Passion for science wins top prizes

Issue: Volume 98, Number 16

Posted: 12 September 2019
Reference #: 1H9yYc

A high school student and a primary teacher who won top science prizes last year are using their prize monies to continue to explore and share their passions for science.

Finn Messerli will put his Future Scientist prize money towards study and future opportunities as he pursues a career in physics, and possibly climate research.

"There are many amazing students undertaking significant science and technology projects, and teachers out there doing such impressive science, maths and technology teaching, but many don’t think they meet the criteria. Give it a go – what have you got to lose!" says Deborah Woodhall, on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes Secretariat.

Entries for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes close on 10 October, with those for the Future Scientist Prize closing on 25 October, and keen science students and teachers are encouraged to apply.

Nurturing curiosity

Carol Brieseman, a teacher at Tawa’s Hampton Hill School, won the $150,000 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize for 2018 and is passionate about science.  

“I love tapping into kids’ curiosity. Kids display an untainted awe about the world, and I love being able to nurture this and give them opportunities to explore,” she says.

The prize for top science teacher includes $50,000, which Carol hopes to use to attend science education conferences. She is also keen to do a tour of the subantarctic islands. 

Hampton Hill School also received $100,000 for the development of science. Half of this money will go towards professional development and resourcing at the school and half will go to spreading Carol’s enthusiasm for science through the kahui ako in Tawa. Carol is already running some workshops and supporting some schools.

Sharing knowledge

“I want Carol to be able to share her effective practices across all schools so we can see consistency in our kids going into the next stage of their education,” says Hampton Hill School principal Kelly Barker.

Carol’s pedagogical approach demonstrates science across many learning areas but particularly reading, writing and maths. 

“I enjoy integrating science with other curriculum areas – especially in helping kids experience success in literacy through scientific investigations,” she says.

“I believe all kids need to have an understanding of science – how it is all around us and why things do what they do. They need to be able to make informed decisions based on their own investigations and research. 

“I embed SOLO (Structure of Learning Outcomes). This taxonomy enables student-led reflection and action, which allows opportunities to ask deeper questions about a topic, increasing richness of thought.” 

Science teaching is relevant in all areas of learning, maintains Carol. 

“I encourage ‘why does that happen?’ type of thinking with even the day-to day things we use, e.g. looking at the technology behind how a pair of scissors works. The students and I learn together. If we don’t know the answer, we find it together.

“Being involved with online citizen science projects has been a fantastic way to engage my students in an aspect of science they would not otherwise get the opportunity to do,” she says. 

“They are actively engaged in real-life science, being able to interpret data and critique evidence, and seeing the important role they have in contributing to the global scientific community.” 

Future scientist 

Former Onslow College student Finnegan Messerli won the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize for 2018 by researching a problem that could help scientists better understand the risks of avalanches and slips. 

He developed a range of calibration methods that could ultimately be used to predict flows in a wide range of granular materials, with potential for applications in the geotechnical, food processing, mining and pharmaceutical industries.

“The project started with a ton of research,” he says. “I needed to figure out what had already been done, and where improvements needed to be made. Then, using my bedroom as a lab, I developed a series of experiments, which, when combined with simulations, could help determine a few important but hard- to-measure properties, including sliding and rolling friction. 

“While I wasn’t able to create an ‘end-all’ method in just six months, I did end up with a solid proof of concept that could be built on to improve the ease with which the behaviour of grains can be predicted.” 

The 18-year-old is currently in California using some of his prize money to meet a mentor and her colleagues at Google’s development lab to talk about future career pathways. 

Beneficial science 

Finn wants to carry on with physics, particularly in areas that deliver more immediate benefits, such as climate research. The remainder of the prize money will go towards study and future opportunities such as his trip to the US.

“After finishing my degree in maths, physics and environment science at Victoria University, I could end up anywhere. Likely options are grad school overseas or an internship somewhere.”

Inspiring teacher

Finn is the third student from Onslow College to win the Future Scientist Prize in the prize’s 10-year history, and acknowledges his “phenomenal physics teacher,” Kent Hogan. 

“I would never have even considered applying, let alone had the skills to succeed, if not for him. I am his third student to win this prize.”

To enter the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes, or for more information, visit: link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:28 am, 12 September 2019

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