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2016 Science Camps

2016 Student Group

The Otago University Advanced School Sciences Academy (OUASSA) 2016 intake comprised 58 Year 13 students from 38 rural, lower decile and/or small schools from across New Zealand. The students attended two one-week long science camps held in January and July and were enrolled in OUASSA's year long on-line learning programme.

Science Camp

During the Summer Science Camp students worked on projects from Chemistry, Maths, Physics, Marine Science, Anatomy/Physiology, Genetics, Zoology, Geography, and Sport and Exercise Science. They also took part in short electives choosing one from either Surveying, Psychology, Materials Science and Technology, or Pharmacology.

The students attended morning lectures by researchers from the University and evening seminars in Science Communication, as well as some much needed social and recreational activities. The students even had a chance to go out on a wildlife cruise around Taiaroa Head.

View the Summer Science Camp timetable (PDF, 81 KB).

View the Winter Science Camp timetable (PDF, 81 KB).

Science Camp Projects

Anatomy & Physiology: Control of Movement

In this project you will have the opportunity to learn about how the body moves, and how movement is controlled by the brain. We will start with the knee joint as an example, and explore the normal anatomy and function of this region, as well as delving into what changes occur with age and why structures of the knee may be susceptible to injury. You will dissect a deer knee joint and identify and discuss the function of the relevant bones, ligaments and associated soft tissues. So to explore the detailed (micro-) anatomy of tissues, including nerves, you will learn how to cut and stain tissue sections of a rat knee, and examine these under a microscope.

We will also consider how muscles are controlled by nerves: you will stimulate your own nerves to see what moves, and measure the activity of your own muscles. To examine the ability of your brain to control movement you will carry out research to test a new smart device app which measures your reaction time. Finally, you will get to experience how ultrasound can be used to study muscles and nerves.

Applied Mathematics

Applied mathematics focuses on studying practical problems from the real world. For this project, we will looking at the mathematics of major epidemics. We will simulate, in real-time, the arrival of an anti-biotic resistant strain of bubonic plague in NZ. To do this, we will use computer models and mathematical models, learning how to model how diseases such as the bubonic plague spread and kill… and how they might be controlled. The models require statistics, calculus and computing, and students will be encouraged to collaborate to solve problems.

At the Summer Science Camp we will introduce the basic models and tools, and set the scene for the simulation with some studies of former plagues (and perhaps movies about future plagues). Over the year, we will contribute to a web site detailing the progression and impact of the simulated epidemic. At the Winter Science Camp we will talk about how mathematical tools are actually used to study epidemics, and develop strategies for vaccination and dealing with future outbreaks.

Biochemistry & Genetics

During this Summer Science Camp project you will create your own genetically modified organism by carrying out a DNA cloning experiment in E. coli. This experiment involves gel electrophoresis to measure the size of DNA fragments, using DNA ligase to “glue” different pieces of DNA together and inserting that DNA into a bacterial cell. You will also use dissecting microscopes to analyse and image some model organisms that geneticists use including the fruit fly (drosophila).

Blood is the delivery system of the body. Analysis of blood can tell you a lot about a person’s biochemical and physiological state, and is an important source of information for diagnosis of disease. In this Winter Science Camp project you will design and carry out experiments to look at various molecules in your blood, and see how what you eat or what exercise you do can affect the levels of those molecules in your blood.


When particles get really small (< 100 nm in size) their behaviour changes drastically from the same material that’s in everyday use, so for example suspension of gold particles can appear a dark ruby red colour. During the Summer Science Camp you are going to prepare silver and gold nanoparticles and look at how their colour changes depending on their size and shape. There will be some simple redox chemistry involved in the preparation and you will take spectra of the suspensions to see how the particle properties effect their interaction with light.

We will then look at how the relationship between colour and size can be used to use of nanoparticles ass sensor for biological molecules, in this case dopamine.

Gels (like the jelly we eat at home) contain about 90% water. This property means they can be used to soak up large volumes of liquids like the ones used in nappies or to hold solutions of chemicals such as drugs for cancer treatments. Their big problem though is that they are not very strong and it is easy to break them up. There has been a huge amount of research over the past 30 years or more looking at how chemists can improve the strength of gels to extend their possible uses. In the Winter Science Camp we will look at one way that this can be done. We’ll make an addition polymer from NIPAM and use small nanoparticles of clay to bind to the strands of the polymer and hold the chains together, increasing the strength and elasticity of the gel. The chemistry is based around using alkenes to make polymers combined with intermolecular forces used to hold the clay to the polymer strands, as well as learning some important techniques chemists use to synthesise materials.


The office of a geographer is one without walls, so we will spend lots of time outside during project exploring the Dunedin coastline and probably encountering some sand sausages and sea lions.

We want you to understand how dunes are formed and why they are so important. We want you to learn about how humans have modified the dunes by covering them in really nasty plants and have even attempted to build them out of things other than sand. During camp you will design your own research project to investigate how a dune system changes between summer and winter – just like a real physical geographer.

