La Trobe ‘VisLab’ launches real-time remote Synchrotron experience for secondary schools
La Trobe University is providing Victorian secondary school students with remote access to one of the nation’s largest and most expensive science facilities, the Australian Synchrotron, so they can conduct their own experiments.
About 60 students from Parade College in Bundoora, William Ruthven Secondary College in Reservoir, and Bendigo Senior Secondary College will visit the University on Wednesday, 21 August 2013 for the official launch of the program.
Dr David Hoxley, one of the program co-ordinators, says La Trobe’s Imax-style physics Visualisation Laboratory (VisLab) is the best and most frequently used facility in Australia allowing control of synchrotron equipment from a remote location.
The Australian Synchrotron is a football-field-size particle accelerator located in Clayton, the only one of its type in the southern hemisphere. It produces light beams a million times brighter than the sun and is usually reserved for high-end science experiments.
Dr Hoxley says synchrotron time is very expensive and carefully rationed out among Australian scientists. ‘So this is a fantastic and very rare opportunity for keen students to gain first-hand real-time experience in the conduct of very high-end science.’
La Trobe Faculty of Science, Technology and Engineering outreach staff have previously worked with University physicists and biochemists on two pilot projects for schools and now plan to make this an annual event for secondary schools.
‘Students will not just be shown how the Synchrotron works,’ says Dr Hoxley.
‘They will be able to control the whole experiment – from robot arm loading of samples to final data analysis once the experiment is completed – via sophisticated software and six giant total immersion screens at La Trobe’s half-a-million-dollar Melbourne Campus VisLab,’ he says.
Students will use techniques called laser diffraction and X-ray diffraction to study their own hair and examine the structure of proteins that form the building blocks of our bodies.
These techniques are critical research tools used in fields ranging from material and chemical science to designing new pharmaceuticals in the fight against disease.
‘The VisLab screens will show Synchrotron staff and the general working area, web cams will focus on the crystallised proteins and hairs used in the experiments as well as the analysis stage of the process. At the end students will be able to see the resulting computerised 3D model of their proteins and hair structure,’ says Dr Hoxley.
‘Our postgrad researchers – masters and doctoral students themselves only in their twenties – love what they do and are passionate about it and will guide the students.
‘So it will be a very authentic experience, run by people who will explain how the structure of proteins can be modified and how they use the Synchrotron in their own research to try and make better pharmaceuticals.’
Dr Hoxley says La Trobe is a foundation partner and investor in the Australian Synchrotron and is making the day available out of its annual allocation of Synchrotron time used for research and postgraduate teaching.