Toowoomba-based Year 9 student, Michelle Springolo, is one of 26 Australian students to be selected as a finalist in the 2020 BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards.
Michelle, who attends Groves Christian College of Distance Education, entered the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) annual Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition in June, with her project, “Pest invaders – will companion planting German chamomile with barley crops or spraying barley with German chamomile tea help prevent Net Blotch disease?”
Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition coordinator, Kerrie Rubie, encourages winners of the competition to submit their projects to the BHP Awards, and said it was the first time in eight years that we finally have a finalist.
“This year, we had a lot of fantastic entries,” Ms Rubie said.
“Michelle’s project won the year 7-9 category due to the incredible attention to detail and enormous effort put in to observations, recording of information research, and field work.”
Michelle’s project investigated whether companion planting with German chamomile served as a viable alternative to chemical fungicide for inhibiting Pyrenophora Teres fungi.
“Pyrenophora Teres fungi is a pathogen that can cause Net Blotch disease of barley crops, and can kill leaves and affect grain quality,” Michelle said.
“Using a natural repellent such as German chamomile to inhibit disease could reduce the amount of chemical fungicide in our environment, which may result in soil degradation and may harmfully impact on earthworms and other plant-beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms, as well as pollute groundwater and waterways.”
As a BHP Award finalist, Michelle is invited to attend a four day camp and an awards ceremony at University College, Melbourne early next year. If she does well in the poster presentation event, where she is expected to summarise her project in front of a judging panel, she will also be in the running for cash prizes and a trip to the USA to take part in the International Science and Engineering Fair.
Michelle said she is excited (and a little nervous) about the possibility of going to USA.
“I don’t really care so much about the cash prizes – that’s not what motivates me,” she said.
“Science and art are my favourite subjects at school, and I would really like to be a vet when I finish school. Hopefully this experience will help me to achieve that goal.”
Ms Rubie said it means a lot to her, seeing young people engaging and excelling in agricultural sciences.
“It’s crucial to how we face the future, and it’s a key purpose of the Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition,” she said.
So, will companion planting German chamomile with barley crops or spraying barley with German chamomile tea help prevent Net Blotch disease?
“German chamomile plants and tea do inhibit growth of Pyrenophora Teres fungi,” Michelle concluded.
“Companion planting with German chamomile will provide pesticide-free protection against fungi, and increase profits.”
The DAF Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition encourages the next generation to explore a career in agricultural science. To date over 110,000 students throughout Australia have participated in this competition and have gained a better understanding of topics like soil health, the paddock to plate process, photosynthesis, weeds and plant genetics. Students also develop further skills in the scientific method and understanding, report writing, mathematics, English, team work, communication and technology.
Find out more about HSPSC at daf.qld.gov.au.
Find out more about the 2020 BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards at scienceawards.org.au/.