School students become ‘scientists for a day’ at UNE

Published 17 August 2010

Science in the BushStudents at secondary schools from Armidale to Coffs Harbour gained fresh insights into the nature of science when they spent a day experimenting in laboratories at the University of New England last Thursday.

About 150 science students in Years 7-9 took part in UNE’s annual “Science in the Bush” – a day-long program of hands-on activities. Those activities included experiments in physics and chemistry, and investigations in physiology, engineering, and palaeontology. The students also used the techniques and equipment of surveyors to locate a hidden “treasure”, and the properties of fluorescence to solve a “crime”.

Last week’s was the eighth annual “Science in the Bush” – presented this year with financial support from UNE’s School of Science and Technology. “Over the years we’ve put more and more of a focus on hands-on activities,” said the organiser of the event, Dr Chris Fellows. “They make things, mix things, and observe things – that’s what makes the most impact.”

Dr Fellows, a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at UNE, explained that students often lose their enthusiasm for science – an enthusiasm that most of them develop in primary school – during their high-school years. “At Science in the Bush we’re trying to re-ignite that enthusiasm by giving them an idea of what science, as it’s practised, is really like,” he said.

He said that giving the students access to scientific equipment unavailable in schools – and opportunities to meet professional scientists – was an important part of their experience on the day.

“As scientists at a regional university,” Dr Fellows said, “we feel we have a responsibility to reach out to our local communities – to show them that their university is a centre of cutting-edge scientific activity, and to give them educational access to that science.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Nikki Szafranski from Orara High School, Coffs Harbour, engaged in the surveying exercise (the “treasure hunt”).