My Cart

Posted by Oliphant Science Awards

on 12/03/2021

Short stories from years gone by...


Dr Matthew Sorell

Senior Lecturer, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, The University of Adelaide

I built a speech synthesiser in 1985 (possibly 1986) which won in whichever category it was in. Back then, speech synthesis was quite primitive and I was using a dedicated chip set to do the work. Sir Mark's comment was "I wish I could understand it!" It was a clunky set-up - a VZ-200 computer with a tape deck to load the software, a clunky amber-screen monitor, and a box with the electronics, all exposed so people could see it.

But I came from a privileged position. At the time my father was lab manager in physics at Flinders and I knew Monica Oliphant personally. He later became the local chair of the Australian Institute of Physics, and he'd worked as a physics teacher at Glossop High School.

And I was well into electronics. I had been to the awards since their inception and there were always a few interesting electronic gadgets that I was impressed by. I remember someone had a built a negative ion generator at some point.

In 1987 I made a bunch of new friends at the National Science Summer School, and ended up being a member of the first Australian Physics Olympiad team which went to Jena in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

Fast forward to today. I completed degrees in Physics and Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Adelaide, and a PhD in Information Technology at George Mason University in the United States. After a stint in defence I stumbled into telecommunications consulting, before discovering that I love to teach, and joined the University of Adelaide engineering faculty, where I teach electronics engineering, telecommunications systems, and digital forensic science.

Then in 2014 I was invited to Estonia to present some research on multimedia forensic science. Since then, I've run an annual study program in cyber security between the University of Adelaide and the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), joined TalTech as adjunct professor of digital forensics, and I've worked internationally on over 100 serious criminal cases involving complex digital evidence.

And while I don't have a lot to do with speech synthesis anymore, I still do some work in audio noise reduction, and in 2005 I invented an audio recording system used in the movie "Ten Canoes".

The Oliphant Awards were an early stepping stone and a program I love to see is still alive and well. I've judged on behalf of our faculty a few times now and caught up with Monica a few times. I love to experience the breadth of entries and the imagination of the students.

And as for my kids? My daughter is aiming high but it's not clear whether that's for medicine or engineering. My son will be an aerospace engineer. He's not quite 14 but as he says "Rocket science is easy. It's rocket *engineering* that gets complicated!"

Dr Steven Delean

Lecturer in Biostatistics and Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Adelaide

My association with the Oliphant Science Awards goes back a long way, and despite a quick search through my records, I can not find the specific details. My recollection is that I was awarded a 'special merit' award in the 1983 Oliphant Science Awards. In 1982, I was awarded second prize in the BHP Science Prize. As part of that award, I was entered into the 34th International Science and Engineering Fair held in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I won the overall Zoology Prize. I do not recall how I entered into the Oliphant Science Awards, but the special merit award came following those other successes.

I went on to do my undergraduate degree at Flinders University, and following some postgraduate studies completed the coursework for a Masters in Applied Statistics at James Cook University. I then did a PhD in population ecology and statistics, also at James Cook University. I was employed as a Biostatistician at the Australian Institute of Marine Science for several years before returning to the University of Adelaide to undertake several postdoctoral fellowships. Since then, I have been a Lecturer in Biostatistics and Ecology in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Adelaide since 2013, and am currently negotiating a contract to continue in that role for the foreseeable future.

120321 James Cowley - OSA MemoriesDr James Cowley

Postdoctoral Researcher, Burton Lab / RABLAB, The University of Adelaide

In 2012 when I was in Year 12 at Urrbrae Agricultural High School, I placed 2nd in the Year 11-12 Scientific Inquiry category at the Oliphant Science Awards and also received the Royal Australian Chemical Institute Sponsor Prize. I had entered my Year 12 Agriculture project “Freezing carrots and Vitamin C levels” where I found that fresh and fridge-stored carrots had significantly more Vitamin C than those stored frozen – even if stored at ultra-cold temperatures or in liquid nitrogen. Being able to conduct and write about my own experiments, and to have them recognised by the Oliphant Science Awards, was hugely influential for me as a budding scientist, and eight years later I completed my PhD in Plant Science focussing on the nutrition and use of novel foods at the very lab who gave me access to their ultra-cold storage during that Year 12 project!