Emily Quinn Smyth's enthusiasm for science is contagious and the hearing impaired UTS masters student has her sights set on completing a PhD soon.
This week the 23-year-old Sydney-sider had the ear of several parliamentarians as she made a speech about the lack of scientific vocabulary in Australian sign language, or Auslan.
Emily was 15-months-old when doctors confirmed she was profoundly deaf and two when she received a cochlear implant.
On a field trip with fellow ecology masters students Emily was discussing common communication challenges faced by people who are deaf or hard of hearing, when she had a light bulb moment about how different things would be if she was an Auslan speaker.
"I started looking into whether there are signs for biodiversity, signs for ecology," she said.
"As it turns out there are no signs for those words and literally each letter has to be spelled out, or fingerspelled."
Years ago a perceived lack of Auslan vocabulary in the areas of health and medicine causing difficulties for deaf people and their interpreters prompted the "Medical Signbank Project".
Emily hopes drawing attention to this issue might mean a similar linguistics project could deliver signs for science and make sure communication challenges didn't stand in the way of deaf and hard of people pursing science study.
According to census data, the number of Australians signing at home increased by 124 per cent between 2001 and 2011, with 9720 sign language users recorded nationally in 2011.
Many Auslan speakers prefer to identify as being part of a culturally and linguistically diverse group rather than a person with a disability.
Lauren Reed is a signed language linguist at the Australian National University and native signer of Auslan.
She said Auslan signers are creating new signs and adopting new words all the time such as the sign for President Trump, borrowed from American Sign Language, and the sign for Facebook.
"The fact that there are fewer Auslan signs for scientific and other technical vocabulary is actually symptomatic of the fact that deaf people are under represented in science, and tertiary education more generally," she said. "It is not an indication of a 'deficiency' in the language itself."
Dr. Gabrielle Hodge, a deaf Auslan signer and signed language linguist at University College London, agreed.
She said the barrier was not the limited signs for certain technical terms but the chronic lack of funding for Auslan interpreters and other support needed to achieve equitable access to education from the primary to postgraduate level.
"An effect of this structural inequality is that there are limited opportunities for Auslan to evolve in the communicative domains of science, medicine and the law – we don't see many deaf signers using Auslan in these domains because it's so hard to get there," Dr Hodge said.
Nicole Lawder MLA attended the Power of Speech event breakfast and was impressed by Emily's speech and passion to create positive change.
She said the deaf community were strong and proud advocates of Auslan as their language, however a pitch to expand Auslan need not be viewed as a criticism.
"It is great that Emily has identified the gap there," she said. "If that lead to a new dictionary of science signs that can only be of benefit to future students."