Teachers see how science supports primary industries

Published 15 September 2008

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Science teachers from secondary schools in the New England and North West regions of NSW are gaining an insight into the science supporting local primary industries.

A “Teacher Professional Development” event today and tomorrow is taking teachers to primary industries and research laboratories in Armidale, Guyra and Tamworth. It is part of the national Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) program, established in 1998 to address a nation-wide shortage of skilled young people entering agricultural science careers.

The PICSE program has six activity centres hosted by universities across Australia. The NSW activity centre, established at the University of New England in 2007 and managed by Susanna Greig and Associate Professor Robin Jessop, ran a successful pilot program in 2007-08.

“Following positive feedback from the teachers and students involved in the pilot program,” Ms Greig said, “and with the continuing support of our industry partners and UNE, the program is continuing in 2008-09 and has expanded to include more schools, businesses and industries from the New England and North West regions.”

This week’s “Teacher Professional Development” event is a prelude to events for high-school students in January 2009 that – through PICSE Industry Placement Scholarships – will enable the students to explore career and research opportunities in agricultural science, and to gain experience working with scientists in agricultural research and industry.

The teachers’ event includes an information and discussion session tomorrow morning on the advantages of – and concerns about – ethanol production. It will be provided by ethanol producers and scientists from CSIRO, UNE and the Tamworth Agricultural Institute. Tomorrow afternoon at the Tamworth Agricultural Institute Dr Robin Gunning will explain the use of the “gel electrophoresis” process in investigating resistance to insecticide.

A tour of Top of the Range Tomatoes at Guyra this morning illustrated the science behind the large-scale production of high-quality tomatoes. Then, returning to the UNE campus, the teachers learnt about genetic technologies supporting the Australian beef industry and the fermentation process in the digestive tract of ruminant animals, and visited Veterinary Health Research.

Associate Professor David Lamb from UNE and Stuart George from Petersons Armidale Winery are leading a tour of the winery’s cool-climate vineyards this afternoon, focusing on novel developments in the protection of grape vines against frost.

Ms Greig said that the teachers who attended the pilot Teacher Professional Development event last year had found it both relevant and useful. “The PICSE program has been a long-awaited resource for many science teachers, and I hope to see the program continue to run for many more years,” one of them had commented after the event.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show (from left) Susanna Greig, Karen Dickenson from McCarthy Catholic College in Tamworth, Jim Belford from Warialda High School, and UNE’s Professor John Nolan. Professor Nolan is explaining the function of the ruminant digestive system with the help of a model sheep rumen.