Students from Year 9 ‘Research Science’ & Year 10 ‘Systems Engineering’ worked collaboratively in small teams throughout Semester 2 on the 2023 ‘Royal Australian Navy’ STEM Challenge. Kudos to our STEM Teams who won both the ‘Junior’ Division and ‘Senior’ Division of this national competition.  

This extended project-based learning experience required students to research, develop and film an eight minute digital ‘pitch’ presentation that explained how a Nuclear-Powered Submarine Propulsion System functions. It also actively encouraged our students to think like submariners, engineers and scientists by engaging them in various STEM activities designed to develop and inspire innovation, self-confidence, communication and teamwork. Teams were tasked with comparing diesel-electric and nuclear-powered propulsion systems in a submarine, outlining operational factors for both including speed, endurance, manoeuvrability, safety, noise pollution, repairs and maintenance. With the aid of animated diagrams, students were also required to explain how a nuclear reactor could be used to power various systems within an operational nuclear-powered submarine.


We would like to congratulate the following GWSC students whose STEM Teams were crowned Champions of the 2023 ‘Royal Australian Navy’ Nuclear-Powered Submarine Propulsion STEM Challenge in both the Junior (Years 7-9) and Senior (Years 10-12) divisions of this national competition – Jeffrin Arokia, Isabel Lau, Rachel Rodrigues, Sarah Sanil, Simone Sardana, Fiona Sebastian, Natalie Trinh, Nikan Forghanbin, Ben Gunstone & Johnathan Konstantaras. The expert judging panel, consisting of Navy submariners and STEM industry leaders, were absolutely blown away by the research, detail and effort that both winning teams put into their final presentations. When they were informed of their STEM Challenge wins, our victorious teams were swamped by their fellow classmates who offered them a flurry of felicitations which was superb to observe. Better news was still to come as representatives from STEM Hub and The Department of Defence, who organised and ran this national STEM challenge, not only congratulated our students but also confirmed with them that their prize was an all-expenses paid STEM Tour to Western Australia which would include an immersive submariner experience with the Royal Australian Navy.


Our winning STEM teams had to patiently wait until the second last week of school to ‘Go West’ for their three day STEM Tour, but the unique experiences they participated in were most definitely worth the wait….They started off sinking some fresh ‘Subs’ from Subway at Melbourne Airport, whilst waiting to board our flight to Western Australia. Keeping up the naval theme, a number of students and staff then engaged in some enthralling games of ‘Battleship’ to pass the time during both our ten hour delay and eventual four hour flight to Perth. On arrival we were greeted by active members of the Australian Defence Force, who escorted our tour group to the naval city of Rockingham, forty-five minutes south of Perth. We then quickly settled into our accommodation and had a short sleep before waking early the next morning for our first day of STEM experiences at the HMAS Stirling Navy Base. Members of the ‘RAN’ joined our group for breakfast, providing our students with a unique opportunity to find out more about careers and life in the Navy. 


After breakfast we transited across the expansive causeway bridge to Garden Island, with our students absolutely amazed at the sparkling blue hue of the Indian Ocean. Drawing nearer to HMAS Stirling, a flotilla of frigates and squadron of submarines came into focus which caught both the eye and attention of our students. HMAS Stirling is the largest naval base in Australia providing operational and logistics support to Royal Australian Navy ships, submarines and aircraft based in WA. It is home to 12 ‘RAN’ Fleet units, including ANZAC Class frigates and Collins Class submarines, along with 70 additional support units such as the Submarine Training and Systems Centre, the Australian Clearance Diving Team, the School of Ship Survivability and Safety and the Defence Communications Station. An eight billion dollar upgrade is currently underway to transform the base into a pivotal port for Indian Ocean operations carried out by AUKUS, the multilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific region that was formed earlier this year between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The base also now maintains a permanent rotational presence of attack-class nuclear-powered submarines, operated by the US and UK, and will house Australia’s fleet of nuclear-powered submarines by early 2040.


Driving through the armed gates of the base was quite an experience, with members of the ‘HMAS Rankin’ Submarine Squadron welcoming our tour group to HMAS Stirling. Our students were firstly involved in a Safety and Survival Demonstration, where they learnt about risk management and emergency procedures utilised in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Within a mock smoke-filled engine room, students worked within small teams to navigate their way through the haze of the pretend blaze using thermal imaging cameras. One of the most memorable moments of our trip then occurred when the ‘Boom Box’ was utilised to demonstrate the requirements for combustion, commonly referred to as the ‘Fire Tetrahedron’. As the safety instructor explained each of the four required components for a fire (oxygen, fuel, heat and an uninhibited chemical chain reaction), he subtly adjusted these elements within the ‘Boom Box’ before taking a couple of careful steps backwards…..Then, as the ignition spark crackled an almighty explosion was seen, heard and felt by all of our students and staff as a pressure wave emanated from the contained fire within the ‘Boom Box’. Our students then learnt how crew members on both surface vessels and submarines best contain fires before extinguishing them using high-pressure fire hoses or dry chemical fire extinguishers. Trainers from the ‘RAN’ also demonstrated how specialised breathing apparatus should be utilised during emergencies involving fires or chemical spills on board a vessel.   


