Whether it’s investigating the ways soil biology affects agricultural production or using satellite data to measure melting polar icecaps, the environment was a big focus for finalists in the 2019 BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards.

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The 2019 finalists were announced today and come from New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. All students conducted independent research or engineering projects and entered their state Science Teacher Association awards making them eligible for the BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards.

Making positive impacts to the world was a big motivator for all the student finalists.

The inspiration for 17-year-old Tiarra Meier and 15-year-old Anne Zimmerman’s project was their home, a property in Elsmore, NSW.

"The land had been conventionaly farmed since the 1950’s," Tiarra said.

"In 1999, my dad successfully changed how the property was managed by using concentrated groups of livestock in small areas for short periods and then a big rest period to mimic natural grazing. However, there were still paddocks where plants didn’t grow well despite good rainfall and grazing management so we decided to investigate.

"We discovered that long term use of pesticides, fertilizers, and excessive ploughing all negatively impact soil biology and began to explore if this could be the missing link for many of our paddocks.

"During our research we found that a lack of healthy soil biology is affecting nutrient density of plants grown for food. It meant that our investigation was not only about improving the environment to benefit the farmer but it had wider impacts for food quality."

Anne Zimmerman said it was a lot of work in the beginning with background research, setting up trial plots, watering and testing the soil before and after.

"We selected six plots and had the soil chemically and biologically analysed to see what we were working with," Anne said.

"We then applied chemical and biological amendments to increase soil health and tested the soil again after five months."

While Anne and Tiarra were testing soil in Elsmore, 16-year-old Joseph Wright was in Canberra, working out how to measure melting polar ice caps in Antarctica with satellite data.

"Climate change is a really important issue that affects everyone, so I wanted to do a project that focused on that," Joseph said.

"Satellites have been used to monitor the effects of global warming by a number of different space programs including the European Space Agency’s CryoSat program, the GCOM-C program from the Japanese Space Agency, and the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a program conducted by NASA and the German Aerospace Centre.

"I decided to focus on the GRACE program and finding the best spatial resolution for gravity data from these satellites.

"A higher spatial resolution would provide more realistic images of Antarctic icecaps and ice melt from West Antarctic glaciers using real GRACE data.

"As well as this, a higher resolution could show mass changes in greater detail without sacrificing the high accuracy of GRACE measurements."

To find the optimum spatial resolution, he created and ran simulations on a server at Australian National University's Research School of Earth Science. He then analysed the data from GRACE program with the spatial resolution to accurately show melting ice mass loss in Antarctica.

"I really enjoyed being able to work on a project that has real-world scope," Joseph said.

The winners will be announced on 5 February at a ceremony in Melbourne.

The BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards are a partnership between the BHP Foundation, CSIRO, the Australian Science Teachers Association and each state and territory Science Teachers Association.

Since 1981, the awards have been recognising student excellence. Six of the finalists will have the opportunity to go to Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in the US where over 1800 high school students from 75 countries, regions and territories are given the opportunity to showcase their independent research.

2019 BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards Finalists

  • Oliver Balfour, Alfred Deakin High School, ACT
  • Gabby Jarvis, Daramalan College, ACT
  • Jessica Bridgart, Daramalan College, ACT
  • Joseph Wright, Daramalan College, ACT
  • Lucy Lake, Barker College, NSW
  • James Casey-Brown, Barker College, NSW
  • Anne Zimmerman, Home school Elsmore, NSW
  • Tiarra Meier, Home school Elsmore, NSW
  • Shirley Wang, Meriden School, NSW
  • Callum Predavec, Mosman High School, NSW
  • Kelvin Du, Newington College, NSW
  • Ethan Yin, Northholm Grammar School, NSW
  • Jianwen (Jennivine) Chen, PLC Sydney, NSW
  • Josafina Paddison, Queenwood School for Girls, NSW
  • Olga Medvedieva, Queenwood School for Girls, NSW
  • Angelina Arora, Sydney Girls High School, NSW
  • Macinley Butson, The Illawarra Grammar School, NSW
  • Josiah Cheng, Queensland Academy for Science Mathematics and Technology, QLD
  • Maria Saito, Queensland Academy of Health Sciences, QLD
  • Julia Bejleri, Queensland Academy of Health Sciences, QLD
  • Hannah Lee, Queensland Academy of Health Sciences, QLD
  • Emma Spurr, Kingston High School, TAS
  • Isaac Brain, Rosny College, TAS
  • Mitchell Torok, Rosny College, TAS
  • Lucy Eade, St Mary's College, TAS
  • Uriah Daisybell, Christian Aboriginal Parent Directed School, WA

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