2020 National Science Week
We celebrate National Science Week each year to inspire more students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school.
National Science Week is an opportunity for everyone to talk science, see science and do science.
In light of COVID-19 restrictions, we delivered a virtual program in 2020.
Take a look below and check out these websites to see what other fun and informative National Science Week activities took place:
Why do you love STEM? Video interviews with STEM professionals
We interviewed five Queensland scientists with very different backgrounds and skills to showcase the variety of pathways an interest in STEM subjects can take you. Take a look at the videos below to get inspired!
- The science of sport with Dr Kirstin Morris, Queensland Academy of Sport
- Astrophysics and dark matter with Professor Tamara Davies AM, The University of Queensland
- Chemistry and fire forensics with Dr Matt Smith, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
- Green turtles and marine science with Katharine Robertson, Department of Environment and Science
- Cyber security challenges with Professor Ryan Ko, The University of Queensland
These videos premièred during National Science Week on the Queensland Science Facebook page. The video featuring marine scientist Katharine Robertson also featured in the foyer of the EcoSciences Precinct.
The science of sport with Dr Kirstin Morris, Queensland Academy of Sport
Olympic athletes: maybe they’re born with it, maybe it’s sport science!
In this episode, Dr Kirstin Morris from The Queensland Academy of Sport talks all about sport science: her career, how she uses the latest scientific innovations to help elite athletes become their best, and how sport science could be used in the army and in space!
EDEN WOODEN: We're joined with Kirstin Morris from the Queensland Academy of Sport, who has a PhD and is a sports scientist. Thank you for joining us today.
DR KIRSTIN MORRIS: That's okay thank you for having me.
EDEN WOODEN: What does a sports scientist do?
DR KIRSTIN MORRIS: There's many different streams of sports science, but as performance scientists overall, we use results, and observations, and experiments to provide recommendations on training, competition, and recovery practices that will help an athlete improve each of their systems that contribute to the performance. So, most performance scientists specialize in either physiology or biomechanics, and some specialise in skill acquisition and data analytics. So I'm predominantly a physiologist, and I utilize scientific principles to improve the way the heart, the lungs, and the muscles work together to produce the energy required for the sport... and hopefully delay the onset of fatigue, and the athletes can then continue working at their maximum capacity for as long as possible.
EDEN WOODEN: And what drew you to combine science and sport?
DR KIRSTIN MORRIS: Well I've always loved both sport and science, so growing up my mum played sport - she was a hockey player and a swimmer - [and] my dad ran cross-country. I was involved in sport myself: HP (health and physical education) was always my favourite subject at school, closely followed by the sciences. So I did physics and biology in high school. I remember watching the 2000 Olympics and just having such a strong desire to understand how the athletes were so good, and I was quite young back then so I was just mostly in awe, but as I was also involved in sport, you kind of realized just how good they are when you relate their performances back to your own, and you're just so far away from how good they are! You know, science is... it explores the how and the why. So that was my question: how and why are they so good? And combine it: you have sport science!
EDEN WOODEN: And what's your day look like?
DR KIRSTIN MORRIS: It varies quite often. I guess early season, my job is a lot of monitoring how much their fitness is improving from the baseline, and then we're doing a couple of testing sessions throughout that general preparation phase, just to make sure that they are on track, but also that they're not building too fast and putting themselves at risk of, say, injury, illness or over-training, so, a lot of monitoring the sessions. So a typical day in that sort of phase would be: probably waking up at 4:30am, going out to a session, with rowing, on the Brisbane River starting at about 5:30am and then they would do, say, about 20 kilometres on the water, and I would be in the coaches tinny with the coach, taking some video taking or monitoring their heart rates throughout the sessions, and we put a GPS unit on each of their boats and then we monitor how far they've gone, what stroke rates they used, what their average distance per stroke was. And then go back to the office which is based here at QAS (Queensland Academy of Sport) at Mount Gravatt, and do a lot of the data entry. So we have many, many spreadsheets - Excel is very underrated - and we will plug that in, and then generate a report summary for the coaches and the athletes that kind of give them the feedback.
EDEN WOODEN: How do you approach every athlete at the start?
DR KIRSTIN MORRIS: You would want to assess their capabilities against their sports requirements. In rowing, you need to have a very strong aerobic capacity: so that's what people generally refer to as their 'engine'. So, we would put them through what's called a 7x4 step test, and that is what we use to measure their VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) and get an idea of where their lactate thresholds occur. Rowing Australia - the national sporting organization - has a benchmarks document that we can then compare what did this athlete get compared to athletes in a similar category, similar weight category, and then work on where along that line... where do they need work, and what are their strengths.
EDEN WOODEN: How can young people use science or the scientific method to influence their own sports performances?
