Motor races and science labs fuel interest in science

Each year in early July, when its 700 students are on holiday, Townsville State High School becomes the headquarters for a V8 Supercars race.

Sarah Chapman and student. Credit: Nicole Waters

But before and after the race, Sarah Chapman’s Year 11 science students are hard at work, slopping their way through the nearby mangroves and wading into the neighbouring estuary. The data they collect is then used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to manage the impact of the race on local estuaries. “The students are really taken by the idea that they are finding out things nobody else knows,” Sarah says.

Sarah relates her science teaching to daily life, and to her audience, such as by investigating the elasticity of jelly snakes and the thermochemistry of chewing gum.

Richard (Ric) Johnson has reinvented the primary school science lab, complete with overhead pterosaurs and a solar BBQ at Rostrata Primary School in Perth. “It worked from the very beginning,” Ric says. “Some of the boys became so excited they had to go to the toilet halfway through class. And it’s just got better and better.”

The idea has snowballed and Ric now knows of at least 40 similar labs in Western Australia. And his accompanying website, Johnno’s Science (, is inspiring thousands of teachers around the world.

For their innovations in and contributions to teaching science, Sarah and Ric have each received a 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching.

Photo: Sarah Chapman and student
Credit: Nicole Waters