High-tech workshops, ancient knowledge inspiring young Queenslanders for STEM

28 August 2023
A girl with black hair wears a virtual reality headset, and holds a drone and a boomerang, standing in front of a blue wall.
A student explores science, technology, engineering and maths via a high-tech approach to Indigenous knowledge

Gyroscopes, digital modelling and 3D printers are set to help young Queenslanders bring ancient Indigenous science into the modern world, thanks to a CQUniversity science initiative these upcoming school holidays. 

Proudly supported by the Queensland Government—Engaging Science Grants, CQU’s STEM learning with artefacts of First Peoples project invites upper primary and secondary students to the Mackay Ooralea campus for fun science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) activities.  

CQU Engineering lecturers Dr Jay Sul and Dr Lasi Piyathilaka, with Campus Coordinator Leanne Williams and proud Gudjala/ Waanyi woman and Industry Liaison Coordinator Liz Santo, are driving the project.

They hope the cutting-edge workshops will attract 50 Years 7 to 10 students from across the Greater Whitsunday region. 

“This project welcomes Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people, and it will help change perceptions through learning and experiencing Indigenous STEM knowledge,” Dr Sul said.

“It’s exciting to invite these student groups to work together, and grow understanding of Indigenous ancestors’ knowledge, and how it translates into modern science and engineering.”

The workshops will explore aerodynamics of boomerangs using a wind tunnel, to assess aerofoil, lift and drag. 

The students will also compare traditional and advanced materials for effective design, boomerang momentum by measuring torque, angular velocity and acceleration, and design their own high-tech boomerangs using 3D design software and 3D printers. 

Participants will travel to Mackay for two workshops across 18 September – 29 September, followed by a family fun day with parents, carers and siblings, as students compete to test the accuracy, flight times and catchability of their boomerang designs. 

As well as awards for best designs, all students will receive a participation certificate. 

CQU organisers are working with regional schools to prioritise students from remote and low socio-economic areas, and from First Nations communities. 

Ms Santo said these cohorts were less likely to aspire to STEM careers, often due to limited access to STEM teachers and resources.  

“The Department of Education has reported that Indigenous students represent less than one per cent of enrolments in STEM-related courses in higher education, but we hope that by combining ancient and modern science, we can inspire our participants to get excited about STEM,” she said. 

CQU received $13,500 in funding to run the project, one of 41 recipients sharing funding in 2023 to help increase public participation in science, under the Engaging Science Grants program.