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Year 8 Science tackle the Final Frontier

Our Year 8 Science students recently attended a fascinating seminar with Annie Handmer, a PhD student who is researching Australia’s space science projects. It sparked some big questions.

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Annie Handmer, a final year PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Science, came armed with some pretty impeccable credentials when she spoke to our Year 8 Science students as part of their ‘Off the Planet’ unit of work. Along with her research into different aspects of Australian space science, Annie is on the Advisory Council for the Space Industry Association of Australia, is a member of the Space Generation Advisory Council ‘Ethics and Human Rights in Space’ Project Group, and a member of the Space Law Council of Australia and New Zealand. Annie is also a program consultant to the Australian Youth Aerospace Association ASTRA Committee, the host and creator of the ‘Space Junk Podcast’, and the host of SpaceWatch Global’s ‘Space Café Australia’. And she consulted to Questacon on the development of their space exhibit for the Australian Space Discovery Centre and was a 2021 Sydney Observatory Resident. Basically, Annie is very well-equipped to prompt our Year 8 Science students to think critically about some of the big questions when it comes to space.

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Annie kicked off the seminar by speaking to students about her work. She then helped them to reflect more deeply on some of the ethical issues surrounding space projects, such as the rationale for large expenditure on space exploration, the risks to human health and life in space, the issue of contamination and care for pristine space environments, the responsibility for cleaning up space debris, and the issue of property and mining in space.

Saskia said, “Annie was very engaging in a modern way that connected to a lot of important issues, while still engaging with a younger audience.” Phoebe said, “I found the incursion very interesting and informative. Annie was very helpful in making us question things and learning about her field of work!” Eliza said, “Both the incursion and Annie were engaging and interesting. I found her information very useful and handy for general knowledge.”

Afterwards, Year 8 were given several hypothetical scenarios to consider and were encouraged to debate the risks, advantages and ethical implications, drawing on some of the knowledge they’d gained during Annie’s seminar.

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Last week, Year 10 were given the chance to design a Science experiment to find out more about radiation, using radiation and equipment that we do not have at School. They worked together to come up with a research question to answer. They then designed the experiment, which they submitted to ANSTO (Australia’s National Science and Technology Organisation), who carried out the experiment and collected results for them. They then analysed the results in order to answer their original question.

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Some of the questions that Year 8 came up with included exploring whether the radiation emitted by mobile phones is harmful; measuring the amount of ionizing emitted by a range of household objects; investigating which type of shielding works best for different types of radiation; and determining whether ionising radiation is stronger from naturally occurring sources or from a thorium rod by comparing the surface area (length and width) of vapour trails produced by radioactive particles.

Great stuff students and Science Department!