DR KIRSTIN MORRIS: One [example] that I was thinking about earlier today actually was: warm-ups. Summer versus winter warm-ups should really be different, and actually thinking about, "What is the purpose of what I'm doing? It's to warm myself up, it's to increase my core body temperature, get my heart pumping, the blood flowing." In winter, you're more than likely going to need a little bit longer to get that done because you're starting from a bit of a lower baseline, whereas in summer if you do the exact same amount of time of a warm-up you're probably going to overheat and be cooked before you even start whatever training you're going to do! So I guess just thinking about, "What is the purpose of this? What am I trying to achieve?", and then thinking about the factors that would affect that, and then manipulating whatever it is that you're going to do. Science and sport seems like a really odd pair to combine in a career.
EDEN WOODEN: What are your thoughts or encouragements for people that are looking to combine science with an unusual career?
DR KIRSTIN MORRIS: Go for it! Why not? I think it's awesome! When I was going through uni - so, I've always known that I wanted to do sport science - but when I was going through uni a couple of variations of sports science were brought to my attention. So, working with the military on, you know, they have to be able to perform physically at their best so you could easily apply similar concepts, similar principles to that sort of population, which I always found quite interesting. Astronauts: they have to be physically prepared for the different environmental conditions that they're exposed to, so again that's combining science with a form of, I guess, physical activity and [it’s] very different. I mean, it's not every day you come across an astronaut who says, "Oh yeah, I've got my own little physical preparation scientist!" If you're passionate about anything that involves science and another component, then, yeah, go for it!
Astrophysics and dark matter with Professor Tamara Davies AM, The University of Queensland
How can studying stars 14 billion light years away influence our future gadgets and technology?
Learn about space and careers in physics from Professor Tamara Davis AM from The University of Queensland as she discusses astrophysics, what “dark energy” is and how many galaxies there are in the universe.
EDEN WOODEN: I'm joined by Tamara Davis, a physicist from The University of Queensland, who's going to talk science with us today. Thank you for joining us Tamara. Maths and physics have a bit of a reputation as library-based and a bit ‘book-wormish’, and yet physics and maths exist in the real world. Is that a true misconception?
PROFESSOR TAMARA DAVIS AM: Yeah it is! It's actually so funny that, I've been in the field so long, that it didn't even occur to me that it would feel library-ish or bookish. Because when I do physics, I go out and I go to the telescopes in the Chilean Andes, or in Hawaii, or out in the middle of New South Wales and in the outback in Australia, and we... it's sort of like a bit of an adventure. You go on these, and you find data, you measure things from distant galaxies and find distant planets, whatever it happens to be out in the realm out beyond us, and then come in and calculate. The things that you do, do when you're to being a physicist, and particularly an astrophysicist like me, is you do tend to do a lot of computer programming, and that's one of the reasons why if you've studied physics and astrophysics you end up being very valuable in industry if you want to go into data analysis, or computing sectors, or startups and that kind of thing. But if you're doing lab work as well you end up... a lot of physicists are in the lab firing lasers at things, and figuring out how quantum physics works on the smallest scales, and other exciting things. It's maybe not quite as bookish as its reputation might seem to have.
EDEN WOODEN: You mentioned a couple of examples there - what's your day-to-day work like?
PROFESSOR TAMARA DAVIS AM: I have a really very varied day/routine, so the kind of activities that I might do is, because I'm a professor at university, I might do a bit of teaching. So I might go and give some lectures to first year students - interact with enormous classes. I work with PhD students, and so we work together to try and figure out big problems that no one's ever solved before. I spend a bit of time myself reading papers and finding out what exciting other things that other people have researched, doing [some] theory myself, doing some calculations, writing grant applications trying to get money, traveling to telescopes taking observations, going out and speaking in public, going on TV shows, going to group meetings and chatting about the science and what the new exciting things are, and doing long-term planning. So saying, "Okay. We want to figure out this problem, we need to... to be able to do that, we need technology that doesn't exist yet." And, so we get in groups and we plan. "Okay. So in 10 years we might be able to make a camera that could measure that. Let's get together and try and and put that together and make that happen." And so looking at the really long term planning as well as the immediate exciting stuff straight in front of us.
EDEN WOODEN: What's the most exciting part of the job?
