Genesis Energy
Royal Society of New Zealand

Participant Projects: 2012

View the Participant Projects Archive: Click on the links: (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014)

20 of New Zealand's top secondary school science researchers and technology students have been selected for the 2012 Realise the Dream event. These students were selected from 40 nominations and underwent a two stage rigorous judging procedure.

Realise the Dream will begin in Auckland on Saturday 8 December and finish in Wellington on Saturday 15 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 a full day of activities for them and an evening BBQ. On the 12th t they then travel to Wellington where they are spending a day at Massey University. 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:

Sohail Abdulla, 17, Mount Roskill Grammar School, Auckland


Sohail's project can be classified as a mechatronics project in the true sense of the word as it includes mechanical, electrical and computer technologies. Even as a Year 12 student Sohail's project illustrates the capabilities of a systems integrator design. The project can be considered as a "work in progress", but he has already illustrated an understanding and capability of the engineering research & development process from identifying a need through to testing a prototype.

Sohail has coped very well with the complexity of his project. His excellent "systems thinking" is illustrated by how he has:
- decomposed the system into subsystems (electronics & microcontroller, mechanical, pneumatic) with defined interfaces and expected performances;
- organised the system architecture into hierarchical layers of partially independent components;
- constructed a prototype to stimulate feedback from operators of the system.

Who knows, if the houses in your street will be using the Robotic Window Cleaners in the future!

Nicolette Adamson, 17, Morrinsville College, Waikato


Living on a dairy farm, Nicolette is interested in the health of cows so after talking to the local vet decided to research a method to help predict which cows are more likely to suffer from mastitis. Previous research suggested that the condition of the teat end was a good predictor. She tested this by making observations on all the cows from 4 different herds at 4 points in the milking year (a lot of cows!) and correlated her physical observations with their somatic cell count (an indicator of mastitis).

Nicolette statistically analysed the resulting mountain of data. This revealed that the condition of the teat end was a good indicator of risk of mastitis but varied with cow age and stage in the milking cycle. Her detailed findings are a tool a farmer or vet can use to better target their animal health testing.

Rachel Cottam, 17, Lincoln High School, Canterbury


The welfare of factory farmed pigs is an emotive subject fuelled by recent media reports and documentaries. Rachel, an environmentalist with an interest in farming and animal welfare, investigated whether the upbringing of animals in factory versus free range environments could result in a discernible taste difference.

To measure "upbringing" Rachel researched both normal and abnormal behaviours of pigs to determine a baseline behavioural study. She then spent many hours intensely monitoring small mobs of pigs in a variety of farming situations noting environmental conditions, farm management practices and subject behaviours to determine ethograms for individual pigs in each farming environment. The surprising result of these studies was there was no statistically significant difference between the observed normal patterns of behaviour in each of the populations. Meat from animals in the ethogram studies were then used in blind taste tests in conjunction with a detailed survey of 54 participants. This survey showed no significant preference for meat from either farming method. If verified by a larger sample and/or professional taste testers this research may have considerable potential implications for the New Zealand porcine industry.

Daniel Davis, 14 & Kahurangi Ross Hoskins, 14 Huanui College, Whangarei


Whangarei hospital's cafeteria 'Vibe' serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to the largest 'worker' population in Northland - approximately 1,500 staff and visitors every day of the year. Several years ago the cafeteria moved away from washable plates and cutlery and went on to use disposable products.
Daniel and Kahurangi's investigation looked into what impact the cafeteria was having on the environment and the alternatives that could lessen the impact. They undertook lots of background research looking at the science of landfills and biodegradation, and they surveyed customers and staff on possible waste reduction strategies. Their data showed that 400m3 of waste from the cafeteria is sent to the landfill each year. Half of that waste is polystyrene made from petrochemicals and a further 20% of recyclable plastic is not actually recycled. Also according to their customer survey, nearly all staff were willing to make some change to help the environment.
This investigation has been instrumental in 'Vibe' changing the way it deals with waste resulting in an immediate 50% reduction. The cafeteria has now reverted to washing crockery plates and metal cutlery and has installed recycling bins. These results could encourage other food outlets to do the same!

Jonathan Everett, 14, Whakatane High School, Easter Bay of Plenty


If you are responsible for paying for petrol for your car then perhaps you should take notice of this project! As a Year 9 student, Jonathan has not only illustrated that he understands and can carry out a scientific research project, but the results from his research confirm and re-emphasise an "old" scientific factor that still applies to an estimated 1.8 million cars in New Zealand that could save fuel from today.

