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STEM girls will save the world!

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This was the message at our Principal’s Assembly this week, with lots of exciting examples of how our students are exploring STEM education in all its facets.

Lead by STEM Captain, Veronica (Year 12), with the assistance of Director of STEM, Dr Thompson, and Science and Chemistry Teacher, Mrs Horsham, we were reminded that STEM is fun, relevant and everywhere. It shapes our day-to-day lives and is critical to jobs in the future.

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This was reinforced by guest speaker and Wenona Alumnae, Miss Madison East (2014py), who is four years into a Bachelor of Science (Advanced) at The University of Sydney majoring in Geology and Geophysics.

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Her degree, she said, is often called “The science of beautiful places.” Studying rocks, examining plants, animals and insects, and mapping the ocean floor has taken her out on ships, and as far afield as New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef. “There’s definitely a place in STEM for people who are excited,” she said.

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Mrs Horsham and her Year 12 Chemistry Class’s newly formed band, Cardi H and the Cardigans, provided plenty of light relief with their debut single, ‘I’m all about that bass, no acid’, an amusing, STEM-related take on Meghan Trainor’s hit. And Sophie (Year 12) had the audience in pleats of laughter with her clever and witty poem ‘Women Have Always Been Cool’.

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It was a timely reminder that women have been problem-solving, inventing and critical thinking for centuries, despite the fact that “They say that we're not in the scientific zone/ There is the issue of a single chromosome/ They say that there’s a difference/And there’s a silent inference/That we can’t do it.” Read Sophie’s poem here.

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STEM Captain, Veronica, gave an inspirational speech on the importance of sparking curiosity to drive STEM success.

“Curiosity. 9 letters. Noun. Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a strong desire to know or learn something.” Also happens to be the name of your friendly neighbourhood Mars Rover, which recently has completed more than three Martian years - which is three times longer than it was designed to last.

Everyone from Voltaire, who once said “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”, to Albert Einstein, who stated that ‘I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious’, seems to have an opinion on curiosity.

The history of science shows quite clearly that curiosity-driven research contributes in an irreplaceable way to technological progress. Scientific breakthroughs cannot be programmed or planned in advance: an investigation into a particular scientific area might not pay off for years – or at all. Particularly considering that curiosity-driven research doesn’t necessarily have a defined, practical endpoint as a goal, it may occur in the most peculiar of places. You may know that penicillin was discovered serendipitously by Alexander Fleming, but did you know that during the process of trying to make it mass-producible they found the best strain of penicillin on a mouldy cantaloupe in Peoria Market in 1943.

The term ‘curiosity’, which derives from the Latin ‘curiosus’ meaning “careful, diligent and inquiring eagerly”, has had changing interpretations throughout history. In the early modern period, curiosity was doubled-edged: it was both a virtue, but also the source of human error or even personal corruption. Somewhere between then and the twentieth century, curiosity had become an apparently uncomplicated motivation.

At this point in time curiosity, at least to me, is the process of questioning and wondering. It’s looking at something and wondering how does it work or even why does it work. It’s noticing things and using those observations to notice more. In my view, STEM is intrinsically linked with curiosity. It is constantly wondering, pondering and questioning. It’s asking questions even if they might come across a bit strange. Even if it’s asking your Year 8 Science teacher whether boiling a kettle would work the same on a submarine. Or asking the English teacher who is the sub for your Science whether they think that a jellyfish is more similar to meat or a vegetable. Or getting confused with your friend in Design and Technology in Year 10 because for some reason, you couldn’t understand how stairs work but realising that there is so much that makes up things that we take for granted on a daily basis.

So, keep wondering and questioning because each question brings you closer to an answer and each answer brings you closer to another question and the cycle continues.”

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Amy and Sophie (Year 12) presented on their TAS major works, which included an air filter system for public spaces and a low-cost bamboo prosthetic limb designed for amputees in the Third World, where access to prosthetic limbs is poor.

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And Ava and Jemima (Year 6) presented on their recent 3D printer task in which they designed prototypes for an iPad stand.

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Across the School, various clubs such as the Car Restoration Club and the Student Tech Team, are ensuring that our students have access to, and encouragement for, a wide range of STEM-related opportunities both in School and through extra-curricular activities. 

So yes, we agree. STEM girls will save the world!