Nobel Laureate presents prize to high school students

Nobel Laureate, Professor Brian Schmidt
Friday, 14 December, 2012

It’s not every day that school students get to present their science project to a major scientific conference, and rarer still to receive a prize for it from a Nobel Laureate.

That was the happy experience for a team of four Year 11 students from Gosford High School, who won a national competition conducted by UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics.

They were lucky enough to receive their prize from Professor Brian Schmidt FRS, who jointly won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, after they gave a five-minute talk to the AIP Congress at UNSW on their top-rated research project. Their talk was followed by a public lecture by Professor Schmidt.

The students - Jack Harkness, Liam Hayes, Paige Coomber and Mariah Owen - won the national physics competition for experiments they performed under the watchful eye of the school’s well-known head science teacher, Dr Mark Butler (who won the 2004 Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools).

Jack Harkness, Liam Hayes, Paige Coomber, Mariah Owen and Professor Brian Schmidt. Photo:Jayne Ion

Enrolled students from Years 7 to 11 from across Australia were eligible to enter the competition. Their task was to conduct physics experiments to investigate a physical phenomenon of their choosing and report their findings to this week’s congress. 

The Gosford team’s entry was titled “Relationship between Flow Rates and the Radial Hydraulic Jump”. Hydraulic jump is a phenomenon of fast-flowing water, observed when it is abruptly slowed and its surface rises in height.

The students used a siphon to deliver water flow at controlled pressure and measured flow rates down to a glass plate marked with measurements. They investigated the relationship between the flow of water, measured in volume per time, and the diameter of the circle extending to hydraulic jump.

One of the judges, Professor Joe Wolfe, of the UNSW School of Physics, praised the students for seeing in everyday life an interesting phenomenon, asking a fundamental scientific question “Why”, then devising a well-controlled experiment, using simple apparatus, that yielded clear and well-explained results.

Media contact:

Shane Hengst (UNSW Physics) 0408 508 199