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High school students put science into action

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article image Queensland student Rachel Rognoni and teacher Amanda Kilgour put scientific experimentation to work in this year’s inaugural Science for Growth Awards

The Science for Growth Awards sponsored by Dow AgroSciences Australia  is an initiative of the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) to engage students in science at the high school level.  

The inaugural Science for Growth Awards has attracted participation from several students across New South Wales and Queensland who are putting their scientific minds to work on investigating everything from pain tolerance to alternative products for household insulation.  

The Science for Growth Awards program encourages students in Years Nine and 10 to choose a science topic, develop a hypothesis and carry out experiments to answer their questions. With plans to expand the awards to all Australian schools in 2013, Dow AgroSciences’ sponsorship of the science awards reflects their mission to encourage Australia’s next generation of bright young scientists to eventually pursue careers in agriculture.  

Dr Matt Cahill, Dow AgroSciences’ Research and Development Leader, Australia and New Zealand explains that the initiative aims to overcome the growing skills shortage facing Australia’s agricultural industry by encouraging students to pursue scientific interests.  

Year 10 entrant Rachel Rognoni from Centenary Heights State School in Toowoomba is conducting an investigation into pain tolerance thresholds in youth after reading a magazine article on a study that said pain tolerance among kids in hospital increases when they are distracted, for instance while playing videogames.  

The study made her explore other distractions that could achieve the same results, towards which she initiated a control test with a fellow student and then conducted several variable tests to trial her hypothesis. The distractions included playing video games, reading, having a conversation, listening to music and solving a mathematical equation. Rachel found that music and video games were definitely the most effective at increasing pain tolerance, though all of the distractions increased the control subject’s tolerance, even if only slightly.  

Rachel’s teacher, Amanda Kilgour and New South Wales teacher Lisa Davis from Marian Catholic College in Griffith, received a teacher’s award for commitment to student excellence as part of the Science for Growth Awards. Their prize included free registration, accommodation and travel expenses to attend the Conference of the Australian Science Teachers Association (CONASTA) in Canberra.  

Amanda believes that the Science for Growth Awards gives students an opportunity to create real life, valid experiments, helping to build links between the classroom and their future career, while developing problem solving skills that can be applied to almost every facet of daily life.  

One of Lisa’s students, 15-year-old Mitchell Gibbs investigated into alternative products for household insulation. After searching the web for techniques to test the heat capacity of different substances with insulation properties, Mitchell read about several experiments that used balloons filled with substances and held over a flame.  

Mitchell tested the heat capacity of balloons filled with coffee, rice, sugar, oil, vinegar and saltwater before discovering that saltwater distributed heat more slowly than the other substances, making it the most effective insulator.  

Open to all Years Nine and 10 students in New South Wales and Queensland, submissions to the Science for Growth Awards close on 19 September. The winning students in each state will take home a cash prize, with the overall project winner receiving $500.

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