Shining a spotlight on women in STEM – PHYSICS FORUM 2019

Recently, a group of Year 9 & 10 girls attended a day run by the Physics department of Melbourne University. This day was designed both as an educational experience, and also as a way to show girls that, contrary to the societal stigma placed around it, choosing to do a higher level STEM subject is something they should feel comfortable with. A major theme of the day was, naturally, the moon landing, as Sunday was the 50th anniversary. From this theme, we learned about the science behind what actually happened, as well as the technological era it paved the way for.

During the day, we heard two of the University’s July lectures. The first was by Professor David Jamieson, who taught us about the way the Earth and Moon interact, mostly through their gravities, and also enlightened us about some of the coincidences of our solar system (such as how, from Earth, the moon appears to be the same size as the sun – something which will not be the case in the future, so we are really very lucky). He also explained the physics of orbits, as well as the formation of the moon’s craters, an explanation that was accompanied by a messy demonstration. It sounds overbearingly mathematically nerdy, but it was actually genuinely fascinating.

The second lecture was by Dr. Helen Brand, and it was about planetary geology. Rocks in space may sound like a boring topic, but so much of what she said was relatively new information to me, and it was something so interesting and so far from anything we would ever be taught in school. She even brought along a little piece of moon rock for show and tell, as well as some of her other favourite rocks and meteorites.

The other major part of our day was a tour of many of the laboratories, where we heard from students about their projects. The tour included rooms that aren’t even open to the public on open days! We saw two optics labs, where people were doing cool things with big lasers, as well as the nerd dungeon where a PhD student was building a dark matter detector. We also saw and heard from some representatives of FREO2, a company that aims to cheaply provide oxygen to children with pneumonia in developing countries.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and hope there are other similar opportunities in the future.
Jessica Cebon (Year 10)

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