‘Sleek Geeks’ Eureka Prize

A film by a group of senior students from St Helena Secondary College, Eltham, last night won this year’s prestigious $4,500 ‘Sleek Geeks’ Eureka Prize for science communication. 

The award-winning students, from left,  Matt Dalla Rosa, Evan Raif, Steven Megaloudis, Betty Cheregi, Paul Dalla Rosa; La Trobe's Francesca Calati and Biochemistry mentor, Dr Mike Ryan; and Byron Mihiladis. Front row:  The ABC's Dr 'Karl’ Kruszelnicki and La Trobe physics mentor Dr Peter Kappen.Photo credit: Australian Museum  / 247 Studios

The award-winning students, from left,  Matt Dalla Rosa, Evan Raif, Steven Megaloudis, Betty Cheregi, Paul Dalla Rosa; La Trobe's Francesca Calati and Biochemistry mentor, Dr Mike Ryan; and Byron Mihiladis. Front row:  The ABC's Dr 'Karl’ Kruszelnicki and La Trobe physics mentor Dr Peter Kappen.

Photo credit: Australian Museum/247 Studios

It deals with the concept and discovery of X-rays for a young audience and results from a new and intensive La Trobe University science outreach program to local schools.

The short documentary, Roentgen: a Bright Spark, focuses on the history of X-ray technology. It re-enacts the discovery of X-rays in 1895 by German scientist Wilhelm Roentgen, the first physicist to win a Nobel Prize.  

The six St Helena students who made the film are Betty Cheregi, Steven Megaloudis, Matt Dalla Rosa, Paul Dalla Rosa, Evan Raif and Byron Mihailides. They all attended last night’s awards in Sydney.

Congratulating the students on their selection for the prize, Dean of Science and Technology, Professor Brian McGaw, says the project also highlights La Trobe’s radical new pathway to university entry from secondary school.

‘This new way of integrating learning is being pioneered by the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science (LIMS),’ he says.

The $94 million Institute will be completed on the Melbourne campus in 2013. It provides research and training facilities for more than 200 people to help overcome a critical shortage of bioscientists in Australia.

Seamless Science

LIMS Executive Director, Professor Nick Hoogenraad, says training of next-generation scientists under this scheme will begin well before students come to the University, through dedicated outreach programs to schools such as the one that led to the making of this film, and will continue at undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral levels.

‘It will involve explicit partnership agreements with key feeder schools and is part of La Trobe’s plan to boost undergraduate enrolment by 30 per cent by 2015.’

‘The St Helena students’ prize-winning Eureka Awards entry is a very brief, fun film,’ says biochemist and LIMS Research Director Professor Leann Tilley who helped the students, and whose malaria research is touched on in the film.

‘It explores how X-rays work, how they are used and why they are important.’

The St Helena Secondary College outreach program is managed by Francesca Calati.

‘It’s an excellent example of what can be achieved when solid attempts are made to integrate secondary and tertiary education,’ says Professor Tilley.

La Trobe Synchrotron Science Research Fellow, Dr Peter Kappen, acted as science mentor for the students and organised for them to visit the Australian Synchrotron at Clayton.

‘It was impressive to notice the students' ability to grasp the concepts of electromagnetic waves and photons within an hour or so of our first meeting,’ he says.

‘They then developed the script for the movie, and the footage for the production was largely shot in the Physics Department's student labs with assistance from film maker Ron Barkoczy, who was their mentor and advisor on film production.’

Another mentor was Associate Professor Andrew Peele, Program Leader for the ARC’s Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science. This is a $17 million joint research project involving La Trobe, Melbourne, Swinburne, Monash and Griffith universities and the CSIRO.

Dr Peele says the students had earlier worked with Centre members to produce a longer, more detailed documentary on the uses of X-ray science, which range from medical imaging and airport security scanning to state-of-the-art research into the structure of DNA for medicinal drug development and the creation of new materials for nanotechnology.

Reporting their success in the Eureka awards, St Helena’s school magazine, St Helena News, noted the students enjoyed their science research – so much that they returned to the University during school breaks and public holidays!

• The film was funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-Ray Science, the Victorian Department of Education and La Trobe’s Department of Biochemistry.

Link to film:  http://www.abc.net.au/science/sleekgeeks/eureka/2010/

For further information please contact:

Francesca Calati, tel: 9479 6516 / 2160 email: f.calati@latrobe.edu.au

Leann Tilley, tel: (03) 94791375 / 1344; email: l.tilley@latrobe.edu.au


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