Mars landing timely as education project gains $2.9m

Artist impression of the Curiosity rover on Mars. Image: NASA
Wednesday, 8 August, 2012
Bob Beale

UNSW science communication researcher Dr Carol Oliver has won a $2.9m research grant over two years from the NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services program.

The grant is to build on her Pathways to Space Program, which was funded to almost $1m for three years in 2010.

The grant is for a project titled “Education 20:20 - Enabling learning in science, engineering and mathematics”. The project is designed to address the decline in science and engineering uptake, using the capabilities of the National Broadband Network to link users from anywhere in Australia to educators, researchers, engineers, and scientists.

Dr Oliver, a Senior Research Fellow with the Australian Centre for Astrobiology in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, will lead an already well-established partnership with the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, and the University of Sydney.

“I am excited to have the chance to engage students, teachers and the public with science and engineering research. There is good evidence that school science has little resemblance to real science,” Dr Oliver says.

“This project will hopefully help close that gap for students and teachers, and will provide insight into an exciting area of science and engineering research for the interested public. The successful landing of NASA’s rover Curiosity on Mars on Monday will undoubtedly increase that interest.”

The project will build on the several years of foundational development in space science and space engineering research in a public space in the Pathways to Space program funded in 2010 through the Australian Space Research Program by the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education’s.

It includes a high-school education program, together with undergraduate and postgraduate programs centred on a 140 square metre Mars Yard and robotics lab at the Powerhouse Museum. The Mars Yard is the largest of its kind in a public space worldwide.

The new funding will allow the building of a digital media/television studio at the Powerhouse, two new tele-operable rovers to join the two existing rovers in the Mars Yard, and a video and multi-media content searchable database to be constructed and populated with appropriate student, teacher, and public engagement resources. The new project also includes teacher professional development across multiple locations using laptops or desktops as well as video-conferencing facilities.

The grant allows the creation of 11 positions - four of which are full time - ranging from engineers to a curriculum writer, and multi-media experts.

Media contacts:

Dr Carol Oliver –

UNSW science media liaison – Bob Beale 0411 705 435