Jonathan's research shows it could be expected that 84% of petrol fuelled cars are running on underinflated tyres. This is having a negative impact on fuel efficiency due to higher rolling resistance caused by underinflated tyres. If your car is one of those cars, you could make an estimated saving of $32 per year if you adhere to the car manufacturer's recommended tyre pressure guides. Yes, you could contribute to an estimated saving of almost $52 million on petrol in the country. All you need to do, is Pump it Up!

Kate Gear, 13, Taradale High School, Napier


Bullying through the use of information and communication technologies is often referred to as cyber-bullying and increasingly reported in New Zealand. Kate explored the patterns of cyber-bullying amongst Year 9 students, with the aim of developing resources to support those affected. She surveyed 203 students from two schools, finding that around 70% of the students had taken part in cyber-bullying, though sometimes unintentionally. Peer pressure appeared to be a major influence in this sort of behaviour, and females were more likely than males to be involved. Those who appear to be bullies are sometimes victims themselves, having been pressured into participation by other bullies. Most students would turn to friends or family for help, although approximately 5% would not tell anyone. Kate developed two resources based on these results, one to provide information for parents and family members, and one to encourage students to speak out.
The study provides a snapshot limited to Year 9 students at two provincial co-educational schools. Kate suggests a range of other variables to be explored in a more extensive study. Her recommendations include action at individual, family, school and community levels, so that this faceless danger can be openly acknowledged and dealt with.

Timothy Harker, 17, Onehunga High School, Auckland


Population data for Duvaucel's geckos is scant, because the animals are hard to catch and measure. Tim developed an indirect technique to assess the distribution of sizes in a population. It uses information obtained using baited tracking tunnels where animals cross an ink pad and leave footprints on a blank card. The footprints are measured by computer and the dimensions used to predict size (snout-to-vent length) of each individual. The model was calibrated using a captive population. Footprint area proved to be the best predictor of size, and the method had to automatically discriminate between back and front feet as prints from either or both may be detected. Statistical analysis indicated the reliability of the model was very good indeed.

Tim used his technique to predict size distribution in a wild population on Motuora Island where other gecko species were absent. Previously the bait tunnels could only indicate presence or absence of the geckos and it was hard to assess how many individuals had contributed to the tracks obtained. Tim's technique went far beyond this. It provided a size distribution that could be interpreted to indicate the age structure or the population. In turn this suggested a continued presence of larger/older geckos that were released at the site six years earlier, and are now reproducing. Tim's technique promises to greatly improve monitoring of Duvaucel's geckos on Motuora Island. Future research may identify ways to discriminate the footprints of different species, so the technique can be used in a wide variety of environments.

Lydia Hingston, 18 Queen Margaret College, Wellington


Probiotic foodstuffs are sometimes promoted as having the ability to boost the immune system during or after taking antibiotic medicines. Yet the probiotics are based on bacterial cultures that antibiotics might be expected to kill. Lydia examined the effects of some common antibiotics on four Lactobacillus probiotic species obtained from commercial products. She cultured the Lactobacilli on agar plates and examined their growth around disks supplying either gentamicin, penicillin, or tetracycline antibiotics. Early tests indicated that the cultures were best grown under anaerobic conditions, and for this she had to develop her own technique using readily available materials to substitute for an anaerobic incubator facility.

Lydia found a range of effects of the antibiotics on specific Lactobacillus species, which she explained in terms of bacterial classifications and possible lack of purity of some products. She demonstrated differing combinations where the probiotic is resistant to the antibiotic indicating that taking a probiotic during antibiotic therapy may still be beneficial. She also found some sensitive combinations where taking the probiotic during an antibiotic treatment would not be beneficial. These results demonstrate the possibility that taking this probiotic species after antibiotic treatment could help repopulate the depleted beneficial bacterial population in the body.

Conor King, 17, Mt Roskill Grammar School


BLURB is a functional prototype system designed to detect the presence of a registered "user" and use the data preloaded on a database system to action a variety of responses. For example, in a café situation where there is background music playing the BLURB system would detect all the registered users, investigate their individual music preferences and alter the playlists to suit the majority of customers. Equally, the system can alert an establishment of the presence of someone with a specific health condition so that a safety register can be maintained in case of a medical or other emergency.

Conor investigated a variety of potential detection systems before settling on radio frequency identification tags (RFID) for their very low cost, ease of use and reliability. Users register an RFID on an intuitive graphical user interface registration form entering details they choose to share with different categories of stores or places. A prototype detector panel not only detects the presence of users but gives them feedback via an LCD display. Behind the scenes there is a secure database and BLURB application Connor designed and developed.

