Double Helix generates the nation's future scientists
Monday, 20 November 2000
The current state of science in Australia raises many concerns, not the least of them what its future state will be. As university science departments close or merge, as their student numbers decline, and as science in the school curriculum competes with more options, some wonder where the next generation of scientists will come from.
It is a pretty good bet that they will come from the ranks of readers of The Helix, the magazine of the Double Helix Science Club. The Helix, and its younger sibling, Scientriffic, are science magazines for children published by CSIRO Education.
The Manager of the group, Ross Kingsland, created Double Helix 10 years ago to answer the demand for a science club and magazine for young people. It has been enormously successful with its target audience of children aged 10 and above. The demand for a similar magazine for a younger audience led to the creation of Scientriffic for 7-10 year olds.
"Double Helix was inspired by my experience with the Argonauts on ABC radio when I was young," said Mr Kingsland. " I thought that a club with its own magazine would be an excellent way to develop an appreciation and love of science amongst today's young people.".
The two magazines have different content and styles, and both are undergoing change. Scientriffic's editor, Bianca Nogrady is about to leave, while the new editor of Helix will be David Lampard, an Adelaide University graduate who was featured in Adelaidean (9 October 2000) as the science host of the new television program 'Y', and who is well known for his work at the Investigator Science and Technology Centre.
"I've been very lucky in recent years to be given the opportunity to communicate scientific knowledge through so many different mediums; print, live shows and TV," said Mr Lampard.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge of being creatively involved with a magazine that likes to tackle science in a fun, yet thought provoking fashion," he said. "It deals with difficult current science issues. It encourages thought and discussion amongst Australia's future scientists and technologists, and among all who will have to live with today's scientific developments, and work with them and their consequences in the future," said Mr Lampard.
"Scientriffic and The Helix aim to making science interesting, exciting and entertaining for young people," said Ms Nogrady. "Science currently suffers from the image of being boring - something that wild old blokes in lab coats do locked away in laboratories full of weird equipment," she said. "We aim to throw out the stereotypes and show young people that science is not only fun and fascinating, but also applies to every part of their lives. Hopefully, this will encourage young people to pursue science as a career and also help people, especially politicians and policy-makers, understand how important science is to our way of life."
There have been other science magazines overseas for young people, but Scientriffic is the first of its kind in Australia as a science magazine targeted at such a young age group. It is also designed for use in the classroom, each issue being accompanied by a Teachers Guide containing extra activities and curriculum links.
Both magazines try to make personal connections by showing scientists as human beings, and they raise awareness of the vital contribution that scientific research makes to our community. They advise readers about events around the country, offer competitions and other forms of interaction and even involve the community in national science experiments and activities to try at home. The chance for young people to work with practising scientists on real projects is seen as especially valuable.
"Our national experiments have made some major achievements," said Mr Kingsland. "There have been more than 10 of these completed." As an example, Earthworms Downunder produced the first earthworm map of Australia; an important first step for scientists in advising farmers how to use worms for improved agricultural techniques," he said.
Just how the next generation will cope with science is very much in the minds of those who produce the magazines. "There's so much going on in the world of science at the moment; so much significant and awe-inspiring work," says Mr Lampard. "Everyone should be encouraged to actively discuss it, especially our decision makers of tomorrow."
Ms Nogrady agrees. "My work with Scientriffic has made me aware of how serious the environmental problems are that we face at the moment and in the future," she says. "I have no doubt that young people are also aware of those problems and of the fact that the responsibility for fixing the situation is being placed on their shoulders."
"That's a pretty awesome responsibility and I believe that we need to try and help them as much as possible by educating them about their environment at an early age. I have tried to do this with Scientriffic by writing about environmental issues and things such as recycling, conserving energy, and so on, " she says. "I really believe that the older generation has a duty to do this as much as possible."