Lon­don trip makes ‘pro­found and mean­ing­ful im­pact’

The Free Press (Corowa) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ruther­glen High School stu­dent Emma Gas­ton re­cently took a two-week break from her VCE stud­ies to fly to Eng­land to par­tic­i­pate in the Lon­don International Youth Science Fo­rum (LIYSF).

Emma par­tic­i­pated in the Youth Science Fo­rum in Canberra in Jan­uary this year and that in­spired her to ap­ply for the international fo­rum.

She not only was suc­cess­ful in gain­ing a place but also in rais­ing al­most $10,000 to make her dream a re­al­ity. Here is Emma’s story: As I strolled, bleary eyed, to the im­mi­gra­tion desk at Heathrow Air­port af­ter a breezy 30 hours of fly­ing, a gruff im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer asked my in­ten­tions whilst stay­ing in the UK.

He then fol­lowed by ask­ing what ex­actly the Lon­don International Youth Science Fo­rum was.

Be­fore the pro­gram I had lit­tle idea of how to ex­plain it, as I pre-empted what an in­de­scrib­able ex­pe­ri­ence it would be.

Hav­ing now com­pleted the pro­gram, I would still strug­gle to ex­plain with words just how in­cred­i­ble and trans­for­ma­tive the fo­rum re­ally was for me.

In short, it was mag­i­cal; the most thought pro­vok­ing at­mos­phere I have ever had the priv­i­lege to be a part of.

The Lon­don International Youth Science Fo­rum (LIYSF) was an in­cred­i­bly unique and eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me. Be­fore LIYSF I had never trav­elled abroad in­de­pen­dently, nor had the op­por­tu­nity to meet so many peo­ple from a plethora of dif­fer­ent cul­tures.

I made friends with peo­ple from France, Por­tu­gal, Lux­em­bourg, Eng­land, Pak­istan, China, New Zealand and Canada.

Be­cause of our mu­tual in­ter­est in science, cul­tural bar­ri­ers sud­denly didn’t seem as in­sur­mount­able, and I found many peo­ple with re­lat­able ideals and philoso­phies as a re­sult of this shared pas­sion.

The ple­nary lec­tures were di­verse with each just as fas­ci­nat­ing as the next, whether it be that

their fo­cus was the his­tory of medic­i­nal chem­istry or the European Space Agency’s plans for fu­ture space mis­sions to study the Sun and Mer­cury.

How­ever, the un­der­ly­ing theme of the 2017 LIYSF was ‘Science – mak­ing life bet­ter’ so ev­ery lec­turer ul­ti­mately dis­closed how their dis­ci­pline or specif­i­cally, their re­search, is cre­at­ing a brighter fu­ture for hu­man­ity.

I learnt about ar­eas I knew lit­tle about and was blown away by the mind – bend­ing com­plex­ity, or in some cases the sur­pris­ing sim­plic­ity, within each of the lec­turer’s dis­ci­plines.

My favourite lec­ture was called ‘Vi­sion Im­pos­si­ble’ by Pro­fes­sor Sir Colin Blake­more.

Sir Colin is a pro­fes­sor of both neu­ro­science and phi­los­o­phy, and his lec­ture sum­marised the his­tory of brain re­search with an em­pha­sis on our knowl­edge of vis­ual per­cep­tion.

His lec­ture left me with only more ques­tions, not an­swers, as well as a burn­ing de­sire to go into the field of neu­ro­science and fur­ther ex­plore the brain’s in­cred­i­ble ca­pac­ity.

With his re­search and knowl­edge, Sir Colin aims to in­crease hu­man func­tion­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity, and as a fu­ture sci­en­tist, I can only hope to do the same.

I had plenty of con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple com­par­ing our coun­tries’ po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, sports, sec­ondary schools, uni­ver­si­ties, or even just the weather.

I was con­sis­tently amazed that at ev­ery lec­ture, sci­en­tific visit or so­cial gath­er­ing, there were ap­prox­i­mately 67 dif­fer­ent coun­tries rep­re­sented, many with a unique cul­ture and lan­guage.

