Encouraging STEM futures

Leading scientists have teamed up with virtual reality experts to bring high school students into the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) planet-discovering observatory.

The galactic project was included in the Advance Queensland Engaging science Grants announced by Minister science Leeanne Enoch earlier this week.

The funding program aims to showcase science careers, and encourage increased student participation in STEM subjects.

USQ will work with students from different schools to produce virtual tours of its Mt Kent Observatory, providing first-person ‘visits’ through a VR headset or via mobile technology.

USQ project leader Bill Wade said the students would be trained to use 360-degree cameras before filming the site and interviewing space scientists.

“Together, we will create an invaluable learning resource for Queensland students, engaging them with an authentic astronomy experience and insight into future careers,” Mr Wade said.

“They’ll benefit from the expertise of USQ Centre for Astrophysics, led by Professor Brad Carter, and the University’s Hub for Immersive and Virtual Experiences headed by Senior Digital Innovator Dr Neil Martin.

“This technology goes well beyond a 2D video in that it evokes a very strong emotive response, activating a deeper level of connectedness to what you’re looking at.

“It also helps to bridge geographical distances so that anyone can get that heightened sensory experience, whether from Brisbane or Cunnamulla or Mount Isa.”

Mr Wade said the students would drive the direction of the project, shaping the discussion to find answers to questions that interested them most.

“It’s important for us to have the students investigate and report on STEM related careers in their own voice so they can speak authentically to the student who will eventually view the tours,” he said.

“While the current gathering restrictions and social distancing will delay the start of the project, we’re excited to get started.”

Read more stories by Samtui Selave