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2011 Science Camps

2011 Student Group

The Otago University Advanced School Sciences Academy (OUASSA) intake for 2011 comprised 52 potentially high achieving Year 13 students from 32 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.

OUASSA Summer Science Camp

The January residential science camp involved a full programme of science learning consisting of lectures, workshops, projects and elective options. Evening sessions consisted of Science Communication seminars and team building activities.

The projects, and shorter electives, students were involved with included Biochemistry/Genetics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Information Science, Marine Science, Microbiology, Physics, Zoology, Materials Science, and Surveying.

View the Summer Science Camp timetable (PDF, 98 KB).

OUASSA Winter Science Camp

OUASSA's July science camp was held in very challenging conditions as Dunedin wrestled with one of the heaviest snow falls in over 15 years.

Although some students arrival was delayed OUASSA managed to deliver a full programme of science projects and electives. The week's programme ended with a mystery field trip onboard the MV Monarch off Taiaroa Head where students were rewarded with some great wildlife views including low fly-pasts by Royal Albatross.

The final night party embraced the challenges of the week with a Winter White-out theme.

View the Winter Science Camp timetable (PDF, 111 KB).

Student Feedback

"This camp was very enjoyable and informative of the wide range of different fields in science. It allowed me to experience things that I usually would not have the opportunity to and showed me the different options I have in studying science at the university…"

"Its been an amazing experience…"

"It was absolutely brilliant, I enjoyed it so much and it has helped me think and change my thoughts on…science careers in the future."

"Almost perfect. Level of difficulty, extension variety, games and leadership were exceptional."

Science Camp Projects


In this Summer Science Camp project you’ll find out how to isolate and analyse the biomolecules that make you work. You’ll smash open tissues and cells, separate out the different parts of the insides of cells, watch reactions that give you energy and explore the master molecule of it all, DNA!

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 & Programme 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.

Information Science

Join the Information Science Team and we will show you how information systems shape the world we live in. During the Summer Science Camp you’ll see how the useless bits of trivia you freely give up online can be a valuable resource for organisations. We’ll investigate a crime and using some of the latest high-tech computers forensics equipment to find out ‘who dunnit’. And finally, we will take a look at the fascinating area of augmented reality, where the virtual and real worlds collide.

Building upon the concepts from January, we will delve further into the areas of digital forensics and augmented reality during the Winter Science Camp. Students will have the opportunity to get hands-on experience with different digital forensics tools to uncover hidden information. Additionally we will have a look at the Tidy City augmented reality platform developed by colleagues at Fraunhofer FIT in Germany. This platform comprises a game client for mobile devices, along with dedicated authoring tools for creating new game content. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with a prebuilt augmented reality (AR) game scenario to enhance their understanding of the AR technology. Then, in teams, they will be challenged to develop their own content and game scenario for the opposing team to play.

Marine Science: Whelk-come to our world!

Come and study the relationships between the pied oystercatcher, southern clams and the common mud whelk within the local Otago Harbour ecosystem. During this Summer Science Camp project you will learn about animal behaviour, biological clocks, evolution and the genetic code through laboratory work, aquarium and field trips, practical hands on investigations with live animals and dissections (shark, rough skate, crab and cockle) and research. Come on board me hearties!

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 you. 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. 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!

Microbiology: Developing Second Generation Biofuels

All fuels including so called “fossil fuels” are the product of biological chemistry. Dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, increasing demand for fuel, and rapidly increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are combining to precipitate a global humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions. One of the few viable options is to significantly increase our production of biofuels. In the Summer Science Camp module we will explore the role that microorganisms (algae and bacteria) will play in the production of second generation biofuels.

First generation biofuels such as corn derived ethanol or rape derived biodiesel directly compete with human beings for limited supplies of food. Second generation biofuels seek to overcome this limitation either by: using algal biosynthesis to directly capture energy from sunlight, or by using heterotrophic microorganisms to bioconvert waste into fuel. In the Winter Science Camp module we will investigate the bacterial conversion of municipal waste to methane.

Microbiology: Genes & Resistance to Infections

For more than 20 years we have been studying how genes that influence host immunity contribute to either susceptibility or resistance to tuberculosis and paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease) in farmed animals. The goal is to map the critical genes that influence disease resistance so that we can selective breed resistant animals and remove susceptible ones. In this module we will use molecular genetic techniques to look at comparative gene expression levels in selected breeds of farmed deer that display extremes of resistance or susceptibility to infection.

Microbiology: How Extremophiles Live on the Edge

A group of microorganisms known as “extremophiles” thrive under seemingly inhospitable conditions where life would appear to be impossible. Not only are these bacteria of scientific interest in terms of their adaptation to extreme environments but they may also hold the key to how life evolved and extraterrestrial life forms. In the Summer Science Camp module we will investigate how extremophiles have adjusted their metabolism to survive at very high temperature and pH.

In the Winter Science Camp module we will visit a salt lake to investigate how the microorganisms survive at very high salt concentrations.


In the Physics Summer Science Camp project you will learn how to use physics to understand the world around you. We will design and implement experiments to illuminate puzzling phenomena. You will use the skills you are developing in school to analyse everyday situations, and discover which factors are important in these phenomena.

Following on from the groundwork laid during 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.

Zoology: The invaders are here!

All organisms are susceptible to parasitic invasion! During this Summer Science Camp project you will investigate how parasites infect and manipulate the behaviour of a range of marine and freshwater species, identify how they are transmitted through food webs and different host species and consider their impacts on overall ecosystem health.

During this Winter 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.

Science Camp Electives

Clothing and Textile Sciences: Harakeke (New Zealand Flax)

In 1891, the famous NZ botanist William Colenso wrote:

“On my arrival in this country the Māoris (who knew nothing, or very little, of any other land) would often inquire after the vegetable productions of England; and nothing astonished them more than to be told there was no harakeke growing there. On more than one occasion I have heard chiefs say, ‘How is it possible to live there without it?’”

This quote gives us an idea of how fundamental harakeke (New Zealand flax) was to Māori life, and why it is considered a taonga (treasure). Harakeke was used for clothing, containers, ropes, nets, sails and building materials. For example, strips prepared from the leaves were used to weave kete (baskets), and whītau or muka (fibre) extracted from the leaves was used to weave kakahu (cloaks). Kete and kakahu are still woven and used today.

Clothing and textile scientists are interested in harakeke from cultural, historical and scientific perspectives.

In this project you will examine examples of kete and kakahu to understand how they are made. Using laboratory techniques you will also investigate the structure and properties of harakeke leaf and fibre, and consider why some varieties of harakeke are more suitable than others for weaving.


During the Summer Science Camp elective you will analyse some model organisms that geneticists use including the fruit fly (Drosophila). You will also learn about the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and use gel electrophoresis to measure the size of DNA fragments.

In the Winter Science Camp elective you will learn about the use of PCR and short tandem repeats (STRs) in forensic analysis. You will be given DNA samples to analyse and will be asked to solve a murder mystery!


For this project, 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.