Australia launches national science week

Australia recently launched its National Science Week, kicking things off with Perth Science Festival...
24 August 2015

Interview with 

Christine Allen, Scitech


Getting the next generation involved in science is a challenge across the world, and this week Western Australia launched National Science Week with Perth Science Festival. The Naked Scientists rocked up to blow up a few hydrogen balloons, but also to have a look around. Georgia Mills caught up with one of the lead organisers - Christine Allen, Executive Officer for National Science Week...

Christine - National Science Week is a celebration of science and a showcase of the best of science across Australia for a week.

Georgia - What are you hoping to achieve with this festival?

Christine - I was wanting to get people out and about, and hearing about science in their everyday life and also, seeing the explosive science, exciting science, and get people excited about science. I think getting scientists out from their labs and talking to the public is a really important thing.

So, that's what we've got going on today because they're often doing things that have to do with our health or with our future, and technology. We have no idea about them because they're always very busy doing other things - publishing papers, and doing their own science.

Getting out and communicating science is sometimes a low priority. So, this week is a real - and particularly, this weekend is a perfect opportunity for scientists to come out and talk about their science and why we need to fund science in general and technology and putting lots of resources into that sort of thing.

Kirsten - My name is Kirsten and I work for the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research here in Perth.

Georgia - What are you guys doing here?

Kirsten - We're doing a lot of things, but my favourite thing we're doing is we're building stargazers with the kids.

Georgia - Can I have a look at one?

Kirsten - Yes, of course. Come over here. So, I have here a tube and it's basically like a normal poster tube that you use to put posters in the mail and we've got some black cardboard over the end of it, and then we've put holes to make a constellation. So, this one is Orion. If I hold it up to my eye and I look up at the sky, I can see Orion.

Georgia - Right. So, at the end of the tube, someone has pierced a lot of holes. Two of them are red in the shape - is that the shape of Orion?

Kirsten - Yes, that's Orion. So, we've also got cellophane that we can put over the end and make some of the stars' different colours. So, this is inaccurate in terms of where the colours are. Someone has just decided they want to make those ones red. But we do have accuracy in the colours. So, we don't have any green because there are no green stars - there's only blue, yellow, red and white stars. The blue ones are the hottest, the red ones are the coldest.

Georgia - What's the aim of this, getting kids poking holes in tubes?

Kirsten - So, it's to teach them about constellations and the patterns of the stars that we use in astronomy to understand the sky. Also, we give them a map of the sky, a planisphere, so they can go home tonight and have a look at the real constellation in the sky, and get an idea of what's above them and what astronomy is all about. We're hoping to really spark that joy and love of looking at the sky and understanding the world around them so maybe they'll learn more about science later on, and maybe consider a career in it.

Georgia - While most of the stalls there were aimed at getting people interested in science. Some of them were trying to get people to do science. One such stall was trying to get people involved in something called the Microblitz project. I spoke to Professor Andrew Whiteley to find out more.

Andrew - We're trying to recruit the general public to take samples of sulphurs around the state of WA. This is different to the way normal science works because usually, obviously, scientists will go out themselves and sample. But the WA size is so big, about 22 times the size of the United Kingdom. We actually encourage its citizens to actually go and take the samples for us.

The reasons why we're doing it? We actually want to look at what's out there in terms of microbial life, where what we call microbe ecologists. Microbes are really important in the way the earth works. The agricultural production is heavily involved with microbes, rehabilitation, and generally, answers biodiversity question - what microbes are out there and where are they? We don't really know the answers to these questions yet.

So essentially, it's about doing a state-wide survey, looking for these key pockets of microbial activity. Are there good microbes out there? They're associated with say, really productive agriculture. Are there bad microbes as well? Are there areas that we could improve based on a microbial map?

Georgia - And how are you getting people involved in this? How are you getting them on your team?

Andrew - Well for example like today, we're actually at the National Science Week here in Perth and we basically have a stand and it's like a recruitment drive. So, people come up and we talk to them about citizen science and there's a real interest in Western Australia about preserving the environment and really find out what's out there.

Australians have a real go-getting spirit and actually, just generally interested in the environment so such quite easy to recruit the citizen scientists. So, we talk to them about the project, we give them jelly snakes which is always a good enticement and also, today's world, we're doing a DNA extraction practical so the kids can come along and actually sign up for the project and do some extractions from strawberries of DNA. We bought 150 this morning, I think we've already ran out in about 3 hours.

The kids are having a great time. They've seen actually what DNA actually looks like. There's clear issues with kids coming through science and actually taken on as a future career. So, this is a real good way of actually engaging them at a very young age and actually, teaching them about science and about the real world, and their natural environment, and that there are great careers and opportunities in it.

Female - So, if you guys wait just a little bit, you will get some bit. You will get some sort of fluffy stuff and that's the DNA that should be appearing. You just have to wait a couple of minutes.

Male - Yeah, don't stir it.

Female - Don't stir it.

Female - Don't mix it up too much. There you go.

Georgia - What's your name?

Tilly - Tilly.

Georgia - Hi, Tilly. What are you doing here today?

Tilly - Looking at science stuff.

Georgia - Are you having fun?

Tilly - Yeah.

Georgia - What have you been doing on this stall? This looks really interesting. There's tubes of what looks like strawberry jam. What have you been looking at with this?

Tilly - It's strawberries that we're looking at their DNA and it's been put on my hand, and it's been disappearing onto my hand.

Georgia - Wow and why have you been looking at the DNA?

Tilly - Because it's cool.

Male - I think science is cool because you could like make some stuff and you could have some fun because I remember going to Scitech, this lady said, science, the best thing about it is that you could also have fun with that things you build.


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