For the tenth year in a row, the University of Wollongong ran the Illawarra Coal Science Fair on 29 November. The 2017 Fair was the biggest ever, attracting more than 1000 students from 85 schools around the region.

Associate Professor Stephen Ralph, Head of UOW’s School of Chemistry, said ‘This event allows students to showcase creativity and problem-solving skills… It is exciting to see young minds come together to participate in Australia’s largest science fair.’

Participants travelled to Wollongong from as far away as Dubbo, to display their research findings and inventions, and enjoy presentations about careers and other opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

‘gemaker was proud to again sponsor the Innovation Prizes for the Science Fair. Innovation is science that leaves the lab ­– new processes, technologies and products that should be designed to benefit humanity and nurture our environment,’ said gemaker’s Managing Director, Natalie Chapman.

‘We want students to see that they can apply their scientific and technical knowledge to solve real problems and make the world a better place.

gemaker sponsored two Innovation Prizes, one for primary school students and one for secondary students, each comprising $300 and a trophy.

‘The Science Fair generates huge excitement and enthusiasm in the participating students,’ said Yvette Hlavaty, Technology and Market Assessor for gemaker, who helped to judge the entries for the Innovation Prizes. ‘The kids are keen to discuss their projects.’

The winners of the Innovation Prize for primary school students were Preston Stuart-Smith, Zacchary Saprun and Jimmy Marci from St Paul’s Primary School in Camden, who created ‘Druencer’, a medical drug dispenser, to help deliver correct dosages for hospital patients. Combining an iPad with a mechanism built from Lego, the Druencer requires a password or fingerprint from an authorised person before it dispenses a correct dose of medication, according to calendar settings. The students’ prototype also incorporated a water dispenser, so patients can swallow their medication easily.

‘This group was thorough from problem to prototype solution,’ said Ms Hlavaty. ‘I was also impressed with the potential of the Druencer to help people taking lots of medicines at home, with its reminder alarm and capacity for users or carers to check whether they have taken their medicines.’

Olivia Youell from Kiama High School won the secondary school Innovation Prize, by developing ‘Milk Plastic’. Olivia investigated the heat resistance, permeability and biodegradability of plastic made from the milk protein casein. She proposed that in certain products, milk plastic should replace other plastics that present an environmental hazard.

‘Through sponsorship of this event, and by all other means at our disposal, gemaker aims to foster STEM entrepreneurship in young people,’ Ms Chapman explains. ‘We need innovators to grow the next generation of Australian industries on which our future wellbeing depends.’