PROFESSOR TAMARA DAVIS AM: Oh! There's so many exciting things! I think I listed a few just then. One of my most exciting moments… Well, I really like interacting with all of the inspired, exciting people that work in science. Everybody is basically here because they love investigating the universe in some way: whether it's biologists looking at the tiniest little things inside our cells, to astrophysicists looking at the biggest things that exist in the entire universe. So, I love just being part of that community and contributing my own little bit, my own little tiny piece of knowledge to the knowledge of humankind. I remember one particularly exciting moment for me where I was a young astrophysicist, and I just sort of, it was one of my first times observing in a telescope and… we were looking at these distant galaxies. And we got the spectrum of the galaxy - so the rainbow of light - and I couldn't identify it. It was clearly signals there, there was bumps and spikes and there was something there but I was like, "I don't know what this is." So I turned to my colleague and said, "Hey, what am I looking at?" And he's like, "Oh that's an active galaxy. Check out redshift 4." Which basically in layman's terms means look really far away. All of these lines have been shifted. And so I, it's basically like measuring the doppler shift when you do this, which is measuring the changing of wavelength of something as it moves, and so we discovered that I'd actually, we'd accidentally observed a galaxy that emitted the light about 12 billion years ago. And, you know, to put that in context the Earth is only four and a half billion years old. So this light has been traveling for like two and a half times the age of the Earth! And so at that point I sort of just pushed back from the desk, and I was just... had a conception of just how far we're looking when we look with modern telescopes. We're seeing things that happened before the Earth even existed. Before our star had even formed. And that kind of thing is just... Blows your mind. It's phenomenal. Not only that we can see it, but that we can understand it. That I can understand that what I was looking at was the black hole at the center of a galaxy, that was sucking in material and spewing out so much bright light with that material - before it got swallowed by the black hole - that we were able to see it. So yeah, it's... it's inspiring.
EDEN WOODEN: How much information can we actually learn about the universe just from observation?
PROFESSOR TAMARA DAVIS AM: It used to be that observing a galaxy like this one behind me, you would just go, "Oh, there's a spiral galaxy, that's interesting", move on. And that was when our telescopes were so poor that we could only see really the stuff that was really close to us. And it's amazing to think that less than 100 years ago, we didn't even know that galaxies existed. So, people had seen these 'spiral nebulae' in the sky. They called them 'spiral nebulae'. They thought they might be sort of clouds of spiral gas really close to us. And now we know they're billions of stars really far away from us. This is actually a galaxy that we observed with something called the Dark Energy Camera over in Chile. We're working in this massive international team of about 500 scientists, and we're trying to make the biggest map of the distribution of galaxies that has ever been made. We've got over 300 million galaxies in our sample so far. And with this we're understanding how the universe expands: in particular, what's causing that expansion to accelerate? We don't know what's causing it to accelerate but we give it the name 'dark energy' and I'm trying to figure out what dark energy is, because something out there appears to have an anti-gravity property. If we can explain that, who knows? Maybe we can use it. Maybe it's a form of energy. Maybe it's a new form of propulsion. Maybe it's just a better understanding of quantum physics so that we can make better gadgets like phones. Who knows? But that's the sort of the unknown that we're searching for.
EDEN WOODEN: What sort of industry options are there out there for maths and physics graduates?
PROFESSOR TAMARA DAVIS AM: So there's so many different options. I know someone who went to work in art restoration because they - that was really cool. They were looking at sort of x-raying all old artworks and seeing different layers of the drawings, and then the paintings, and things that had been painted over. I know some people who've gone into medicine. Lots of people have gone into things like radiotherapy and treating cancer. I know someone who designed a new type of radiotherapy instrument that was much cheaper than previously before, using astrophysical techniques of focusing of lasers and things, or focusing of a beam in order to treat cancer more effectively. There's a lot of jobs in data science at the moment: so the computing skills and the data analysis skills are extremely valuable, and that's something that you come out with once you've got a physics degree. It's actually amazing how many options that you have! From consulting to medicine to environmental science, if you have that really strong grounding in physics and mathematics and data science, etc.
EDEN WOODEN: What's your advice for students who are interested in career paths in maths and physics in terms of study options?
PROFESSOR TAMARA DAVIS AM: If you're interested in maths and physics, then make sure that you do as well as you can at the highest level of maths that you can do in high school. That's just so valuable. Also, remember to think about computing, and computer programming. That's a really valuable tool. It's as fundamental these days as the mathematics itself. So, learn to program in some programming language. We're using python a lot at the moment, but you can have people using C and a whole bunch of different other programs. Try and find opportunities to take leadership in things: whether it be a sports team, or your local band, or whatever it happens to be. Because the skills that you learn in public speaking and leadership and gathering a team of people to work together on a common task, are things that you don't learn by sitting and reading a book and doing equations. But they actually turn out to be ultra-valuable if you're trying to do a project and any of these physics projects that we typically do usually involve big teams, and if you want to learn leadership, then those kind of things are invaluable as well. Don't worry too much if you don't know what you want to do in the distant future. There are an enormous number of things that are so much fun to do! If I wasn't doing astrophysics, I know I, there's just, I could do environmental science or there would be something cool with genetics or... there's so many cool things to do! Just, when you see an opportunity to do something interesting, jump on it! Do it. Do the best you can with the thing that's right in front of you right now and make sure that you're doing something that you enjoy, because then you'll end up qualified for something that you love.
Chemistry and fire forensics with Dr Matt Smith, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
How does science keep firefighters and the community safe?
In this episode, Dr Matt Smith from Queensland Fire and Emergency Services speaks about working as a chemist in the Research and Scientific Branch – testing for potentially dangerous substances in warehouses, at road accidents and in shipping containers to keep our emergency responders safe.
