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Posted by SASTA

on 24/06/2024

In May, this year, eleven Australian Year 9-12 students, with three teacher chaperones, travelled to Los Angeles to represent Australia at the Olympics of Science Fairs – the 2024 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). The eleven students from NSW, WA, NT and QLD, came back sharing their life-changing experience at ISEF. As a teacher from a rural Northern Territory school, I was thrilled to be one of the three chaperones attending ISEF Los Angeles and I was blown away by the scale, the grandeur and the passion of the 1699 students from 67 countries, regions or territories. It has to be, by far, the ultimate professional development event a teacher can ever experience.

AUSSEF gives every Australian student an opportunity to excel

ISEF first came to my attention twenty months ago, when I was the first Territorian to respond to an invitation to judge projects in the newly formed Australian Science and Engineering Fair (AUSSEF). Twelve months later, I joined the AUSSEF Steering Committee and instantly found a group of the most passionate educators who are all committed to strengthen the capacity and opportunities for all Australian students to excel in STEM, regardless of their location or socio-economic circumstances. One of my most exciting ventures is being part of the AUSSEF Regional Opportunities Working Party where we are actively setting up programs to support and encourage scientific inquiry in rural and remote schools. I am currently working with fellow AUSSEF Committee member, Rachel Pillar, from Kangaroo Island Community Education, to set up supports for rural and remote schools across the NT and SA.

AUSSEF’s flagship project is their national STEM fair which is the only ISEF-affiliated fair in Australia. This affiliation enables the top nine Year 9-12 STEM projects to be able to represent Australia on the world stage. The annual deadline for entry into the Australian Science and Engineering Fair is mid-November, well after state-run STEM competitions such as the SASTA Oliphant Science Awards and ASTA I3 awards, so any prize-winner or student(s) with a comparable STEM project are welcome to enter.

Our 2024 ISEF experience

ISEF 2Winning AUSSEF, students receive an all-expenses-paid trip to present their project at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) which is held annually in the United States. This year ISEF was held in Los Angeles, which meant that between official programmed events our team undertook cultural events including visiting La Brae Tar Pits where we could observe scientists working on a sabretooth tiger skull and Griffith Observatory where we not only explored their fascinating exhibits but also took our obligatory photo with the Hollywood sign. We were also able to fit in a visit to the California Science Centre and a walk down Hollywood Boulevard.

ISEF 3The ISEF programme was an experience in itself. Students were excited to be surrounded by 1699 like-minded peers from around the world, enjoying mingling at both the formal and informal events. Students listened to the superstars of the science world. Past ISEF winners who are now CEO’s, Nobel prize winners, company founders and experts in their fields shared their wisdom, enthusiasm and encouragement. Two of our team were selected to ask questions to these amazing people. In smaller forums, students attended workshops related to their topics, providing a more intimate experience. In celebration of the end of judging, ISEF took all participants to Universal Studios where the park was closed to the public and ISEF participants had free reign. What a fascinating place full of scientific advances!

ISEF 4AUSSEF students perform well above the global norm

At the ISEF 2024 Grand Awards, our Australian team won 5 Grand Awards. These Grand Awards are only for the best 25-27% of projects in each category. This means a category with 80 projects will have up to 2 firsts, 4 seconds, 6 thirds and 8 fourths, while 60 projects miss out on an award. Considering our 9 Australian project representation, out of the 1699 student’s attending, we hoped to come away with 2 grand awards. However, ISEF 2024 exceeded all expectations. 

Our Grand Award winners were:

  • 2nd Place in the category of Translational Medicine - Aditya Ghai from Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie), QLD
  • 3rd Place in the category of Biomedical Engineering - Jeslyn Tan from Barker College, NSW
  • 3rd Place in the category of Earth and Environmental Sciences - Pothik Vincent Mondol, Mohammad Niyaz Hasan and Monishi Rangchak Tripura from Darwin High School, NT
  • 3rd Place in the category of Earth and Environmental Sciences - Adrian Zhuang and Alex Zhuang from The King's School, NSW
  • 4th Place in the category of Software Systems - Rahul Kumar from Brisbane Grammar School

ISEF 5With the two team awards we effectively had 8 out of our finalists win Grand Awards - a great performance for STEM students from Australia. In Australia's 25 years of ISEF representation we have never won more than four Grand Awards, so this is a record-breaking performance.

This is in addition to two Special Awards won:

  • USD $800 - 2nd Place in the INCOSE Systems Engineering Award - Jeslyn Tan from Barker College, NSW
  • USD $500 - Prize winner in the Qatar Research, Development, and Innovation Award - Kevin Hao from Knox Grammar School, NSW.

A huge group effort

On behalf of the Australian delegation, we would like to firstly thank our judges who wisely selected the top nine projects; our sponsors who made this trip possible; the Royal Society of Victoria who managed the plethora of funding transactions; the parents and teachers who supported each of the student finalists and most importantly the wonderful AUSSEF Steering Committee who organised the whole selection process and the all-expenses-paid-trip to Los Angeles.

Our sights are now set on ISEF 2025 to be held in Columbus, Ohio. Our committee has already been in contact with schools across Australia to let them know of the opportunity we offer, and steps are being taken to support rural and regional locations with extra supports. We are keen to secure sponsorship to provide International Science Fair opportunities to our Australian students later this year and into the future. Support us by contacting

Jessica Neilsen

Science Learning Area Coordinator
Good Shepherd Lutheran College, NT