ANU takes science to southern Africa

26 February 2014

An Australian National University scientist is heading to Africa with some unique experiments, including a vacuum cleaner-powered marshmallow bazooka, to help make science more accessible for young students and teachers.

Dr Graham Walker from the ANU National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and creator of the scicycle, will tour South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi for six weeks performing science shows, conducting staff training and showing teachers how ordinary items can be used to teach extraordinary science.

"For youth in southern Africa, especially the less fortunate, science and science education can be a real opportunity to break out of poverty and find a worthwhile and exciting career," Dr Walker said.

"I hope the shows and workshops provide some inspiration towards that goal."

The project is a collaboration between ANU, Questacon - Australia's National Science and Technology Centre, and partners in each African country.

The project will also involve passionate partners from within Africa, who are crucial to fostering long-term outcomes.

"Botswana, Zambia and Malawi have no science centres or school outreach programs. We're working to change that," Dr Walker said.

"One of the big aims in this visit is to share some innovative ways to do science education that works well in Australia and - with our African friends - see how we can adapt these methods to work in Africa. I'm looking forward to working together and learning from each other."

Dr Walker will travel by himself on this trip, but hopes to roll out a bigger team in the future.

"I think my favourite experiment is the vacuum cleaner-powered marshmallow bazooka," he said.

"The vacuum cleaner is a wonderful example of science in everyday life, but shooting marshmallows - that's a twist that really gets people curious and adds a lot of fun. People learn so much more when you tap into those emotions."

Funding from the Australian High Commission in South Africa and the Australian Embassy in Zimbabwe has made the trip possible.