EDEN WOODEN: I'm joined by Inspector Matt Smith from the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service. Thanks for joining us Matt, what does the research and scientific branch do?
DR MATT SMITH: We do everything from little simple jobs like we've been to houses where they have uh there's a funny smell, you know is there a gas leak, is there a chemical that's been spilled in the front yard. We do mercury spills in houses, pesticide spills, and then we start working our way up into the industrial area, so big warehouses and companies that have large volumes of toxic material, so that can be fuels, that can be acids, that can be bases, that can be chlorine, anything that you would see in industry we've seen it and generally it involves someone doing something silly...they spill it and we have to go and clean up the mess. So those ones tend to be the bigger response and then we do the really, really big ones where you know we have a structure fire where there'll be 30 crews there and we'll be responsible for monitoring the atmosphere, to making sure that the smoke coming off isn't too toxic and if it is toxic then we have to start thinking...right oh we have to evacuate.
EDEN WOODEN: What's the typical process when you get called out to a site?
DR MATT SMITH: We'll go and talk to the incident controller and the incident control is the man in charge, so he's the one that generally is the first fire truck that turns up, the, the station officer he's the boss of the truck, we'll turn up he'll be in charge. We'll go and talk to him and say "right-oh incident controller what do you need from us" and then it'll go from there and he'll say "yep we need air monitoring, we need water monitoring," or you might say "we don't know what the hell's going on, what do you recommend?" and in that case we'll say right oh this is what we need to do, we need to identify it, we need to mitigate it. We also occasionally get jobs from the fire fighters themselves because we have a pretty good relationship with the firies and so a fiery might be at a job that is you know a simple fire or something like that and they might find a chemical that's there that they haven't seen before and then they'll call us direct and say, "Scientific, we found this chemical we don't know what it is what do you think," and then we'll either say, "Yep we think it's this," or, "Not sure, we'll come out," and then we respond through flycom.
EDEN WOODEN: When you turn up to a site and there's an unusual smell or an unusual substance how do you go about identifying what it is?
DR MATT SMITH: Well we have a number of ways. We have a set procedure that we do for every job and the first step in that procedure is to obtain as much information as you can. So the first thing we'll do is we'll turn up and we'll look for any signs or placarding or anything on the on the container if it's a big container or a truck, you know we'll look for that. Then we'll talk to people on scene you know was there a big green cloud? Was it a green cloud? Was it a brown cloud? Okay. Was it a liquid? Was it a solid? We gather that sort of intel, then we talk to the manufacturer. If it's something a little bit more complicated um or a little bit trickier, and, and white powders are a good example of that. White powders can be you know everything. What we do then is we take a sample and we take it to our, essentially our laboratory, which is attached to our truck. So we have all of the, the equipment set up on the truck. We bring it out, set it up in front of the truck, so we have basically a working laboratory right at the front of the truck and then we'll go in we'll take our sample, we'll bring it back to our area and then we do what we call wet chemistry testing. So then we'll say right does it dissolve in water, does it dissolve an acetone, does it dissolve an acid and then we'll do a whole heap of other tests. It's basically using a giant chemistry kit. It's really good fun. You mix A with B, you put yellow drops and blue drops and stuff on it, and that gives us a lot of information that can… and what we're looking for is we're trying to rule out all the really nasty stuff. So the the main stuff we're looking for is: is it corrosive, is it explosive, is it reactive, as in will it react with all the other stuff around? Is it an oxidizer? Is it water-soluble? I've already said that, and so that basically gives us a broad picture of what it is.
EDEN WOODEN: What's the most rewarding part about being a Science Inspector for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service?
DR MATT SMITH: I really enjoy the teaching aspect, the training aspect. So we do a fair bit of training with our volunteers. We have scientific volunteers up and down the state and basically we train them to do what we do. Also firies, we do a lot of fiery training that's always good fun and police. We train the police, the bomb squad, some drug squad training we perform, and that's really rewarding from from my point of view is, is doing the training and teaching the guys and you know, explaining a complex concept. And the other aspect is finishing a job. Once you've got to the once you've got to the scene you know and there's a large spill and or you know a leaking tank or something that that has the potential to do a lot of damage and then you come in and you identify a plan, identify how to do the plan, what instruments you'll need, what gear you'll need, how we clean it up, making sure that everyone's safe and then everyone jumps in the trucks says see you later well done guys and you can walk out and say okay we've left that job in a much better state than when we left than when we started and I find that rewarding as well.
EDEN WOODEN: How important is the application of science in helping both the fire brigade and the wider community?
