Publish Date: 
Friday, March 29, 2019 - 09:30


From the 20th to the 24th March 2019 Brisbane turned red for the 4th annual World Science Festival Brisbane. Events were held throughout Qld with the main activities centred around the Qld Museum and Southbank.

The Queensland scientists pushing the bounds of the impossible

Chamindie Punyadeera was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in South Africa, coming to the Queensland University of Technology via the Netherlands, where she worked for tech company Phillips. Her brother-in-law died of oral cancer in 2017, leading to her developing the idea for an oral gargle test that could detect oral and throat cancers, as well as serving as an early warning for heart disease.

“The ultimate goal is to have a test like a pregnancy test where people can test their risk of developing a certain disease,” Dr Punyadeera said.

“We’re now at the stage where we’re talking to an industry partner and they can take that technology to the next phase.”

Dr Punyadeera said her path, from the tech sector back into academia, was unusual as many STEM people go the other way, but ultimately it was about having the perseverance to see an idea come to fruition. “Research doesn’t happen just because you have an idea. You can have lots of ideas; it’s the idea that brings to the market or the clinical space — that’s the innovation,” she said.

Professor Ian Frazer, who was the moderator for the panel also highlighted the importance of perseverance, saying the Gardasil vaccine would never have been developed if he had given up early.    


“We had a year when nothing worked, where you’d get up every morning and (the experiment) had failed again, and failed again,” Professor Frazer said.

“I have a vision where my two granddaughters, who are seven and nine months old, will grow up in a world where, through technology and entrepreneurship, they don’t have to worry about infectious diseases.

“It is an achievable ambition: you just have to have the passion to believe it can happen, and the willingness to work hard to get there.”

'Think before you spit': Keeping track of how genetic data is used

DNA profiling services can be a fun insight into our genetic backgrounds, but we’re being warned not to hand over our most personal information without understanding the consequences.

The popularity of genetic ancestry tests has exploded worldwide, with multiple companies now offering to analyse your saliva to determine your genetic heritage. However, the Whose DNA is it Anyway? panel at the World Science Festival Brisbane was told the eventual uses to which that data can be put can be far beyond what people initially intended.

Genetic counsellor Aideen McInerney-Leo urged individuals to take responsibility for ensuring their genetic information was used correctly.

“You pretty much need a PhD to figure out all the options relating to consent here,” she said.


'It’s all consent, making sure people are informed before you start so they’re not blindsided, and think before you spit.”

Street Science 

For two days on 23-24 March the South Bank precinct was packed with people visiting exhibitor booths with engaging science activities. Early reports estimate that over 80,000 attendees descended on South Bank last weekend for the final two days of the festival.

Thank you to all of the volunteers who worked tirelessly (in the extreme heat) across the weekend. Below is just some of the volunteers who made this event not only possible but a success:

Prof Brian Gabrielli, Ariel Andrew, Deborah Nazareth, Madushan Fernando, A/Prof Jo Forbes, Joy Cheung, Amelia Fotheringham, Selena Le Bagge, Sherman Leung, Dr Mitchell Sullivan, Ellen Tejo, A/Prof Jyotsna Batra, Farhana Matin, Eamonn McKenna, Mohammad Rasheduzzaman, Jeniffer Naranjo and Amila Suraweera to name but a few. 

Brisbane has secured the World Science Festival for another two years and we look forward to participating again next year. Due to the success of this year, TRI has already registered our interest to partake again next year with a larger booth so that we feature even more groups. 

It was a fantastic event, free for the public, giving them the ability to immerse themselves into the science world, with a main focus on getting young children interested in science. 

Stay tuned for more information about the 2020 event!