UNE gains new funding for science outreach program

Published 21 June 2012

chemThe University of New England’s community engagement initiative Far Out Science has won an Australian Government grant of $45,000 to help it extend its program of hands-on, science-based activities throughout northern NSW.

The three-year grant is one of 63 “Unlocking Australia’s Potential” science communication grants announced last week by the Minister for Science and Research, Senator Chris Evans, as part of the Government’s Inspiring Australia strategy. The UNE program has also received funding of about $4,500 from the NSW Trade and Investment Science Leveraging Fund.

This year’s Far Out Science program, in early November, will take UNE scientists to busy shopping centres in northern NSW towns including Armidale, Tamworth, Grafton, Kempsey and Toormina, where they will engage shoppers in simple experiments illustrating the scientific principles behind everyday domestic activities. This part of the program, called “Consumer Science”, made its successful debut at Armidale’s Centro shopping centre during National Science Week last year.

Far Out Science also includes “Science in the Bush”, which brings school students from all over northern NSW to UNE for activities designed to help them realise that the study of science – and the pursuit of a scientific career – can involve a lot of fun. For the past decade, “Science in the Bush” has been an annual event at UNE for secondary students, but last year, with the help of a National Science Week grant, it was extended into two consecutive days – the second day being for primary school students. This new grant will enable UNE to continue to run the primary students’ day, and in 2013 add a third day – on a Saturday – for members of the general public.

More than 800 school students visited UNE for “Science in the Bush” last year.

Dr Michelle Taylor and Dr Erica Smith from UNE Chemistry, who coordinated Far Out Science last year, are already preparing for this year’s program. “Students from Indigenous communities, remote areas, and small schools are often prevented from attending outreach events because of the costs associated with travel,” Dr Taylor said. “Government funding allows us to make ‘Science in the Bush’ accessible to all students by offering transport subsidies.”

“‘Consumer Science’ will take science to the people,” Dr Smith said. “By visiting local shopping centres on a Saturday morning, we can offer people of all ages and walks of life the opportunity to carry out enjoyable and simple hands-on experiments that demonstrate the relevance of science to the very items they are there to buy.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show UNE’s Dr Ben Greatrex entertaining young shoppers at Armidale Centro during last year’s “Consumer Science” event.