DR MATT SMITH: Well from our point of view it's, it's the backbone. It's the critical point. Without science none of it happens. So it's, it's basically the building block that we use because everything that we do is related to chemistry in some way. So to me science is a, the underpinning force on everything that we do. So not just chemistry, but you know having a general understanding or knowledge of science helps everyone from my point of view and you don't have to be an expert you don't have to you know have a phd in chemistry, biology, and zoology, but having a general understanding of science is important so that when you see stuff on the TV and you see you know potentially false leads on, on advertising or some of these conspiracy theories that occur, you have enough knowledge to say hang on that doesn't really compute with me and you can then go and do some other reading. Because if you accept it blindly you don't critically think about it, then that's when problems can occur.
EDEN WOODEN: From your experience what makes a great scientific investigator?
DR MATT SMITH: One, you have to have the background knowledge. So you have to have a good background knowledge of the topics that you're looking at. So you have to have either you know a good chemistry degree, or a biology degree or biochem[istry] degree. You have to have that basic building block of knowledge. And secondly, you have to have you have to have a curiosity. You have to be asking yourself, "well how does that work?" And I think once you can identify how something works, or where something comes from, or what it does, and you have that inner curiosity you can then start to think, "okay, well that's doing this, why is it doing that? Okay maybe it's doing that because of this," and then you test that you find out yep that's what it is, and then you can progress from there, because if you don't have that curiosity and you just take everything at face value it tends to be a little bit difficult to know which pathway to go down if you're trying to investigate a chemical.
EDEN WOODEN: Was there a moment or an event when you thought, “wow, science is the career for me?”
DR MATT SMITH: The one point that I can remember, and it was… it's pretty simple. I was grade… going for grade seven to grade eight, and we had an open day at the high school where I was going, and it was over Christmas time period and, or just after Christmas, and I went down into the science lab and, and one of the teachers was there, and he was doing a simple experiment. You know the kids experiments where they have the beakers and they start pouring… he had two colourless beakers and he poured the colourless water into the colourless beaker and it went blue and I went, “whoa”, and then he grabbed that beaker and poured the blue solution into a colourless beaker and it went yellow and then he poured the yellow solution back into another beaker and it went colourless. And he did that about 10 or 12 different times and, you know, watching this going, “wow!” You know that was sort of a switch that I went, “right, I want to know how he did that”. So I went up and had a chat to him and I was what 11 or 12. And it turned out was acid based chemistry so you've got different types of dyes which are indicators for acid/bases, so when you pull one reaction into another reaction you change the pH, it changes the colour. Very simple chemistry, but very elegant and watching the colours change was sort of, you know, a switch that said I want to know how that works, and that was sort of the point where I went right! To me that opened up doors and after that it was sort of I was always going to go through science after that.
EDEN WOODEN: What's the most rewarding aspect of science for you?
DR MATT SMITH: I think the knowledge that you gain, so, so having a problem, or a an unknown situation and then being able to use your own knowledge or your deductive reasoning or the scientific method or whatever you want to call it and to get an answer out of it. I think that's, that's the best aspect from my point of view is because it gives you a point to start from. So a lot of people they'll see a problem and they want to fix it or want to understand it but they won't know where to start. I couldn't, couldn't possibly answer that question but science I think gives you a point to start from, so even if you don't know you know how to find out.
Green turtles and marine science with Katharine Robertson, Department of Environment and Science
Did you know Raine Island is the largest green turtle nesting site in the world? Sir David Attenborough visited Raine Island in the Great Barrier Reef in 2015 and described it as, ‘one of his favourite places in the world.’
Hear from Katharine Robertson from Queensland National Parks speak about working with these green turtles and other marine creatures as part of the Raine Island Recovery Project, and why these turtles still need our help.
EDEN WOODEN: I'm joined here today by Katharine Robertson, Senior Conservation Officer for the Raine Island Recovery Project. Thanks for joining us today Katharine.
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: Thank you for having me.
EDEN WOODEN: Can you tell us a little bit about the conservation work that you do?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: So, I work for the Raine Island Recovery Project, which is in the Department of Environment and Science. The work mainly focuses on restoring Raine Island and the habitat that's there, and the species that use that habitat. So, it's particularly around the green turtles and the seabirds that nest on the island. So the project is actually a five-year collaboration between government and private industry as well as Traditional Owners from Miriam Nation and Wuthathi, and together we're basically trying to make more green turtle hatchlings because there are several issues on the island that's affecting their reproduction as well as making sure that we don't have any negative impact on the seabirds that also use the island to nest.
EDEN WOODEN: And what attracted you to marine conservation?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: As a child I actually grew up in Bundaberg, and the really unique thing there is that they've got loggerhead turtles that come up to nest on their beach each summer there. And so we went down - my family as tourists - down to Mon Repos, which you know you can still do that today! And we saw the turtles there and I just was amazed by them. And yeah, so that's really what started my passion in, particularly in marine science as well as the conservation of that species and species in general.
EDEN WOODEN: What do you love about marine science?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: Really just the learning, and like the facts, and trying to find an answer for problems, or solutions that come up. I think it's what I like about all science in general really, but, particularly for marine there's also then that passion for the marine environment. I'm really lucky because that's what I get to do in my role, in my job. We've got problems on the island that are impacting the turtle population and you know we're about trying to find solutions and adaptive manage the population to increase their numbers.
