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2012 Science Camps

2012 Student Group

The Otago University Advanced School Sciences Academy (OUASSA) intake for 2012 comprised 55 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.

The feedback from the OUASSA students was overwhelmingly positive again, with one student stating that OUASSA was "simply a life changing experience that I will cherish and miss".

OUASSA 2012 Summer Science Camp

Students attended morning and evening sessions on the nature and philosophy of science, knowledge building, science communication, social science and marine science. There were also optional session on course and careers advice and health sciences at Otago.

During the Summer Science Camp students were involved with two 2-day projects.

The first project students were involved with were related to Maths, Physics, Marine Science, or Zoology.

The second project students were involved with were related to Chemistry, Computer Science, Genetics/Biochemistry, or Geography.

Students also took part in short elective projects, which are related to topics not normally offered in schools, choosing one from Surveying, Psychology, or Materials Science and Technology.

To complement the science programme there was a full schedule of recreational activities for students from optional morning exercise each day, a Quiz night, Baldwin Street Challenge, Cadbury's tour, Gas Works Museum, team sports, BBQ dinner at St Clair and a final night fancy dress party.

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

OUASSA 2012 Winter Science Camp

During the July camp OUASSA stay at Columba College. Thankfully the heavy snows that caused travel chaos during the 2011 winter camp stayed away.

A full science programme consisting of lectures, workshops, science projects and elective options ran daily. The evening sessions were co-ordinated with the New Zealand International Science Festival and provided students with the opportunity to attend sessions by Sir Ray Avery, visiting NASA Astronaut Stephanie Wilson and Nigel Latta.

Science Camp Projects

Applied Mathematics: Building mathematical models to solve real life problems

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: Exploring the chemistry of plant dyes

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.

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.


The Summer Science Camp Geography project 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. Students on this option will spend a night in accommodation on `Quarantine Island’/Kamau Taurua in the middle of Otago Harbour where there will be a full evening of playful learning based on creative uses of marine knowledge.

In July 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.


In the Physics Summer Science Camp group you will develop expertise in using high speed video to obtain data from everyday physical situations. You will design and implement experiments to discover which factors are important in these phenomena, and use the skills you are developing in school to analyse data obtained from these experiments.

Following on from the groundwork laid in the January Science camp, we will be using high-speed video and hydrophones to detect and study air bubbles created when a drop of water falls on a water surface. These air bubbles are the source of the “plop” sound we hear – the bubbles resonate at frequencies determined by the size of the air bubble. This experiment presents challenges to experimental technique, data collection and analysis, and presentation of results.


The urban invader! 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 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.

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 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.

Clothing and Textile Sciences

Open your cupboard. Maybe you’ve got a rain jacket for tramping, a wetsuit for surfing, a helmet for cycling, snowboarding, horse riding or rugby, gumboots for wet days, a Swanni for cold days, a wind-fleece for windy days, a sun hat for beach days. These are all examples of protective clothing, made using specific textiles with the right protective properties matched to the end use. How are textiles selected for protective clothing?

In this elective you will apply your skills in mathematics, physics, chemistry and scientific observation to determine the properties of a selection of textiles, and using this data recommend the textiles best suited to specific protective clothing applications.


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.


Surveying is the study of precise locations and vertical heights on the surface of the earth and seabed. 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.