An intelligent system to alter the local environment to meet the needs of customers could certainly change how we experience shopping and socialize in the future.

Amber Kirk, 18, Kerikeri High School, Northland


Amber lives on a Northland Dairy farm. Facial Eczema is a major problem particularly during the hot conditions that can prevail during summer and early autumn. Dosing herds with zinc is standard practice to minimise the effect but the treatment is not always effective. Initially Amber conducted numerous titrations to determine zinc levels in the treated water. She realised that the level of zinc was not always consistent so her next step was to investigate the effectiveness of current methods of zinc distribution compared to the levels required to reduce the impact of facial eczema.

Amber spoke to local farmers, worked with the vets and researched zinc concentrations in dairy cows. Her findings suggest that further work needs to be done on the 2 most popular methods of zinc distribution. She also identified that most of the farmers she spoke to were not aware of the impact of too much or too little zinc, it's toxicity, and that it had was not effective if farmers just tossed in random amounts of zinc into the water trough. Amber identified a need for an easy to use kit that could determine if the right level of zinc was present in the water. Over the summer she will be working with LandCorp to examine distribution systems on North Island farms and will also be trialling her test kit to measure its use and effectiveness.

Tzu-Jui Lin, 16, Botany Downs Secondary College, Auckland


When scientists want to work with the DNA and genes, they need to be able to select and look at different parts of the DNA. After sequencing the DNA, a software tool called Msatcommander will display parts of the DNA sequence, usually in an impressively long list of parts called microsatellites. Tzu-Jui has developed a supplementary computer programme that will sort and redisplay the information according to criteria selected by the scientist. Manually sorting through maybe 1000 items (microsatellites) on the list to extract the few dozen of specific interest, could take 2 days but Msatexplorer can now do the job in an hour. This is now being used on a project to protect the endangered Pateke bird.

Hamish McMillan, 18, John McGlashan College, Dunedin


Hamish has a passion for the study of honey bees and he was aware they have a very unusual system of sex determination. If an egg is unfertilised a male bee is hatched from that egg. When eggs are fertilised a "complementary sex determiner" or csd gene comes into play. If the two copies of the csd gene in the fertilised egg have a different DNA sequence, then a female bee hatches. If the the DNA sequence of the two csd gene copies in the fertilised egg is identical, a sterile male or drone bee hatches. Inbreeding, therefore, can lead to a decrease in the number of female worker bees born and an increase in the number of sterile drones which do not contribute to the food-gathering for the hive. Hamish's hypothesis was that the recent arrival of the Varroa mite in the South Island may reduce the diversity of wild bee populations there and reduce the viability of hives through a decrease in the proportion of worker bees born. Hamish suspected managed bee hives would have a lower level of diversity than wild hives and might be maintaining their diversity by interbreeding with wild bees.

To test this hypothesis, Hamish collected 6 bees from each of 21 wild and 16 managed hives, extracted DNA, amplified the DNA using the polymerase chain reaction, and then used a comparatively new technique called melt analysis to determine how many variants of the csd gene occurred in the 6 bees taken from each hive. Hamish found on average 4 different allelic combinations of the csd gene among the 6 bees tested from each hive. This ratio was considered a satisfactory level of diversity to maintain colony health. The diversity level was similar for feral and managed hives. Hamish noted that 6 bees per hive is a small sample and that more expensive DNA sequencing would have been the ideal method for measuring diversity but even so, his results give a good idea of the situation.

George Moon, 17, Burnside High School, Christchurch


Every year the students of Burnside High School must select courses for the following year. The school offers a substantial number of courses, each with a level, teacher and evaluation methods among a lot of other data. This was previously published in a book that took much effort and time to bring together. George has developed a way to rapidly gather this information and published it on the school website, so that it is now easy to select appropriate courses and then apply on line. This is a technology project that is a substantial body of work requiring clear thinking, planning, structure and execution. The most impressive aspects of George's work was his high level of professionalism and his ability to engage with customers in designing the tool. The school used George's system and successfully informed and enrolled students for 2013 thus saving paper, money and time.

Minushika Punchihewa, 16, Palmerston North Girls' High School


Minushika set up an experiment to demonstrate principles of Mendelian inheritance in white clover. For her experiment she studied the inheritance of three traits: a maroon coloured leaf marking (red fleck), a white V-shaped leaf mark pattern, and the production of hydrogen cyanide (cyanogenesis) when a white clover leaf is damaged, thought to be a defence against predators. The red fleck and white V leaf markings are both inherited through a dominant allele in a single gene, while two dominant alleles at two different loci control cyanogenesis. Specifically, a precursor called linamarin and an enzyme called linamarase must both be present or cyanogenesis will not occur.