EDEN WOODEN: How did you get started in marine science?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: I started volunteering actually when I was in high school, with marine turtles and that was always an interest of mine: in science and maths - kind of those STEM programs - were always what I found most interesting. And so it was a natural progression for me to do a Bachelor of Science at university. And I also did an Honours project after that which looked at light pollution and the impacts of lights on loggerhead turtle hatchlings.
EDEN WOODEN: Can you tell me a little bit about your volunteering experience?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: You accompany the rangers or with university researchers and you would start to see, yeah, they would say, "Oh, these turtles are coming back for nesting," (because they don't nest every year) but from their tag numbers they could go, "Well this turtle's been nesting for 20 years, this turtle's been nesting for 30." I just found, particularly that part of it, so interesting in that you actually could see the management actions that were put in place having an impact to the population. I guess it made the passion for science and the passion for research and finding out the answers just that much stronger.
EDEN WOODEN: What's the best aspect of your work?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: The best aspect of my job is definitely the field work! So, I'm not always in the field or at Raine. It's probably about like a 30:70 split of my time between the field and office based. But definitely the best aspect is actually being on the island there. The green turtles that nest at Raine have a lot of troubles, and often they might be on the beach for hours on end and actually not be able to lay eggs. So sometimes it's actually quite nice just to see the turtle getting up there and digging a chamber and actually laying those eggs successfully, just because there is such low reproduction on the beach. But yeah, sometimes even it's just that - the basic, what they're there to do, is actually one of the best things to see.
EDEN WOODEN: What's the biggest difference between your expectation of marine science as a student versus your experience of marine science as a career?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: I think everyone thinks it's 'swimming with dolphins' and 'hugging whales' and yeah, I think there's more marine science careers out there than what people think. Often when you're at university, maybe sometimes it's not clear what kind of career paths you can take: there's a lot about the research and going down the academia path of doing a PhD and doing a postdoc and doing the research in a university or in a lab. But marine sciences, even the marine environment is such a wide and diverse area: there's a lot of different areas that you can specialize in or that you can look at. And you don't always have to stick to one thing either, you know. For me, I was always interested in turtles. But in this current role I'm in, I've also been doing a lot of seabird things, and you know, I've come to know a lot about some of the seabirds that are around in the Great Barrier Reef. And, I guess that's also been a really great experience for me in my role: in being exposed to, I guess, other areas of marine science and conservation of other species.
EDEN WOODEN: And what's your advice to young people that want to get involved in marine science?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: My advice to young people would definitely be to follow your passion. Volunteer – so that was something that, you know, I did, and it really confirmed to me that it was something I was interested and wanted to pursue. You know I had the ability to meet different researchers and scientists and even rangers within our Department, and that really allowed me to kind of look, see what they were doing, see the research they were doing, and really made me go, "Well, yes this is something I want to do." Look at the university subjects that you're interested in, make sure that you're doing the correct studies in high school.
EDEN WOODEN: Did you have any science mentors when you were growing up?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: I guess one of the great things about the volunteering - there were you know researchers there doing their PhDs or there were scientists there within the Department - being able to see that and I guess having those discussions with them as a younger person really opened up my mind to what else was available and I guess what research there was to be done and was also... I guess you could see the research and you could see the results of that research in action.
EDEN WOODEN: What's your advice to anyone out there that's interested in marine science and is considering volunteering?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: Go for it, definitely! Like I said, for me it was really the stepping stone to my career and got me my role that I'm in at the moment. I remember I did some [volunteering] that actually went and monitored little rock pools and you counted the hermit crabs and the snails that were in those rock pools. Which doesn't sound that exciting, but it was a good experience! It was something different. My mum came with me to that one as a kid.
EDEN WOODEN: You were very lucky in that you lived on the coast, and so you had access to a marine environment, and that obviously sowed the seed to an interesting career in marine science. Do you have any advice to young people who don't have access to that marine environment but might be interested in marine sciences?
KATHARINE ROBERTSON: Look a little bit left field! So, for example, there's freshwater turtles in a lot of the creeks throughout Queensland and Australia, so you know there would be that kind of thing. And I guess, don't lose sight of your dream or your passion, and if that's really what you want to do, aim for it!
Cyber security challenges with Professor Ryan Ko, The University of Queensland
What do solving mysteries, psychology, coding and communication have in common? They’re all essential in cybersecurity!
In this episode, Professor Ryan Ko talks all things cyber security – it’s not just about the code, but also about communicating cyber safety messages and potentially working with cyber-augmented colleagues in the future!
EDEN WOODEN: I'm joined by Professor Ryan Ko, cyber security expert from The University of Queensland, talking about all things nefarious on the internet - is that the right word, 'nefarious' on the internet? We have visions of hackers, or Hollywood portrays hackers, as loners in basements typing away very quickly. Is that an accurate description do you think?
