Young scientist looks for answers

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A Dunstan High School science pupil’s career is powering ahead as she prepares to attend a national forum where young scientists will explore ways to solve one of the nation’s most challenging issues.

Antonia Kohler will be one of 40 pupils at the Powering Potential event tasked with finding answers to and recommendations on some of New Zealand’s future problems around climate change.

She is the only Central Otago pupil and one of only two Otago pupils to be selected for the December 12-15 Wellington event, which is organised by the Royal Society of New Zealand and supported by Freemasons New Zealand.

Antonia, who has just completed year 13 at Dunstan, said she was thrilled to be selected and excited about the scientific discussion and challenge ahead.

To be selected for Powering Potential, pupils had to submit an application and video focusing on their own science strengths or outlining how they had contributed to an area of science in their school or community.

Royal Society chief executive Andrew Cleland said those selected had a “passion and thirst for the world of science” and the event would bring together many of New Zealand’s most promising science pupils.

The pupils would work in teams of four over three days on a question submitted by a science organisation and would research, investigate and collaborate to provide recommendations and present them.

They would be supported and guided by scientists and mentors but would need to “think outside the square and use their creative capabilities” to find solutions, Dr Cleland said.

Antonia said the event would be a valuable continuation of her science career.

She had “always loved science”, embracing her science studies at Dunstan and questioning relentlessly.

“It’s a continuous cycle, because then I get more questions from the answers, which is awesome.”

She praised the professionalism, honesty and support of Dunstan’s science department and the quality of its teaching, and said head of science Natasha Hitchman had suggested many extra opportunities for her.

This year, Antonia studied biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, English and scholarship biology. She was first in biology and English, third-equal in calculus and chemistry and runner-up to the dux, and received a special award for a female pupil excelling in two or more sciences.

Two extracurricular activities Antonia had done had been especially inspiring, she said.

One was volunteering for 10 days last year on a southern mobile surgical theatre bus, where Antonia observed minor surgical procedures.

The other was attending the Rotary National Science and Technology Forum in Auckland in January with 200 other “like-minded pupils”.

Antonia said the experience was life-changing, because of the intellectual stimulation and inspiration for career pathways it provided.

Now, Antonia is preparing for her first year at the University of Otago, beginning with a health science year and then planning to complete a medical degree and possibly become an anaesthetist.

But she does not plan on pursuing city lights.

Having grown up in Poolburn and treasuring Central Otago’s rural outlook and small communities, she plans to work in the rural health sector.

Antonia’s biology teacher, Hamish Morton, said Antonia was a delight to teach and the intellectual stimulation her constant thirst for knowledge provided was inspiring for her teachers.

Antonia said she hoped others would pursue science studies and careers and keep questioning how the world worked.

“It’s really just seeing the beauty of what’s around you.

“I’d encourage people to not only question and find out answers, but almost be in awe and enjoy the feeling of knowing how the world works.”