Page 1


DEC-JAN 2021

Emily’s Wonder Lab Netflix’s Emily Calandrelli Maggot Therapy Wound Treatment Spider Venom Curing Disease

Experimentary Dr Rob Bell

Meet the Chief QLD Chief Scientist Cover image courtesy of Emily’s Wonder Lab, Netflix


MEL Science Product Review

For Future Thinking Teachers - Brought to you by STEM Punks®

personal archive

Editor’s Note

03 Teaching Science 04 Emily’s Wonder Lab 07 Spider Scientist 08 Chief Scientist

Prof Hugh Possingham

Welcome back. If there was ever the year that taught us how valuable teachers are in our children’s lives, it was 2020. We’ve been endlessly surprised and delighted by stories of the teaching community excelling. So, as we close the door on the unforgettable year that was, we’re ready, energised and motivated for a huge 2021. This issue we’re celebrating everything Science and are thrilled to have interviewed the incredible Emily Calandrelli of the Netflix show “Emily’s Wonder Lab”, which is an inspiring and fun Science show for your younger classrooms. Award-winning young researcher, Samantha Nixon, got over her fear of spiders to research them and use their venom in curing disease. And from spiders to – maggots! The team at Griffith University on the Gold Coast have been using medicinal maggots in wound care to great effect. Check out the Citizen Science project they’ve run with local schools on page 16. The Chief Scientist of Queensland discusses the power of Science with our CEO, and Dr Rob Bell from Experimentary drops in for a chat at STEM Punks HQ. Next month we’re bringing you a special “Women in STEM” issue. I’ve been busy during the break interviewing over 100 women from all over the world to uncover their most valuable and inspiring advice to attract more girls into STEM. Stay tuned for that one, being released in celebration of International Women’s Day. As always, we love hearing from you, the teaching community. Reach out if you have a story, feedback, or just want to ask a question. Fiona Holmstrom Editor & Publisher BFA (CW) MWEP fiona@stempunks.com.au


In this issue

10 Dark Sky - Citizen Science 12 Dr Rob Bell Experimentary 14 MEL Science 16 MedMagLabs Contributors Writing by Julie Scott at Julie Scott Writing Services Graphic designer Leticia Packer For advertising enquiries, contact hello@stempunks.com.au Have a STEM related story for Future Learning magazine? fiona@stempunks.com.au

personal archive

Teaching Science Ella McPhee is the Senior Science Teacher at STEM Punks. Although a Victorian native, Ella moved to the Sunshine Coast 3 years ago and is never far from the beach. She loves playing AFL and has a soft spot for Red Velvet Krispy Kremes. Here, Ella shares her passion for Science, particularly Bioscience, and tells us why Science is important now more than ever.

I’ve always had a love for Science. Science is everywhere, in everything, if there is a question, somehow science will find the answer. I love to know how things work from learning about tiny atoms to the ever-expanding universe. Throughout my school years I was always outdoors exploring wherever I could. I have forever been fascinated in trying to figure out the “why” behind how things work and by asking the why and delving into the subject, more questions arise, and more research is required. I love that about Science.

Ella McPhee, Senior Science Teacher at STEM Punks.

I studied Animal and Veterinary Bioscience at La Trobe University in Melbourne and once I finished this degree, I completed my Master of Teaching at The University of Melbourne. This is where my love for education and getting students and others excited about Science really grew. I taught for a few years in Victoria before travelling overseas for five years. After returning to Australia I spent some time teaching in the conventional classroom before an opportunity at STEM Punks arose. I haven’t looked back since. I’m able to educate students, not just about Science, but about all STEM areas, as well as enabling a mindset of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.


My love for science grows every day. 2020 has shown us that Science not only has an important role to play in society but has the ability to solve the vast majority of problems of this world - we just need to figure out how. Together, I’m positive we can achieve this.