PROFESSOR RYAN KO: It's not an exact accurate description, but coincidentally I'm actually wearing a hoodie today! But I don't, I don't think a lot of hackers actually wear hoodies and all those things - it's just a depiction that actually kind of over glorifies criminals, I believe. You know, there's this term called 'ethical hacker'... I don't believe in this term to be honest, because there's no such thing as an ethical burglar, you know? You don't want to, yeah, you can't say that, "Oh because I know how to do it in an ethical way there's no burglary." Burglary is burglary: it's a crime. Although people use the analogy of 'locksmith' you know, in terms of, they are registered - people know that they only do it for the right reasons, right? I think it goes beyond that, you know. It goes into helping people to make their systems more secure. It goes into building safety aspects. Television shows, like you know the 'Border Security' type of television shows, they talk about how the border force actually look at the different biosecurity risks. It would be great to feature some of those cyber security professionals, right? And how they stop some of the big crimes from happening.
EDEN WOODEN: When we think about social media, we don't think very much about what goes on in the background. How important is encryption and cyber security to the functioning of social media?
PROFESSOR RYAN KO: Yeah social media... I mean, it really depends on the content that you're, you're actually going to be posting as well, right? If it's sensitive content, I don't recommend you to post it on social media of course. Because the message, you know, it passes through several computers all the way to the social media server, and then back to your device again. There might be a chance that people will be listening in or eavesdropping along the way. So it's good to keep it 'secret' in a sense, you know, and it is encrypted - the channel is encrypted. The way you keep it secret is like, if you're in a classroom and your teacher is talking, you write a code that, you know, write some sentence in a code that only you and your friend understand. Then you pass it through your friends in the classroom to the other side of the classroom and then your friend receives it, understands it, writes in the same code again and passes it back to you. In the middle, your other classmates do not understand what you wrote, but only the recipient and the sender understand. So, that really helps with the privacy aspects.
EDEN WOODEN: Is the cyber security used in social media the same that's used in banks and power stations and infrastructure networks that run countries?
PROFESSOR RYAN KO: The principles are the same, it's just the implementation sometimes might differ, right? So, increasingly they are more and more common you know, because banks are getting online, the power stations are getting more connected to the internet. And why are they connected to the internet? It's because the people who are controlling from the power companies may want to be sitting in an office at a city, and then controlling the power stations across the entire state, right? Across different locations. So, with the internet they can do that. But with that they also are exposing themselves to the same risk of, you know, confidentiality (C), the integrity (I), and the availability (A) of the information that they pass. In short, you know this is called CIA, not after the agency! But it's easy to remember.
EDEN WOODEN: As a lay person, I had this vision that it's an arms race, that you set up a secure system, the hackers beat it, you plug the holes, make the wall higher, you back-and-forth. Is that a true depiction?
PROFESSOR RYAN KO: In a way it is, and that's one of the reasons why we do research to expand that, you know, because this is a very single directional thing. You want to increase the difficulty, you could also demotivate them: you could demotivate them by making it really... you know, if they actually log into your computers you actually display a message saying, "Look, I'm actually looking at you." You know it really freaks them out! And then immediately, you know, that kind of thing. So, we need to do more research in that area. We also need to know, know how to design software in a more secure way we call it 'secure software engineering'. If, you know, if you love coding, I would encourage you to, to look at, say, how to build software in a secure way, rather than just building software. It's... you know it's a different thing to build a skyscraper, and a safe skyscraper, right? You will want a safe skyscraper. And if you were really pursuing a career in software engineering, even if you don't want to be specifically known as a cyber security professional, you have a duty to actually build very safe and secure software.
EDEN WOODEN: What makes a good cyber security expert?
PROFESSOR RYAN KO: The first thing is probably to look at the mindset of the person, right, a good cyber security expert would be very open to a diversity of thought. If you're only looking at just one side of the problem space, and you ignore the rest, the problems will just keep coming again and again. So if you have a diversity of thought that you welcome, you actually combine the skills of different people with different strengths. You know, if you just think that you're a great programmer you're probably not going to solve a lot of cyber security issues. Computers are made by programmers, and yet they have security problems. The next thing that the cyber security professional would have is probably the curiosity, the hunger to know the unknown and fill the gap. I mean, no human can know everything in the world and in life, and the third one is probably a mindset of helping people. You know you want to, you like to help people, you want to do something useful in life? Yes, then you're really made for a cyber security career.
EDEN WOODEN: And how important are complementary skills: to think beyond the programming?
