Category Archives: Mars Lab: The Background

Encouraging students to study science

Grant: $2.9m (2011-2015) Broadband-Enabled Education and Skills Services program, Australian Government

The Mars Lab builds on a partnership forged in the Pathways to Space program – a partnership between the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (University of New South Wales – lead member), the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (University of Sydney) and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney.

The aim of the project is to encourage students to take senior science in Years (Grades) 11 and 12. The objective is not about Mars per se but inspiration through exploration of the sciences using the Mars Yard as a context. The project builds on the previous Pathways to Space project, which established the Mars Yard.

In Australia, students can end their science education at Year (or Grade) 10. There is no requirement to take any science at university level. Students have been voting with their feet for three decades. Thirty years ago 94% of students took senior science. Now just over 50% do – and the disinterest is common in most other developed countries. Fewer students to fill an increasing demand in jobs to have at least some science understanding is a concern for future economies.

We worked with teachers and schools in Tasmania, South Australia, and country New South Wales, introduced new rovers into the Mars Yard, created a new Graphical User Interface, and produced three new curriculum linked modules, including one using Project Based Learning pedagogy. As a result we are enabling teachers to transform their classrooms in this very different research-linked approach to school science.

The project development was driven by a team of 13 individuals who each bring a special expertise to the project:

Australian Centre for Astrobiology, University of New South Wales: Dr Carol Oliver (Project Manager), Dr Jennifer Fergusson (evaluation and education research), Prof Malcolm Walter and Prof Martin Van Kranendonk (science advisers).

Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (now the Museum of Applied Arts ad Sciences): Matthew Connell (Museum initial Lead), Dan Collins (Information Technology communications), Peter Mahony (who later took the Museum Lead), Isabelle Kingsley (curriculum producer), Stephen Bancroft (television studio producer), Craig Browne (curriculum development), and James Oliver (education technology development and Graphical User Interface).

Australian Centre for Field Robotics University of Sydney: Prof Salah Sukkarieh (ACFR Lead), Dr Ali Goktogan  (Mars Yard communications), Esa Attia (rover builds), Iwan Kelaiah (Virtual Mars Yard).

Advisory Board members were: Brett Biddington (University of New South Wales representative and Chair), Eduardo Nebot (University of Sydney), Anthony Rogers (later Michael Parry for the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) and Anne Gibbon (Australian Government Department of Education, Digital Programs)

For more information – particularly in accessing the facilities and educational materials – please visit