In Term 2 this year, I had the pleasure of visiting St Joseph's School - Tara, Meandarra State School, Glenmorgan State School, and tiny but mighty Teelba State School. St Joseph's is the largest of these schools with 19 students in a combined Years 4-6 class, and is the closest to Brisbane at 300km away. All other schools I visited had less than 30 students, total! Meandarra, Glenmorgan, and Teelba are the smallest schools of my Darling Downs South West regional visits, with roughly 10 students in each combined Years 4-6 class, and are 360, 380, and 430km from Brisbane, respectively. For the sake of comparison, Teelba is roughly the same distance from Brisbane, as Lyon (France) is from Milan (Italy)...Read More
PhD Candidate - Opthamology
The University of Queensland
Natalie was that kind of girl – always asking questions, exploring and trying new things. Her inner scientists thrived thanks to her family and teachers, who inspired her to pursue a career in science. Now, as a Young Science Ambassador, she is giving back to her community and making sure young Queenslanders are wowed by science.
What got you into science?
I am wired as a scientist by default – I think most of us might be – so it was more a case of my family and teachers allowing and encouraging me to keep asking questions. More importantly, they demonstrated how to think about finding the answers. I was also lucky enough to have the freedom to experiment in not only the garden and kitchen, but also with craft, paint sets, LEGO blocks, the sewing kit; and musical instruments that we had in our home when I was little. Spending play-time exploring, creating and trying new things really taught me a lot about how things worked, and helped me understand the fundamentals of science long before I knew all the proper names for the particular concepts.
Who inspired you to pursue a science career?
It was the combined result of my parents, siblings, teachers and friends allowing my inner scientist to thrive, rather than any one person who particularly inspired me.
Who is your favourite scientist and why?
It is very hard to pick a favourite – so many people have done really cool stuff! One scientist who I think is particularly noteworthy, though, is Jonas Salk (who discovered and developed the first successful polio vaccine).
What is your favourite science term or concept?
Science is kind of like learning another language – there are so many terms! I had trouble learning them all when I studied pathology at uni, but now I realise that those words are pretty cool because they are so descriptive and specific. This was really important hundreds of years ago, when people from all over the world wanted to share their discoveries, but no one spoke the same language. How did they get around this? Scientists learned Latin, and they published their work in Latin! This meant there was no way that a term could be misinterpreted, and gives us the scientific language based on Latin (and Greek) roots that we still use today. My favourite would probably be chemotaxis, from Latin chemo (chemical) and taxis (movement). It describes the movement of a cell or organism in response to a chemical gradient (increasing or decreasing chemical concentration), but I like it because it makes me imagine chemical molecules driving around in little taxis.
What is your favourite science theory or equation?
My favourite equation has to be the surface area of a cylinder! My high-school maths teacher, Miss Rowland, had a funny way of helping us remember it – it has a great rhythm to it when you say it aloud, kind of a like a song: “Two pi R squared, plus two pi R H!” (in proper maths terms: 2πr2 + 2πrh). So she sang it and swayed to the rhythm, then got the class to do the same. I’ve never forgotten it – Maths and music really are linked!
Can you explain in plain English what your research is about?
Isolating and testing components of silkworm cocoons to see if they can act as an antioxidant, with particular interest in challenging the components to protect eye cells against the conditions that contribute to blinding diseases like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
How does your research apply to day-to-day life?
If all goes well and the cocoon components do protect the eye cells really well, I hope to be part of the team that drives the process of taking the idea from basic science (what I’m doing now in my PhD) right the way through to clinical trials of the component as a refined and highly effective drug to treat glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
What is your dream job?
My dream job is to be a researcher, university lecturer, science communicator, junior science inspirer, and a mother – all at once! I hope in some small way to make the world a better place, and I think the most effective way to do that is through encouraging curiosity and education.
What are your tips to get students excited about science?
Bring some of that play-time exploration and inquisitive spirit back into the lesson!
I like to design my lesson plan starting with a discussion about what the students already know about the subject, and define some key concepts. This ensures that: All students have the same foundation information but, more importantly,we aren’t rehashing stuff they already know really well, so students won’t disengage from the lesson, and Students already feel like they know something about the topic, which makes them that much more confident to offer ideas and ask questions! Scaffold students JUST enough, then start asking THEM the questions!
As a YSA, my aim is always to teach students how to think, how to ask good questions, how to design rigorous tests to ensure that the answer you get is actually true and correct. Instead of rote learning every fact, they get to discover some things, which is a much more powerful learning tool.