiting five different sites.

One group was thrilled to explore Lochiel Park, a housing development using latest science innovations to strive for sustainable, low emission living. In Lochiel Park the houses have a minimum 7.5 star energy efficiency rating and use on average 64% less energy than an average house. The Park has won a number of design awards since first being built over a decade ago and is supported by a a strong community engagement program.

Another visit toured the South Australian Aquatic Sciences Centre, a purpose-built marine and freshwater research facility. Students learned about why it is important to manage fishing stock into the future, and the Centre’s role in supporting the sustainable management of those fisheries resources. They also looked at the wider aquatic environment and how it underpins sustainable growth of aquaculture industries in South Australia, which can lead to future employment for the community.  The tour showed how oysters are grown, and how algae is farmed and harvested to feed crustaceans. Students dissected fish, looking closely at the otilith – a small bone in a fish’s ear that determines its age.

Mount Barker High School student, Cameron said the visit was well prepared and very informative.

“There is a lot under the topic of marine biology – a lot of work that isn’t talked about,” he said. “We learnt a lot of things like the management of fisheries, different methods of catching fish and other sea life.”

At the visit to the South Australian Museum on Wednesday the Chief Scientist of South Australia, Dr Leanna Read, spoke to the students about her role and own career. There were also talks from two PhD candidates – a palaeontologist and a microbiologist – both of whom engaged the students with their stories from their fields. More site visits, including to  South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) where the students toured the innovative building and learned that the design was modelled on a pine cone (and not a cheese grater as many often comment). With 16,000 windows and more than 600 scientists, there is certainly a lot going on at SAHMRI!

The University of Adelaide’s Why Waite program hosted students for some fascinating hands-on science. In the soil experiment, they learned about the different absorption properties of sand, soil and clay and how this would impact plants growing in those different soils. After that, the students got their hands dirty learning how to extract DNA from strawberries.

The University of South Australia hosted five visits from students.  In one visit, “Waging Peace”, they learned about the ongoing impacts of land mines used in war-torn countries. And during a tower building exercise, they put on their engineering hats. Working in teams, they set about designing and drafting plans to build a tower out of spaghetti and marshmallows so it could support a small can of tuna.

Monique from Parafield Gardens High School took away a lot from the Tower Building workshop:

“I thought it was very interactive, interesting and fun to learn about how things can be structured.  I learnt that through trial and error and team work you can make something better.”

The Government of South Australia’s Natural Resources Management Board (NRM) Water Testing Activity saw all of  the STEM Explorers take to the water at the Mylor Adventure Camp – the program’s host site.  During the water testing in the local creek they looked for aquatic macro-invertebrates, and found numerous specimens from yabbies to scuds, mosquito larvae and water mites.  They also surveyed the bird life to gain a general overview of the biodiversity at Mylor.

Amy Blaylock, NRM Education Officer said the testing helped to make the students aware that there is so much life around them, even though they can’t see it.

“Even though they’re (macro-invertebrates) small they’re still part of the eco-system.  They give us a long-term picture of what’s happening with the eco-system.  It’s fascinating because you get so many stories of adaptation and niches they occupy.”

NYSF 2017 Session C: Welcome lecture

NYSF 2017 Session C started off with a visit to the Australian Academy of Science at the Shine Dome. In this iconic building, the participants were intrigued by the words of the Chief Executive of the Australian Academy of Science, Dr Anna-Maria Arabia and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation, at the University of South Australia, Professor Tanya Monro.

A common theme in both Dr Arabia and Professor Monro’s presentations were the importance of gender equity in STEM careers and the role that all of the participants have in ensuring equal opportunity for men and women.

Dr Arabia’s welcome emphasised the importance of thinking about science in a broad sense and not to limit your options by being fixated on one particular career path.

“Think about your passion for science and technology in the broadest way possible, and be open to the many career paths that may be open to you … be driven by your curiosity of the world.”

Furthermore, she highlighted the importance of being a ‘thinker’ stressing that scientific enquiry has “little to do with what you think, but how you think”.

