News

Qld's newest Young Tall Poppy nurtures the next crop of scientists

21 August 2015

Games and entertainment could hold the key to the future of science and mathematics education, according to a QUT researcher.

Robotics and neuroscience specialist Associate Professor Michael Milford last night received the Queensland Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year award by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) for his stealth mission to teach science and mathematics to the masses, without them realising.

The awards, which recognise and celebrate Australian intellectual and scientific excellence, and encourage younger Australians to follow in the footsteps of outstanding achievers, were presented by Minister for Housing and Public Works and Minister for Science and Innovation, Leeanne Enoch.

Dr Milford spent 15 years writing text books thousands of Australian high school students use, but is now working with young adult writers to embed science and mathematics concepts into the billion dollar entertainment market.

"I realised that the people buying my text books were the ones who were already proactively seeking out help. I wanted to reach the masses of young people for which mathematical and scientific learning has come and gone," said Dr Milford, from QUT's Science and Engineering Faculty and the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.

"Hundreds of millions of young people watch their favourite movies, read books and play games every day because it's fun, so I'm trying to stealthily embed key science and maths concepts into this entertainment.

"The ultimate goal is to raise the maths and science literacy of all society - because the world of tomorrow will be built on these skills.

Dr Milford released his first book A Question of Will nine months ago through Amazon. Set in Brisbane, it embeds 25 key maths concepts into car chases, bomb defusal and other action scenarios.

"The key to learning through entertainment is to make concepts far-fetched," he said.

"Relating maths to people through entertainment and totally unrealistic situations aims to teach people about maths and science without even realising it."

Dr Milford recently received funding approval to develop a workshop program to create more entertainment products and complementary teaching resources that use concepts from the books, games and videos.

"Reading a book will involve passive learning, but the accompanying education resources will make it active by using the scenarios to teach science and mathematics."

Of 50 nominees only 11 received Tall Poppy accolades.

Dr Milford shared the overall Tall Poppy award with Dr Bridie Scott-Parker from the University of the Sunshine Coast. Dr Scott-Parker is a QUT alumnus who completed her PhD and began her strong research career at QUT's Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety - Queensland, CARRS-Q.

Both received $10,000 in prize funding and will spend the next year working with schools and other community groups to encourage more people into scientific studies and careers.

Media contact:

Niki Widdowson, QUT Media, 07 3138 2999 or kate.haggman@qut.edu.au 07 3138 0358.
After hours Rose Trapnell, QUT Media team leader, 0407 585 901.

Associate Professor Michael Milford with Queensland science minister Leeanne Enoch.