There is more to laboratory life than Bunsen burners and CSI-style microscopes, as Hunter high school pupils will experience first-hand when behind-the-scenes tours are held for the first time during the HMRI Open Day on July 4.
With 1300 researchers, including more than 200 PhD students, connected to the Hunter Medical Research Institute through the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health, there are exciting employment prospects for young people keen to work in science and medical research while staying close to home.
HMRI researchers from fields as diverse as melanoma and pregnancy will lead the exclusive, student-only laboratory tours and outline the career path from school to university to fully fledged researcher developing cures and therapies for a raft of illnesses.
Greer Bennett, 24, from Stockton, is a biomedical scientist and Hunter Region convenor for the Australian Society for Medical Research who has worked with HMRI for four years. The former St Francis Xavier student is researching prenatal stress and the potential effects on foetal development and child behaviour.
“Biology really clicked with me at school and I’ve loved working in labs right from the start,” Greer says. “I get to do the work myself and see the results. It’s incredibly satisfying because the outcomes are readily translatable to the clinic.”
During the tours, students (who must be aged 12 or over) will get to watch a live extraction of DNA as well as being challenged to solve a disease ‘mystery’.
They’re a new feature of the HMRI Open Day, which last year attracted hundreds of community members to the HMRI Building as a free and fun school holiday event.
Younger children will again be catered for with Kids Corner activities that include DNA extraction from fruit and making “cells” from biscuits and icing – which they can eat afterwards. They will see microscopic organisms living in pond water and discover some of the bugs that grow on your hands. Researcher Dr Giavanna Angeli will keep them captivated with a special science story she has written, while “mad” scientists will roam the Building and pose for photographs.
Parents, meanwhile, can join some family-focused physical activity sessions to be run by Professor Phil Morgan from the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition.
The day will also include an interactive Expo highlighting a cross-section of the projects and programs being run by HMRI researchers, many of which were seed-funded by HMRI’s community supporters. There will be research and disease information sessions throughout the day, adult tours of the laboratories and clinical trials centre, a Q+A debate led by audience questions, and a cocktail party where members of the public can chat one-on-one with leading researchers.