WA scientists become STEM superstars

WA scientists become STEM superstars

Agribusiness
 The University of Western Australia associate professor Parwinder Kaur is working on newadvances in agriculture technology.

The University of Western Australia associate professor Parwinder Kaur is working on newadvances in agriculture technology.

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"Farming never stands still - and great science gives the Australian farming sector its competitive edge."

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TWO Western Australian scientists with expertise in plant genetics have been selected as part of a national program that aims to give women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) the skills and confidence to step into expert commentary roles in the media.

InterGrain barley breeder Hannah Robinson and The University of Western Australia associate professor Parwinder Kaur join a total of 60 women from around the country in becoming Superstars of STEM.

The application of research and new technologies to improve crop adaptation and production is a key focus of Dr Robinson's work, while Dr Kaur leads an innovative Translational Genomics research program that aims to translate fundamental science into ready-to-use solutions across the agricultural and medical sectors.

Science and Technology Australia (STA) chief executive officer Misha Schubert said the program sets out to smash stereotypes of what a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician looks like

"Farming never stands still - and great science gives the Australian farming sector its competitive edge," Ms Schubert said.

"Science is helping our farmers to keep making advances in everything from crop and livestock breeding through to soil and water management.

"We know visible role models are crucial to inspire more girls to study agricultural sciences - and several of our new Superstars of STEM are brilliant women using their science to advance our agriculture industry and to help our farming communities stay ahead of their competitors."

 InterGrain barley breeder Hannah Robinson.

InterGrain barley breeder Hannah Robinson.

Dr Kaur works on new advances in agriculture technology using the gene editing tool CRISPR - with its inventors winning a Nobel Prize this year.

Her work has identified the best type of clover to feed to cows, pigs and sheep so they produce less methane to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Kaur has also modified clover plants to take up phosphorus more effectively to help farmers lower their fertiliser bills.

With DNA Zoo Australia, she is on a mission to provide genomic empowerment to unique Australian biodiversity, facilitating conservation efforts for the threatened and endangered species.

"We do a lot of ground-breaking science here in Australia but we don't have enough platforms to be able to talk about it," Dr Kaur said.

"Despite having had outstanding research opportunities, I've had no formal media training, and my public communication skills have been developed on the fly."

Dr Robinson works in the early generation side of InterGrain's barley breeding program, making her responsible for all the crossing and other material which is pushed through to be used for final selections, which ends up in new varieties like Maximus CL.

She also works closely with a lot of researchers, injecting new technology and research outcomes into the breeding program to speed up the delivery of that to growers.

"Superstars of STEM sounds like an amazing opportunity because a lot of the program is around training for talking to the media, public speaking and growing confidence in all those realms," Dr Robinson said.

"Another part of the program is going out into high schools and sharing my story with young women, which is wonderful as I've always been passionate about getting more people into agriculture.

"I had no idea that this job existed when I was in high school and I wanted to be a lawyer, but here I am working as a plant breeder, so I'm really passionate about showing the different options that exist."

Ms Schubert said a lot of people believed careers in agriculture were about being a farmer.

"But there are many other jobs in agriculture too - including scientists working on next generation crops and farming methods," she said.

"As two of our new WA Superstars of STEM, Hannah and Parwinder are inspiring role models to show girls how studying science - genetics in particular - can lead to rewarding careers working at the exciting intersection of science and farming."

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