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Otago science outreach projects to help ‘unlock curious minds’

The Clocktowers clock

Thursday 28 May 2015 3:10pm

The University of Otago will lead three new and innovative projects aimed at engaging New Zealanders, and young people in particular, to learn more about science and technology.

The three projects are among 28 “Unlocking Curious Minds Contestable Fund” grants announced today through the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.

One Otago project involves turning a shipping container into a mobile teaching and research laboratory that visits South Island rural schools.

Another will establish a two-day science camp for primary and intermediate-aged girls.

The third is a project to engage at-risk youth in Otago, Southland and Auckland with science using waka as a travelling science classroom.

The Unlocking Curious Minds fund is a new initiative in response to the Government’s “Science in Society” National Science Challenge. It is being implemented alongside a Participatory Science Platform pilot programme that will create research partnerships between communities and scientists.

The platforms are being piloted in South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago this year. The University is a key partner in the Otago platform, which is being led by the Otago Museum. The other partners in the platform are Ngai Tahu, Otago Polytechnic, the New Zealand International Science Festival, and Dunedin City Council.

Otago project details:

Lab‐in‐a‐box: Taking Science to the Country

Associate Professor Peter Dearden (Biochemistry)


Lab‐in‐a‐Box will deliver exciting, relevant science activities in rural communities. It will transform a 40‐foot shipping container into a mobile teaching and research laboratory and take it to schools to educate and inspire. Lab‐in‐a‐box is a flexible learning and engagement space deliverable to any location and used for almost any purpose. Lab-in-a-box will provide a state-of-the-art science teaching environment transportable to wherever it is needed.

SOL‐SCI: Science camp for primary and intermediate school girls in provincial New Zealand

William Levack (Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington)


This programme involves a two-day science camp for girls, to be held at Solway College in the Wairarapa. The camp with include fun engaging STEM activities, including a trip to Stonehenge Aotearoa for observation of our solar system. Female scientists from the University of Otago will attend and share their work with the girls. Activities include: an introduction to microbiology, forensic science, kitchen chemistry, DNA extraction from strawberries, rocket science, bridge building activities, coding and computers and astronomy.

Hoea te Waka, Piki te Mātau

Sally Carson (NZ Marine Studies Centre)


This project will help youth develop an enduring understanding of and interest in New Zealand’s marine realm through a partnership with communities who have a strong connection with the coast. The common element within three proposed communities is the usage of waka as the vessel to engage youth in order to strengthen their cultural, historical and scientific connection to the ocean. Waka are travelling scientific classrooms that embody culture as well as the science and custom of the ocean.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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