Graduate focus: Patrician Brothers’ past student excels in Physics education

In Year 12 Gabriel Nguyen decided he loved science, but thought only of pursuing a career in law. So the Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield graduate (Class of 2007), 29, enrolled in a combined degree at The University of Sydney, taking part in extension projects on astrophysics and renewable energy on the side. It was while attempting to model the way dark matter would affect the development of star clusters on the periphery of a galaxy in his third year of study that his path became clear.

The power of science is that it can improve people’s lives.

– Gabriel Nguyen

By then the science communicator had joined the university’s staff to support the 140 senior high school students attending the university’s annual two-week International Science School.

“I found it invigorating,” he said. “At the time I thought if I were going to have a career in science it wouldn’t be in astrophysics research, it would be in trying to get others interested in physics and science in general. I think astrophysics is one of the gateways to science, because you look at the stars and think ‘what’s going on up there? Why are these things twinkling?’”

Gabriel is now a PhD student at the Sydney University Physics Education Research (SUPER) Group while delivering Kickstart workshops for HSC physics students. He also facilitates experiments linked to the HSC Physics and Chemistry curriculum for students in rural and regional areas, and brought the number of female scientists delivering the program to parity while in the role of science communicator in 2016.

His PhD research aims to track whether students’ understanding of scientific enquiry develops as they go through their chosen science degree.

Gabriel has returned to Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield to speak about interesting aspects of science, including at a day the school held to celebrate National Science Week in 2017. At school events, he likes to discuss both the practical aspects of science and the stories behind inventions, including x-rays.

“When we communicate a lot of science we say ‘here’s the scientific outcome and here is the amazing thing’, but there’s a story behind how that approach occurred,” Gabriel said.

“The power of science is that it can improve people’s lives, as well as society and the environment,” he said. “If we can get people to recognise the knowledge that is gained from science, we can help to influence and work with society to produce better outcomes for everyone.”

This article is part of a series that acknowledges the professional skills Sydney Catholic school graduates contribute to their communities and the wider world.

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