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Antarctic robot research brings maths to life

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Sacred Heart pupils listen to Dr Guihen talk about AUVs

Underwater robots and Antarctic penguins helped bring maths to life on a school visit to the Australian Maritime College this week.

Forty grade five and six students from Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School in Launceston spent a morning learning how important maths is for the research carried out by engineers and scientists at the College.

Researcher Dr Damien Guihen told the students about his work in Antarctica with underwater robots called Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.

He explained that maths was needed for almost every aspect of designing and building AUVs, as well as for programming them to collect data in Antarctica and other inhospitable places.

Dr Guihen helped the students to understand what working in Antarctic is like by showing images and video of penguins, seals and ice-shelves — as well as him in a snow suit.

The class were then among the first people to see a new seven-metre-long polar AUV that has recently arrived at the College.

As well as photo opportunities with the bright yellow robot, the students enjoyed grilling Dr Guihen on how the vehicle was made and what he’ll do with it.

In the lecture theatre

Alongside the AUV tour, Associate Professor Irene Penesis and Dr Jean-Roche Nader led a series of AUV-related maths challenges. In one activity, students calculated how long the AUV would take to travel along a programmed path.  

Teacher Lauren Thompson said that the visit got the children excited about maths and all of its possibilities.

“The children got the opportunity to see state-of-the-art technology in the AUV, learn about its function and how it was engineered.

Our experience at the AMC was a fantastic opportunity for the children to see how the mathematics taught in the classroom is applied practically.

“The experience reinforced that learning is a life-long skill and that mathematics is a potential career path.”

Student Fletcher Tyson said it was an exciting experience, and he would definitely do it again.

“Not only did we get to see the AUV, we learned all about the different types of ice. We did a maths task where we had to calculate how long the AUV would take if it were on a specific path. And Irene and Damien also gave us a lecture all about the AUV and Antarctica, they also loved showing us some penguin photos!”

Student Emma Wright said she loved all the maths challenges and seeing the AUV in real life.

“The best part of our AMC trip was the maths with Irene, I loved learning how far my AUV survey track was.

“I enjoyed the AUV with Damien too. It was interesting to see it in reality after they showed us the pictures. I loved also how it travelled different places 5,000m under the surface.”

I loved also how the AUV travelled different places 5,000 metres under the surface.

After the activities, the Sacred Heart students presented Dr Guihen and A/Professor Penesis with a shortlist of names for Australia’s new ice-breaker.

The academics helped pick the class’s entry. It was a responsibility they took seriously because the stakes are high: the prize is flights to Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division as part of their Name our Icebreaker competition.

Published on: 09 Jun 2017