Science award for St Margaret’s Anglican Girls’

St Margaret’s Anglican Girls’ School students Emily and Ella Woods have won the 2018 University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize for secondary students for their short film about lactose intolerance, Gas Busters.

Their prize was awarded at a gala black-tie event in Sydney in late August 2018, where the girls had the opportunity to meet some of Australia’s leading scientists including Australian of the Year 2018, Professor Michelle Simmons.

The hotly contested and prestigious award recognises the best short film that communicates a science concept in an accessible and engaging way and is dedicated to encouraging young scientists who will be future leaders in research, discovery and communication.

Ella, 13, said it was estimated two out of three people in the world were not able to consume dairy products without experiencing gut discomfort.

“Milk is incredibly nutritious and is in so many foods such as coffee, ice cream and yoghurt but for many people they can’t enjoy it without experiencing bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea or flatulence,” Ella said.

“These symptoms are caused by the body’s inability to properly digest lactose, the main sugar in milk. Many people don’t even know they are intolerant because they can consume small amounts of dairy products if spread throughout the day.”

In their three-minute film, the Brisbane sisters explain the science behind lactose intolerance, explore its evolution and present a simple solution that allows everyone to enjoy cow’s milk.

Emily, 16, said people could learn how to manage conditions like lactose intolerance by understanding the chemistry of their bodies.

“There are some things that are embarrassing to talk about but if we understand it we can be empathetic and help those who are suffering,” Emily said.

“As babies our bodies generally produce lactase, an enzyme which breaks down lactose into simple sugars which are easily absorbed by the body.

“Lactose intolerance happens when we stop producing lactase, or we don’t produce enough of it, and so our bodies can’t easily digest the milk’s sugars. Instead the milk passes into the large intestine where bacteria feasts on the sugars and produces acids and gases.

“If you don’t want to consume milk substitutes, the good news is that dairy producers today are using a range of techniques to remove lactose from milk products. The simplest way is to add natural enzymes to predigest it, resulting in a slightly sweeter tasting milk.”

In 2015, when Ella was in the St Margaret’s primary school, she paired with another student to take out first prize in the primary section of this award.

St Margaret’s Head of Science and Technology, Mr Chris Dunn, said the students were keenly interested in science and had independently taken on the challenge to enter the Awards.

“St Margaret’s fosters a fascination with science through our STEM program and it is so exciting to see young women like Emily and Ella rewarded for their exceptional efforts. They took on a topic that is important and they have addressed it in an entertaining and respectful way. As a school we are very proud of their achievement,” Mr Dunn said.

To view the video, please click here.

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