As a result of my work in science, I have travelled to some remote and beautiful parts of Australia to do field work. I have also had the privilege of living in an Aboriginal community for several months, participating in traditional hunting and gathering activities and experiencing some of the contemporary problems that affect indigenous people.
I am studying at the University of Wollongong for a postgraduate degree in geography, learning how Aboriginal people used and managed the vegetation in the Kimberley region of northern Australia. Other members of my team are archaeologists, ecologists and rock art experts, but our shared aim is learn more about the relationship between Aboriginal people and the land.
The senior Aboriginal women I work with know a great deal about their country and its flora and fauna. They show me how plant foods such as water lilies, yams, palms, nuts and native fruits are gathered, processed and eaten. Some fruits can be eaten straight from the tree but others such as yams must be mashed, washed and cooked before they can be eaten. I am interested in identifying and locating these plants and determining what is the best time of year to find them.
I also help to record traditional Aboriginal knowledge about plants. In some communities this knowledge has died out because younger generations have not been interested or had the opportunity to learn from their elders. So it is important for us to work with Aboriginal people and record their knowledge before it is lost.
I find it helps my work to have studied subjects from areas such as law and sociology as part of my first science degree, and I would encourage anyone thinking about a career in science to try a few subjects from other disciplines to broaden their perspective.
In the history of life, extinctions are normal events balanced by the evolution of new species. But extinctions are now occurring a thousand times faster than new species can evolve, mainly due to human activities such as habitat destruction and the introduction of exotic plants and animals. In the last 50 years, 70 per cent of the world's natural ecosystems have been destroyed. In Australia, in the 200 years since European settlement, 25 vertebrate species have become extinct.
I'm not just reading about the problem of extinctions, I'm doing something to help. I'm a conservation biologist at Melbourne Zoo, and I specialise in habitat restoration. I survey areas to find out what plants are necessary for an animal's survival, replant areas so that captive animals can be released again, and expand habitat areas for endangered species.
Habitat restoration is the next step after endangered animals have been bred in captivity. Once an animal's habitat has been restored or expanded, the animal can be released back into the wild–with appropriate safeguards and monitoring to ensure that the reasons for the original habitat decline don't return.
Successful conservation relies heavily on teamwork, not only within the unit where I work, but also with other zoo staff, government agencies, universities, volunteers and members of the general community.
Melbourne Zoo staff are working with universities and the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment to breed eastern barred bandicoots in captivity and return them to reserves where the growth of native grasses is encouraged and feral predators such as foxes are controlled.
My advice to anyone considering a science career is to study the areas of science that interest you personally. The greater the interest, the more you put in and the more you get out. Science can be fun.
If your doctor suspected you had a potentially serious condition such as diabetes, he or she might take a blood or urine sample for testing. Some simple tests can be done by the doctor, but more sophisticated analyses require specialist medical laboratories.
At the big medical laboratory in Brisbane where I work, I take the samples we get from hospitals and doctors' surgeries and sort them to make sure we don't mix up the patients. Then I get them ready for analysis to determine what diseases the patients have and which parts of the body are affected.
The samples are tested for various chemicals and microorganisms depending on what the doctor or hospital has requested. Samples from people who may be diabetic are tested for glucose. We also conduct tests for people who take regular medication for conditions such as heart disease to let them know how much of the medication they need to keep their condition under control.
I've always enjoyed science subjects and done well at them, but I really got interested in year 10 when I was involved in an Aboriginal and Islander Summer School of Excellence in Technology and Science in Adelaide. I am now studying for a Bachelor of Applied Science degree at Queensland University of Technology.
Working full-time and studying part-time makes sense for me because my work is directly relevant to my studies. When I finish my course, I would like to do a nursing degree and then travel for a year before settling into another job.
When I was thinking about a science career, I was told that 'If it is to be, it's up to me.' If you are really interested in science, don't be put off by others who disagree - remember it's your life and your decision.
Wine-making is a complex process that requires a combination of science and art. In simple terms, it is a fermentation process using a yeast organism to produce ethyl alcohol from the sugars in grape juice. The process produces around 400 different chemical compounds, many of which can react with each other and with any oxygen that might be present. Red wines are more complex than white because the grape skins are not removed before fermentation.
In Old World countries such as France, Germany and Italy, traditional methods are largely still held to be the key, and wine-makers practise their art with the help of centuries of experience and tradition. But in the New World, which includes Australia and the US, science has been pressed into service by wine-makers keen to unlock the secrets of wine production and ageing.
And when wine-makers want to know what is in a bottle of wine or the grapes they plan to use for the next vintage, they call on analytical chemists like me and my colleagues at the Australian Wine Research Institute in Adelaide.
We analyse grape juice and wine samples for sugar, alcohol, acids including those normally found in grapes, pH (overall level of acidity), sulphur dioxide (used as a preservative), and various spoilage compounds. We also measure 'volatile acidity', which is a quality wine- tasters like to argue about. Basically it is the result of bacteria converting tiny amounts of ethyl alcohol into acetic acid and ethyl acetate. All these factors influence wine quality and longevity, and some are subject to government regulation.
My work involves helping other scientists here to develop new and improved methods for analysing wine.
Equations and formulas may be hard work at times, but my advice is to stick with them because they can lead to exciting opportunities.
I tried various office jobs but never really liked them, so I went back to what I had always wanted to study–horticulture. Now I work with native plants and animals around me all day, in a place where there are birds everywhere, frogs in the ponds and water dragons in summer.
At the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, I help maintain computer records of all the Australian native plants we grow, where they were collected and how well they are doing in the Gardens here. My work includes mapping garden beds and collecting fruit, flowers, seeds and leaves for botanists to identify.
Our aim is to provide accurate information to staff, visiting researchers and the general public so they know which plants are growing in what areas of the Gardens.
My work gives me the opportunity to travel all over Australia collecting plants and working with people from other botanic gardens. In 1996, while I was doing some work at the Jervis Bay Botanic Gardens in NSW, I was fortunate to be able to attend the handover ceremony when Jervis Bay National Park was returned to the Aborigines.
The people I work with are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about gardening in general and native Australian plants in particular. They know a lot about where to go bushwalking and camping, what time of year is best and what you might see there.
My favourite Australian native plants are native daisies and brown boronia, which I grow near my front door for its beautiful scent.
I am still studying part-time for my Certificate in Horticulture, learning to identify plants and plant pests and drive tractors and other machinery. After I have finished the Certificate, I want to keep studying because there is so much to learn.
Page last updated 16 June 1999