Indigenous communities creating a new approach to STEM skills

Media releases, Merck

An innovative chemistry, soap-making and hygiene engagement project is launching in partnership with young Indigenous scientists.

MERCK’s Giorgia Todesco will travel to the Northern Territory with the DeadlyScience team to pilot the first DeadlyLabs kit. It’s a project led by Elders in the Robinson River region to share their knowledge, their ideas, and their care for the community.

Learners in rural Northern Territory are set to road-test a new science kit exploring the chemistry of soap-making and hygiene with experiments based in Indigenous science.

This month, DeadlyLabs – a new project from DeadlyScience, supported by science and technology company Merck – will pilot the chemistry learning kit with children in Robinson River in rural Northern Territory. It’s the first in a series of DeadlyLabs kits, with future kits exploring physics, biology, and more.

DeadlyScience and Merck are dedicated to refining the chemistry lessons and activities based on the results of the pilot and sending it to more students and their communities.

DeadlyScience was founded in 2019 by proud Kamilaroi man Corey Tutt OAM to empower and engage young Indigenous children with science. To date, DeadlyScience has delivered more than 25,000 books, 700 telescopes and other learning tools to students in remote communities.

“DeadlyLabs is the next step in giving Indigenous learners more opportunities to learn and play with science from an early age and highlight career pathways for up-coming scientists to emerge from these rural communities,” says Corey.

Healthy DeadlyScience made by the community for the community

Corey explains that Elders are the core and centre of this project, which has been developed by the Garawa and the Gunindiri peoples with support from DeadlyScience and Merck. They want to pass down their knowledge of the value of cleanliness.

“We’ve had the privilege of listening to and learning from the principal of Robinson River School, as well as two Indigenous Elders, Aunty Patsy-Anne and Aunty Susan,” says Corey.

The local Elders have full autonomy over the project and its direction. And the students are really keen!

“At Merck, we’re excited by opportunities to spark curiosity in children,” says Rebecca Lee, Managing Director Life Science and Country Speaker, Merck ANZ.

“The science of soap-making is a fun way to explore and address the serious topic of staying healthy. This is important as Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics show that some life-shortening infectious diseases like rheumatic heart disease are more prevalent in regional and remote areas.”

Measuring the impact

“DeadlyScience is also gathering data to measure the impact of this project,” says Corey. “This project will be the first to collect culturally appropriate metrics on science education in Indigenous communities.”

“We’re excited to work with Corey and see DeadlyLabs come to fruition, with our future scientists getting involved,” says Rebecca.

“As a science-based organisation, we know the value of testing ideas, gathering data, and measuring impact. So, we’re particularly pleased to be part of an initiative that is both doing and studying the impact of Indigenous science education.”

Merck Commercial Marketing Coordinator Giorgia Todesco will travel to Robinson River to work with the DeadlyScience team.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be there in person to see learners taking part in DeadlyLabs,” she says. “And the pilot is just the beginning. We’re looking forward to applying what we learn and seeing the kits spark curiosity in more remote and Indigenous communities around Australia.”

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About Merck

Merck, a leading science and technology company, operates across life science, healthcare and electronics. Around 60,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live. From advancing gene editing technologies and discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices – the company is everywhere. In 2021, Merck generated sales of € 19.7 billion in 66 countries.

Scientific exploration and responsible entrepreneurship have been key to Merck’s technological and scientific advances. This is how Merck has thrived since its founding in 1668. The founding family remains the majority owner of the publicly listed company. Merck holds the global rights to the Merck name and brand. The only exceptions are the United States and Canada, where the business sectors of Merck operate as MilliporeSigma in life science, EMD Serono in healthcare, and EMD Electronics in electronics.