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2015 Science Camps

2015 Jan Student Group

In 2015 the Otago University Advanced School Sciences Academy (OUASSA) celebrated its fifth year with 60 potentially high achieving 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.

January Summer Science Camp

During the Summer Science Camp students worked on two, 2-day projects from Chemistry, Maths, Physics, Marine Science, Genetics, Zoology, and Geography.

Students also took part in short electives, which are topics not normally offered in schools, choosing one from Anatomy, 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 harbour wildlife cruise around Taiaroa Head.

View the Summer Science Camp timetable (PDF, 87 KB).

July Winter Science Camp

During the Winter Science Camp students worked on a further two, 2-day projects from Chemistry, Maths, Physics, Anatomy/Physiology, Marine Science, Biochemistry, Zoology, and Geography. They also took part in short electives, choosing one from Anatomy, Surveying, Psychology, Materials Science and Technology, or Pharmacology.

The mornings of the Winter Science Camp, students had the opportunity to speak and ask questions of postgraduate students in Science. The evening sessions involved students preparing for their Science Communication showcases which were held at Otago Museum. The week culminated in OUASSA students communicating science to the public and a formal dinner and prize giving.

View the Winter Science Camp timetable (PDF, 91 KB).

2015 July Student Group

Science Camp Projects

Applied Mathematics

Applied mathematics focuses on studying practical problems from the real world. This year’s theme focuses on producing mathematical models to solve problems related to human health. Before we do that, you’ll be briefly introduced to the general idea of modelling through simple examples and then we will build, solve and interpret one or two complicated models. Computer packages will help us in visualising the results.

During the Winter Science Camp we will look at two different population dynamic models, one from ecology regarding pest control and the other tissue inflammatory response and wound healing. We will also discuss coding theory, cryptography (including real examples), how the Google search engine works and other subjects. If time permits we can also go through any questions you may have regarding material and concepts from your school curriculum.

Biochemistry & Genetics

During this Summer Science Camp elective 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.


Traditional plant dyes will form the basis of an exploration of some key areas of level 3 chemistry. This material will be extended into an investigation about how dyes bind to material. This Summer Science Camp project involves two days of lab work where students will be involved in all of the steps of a typical chemical synthesis, starting with the preparation of indigo (the blue dye used to colour jeans) from simple organic molecules. This will be followed by preparation of dyes from native plants using liquid nitrogen and solvent extraction. The molecules will be characterised using infrared and ultra violet spectroscopy as well as nuclear magnetic resonance. These data will be used to look at the structures of the dyes and how they change during the dying process. In addition, the use of metal ‘mordants’ to bind the dyes to cloth will be used to explore some simple transition metal chemistry including complex formation and redox properties.

Reactions involving electron transfer, such as rusting of iron, are very common. Some of the more impressive reactions involve transfer of electrons that result in the emission of light, for example the ‘blood test’ seen so frequently on TV in programs like CSI. During the 2 days in July students will make some oxalate esters that are used in the Cyalum glow sticks used as emergency and underwater lighting. The organic chemistry behind this synthesis will be explained and the molecules used to examine how the rate of the reaction (how long the glow lasts) depends on some of the variables when they react with hydrogen peroxide. Depending on time, the redox chemistry of black and white photography will also be investigated.


The Geography Summer and Winter Science Camp projects will explore the dynamic and diverse coastline that protects Dunedin from the powerful southern ocean. We will identify, investigate and measure the coastal processes of erosion, deposition and transportation that create the different coastal environments of the Dunedin coastline. This project will involve fieldwork to gain the information required to build a process model outlining the development of a dune system over 12 hours to thousands of years. Through this project you will also learn skills about developing research questions and planning an experiment.

Marine Science: Whelk-come to our world!

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

In 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.


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


In this elective, you will have the opportunity to examine the anatomy of the knee joint, so to understand its function and why it is susceptible to injury in the sporting arena and as we age. We will dissect a deer knee joint and identify the relevant bones, ligaments and associated soft tissues. In addition to exploring the function of these different tissues, we will discuss the various actions of the knee joint, in health and disease.

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.

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.