The next generation of innovators is here—and they’re girls

From an app that alerts carers when elderly patients need help to a robot programmed to solve a rubix cube, the diversity of entries in the University of Wollongong Science Fair last month was dazzling.

In the innovation category, the high school prize went to a girl who designed a buoy to detect rips in the surf.

Her device—called the Clever Girl—had a mechanism that made a light go off when water rushed through it at a particular speed.

The girl had tested it in a spa and even filmed a video demonstrating how the invention worked.

Then there was a boy from an agricultural college who developed an electronic sensor for tracking soil moisture.

The device makes sure sprinklers are only turned on when needed.

Even at the primary school level big ideas were on display, with one girl wanting to feed the world’s hungry.

Her solution? An underused protein source in the form of mealworms.

A good proportion of the entries were from female students and 80 per cent of the high school winners were girls.

Gemaker sponsored the innovation award at the inaugural science fair to show kids what science can do, and encourage them to study STEM in the future.

We wanted to take them on the next step from using experiments to prove or disapprove a theory.

We wanted to show that innovation is about seeing difficulties and finding solutions to improve people’s lives.

Students had to identify a problem such as ‘what paper towel might work best for Mum?’, experiment and find an answer that makes life better.

And the girls, it seems, were brilliant at it.

But as I waited on stage with the other sponsors to present the awards, I realised I was standing alongside eight men.

There were representatives from the university science faculty, ANSTO, Illawarra Coal, a science centre and a national science team to the US.

There was the lord mayor and the organiser of the science fair.

I was the only woman.

What message did that send to the girls in the audience who had dedicated weeks to their projects?

It’s true that the upper echelons of science remain largely the domain of men, despite large numbers of junior female researchers.

I look forward to the day when young girls see that stage filled with inspiring women in science.