Science - you’re standing in it
If you thought science was the domain of sterile labs and dull high school lessons, John O’Connor suggests you think again.
We’re surrounded by science everyday - and this University of Newcastle Professor of Physics is on a personal crusade to help us realise it. John’s mission is to make science and engineering a source of wonder and meaning for us all - through his research, regular radio shows, and The Science and Engineering Challenge in high schools across Australia.
"I try hard to put complex scientific ideas into forms people can understand so they can see how things work," he explains.
"Most people don’t realise science is happening around them all the time, whether it’s rainbows in the sky, or reflective warning signs on the side of our highways.
"Science is not something that’s done in a laboratory as an isolated activity by professionals. You’re surrounded by it and standing in it." And standing in the way of a technology-enabled future is Australia’s dire skills shortage of scientists and engineers - a problem that John is particularly passionate about solving.
"Everything we rely on - transport, power, water, medications - all of these at some stage involves both scientists and engineers investigating new ways of doing things.
John is behind The Science and Engineering Challenge - a program where high school students across the nation compete in science-based activities: from building bridges, to making catapults, to navigating virtual mazes. The Challenge has grown from a local event to one involving more than 20,000 Year 10 students from 750 high schools across Australia, and most recently Singapore. It has seen enrolment rates for high school science and maths increase since it began in 2000, and John share the Sir William Hudson Award for engineering excellence.
Proof that this professor’s approach to making science fun and accessible really works.
Portrait of John O’Connor was taken by Michelle Maartensz, Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours).