Genesis Energy
Royal Society of New Zealand

Participant Projects: 2011

View the Participant Projects Archive: Click on the links: (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014)

19 of New Zealand's top secondary school science researchers and technology students have been selected for the 2011 Realise the Dream event.

These students were selected from 44 nominations and underwent a two stage rigorous judging procedure.

Realise the Dream will begin in Auckland on Saturday 3 December and finish in Wellington on Saturday 10 December. During that time they will be hosted by various science research organisation including the Leigh Marine Research Centre and the Liggins Institute Auckland. The participants will then travel together by coach and stay in Hamilton where they will be hosted by DairyNZ. From there it is overnight in Taupo where they will spend time with Genesis Energy at Tokaanu who have planned an afternoon activity for them and an evening BBQ. On the 8th they then travel to Palmerston North where they are spending an afternoon at Massey University and then travel on to Wellington where they are spending two nights. This event culminates in an award/cocktail function on Friday at Government House.

It is important to note that the project summaries below are purely just that, a small glimpse into what the students have researched or produced. All students have carried out a remarkable amount of research, some over a period of three years.

Students who have been selected from New Zealand are:

Jason Leaming, 14, Kerikeri High School


This investigation was initiated due to a presence in the Northland Region of an increasing number of the large cockroach species Drymaplaneta semivitta. The aim was to investigate essential oils as nontoxic cockroach deterrents. Cockroaches are a health risk because the can carry microbes on the surface of their body from one area to another. Once a cockroach has visited unhygienic areas every surface they touch after that is potentially contaminated. Cockroaches regurgitate food and defecating while feeding. The exoskeleton of a cockroach sheds proteins, eg tropomyosin that can trigger asthma.

Previous research has shown that certain essential oils have a deterrent effect on a range of insects including cockroaches; however none of these studies were specifically conducted on the species of cockroach most prevalent in Northland, Drymaplaneta semivitta.

Six different essential oils were investigated Bay Laurel (Laurus Noblis), Tea tree (Melaleuca sp.), Peppermint (Mentha piperata), Cedarwood (Cedrus atlanica), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), and Cinnamon Leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). A white plastic downpipe was used that had a 3cm slot cut down its length, covered with plastic, to serve as a viewing window. One end of the pipe was covered with clean filter paper. The other end was covered by filter paper that had 3 drops of a selected essential oil on it. A cockroach was dropped into the pipe via a trapdoor closest to the end with the oil. After a 5 minute time interval the distance the cockroach travelled from the essential oil was measured. The top three results and a combination of all three oils from Jason's pipe experiment were verified by a second experiment. He placed small squares of filter paper that were impregnated with the essential oils in each corner of a plastic container. Once the filter paper was in place 8 cockroaches were dropped all at once into the middle of the box and allowed to move freely for 5 minutes. The number of times each square of filter paper was touched by a cockroach was recorded.

Jason's results showed that Tea Tree oil (Melaleuca sp.), was the best deterrent followed closely by Bay Laurel (Laurus Noblis), then Cinnamon leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum).. Combining all three did not make a significant difference. The three oils showed similar effectiveness in deterring cockroaches, therefore all three can be recommended with confidence.

Jason feels that there are many applications of these findings. Companies that make bin liners could develop bin liners that deter cockroaches from people's rubbish bins. Some companies currently market scented bags, however Jason found that these did not deter cockroaches in trials he has conducted but could if the correct active ingredient was used in the right concentrations. Another application could be that oils could be sprayed into the back of appliances where cockroaches are commonly found. Several drops of any of the top three essential oils in the soapy water used for cleaning have the potential to deter cockroaches from kitchen surfaces. Previous research suggests that by using these essential oils you could be deterring other household pests at the same time for example cinnamon oil (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). has been proven to deter ants.

Mitchell Lowe, 14, Napier Boys' High School


Base Isolation is an engineering technique that introduces a layer of low horizontal stiffness between the base and foundation of a building. This layer lowers the natural oscillation frequency of the building meaning that the natural resonance frequency of the base-isolated building will likely be lower than the seismic frequencies typically experienced in an earthquake, and therefore damaging resonance will not occur. Base isolation also acts to deflect the seismic energy away from the structure itself. This project demonstrated how base isolation could reduce damage when model buildings were tested on a shake table. In his small scale models, Mitchell was not able to simulate a rubber/neoprene base isolation system of the type commonly used in buildings but an alternative 'slider isolator' system he fabricated illustrated base isolation very well. The slider has two distinct layers, the top half of the unit is bolted to the base of the structure, whereas, the bottom layer is bolted to the platform of the shake table. The middle has a layer of metal ball bearings, which lie in recessed channels within the slider housing. These ball bearings glide across the channels, providing movement to deflect the energy away from the structure by using the dynamics of the sliding/returning motion. Rods extend from each end of the isolators, with attached bands to provide further damping and allow re-centering during and after the earthquake.

Final testing on a 1200mm high model building comprised two sets of seven 30-second tests, one for the slider base isolated structure and the other, the non-isolated structure. To measure the deflections at the top of the building Mitchell attached a laser pointer to the top floor, with the beam of the pointer moving as the building displaced. Testing was filmed and reviewed to determine the displacement/amplitude of vibration of the building. The error associated with measurement from testing is 1mm.

