STEM in everyday life

STEM and its products impact almost everything we do. Meet three STEM professionals whose work forms an important part of our everyday lives.

From the time we wake up in the morning, until we go to bed at night, we interact with the products of STEM almost every step of the way.

Engineers are behind our built environment and the infrastructure we often take for granted, like our roads and water pipes. Then there’s the technology behind:

  • computers at school or work and the smartphone in our pocket

  • satellites in space connecting us to the World Wide Web and the electricity grid powering it all

  • mathematical equations and algorithms that inform the weather prediction on the radio in the morning

  • Netflix recommendations on our smart TV in the evening.

Here are just a few real-life examples, and the people behind them.

Felicity Furey

STEM in the street: Civil engineering

Felicity Furey didn’t always plan on becoming an engineer – she wanted to be an artist. ‘I didn’t know what an engineer was until my teacher suggested it in Year 12,’ she says.

Felicity got into her fifth preference, civil engineering at QUT, where she discovered that engineering is all about solving problems and working with people. Since then, Felicity has worked on mega infrastructure projects, like major roads in Brisbane and extending the life of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, and was the design manager on Melbourne’s West Gate Tunnel Project.

Felicity’s work is a great example of how the products of STEM are all around us – throughout the course of every day, we use and interact with things that could not exist without STEM.

‘The cool part about being an engineer is that I get to drive on the roads that I helped design and create,’ says Felicity.

STEM in the body: Virtual reality and medicine

Weber Liu is a medical student at the University of Sydney, where he is also a biology and physiology tutor. To help his first-year students get a better understanding of how the body works, Weber – a self-taught coder – has designed some virtual and augmented reality tools that demonstrate different parts of the body.

Weber Liu

SVirtual reality can be a useful tool for future doctors to learn about anatomy, because many anatomical structures in the body collapse when a person dies and therefore can’t be examined in a cadaver.

Sometimes Weber gets the students involved in creating the programs as part of their learning.

‘At the moment we’re trying to generate a new skull model in our virtual reality space, and then the first-years will make pop-ups that show the actual pathways of the arteries in the skull,’ says Weber. ‘Hopefully we’ll create a customised application for the anatomy department to use in the future.’
Kirsten Banks

STEM in space and culture: Astronomy

While Weber and his students look inward, astrophysicist and Sydney Observatory tour guide Kirsten Banks is looking up towards the heavens. 

As a Wiradjuri woman, Kirsten loves to teach visitors to the Observatory about Aboriginal astronomy and its importance in everyday life.

One of her favourite stories is about the celestial emu Gawarrgay. Gawarrgay’s position in the night sky indicates the different stages of the emu’s breeding cycle, from laying eggs to the chicks hatching. Aboriginal Australians used this information to know when it was time to gather eggs.

‘You can learn a lot about what’s happening on the land by looking up at the sky,’ says Kirsten. ‘You can use it as a map. It can tell you about changes in the weather. You can learn about Aboriginal lore. There are a lot of uses for the night sky in Aboriginal culture.’

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