The University of Sydney hosted the 2022 Biotech Futures Challenge, an annual competition which sees high school students from across Australia and New Zealand engineer solutions to address current problems in healthcare and the environment.
Conceived by Professor Hala Zreiqat from the University of Sydney's Tissue Engineering Unit and School of Biomedical Engineering, the annual Biotech Futures Challenge encourages innovation and outside-the-box thinking, with this year’s finalists proving you’re never too young to have a bright idea.
Students heard from University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and President Mark Scott AO, The Hon. Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology and Minister for Skills and Training Alister Henskens and Professor Hala Zreiqat before pitching their ideas and prototypes to a panel of judges from the engineering and health sectors.
An idea for restoring touch with optogenics and bioluminesence – techniques to control the activity of neurons or other cell types using light – took out the competition’s top prize.
Pymble Ladies College student Evelyn Zhu conceived her idea to assist amputees to experience touch and sensation from their prosthetics.
She was commended on her approach to providing greater access for those with a disability, winning a 3D printer and DIY robotic arm kit.
Other students received runner up prizes for their ideas ranging from novel ways to relieve pressure sores to moisture gloves to reduce the symptoms of psoriasis.
A team which travelled from Baradene College in Auckland, New Zealand was commended for their teamwork, having created a design for an automatic hand sanitiser and door opener that aims to reduce hospital acquired infections.
Professor Scott said: “STEM is so critical to understanding complex issues. The work students are doing as part of the Biotech Challenge is a wonderful foundation for further studies in this area.”
Professor Hala Zreiqat said: “These high-school students have conceived ingenuous solutions to longstanding issues in healthcare and the environment. It just goes to show that you're never too young to have a great idea.
"Nurturing the innovation mindset at school age is enormously beneficial for students' minds and will help provide the much-needed skills in innovation, technology and STEM for Australia's future.”
Minister Henskens said nurturing STEM skills will be vital to solving many of society’s challenges.
“STEM really is the key to our future wellbeing and prosperity as a community. We have some big challenges lying ahead in the future and science, innovation and STEM are going to be the key to solving those wicked problems.”