Mitchell tested the designs on a uniaxial shake table that he built. "Uniaxial" means that the shake table has a single degree of freedom, or movement. The shake table also moves in harmonic motion, meaning that the platform of the table moves at a constant amplitude, constant frequency. The simulated shake had a 0.4g peak ground acceleration. You may be thinking, “but earthquakes don't come from just side to side, in one linear direction.” However, use of uniaxial shake tables to conduct testing is very credible and used in engineering schools at university level.

Test results revealed the mean deflection of the non base isolated structure to be 16mm 2.3mm, compared with the mean deflection of 3mm 2.5mm for the base isolated structure, this is quite a marked difference. In relation to the ultimate limit of drift in structures, which is 2.5% of building height, the base isolated structure only displaced 0.25% of the overall structure height of 1200mm, which is a satisfying result and ideal for building safety.

The judges were impressed by the understanding of engineering principles demonstrated in this project.

Heather Neill, 15, Lincoln High School, Canterbury


Brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) are an introduced pest in New Zealand and are responsible for devastating our native flora and fauna. In addition to the destruction of plants and native birds possums are also the major wildlife host of Bovine Tuberculosis which poses a risk to farmed livestock specifically cattle and deer.

Possum detection devices, which indicate presence or absence of possums, are used to monitor the effectiveness of control activities and to determine if further work is required. Plastic chew cards loaded with peanut butter are being used more and more but are less effective where rodent numbers are high, like on the West Coast of the South Island.

Heather wanted to assess an idea of hers that a specialised chew card might be developed that could deliver poison to possums and kill them humanely, but without interference from rodents or risk to native ground birds (particularly the Weka; Gallirallus australis).

The adaptation Heather used was based on a design concept created by Landcare Research staff. She used a plastic core flute card with a wire spoke through the centre which is attached to a tree so the card can spin and prevent rodents accessing the bait. The wire had additional bends to prevent the card sliding back toward the tree or off the end. Peanut butter was used as a possum attractant.

There were 2 parts to Heather's project:

Spoked chew cards were used in trials on the West Coast to detect possums for directed control (work was carried out where possums were detected). Heather analysed approximately 1000 cards to determine the extent and frequency that these cards were interfered with by other species.

The results of the field trial cards showed that weka only penetrated the plastic on cards that came off the wire (in most cases this was due to cattle pulling cards off ).

Heather also found that Waxeyes (Zosterops lateralis) were pecking at the peanut butter a short distance down the flutes. This needed to be taken into consideration when designing a card with poison within.

Heather set up pen trials with farmed Weka with 3 configurations of Chew cards: Each of three pens was exposed to each of the configurations in turn. A motion detecting camera was used in one of the pens to see the extent of interaction. Weka only managed to penetrate the cards that were on the ground and no penetrating pecks were observed on the spoked cards. From her results Heather concluded that poison could be placed in a correctly set spoked chew card with little risk to Weka provided cattle did not have access to the cards. She developed a design of a poison card which would also minimise the risk to waxeyes. Heather's findings for the best setup for spoked chew cards have been adopted by the Animal Health Board and this is currently being included in the Best Practice where rodents are a problem. The next step is to calculate the amount of poison required and assess if delivering poison to possums via chewcards is likely to result in aversion to chew cards.

Anne-Sophie Page, 14, St Hilda's Collegiate, Dunedin


Anne-Sophie walks her dog along the shores of Otago Harbour where mud whelks (Cominella glandiformis) live. Some days she sees hundreds of them, often piled up over a dead cockle and some days she struggles to find even one. The more she observes about these animals and the environment in which they live, the more questions she has.

In 2009, Anne-Sophie's science fair investigation showed that whelks travel up to 3 metres to get their food. In 2010 her science fair investigations showed that whelks were attracted to the closest food, and showed little preference for cockle over fish. This year she investigated the home range of these whelks to see whether they were always on the move or whether they had a home territory. She investigated methods to mark the whelks, then carried out a mark and recapture experiment in the field to determine if they remain in the same area over time. As their movement seemed to be related to temperature, she also conducted a laboratory experiment to measure their rate of movement at three temperatures within their normal range.

Pastel crayon proved to be a suitable option to mark whelks because it was brightly coloured, easy to administer and lasted for at least a two week period in seawater but was not permanent. 213 whelks were collected from two metre squared quadrats, marked and then released back into the same area. This area was sampled again at 24, 48, 72 hours and again after 7 days. The number of marked whelks in the both quadrats decreased significantly after 24 hours with only 24% and 27% of marked whelks found. After 48 hours only 10% and 8% of marked whelks remained. After a week the percentage of marked Whelks found remained the same.

Anne-Sophie's investigation showed that the marked whelks moved out of the measured area (1m radius) to a distance of at least 5.2 m and other unmarked whelks moved in to the area. Those results support her hypothesis that Mud Whelks do not seem to remain in the same area over time. She would have like to have extended the experiment for at least a few more weeks but due to snow and tide levels she was unable to do so. Temperature seemed to have a large impact on the number of Whelks attracted to the food.

In the laboratory, Anne-Sophie set up 3 different trails to investigate if water temperature affects the rate of movement of Mud Whelks towards their food. She used 3 different temperatures that was in their habitual range (13C, 8C and 6C). The 13 and 8 degree trails did not show much difference in the rate of movement of the whelks towards their food, but there was a dramatic decrease in the rate of movement between 8 and 6 degree trials. The movement of the whelks decreased dramatically as the temperature dropped, confirming that temperature plays a big part in their level of activity.

