The way in which Science is practised in the “real world” is very different to how it is delivered within the somewhat sheltered school environment. Whilst teachers have prescriptive syllabi to follow, incorporating less restrictive learning experiences to engage students during the process becomes paramount. Students in the Science Academy at Snowy Mountains Grammar School have the freedom to choose any area they are interested in for further study, which increases their level of engagement.

Austin prepares to swab species of bacteria over agar plates.

This week, Year 10 students in the Science Academy have combined their work experience requirement with an extension of some of the work that has been completed this year in the academy by working at Quantal Bioscience, who have a laboratory within the Science building at The King’s School in Parramatta. Quantal Bioscience specialises in the field of Microbiology. For Antonia Murphy and Austin Beck, this is an excellent opportunity to take what they have learned and apply it to a “real” laboratory. Although many of the techniques they are using in the laboratory are similar to what they have already experienced in the academy, the array of specialised equipment and the more robust safety procedures, required because of the types of microorganisms they are working with, significantly differentiate the experience for them.

Austin commented by saying “We are learning so many new things and using microorganisms like slime moulds which are really cool.”

“It’s a whole new atmosphere, even though some of the techniques are the same. It’s a great opportunity to work with practising scientists. The amount of projects being undertaken is amazing and really fascinating”, Antonia explained.

Slime moulds seemingly have a mind of their own and wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of The X-Files.

Quantal Bioscience Director, Belinda Chapman, explained the concept behind the Future Project. “The project is designed to provide students with experiences they would usually have to wait for at a tertiary level. It has expanded beyond students of the King’s School to students from other schools to extend our reach and promote the importance of Science.”

Austin and Antonia follow in the footsteps of Year 12 student Kate Hobbs, who also completed work experience and was part of another project in 2014. “I’m so delighted to have students from Snowy Mountains Grammar School join us again. Kate enjoyed her experience a few years ago and Austin and Antonia are also very excited to work in the laboratory.”

Austin and Antonia are trying out a technique dealing with antibiotic resistance that hasn’t been used before in this laboratory, which really places them at the forefront of scientific discovery. The experience epitomises the purpose of the academies at SMGS by providing extension and depth of understanding for students in areas entirely of their own choosing. I visited the students on Wednesday and from a personal perspective, it was great to be back in the laboratory again! During the year, the odour of bacterial cultures growing in the incubator in our own school laboratory has been judged egregious by many students on occasion, but fills me with nostalgia. As Austin and Antonia complete this experience, perhaps next time they encounter microorganisms growing on agar plates, it might remind them of this exciting time in their schooling.