Marine Science

During this Summer Science Camp project you will learn about animal behaviours, biological clocks, evolution and the genetic code through laboratory work, aquarium and field trips, practical hands on investigations with live animals and dissections. The local Otago harbour ecosystem will provide the focus to launch this learning.

During the Winter Science Camp our focus links the earlier ecology and animal behaviour work to evolution patterns and processes. Through laboratory work, aquarium and field trips, practical hands on investigations with live animals and dissections (shark, rough skate, crab and cockle) we will continue to enquire and explore. The relationships between local representatives of the main marine phyla (some of whom you will have already met!) will provide the focus to advance this learning. Finally, we will collaborate in developing some formal scientific communication.

So join us in southern mud! Marine science is a multidisciplinary and multidimensional world where life abounds and science embarks on thought-filled seeking! We want to challenge you in the world of the immense and the very small, with lashings of salt! Come on board, me hearties! Meet amazing molluscs, weird worms, curious crustaceans and fascinating fish.

Physics & Geophysics

n the Physics Summer Science Camp group we will be investigating oscillations and waves. Oscillations and waves pervade physics from quantum mechanics to applied physics and engineering. This project introduces the theoretical background, some problem solving techniques, and lab experiments dealing with oscillations and waves.

The Winter Science Camp Physics project will look at liquefaction potential in low-lying lands in southern Dunedin and in areas adjacent to Otago Harbour. Liquefaction is a process that has caused much property and infrastructure damage in the recent earthquakes in Canterbury. The flat-lying parts of Dunedin near sea level, like many coastal areas around New Zealand, are at high risk of liquefaction during an earthquake because of the unconsolidated geological substrates found there and the shallow nature of the water table. We will use a range of techniques to assess how liquefaction might affect these parts of Dunedin during an earthquake. About half the time will be employed in field work and half in the laboratory to assess the data collected.

Sport & Exercise Science

Biomechanists, use physics and engineering mechanics to understand how forces influence movement and apply this knowledge to the design of low-drag swimwear or enhanced prosthetic limbs.

In this project we will explore the biomechanics of different running styles using 3D motion analysis and the effect of walking and running speed on energy usage by measuring real time oxygen consumption. We will investigate the effect of different kicking techniques on force production in swimming.


The invaders are here! During this Summer Science Camp project you will explore techniques for monitoring the geographic range and density of a highly successful urban invader. This will include a demonstration of live trapping and the collection and analysis of wax bait stations. You will also investigate anatomical and physiological characters that aid in its success and you will evaluate these characteristics as targets for control and management programmes. Finally you will be assessing various strategies for controlling population growth of this urban invader.

Sea lion science: The challenges of researching and managing a nationally critical native treasure. In this Winter Science Camp project we will explore the biology of the New Zealand Sea lion, learn how to analyse sea lion regurgitation and/or scat to see what they have been eating and explore how science is trying to unravel the reasons for the rapid decline in pup numbers in their subantarctic colonies in recent years. We will also explore the public’s perception of the return to mainland beaches of a species of large mammal which, although regarded by many as big and beautiful, can also be bold and boisterous.

Science Camp Electives

Applied Science: Design for Technology

What is "design"? What is "innovation"? What, then, is "Design for Innovation"? Join staff from the Design for Innovation stream in the Department of Applied Sciences for a Magical Mystery Tour of what is means to "do design" at the University of Otago. Through a presentation of examples and hands-on exercises, we will introduce you to the wonders of Design Science.

Mathematics: Fun with Euclidean Geometry

We will review, i.e. establish and prove some classical problems of Euclidean Geometry. There is no prior knowledge required for this project, just a passion for applying logic and possibly common sense for solving challenging yet full of fun problems. For example, we will estimate the Earth's diameter via some basic methods of Euclidean Geometry; or how to estimate the height of a tall building using your pencil and many more problems like this. We will look at problems involving triangles, polygons and circles and if time permits a problem or two in construction geometry - the way the ancient Greeks did it.

Pharmacology & Toxicology

To ensure that drugs are safe a pharmacologist does a clinical trial to study the effects of a drug. In this elective, you will be the pharmacologist as well as the human guinea pig that takes a cardiovascular drug (e.g., commonly known as a heart drug or a beta blocker). Don’t worry if you are not keen on taking the drug (participation is voluntary) and we need some pharmacologists who act as the placebo group (commonly known as the control and who perform the experiment without taking the drug).

Clinical trials are very important in pharmaceutical research and are a multi-billion dollar process. You never know, but one day you could be prescribed a drug that would have undergone clinical trial testing. Or with scientific training, you could be the person who designed the drug that cures a disease. Pretty awesome when you think about it!


Psychology is the science of behaviour and the mind, exploring the complex way humans (and other animals) interact with the world and each other. In this elective, you will have the opportunity to act as both the experimenter and a participant in psychology experiments. We will also explore how the experiences of animals (and humans) shape their behaviour, and look at some of the equipment that researchers use to study how animals learn through the consequences of their actions.


For this elective, students will be introduced to state of the art survey equipment that allows them to find ‘their place in the world’ in coordinates. In addition, students will be introduced to the use of geographic information systems that allow surveyed coordinates to be converted into a computer-ready database for digital map creation.