Alvina Pau'uvale, 18, Tamaki College


Kauri trees are native and iconic to New Zealand having a lot of cultural significance to our country. A pathogen known as Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA) has recently been identified as the cause of a disease called Kauri die-back. This pathogen affects the kauri by entering through the root system where they travel vertically, restricting the flow of water within the tree. This pathogen has both oospores and zoospores, which travel through soil water and are responsible for the spread of the disease. Symptoms include canopy thinning, foliage yellowing, obvious collar gummosis (gum leaking out from the lower trunk) and eventually tree death.

“Kauri Killer on the Loose,” is a study of factors contributing to PTA transmission. There has always been speculation that humans were a contributing factor in the transmission of this disease from infected areas to new areas, but as far as Alvina was aware no studies aimed at confirming this had been done.. Within the Waitakere Ranges, Auckland Council has set foot-wash grates containing TriGene disinfectant solution at the entry and exits of main tracks, where people clean their footwear and so a build up of contaminated soil is collected. Laboratory culture of samples from these foot-wash grates identified the presence of viable and active Phytophthora species in this soil, the the PTA strain was not detected, perhaps because it is more sensitive to TriGene than some other strains. Hence, the foot-wash grates could be a possible source of inoculum. PTA may even have been re-deposited into the forest from the foot-wash grates, causing further spread of disease.

Alvina also investigated the effect of a higher concentration of TriGene (disinfectant) on these other Phytophthora species. Kill plate experiments showed the higher concentrations of TriGene were able to suppress the growth of these other Phytophthora species. However, these tests were carried out in laboratory conditions and need to be carried out on site as well.

Auckland City Council is currently using results from this research to evaluate the management of PTA in infected forests. Access during the winter season to tracks with heavily infected trees, the concentration of TriGene used in spray bottles and the disposal of contaminated soil from the grates are being reviewed. This research is believed to be the first in New Zealand of its kind to be done within the wet weather seasons on the transmission of these Phytophthora species.

Charlotte Robertson, 17, Palmerston North Girls' High School


Water quality is a huge issue globally. Many waterways in New Zealand are affected by excessive nutrient levels due to leaching or discharge from nearby land. Nitrogen is a major nutrient pollutant. In 2004, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment stated that “ ... once nitrogen is leached to the environment there is no effective way to remove it - it is simply too late, and the consequences must be dealt with.” However, Charlotte's observations of the relative clarity of pools and streams which contain watercress suggested to her that if desirable plants such as watercress could be put in a waterway, they may adsorb nutrients that would otherwise contribute to poor water quality. Watercress is a luxury feeder which means it is able to take up more nutrients than it needs to survive. Charlotte designed this project to determine whether using watercress to absorb excess nutrients could provide a solution to reducing the impact of nutrient pollution in waterways.

Charlotte aimed to determine how much nitrate the plants can take up from hydroponic solution over a ten-week period. (This is an expansion on her Silver CREST project carried out in 2010 that studied the effect of watercress on growth of algal populations).

She carried out two experiments: a four-week pilot or feasibility study, and a ten-week main trial. The results from the main experiment were used to quantify the amount of nitrate taken up by the watercress plants on average. Two hundred watercress plants were germinated from seed; seedlings were transferred from propagation blocks to a glasshouse hydroponic set up. The seedlings were grown in a nitrogen-rich solution of known composition which was recharged as the plants extracted nitrogen. Each week, ten plants were selected at random, destructively sampled and total plant (dry) mass was recorded. The plant matter was then ground and samples sent for total nitrogen analysis.

Dry mass results showed that watercress grew exponentially forl approximately six to eight weeks, and growth then slowed. Nitrate uptake paralleled this trend. The nitrogen content of the watercress leaves was 4 - 7 % of total dry mass. This confirmed that watercress is able to store very high levels of nitrogen (it is a luxury feeder). Charlotte also found that most of the total nitrogen was stored in the plants' leaves.

Charlotte made the following suggestions about practical implications of her project for managing many of New For example:

  1. Watercress could be grown in farm streams and tributaries to nutrient-rich waterways such as the Manawatu River where the leaching begins.
  2. Watercress could also be used as a salad vegetable and a potential market for farmers or local communities using this mitigation strategy.
Future research should consider the fate of nitrogen once watercress dies; whether more nitrogen would be removed from water if the leaves were harvested during the growing season; understanding interactions amongst watercress and other aquatic plants and algae in relation to nutrient stripping potential; and quantifying nitrogen and phosphorous uptake in varying flow volumes and nutrient contents that reflect natural environmental processes. Some of this work is planned for summer 2012, as part of a BAYERBoost scholarship project she has designed.

Adrina Venayagam, 14, Tawa College


The aim of Adrina's research was to find out whether smokers have a bigger or smaller lung capacity compared to non smokers and if so why?

Adrina was interested in how smoking affects lung function of the human body and why people continue to smoke despite the numerous anti-smoking messages. She became particularly interested in how the lungs are affected after she saw an advertisement on television which encouraged people to stop smoking. Subsequently she wanted to know what would be the damage to a smoker's lungs if they kept smoking.

Adrina's hypothesis was that smokers are likely to have a smaller lung capacity compared to non smokers because the tar and chemicals in tobacco are likely to damage air passages and air sacs. She formed this hypothesis after reading about all the damaging chemicals known to be in tobacco smoke and because of the very delicate, soft nature of lung tissues, air tubes and air sacs.