Emily’s Wonder Lab Emily Calandrelli

Have you watched Emily’s Wonder Lab on Netflix? This fun and educational series is designed to excite and inspire children’s interest in STEM. STEM Punks interviewed its host Emily Calandrelli about her passion for STEM, Emily’s Wonder Lab, and her career so far. A highly qualified and impressive host. Emily holds a Bachelor degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor degree in Aerospace Engineering. She also has a Masters degree in Aeronautics and Astronautical Engineering and a second Masters degree in Science and Technology Policy. When Emily was younger, she preferred math because it was, “clean and beautiful.” She considered that science “was a bit messier and a bit more confusing.” Emily decided to pursue a degree in engineering because it had a lot more math and she wanted a good job that paid well. She initially got excited about space and NASA, because she wanted to fly on the “vomit comet.” Emily describes the “vomit comet” as a “plane that is like an 8,000-foot roller coaster in the sky and it flies like that so that the people and science experiments inside, can float weightless.” Emily explained, “It’s kind of like this laboratory in the sky that you can actually fly on as a student studying aerospace engineering in the United States. If your experiment is good enough, NASA will accept it and then you can fly your experiment on the vomit comet.” However, on studying aerospace engineering, she learned more about the opportunities, internships, and research that were available in STEM and became infatuated with the entire STEM industry. Emily worked as a correspondent on the Netflix program, Bill Nye Saves the World. “Working with Bill Nye, the guy that I would watch in my classrooms growing up, my hero, was very cool.” As a science correspondent for the program, Emily was able to travel to various locations around the world to gather stories. She travelled to India to learn about the space program, the “herculean efforts” to eradicate polio disease and the different programs that have been developed to educate women. Emily offered some perceptive insights into expanding the appeal of STEM. “Something that I think works really well, just to reach a broader audience of STEM, especially women, is when you talk about how science and technology can help make the world a better place. When you add that philanthropic lens to science and technology, I think you’ve just cast a wider net of people who might be interested in it.” Emily described how as part of a student group called Engineers Without Borders, she travelled to a Mexican village to help design and build a greenhouse. A separate group travelled to Nicaragua to design a sand filtration system so that a local school could access clean water. “There’s all of these examples where you can use science and technology as a tool to help solve problems around the world and make people’s lives better. Science never exists in a silo. In the real world, it’s never just a technology that’s in the corner that’s cool to look at. So, when you can apply it to a real-world problem, it just makes it feel more meaningful.” Looking to 2021, Emily is hopeful that Netflix will agree to a second season of Emily’s Wonder Lab. “I have so many more ideas and experiments, I don’t feel like our work is done there just yet. I saw


If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

the impact that it had on kids and especially little girls being able to see someone that looked like them doing science on a platform like Netflix. It just felt really meaningful.” What advice would Emily give to her younger self? “I would remind myself that the best accomplishments in life start with a little bit of fear. They start with this feeling that maybe you are not old enough or smart enough or prepared enough to do whatever you are applying to do. Those are the situations that when I did them, I was the most proud of them, when I was afraid to initiate them at first. Like, maybe I wasn’t the smartest person to apply for something. Those are the things where I’m really glad I did because the vast majority of times you might fail but that’s great because that means you were pushing yourself. That means that you are going after the things that you should be going after. If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I would tell myself that failure is great and don’t be afraid to push those boundaries.” Thanks to Netflix and Octagon Entertainment for their assistance with this interview. Watch Emily’s Wonder Lab on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/au/title/81128389 The Space Gal: http://www.thespacegal.com/about Ada Lace Chapter Books: http://www.thespacegal.com/books




Image courtesy of Emily’s Wonder Lab, Netflix


Spider Scientist Samantha Nixon

When Samantha Nixon was growing up, she loved to watch David Attenborough documentaries and would read every biology textbook that she could find. Despite this passion for the natural world, Samantha wasn’t particularly excited by science at school and had planned on studying law. It was only when Samantha visited a research laboratory that her passion for science was rekindled and she realised that she could have a “real career” in science.

makes them a really great starting point for drug discovery. My research is all about finding those drug-like molecules in the venom of these guys and applying that to make new medicines against parasitic worms.”

Samantha studied biomedical science at the University of Queensland. This enabled her to pursue her passions of wildlife conservation and medicine. Initially, she volunteered to work in different research laboratories which helped her to develop valuable skills. “I got some really good skills in how to ask questions, how to find problems and how to set up experiments and collect data so that we can actually answer those,” she said.

Samantha’s work has seen this applied to a whole range of different fields in developing new stroke drugs, new chronic pain drugs, drugs for epilepsy, new safe insecticides and new anti-parasitics.

Following this, Samantha commenced her PhD to study spider venoms as new potential medicines. In an interview with STEM Punks, she acknowledged that she had an arachnophobia but was able to overcome her fears. “I got over my fear through educating myself, learning that most spiders are not dangerous to people at all. It’s really just funnel webs, red backs, brown recluse and wandering spiders. I also named my spiders as well. So, we have Doris, and we have Francis. You know, it’s very hard to be afraid of a spider named Doris.”

