School students impress scientists with original research projects

Published 14 September 2011

jamie-randallA finding that different sorts of music affect plant growth in different ways was just one of many intriguing research results to emerge when more than 100 science students from schools around the New England North West region presented their individual projects to scientists at the University of New England on Monday 12 September.

The students were competing for cash prizes in the Science Investigation Awards for 2011 – an event conducted nationally by the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) and locally through the PICSE activity centre at UNE – one of 10 PICSE activity centres across the nation.

Jamie Randall (pictured here), who is in Year 10 at Armidale High School, explained that she had conducted her experiment with butterfly plants (Gaura neomexicana) which had taken nine days to germinate, and which she had exposed to four different sorts of music – classical, country, pop and rock – over a five-day period. She found that those plants exposed to country music matured the fastest.

The students came from secondary schools in Armidale, Gunnedah, Inverell, Tamworth and Walcha. “They’ve spent months working on their projects and preparing for the event,” said Susanna Greig, the PICSE Science Education Officer at UNE.

Jamie Randall was one of two winners of the students’ choice award for “best display”. Speaking about the competition itself – culminating in the day at UNE – she said it had been “fun to meet other people and see their work”. The other winner of the “best display” award was Emily Gillham from St Mary’s College, Gunnedah, with a project on extending the life of cut flowers, and the students’ choice award for “most interesting project” went to Katie Anderson – also from St Mary’s College – with a project on the use of chemicals to remove flesh from the bone.

Another student from St Mary’s College won the award for “most outstanding project” presented by UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science. “I always go fishing,” said Tom Welsh, whose award-winning project investigated the relative strength of different knots used in fishing tackle. “What could be a better subject for investigation than something you enjoy doing and that you’re going to use?”

“Senior Scientist of the Year” awards went to Madeline Hine from PLC Armidale (1st), Stephen McDonald from Carinya Christian School, Tamworth (2nd) and Henry Davies from Carinya Christian School (3rd). “Junior Scientist of the Year”: Faith Dennehy, Duval High School, Armidale (1st); Tyson Smith and Jack Wake, Walcha Central School (2nd). “High Achievement Award”: Eliza Scott and Hannah-Lee Hourigan from PLC Armidale. “Primary-industry-themed” award: Mollie Galvin, NEGS, Armidale (1st); Winona Rumble, Duval High, Armidale (2nd).

“The Science Investigation Awards are just one element in PICSE’s national program of activities designed to build relationships between school students and local scientists and employers in primary industries,” Ms Greig said. “The Awards were introduced into the UNE PICSE repertoire of opportunities for science teachers and students in 2009. In that year there were 27 student projects, which were judged by 9 scientists. In 2011 there were 106 projects presented by 114 students, and these were judged by 25 scientists.

“UNE PICSE has been thrilled to see the level of sponsorship for this event grow in accordance with the increasing number of student projects. Sponsorship has increased from $400 in 2009, to over $4,000 in 2011. Every dollar of sponsorship is directed entirely towards the students and schools with award-winning projects. We thank the national sponsors Dow AgroSciences, the Grains Research & Development Corporation and Woolworths, along with our local sponsors Armidale Central Rotary Club, UNE Marketing & Public Affairs, Walcha Council, East West EnviroAg, and Dr Hans Graser.