All participants were asked to sign a consent form. The outline of her project and survey was explained to each one and her expectation of them. She asked each participant their age, height and whether or not they had any respiratory issues. They were then asked to take three vital and three tidal breaths into a peak flow meter using disposable mouth pieces. The results and readings were recorded and then the data was analysed. Adrina measured the air flow rates for tidal and vital breaths of smokers and non smokers. A tidal breath is a normal breath we take everyday and a vital breath is a very deep breath you take and blow out. Both vital and tidal breaths were sampled because Adrina wanted to find out whether smoking affected how much air a person can hold in their lungs and if smoking affected day to day breathing.

In total 20 smokers and 20 non-smokers were surveyed. Adrina used a New Zealand Asthma peak flow reading chart for interpreting her findings. Vital scores for smokers were onaverage 18% lower than for non smokers. 60% of non-smokers were in the green category but only 25% of smokers were in the green category. 10% of smokers were in the danger category where as 0% of non-smokers in the danger category. Tidal scores of smokers were on average 35% lower than non-smokers. It is clear that there is a significant difference between smokers and non-smokers in general lung capacity, as proposed in Adrina's initial hypothesis. Adrina thinks that this project would be very useful to people who smoke as they can see how smoking affects breathing. She also thinks that this project would be useful because it helps support the plan from the Government to make New Zealand a smoke free country by 2025.

Cheyaanthan Haran, 18, Wellington College


Diabetes is a serious medical condition in which the body fails to make enough insulin to control blood sugar levels within the normal range. In Type I diabetes the pancreas does not make insulin. In Type II diabetes, often associated with obesity, the pancreas makes insufficient insulin. Over 200,000 New Zealanders currently have either Type I or Type II diabetes and the situation has been described as an 'epidemic'. Cheyaanthan wanted to investigate diabetes. He was aware that among the village people of the Tamil culture, it is often said that eating Ponni Rice reduces diabetes.

Therefore, he devised an experiment to put this idea to the test. A volunteer was asked to consume one cup of Long White Rice (cheap rice easily found at the supermarket) every day for 30 days, and blood glucose was tested daily. The volunteer was then asked to switch to Ponni Rice (white in colour and widely cultivated in India) and to consume the same amount for the same period. During 30 days eating Long White Rice, blood glucose level varied from as low as 4.6 to as high as 7.2 mmol per litre and averaged 6.1 mmol per litre. During the following 30 days eating Ponni Rice, blood glucose averaged 5.6 mmol per litre. This reduction of blood glucose of 0.5 mmol per litre was statistically significant, with analysis showing less than one chance in 100 of day-to-day variation being responsible for the same fall in average blood glucose score.

The judges were impressed that blood glucose had been sampled over an extended period of time in order to arrive at a stable average blood glucose level. For a shorter test, there would have been a danger of day-to-day variation affecting the results, but with a longer test, this danger was overcome. The judges also noted the thought given by Cheyaanthan in his report to controlling variables other than the type of rice eaten during the trial, but caution that since only one subject was tested, the possibility of some unknown factor reducing the blood glucose in the second 30 day period can not be ruled out. Therefore the findings are provisional until confirmed in a larger study.

Cheyaanthan's research has the potential to have a huge impact on the New Zealand health system. Currently a diabetic patient generates 2.5 times the hospital costs of a person without diabetes, and that indirect costs are as much again. So if these findings can be confirmed and patients can adapt to and learn to control their diabetic condition (by consuming Ponni Rice, or other foods with a potential to reduce blood glucose) without requiring help, then this could reduce expenditure in this area and release funds into other important areas, such as cancer treatment or reducing incidence of obesity.

Conor King, 16, Mt Roskill Grammar School


Over the past year Conor has been developing an electronic time keeping device named Hourglass. Hourglass has a three-fold focus on functionality, intuitive design and simplicity.

To simplify the device he has limited the hardware to a bare minimum. Just three buttons and an LCD screen comprise the user-interface. Although this interface is simple, the user can access many features. These include intuitive scrolling menus, countdown, lap and alarm functions, accessed through button combinations as well as multiple ways to use single buttons, such as holding or short pressing.

Many functions have been integrated into the device, such as a stopwatch with lap times, a countdown, up to 99 Custom Alarms with an individual active/inactive state and a lock/unlock feature. The stopwatch is accurate to 1 second and can be started, stopped, reset and used to record lap times. When laps have been recorded, the user can then take the time value of a lap and turn it into a countdown. A countdown of up to 99 hours can be set, and will run until deactivated or until it reaches zero. Upon reaching zero the alarm is activated. The home screen displays the time, any active countdown and notifies the user if an alarm is active. It can be locked or unlocked by holding the blue button a set period of time, helping to reduce any inadvertent change in setting..

All of the functions available can be operated easily with the intuitive 3 button interface method. The menu system is simple, but has been set up through clever coding. An arrow indicated which option is selected, by pressing the top button on the clock the option above the current selection is selected/the menu scrolls up. Pressing the bottom button selects the next option in the downward direction/scrolls down. The button in the centre positioned off to the left is used to activate an option. When a Yes or No prompt appears on the screen, the action corresponds with the button position. Therefore the triangle layout of the buttons is simple and intuitive.

Thus Conor's device relies on complicated, yet elegantly formulated and annotated code and simple hardware interfaces to interact with the user in a way which is intuitive and provides great functionality. It does this while being simple and easy to understand. Here these principles are applied to a clock project, but there are implications for good design that go way beyond this context.

Dan Collins, 18, Aquinas College, Tauranga


A quad rotor is a flying device which utilises four propellers to create vertical thrust. Dan's project has included both the construction of the hardware, and the design of the flight computer used to stabilise the device. The flight computer takes readings from a sensor called an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and processes them in a loop which outputs the thrust vectors needed to keep the craft hovering. The project is piloted from an application he has programmed on an android phone, and accepts a throttle slider and the tilt of the smart phone to control the thrust, pitch and roll of the craft.

The project consists of the quad rotor, a base station, and the android app. The base station is simply a gateway device converting the bluetooth link from the android into the 433MHz long range radio used by the quad rotor. This was needed because the bluetooth can only work over a few meters, while the long range radio link can work over a couple of hundred meters.

The way the quad rotor flies means it doesn't actually need yaw control, as it can fly in any direction. By controlling the thrust of the four motors separately, it is possible to tilt the craft in any direction. A tilt will result in the craft flying in that direction until the pilot tilts the smart phone back to flat. The pilot will also have a throttle slider to control the altitude of the craft (it's thrust controlled rather than altitude controlled at this stage). All of the stabilisation is done onboard the craft through the use of an ARM Cortex M3 microcontroller running an embedded operating system called ChibiOS. The flight computer takes input from the android smart phone, and converts it into the four thrust vectors. It does this through the use of a proportional, integral differential (PID) loop. This loop allows the processor to calculate the error between the current position and the set point. The android app adjusts the set point, and the craft moves until the error is zero. This loop is run many times a second allowing the craft to have a smooth flight, and yet react to sudden changes quickly.

Future improvements will include mounting a camera to the craft so a live video stream can be sent to the android app to allow the user to pilot the craft out of sight. Another improvement will be a transition from bluetooth communication with the base station to a USB backpack. This will make the system more compact, and eliminate the need for bluetooth (which drains the android battery quickly).

Logan Glasson, 15, Burnside High School, Christchurch


The Department of Conservation (DOC) alone spends $5 million on pest trapping in New Zealand every year. DOC are only one player in the pest trapping industry. Landcare Research, farmers and private conservation estate owners also have a vested interest in this area. There are traps designed to catch possums, stoats, ferrets and rats. Effective and efficient trapping is vital to the preservation of New Zealand's native bird life. This and personal experience is the motivation for Logan's project.

In 2008 Logan made a Pest Trap Monitor. It demonstrated the concept of having traps relay their "status" (whether or not the trap must be visited and reset) all the way along a trap line to a base unit. With his knowledge at the time the best system he came up with was a hard wired model. This had obvious limitations regarding wiring, the linear nature of the algorithm and reliability in the case of a flat battery or malfunction. Following this project Logan actually met with the DOC electronics expert, Stu Cockburn, and they had a lengthy discussion. They too had thought of this idea but had not developed it because of perceived difficulties including the need for wireless transmission in dense bush settings, low power consumption, and compatibility with standard DOC field equipment. Ideally traps should also communicate with any nearby trap and not just pass messages along a line of traps in a fixed order.

Logan's Mesh Monitoring Pest Trap Management system addresses many of these issues. He has developed a wireless system that fits into existing traps and communicates a trap's "status" in a mesh-like way (the paths used to communicate between traps self-adapts according to the geometry of the trap layout in the field). The project has involved hardware and software development. The hardware is controlled by an Atmel Tiny microcontroller. This is a far more powerful and suitable chip than the PICAXE he used in 2008. Logan has designed the layout and made the circuits himself. The software he wrote for communication suits the many and diverse field situations that arise in New Zealand. It could be used in a linear way up a track or in a grid like fashion on a river flat. The person wanting to check traps will only need to connect with a portable field unit to any trap then read off which traps they need to visit. The traps can be numbered so as to know exactly which traps need to be cleared and reset and which can be passed by. The potential for time saving by DOC staff is enormous.

As with any technological development there have been obstacles to overcome and areas to refine. The system seems to work reliably at the moment and he looks forward to doing some field tests. There are several aspects that he would like time to further develop. Improvements could yet be made with better aerial technology, better oscillators, and use of bluetooth connectivity or even GPS integration. Through this project Logan has learnt not only about technical aspects to do with hardware and software (radio protocols, meshing systems, algorithms) but also to keep an open mind and recognise that sometimes a change of approach is needed. He has also learnt time management. He is very proud to bring to you his Mesh Monitoring Pest Trap Management system.

Meran Campbell-Hood, 14, Logan Park High School, Dunedin


Meran's investigation detected the presence of minerals in plant growth media through the statistical analysis of photos of plant leaves.

In 2009 Meran grew plants in a mineral solution and in water, photographed the leaves, and wrote a computer script that calculated the average colour of each leaf. She found there was a measurable difference in average colour between the groups. In 2010 she used a similar experiment to see if different minerals produced different colour signatures. Meran found that plants grown in solutions with copper sulphate added exhibited significant differences from plants grown with ferrous sulphate added.

This year, she explored whether her technique of colour comparison would work with plants grown in soil, as the soil might act as a masking agent. If growing plants in soil prevented detecting differences, testing the technique in the field would be pointless.

