By:  Elise
September 2nd, 2017

Student science writing

Future Earth

This year’s entries to the UNSW Bragg student science writing prize reveal Australian kids’ hopes and fears for the planet’s future.

What do Australian kids think about the future of the planet? What are the global challenges that worry them? What technologies excite them?

Some answers to these questions come from the 84 essays submitted to the UNSW Bragg student science writing prize by high school kids from across Australia.

The theme this year was Future Earth: creating a more sustainable planet by 2030.

Environmental concern

Most students were concerned about the environment they are growing up in. There were essays on water pollution, destruction of rainforests, and loss of biodiversity, as well as more specific concerns like the impact of flying drones on birds of prey.

The Great Barrier Reef was a common theme, with Carol Ge’s poetic description bringing home exactly what is at stake.

“Vast watery shades of blue, as endless as the sky. Coral of magnificent shapes and sizes line the sea floor… Cool water envelops the beach, washing away rounded sand grains, shaped by endless tides and currents. Fish in brilliant hues of orange and yellow swim by, while the anemone sway to the currents… Underneath the surface of the water, time seems eternal. But time is running out for the Great Barrier Reef.” – Carol Ge, Bonython (ACT)

“If you want kids to actually notice the global problems, what you actually need to do is make it look cool,” suggests Zaycia-Belle Nanai from Durack QLD. “Make it seem more important than instagram, Facebook, and that boy that you think has a crush on you.”

War on waste

Inspiration for several kids’ student science writing entries came from Craig Reucassel’s ABC series, War on Waste.

“Around 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year in the United States,” Lucy Cook tells us. “You may underestimate the measure of this number of toothbrushes, but in fact this is enough toothbrushes to circle around the Earth four times!”

The series also provided the spark for the investigative report from Sam Jones from Kedron, QLD, on food waste.

“We are taught not to judge a book by its cover,” he begins. “But the truth is we all do it every day when it comes to the fruit and vegetables we choose to buy and eat.”

Sam interviewed a CSIRO scientist, his local greengrocer, and a pineapple farmer. He’s also set up an Instagram account @giveuglyago to “raise awareness about imperfect produce being delicious and nutritious”.

Tech solutions

Other kids looked to technological solutions to sustainability issues. Topics included geoengineering, genetically modified foods, and nuclear fusion. There were also essays on seaweed farms and edible insects, seed-planting drones and biodegradable burial pods.

Of course every new technology needs a good origin story. And Ebony Wallin provided this with her variation on the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“Dr Bertocchini, an amateur beekeeper, had removed waxworm caterpillars from her beehive where they had been eating the beeswax, and placed them in a plastic bag. To her utmost astonishment, within an hour the polyethylene bag was riddled with holes.”

As Ebony explains, lab tests showed that the caterpillars actually digested the plastic, transforming it into a useful substance, ethylene glycol.

Renewables

Kids are clearly excited by the potential of renewable energy, with solar power proving especially popular. Chelsy Tang helped to put this fascination in historical context.

“Revered by ancient cultures as a god, such as the Egyptians’ Ra, the Greeks’ Helios, and the Incans’ Huitzilopochtli, the Sun has been and still is relied on for guidance, enlightenment, and our very existence”, Chelsy writes. “So, it is not a surprise that when in desperate need for a solution to our polluted planet, we turn to our life-giving star for answers.”

But if one essay captured the excitement and optimism of new technology it was Mia Thompson’s bombastic “I am Photon!”

“I am photon, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore and I know too much to go back and pretend. Attention everyone, everywhere, you are near the end! Now is the time, step out of the shadows and feel the photons on your face. It is the era of a new dawn and I am the superhero.”

New inventors

Not content with describing existing technology, a number of kids came up with their own solutions to global challenges.

Oskar Fellusch from Pulteney, South Australia, imagined a fleet of solar-powered robot jellyfish cleaning up polluted waterways. Owen Yi proposed nitrogen-based fuel as an alternative to polluting carbon.

Meanwhile, Liam Richardson suggested that we could replace fossil fuels by harnessing the kinetic energy of the moon. Liam has obviously thought a lot about this. But the full consequences of his invention remain somewhat terrifying.

“The length of an Earth day would shorten faster the more power we produce. If we did it long enough the moon would fly away to play gravitational pool with the rest of our solar system. It really is just that simple,” he concludes.

– Jon Brock

To find out more about the national UNSW Bragg student science writing prize, click here.

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