Rutherglen High School student Emma Gaston recently took a two-week break from her VCE studies to fly to England to participate in the London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF).
Emma participated in the Youth Science Forum in Canberra in January this year and that inspired her to apply for the international forum.
She not only was successful in gaining a place but also in raising almost $10,000 to make her dream a reality.
Here is Emma’s story:
As I strolled, bleary eyed, to the immigration desk at Heathrow Airport after a breezy 30 hours of flying, a gruff immigration officer asked my intentions whilst staying in the UK.
He then followed by asking what exactly the London International Youth Science Forum was.
Before the program I had little idea of how to explain it, as I pre-empted what an indescribable experience it would be.
Having now completed the program, I would still struggle to explain with words just how incredible and transformative the forum really was for me.
In short, it was magical; the most thought provoking atmosphere I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.
The London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) was an incredibly unique and eye-opening
experience for me.
Before LIYSF I had never travelled abroad independently, nor had the opportunity to meet so many people from a plethora of different cultures.
I made friends with people from France, Portugal, Luxembourg, England, Pakistan, China, New Zealand and Canada.
Because of our mutual interest in science, cultural barriers suddenly didn’t seem as insurmountable, and I found many people with relatable ideals and philosophies as a result of this shared passion.
The plenary lectures were diverse with each just as fascinating as the next, whether it be that
their focus was the history of medicinal chemistry or the European Space Agency’s plans for future space missions to study the Sun and Mercury.
However, the underlying theme of the 2017 LIYSF was ‘Science – making life better’ so every lecturer ultimately disclosed how their discipline or specifically, their research, is creating a brighter future for humanity.
I learnt about areas I knew little about and was blown away by the mind – bending complexity, or in some cases the surprising simplicity, within each of the lecturer’s disciplines.
My favourite lecture was called ‘Vision Impossible’ by Professor Sir Colin Blakemore.
Sir Colin is a professor of both neuroscience and philosophy, and his lecture summarised the history of brain research with an emphasis on our knowledge of visual perception.
His lecture left me with only more questions, not answers, as well as a burning desire to go into the field of neuroscience and further explore the brain’s incredible capacity.
With his research and knowledge, Sir Colin aims to increase human functioning and productivity, and as a future scientist, I can only hope to do the same.
I had plenty of conversations with people comparing our countries’ political systems, sports, secondary schools, universities, or even just the weather.
I was consistently amazed that at every lecture, scientific visit or social gathering, there were approximately 67 different countries represented, many with a unique culture and language.
Two of the most culturally immersive experiences were the international cabaret and the traditions of home night.
Both social events offered an unparalleled variety of entertainment.
From Mexican dancing and a New Zealand haka to a traditional Italian singalong and Catalonian human tower building, the breadth of performances was unlike any event I’d ever attended.
Another highlight was the science bazaar evening in which dozens of students presented a scientific
project they had undertaken.
It was glaringly obvious just how passionate these students were about their research; whether it was unveiling a potential cure for cancer via further research into the genome; using the keratin from chicken feathers to form environmentally sustainable plastics; researching the role of materials in the transmission of bacteria; envisioning plans for a mega space station; or altering the genes of rats to adjust their intellect, then testing how their decision making was affected; all of the projects enlightened me scientifically in one way or another, inspiring me to retain and further my passion for science and research.
The scientific visits were some of the most beneficial parts of the LIYSF program.
They were an excellent opportunity to see how various sciences are actually applied in the real world, and to experience the inside of research facilities so exclusive, that few members of the general public will ever be able to visit them.
A particular highlight for me was visiting the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford University.
This famed department is filled with academics that are literally the best in the world in their research area of interest.
We were given time to explore the pathology labs, viewing sliced and whole brains from normal people as well as those affected by Alzheimer’s disease, learning about the prevalence of sub arachnoid haemorrhages and the research being employed to lessen this burden on victims, and witnessing an MRI machine and EEG in action, arguably the most important tools in brain research. These visits only cemented my passion for neuroscience, and planted the seed for my ambition to perhaps one day study neuroscience at Oxford University.
I came to the realisation at the conclusion of the program that the real aim of LIYSF is to share visions and ideas amongst budding scientists, and for participants to gain a better understanding of how science can benefit us all.
In just 14 days, my confidence has grown exorbitantly, I have gained more autonomy in both my ability to travel and to think analytically about some of society’s biggest problems, I have solidified my future career ambitions in the field of neuroscience and been inspired by my gifted peers who I see as the scientific leaders of the future.
I can’t express enough gratitude to those who assisted in organising my attendance at LIYSF.
To those who were generous sponsors towards my attendance at the forum: I thank you for this opportunity which has given me so much, I will forever be indebted to your commitment to encouraging and supporting young people passionate about science, technology, engineering and maths.
Thank you to the LIYSF and my sponsors for the profound and meaningful impact you’ve made on one aspirational young woman’s life.