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13,000 km from home
Tulita student travels to Australia to take part in the country's national youth science forum

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, February 11, 2012

TULITA/FORT NORMAN
Shaun MacDonald first started developing a passion for science when he entered the Canada-wide science fair in Peterborough, Ont., two years ago.

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"I enjoy doing science a lot more than any other subject," says Shaun MacDonald, a Grade 12 student at Chief Albert Wright School in Tulita. "It's really the only subject I could see myself doing a career in." - photo courtesy of Shaun MacDonald

But the 17 year old from Tulita said it was his peers, not the subject matter, that's to thank.

"It was amazing just seeing all the people, how deep their aspirations were," he explained. "Everyone we met there, they all wanted to do something big with their lives and it was really motivating."

Last month, MacDonald's passion for science took him a bit farther from home 13,000 km to be exact to take part in Australia's national youth science forum.

He arrived in Sydney on Dec. 23 and for the next three weeks travelled across the country to sightsee, work in research laboratories and mingle with some of the world's brightest and youngest minds in science.

MacDonald was one of Canada's three delegates, with the other two coming from Ontario.

After touring Sydney and visiting the opera house and harbour bridge, the group travelled to the Blue Mountains to see the country's tropical rainforests.

In Adelaide, they visited wildlife parks to get a first-hand look at koalas and kangaroos, and in Melbourne, the Tulita student got to spend time at the beach.

"It felt pretty weird," he said. "I've never had a not-white Christmas. We were singing out Christmas carols and it was just like grass outside, sun shining, having a barbecue."

In Canberra, Australia's capital, MacDonald attended a "science disco" with all the other delegates, where they were encouraged to dress in a science-related theme.

Wanting to go as Albert Einstein, MacDonald said he tried to dye his hair white but botched the job.

"It didn't go quite as white as a I wanted it to, so now I have very yellow hair," he said.

MacDonald said that while acting as a tourist was fun, getting to bump shoulders with some of the country's top scientists in research laboratories was even better.

"I enjoy doing science a lot more than any other subject. It's really the only subject I could see myself doing a career in," he said.

MacDonald will graduate in June, and he said he plans to attend Dalhousie University's bachelor of science program, then his honours degree, and finally his PhD in virology, the study of viruses, or immunology, the study of the immune system.

His goal is to become a research scientist for a government or university.

"I want to research this stuff and come up with a cure for all the viruses and diseases we have out there. When you're a research scientist, the thing that I like about it most is you're discovering something nobody else in the world has seen before, and this is like breaking news," he said. "That's what I find most fascinating about science."

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