PROFESSOR RYAN KO: Let's say, if you are very good at communicating, there is a job for you in cyber security! Once a cyber security attack happens, what do you do next? What is the best way to communicate it to the customers or to the citizens of the country? If you'd like to do investigation of crime, you understand how computers work and how criminals behave and think, and how do you reduce the opportunities for the crime to happen, then you can be a great advocate for crime prevention in the cyber space. I did that myself: I was a technical advisor for the Minister of Justice in New Zealand. I was like thrilled! Because I was actually contributing beyond just programming, I was communicating with people who are protecting the society, or you know doing justice in society. There's also other aspects like psychology: if you like psychology there's a job for you in cyber security too. The psychology of how phishing emails, for example, trick people into clicking the links and then keying their passwords. And also in psychology there's also another emerging area that we call 'human and cyberbot teaming'. If, let's say, humans were to augment ourselves with cyber capabilities that, you know, computers are great with - when they become a team member of our team, what kind of dynamics are there? What kind of mental models are we going to develop?
EDEN WOODEN: What's your advice for young people that are interested in cyber security and may or may not have the computer skills that you've described?
PROFESSOR RYAN KO: Oh, keep going at it! And speak to different people. Go for the meetups: so there are many different meetups. Make some friends who are also good at programming and then you guys learn from each other, you know? I think you will want to go from an approach that allows you to have more options and you don't close doors too early. You don't want to say, "Oh, I'm not good programming and I don't want to do that." I didn't start out doing programming when I was in high school... there was no, no such thing actually! Okay, when I was doing my undergraduate degree we were doing Java, the websites were clunky, and there was no such thing as Facebook or Instagram. I actually went into the electrical, electronic engineering stream, but I changed to a computer engineering stream because I felt I needed to be part of the action, where everybody's using a device, so it looks we are going to do that. And I guess that mindset brought me to my next job, which is to run computers at a semiconductor company. And then that brought me to my research you know, in doing my PhD. And then my PhD brought me to Hewlett-Packard (HP), which is a major computer company you know, and then that ultimately brought me to to New Zealand as an academic, and then over here now in Queensland, at UQ. So, this whole journey wasn't planned. I mean, it is planned by you know, God for example, but at the same time I didn't set out to plan at every stage that I enter, you know? If you are in your high school or in your primary school and you're watching this video, you want to make sure that you look at what the future looks like in 10 years, and try to learn and experience as much as possible in that trajectory, or the direction, and don't close out opportunities along the way.
Flying Scientists ‘virtual’ visits to regional schools
In the lead up to National Science Week 2020, the Wonder of Science Flying Scientists created a series of videos explaining their fields of study and fun experiments you can try at home. Take a look at the videos on the Wonder of Science website.
The Wonder of Science team also held live virtual events during National Science Week 2020 featuring a Flying Scientist visiting schools around regional Queensland:
- Happy Valley State School, Happy Valley
- Emerald State School, Emerald
- Cairns School of Distance Education, Cairns
- St Brendan’s College, Yeppoon
- Spinifex State College, Mt Isa
Visit to Moreton Bay College – Deep Blue
Moreton Bay College learned about the depths of the ocean as part of the National Science Week 2020 theme ‘Deep Blue’.
An Engaging Science Grant 2019/20 recipient from The Fabricated Frame and The University of Queensland, Jo McCallum, visited the school on Tuesday 18 August.
Ms McCallum spoke about seaweed biofabrication to create bio-plastics, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the importance of transdisciplinary research.
Students also spent the week building a 10,000 piece Lego™ diorama of the ocean ecosystems.
STEM Awesome activities
Check out our new 2020 Awesome activities book for a host of experiments, colouring-in and word puzzles.
It was designed by some of Queensland’s leading professionals working in STEM fields:
- Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera
- Dr Anu Choudhary
- Professor Jonti Horner
- Dr Larisa McLoughlin
- Dr Bonnie Quigley
- Dr Jenni Gunter
- Dr Ben Allen
- Dr Amanda Dawson
- Dr Andreas Kupz
- Dr Sara Herke
- Dr Maryam Shirmohammadi
- Dr Jodie Rummer
- Dr Shaneel Chandra
- Dr Linlin Ma
- Dr Robert Clemens
- Dr Rob Capon
- Dr Stephanie Schoeppe
- Julia Lackenby
If you have primary school aged children who love science, download the:
- NEW 2020 STEM Awesome activities book
- STEM Awesome activities book (our earlier edition with other activities and scientists to meet).
Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science awards ceremony
On 27 August, winners of the 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science awards were announced.
Dr Celine Frere from the University of the Sunshine Coast was awarded the 2020 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year.
Nine other researchers were acknowledged with a Young Tall Poppy Science Award on the night.
All delivered a one minute pitch on the research and communication activities that led to them being short listed for the award.
Read more and watch videos featuring this year’s award-winning scientists and their research.
Find out about the awards, an initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), which aim to recognise excellence in research as well as enthusiasm for communicating science beyond the walls of the laboratory at the AIPS website.
STEM awesome activities
Meet some of Queensland’s scientists and professionals working in STEM fields and have some fun doing colour-in, word games and experiments. Download .