“One of the great things about spiders is that there’s over 50 000 species on the planet and each one has over a thousand unique molecules in their venom. Spiders really are nature’s master chemist!”

Do something that scares you, that pushes you out of your comfort zone Samantha gives us her advice for students considering their future careers, “Do something that scares you, that pushes you out of your comfort zone and really enables you to grow and try new and innovative ideas and come up with really cool solutions to global problems.”

Her research is specifically focused on studying spider venoms to make new medicines against parasites. Samantha said, “That’s really important because parasites are actually one of the biggest problems for both humans and veterinary medicine. We have lots of parasitic worms that are living inside us and our cows and sheep, our cats and dogs. They suck the blood and just like bacteria, those worms have become resistant to all of the drugs that we have available. So, we need to find new medicines to protect ourselves, our farmers and our animals.” “Spider venom evolved over millions of years to become complex cocktails of bioactive molecules. Some of these molecules are fast acting, potent and selective, which DECEMBER-JANUARY 2021


Chief Scientist Prof Hugh Possingham Queensland’s Chief Scientist, Professor Hugh Possingham, recalls first becoming interested in science when as a young boy he would accompany his father on bird watching trips to the South Australian arid zone. After several years of preferring to play with his toy soldiers, Hugh eventually started to become interested in bird watching. However, rather than just focusing on identifying birds, young Hugh and his Dad became increasingly interested in the habitats in which the birds were consistently located. This led Hugh to start asking ecological questions. “Why are there two sorts of tree creeper bird. Why aren’t there ten? Why isn’t there only one sort of tree creeper?”


In an interview with STEM Punks, Hugh pinpointed the moment that he became a conservationist. A favourite bird watching site which was a diverse ecosystem


of 63 different species of breeding birds, orchids, and many tree and plant species, became cleared for a wheatfield. At seventeen years of age, this event sparked Hugh’s interest in conservation, to prevent the destruction of habitat. He studied mathematics at university and has since applied mathematical skills, mathematical modelling skills and statistical analysis skills to conservation issues. Hugh explained, “you start to build laws, the laws of physics, the laws of ecology, and with those laws you can make models and predictive models that tell you not just what’s happened in the past or what’s happening now. You can use those models to predict the future.” He spoke of his extensive mathematical modelling work on population viability analysis by which “one tries to predict whether or not a species is going to go extinct.” Hugh worked with wildlife biologist David Lindenmayer in relation to the very rare Leadbeater’s possum, which is Victoria’s only endemic mammal. These possums were initially thought extinct and were only rediscovered in 1961 after being found living in the Mountain Ash forests of the Central Highlands in Victoria. The problem was that the Mountain Ash trees are highly sought-after

The power of Science, is its ability to predict the consequences of actions

timber. Hugh explained, “so the question the Victorian government asked us is how can we change the logging of this forest so we can extract timber, but we can keep this very rare species? So, we needed a model that was a spatial population model that told us how forest reactions would affect the extinction probability of this tiny possum that was built on a whole heap of factors.” A wide range of data collected by scientists over decades, that included birth rates, death rates, and movements, was then put into the predictive model. Hugh spoke in detail about the various questions and considerations that the model needed to answer. “Then we found it out, that in fact, if you put in 50 to 180 reserves, that was by far the best thing we could do for the possum. That gave her a very good chance of persisting more like a thousand years or two thousand years. Of course, with climate change, other things are going to happen. That’s probably long enough. So, the model allowed us to pick the best management option, that facilitated the timber industry, and gave the possum a fairly good chance of it.” Hugh said, “to me, the power of science, is its ability to predict the consequences of actions.”



Dark Sky

Dark Sky is a project that plugs students anywhere into making a difference. Across the world, our view of the stars is diminishing due to light pollution, and there is a chance that most kids in the future will grow up not realising how magnificent the heavens are. STEM Punks will build on a NSW Dubbo School of Distance Education project that saw 4000 students in Australia learn about the impact of light pollution, interact with the Siding Spring Observatory, and discover how to protect the night sky. In 2020 STEM Punks has developed an online way for students anywhere to do their own version. Dark Sky will allow students to become Global Citizen Scientists’ and enrol in an online class that will see learners work through a Design Thinking process and record ‘project to process’ with light pollution data in a 3D AR or VR map.

CoSpaces 3D STEM Tool - Dark Sky Data


The Dark Sky was presented at the world’s best EdTech forum ISTE (USA) by Damien and Jonathan, and is earmarked for a joint presentation with Dubbo School of Distance Education at SISP ‘STEM on Demand’ in NSW early next year.



