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How Science Captures Curiosity at Cardno - National Science Week

Science. It provides the human race with fresh perspective, initiates striking discoveries and conquers our curiosity.  Alongside innovation and technology, it drives our pursuit for more equitable and sustainable communities.

For this year’s National Science Week (14-22 August), we spoke with Australian scientists from across the APAC Business including Mark Harris, Kate Reeds, Bobby Wang and Ashley Brown to find out how science originally sparked their curiosity and how their knowledge and experiences have helped shaped the world we live in today.

Q: What was your favourite science project when you were at school?

Mark: It’s been a little while since I finished school, however, I remember completing a number of cool experiments in chemistry that resulted in solutions changing colour or causing volcanic foams.

Kate: A research project about space and the space shuttle. Before marine biology I was pretty keen on being an astronaut!

Bobby: My favourite science project was mapping estuarine vegetation on Great Barrier Island in New Zealand during post-grad and seeing how the species composition changed the further away from the shoreline we went. We saw dolphins on the ferry ride to the island, spent a week in a beautiful part of the world and hiked through some amazing landscapes.

Ashley: My favourite subjects in school were biology and chemistry; I loved any projects involving plants or animals. 

Senior Environmental Scientist, Bobby Wang

Practice Lead - Marine and Aquatic Ecology, Kate Reeds

National-Science-Week-Kate-Reeds-01.JPG

Kate with Senior Principal, David Wassman collecting plankton in the Northern Territory.

Q: Why did you choose science as a career?

Mark: I chose science and in particular, the assessment and remediation of contaminated sites, as I have always had an interest in the environment and our protection of it. Whilst growing up in the UK I saw a number of old industrial sites transform into recreational areas or transform into housing or commercial developments, eliminating the need to develop on ‘Green Field Sites’.  

Kate: I wanted to do something that could have a positive impact on the environment, something that allowed me to spend time outdoors, in the ocean and something that had clear questions and challenges that could be solved in a systematic way.

Bobby: My first real exposure to science was the first day of high school science class when my teacher threw a piece of lithium into water and it exploded (we watched from a safe distance of course). From there, I developed a passion for biology and chemistry as my inquisitive and curious mind pondered how the world we know can come into existence from these tiny little building blocks. I always wanted to know “why?” and “how?”, and that’s what science is all about. Science is driven by critical thinking, logic, reasoning, evidence, curiosity, deduction and trial and error – all the things I enjoy and excel at. Choosing science as a career was a no-brainer for me.

Ashley: I chose a career in science because I have always been interested in understanding how our environment functions and its meaning for the world we live in. I enjoy the mix of field work, data analysis and reporting. 

Q: What’s the most interesting project you have worked on with Cardno and why?

Mark: I’m currently involved in a number of projects centered around the assessment of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) impacts. PFAS are manufactured chemicals that have been utilised globally for more than 50 years. PFAS make products non-stick, water repellent and fire, weather and stain resistant. PFAS have been used in a range of consumer products, such as carpets, clothes and paper, and have also been used in firefighting foams, pesticides and stain repellents. These projects are interesting because of the nature of PFAS, in that they are known to be persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic. Due to their persistence in the environment and moderate solubility, it can be transported across long distances (potentially kilometres) in water and air, and transfer between different media (e.g. soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater) making investigations wide ranging and involving the assessment of different media.

Kate: Having the opportunity to work on a project to rebuild maritime infrastructure in the island archipelago of Tuvalu, after being destroyed by Cyclone Pam. I was able to spend several weeks with our team undertaking coral reef surveys and mapping habitat across some beautiful and remote islands. We also got to meet the local communities and deal with the challenges of working in such a remote location.

Senior Environmental Scientist, Mark Harris

Environmental Scientist, Ashley Brown

Having a morning catch up with the locals on Barrow Island.

Bobby: The most interesting project I have worked on to date was using stable isotopes of nitrogen and water to help ascertain the source of a groundwater contaminant plume. This was the first time I’ve worked with stable isotopes and had to do a tremendous amount of research to become an ‘expert’ in it. I designed the sampling and analysis quality plan and managed the fieldworks. I had my doubts on whether it was all going to work and the most gratifying moment was when I plotted all the data in excel and could see a clear ‘text-book’ trend pointing to an on-site source that we suspected was the culprit but now had the smoking gun. It was a massive ‘science’ moment for me.

Ashley: The most interesting project I’ve worked on at Cardno is the contaminated site investigations for Argyle Diamond Mine. As a field staff member, I was exposed to a lot of people with different expertise and had the opportunity to undertake vast, interesting work on the contaminated sites. The bush tucker and aquatic fauna sampling were both great learning experiences for me!

Q: How is science making a difference in your local community?

Mark: I live in a suburb that forms part of the City of Cockburn (in Western Australia). I’m aware that they have a number of programs focused around environmental and sustainable initiatives including, but not limited to, setting renewable targets and reducing emissions.

Kate: Our local council has recently worked with Cardno to assess and monitor the health and condition of sand dune ecosystems on the northern beaches. This project has helped prioritise appropriate management and remediation options to preserve this important coastal habitat.

Bobby: There are countless examples of how science is making a difference in our community every day. How we are using science to manage the COVID-19 pandemic for example. There is a huge amount of science and scientific methodology that informs the tough decisions that our leaders have to make and whilst there are a multitude of considerations that factor into their decisions, science is the primary driver.

Ashley: Our team has had the opportunity to train local rangers from surrounding towns who will continue providing environmental monitoring work after closure executions. This of course provides ongoing work for them in the future. 

To find out what’s happening in your local community during National Science Week visit: https://www.scienceweek.net.au/