Schools lap up ‘light fantastic’ lectures

SCI Australia International Group committee member Kay Latham, of RMIT University’s school of applied sciences, Melbourne, was chosen to present the annual Hartung youth lecture series to hundreds of school students throughout Victoria. Her subject, ‘Synchrotron: making the light fantastic’, was extremely topical as the Victorian government is currently building Australia’s first and only synchrotron in Melbourne.

Latham was well qualified to present the lecture series. Her research in the field of materials chemistry has taken her to many synchrotron facilities throughout the world where she has had first-hand experience using X-ray techniques to discover how materials are held together, how they form and how molecular structure relates to material properties.

She explained to her audience what a synchrotron does and how it works, and the wealth of information that the intense light beams which are emitted can reveal. ‘Once built, the Australian synchrotron, aptly called 'Boomerang', will enable researchers to make better medicines, better plastics and even better chocolate to name but a few possible applications,’ she said.

Latham illustrated her lectures with demonstrations showing, for example, the effects of magnets on electrons, using a very large horse-shoe magnet and an old computer monitor.

The annual Hartung youth lecture series was established by the Victorian Branch of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute in 1958 to commemorate the contribution made to chemistry by E J Hartung who was Professor of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne from 1928 to 1954. Lectures are designed to stimulate the interest of senior school students (equivalent to ‘A’ level in the UK) and lecturers are selected on the basis of their ability to enthuse their audiences.

The highlight of the lectures was Latham’s presentation during Australian National Science Week. ‘The only disappointment I have about Australia building its own synchrotron in Melbourne’, she said, ‘is that when it becomes operational, I can see a rapid decline in my accumulation of frequent flier points!’

Richard Thwaites
Australia International Group


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