Interview with Bianca Das 

Position: Soil Specialist / Agricultural Systems Modeller 

Organisation: CSIRO 

One-liner: Committed to a healthy planet that nourishes all who live here.

There is currently a huge shift towards data management in science and using it wisely to understand big problems.

The Interview

Is creating a faster method of travel the key to providing food to those in need, or is focusing on efficient and safe forms of agriculture and farming the solution? How do we provide resources and food to those in need?

Grace, Kirwan SHS, Townsville

Great question! It sounds like you might be interested in supply chain management – which is a very important part of delivering food to people before it spoils and making sure there is enough food to go around. It’s hard to say which is more important because that would depend on which people in need you want to help, but I would say we need a combination of locally grown and affordable food options that are accessible to people with less money. However, in terms of bulk production for export overseas, more efficient means of transport and refrigeration (low emissions, energy efficient, good biosecurity) would be helpful for farmers to be more sustainable.

If you were to inspire more female to join STEM, what would be three reasons to why they should consider STEM careers?

Lauren Nguyen, Southport SHS, Gold Coast

1) You will never get bored of what you are doing because there is always something new to learn.

2) You will be able to contribute to society by helping people solve complex problems.

3) You will meet fun and interesting people from all over the world and can travel to exciting places.

What made you decide that the University of Queensland was the best place to continue your studies?

Elsie Maher, Western Cape College

I was lucky enough to get a scholarship for post graduate studies – and Brisbane is a nice city to live in. I have worked and studied at other universities, and they all have their own strengths.

At what age did you decide that what you do as a job now was something you wanted to specialise in?

Elsie Maher, Western Cape College

I was always interested in animals, landscapes, and the weather when I was a child. I knew I wanted to do something that involved environmental science and climate change when I was leaving school at age 18, but it wasn’t until I was 24 that I decided I wanted to work with soil and agriculture. I think I will probably change my specialty again in about 10-15 years! I’m also interested in working in policy making and leadership roles in the future.

Where do you believe the future of science is heading and what potential is there?

Grace, Kirwan SHS, Townsville

Scientists continue to try to solve really big and complex problems that we call “wicked problems.” Examples are climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. They are really difficult to solve because there is also a social or economic component that also needs to be addressed. There is currently a huge shift towards data management in science and using it wisely to understand big problems. There is also a lot of new and interesting work in using genetics and the interactions of those genes with each other and with the person, plant or animal’s environment.

What is the key to preserving the earth, its environments, and its inhabitants?

Grace, Kirwan SHS, Townsville

This is a profound question that I continue to ask myself all the time. I think the important thing to remember is that the answer will depend on 1. the time in history that you ask it, and 2. who you are asking. Recently there has been a lot of research into trying to answer this very question. About 10 years ago, one group in Sweden came up with the concept of planetary boundaries which have been key to human survival in the past. Most scientists currently think that maintaining biodiversity (stopping plants, animals, and insects from going extinct) is the single biggest threat to keeping us all alive. You can read more about it here or watch the youtube video

How are computer simulations making a difference to farmers managing their land?

STEM Girl Power

The team I work with at the CSIRO have been developing an agricultural model called APSIM for the last 40 years or more to better understand what we call “systems-based problems.” It simulates the soil, climate, crop type and genetics, and farmer management to understand what a farmer’s theoretical yield potential is for their fields. We can also use the model to estimate greenhouse gas emissions and fertiliser leaching, and suggest methods to reduce these losses.

How do you work with farmers in Kenya from Brisbane?

STEM Girl Power

I collaborate with an international research organisation called the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Bioversity. They are funded by donors like the Gates Foundation and the World Bank and conduct research in tropical areas in Africa, Asia and South America to improve food security and have connections with local farmers. I was lucky enough to visit Kenya in 2019 to see the field trial, meet the lovely staff and aggregate the data they collected over the last 15 years. I now use zoom to communicate and continue our collaboration.

If everyone in the world could do one thing to help protect the planet, what would it be?

Grace, Kirwan SHS, Townsville

Only use or buy what you need and appreciate what you have.

How can a computer simulator help farmers manage their phosphorus fertiliser?

Grace Johnstone, Moranbah SHS

Phosphorus is a difficult nutrient to manage because when you add it to the soil as a fertiliser it soon gets locked into the soil and becomes unavailable to plants. Using a simulation model allows us to understand how much fertiliser to add to the soil before it all gets locked away by the soil and how other things like crop type, soil type, other fertilisers and climate might slow or speed up how fast it gets locked away.


Kia Ora and hello! My name is Bianca, I’m from Raumati South, New Zealand. I have Bengali, Irish and English heritage, and was raised with a strong understanding of ‘Kaitiakitanga’ or land guardianship in Te Reo Maori.   

My diverse background and strong connection to the land inspired me to build a career around studying soils to feed the world and help farmers protect the environment.   

This has led me to do things like measuring greenhouse gases from dairy pastures, restoring salt damaged soils and reducing fertiliser runoff into our streams and rivers to protect the Great Barrier Reef.   

I am now studying a PhD to help farmers manage their phosphorus fertiliser with a computer simulator in Queensland and Kenya with The University of Queensland and the CSIRO.   

I’ve been living in Queensland for the last nine years and love learning about the beautiful soils and landscape that support incredible plants and animals.   

Recently, I travelled to Antarctica on a program called Homeward Bound with the largest expedition of women in STEMM from all over the world.  

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