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2013 Science Camps

The Otago University Advanced School Sciences Academy (OUASSA) intake for 2013 comprised 52 potentially high achieving Year 13 students from rural, low 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

The 2013 OUASSA summer science camp was blessed with glorious hot summer weather which allowed the students to fully experience much of what Dunedin had to offer during their field trip and free time options.

Students attended morning and evening sessions by prominent guest speakers who outlined the relevance of their own science, shared their individual career paths and offered advice for budding scientists. There were also sessions on the nature and philosophy of science, knowledge building and science communication.

During OUASSA's summer camp students were involved with two 2-day projects. The first set of projects were related to Maths, Physics, Geography, and Zoology. The second set of projects students were involved with were related to Chemistry, Computer Science, Genetics, and Marine Science.

Students also took part in a short elective project related to a topic not normally taught in schools, choosing from Anatomy, Surveying, Psychology, Materials Science and Technology, or Pharmacology.

July Winter Science Camp

During OUASSA's winter camp students were involved with a further two 2-day projects. The first project students were involved with were related to Maths, Physics/Geology, Geography, or Zoology. The second project students were involved with were related to Food Science, Computer Science, Biochemistry, or Marine Science.

Students also took part in a short elective project related to a topic not normally taught in schools, choosing from Anatomy, Surveying, Psychology, Materials Science and Technology, or Pharmacology.

View the Winter Science Camp timetable (PDF, 82 KB).

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.

Chemistry & Food Science

The Summer Science Camp project hosted by Chemistry will explore the chemistry of plant dyes. During two days of lab work you 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 isolation 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 structure of the dye molecules and how they change during the dying process. In addition, the role of metal ‘mordants’ in binding the dyes to fibres will be used to explore some simple transition metal chemistry including complex formation and redox properties.

The Winter Science Camp project hosted by Food Science will focus on developing healthy and flavoursome fruit beverages. During this project, you will learn the steps involved in the production of a fruit drink, starting from product development, through fruit preparation to processing and packaging. On day one, you will prepare the fruit drink and process it to prolong its shelf life using both a conventional heat treatment such as pasteurisation and a new emerging non-thermal processing technology (no heat is involved) called Pulsed Electric Field (PEF). The number of microorganisms in the fruit drinks treated by either of the two food processing technologies will be compared to the numbers in the fresh (unprocessed) drink so as to determine how effective the technologies were in killing micro-organisms which can potentially cause illness or spoil the drink. On day two, the quality of the drinks will be analysed by assessing their vitamin C content, colour stability, total solid content, sugar content and acidity (pH). Finally, we will carry out a sensory test to determine which drink (unprocessed, heat- treated or PEF-treated) consumers prefer.

Computer Science: Build & program your own robots

Robots can do simple things like set movements (maybe dances!), more challenging tasks like solving mazes or obstacle courses, or truly difficult activities like robot soccer. Depending on aptitude and interest either a graphical drag and drop programming environment, or a full-fledged (C-like) programming language is available. This Summer Science Camp project will teach the most basic and fundamental parts of computer science, in a context that provides immediate feedback and plenty of fun!

Once you know the basics of robotics programming, it is time to move on to more challenging tasks. During the Winter Science Camp you will develop a program to attempt a chosen task, using either NXG (the graphical drag and drop programming environment) or NXC (a C-like programming language). Possibilities include solving a maze, line following on a “search and rescue” obstacle course, problem solving on the First Lego League activities mat, or playing two-a-side robot soccer with an infra-red emitting soccer ball.

Geography: Costal Erosion Processes

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 the Summer and Winter Science Camp projects 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.

Physics and 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 Sciences: Design for Technology

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 and 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!


In this elective, you will have the opportunity to act as both the experimenter and a participant in psychology experiments. We will 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.