The Plastic Brain


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The Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS)

ASSETS brings together a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from around the country for a ten-day Cultural Leadership and Scientific Inquiry programme.

The students are exposed to a fantastic array of experiences, designed to open up new pathways for exploring their interest in science, and their own cultural heritage. They return to their communities as leaders, and often go on to diverse and exciting careers.

This is my third year as a tutor in the Summer School. I have been privileged to work with some extraordinarily talented young people, taken out of their comfort zone and given challenges far above their education level: the general differential is Year 10 students doing university-level experiments.

ASSETS is hosted by the Australian Science and Mathematics School, and this year’s programme has included contributions from the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre (see this previous post), UniSA School of Natural and Built Environments, the Gene Technology Access Centre.

The programme is also well supported by the Governor, His Excellency Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce. In previous years the students have visited Government House, but this year the Governor came to the laboratories at ASMS to see the students in action.

GovernorAs an academic tutor, my role is guide students through their inquiry projects. These are student-driven projects which draw on skills and understandings derived from the initial part of the program. To be honest, I did not have to work hard this year. The group worked exceptionally well, despite occasional set-backs. They brought with them solid scientific skills and understandings and had a determined yet relaxed attitude. I would love to have filled this post with photos of the students doing some amazing science, but due to privacy concerns you instead get a tightly cropped in photo of me with the governor.

The culmination of the scientific programme was the final presentations at the Mawson Institute this morning. All of the groups presented well-considered studies. I was particularly proud of my group, who examined the effects of botanical extracts on bacteria, specifically showing the surprising acute effects of Melaleuca pentagona extract on Micrococcus luteus.

In case you haven’t got the message, it is a great programme, with amazing outcomes for students (not to mention the learning that I have experienced). Despite its ongoing success the programme is always in need of support. If you think you could contribute in some way, or just want to find out more, go here: http://asms.sa.edu.au/assets/