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Biochemistry helps take Lab in a Box to Te Anau

Monday, 18 June 2018 12:44pm

The community in the Te Anau area was treated to a week of scientific insight into water quality recently when Lab in a Box came to town.

Lab in a Box is a shipping container converted into a teaching laboratory. Scientists use the Box to provide children with access to equipment and knowledge they do not normally have in the classroom.

The week of activities was provided Andrew Cridge, a research fellow from the Otago Department of Biochemistry, and Belinda Cridge, Morgayn Read and Stephanie Twaite, all from the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology. It was run to support the Kids Restore the Kepler programme, and was co-ordinated by the Fiordland Conservation Trust.

Photo of children carrying out experiments in Lab in a Box.

Andrew Cridge and children from Te Anau look at creatures collected from a local river.

Children attended from the local Kindergarten and Day Care, Te Anau Primary School, and Mararoa Primary School. Year 7 and 8 students from Fiordland College also came, and a public session on the Saturday morning was very well attended.

There is concern that intensification of farming in the Te Anau area will impact on the water quality of the lake. The Lab in a Box programme highlighted the role of nitrogen fertiliser (and cow urine) in farming practices and how to handle these responsibly to mitigate lake and river pollution.

Visitors to the Lab in a Box used microscopes to identify and observe aquatic invertebrates collected from the Upukerora River.

Participants also used hydrogeology models made out of PVC tubing and a large plastic box filled with either concrete or soil and plants to see how the different types of ground cover affect surface runoff and groundwater recharge. They applied nitrogen fertiliser or coloured water to the models and tried to predict which system would produce the greatest runoff and pollution and to explain why.

The secondary school students also assessed pH and the effects of nitrate on the ability of iron atoms in haemoglobin to carry oxygen.

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Children from Te Anau use a hydrogeology model in Lab in a Box to investigate pollution of waterways.