Creative science students rise to the Challenge

Published 16 March 2012

Almost 500 school students from Armidale, Guyra, Uralla and Walcha pitted their ingenuity against some challenging problems in science and engineering at the University of New England this week.

The local “Highlands” event in the national Science and Engineering Challenge drew young participants from seven Armidale primary schools and nine New England secondary schools.

They built load-bearing bridges, racing hovercraft, reflecting telescopes, tennis-ball-firing catapults, energy-efficient model houses – and more. In the process they had lots of fun, and valuable experience in problem-solving as part of a team.

On Tuesday 13 March teams of primary students (from Years 5 and 6) tackled these activities in a non-competitive program known as the Highlands Science and Engineering Discovery Day. On the following day, in the Highlands Science and Engineering Challenge, teams of secondary students (from Years 9 and 10) competed against each other in the same activities.

The combined team of students from Guyra Central and Duval High Schools that won the Highlands Challenge now has the opportunity to compete against teams from other regions around the State in the Super Challenge later this year. A team from The Armidale School came second, and one from O’Connor Catholic College came third.

This is the tenth year that UNE has staged events in the “Challenge” series. Supported by UNE’s School of Science and Technology and School of Environmental and Rural Science, the event is organised by a committee of local Rotarians and UNE representatives, and assisted by the University of Newcastle, which supplies much of the equipment for the activities.

“We’re starting to see students coming to UNE who took part in the Challenge when they were at school,” said Dr Peter Lye, the Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at UNE who coordinated the event in the University’s Lazenby Hall. “There’s evidence that events such as this are helping school students to become engaged with science at a younger age, and are carrying this interest through to senior secondary and tertiary levels.

“We’d like to see the engagement that these students have experienced today motivate them to select higher-level maths and science in their senior studies and then into university.”