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Inspiring a love of science in the next generation

29 January 2018
Defence Scientist Christina Bagas.
Defence Scientist Christina Bagas.

Christina Bagas recently notched up a decade as a Defence scientist.

She's found plenty of variety in the DST workplace, catering for laboratory science, implementing science out in the real world and support for her long-term passion for science communication.

"I've always wanted to inspire a love of science in the next generation," says Bagas.

Bagas has been able to fulfil her science outreach desires at DST through the CSIRO's Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools (SMiS) program (which has recently been renamed STEM Professionals in Schools (SPiS)).

"I've found this outreach program to be really flexible – it's up to each scientist to determine how much of their time they want to give," Bagas explains.

"You can pay a single visit to a school, in which you would describe what you do, and advocate for the science contribution that DST makes to Australia or you can forge a longer relationship with a teacher and students, once a month perhaps."

Double lessons for many schools

"I'm hoping I can set up a reusable template for a double-lesson exercise where I can go in, do an initial exercise focusing on DST, and then maybe a crime-scene investigation/forensic lab experiment," says Bagas.

"In terms of outreach, I think it'd be more effective if I can promote defence science and DST to as many schools as I can, rather than have multiple visits to the same school."

She has already trialled the DST exercise with a Grade 5/6 class and it worked better than expected. Bagas divided up the class to discuss four DST divisions (Aerospace, Maritime, Cyber and Land). She provided an envelope with pictures describing the work that each division performs.

"I'm qualified to teach Year 11 and 12 biology and chemistry, but I think it's really important to get the kids interested well before that so they can stay on the science path," Bagas explains.

"I want to leave them with the idea that science isn't boring.

"I want to inspire them to stick with the science, ask as many questions as they can, to volunteer for science-related activities, and to have someone as a role model."

Instant awareness of possibilities

Bagas recalls mentioning to one class that with biotechnology you can take a gene from a fish, insert it into a strawberry plant and make the plant frost resistant.

"In the two minutes that I discussed this, a Grade 6 student, who'd never heard about this type of science, made the connection, put up his hand and asked "Does that mean you can take a gene from a chameleon, insert it into a human, and create human camouflage?

"That is the essence of the type of thinking I want to inspire. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face after that."

She says DST gives staff job security and room to grow.

"I've travelled so much through work and been exposed to so many things," says Bagas.

"It has made me realise that if you're a scientist but you don't want to be stuck in a lab coat in a lab every day, then DST is the best place to be.

"You have a balance between the lab and really applying your science out in the real world."