Bright spark impresses in online science class

15 Jul 2013

If life gives you lemons, the saying goes, make lemonade.

Year 5 student Jackie Bell impressed Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology chemical engineer Professor Anton Middelberg when she made electricity instead.

As part of a Charleville School of Distance Education online science class with Prof Middelberg this month, Jackie generated 8v from a home-made battery.

Prof Middelberg explained to the Year 5 and 6 students how copper and zinc suspended in citric acid would conduct electricity.

Using items such as old coins and zinc-coated nails lodged in a lemon, scientists expect to generate up to 1v from each piece of fruit they used.

When Jackie reported an 8v reading on her volt meter from two lemons, Professor Middelberg was surprised.

Jackie’s high reading was the result of some clever thinking. She simply cut the lemons into quarters and hooked them up in a series, generating about 1v from each segment.

Prof Middelberg said it was stories such as Jackie’s were typical of his ongoing engagement with schools, conducted as part of his Premier’s Science Fellowship from the Queensland Government.

The engagement included visits to classrooms, online hook-ups, tours of his labs and week-long placements for students at AIBN.

“Students have a thirst for knowledge. They want to know how things work,” Prof Middelberg said. “That is no different in remote and rural areas such as farms outside Charleville.

“That is why I like to be involved in the School of Distance Education classes. I hear how the students build their skills in engineering on the farms. They are often very resourceful.

“They learn and find practical applications. They want to go to university so they can keep learning and apply that knowledge back in their communities. It might be about finding an application for solar power or wind power.”

To encourage the learning, Professor Middelberg has started planning for Charleville School of Distance Education students to spend a day at AIBN as part of a week-long experience of city life in Brisbane and beach culture on the Gold Coast.

“We want them to experience all parts of Queensland and get a taste of places they have not seen.”