Experimentary Dr Rob Bell

Dr Rob Bell is perhaps best well known for his science segments on children’s television program Totally Wild and as host for the children’s science program Scope. In addition, Rob worked at CSIRO Education for many years. Rob is now host of the online STEM learning platform Experimentary. In an interview with STEM Punks, Rob said, “teaching science is pretty critical because it’s science that understands the world and explains how things work. It is also the key to developing things for the future, whether it be a vaccine, a new form of transportation, as well as understanding, life, the universe and everything.”

The great thing about citizen science is that you can gather so much data from so many places Rob is passionate about citizen science, where everyday people become involved in actual research projects, run by scientists. Rob emphasised that schools can also become involved in citizen science research via a number of citizen science websites. Rob recounted a recent citizen science experiment where schools all around Australia conducted an experiment which involved imploding watermelons. According to Rob, there were approximately 20 000 students and 300 watermelons involved in the experiment. Rob told us, “the great thing about citizen science is that you can gather so much data from so many places. It would be very hard for an individual researcher to get that much data. Using the big watermelon experiment as an example, you employed one, two or 10 watermelons and you get 10 data points, but they’re all quite different. So, you can’t really see a pattern or a trend emerging, but by the time you have employed 300 or 500 or 1000 watermelons, you can start to see patterns emerging from all of this. You can start to draw some conclusions and you can actually start to develop some theories on that. Citizen science can just get us so much more data.” 12

Rob spoke about the importance of a STEM education, not just for vocational outcomes but as a way of thinking about and understanding the world. “It’s a way of thinking about problems as well as solving problems. I think STEM teaches kids how to attack a problem, how to come up with a hypothesis or prediction and how to do some reasoning. All of those skills are taught in STEM, regardless of whether you go on to be a scientist, a programmer or a mathematician. For those that don’t, STEM skills will still be really important in pretty much any career.” Rob’s advice to students is to pick the STEM subjects that they’re most interested in and also to get a good grounding across different subject areas. Rob provided his own example of undertaking STEM subjects in addition to also studying German language and theatre arts. Rob explained, “people often think of scientific types and creative types as distinct or separate. If you’re creative, you might be going off and painting and making music and writing. If you’re a scientific type, you are someone who follows the rules and always sticks to the recipe.” However, Rob said, “the best scientists and engineers are actually creative people. They have to be. You have to think outside the box of what you’re doing.” Rob emphasised that scientists needed to creatively think through problems that would inevitably occur during experiments. “Creativity is actually super important when it comes to STEM stuff, because that how you solve the problems”. We finished with Rob’s final insights on the importance of the relationship between creativity and STEM. “Einstein was a great example. He was a creative genius as well as a scientific genius. When those two things come together – amazing! For more information about Experimentary, this online STEM learning platform can be located at: https://experimentary.com.au



MEL Science Product Review

Hands-on Science experiments for everyone! The STEM Punks team got their hands on some awesome Science Kits from MEL Science and gave them a good test with our STEM Punks Ambassadors. MEL Science provides hands-on learning and sends out kits to students across the world. The Science kits come with all necessary chemicals, components, and instructions to complete a successful experiment. They include easy to follow step-by-step instructions and are made for a range of age levels. This is not only a fun way to experience hands-on Science activities but an engaging interaction where parents can work with the kids for some family fun. Overall, the kits are well structured and with a monthly subscripion, the fun never ends. The comprehensive Starter Kit contains all the equipment you’ll need to conduct your experiments. It also includes accessories for your smartphone or tablet to help you learn Science more effectively. You’ll be able to use the items in this kit over and over again.


Special offer

MEL Science is kindly offering our readers up to 3 months free access to these awesome learning resources. Click the MEL Science image to the right to receive this offer. Let the fun begin!




Med Mag Labs Dr. Frank Stadler

Dr Frank Stadler is leading the Med Mag Labs, which is part of the School of Medicine at Griffith University. This biomedical science project is producing medicinal maggots for maggot therapy. Frank explained to STEM Punks, “we are developing solutions as to how conflict-affected communities and other communities in compromised health care settings, can produce their own medicinal maggots and treat wounds with maggot therapy.”

Low-resource medicinal maggot production solutions developed by Isis District State High School. Top: Modular fly cage. Bottom, left to right: Maggot rearing container, clean lab bench for sterile work, and fly eggs being sterilised.

