Scientists in Schools

Maths of the penguins

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  • Stephen Robey, Gungahlin College, Gungahlin, ACT
  • Lucia-Marie (Billie) Ganendran, University of NSW Canberra

The philosopher Roger Bacon was right. “The things of this world cannot be made known without a knowledge of mathematics”. Lucia-Marie (Billie) would be the first to agree. In her study of Little Penguins, statistics play a vital part.

Billie’s research provides the platform for her partnership with Stephen and his Year 11 and 12 students at Gunghalin College. Stephen wants his ecology students to understand statistics and data analysis are essential to demonstrating the results and significance of scientific research.

Microchip used to collect data from penguins

Billie and Stephen discuss data

A PhD candidate at UNSW Canberra, Billie is part of a team studying the effects of environmental factors, such as sea surface temperatures, wind strength, ambient temperature and rainfall, on the survival of Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor). This study will help predict the potential effect of climate change on the species, and is crucial to ensuring the Phillip Island colony thrives; important for its own longevity, the pleasure they bring the thousands of visitors each year, and the economic benefits to surrounding communities.

Through Billie's research, students learned how statistics help researchers understand the variables affecting penguin survival. Next the students will be conducting their own analysis of various aspects of the study data.

Through Billie's research, students learned how statistics help researchers understand the variables affecting penguin survival. Next the students will be conducting their own analysis of various aspects of the study data.

Billie finds it immensely satisfying to engage students and share her experiences. “I always like to get across to students the collaborative nature of applied maths and science, and the sheer enjoyment and productivity that collaboration generates.”