Schoolgirls all ears for physics

Media releases

80 per cent of girls doing physics in Melbourne pilot program

Monday 14 September

Photo opportunity 12 noon: Scientists, teachers and schoolkids available for interview at La Trobe University where they will be 3D-printing cochlear bones.

Growing Tall Poppies is getting schoolgirls into physics by doing real science, with real scientists.

In their pilot program at Melbourne’s Santa Maria College they’ve increased the retention of girls to Year 12 physics to 80 per cent—and now the program is expanding to other states thanks to Federal Government funding.

The current crop of Tall Poppies are this week participating in hands-on experiments, learning how to image and 3D-print cochlear bones at La Trobe University.

Cochlear bones 3D-printed by students in the Cochlear Project at La Trobe University (Credit: Nicholas Anthony)

Cochlear bones 3D-printed by students in the Cochlear Project at La Trobe University (Credit: Nicholas Anthony)

With mentor scientists they’ll be learning about the tiny cochlear bone and how it helps us hear; how X-rays can be used to create 3D models without the need for surgery; as well as seeing 3D-printing in action.

“Some students are really surprised that there are women doing this kind of science—that it’s not just old men in lab coats,” says mentor Hannah Coughlan, nanotechnology PhD student at La Trobe University and CSIRO.

“It’s all about letting them know that anyone can be a physicist and anyone can do research.”

The Growing Tall Poppies program is the brainchild of teacher and scientist Eroia Barone-Nugent.

Coming from a teaching background Eroia saw girls dropping out of physics because they couldn’t see the relevance of physics to their lives. But doing more science, especially physics, makes them more scientifically literate and work ready.

“What our program focuses on is the decision point for Year 10 and Year 11 students. And coming from a teacher’s point of view I understand what motivates kids at that age,” says Eroia.

“There are four main messages for the students,” she says. “You are capable of doing science; there are careers in science; scientists are real people; and science can change people’s lives.”

The program contextualises real aspects of physics so students can associate it with real life.

“We looked for every-day things that would be recognisable to students,” says Associate Professor Harry Quiney, who is a program partner and mentor at the University of Melbourne.

Inspired by commuters doing puzzles in mX on the way home, Harry came up with a project where students develop a computer/iPad/iPhone game demonstrating that the methodical process of solving a Sudoku is akin to un-puzzling the size and shape of biological molecules, which can then inform drug design, by finding molecules that fit around them.

More about the Growing Tall Poppies projects at:

More about the program at:

On Monday night, the program will celebrate their new funding, and award their ambassadors, the 2015 Junior Tall Poppies and Teacher Tall Poppies at a function at the Royal Society of Victoria.

Media welcome from 5.30 pm. Event details here.

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