Low-resources medicinal maggot production solutions Maggot Menageries developed by Isis District State High School.

Year 9 and 10 citizen scientists from four Queensland high schools have created DIY laboratories for the production of medicinal maggots used in maggot therapy. These cheap low-tech but effective laboratories can be replicated by isolated communities in conflict regions where medical aid is hard to reach. Maggot therapy is the treatment of wounds with living fly larvae to remove dead tissue, to control infection, and to promote wound healing. This project has real-life impact, and participating citizen scientists will help to save limbs and lives in conflict and war. MedMagLabs and the Queensland Virtual STEM Academy have teamed up to offer two 10-week research programs for Queensland high school students keen to tackle a grand challenge. The program has been supported by a Queensland Government Citizen Science Grant. Students from Isis District State High School, Roma State College, Thuringowa State High School, and Nanango State High School learned about maggot therapy and medicinal fly biology. They used this knowledge to invent cheap and easy equipment and methods to produce medicinal maggots in lowresource healthcare settings such as conflict-affected communities. Students built cages for flies and maggots, and laboratory equipment to prepare maggots safely for treatment.

It’s very important that you can write well and that you can form an argument really well

Why maggot therapy in war?

Caring for chronic wounds can be very difficult even in modern healthcare settings. It is all the more challenging when hospitals and clinics are shut or have been destroyed, when doctors and nurses 2


Wound care, particularly chronic wounds caused by disease, can be difficult to manage in modern healthcare facilities. Can you imagine trying to care for chronic or infected wounds, often caused by disease, in a conflict or disaster zone? This is the challenge that Med Mag Labs is seeking to address. Frank described some of the difficulties, “when you are faced with medicine shortages, doctor shortages, surgeon shortages, and a low resource health care setting, then wounds become a huge problem.” Maggot therapy treats wounds with living fly larvae to remove dead tissue, control infection and promote wound healing.” Many of these affected communities are located in isolated and dangerous locations, such as Afghanistan and Yemen, where access is difficult. For that reason, Frank explained that any solutions that Med Mag Labs develop, “must be able to be implemented by these communities themselves, without a laboratory like this, or without doctors.” Ideally, researchers would work directly with the communities themselves to develop solutions. However, this was not possible, and a proxy community, with equivalent educational attainment, was required. Supported by a Queensland Government Citizen Science Grant, Med Mag Labs partnered with The Queensland Virtual STEM Academy to offer two 10-week research programs to Queensland high school students. Selected students from Isis District State High School, Roma State College, Thuringowa State High School and Nanango State High School learned about maggot therapy and medicinal fly biology. They then applied this knowledge to invent “low

resource and DIY solutions.” Students developed cages for flies and maggots and laboratory equipment to prepare maggots safely for treatment. Frank explained that the application of STEM was fundamental to the success of the project. Notably, Frank stressed the importance of having a mindset of being able to fail. “We asked them, please fail, because only through our failures, could we improve our solutions. For example, if the flies died or if the flies escaped the cage, then they had to improve that. Therefore, we have information to improve our guidance for those conflict affected communities.” What words of advice does Frank have for students looking to start a career in STEM? “I recommend that you put a lot of effort into your schooling. Place of lot of emphasis on mathematics and English. When you go to university and you start your academic career, you will find that without being able to communicate effectively in the written and oral form, you will not succeed in science. It’s very important that you can write well and that you can form an argument really well. Mathematics, chemistry, and physics are all very foundational subjects that you need to really place an emphasis on.” MedMagLabs wishes to acknowledge the Citizen Science Funding support received from the Queensland Government. In 2019, MedMagLabs was awarded a CAD250,000 grant to conduct maggot therapy supply chain research from Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge, a partnership of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, with support from Grand Challenges Canada.

Isis district State High School students

Cover image courtesy of Emily’s Wonder Lab, Netflix

STEM Punks Ventures Pty Ltd ABN: 51 620 117 348 Email: hello@stempunks.com.au Web: www.stempunks.com.au iLearn: www.stempunks.com

For Future Thinking Teachers - Brought to you by STEM Punks®

Profile for stempunks

Future Learning Magazine December-January 2021  

Future Learning Magazine is designed by teachers for teachers and provides insight into leading STEM Education and access to free learning r...

Future Learning Magazine December-January 2021  

Future Learning Magazine is designed by teachers for teachers and provides insight into leading STEM Education and access to free learning r...

Profile for stempunks

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded