Hawker students tour ANSTO

31 May 2017

Students from Hawker

Nine students from Hawker School had the opportunity in May to travel to Sydney to explore and see first-hand the facilities that house Australia’s OPAL nuclear research reactor.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) is one of Australia’s largest public research organisations and is internationally recognised as a high-end nuclear science and technology centre.

The students were taken to view an Aboriginal rock carving site near Waterfall, on the Woronora River escarpment with Les Bursill, an elder of the Gweagal people, who shared some of the rich traditional heritage of the land surrounding the ANSTO campus. 

Les is the elder in residence at the University of Wollongong, and has worked closely with ANSTO to ensure that the many sites of indigenous importance are preserved. ANSTO also applies various techniques to date historical artefacts and rock art both around the site and across the country.

Research, medicine and the environment – a look at nuclear science in Australia

During the trip the students from Hawker learned about the steps, people, products and by-products generated by Australia’s nuclear industry.

Nuclear science and technology is already playing an important role in the lives of Australians with widespread applications in medicine, industry and the environment.

The students learned how researchers at the facility are helping to find cures for cancer and other diseases, improve cleaner energy production and gain new understandings about the environment and even invent products that will create brand new industries in the future.

Students experienced the ANSTO Discovery Centre and learnt more about radiation and radioactivity through an interactive workshop.

They were taught how nuclear research supports the agriculture industry through helping to understand the sustainability of Australia’s groundwater reservoirs, by determining their age and the ‘recharge rate’ of water, which helps farmers around the country.

Some of the current research happening at the facility includes:

  • Studying environmental systems, how they work and the impact humans have on them; by analysing particles in air pollution to trace back to pollution sources, gathering climate data to better understand our changing climate and analysing heavy metals in sands for better wetlands preservation.
  • Nuclear medicine: improving doctors’ ability to diagnose disease faster and more accurately, researching detection and treatment of dementia, miniature radiation dose detectors to aid cancer treatments and new imaging methods to diagnose stroke.
  • Providing more information on neutrons to better understand the robustness of materials used in bridges, pipes and aircraft engines to improve safety and discover better materials to use in the future.
  • Microelectronics; to supply the high-speed train and car industries.

Students take part in Discover Engineering Day at the ANSTO Discovery Centre

The students from Hawker joined children from 16 Sydney schools to find out more about what it’s like to be an engineer and the important role engineering has in our society, from building skyscrapers, to artificial limbs like the students got to try their hands at, through to the next-generation of advanced technologies

The event, organised by Engineers Australia, gave 149 students the chance to meet with some of ANSTO’s inspiring young engineers.

Students put their engineering skills to the test, challenges included designing and building a functioning bionic leg out of basic materials, and building a stable tower out of paper.

ANSTO is home to some of Australia’s best engineers and research infrastructure, including the OPAL multi-purpose reactor, and future generations of engineers will be needed to meet the challenges of the future.

“Building their skills now, and encouraging their interests is key to getting them to really start to think about the applications and outcomes of science and engineering, challenging them to look more broadly at where STEM could take them” said Rod Dowler, from ANSTO’s Discovery Centre.

“More and more we are seeing the importance of STEM skills, and that they will be key to students in the future – and, for many of them, the jobs they’ll have in 10 or 15 years don’t even exist yet.

“It was a great pleasure to have the Hawker School students visiting– ANSTO is always thrilled to welcome new groups of students and introduce them to what a career in science, technology, mathematics or in this case, engineering, could mean for them outside the classroom.”