Passion for science drives young inventors
It might be unusual for high school students to conduct university based research before sitting for the HSC but Nga Nguyen, 17, and Angelina Arora, 15, are no strangers to the scientific method. The two Sydney Girls’ High School students have been undertaking science experiments in their own time for a number of years and have developed innovative products to tackle environmental issues, earning them both BHP Billiton Science and Engineering awards in 2018.
Following on from their biochar and degradeable plastics projects the students were keen to develop a project around algae to enter the Science Teachers Association NSW (STA NSW) 2018 Young Scientists Awards and approached University of Technology Professor Peter Ralph for guidance.
What followed was an intensive few weeks for the students who were on a steep learning curve both in and out of the laboratory.
With an interest in sustainability and alternatives to non-degradable plastics, Angelina and Nga were drawn to researching microalgae. With mentorship from biotechnologists and biologists from UTS Climate Change Cluster (C3), and supported by the Deep Green Biotech Hub, Angelina and Nga investigated the effect of different coloured light on the growth of a common microalgae, Chlorella. The students hope to use this initial research to inform a longer project on microalgae they plan to complete with C3 in the future.
Recent changes to the NSW HSC Science curriculum to include a Science Extension subject means that this model of learning will become more common in the future. The new subject gives year 12 science students opportunities to carry out scientific research and study with research institutes and universities as part of their HSC.
This is exactly the path Angelina has chosen, she is one of the first students to take the new Science Extension course aimed at encouraging the next generation of leaders in scientific research.
Professor Ralph said that he was very pleased when the students contacted him.
"I recalled seeing them on TV several months earlier and then when I met them I was so impressed at the deep insight of their inquires about performing experimental science with members of C3.
"As we designed the experiment and then week by week they collected the data, I could see their absolute drive and passion for science and solutions to current societal dilemmas. These two young ladies are our future leaders of scientific innovation; with a few more like these we are in safe hands," he says.
These two young ladies are our future leaders of scientific innovation; with a few more like these we are in safe hands
Both Angelina and Nga said it was important to them to be able to spread the message about environmental sustainability and to show young women they "could do STEM".
They are certainly well on their way to careers in scientific researchers picking up 2nd place prize for Biology years 11-12 in the STANSW competition.