UNE visit illuminates science topics for HSC students

Published 19 June 2008

LightMore than 200 Year 12 students got a boost to their Higher School Certificate science studies this week in an encounter with cutting-edge laboratory techniques at the University  of New England.

The students, from 16 secondary schools throughout northern NSW, were taking part in a UNE event designed to give HSC science students access to topics and laboratory equipment relevant to the syllabus but difficult to provide in schools. The two-day event this week (Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 June) was UNE’s ninth annual presentation of HSC Science Booster Activities.

The students, who came from schools as far away as Gunnedah, Coonabarabran, Bellingen and Toormina as well as from the New  England region, engaged in practical activities in physics, chemistry, agriculture, biology and engineering.

They agreed that their introduction to research topics and equipment used by UNE scientists had been a valuable experience. “They have equipment here that we haven’t got at school,” said Emma Ritchie from O’Connor Catholic High School in Armidale, who is interested in the possibility of a scientific career. Jenn Pateman from the same school agreed, and added that the “different atmosphere” of the UNE laboratories had also stimulated new ideas. The image displayed here expands to include Emma Ritchie (left) and Jenn Pateman.

Associate Professor David Lamb, using equipment specially built at UNE for the purpose, demonstrated some of the more spectacular effects of passing an electric current through a gas, and went on to discuss the implications of such studies in understanding natural phenomena such as lightning. “If you understand the physics of lightning, you can understand the precautions you need to take against it,” he said.

Dr Lamb said the equipment used in the demonstration typified the contribution that UNE could make to students’ HSC studies. “As we’re strong on plasma physics at UNE,” he said, “we can give the students a demonstration – related to topics in the HSC syllabus – with complex apparatus such as this.”

The other activities covered subjects such as the use of spectrometry in chemistry, gas production in the gut of ruminant animals (agriculture), genetics and gene expression (biology), and variations in the velocity of water flowing in a channel over surfaces of varying roughness (engineering).

Associate Professor Robin Jessop – who, with his UNE colleague Daniel Alter, coordinated this year’s event – said the feedback from both students and teachers had been very positive. “The program is an initiative prompted by HSC teachers themselves,” Dr Jessop said, “and is designed to cover areas they find difficult because of lack of sophisticated equipment.”