Meran grew mustard in seed trays filled with potting mix. One set of trays received filtered water, one got filtered water plus copper sulphate, and one iron sulphate. The only differences in the growing conditions of the trays were additives. After the initial growth period she began regularly photographing each seed tray, and analysed the photos. She used an image editing program to remove the parts of the photo that were not plants. Once she had a set of plant only pictures, she used a computer script to extract the colour of each plant pixel and store the red/green/blue data that made up the colour of each pixel. This reflects that the camera captures colour by combining the colours of red, green, and blue sensors. By the end of the study period she had around 8.5 million points of data. Meran used a form of multivariate statistics called principal component analysis to "collapse" the red, green and blue values for each pixel into a single score that best distinguished between leaves from plants exposed to different minerals. She used Hotelling's T2 tests to directly compare photos taken on the same day for each trial group. Meran found that there were statistically significant differences between the samples. These differences were present on every day that she measured. Although the actual colour differences were small, the large sample sizes meant that the differences were statistically significant.

Meran also conducted a principle component analysis to look at how the colour relationships between the plant sample groups varied over time. In this way she established that when the plants were mature the differences become larger, and remained so through the life of the plants.

Having established that soil does not act as a masking agent, she intends to see if the technique holds for different kinds of plants, and conduct field trials of the technique.

Nicola Kerr, 17, Kerikeri High School


Figs have become an expanding industry here in New Zealand and are a current export fruit which could potentially provide a large amount of profit to both growers and the New Zealand market as a whole. Nicola's family has about 10 acres of fig trees. They sell the figs locally and as an export. They generally sell for about $13 per kilogram here in New Zealand and $26 in the USA. However, figs only have a shelf life of about 7 days. This is because at present there is no proven pre or post-harvest treatment or method of storage that helps to decrease the rate of decay of the fig fruit. After researching post-harvest treatments for figs, Nicola found a report which claimed to have developed treatments that increased the shelf life of figs by about 5 weeks. With this kind of increase, it would be possible to transport, store and export figs over longer periods of time without running the risk of losing large amounts of produce, or delivering unsatisfactory fruit to customers.

Nicola developed 7 different post-harvest treatments based on the ones that had shown promise in earlier research. These were hot-water baths of different temperatures, both with and without different bleach concentrations. To test these on the fruit she set up four experiments - a dry matter test, a firmness test (using a penetrometer), a colour test and observation of detrimental features of the fig. She tested these treatments at 0, 7, 14, 21 and 28 days from harvest.

Nicola found that after 7 days, the firmness of all of the figs that had been treated had decreased to a large degree. The only figs that did not have a massive decrease were the untreated fruit. However after about 14 days, the firmness of all of the fruit became about the same and after this 14 day mark, she would not have considered any of the figs to be edible. However, in the appearance tests, it seemed that the treated figs that had the least amount of mould and rot were the ones that had been treated with higher levels of bleach such as the 55 degree Celsius water bath with 0.003L of bleach to every litre of water, and the 35 degree Celsius water bath with the same concentration of bleach.

Overall, Nicola's results showed that the hot water bath, and hot water bath and bleach post-harvest treatments did not slow the decay of the fruit in the earlier weeks after picking. In effect, Nicola's research showed that the information she had relied on to help plan her study had claimed too much and that the treatments were less effective than had been stated. More research will be needed to find a more reliable way to improve the shelf life of figs.

Nina Huang, 17, Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland


A research paper published in 1964 by Hess and Polt of the University of Chicago indicated that pupil size can respond to mental activity. Based on this earlier research, Nina expected that pupil size would increase when a subject is carrying out cognitive tasks, but non-cognitive tasks would not affect pupil size, and she set up an experiment to confirm this. Her specific research questions were: What is the difference in pupil sizes between subjects solving mathematics questions and subjects reading sentences at 30 cm and 300 cm? Does writing, as a motor action, affect the pupil size for solving mathematics addition problems at 30 centimetres? What is the relationship between the 'normal' writing distance and reduction in visual acuity of individuals? What does this imply about the effect of cognitive and non-cognitive tasks on pupil size?

In the experiment, the eyes of forty-six Year 7 girls, aged 11 to 12 years-old, were photographed while they solved mathematics equations and read simple sentences at near and far distances to determine their different pupil sizes. Average pupil sizes were derived for each task to compare the pupil sizes. Thus, the effect of these tasks on pupil size via the neural pathways and accommodation of the eye can be determined. Furthermore, by measuring the students' habitual or 'normal' writing distance and visual acuity, further observations were made about the effect of cognitive and non-cognitive tasks on pupil size.

Nina concluded that cognitive tasks decrease pupil size whereas non-cognitive tasks increase it. Solving mathematics addition questions orally and on paper led to smaller pupil sizes than reading sentences at both distances: at 30 cm, the average pupil size for mathematics (while writing) was 0.9 0.1 mm smaller than in reading. The average pupil size at 300 cm for mathematics is 0.7 0.1 mm smaller than reading. Solving mathematics questions orally resulted in an average pupil size 1.5 0.1 mm smaller than solving them while writing. Thus, writing appears to increase pupil size.