Dr Anna-Maria Arabia

Following Dr Arabia’s welcome, the participants were addressed by Professor Tanya Monro. Throughout her presentation she focussed on her area of specialisation, photonics, as well as explaining the pathways she took in achieving her goals.

Professor Tanya Monro addressing participants

Professor Monro was a NYSF alumna, attending the National Science Summer School as it was, in January 1990. She credits the program as her “first chance to absorb science beyond the classroom”.

She told the NYSF 2017 cohort that while at school, she planned on studying astrophysics, however as she was exposed to new fields in science she found that her interest was elsewhere. Throughout her career she has completed a PhD at the University of Sydney, undertook a fellowship at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of South Hampton and was the Director of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) from 2008 to 2014 and was also the inaugural Director for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), both at the University of Adelaide. Further information about her career can be found here.

Professor Monro concluded her talk with some advice for the participants to use throughout their studies, career and life underlining the importance of having “passion, persistence and patience”.


By Veronica O’Mara, NYSF 2017 Session C Communications Intern and NYSF 2014 Alumna

Highlights from January 2016

As the NYSF 2016 cohort commences its final year of high school, we can reflect on the success of both Session A and C.

This year, the January Sessions offered a refreshed program that focused on three central ideas: engaging with STEM in action; understanding the role of STEM in society; and preparing the next generation of STEM professionals. Based on these three themes, students participated in a number of new labs, site visits and workshops.

Each session began with a welcome address by NYSF alumna and Chair, Professor Tanya Monro, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia, at the Opening Ceremony at Parliament House. Representatives from the local community also spoke, welcoming the students to Canberra.

Professor Tanya Monro addressing students at the Opening Ceremony Parliament House

Professor Tanya Monro addressing students at the Opening Ceremony Parliament House

Workshops on ethics in STEM covered the ethics of climate change in Session A and was delivered by the ANU’s Dr Janette Lindesay,  The Session C ethics workshop was presented by Professor Shari Forbes from the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Technology Sydney and delved into ethics in forensic research using her work at Australia’s first body farm as a point of reference.

Professor Shari Forbes Centre from Forensic Science at the University of Technology Sydney

The issues relating to being an entrepreneur were discussed by an expert panel of business men and women from the ACT region – thanks Inspiring ACT! – who explained their experiences and some of the challenges they had to overcome. A facilitated workshop then gave the students an opportunity to develop and “sell” a product.

The Diversity in STEM seminar focused on some of the challenges in ensuring women and other minorities are represented in top STEM positions.

Skills to critically analyse information were tackled through an interactive discussion through the Critical Thinking seminar. And the highly successful and informative Speed Date a Scientist session proved popular with students in both sessions. This session was designed to help students learn about how to find their own career pathway, with advice from those who currently work in their chosen fields.

New to the program was a visit to the iconic The National Film and Sound Archive where students learned the science behind audio-visual preservation.

Image: Karli Williamson

National Film and Sound Archive

Major partner Lockheed Martin Australia hosted two groups at their NextGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Centre and IBM hosted students at their Linux Development Lab.

Lockheed Martin Australia

NextGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Centre, Lockheed Martin Australia

In total, 196 site and lab visits were conducted over the course of the two NYSF 2016 January Sessions. Our sincere thanks to The Australian National University, our host university in Canberra, as well as the many other facilities that hosted our student visits during the program.

There was also time for socialising and networking at the two science dinners. The ANU’s recently appointed Vice-Chancellor and Nobel Prize winner Professor Brian Schmidt addressed the students of Session A on his “three big questions” while Dr Ranjana Srivastava, author, academic and oncologist addressed the students of Session C about the personal and clinical challenges of caring for patients with cancer.

