Understanding granular materials such as corn and salt so he can develop better computer models of their behaviour has earned an Onslow College physics student the school’s third Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Award.
Winner Finnegan Messerli, who is now studying physics and maths at Victoria University of Wellington, credits his teacher Kent Hogan for championing science as a fun and stimulating subject.
The Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize of $50,000 is awarded to a Year 12 or Year 13 student who has undertaken a science research, mathematics, technological or engineering project.
Finnegan said his project was “measuring the material properties of granular materials, such as corn or sand, that sort of thing. And it’s a lot harder than you might think, so I spent quite a lot of time figuring out ways to do that”.
His project began when, as captain of the New Zealand team participating in the International Young Physicists tournament in Beijing, he was asked to explain why grains such as sand or salt form a cone-like pile when they are poured onto a surface.
Finnegan, who is now studying physics and maths at Victoria University of Wellington, says that the science department at his high school - especially the Head of Science Kent Hogan - was key to his success.
“Studying physics at Onslow was really, really good, particularly if you get involved with the stuff that Kent Hogan does,” says Finnegan. “So he runs … physics tournaments, and if you get involved with those really early you basically learn all the skills you need for science.”
Wellington’s Onslow College has, to date, produced three winners of the Prime Minister's Future Scientist Prize, and also has a winning teacher working in the science department.