Lastly, a short normal writing distance (approximately 10 cm) may be positively correlated with increased mental concentration, a reduction in visual acuity (VA) and smaller pupil sizes. A reduction in visual acuity may show cognitive tasks reduce pupil size However, because the results were scattered, definite conclusions for this section could not be made: An individual with a normal writing distance of 10 cm, had a reduction of 15 letters in visual acuity (VA), while another individual at 9 cm, showed no reduction in VA.
A reduction in VA had pupil sizes ranging from 2.1 mm to 5.5 mm
No reduction in VA had pupil sizes ranging from 2.3 mm to 5.4 mm

Overall, Nina's results did show a link between pupil size and mental activity - but contrary to the earlier University of Chicago research, cognitive tasks decreased pupil size. This raises questions about the possible influence of factors such as stress on the subjects tested in that earlier study. Clearly, there is potential for further research in this area.

Shreya Handa, 18, Mt Roskill College, Auckland


Parabens are found in a range of cosmetic products including underarm deodorants, shampoos and creams. They are a family of alkyl esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid and the ones most commonly found in different pharmaceuticals are methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, and propylparaben. Studies carried out In vitro and In vivo have shown parabens to mimic estrogen, in estrogen responsive and estrogen unresponsive cell lines and have been found to be responsible for the growth of breast cancer cells. Parabens act as estrogen and endocrine disruptors by binding to estrogen receptors on cells. They also increase expression of genes regulated by estradoil (a form of estrogen) and these genes cause breast tumour cells to grow and multiply in cellular studies.

Shreya wanted to investigate whether paraben increased the growth of melanoma skin cancer cells considering the continuous application of cosmetics (that contain paraben) on human skin. She chose to use methylparaben and butylparaben, the two extreme parabens with one carbon and four carbons respectively. The cell line that she chose in this investigation was not known to be estrogen responsive or un-responsive, and controversy still exists around whether or not parabens always mimic estrogen. For this reason, she also carried out a separate trial to see if the cell line was responsive to estrogen. She used a cell viability assay to determine the effect of methylparaben and butylparaben on the growth of the melanoma skin cancer cells.

There were several parts to this investigation. The first part involved trypsinising the cells to detach them from the culture dish so that they can be re-suspended and counted. Then the cells were counted and calculations were carried out so that the correct number of cells were placed in each well of the 96 well plate (this ensured they didn't die before the assay was completed). The third step involved putting the cells into the 96-well plate and allowing them to attach overnight. The next day the paraben (methylparaben and butylparaben) were added to the cells at different concentrations. The last step was the addition of the cell viability dye 24, 48 or 72 hours after the addition of the drug, so that the cell absorbance could be read on the Eliza plate reader 4 hours later. Also, the trials were sometimes carried out in different serum conditions ranging from serum free to 0.5% serum, to see if they grew better (serum is a growth factor).

The results showed no significant overall affect of butylparaben, methylparaben or estrogen on the growth of the melanoma cancer cells. There was a slightly inhibitory effect in some trials and a possible growth curve was observed in some other trials. No overall trend could be attributed to the effects of methylparaben or butylparaben on the growth of the melanoma skin cancer cells. However, it was noticed that when high concentrations (20 mol/L to 100 mol/L) of butylparaben were added to the cells, the cell viability was reduced significantly in several trials.

The study could have been taken further by adding these parabens to the cell culture in combination with each other (this is how they are found in most cosmetics) and also investigating the effects of propylparaben and ethylparaben on the growth of the melanoma cancer cells.

Sophie Burling 16, Kerikeri High School


Sophie decided to undertake an investigation into the concentrations of iodine in various horse feed products and supplements, in order to estimate the actual amounts of iodine that people may be feeding their horses on a daily basis. Iodine is a trace element and hence can be harmful in excess, as well as in deficiency. Uniquely for iodine, the symptoms for each are the same. Because of this Sophie believes that out of ignorance many horse owners could be misinterpreting symptoms, and could be treating for deficiency when actually toxicosis was present. This could be a significant problem because of the iodine rich feeds that are often included in the diet of the modern day horse. Iodine has a major effect on reproduction, growth and performance, with many undesirable consequences arising as a result of any imbalance.

Sophie is a competitive show-jumper and therefore deals with breeding mares, growing young-stock and performance horses on a daily basis, making the undertaking of this investigation very relevant and interesting to her.

In her contact with both small and large scale breeding operations, Sophie observed a trend that she believes is iodine related. She noticed that many breeding mares, both imported and New Zealand bred, had mild cases of Goitre. Attempts were made to treat the mares by the feeding of a dried kelp supplement, however this did not clear the condition. Because of its mild appearance and apparent lack of visible side effects in the adult horse, often not much more attention is paid to iodine imbalance. Some of the foals born to these mares have to receive surgery at a very young age in order to correct contracted tendons and other small leg deformities.

It is accepted within the breeding industry that there is a fairly high mortality rate of lost foals due to still births, and death within the first few days of life as well as euthanasia as a result of untreatable deformities. However, Sophie believes that iodine imbalance could be a major contributor towards the high numbers of foal deformities and high mortality rates that plague the performance breeding industry.

Sophie developed a series of chemical reactions and titrations to determine the iodine content of common horse feeds and supplements. Her results confirmed her suspicions that iodine is commonly fed in too high a concentration and as a result horses are likely to suffer from iodine toxicosis.

Sophie believes there is great potential for research and dissemination of knowledge in order to raise awareness within the equine industry. There is also application within human medicine, as an increased understanding on how these elements affect biological processes is important in both furthering treatments and managing diet for better health.

