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Wednesday, 10 August  2005  Flying Scientist

Meet a Flying Scientist. He flies all over the outback, taking science experiments to children who would otherwise never get to see them.


LISA WHITEHEAD: Phil Higgins and his wife Suzanne are about to escape the cold grey skies of Churchill in Victoria's La Trobe Valley for the clear blue skies of the Australian outback.

PHIL HIGGINS: We'll, have to get to Leigh Creek to get some fuel, that's critical.

LISA WHITEHEAD: But this isn't a road trip they're planning.

With their baggage stowed in the back seat of this tiny Cessna 172, they'll wing their way to isolated stations like Tanami Downs and Narwietooma in the Northern Territory.

As well, they'll visit two remote Aboriginal communities.

PHIL HIGGINS: This is a microscope, there's a dissecting kit in there, there's a telescope to go in, plus a pack-sack with some socks and that in for us.

LISA WHITEHEAD: The scientific equipment gets priority on this flight, reflecting Phil Higgins's lifetime love of science.

He taught students at Monash University's La Trobe Valley campus for 32 years before taking a retirement package.

But he was soon lured back to teaching, becoming a scientist-in-residence at a country primary school.

PHIL HIGGINS: It was great fun teaching basic science to these kids.

And the teacher was saying you just don't get any specialist teachers once you are outside the major cities.

And I thought, "Jeez, I could help remote kids.

"Like, how remote?"

Well, if you're going to go remote, you might as well go remote.

I'll go right outback, but I need an aeroplane so -- and I need a licence.

LISA WHITEHEAD: In 2000, at the age of 56, Phil Higgins got his pilot's licence and a passport to some of the most remote destinations in the country.

But before Phil Higgins could take off, he had to convince his local aero club to rent him a plane.

PHIL HIGGINS: I fronted up and said, "I want to hire an aeroplane for a month, and fly solo around the outback."

They must have had faith, and I did get it back without bending it.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Since that first trip three years ago Phil Higgins has covered more than 22,000km -- from Morwell to Broken Hill and Barcaldine, from Cobar to Cunamulla, giving students at outback stations like Westwood Downs in far-western NSW hands-on experience with science.

And he's brought the plane down safely every time.

PHIL HIGGINS: They come from the stations, and there might be, say, on average two or three kids per station.

And most stations we fly into will let their neighbours know and their neighbours' kids come in as well and we might have anything from a couple of kids to, I think the most we had was 17, at one stage.

And there was quite a gathering there -- lots of parents.

And that interaction with new people and fresh ideas -- that's something that they don't get.

They love the electronics, they love being able to get the motors to work and the lights to flash, yeah, they like that.

The experiments we have cover mechanics and optics and electronics and some chemistry and biology -- so a bit of just about everything so you're almost sure to catch every kid's interest.



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English Bites - Flying Scientist
story notes

wing their way
fly

stations
Stations are very large farms that are often a long way away from towns or schools.

microscope
The suffix -scope means something used to look at things.
The prefix micro- means small. So a microscope is used to look at very small things. It makes them look bigger.


dissecting kit
To dissect means to cut open a body, so you can examine what inside.
A kit is a set or group of things needed for an experiment.
So a dissecting kit is a set of all the things you need to cut open animals, to look inside them.

telescope
The suffix -scope means something used to look at things.
the prefix 'tele-' means far away, so a telescope is used to look at things that are a very long way away. It makes things look closer.


taught
The past tense of the irregular verb teach.
more information: teach

licence
A document giving you official permission to do something. When used as a verb, we spell it license.
more information: licence

fronted up
arrived; appeared; attended

Example: I fronted up for work every day this week.

brought
The past participle of the irregular verb bring.
more information: bring

experiments
Experiments are tests or things you can do to show different scientific facts.


mechanics
Mechanics is the science of objects and how they move. Mechanics often involves the study of machines.

optics
Optics is the science of light and vision.

electronics
Electronics is the science of electricity and the things that use electricity.

chemistry
Chemistry is the study of substances

biology
Biology is the study of life and living things.
spotlight

Some say science is subjective.

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