Olympians, maths and the HSC

10 October 2016

Welcome to this latest edition of Science Alliance.

Since we last met, our nation has faced the existential crisis of our performance at the Rio Olympics. Australia, a sports loving nation, did not fare as well as we had expected and the usual hand-wringing has begun. Do we need administrative reform or just more money? Are the glory years forever gone? Can we justify the expense as it is? What does it all mean for us a country?

A recent article I read at - 'Let's measure the value of Australia's medal success. No, not at the Olympics' - co-authored by Barney Glover, Chair of Universities Australia, compared our results in Rio (422 athletes winning 29 medals at a cost of over $11 million each) with the performances of the Australian team at the International Olympiads in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Sciences, Mathematics and Informatics. While these are two completely different arenas, the fantastic efforts of our intellectual olympians certainly put a smile on this downcast sports lover's face.

Across these six scientific disciplines our combined national team of 27 students won 27 medals, which the authors estimate as costing about $40,000 each. And, of course, there's the benefit these brilliant young minds will go on to bring us all, as they move into careers in research or industry.

It's October, so the HSC is just around the corner. Best of luck to all students, teachers and parents, but in particular to those of you taking on Extension 2 mathematics. As a maths geek myself, I hold a special affection for this final year subject. It's challenging and at times brutish, but beautiful as well. Get in there and have a real crack. Again, best of luck.