Heidi Haringa, 18, Gisborne Girls' High School


Hormosira banksii, commonly known as Neptune's Necklace is a seaweed found in many coastal locations along rocky shores in the Gisborne region. It is an autotrophic plant, typically found in abundance in the mid-tidal zones. In these zones, the plant will receive much light and enough seawater to avoid desiccation. The bead of the plant is a knobbly bladder that stores water to prevent desiccation of the plant between tides. Having observed changes in shape and distribution of the plant along the rock flat, Heidi recognised these changes are likely related to tidal cycles. She set out to investigate whether time of exposure to air and direct sunlight due to tidal cycles affects the growth, distribution and morphology of the seaweed Hormosira banksii.

To determine the areas of exposure, a suitable rocky shore was selected with a sufficient gradient. At low tide, Heidi placed a length of string across the rock flat. At each half hour interval, she measured the distance between the new shore-line and a landmark to form the sampling sites for the hours of exposure to air and direct sunlight following low tide. On consecutive days, four quadrats were placed at each site, environmental factors were measured and samples were collected from each quadrat.

The results showed that different exposure times of the seaweed to air and direct sunlight across the intertidal zone affect the growth, distribution and morphology of Neptune's Necklace. The number of beads in the fronds is longest with 2 hours of exposure following low tide. Length of tidal exposure also affects the distribution as the greatest number of plants is found in the mid-tidal zone. Tidal exposure time also affects the morphology as bead diameter continually gets larger with longer exposures to air and direct sunlight. Hence, the abiotic factor controlling the morphology and distribution of Neptune's Necklace is the exposure time to air and direct sunlight. Optimum conditions lie within the mid-tidal zone. Towards the extremes of Neptune's Necklace tolerance, plants do not thrive due to lengthy submergence in water hence very little exposure or at the upper limit, plants endure long exposure to air and direct sunlight, so plants are limited due to desiccation.

A difficulty Heidi overcame when carrying out this investigation was to compensate for lunar variance. Her plan was to sample exactly between spring and neap tides, seeing that this is the most typical periods of tidal levels. Due to time constraints and unfavourable weather predicted, she was forced to conduct the investigation a day earlier than anticipated.

Seaweeds such as Neptune's Necklace are found to act as "effective bio-monitors" of pollution in the sea." Further study could be conducted to investigate levels of pollution in the sea. Environmental pollution may become more critical in the East Coast region with the proposed exploration of oil fields in future. With current situations such as Rena, this could thus trigger further research on seaweed such as Neptune's Necklace to investigate the extent of damage due to pollution.

Hayley Haskell, 14, St Peter's School, Waikato


Hayley's project involved the study of how the size of water waves is affected by the energy used to generate them and how height of waves are affected by the depth of the water. The real world relevance of studying water waves and their energy is:

  1. Ocean waves are a potential source of renewable energy to New Zealand.
  2. Tsunamis are generated by the energy transferred from strong earthquakes. Therefore understanding the energy transfer helps predicting the size of Tsunamis.
Hayley built a wave tank that was 2m long with a clear Perspex side panel so that she could undertake the wave testing. The water waves were produced using a wooden flap that rotated on a hinge and the energy was transferred from the flap to the water using a spring to pull the flap.

The spring's elasticity was calculated by performing some tests on the spring this gave Hayley the spring's constant (k). She performed tests measuring the height of the water waves with the spring at 3 different stretch settings (minimum, medium and maximum). Also for each of the 3 spring settings she rotated the flap back and released it at angles of 5 , 10 , 15 and up to 45.

Hayley used trigonometry to calculate the stretch of the spring as the flap was pulled back for each of the angles. Using Hooke's law for springs (E= kx2, x is the stretch of the spring) she was able to calculate the energy transferred from the wooden flap to generate the water waves. The height of the waves that were produced was measured by placing a strip of paper down the side of the tank for each test and then after generating the wave she measured the water mark on the paper. Hayley found that there was clear mathematical relationship between the energy transferred from the flap to the wave height. This relationship was that the height of the waves squared was proportional to the energy used to generate the waves.

She also performed the same tests at 3 different water depths and found that the waves produced were higher when the water in the wave tank was more shallow. The same effect happens on beaches when waves increase in size near the beach, she says that this called 'shoaling'.

Jackson Hercus, 17, James Hargest College, Invercargill


The Dropski was a project that began out of necessity. Jack's family and friends all enjoy a typical kiwi day on the lake boating and water skiing but they all have one problem in common. When a water skier is progressing from skiing on two skis to skiing on one ski, they drop a ski leaving it floating in the water. This floating ski is barely visible, difficult to find, and a potential hazard to other boaties. After hours of searching for water skis that have been left floating in the water, Jack decided that it was time to do something to solve the issue. After researching registered patents and products available online, he found that there was nothing available to buy that was both effective at solving the problem and user friendly.

After some initial concepts, the design Jack decided on for further development involved a hinged flag that would pop up when the ski was dropped. His first prototype was kept simple to test the theory of his design and also the construction methods and materials that he had chosen. After evaluating this prototype, Jack made some refinements to it and produced a design for his next prototype. This prototype is mounted on a home-made water ski to test his mechanism; it was also improved by using lighter materials. The testing of this prototype was successful; the ski performed well and the flag was visible when the ski flipped over after being dropped. Jack is currently in the process of improving the design even further prior to commercialisation.