‘Sleek Geeks’ Eureka Prize

A film by a group of year ten students from St Helena Secondary College, Eltham, has won this year’s prestigious $4,500 ‘Sleek Geeks’ Eureka Science Prize.

sleek-geek The film 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.

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.

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, 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 documentary film, 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.  

‘It’s 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.’

She says 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.’

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.

‘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.

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.

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!

Francesca Calati
03 9479 6516
Email: f.calati@latrobe.edu.au

Leann Tilley
03 9479 1375
Email: l.tilley@latrobe.edu.au