More than a thousand students from New England and northern NSW will come to UNE this week for two days of science education. The kids might make their own electric motors, catch insects, investigate DNA, or study soil at the potting shed.
Far Out Science this Thursday and Friday brings the students to see UNE's resources and facilities, see what sort of research happens on campus, meet real scientists, and learn that they too can pursue a career in science.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for science outreach in the region," organiser Dr Siobhan Dennison said. "We show them how much science permeates everything we do, and encourage them to have curiosity and think critically about the world around them."
Twenty different workshops are held each day, including chemistry and forensics, exercise science, precision agriculture, digestion, immunology, palaeontology, meat sciences, water ecology, neurology, and nursing and medical science.
The event has been held once a year since 2003. "It's become an institution," Dr Dennison said. "We hear from a lot of teachers that they're keen to come back to each year; it's a favourite in the school calendar."
Far Out Science sparks primary students' interest in science and suggests it's an option later in life, Dr Dennison said. It encourages high school students to select science subjects in senior years.
Teachers have told UNE staff Far Out Science was the first time they heard certain students want to be scientists. Many regional and remote youths might think science is too hard and difficult to aspire to.
"Just to know it's a possibility makes a huge difference to the students," Dr Dennison said. "If they come here and see there are so many different branches of science and career options, they might actually think realistically about heading towards a scientific career."
Other students their teachers thought were unengaged with science thrived on the hands-on activities. "Science isn't just sitting in a white lab coat," Dr Dennison said. "There are so many different, very practical experiences that involve science."
The 1050 Year 5 to 10 students come from more than 40 schools across the region: local Armidale and Tamworth schools, Glen Innes, Tenterfield, Inverell, Moree, Coonabarabran, Grafton, and Coffs Harbour.
"We can't do this without the academics who give up their time," Dr Dennison said. "It's a really wonderful opportunity for the students to really see the real scientists in their natural habitat."