School students experience the excitement of science

Published 14 November 2012

More than 700 students from 32 schools throughout northern NSW became chemists, forensic scientists, pharmacists, nurses, physiologists, computer programmers and engineers for a couple of hours last week when they immersed themselves in science at the University of New England.

They were taking part in the University’s 10th annual “Science in the Bush” event – a program that enables school students to explore the principles and applications of science in UNE’s research laboratories.

For the second year, “Science in the Bush” extended over two days – the first day (Thursday 8 November) for students in Years 7-9, and the following day for those in Years 5-6. It was the first event for this year in the University’s community engagement initiative Far Out Science, funded through the Australian Government’s “Unlocking Australia’s Potential” program.

The three-year Government grant has enabled “Science in the Bush” to extend its reach by subsidising students’ travel to UNE. “They came from schools as far away as Grafton, Coffs Harbour and Bingara,” said Dr Michelle Taylor, one of the UNE organisers. “Some of them had to be up at 5 in the morning to get here.”

In the chemistry laboratory, the students investigated the spectra of various chemical compounds, and made slime and nylon. Forensic chemistry took them into a crime scene with the examination of fingerprints and tell-tale fibres. Elsewhere they programmed a robotic explorer and trained a virtual rat, analysed the acoustic properties of dog vocalisations, made a hand lotion, observed the voluntary and involuntary control of their muscles, and investigated the structure and strength of beams used in construction.

“It’s really important that students get a good idea of what science is all about,” Dr Taylor said, “and that even the basic sciences such as physics and chemistry are exciting if you really get involved in them. It’s also important for them to visit a university campus and realise that it’s a place where anyone can aspire to study.”

The feedback from participants this year – as in previous years – confirms that the event is successfully transforming students’ perceptions of both science and universities.

The other components of Far Out Science this year are “Consumer Science” events that, with the help of a grant from the NSW Department of Trade and Investment, will take science out into local communities. UNE scientists will be entertaining people with practical experiments in the science of everyday life on Saturday 17 November at Tamworth Shopping World, and on Saturday 1 December at Armidale’s Centro shopping centre.

On Friday, the winners of a competition that invited school students to design a logo for Far Out Science were presented with their prizes. The winner – Lily Scales – and runners-up – Niamh Evans and Tara Bourke – are all from Ben Venue Public School in Armidale. Lily said she felt “very proud” that her design was being used on T-shirts (as pictured here), posters, and other items connected with the events.