This article recaps the Let’s Torque undergraduate science communication competition, held online via The Royal Society Facebook Live page on 21 August 2021.
Effective communication of science is necessary to influence policy, health, the environment, and increasingly, tackle misinformation. Let’s Torque is an organisation run by undergraduate students, for undergraduate students, to showcase the real-world potential of STEM solutions and foster communication and leadership skills.
This year, four undergraduate students presented STEM solutions to global challenges for the Let’s Torque Grand Final. Their aim was to bridge the gap between researchers and society by communicating innovative STEM developments to the general public.
This year the initiative was led by Jack O’Connor as Head and Mitchell de Nardis as Deputy Head. Following a sparkling program of communication workshops and semi- finals with participants delivered by the Let’s Torque team, the Grand Final was conducted online, during yet another Melbourne lockdown for National Science Week, hosted by the Royal Society of Victoria.
Joining the team and competitors were judges Catriona Nguyen-Robertson (RSV Science Communications), Dr Shane Huntington (Einstein a Go Go, 3RRR) and Dr Leonie Walsh (Chair of C4NET and Victoria’s inaugural Lead Scientist).
Keynote: Dr Marissa Parrott, Zoos Victoria
This year’s keynote address was delivered by someone who conveys important science messages in her everyday life, reproductive biologist Dr Marissa Parrott. Since joining Zoos Victoria’s Wildlife Conservation and Science department, she has led many conservation efforts to protect endangered native animals that are based on scientific research. Their successful campaigns “When Balloons Fly, Seabirds Die”, “Lights off for the Moths”, and “Safe Cat, Safe Wildlife”, demonstrate the power of conveying science well. They encouraged people to use bubbles rather than balloons to avoid creating deadly litter, to minimise light pollution for Bogong Moth migration, and to keep cats indoors so that they do not prey on native wildlife. Marissa’s presentation was an inspirational demonstration of clear, effective science communication.
Our thanks to all participants for stepping up for this year’s competition! These are tricky times to get involved in *anything*, so your enthusiasm and commitment is warmly appreciated. The four finalists presented on the following topics, and were awarded Prizes as follow:
Joshua Nicholls, Swinburne University of Technology: “Bionics: Seeing into the Future.”
What would life be like without your vision?
Joshua Nicholls (Swinburne University) gazed into the future of visual prosthetics. Developments in bionic eye technology provide hope to the 13 million Australians who live with some form of vision loss. Electrodes are implanted in the visual cortex, or on or below the retina of the eye that receive electrical signals from a camera. The image resolution is still quite low as only a set number of electrodes contribute to forming an image, resulting in a very pixelated image, but as the technology advances and more electrodes are included, the detail of the images will get better and better. Joshua hopes that the cost will come down while the resolution of this technology will increase in the future.
Sanjeeban Chattopadhyay, Swinburne University of Technology: “Permeable Pavements: A Key Design for a Water-sensitive Future.”
Urban areas are currently not optimally designed when it comes to heavy rainfall and flooding. Infrastructure decreases the natural filtration of water through the ground, as areas once covered by vegetation have been replaced with buildings, concrete paths, and asphalt roads. Not only are floods inconvenient, stormwater also overloads drains and becomes contaminated with rubbish.
To avoid severe floods after heavy rainfall, Sanjeeban Chattopadhyay (Swinburne University) is excited to see permeable pavements rolled out. Permeable pavements are comprised of a porous surface to absorb more water, mitigate potential flood events and direct moisture into the soil below.
People’s Choice Prize
Georgina Aiuto, Swinburne University of Technology: “Take a Second for the Future.”
Georgina Aiuto (Swinburne University) spoke about the importance of accurate monitoring populations of koala and other native animals with GPS data. Following the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, the distribution of animal populations in affected regions in the aftermath was assessed using this global system.
Satellites use atomic clocks to link their position and time. The timekeeping mechanism of an atomic clock is based on the excitation of atoms such as caesium – essentially, electrons in the atom vibrate when excited by light of a certain wavelength, and a second is defined by a set number of electron vibrations. Atomic clocks are more stable than regular clocks but, as the Earth’s rotation slows and falls out of sync with satellites orbiting the Earth, “the second” needs to be updated so that our GPS data remains accurate. Australian animals that are monitored from space rely on how we define time, as a misalignment of a few milliseconds can mean kilometres of inaccuracy at the ground level.
Luke Antzoulatos, RMIT University: “Nano-Terminators”
Scaling down from the vastness of space, Luke Antzoulatos (RMIT University) drilled down to the nanoscale. When bacteria form aggregates (biofilms) during an infection, those within the biofilm are shielded from antibiotics. If this occurs, the only way forward is to increase dosage, which in turn, contributes to future antibiotic resistance. Luke described a new solution: Nano-Terminators, a mix-n-match of nanoparticles composed of materials with antimicrobial properties. Galinstan, a liquid metal alloy used in thermometers, can pierce biofilms and bacterial cell walls; silver interferes with bacteria metabolism; and curcumin, used in curry powder, disrupts bacteria communication. Each only work for specific bacteria types, but together, they may be able to combat infections when antibiotics fail.
The RSV extends congratulations to the finalists, our thanks to the judges and commend the 2021 Let’s Torque team for another excellent competition!