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.
Two youngsters from the Danthonia Bruderhof community were among the finalists in the national competition, which seeks to recognise Australia’s best and brightest science students.
The entrants conducted independent research or engineering projects, with making positive impacts to the world a big motivator for all the 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 conventionally 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."
The winners will be announced on February 5 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 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.