Dr Ranjana Srivastava, author, academic and oncologist

Dr Ranjana Srivastava, author, academic and oncologist (Image: T8 Photography)

Session C Rotary dinner guest speaker featured 1988 Alumni Subho Banerjee, Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education and Training. Subho asked the students consider the roles of excellence, boldness, contribution and kindness in their futures. At Session A’s Rotary Dinner, Dr Heather Bray (Alumna 1987) a Senior Research Associate at the University of Adelaide reflected on her career to date, taking her from research scientist to science communicator to researcher again. She also raised the issue of mental health in academia in an inspiring speech.

Dr Subho Banerjee (Image Sandra Meek)

Dr Subho Banerjee

Image Sandra Meek

Students with Dr Heather Bray

Our programs were featured in the media many times during the NYSF 2016 sessions.

WIN Television News interviewed Rose from Tasmania and Tim from Armidale, NSW, and the story was included in their national regional news program. Kaliopi from Canberra was interviewed by the Sunday Canberra Times; and Patrick from Woolgoolga, NSW and Grace from Camberwell, Victoria were interviewed by ABC Radio’s 666 Canberra, which was also featured on programs across Australia. ABC Radio’s 666 Canberra interviewed Dr Heather Bray about her address to students, and Dr Rish Ratnam talked to ABC Radio’s 666 about the session on entrepreneurship. The National Science Teachers Summer School was featured in The Canberra Times when they visited award-winning teacher Geoff McNamara at Melrose High School.

“It’s fantastic that a PhD in science will be recognised internationally…”

As Danika Hill headed off to the National Youth Science Forum in January 2004, she knew she loved science and was enjoying studying chemistry and physics at high school. “I was fascinated by medical research, but was unsure about selecting it as a career because I hadn’t studied biology at school.”

Danika Hill WEHI

Danika Hill at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI)

Attending lab visits during the NYSF to institutions such as the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU solidified her decision to pursue a career in medical research. “Many Australian universities offered several types of science degrees such as Laboratory Medicine, Molecular Drug Design, Biomedical Science etc. but I wasn’t sure which one was for me. It was through attending NYSF that I was given the advice to choose a Bachelor of Science, and to try out many different science subjects that were on offer.”

“It was through attending NYSF that I was given the advice to choose a Bachelor of Science, and to try out many different science subjects that were on offer.”


In 2005, Danika embarked on a Bachelor of Science through the University of Adelaide. She studied several different subjects from zoology, astronomy, and psychology to political science. However, she found a passion for Genetics and Immunology. In 2008, she went on to complete an Honours Degree in Immunology through the University of Adelaide, studying stem cell development.

“After 4 years of solid undergraduate study, I decided I needed a break before embarking on a PhD. I worked as a research scientist on Regulatory T cells, which are cells that prevent the immune system from causing damage to the body during infection. In 2010 I took a break from science to backpack around Latin America. It was during volunteer work in the Bolivian Rainforest that I met locals who had grown up with malaria. They told of how horrible it was to catch malaria over and over again when they were children. Intriguingly, as adults they were struck down with malaria less often and had developed resistance to the disease.”

On returning to Australia, Danika embarked on a PhD through the University of Melbourne to study malaria at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. “My research focuses on trying to understand what the immune system needs to do to defeat malaria. The malaria parasite is very complex and over time, it evolved to avoid detection in the immune system. This is why people living in areas with malaria can catch the parasite numerous times before their bodies are able to fight off the disease. If we can discover what the immune system needs to do to fight off malaria then this will help malaria vaccine development.” Danika travelled to malaria endemic areas of Papua New Guinea and Thailand to conduct research for her PhD.

A career in medical research is truly international. She travels internationally to present her work, and collaborate with scientists from around the world. “It’s fantastic that a PhD in science will be recognised internationally and enables me to seek out research overseas.” Danika will complete her PhD in 2015, and then continue her research into the immune system in Europe.

She rocks!

Daniella de Pretis is from Adelaide, and attended the NYSF in 2004.

“I attended high school in South Australia and although I knew I loved science, I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself! In my time at the NYSF I learned that by studying a generalised degree, I would have the option to try a range of subjects and then specialise in what I liked over the course of the degree. This wider view was attractive to me, and helped me to decide where I wanted to study after year 12.

