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25 years of Hands-On Science

Friday 17 January 2014 8:06am

Students attending this week’s Hands-On Science programme take part in a Zoology project where they gained first-hand experience dissecting a wallaby.

Students use micropipettes to carry out PCR (polymerase chain reaction) analysis of fly mutants during a Genetics ‘snack’ – a short afternoon activity – earlier this week.

Each summer, Otago opens its doors to senior high school students for Hands-On Science: a week of field exercises, lab testing, and practical learning aimed at encouraging talented young New Zealanders to consider a career in Science. The popular programme is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

This year Hands-On Science saw 240 Year 12 and 13 students receive the devoted attentions of professors, teaching fellows and postgraduate students from across 20 departments and disciplines.

According to convenor Dr Judith Bateup the programme has grown in popularity since its early days.

“In the beginning the camp was struggling to get numbers of students to attend. Now it is over-subscribed with twice as many applicants as places available.”

An estimated 5000 students have taken part in the programme since its inception in 1989. Dr Bateup attributes its continued popularity to its successful formula which combines both learning and fun.

“The students enjoy being with 240 like-minded peers, they enjoy experiencing college life in Arana and being on the lovely Otago campus. During the day they are mentored by dedicated scientists, researchers and teachers and during the evenings there is a programme of fun, social events led by a team of postgraduate science students. At the end of the week, they go back to their families and school community and speak positively about their experiences.”

To help mark this year’s milestone, Emeritus Professor John Tagg, who has been involved with the programme since the beginning, gave a public lecture on Monday evening which was followed by a celebratory event for past and current staff.

Students at this year’s camp were also treated to the first-ever ‘science snacks’ to take place aboard the research vessel Polaris II on Wednesday afternoon. While aboard, students took part in a range of brief scientific research activities from Marine Science, Surveying and Geology.

Dr Bateup says “programmes such as Hands-On Science are essential for the scientific literacy of future generations.”

“I hope that Hands on Science continues – bring on the 50th celebration!”