The Kings School's new lab an incubator for researchers

A new science facility at The King's School in North Parramatta may be an incubator for the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and companies Vitramed Bioscience and Prime Biologics now join students in years 10 to 12, chosen for research internships under the school's Future Project in a purpose-built professional laboratory.

Project leader Brad Papworth said other students involved in The Future Project would focus on the communication of scientific information to make it more accessible to the general public, while primary and high school students from the area would be invited to meet a scientist or engineer.

"It is designed to provide a stepping stone past the curriculum and into where research is being done in various fields," he said.

"Our students work under the mentorship of scientists, giving them a chance to work alongside these researchers to solve real-world problems.

"Scientific knowledge is the vehicle to hopefully creating more innovation, it's not the end game."

Read what the scientists and students had to say about The Future Project below.

Research microbiologist Belinda Chapman from Vitramed is currently working on developing a pill to help people with Crohn's disease, a condition which causes painful inflammation of the bowel. She will spend about five hours of lab time each week with student mentees.

University engineers will discover other uses for food waste, as Prime Biologics researchers split blood into pure components to help lower the cost of disease-fighting blood products for developing countries.

The facility has 18 classrooms and lab space for up to 20 researchers.

What the scientists said:

Dr Belinda Chapman has spent 20 years as a research microbiologist.

A Vitramed Bioscience employee, she researches the role of micro-organisms in gastrointestinal diseases to develop new diagnostic tests and treatments for them. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are currently being investigated.

‘‘It’s a real step-change in how you engage the broader public in science.

‘‘There’s an amazing vision with this school and this project. When I saw the opportunity to be involved I literally wrote in an email back to the person who alerted me: ‘I’m going to cry if I can’t be involved in this project’, because it is exactly what we think is important.

‘‘Getting the boys involved in real-life research at a high school level is just fantastic. It’s unprecedented in Australia, and I just met someone from Japan who said it is unprecedented in Japan as well.

‘‘A lot of science is done in universities and less accessible settings. Being here we’re able to embrace the wider community that’s associated with the school environment.

‘‘Having the boys involved in science on an every day basis, they’re going to go back and talk to their families and friends. That just adds so much. When people are watching the news they’ll have that higher level of understanding of what is going on.’’

Dr Hari Nair is a researcher of more than 30 years and the executive chairman of Prime Biologics, which develops and produces plasma protein products to treat disease. These are first-line emergency room drugs, mostly for countries in Asia.

‘‘I’ve had a long history of working with school students and I really think that this is the forefront of how you encourage students to get into science. 

‘‘Science can be very dry and it’s very esoteric when you are sitting in a classroom, but I’ve been watching the kids walk into the lab area and their faces light up.

‘‘You get ideas from fresh minds. I was sitting in a classroom last week talking to these kids and they were asking questions you would never think of because they’ve got what I’d like to call a virgin mind.

‘‘When I was studying there was absolutely not [an opportunity like this].

‘‘Physics and chemistry were great subjects when you did them at school, but the only time you saw the relevance of physics and chemistry was when you went to university.

‘‘That was only because I was doing medicine and suddenly it all clicked together. I hope that the boys will come in here and see the relevance of what they are learning in the classroom and apply it to proper research. To get that mix will be fantastic.’’

What the students said:

It’s an exciting time for Year 10 students at The King’s School Ted Simpson, Tony Wang and Samuel Atkinson. Each have applied for The Future Project’s research internships. They were asked to complete a short research project as part of the application process.

Ted Simpson, 15.

‘‘It’s not every day we get the opportunity to have an insight on a medical or scientific job for the future. I thought I’d put myself up for this opportunity, have a try.

‘‘We were told to chose a topic and make a poster which we are presenting at a mini conference to our peers also in The Future Project boot camp, which will decide who will come and work with the researchers. My chosen topic was genetically modified animals to reduce human antibodies. That ties in with the group of researchers here who study the proteins in plasma.’’

Tony Wang, 14.

‘‘I feel that science an engineering is a part of the future and this is just an intermediate step to that future. It gives me new experiences in a high school environment which other people normally wouldn’t have. I feel that’s great.’’

Samuel Atkinson, 15. 

‘‘I think that it’s a great opportunity because it opens up many doors to university and beyond if you want to pursue a job in science and engineering. I’m looking at a protein known as gamma globulin and how it can be used to quickly identify a disease and therefore be able to cure it a lot quicker.’’

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