What is SPARQ-ed?

SPARQ-ed (Students Performing Advanced Research Queensland) is a biomedical research educational facility for schools students and teachers located at the Translational Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia. SPARQ-ed is a joint initiative of the University of Queensland's Diamantina Institute (UQDI) and Queensland's Department of Education and Training (DET). The aim of SPARQ-ed is to engage students in the process of scientific research by connecting them with world leading biomedical scientists.

Where is SPARQ-ed located?

SPARQ-ed has an office and dedicated teaching laboratory in the Translational Research Institute, located at 37 Kent, Street Woolloongabba, adjacent to the Princess Alexandra hospital (see here for map). 

How do I get there?

The PA Hospital is located on a major transport Hub. There is a major Cityexpress bus stop on Ipswich Road at the front of the hospital, and the hospital has a stop on the Eastern Busway. Dutton Park railway station (on the Beenleigh/Gold Coast line) is right behind TRI and the hospital. The hospital has a drop-off point at the main entrance off Ipswich Road, although it is easier to gain access to TRI via the turn-around at the end of Kent Street. Parking is available at the Metro Multi-storey Carpark (access from Ipswich Road inbound or outbound) or at the multi-level PA Parking carpark across Ipswich Road. The area around PA Hospital is a regulated parking zone, and on-street parking is at a premium, although depending on the time of day, there may be some paid on-street parking places in Kent Street, Cornwall Street and the surrounding area.

Who runs SPARQ-ed?

SPARQ-ed is a joint initiative of the University of Queensland's Diamantina Institute (UQDI) and Queensland's Department of Education and Training (DET). It is supported by the Translational Research Institute (TRI) and a generous donation from the Lions Medical Research Foundation (LMRF). It is administered through the office of the Queensland Academies. The day-to-day business of SPARQ-ed is handled by a Coordinator, who is an experienced registered science teacher with a biomedical research background, and a registered science Teacher, both employed by DET.

Who do I need to contact for further information?

Ward Nicholas (SPARQ-ed Coordinator)
Students Performing Advanced Research Queensland (SPARQ-ed)
University of Queensland Diamantina Institute
Level 6 Translational Research Institute
37 Kent Street, Woolloongabba, Qld, 4102, Australia
ph. +61 7 3443 6932 fax. +61 7 3443 6966
email:  sparqed@uq.edu.au

What are the Research Immersion Programs?

The Research Immersion Programs are the flagship activities of SPARQ-ed. They are week-long immersion experiences whereby up to 24 participants undertake a project developed in conjunction with one of TRI's partner institute's world-renowned research teams.The programs are conducted by the SPARQ-ed Coordinator, assisted by post-graduate students drawn from TRI.

Who can take part in the Research Immersion Programs?

The Research Immersion Programs are offered to senior (years 10, 11 and 12) students and teachers from schools in the government and non-government sectors throughout the state.

What does it cost?

View the fee schedule for all SPARQ-ed services.

Is it only open to Brisbane based participants?

No. Students and teachers from regional and remote Queensland schools are encouraged to apply.

I live outside Brisbane - will SPARQ-ed cover the cost of my travel?

No. Participants from outside Brisbane will need to cover the costs of their travel. We encourage schools to investigate methods of student sponsorship available through community groups and scholarships. Students from outside the Brisbane Metropolitan Area may qualify for a Lions Medical research Foundation (LMRF) regional and remote Student Scholarship. These awards of $500 are intended to assist with the costs associated with travel and accommodation during the program. For more information go to the Lions Medical Research Foundation Scholarships on the bottom of the Research Immersion Programs page.

What has happened to the SPARQ-ed Homestay Service?

With a change in administration, SPARQ-ed is no longer able to arrange family homestay for student participants. We are currently sourcing alternative homestay arrangements.

As a teacher, does participation in a Research Immersion Program count towards Continued Professional Development (CPD) as required for registration with the Queensland College of Teachers?

Participation in a Research Immersion Program could qualify as “Individually Identified CPD” if undertaken during vacation time and “School Supported CPD” if undertaken with the approval of the school, according to QCOT’s CPD Framework document. Teacher participants are provided with a certificate which indicates 35 hours of engagement, along with topics covered and suggested links to the professional standards.

How do I get involved?

Student applications can be made through an online form found here. We are aware that access to this site may be limited in some school locations, so alternatively, paper applications may be downloaded as a Word document. The online applications must list a school contact (ideally a science teacher or head of Department, while the paper forms must be approved by the school principal or delegate. Applications are assessed by a panel of teachers and researchers on the basis of the ability of the applicant to meet written selection criteria (based around enthusiasm for and interest and engagement in science) and their academic results in relevant school-based subjects. All statements made in the application are verified by the school contact, Principal or Principal's delegatePotential applicants should express their interest to their principal. The process for teacher applications is via an expression of interest to the SPARQ-ed coordinator.

What can participants expect?

You can expect to be challenged by a detailed and advanced research program. The level of work done is higher than what is normally covered in a seondary school biology program, however the SPARQ-ed web portal offers learning materials to help participants get up to speed. Participants should expect an authentic research experience, which includes many of the expectations of real scientists, including variable hours, troubleshooting, attendance at seminars, library research and communication of results. You will have the opportunity to mix with working scientists from a variety of different areas, many of whom are world-leaders in their fields. Participants should also expect to make changes to the procedures we have provided to suit the situation, and to try to figure out why a result was not as we might have expected. Adjusting and refining techniques are both important parts of a scientist's work.

What do we expect of the participants?