The University of Adelaide was my first choice – it is the only Group of 8 university in South Australia and that was important to me because I wanted to learn from the best, and give myself the greatest chance of obtaining a good job at the end of my degree. I remember my first orientation day, sitting in the lecture theatre and having all the heads of the different science faculties talking about their departments as a way to entice us! I knew I would study chemistry and biology, because I liked them in high school, but I also thought that geology and psychology (which were not available at school) sounded interesting, so I wanted to try them too.

I am thankful that I chose a general science degree

I am thankful that I chose a general science degree because it turned out that I fell in love with geology! I majored in geology and chemistry, and did honours in geology (focusing on geochemistry). The course work was challenging, but we got to travel to some amazing places; in my honours year alone I went to New Zealand, Arkaroola (Northern Flinders Ranges), Perth and Kangaroo Island. My honours project was titled “Using Lithogeochemistry to determine the Stratigraphy and Provenance of the Kanmantoo Group, Kangaroo Island”.

After university, I was offered a graduate job with Newmont Mining. I worked at their Tanami (Australia’s most isolated mine!) and Boddington gold mines. I loved being on site, the friendships and camaraderie between the workers is unlike anything you experience in the office world. You are thrown into work as needed.


After a few years I decided that I wanted to add to my education and so I studied a Masters of Economics through the University of New England. Since completing this, I have moved from working on the mine site, to working as a financial analyst in strategy and long term planning for Rio Tinto. I am able to combine my knowledge of mining with financial analysis to determine if Rio Tinto is making the right financial decisions for its businesses.

With my geology degree I have been able to travel all over Australia and New Zealand as part of my work. I have been to some very remote spots that not too many people would get to experience. The geology department at The University of Adelaide is one of Australia’s best, and if it wasn’t for their passion and the knowledge I learned whilst attending the NYSF I may have never discovered my own passion for rocks and the mining industry!

Three for the price of one

Thursday morning of Week 2 for Session A saw the day kick off with a three speaker multi-disciplinary panel, designed to again explore the career and study possibilities available to students who pursue science study and careers, and the different ways they can apply their learnings.  .

Ben Sanders from Wildlife Victoria talked about his work in endangered animal conservation and its importance to our society. This sparked a lot of animal enthusiasts and future zoologists to ask questions about how to get involved in animal conservation and how its role will be impacted by further climate change.

Emma Colenbrander continued the theme of inspiring speakers. She spoke about the initiative she helped to start, Pollinate Energy, which works to “provide India’s urban poor with access to basic products and services to make their lives better”. She provided a different perspective for students, encouraging both a career in science while also illustrating that any career can assist humanitarian causes. Most importantly, she showed that young people can achieve change and make a difference in people’s lives.

Dr Jeremy Austin from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA explained his research field of forensic DNA investigation. He too emphasised a message that was consistent throughout Session A 2015: that obtaining a degree in a specific field doesn’t dictate where your career will take you.  Rather it’s the decisions you make that dictate where your career will go.

Jeremy Austin Adelaide Uni

Dr Austin started his career with a Science degree at the University of Tasmania, but, “I never would have imagined that I would have end up where I am today.”  His work involves analysing human remains of unknown origin, and using DNA sequencing techniques, such as Mitochondrial DNA mapping, to identify the people to whom they once belonged.  One important case he worked on was the identification of Queensland school boy, Daniel Morcombe.

These three very different areas of scientific endeavour again emphasised to the students the multiple career options that are available and that changing courses and even careers is a real possibility for their futures


By Brett Slarks

NYSF Alumna Tanya Monro new Chair of the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF)

The new Chair of the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) governing Council is Professor Tanya Monro.  Her acceptance of the role marks a significant milestone in the life of the thirty-year program.

Professor Monro is an internationally acclaimed physicist, who is passionate about improving the community’s understanding of the relevance of physics in particular, and science in general.  And she is an alumna of the NYSF, having attended the program when it was the National Science Summer School (NSSS) in 1990.

