Ice Caps, Deserts, Oceans and Space: Science at the Extreme

August 11, 2019

By Ashley Van Krieken, Director Yarra Ranges Tech School

With the theme for National Science Week being Destination Moon: more missons, more science it provided a fantastic base for Yarra Ranges Tech School to showcase the flexibility and broad application of our technologies and learning spaces. It is also worth mentioning that as a massive Space nerd with a strong interest in geology and planetary science I was extremely excited for this event!

We kicked off with Dr Darlene Lim a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Centre speaking about her career and life as a geobiologist and exobiologist.  Her presentation took us to Mars, space and to amazing locations on earth which act as a proxy for extraterrestrial environments.  We learned how NASA uses simulation to re-create life for astronauts on another planet including communication delays and life support issues.  

Our second speaker, Dr Kate Selway, an Earth scientist, stopped by to talk about plate tectonics (the Earth’s outer shell) and how we understand what is happening beneath our feet. Kate has led research teams in the deserts of central Australia, the savannas of East Africa, and the frozen expanses of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.  An entertaining presentation which ended with Kate dressing in her Greenland and Antarctic protective clothing – rather apt given the arctic conditions outside!!

To complement these fantastic presentations we ran several workshops throughout the day:

  • Navigating a Mars rover to collect samples
  • Explore the micro world
  • Space obstacles 
  • Insectoids

For a video of the event and a live interview with Dr Darlene Lim check Yarra Ranges Life TV via the following link:


To round out 2019 National Science Week I joined Yarra Ranges Tech School for their collaborative event with the folks at SCIVR. Utilising a mix of live streaming and Virtual Reality headsets and controllers we were taken through the latest wonders of Australian-led research in Astronomy.  

After a brief introduction to the headsets and technology we would be using, Professor Alan Duffy and Dr Rebecca Allen joined us on the big screen to begin our adventure.  I was joined in this journey by a mix of people from children through to retirees demonstrating the interest of science and its applicability to all ages.  Alan and Rebecca guided us through our solar system, helped us navigate and explore black holes and gravitational waves.  A highlight for me was watching in a Virtual Environment the life of a star from its birth to its death.

The use of Virtual Reality as a means of demonstrating science, particularly astronomy was an eye opener for me and the others who attended.

Thales – Tech Schools Competition 

Partnering with industry to encourage students to address localized problems is a fundamental part of the Operation of Yarra Ranges Tech School.  We are proud to have worked with Thales and our colleagues at Ballarat, Bendigo and Casey Tech Schools to bring this competition to fruition.

Over Term 3 and into Term 4 YRTS was one of four Tech Schools to participate in the Thales-Tech Schools competition.  Aimed at Year 9 students the competition asked students to design a solution to a community issue using sensors.  From an initial six interested schools at our Immersion day three joined our pilot competition – Belgrave Heights Christian College (2 teams); Mountain District Christian School (2 teams); and Sherbrooke Community School (1 team).  

Students received support from YRTS staff and Thales graduates but largely worked on their concepts by themselves refining and developing them until the Yarra Ranges regional final.  Three teams pitched their ideas to an audience of parents, teachers, Box Hill executives & staff, council representatives and community members.  The prototypes were of an exceptional standard and the judging panel had quite the task set out for them in determining a winning entry.

Ultimately, Team Big Brain from Sherbrooke Community School was declared the winner for their concept of developing a fatigue detection system which could be retrofitted to older cars ensuring that if a driver fell asleep the car could navigate itself to a safe space to stop.  Belgrave Heights Christian School’s Platypulse sensor system and Mountain District Christian School’/s train platform barriers were very close runner-ups.

Team Big Brain headed to Thales offices in Melbourne to represent Yarra Ranges Tech School and did an exceptional job of pitching their idea and concept.  However, it was not to be there day but they did have the opportunity to speak with Thales staff and their counterpart students from the other Tech Schools.

Student and teacher feedback from the event was exceptionally positive.

Things didn’t go to plan at the State Finals, but they’ve been so resilient and they’re raring to go for next year”.  “They’ve already made a list of things they would do differently and are going to keep it for next year

Densie Dempsey, Materials and Technology Teacher at Sherbrooke Community School