Science Week looks beyond the microscope to environmental science

Issued: 19 Aug 2021

Queensland is looking beyond the microscopes, beakers and Bunsen burners to celebrate the varied aspects of our valued scientists for National Science Week which runs from August 14-22, 2021.

Alex Atkinson has a PhD in beach profile dynamics, a Master of Science specialising in environmental science, and a Bachelor of Science.

“I’ve worked with the Department of Environment and Science for four years,” Mr Atkinson said.

“Currently, I’m working on a project for Tweed Sand Bypassing which involves using our laboratory basin to investigate the potential to strategically place the dredged sand associated with maintaining the Tweed River entrance for safe passage for marine transport at the entrance to the Tweed River, and potential benefits toenhance surf amenity.

“During my PhD candidature, I ran reduced-scale physical models to investigate beach profile responses to different wave climates and water levels.

“Most of the experience I gained, and skills I developed during my candidature, apply to my current position in which we are often required to test the design of coastal protection structures (such as seawalls and breakwaters) in a reduced-scale physical model.

“For the results to be as representative as possible, it is essential to understand the limitations associated with scale and laboratory effects.

“During my Masters, I completed a course in coastal processes and a research project on wave runup processes, which investigated how high up the beach the waves get.

“This kickstarted my passion for coastal engineering and provided me with the opportunity to undertake my doctorate.”

Mr Atkinson said Queensland has a very long and varied coast with a wide range of wave climates and tidal ranges.

“It is beneficial to have an understanding of coastal processes, coastal monitoring, and protection methods,” he said.

“We often learn new things during our projects which enhance our knowledge and understanding.

“Many of the projects we work on test the design of coastal protection structures against ‘design storm events’ – the structures are designed to withstand infrequent storms such as a ‘one-in-100-year storm’ and allow for uncertainty related to rising sea level.

“Beach profiles come in many shapes and wave climates vary from coast to coast, so through our work we get to see first-hand the processes associated with the design of coastal protection structures that can prevent coastal erosion and flooding due to wave action.”

Mr Atkinson said National Science Week is a great opportunity to highlight the many facets across the field to inspire young children to consider a consider a career in science.

“Follow your passion and pick a field that is interesting to you,” he said.

“My experience is that if you can do that, all the data analysis, problem-solving, reading, and writing are rarely a chore and often a joy!”

Queensland’s Chief Scientist Professor Hugh Possingham said everyone from students to grandparents could get involved in the celebration of science during National Science Week.

“Visit the National Science Week website to find local or online National Science Week activities near you and follow the Queensland Science Facebook channel for the latest science news,” he said.