Our group was then transported to the Submariner Training & Systems Centre where they were put through their paces in a Collins Class Submarine Simulator. After taking control at the helm, students had to carefully adjust the pitch and yaw of their vessel to navigate safely through a series of underwater obstacles. Students were also educated about the various detection systems used by submarines, through the use of working models that demonstrated the principles of sonar, radar and magnetic anomaly detection. They were then shown the full-size Torpedo Training Tower, that rises three floors up from the ground, which is used to train Navy weapons systems specialists. The perceived pressure of piloting a submarine and loading torpedoes certainly gave our students an appetite, which was fortunate as a team of the Navy’s top chefs had prepared a mouth-watering BBQ for our lunch. It certainly was a surreal experience eating our BBQ lunch alongside submariners on Australia’s largest Naval base.  


After maintaining their energy levels at lunch, our students were then met by members of the RAN ‘Fleet Support Unit’ who provide onshore maintenance to all of the ships and submarines moored at HMAS Stirling. The ‘FSU’ challenged our students with an interactive STEM-based activity, which simulated real world issues that impact our naval vessels. We were then invited to board and tour the HMAS Perth, which is a long-range ANZAC Class Frigate capable of air defence, surface and undersea warfare, surveillance, reconnaissance and interdiction. Our students then climbed through the hatch and slid down the ladder into HMAS Rankin, one of six Collins Class Submarines in active service that are stationed at HMAS Stirling. This once in a lifetime opportunity allowed our students to not only experience what it would be like to operate within a team of submariners, but also speak directly with members of our Royal Australian Navy to learn more about the inner workings of a submarine. Highlights of the tour included an opportunity to lie in bunks that are directly beneath the racks of torpedoes, exploring the aft engine room, investigating all of the intricate instrumentation at the helm of the vessel, in addition to observing where the submariner’s cook and eat. It was also very intriguing to hear how submariner’s wash themselves with the shower running for less than two minutes, to avoid wasting precious water whilst diving into the depths of the world’s oceans.


The final day of our STEM Tour involved immersive experiences at the Leeuwin Barracks in Fremantle. Students firstly engaged in Virtual Submariner Training, using state of the art head-sets that combined augmented reality and VR technologies. Representatives from the Australian Defence Force then ran team building activities and leadership exercises with our students which developed their collaborative skills, communication, strategic planning, as well as their ability to initiate and practice change management protocols. Our students were then asked to apply these skills in their next STEM challenge within the ‘Bridge Simulator’, which required them to plot a ‘stealth-mode’ route for an ANZAC Class Frigate through enemy lines. The ‘Bridge Simulator’ our students utilised for this activity mimics a real-life ship’s bridge, with incredible 270o high definition video footage supporting highly realistic and adaptive combat scenarios. It is used to train bridge teams and bridge officers in ship navigation, handling and engagement techniques. Our students were also offered the rare opportunity to test their skills in the ‘Command Team Trainer’, a virtual ship operations room that uses simulated scenarios to educate and train sailors and officers in operating a ship’s combat and communications systems. This was an extremely exciting activity for all involved, with one group describing the experience as almost being like a real-life game of ‘Battleship’! Before we could say ‘It’s a hit’, it was time to farewell our Royal Australian Navy hosts and hit the road towards Perth Airport, to then jump on our QANTAS flight back home to Melbourne….which was only delayed by a mere 3 hours, time that we spent reminiscing about our incredible Navy STEM Tour to WA!     


We would like to pass on a pair of special thank-yous to Mr Mark Robinson and Mr Louis Tie for mentoring and supporting our STEM teams throughout the 2023 ‘Royal Australian Navy’ Nuclear-Powered Submarine Propulsion STEM Challenge. Your continued guidance and encouragement were instrumental in spurring on our STEM Teams and helping them achieve ultimate success in this national competition.


Thanks also to Mrs Kylie Martin, Mrs Carla Gagliardi, Mr Shaun Crotty and Mr Mark Robinson for accompanying and supervising our STEM students on this interstate excursion. We really appreciate all of the time, effort and care you collectively provided to ensure that all of our students were safe and enjoyed each and every moment of this special STEM Tour!

We would also like to thank the Royal Australian Navy, the Department of Defence and STEM Hub for sponsoring, organising and running the 2023Nuclear-Powered Submarine Propulsion’ STEM Challenge, in addition to the Western Australia STEM Tour and associated immersive submariner experiences with the Royal Australian Navy.


Congratulations again to Jeffrin, Isabel, Rachel, Sarah, Simone, Fiona, Natalie, Nikan, Ben & Johnathan on winning your respective divisions of the 2023Nuclear-Powered Submarine Propulsion’ STEM Challenge. What an incredible achievement by you all, such a well-deserved reward for your dedication, teamwork and tireless efforts throughout this entire competition. We look forward to following your careers in the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Defence Force or another STEM related field in the not too distant future!