STEM Educator of the Year Finalist

Dr Justin Chalker’s research has been making a splash over the past few years, with Justin winning the 2016 Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year in 2016, being made a finalist for the 2017 Dream Chemistry award and his research into mercury remediation and oil spill clean-ups getting noticed worldwide. This time however, it’s his excellence in teaching receiving attention.

Justin has been named as a finalist for the STEM Educator of the Year – Tertiary Teaching award, as part of the 2018 South Australian Science Excellence Awards. Justin teaches in a range of topics at Flinders University, including second and third year organic chemistry and polymer science.

“One of my motivations for teaching is to share the thrill of discovery” says Justin.

“In class, this can involve re-examining the classical and often daring experiments that led to foundational knowledge in the chemical and biochemical sciences. This is far more powerful that merely stating the end result. Accordingly, my lectures and tutorials focus not on reciting or memorising facts, but rather generating hypotheses and evaluating experimental results. Sometimes, these experiments and data even come from my own research.”

Justin also supervises undergraduate and postgraduate research projects, and his passion for this work is clear.

“I am a strong proponent of inquiry-driven learning and undergraduate research. In class, we learn what is known, but in the lab we can discover something entirely new. Research empowers student to think, learn and discover. What better way to learn science, than by doing science? I also work to support undergraduate research experience with students from diverse fields including chemistry, biology, physics, environmental science and engineering. This way, we can share the central science of chemistry with our friends in allied fields and promote collaboration. I am also proud that these students contribute to meaningful projects that can be shared with the broader scientific community: over the last 5 years, 16 undergraduates have co-authored peer-reviewed papers as part of undergraduate research in my lab.”

Justin’s passion is clearly rubbing off on his students too, PhD student Lisa Alcock was selected to attend the 10th HOPE Meeting with Nobel Laureates in Japan earlier this year and another of Justin’s PhD students, Max Worthington, was named a Highly Commended Applicant and finalist for The Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award in 2017.

On top of all this Justin also manages to spread his attention beyond university teaching, supporting local schools and talking about his research on the TV program Scope.

“My commitment to science education does not stop at the edge of campus. I’m dedicated to sharing science and even research experience through outreach with budding scientists in area schools. I also work with professional organisations to support science teachers in their mission to share the benefits of inquiry-driven learning so they can train the next generation of scientists.”

We congratulate Justin on being named a finalist, with the winners to be announced in August at the 2018 South Australian Science Excellence Awards Gala Dinner.


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