Professor Tanya Monro, Chair of National Youth Science Forum

Professor Tanya Monro, Chair of National Youth Science Forum


the first time I had the experience of being around other people my own age who were passionate about science

Professor Monro is currently an Australian Research Council (ARC) Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellow, Director of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) at the University of Adelaide.  She will take up a new role at the University of South Australia as Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation in November 2014.

Professor Monro has led significant initiatives bringing together different fields of sciences in a transdisciplinary approach, recognising that the opportunities that lie between different fields of science both generate knowledge and solve real problems.

She says that outreach programs such as the NYSF play a critical role in supporting some of our brightest young people from around Australia by immersing them in stimulating science. “Australia’s future depends on science and technology – we need not just scientists but also politicians, entrepreneurs and citizens working across the range of human endeavour who have an understanding of science and the scientific process.”

“The NYSF serves as a bridge between the science taught at schools and the world of science research and its application in our world. I look forward to working with the governing Council to strengthen the NYSF and its capacity to inspire Australia’s students as they enter year 12.”

Of her own experience at the NYSF, Professor Monro says, “It was the first time I had the experience of being around other people my own age who were passionate about science. Engaging alumni in the program is a tangible way of showing the students some of the career pathways they might consider. One of the biggest insights from the program was that there were many fascinating fields of science that I had not previously discovered and that I should keep an open mind about what area I might want to specialise in until I had a chance to experience a few at university.”

Australia’s Chief Scientist and Science Patron of the NYSF Professor Ian Chubb congratulated Professor Monro on her appointment. “When we talk about inspiring students and getting our skills pipeline right, I can’t think of any person better able to do that than Tanya. I wish her every success.”

Damien Pearce, Director of the NYSF, says that the NYSF is delighted that Professor Monro has agreed to become the Chair of the Council.  “Professor Monro brings a wealth of experience and understanding of the science education environment both in Australia and internationally.  She has substantial knowledge of Australian industry and the priorities we need to be setting so that our science, technology and engineering workforce is well-placed to take us into the future.

“Professor Monro is a great role model for young women and men interested in study and careers in science and technology, which is the focus of the NYSF.  We look forward to working with her.”

Mr Pearce also thanked outgoing Chair, Dr Craig Cormick, for his guidance of the program during his time as Chair of the organisation.  “Dr Cormick’s insights and leadership were extremely valuable and we thank him for his commitment to the NYSF.”

Further information:  Amanda Caldwell 0410 148 173

Tanya Monro FAA, FTSE, FAIP – Biography

Professor Monro is currently an Australian Research Council (ARC) Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellow, Director of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) at the University of Adelaide. IPAS pursues a transdisciplinary research agenda, bringing together physics, chemistry and biology to create knowledge and disruptive new technologies, and solve problems for health, defence, the environment, food and wine.

In November 2014 Tanya will take up a new position as Deputy Vice Chancellor Research at the University of South Australia.

Tanya is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA), the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and the Australian Institute of Physics (FAIP).  She is a member of the AAS National Committee for Physics, and a member of the SA Premier’s Science & Industry Council (PSIC) and the South Australian Economic Development Board (EDB).  Tanya is also an inaugural Bragg Fellow of the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus).  Tanya was awarded the Australian Academy of Sciences Pawsey Medal for 2012. In 2011 Tanya was awarded South Australia’s “Australian of the Year” and the Scopus Young Researcher of the Year.  In 2010 she was named South Australian Scientist of the Year and Telstra Business Women of the Year (in the Community & Government category). In 2008 she won the Prime Minister’s Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

Tanya obtained her PhD in physics in 1998 from The University of Sydney, for which she was awarded the Bragg Gold Medal for the best Physics PhD in Australia. In 2000, she received a Royal Society University Research Fellowship at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton in the UK.  She came to the University of Adelaide in 2005 as inaugural Chair of Photonics. She has published over 500 papers in refereed journals and conference proceedings and raised approximately $140M for research.  She serves on international, national and state committees and boards on matters of science and research policy and science evaluation and assessment.