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Sydney school students get hands-on at core facility

17 July 2017
High-schoolers get a glimpse of life as a research scientist

The University's Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility invites Michael Bishop Award winners to test drive a new world-first research instrument setup.

School students looking into microscopes and watching a computer monitor associated with the dual Renishaw Raman instrument.

Sydney Grammar students test driving brand new research equipment in the Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility.  

A group of students from Sydney Grammar School have spent the week at the University getting a glimpse of life as a research scientist.

The Michael Bishop Award in Chemistry is operated by the Foundation for Inorganic Chemistry and provides funding for Sydney Grammar students to participate in their own research project and visit the School of Chemistry to access the University’s range of specialist research equipment and scientific expertise.

Under the supervision and guidance of University staff and academics, the six candidates for this year’s award were also among the very first researchers to operate a newly-acquired dual Renishaw Raman instrument at the Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility. Unique in the world in terms of the range of lasers, microscopes and diversity of measurement types, this custom built setup allows two researchers to work simultaneously on independent microscopes coupled to advanced instruments and capable of working over a range of wavelengths (UV to NIR) for high-resolution spectroscopic imaging.

Such capabilities will enable a deeper understanding of the chemical composition of various samples, ranging from biological materials such as hair, teeth and cells, through to modern technological materials, as well as highly-delicate archaeological artefacts and paintings.

By letting these students carry out their own small research projects - with full access to our expert staff and world-class core facilities - hopefully we can inspire them to consider further scientific education and careers in research.
Professor Peter Lay
Six Sydney Grammar students in the Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility.

Sydney Grammar students in the Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility. From left to right: Hugo McCahon-Boersma, Alexander Crawford, Charles Lilley, Damon Wan, Oliver Hervir and Kieran Connor.  

Speaking about the visit, Professor of Chemistry and Facility Director Peter Lay said “It is important that we encourage young scientists, and that’s what programs like this help us achieve. By letting these students carry out their own small research projects - with full access to our expert staff and world-class core facilities - hopefully we can inspire them to consider further scientific education and careers in research.”

“Each student has their own individual research project,” said Facility Manager Dr Elizabeth Carter. “Our colleagues from the Nicholson Museum, Dr James Fraser and Dr Craig Barker, have kindly loaned us a range of artefacts to investigate how they were made and what they were used for.

“Dr Stephen Bourke, Director of the University’s Teleilat Ghassul Project in Jordan has also provided us with a range of limestone beads dating to the fifth millennium BCE. These types of beads were traditionally woven through fabric as a sign of status, and they will be investigated to determine if the pigment malachite was used to give them their pale-green appearance.

“One of the students is also looking at a range of geological samples provided by Mr James Waterhouse, grandson of Professor E. G. Waterhouse who planted the Jacaranda tree in the University Quad in 1927. This is an exciting project as the student is looking to find the tell-tale chemical signs of a meteorite colliding with the Earth.

“We’re also really excited about our new dual Raman instrument, and it’s an awesome opportunity that the students can use this equipment to help with their projects.”

Asked about the differences between the school and academic environments, the students commented that “Learning all the new theory and methodology was a big step, and was a bit overwhelming to start with. Being able to work independently and perform original research is also very different to our school environment. It’s great that we can experience the life of an academic.”