WE LIVE in an age of science and technology, and it's where you'll find plenty of new jobs.

Yet only half of Year 12 students are studying the so-called "STEM" skills - science, technology, engineering and maths - down from 94% just 20 years ago.

According to experts such as Australia's chief scientist Ian Chubb, this is cause for alarm.

Science and technology are increasingly seen as the entire bedrock on which our future economic success depends.

This mission to "keep teen minds keen on science" is why Southern Cross University opened the doors of its labs yesterday to 158 HSC science students from across the region.

The HSC Chemistry Study Day at SCU started in 2013 as a collaborative program between SCU and Taree High School science teacher Terri Patterson.

YOUNG EINSTEINS: Evans River science students Georgia Hart, Alex Barker and Connor Drechsler test out the facilities during the study day at Southern Cross University.
YOUNG EINSTEINS: Evans River science students Georgia Hart, Alex Barker and Connor Drechsler test out the facilities during the study day at Southern Cross University. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

The activity has grown substantially with 158 Year 12 students registered to attend the 2015 study day.

Students from 19 high schools from Tweed to Grafton compared what they did in their school labs with the whiz-bang technology of the university.

"It's good for them to see what scientists are really doing; to see real lab work," Southern Cross University environmental engineering Professor Andrew Rose said.

"The advantage is they get to see how we use the same principles in action to generate real scientific data."

Evans River Year 11 student Alex Barker said chemistry was about "finding out stuff you won't find anywhere else" while standing over a Bunsen burner "flame-testing" different elements with fellow students.

Bunsen burners are nothing new for these students but "atomic absorption spectroscopy" which accomplishes the same thing in far more exacting fashion is.

Prof Rose said the technology, used in SCU's Environmental Analysis Laboratory, could be applied to identify concentrations of heavy metals in the Wilsons River at Lismore, for example.

"The instrument will measure individual wave lengths of light," Prof Rose said.

"Every element has a characteristic pattern of wave lengths, like a footprint for each particular element."

The professor, speaking alongside PhD student Jonathan Avaro, said he hoped the school day would get the students excited about chemistry.



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