A poultry egg research laboratory at the University of New England (UNE) has been the workplace for 17-year-old Morgan Murtagh of Armidale for one week. Morgan, who is about to commence year 12, has been given first-hand insight into primary industry careers through a pro-active programme aimed at addressing the critical decline in interest among young people in pursuing agricultural careers.
The Primary Industries Centre for Science Education (PICSE) at UNE leads the development and delivery of education programs at a national level that inspire students towards science careers, helping create high-calibre science graduates who are business-ready for Australia’s Primary Industries. The program fosters relationships between universities, agribusiness, research organisations, schools, community and governments to raise national awareness and engagement in the science that underpins sustainable food and fibre production. By focussing on motivated senior high school students with an existing interest in science the program gives students the opportunity to encounter first-hand what real, relevant and diverse opportunities the agribusiness sector can offer. Thirty percent of urban and regional students who were previously unsure about science, go on to commit to science at a tertiary level after taking part in the PICSE program, creating young Australians who will become the next generation of agri-food and fibre scientists, innovators and industry leaders.
Morgan undertook his week-long work placement with internationally recognised poultry researcher, Associate Professor Julie Roberts and Masters student Sammi Samiullah. “Morgan is working alongside Sammi on a Poultry CRC funded research project, where we’re looking at the importance of the quality of an egg in relation to its safety as a food product,” Julie said.
“We’ve been conducting various experiments to measure egg shell quality. One of these has examined the outer-most layer of the shell, called the cuticle. This extremely thin layer plays an important role in sealing the egg and keeping it a safe food product. We use a hand-held spectrophotometer to measure the colour of the eggs before we stain the cuticle layer with dye. The amount of the green colour indicates the strength of the cuticle, and the egg’s protection against bacteria.”
Morgan has been treated as a functional member of a research team and said he has learnt a great deal, doing many different activities within the multi-faceted Poultry CRC project. “The big eye-opener for me was the extent that new technologies are being integrated into our primary industries,” he said. “It was amazing to experience first-hand the practical research being done by local scientists to help our farmers and consumers.”
Science Education Officer with the UNE PICSE programme, Stephanie Brokenshire said the student placements will conclude with a ‘Student Reporting Back Session’. The students will give a brief presentation, outlining what they have done and gained through their scholarship opportunity,” she said. “National Director of PICSE, Associate Professor David Russell from the University of Tasmania is expected to attend the function, along with academics and local dignitaries,” she said.