We expect participants to get the most out of their experience, to learn what they can in the short time they are here from a wide variety of sources. We expect them to take the knowledge and skills they have gained back to their schools and use it in their studies. Lastly we expect them to see the Research Immersion Programs to be a taste of what life as a scientist is like.

What do participants in the Research Immersion Programs actually do?

While the Research Immersion Programs seem to be all about the experimental work, there will be other activities planned for the inevitable incubation periods and downtime. While the actual timetable will change according to the project undertaken, there are a number of constant actiities which occur throughout all of them :

  • Monday morning - introductory lecture by the contributing researcher to introduce the project, followed by safety induction in the SPARQ-ed teaching lab
  • Tuesday - TRI Lunchtime Research Seminar
  • Wednesday - online library research tutorial
  • Thursday - science communication tutorial
  • Friday - SPARQ-ed Closing Symposium where participants present the results of their research to staff and students of TRI

The experimental program is laid out in the Laboratory Manual for each project, which is provided to students prior to commencing the program.

How long will I be at the facility each day?

It is impossible to predict how long each session will take, however participants should meet the Coordinator in the central atrium of TRI at 8.45am each day (on the first day, meet in the main foyer of the PA Hospital). Depending on the work done, participants may finish the day as early as 3.00pm or as late as 5.00pm, however most days finish by 4.00pm. Participants should be prepared to be flexible in their travel arrangements.

How should I prepare for the Research Immersion Programs?

You should start by reading the support material and manual contained on the SPARQ-e web portal. Each project has a separate page with links to a .pdf file of the manual as well as a hypertext linked interactive version. If you do not have a lot of experience with concepts around molecular biology, read the common resources found here. These materials form the basis of the appendices for the laboratory manuals and are a brief primer for cell and molecular biology. For Workplace Health and Safety purposes, you must also read through the risk assessments for each project, have the relevant forms provided to you prior to the program signed and bring them in on the first day of the program.

What do participants need to bring?

Writing implements and a notebook are required. Since some of our results will be in electronic format, and you will be expected to create a presentation to support your symposium speech on the Friday, a USB memory stick or similar storage device is also recommended (the laboratory breakout room is furnished with computers running Microsoft Windows 7). Please also refer to the Workplace Health and Safety considerations below.

Are there any workplace health and safety considerations?

Molecular biology laboratories have a number of risk factors which are not encountered in secondary school science laboratories. As a result, the TRI has some very clear guidelines around Workplace Health and Safety.

Firstly, you must attend the laboratory safety induction presented on the first day of the program. This will provide you with the information you need to know to operate safely in the laboratory. Every activity performed in the laboratory has a risk assessment associated with it. We have adapted the procedures so that they pose the minimum risk to participants if performed correctly, however you still need to be aware of the risks involved. Each project has a number of risk assessments forms available from the individual project site on the SPARQ-ed web portal. Before arriving on the first day you must read these forms and sign the relevant paperwork provided in your information pack (or have a parent or guardian sign for you). These forms must be received by the SPARQ-ed office by the time you commence the program.

TRI has requirements for dress to work in the laboratories. We will provide you with laboratory coats, gloves and safety glasses (plus any other safety gear as needed for specific activities). You must wear completely enclosed shoes (no exposed toes or tops of the feet - thongs, sandals and ugg boots are right out). Long hair should be tied back. You are not to use personal music devices or phones with earphones during your laboratory work.

Does this count towards my studies?

Individual schools may choose to use the material covered in the Research Immersion Programs as support material for additional assessment items as detailed in the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority's Senior Science Syllabi (normally Extended Response Tasks, but possibly Extended Experimental Invistigations, depending on the nature of the project undertaken). The Coordinator can assist in this, however it is recommended that schools wanting to do this negotiate with the District Review Panel Chair for the relevant subject.

What is the Bonus Rank Program?

Students may elect to complete an additional component alongside the Research Immersion Program which earns them a point under the University of Queensland's Bonus Rank Scheme. This involves the completion of a literature review prior to commencing the program, the maintenance of a detailed research journal through the course of the project and submitting a scientific paper on completion of the program. Further information on the SPARQ-ed Bonus Ranks Program can be found here.

What projects are on offer?

As we liaise with more research groups, we are constantly developing new projects and refining the old ones. You can get an idea of the projects by visiting the Research Immersion Programs page and viewing upcoming and previous immersions.

When are programs being run?

2017 availability calendar

We reserve the right to change this proposed schedule, based on project availability and applicant numbers.

We appreciate that there are certain times where you might not be able to attend. We will endeavour to offer successful applicants a time that suits them best.

How do I get into the Institute?

The TRI is security controlled and most areas can only be accessed by someone with the appropriate security card. Each day you will need to meet with the coordinator at 8.45am in the main foyer of the hospital who will then let you into the places you need to go. If you arrive late, please phone the SPARQ-ed office on 3443 6932 to make alternate arrangements, or talk to reception on the ground floor of TRI.

What arrangements are available for lunch?

The times for lunch will vary depending on the program. If you wish to bring your own lunch, there are facilities to store it during the day. Catalyst Café on the ground floor of TRI provides a wide range of reasonably priced quality food. The PA Hospital has a well-stocked canteen with a variety of hot and cold dishes available. The hospital foyer has a number of vending machines and a Starbucks Cafe. There is also a cafe (Pacemakers) at the nearby Pharmacy Australia Centre for Excellence (PACE). Please note that time to buy food from these establishments is limited by the time we have available for breaks.

What other facilities are available?

The hospital foyer has a newsagent, telephones and ATMs.

What other services does SPARQ-ed provide?

The SPARQ-ed™ web portal is intended to be a source of information on cellular and molecular biology for schools. We hope to improve and update the materials provided on a regular basis.