Two of the most cul­tur­ally im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences were the international cabaret and the tra­di­tions of home night.

Both so­cial events of­fered an un­par­al­leled va­ri­ety of en­ter­tain­ment.

From Mex­i­can danc­ing and a New Zealand haka to a tra­di­tional Ital­ian sin­ga­long and Cat­alo­nian hu­man tower build­ing, the breadth of per­for­mances was un­like any event I’d ever at­tended.

An­other high­light was the science bazaar evening in which dozens of stu­dents pre­sented a sci­en­tific project they had un­der­taken. It was glar­ingly ob­vi­ous just how pas­sion- ate these stu­dents were about their re­search; whether it was un­veil­ing a po­ten­tial cure for can­cer via fur­ther re­search into the genome; us­ing the ker­atin from chicken feath­ers to form en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able plas­tics; re­search­ing the role of ma­te­ri­als in the trans­mis­sion of bac­te­ria; en­vi­sion­ing plans for a mega space sta­tion; or al­ter­ing the genes of rats to ad­just their in­tel­lect, then test­ing how their de­ci­sion mak­ing was af­fected; all of the projects en­light­ened me sci­en­tif­i­cally in one way or an­other, in­spir­ing me to re­tain and fur­ther my pas­sion for science and re­search.

The sci­en­tific vis­its were some of the most ben­e­fi­cial parts of the LIYSF pro­gram.

They were an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to see how var­i­ous sciences are ac­tu­ally ap­plied in the real world, and to ex­pe­ri­ence the in­side of re­search fa­cil­i­ties so ex­clu­sive, that few mem­bers of the gen­eral pub­lic will ever be able to visit them.

A par­tic­u­lar high­light for me was vis­it­ing the Nuffield Depart­ment of Clin­i­cal Neu­ro­sciences at Ox­ford Univer­sity.

This famed depart­ment is filled with aca­demics that are lit­er­ally the best in the world in their re­search area of in­ter­est.

We were given time to ex­plore the pathol­ogy labs, view­ing sliced and whole brains from nor­mal peo­ple as well as those af­fected by Alzheimer’s dis­ease, learn­ing about the preva­lence of sub arach­noid haem­or­rhages and the re­search be­ing em­ployed to lessen this bur­den on vic­tims, and wit­ness­ing an MRI ma­chine and EEG in ac­tion, ar­guably the most im­por­tant tools in brain re­search. These vis­its only ce­mented my pas­sion for neu­ro­science, and planted the seed for my am­bi­tion to per­haps one day study neu­ro­science at Ox­ford Univer­sity.

I came to the re­al­i­sa­tion at the con­clu­sion of the pro­gram that the real aim of LIYSF is to share vi­sions and ideas amongst bud­ding sci­en­tists, and for par­tic­i­pants to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how science can ben­e­fit us all.

In just 14 days, my con­fi­dence has grown ex­or­bi­tantly, I have gained more au­ton­omy in both my abil­ity to travel and to think an­a­lyt­i­cally about some of so­ci­ety’s big­gest prob­lems, I have so­lid­i­fied my fu­ture ca­reer am­bi­tions in the field of neu­ro­science and been in­spired by my gifted peers who I see as the sci­en­tific lead­ers of the fu­ture.

I can’t ex­press enough grat­i­tude to those who as­sisted in or­gan­is­ing my at­ten­dance at LIYSF.

To those who were gen­er­ous spon­sors to­wards my at­ten­dance at the fo­rum: I thank you for this op­por­tu­nity which has given me so much, I will for­ever be in­debted to your com­mit­ment to en­cour­ag­ing and sup­port­ing young peo­ple pas­sion­ate about science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths.

Thank you to the LIYSF and my spon­sors for the pro­found and mean­ing­ful im­pact you’ve made on one as­pi­ra­tional young woman’s life.

Emma Gas­ton (mid­dle) en­joyed her trip to the UK for the Lon­don International Youth Science Fo­rum.

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