Young Queensland plant science superstar a BHP Awards finalist

News release | 09-Dec-2019

A Darling Downs student is one of 26 in the running to win a national science and engineering competition.

Toowoomba’s Michelle Springolo, who attends Year 9 Groves Christian College of Distance Education, is a finalist in the BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards after winning a category at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) annual Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition in June.

Competition coordinator Kerrie Rubie said Ms Springolo’s project investigated whether companion planting with German chamomile served as a viable alternative to chemical fungicide for inhibiting Net Blotch disease.

“We had a lot of fantastic entries this year and Michelle’s project won the year 7-9 category due to the incredible attention to detail and enormous effort put into observations, recording of research information and field work,” Ms Rubie said.

“I always encourage our competition winners to submit their entries to the BHP Foundation awards and this is the first time in eight years that we have a finalist from this region.”

Ms Springolo said Pyrenophora teres fungi can cause Net Blotch disease in barley crops, killing leaves and affecting grain quality.

“Using a natural repellent such as German chamomile to inhibit disease could reduce the amount of chemical fungicide in our environment, which may result in soil degradation and impact on earthworms and other plant-beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms, as well as pollute groundwater and waterways,” she said

“And my entry at the Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition showed German chamomile plants and tea do inhibit growth of this fungi.”

As a BHP Award finalist, Ms Springolo is invited to attend a four-day camp and an awards ceremony at University College, Melbourne early next year.

If she does well in the poster presentation event, where she is expected to summarise her project in front of a judging panel, she will also be in the running for cash prizes and a trip to the USA to take part in the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Ms Springolo said she is excited and a little nervous about the possibility of going to USA.

“I don’t really care so much about the cash prizes – that’s not what motivates me,” she said.

“Science and art are my favourite subjects at school, and I would really like to be a vet when I finish school. Hopefully this experience will help me to achieve that goal.”

Ms Rubie said seeing young people engaging and excelling in agricultural sciences was extremely rewarding.

“It’s crucial to how we face the future, and it’s a key purpose of the Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition,” she said.

The DAF Hermitage Schools Plant Science Competition encourages the next generation to explore a career in agricultural science.

More than 110,000 students throughout Australia have participated in this competition and have gained a better understanding of topics like soil health, the paddock to plate process, photosynthesis, weeds and plant genetics.

Students also develop further skills in the scientific method and understanding, report writing, mathematics, English, team work, communication and technology.

Find out more about Hermitage Schools Plant Science competition at

Find out more about the 2020 BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards at

Media contact: DAF Media,