Minushika first observed 1500 white clover plants to find 10 suitable parent plants with the right combinations of traits for her inheritance study. Using cloned copies of 6 of those parent plants, she then made 7 different crosses between specific pairs of plants. To be sure that pollen from the chosen plants fertilised flowers only according to the predetermined plan, all the pollination was done by hand, with stamens being first removed from flowers to be pollinated and pollen from the chosen parent applied to the emasculated flower. Minushika then harvested and germinated seeds from her hand pollinated plants. She scored those seedlings for presence or absence of the red fleck and white V leaf marks and assayed for linamarin and linamarase, and performed statistical tests to compare observed trait distributions to theoretical expectations. The thinking process required for Minushika to manage her crossing programme was like a complicated game of chess!

Hannah Ng, 18, St Cuthbert's College, Auckland


Myopia (short-sightedness) occurs when the eye is too long for its focusing structures so that light rays converge in front of, rather than on the retina, producing a blurry image. Hannah investigated a recent theory that maintaining clear peripheral vision is important for slowing the progression of myopia. She studied rapidly growing chicks rather than human beings, fitting diffuser lenses over one eye of each to blur their central vision, their peripheral vision or both. The uncovered eyes of each chick were used as controls. After 3 days of these treatments the lenses were removed and she measured the focusing error, corneal curvature and the length of each eye in order to quantify the progression of myopia.

Hannah found that the control eyes without the lenses were not myopic, but all eyes covered by a diffuser lens developed myopia. The degree of myopia was greatest in the eyes where both central and peripheral vision was blurred, followed by the eyes where the central vision was blurred. Myopia development was least, but still significant, where only the peripheral vision was blurred. These results indicate that form deprivation in any part of the retina contributes to myopia development, but unlike previous studies Hannah's suggests that the blurring in the central retina has a much greater effect than in the peripheral region. She goes on to suggest that it is the number of photoreceptors exposed to blurring rather than their location that matters in the development of myopia - an hypothesis now under test at the University of Auckland. Hannah's results have considerable relevance to the question of whether peripheral defocus caused by wearing glasses might accelerate myopia progression in children.

Timothy Richardson, 13, Springbank School, Kerikeri


Tim lives on a farm which has witnessed 3 major flooding events in recent years. As the property has extensive native bush and timber combined with pasture he noticed a difference in the storm water run-off and wondered if the land use influenced the amount of run-off. Tim extended his study to look at a range of land uses from rural, native forest, suburban and the central business district. He measured infiltration rates on volcanic soil under different land uses using a double ring infiltratometer with six replicates at each site. Then he measured the impermeable and permeable areas in one square hectare of each land use using a scale map from Google Earth and a tape measure. Using local meteorological data Tim found the maximum rainfall intensity and calculated the soil water deficit for summer and winter over four years. Finally he made a model to predict how many cubic metres of rain would run-off per hectare of each land use after an hour. This could be used to predict the risk of flooding based on the likely intensity of rainfall.

Kyle Robertson, 16, Palmerston North Boys' High School


Kyle's project demonstrated a fundamental principle of nutrient management that is increasingly exercising Regional Councils and will likely lead to restrictions on cattle grazing outdoors in winter in some areas. In a nutshell, when a cow urinates, there is so much nitrogen (N) deposited in a small area that some of that N is almost certain to be leached through the soil to the groundwater, especially when soil is wet. Loss of N in this way is an undesirable form of pollution. However, demonstrating N loss to groundwater from urine is not so easy because N exists in many forms in the soil and merely finding N in the groundwater does not prove it came from urine.

With some help from scientist advisers, Kyle created miniature "lysimeters" to track water and nutrient movement through columns of soil. He used bromide as a substitute for N. Bromide ions move in soil in a similar way to nitrate, the most easily leached breakdown product of urea, the major N containing compound in urine. When bromide was applied to the lysimeters at concentrations representative of N in urine leaching was high. When applied at concentrations representative of N in fertiliser, leaching was low. Kyle tested different soil types with textures ranging from coarse (sandy) to fine (loamy) and found the leaching problem was worst in the coarse textured soils. Kyle's project helps us to understand why there is growing concern about the impact on the environment of urine deposited by grazing animals.

Robert Tucker, 17, James Hargest College, Invercargill


Pure PVC is a brittle and rigid polymer. For practical applications it is made more flexible by the addition of chemicals known as plasticizers. The most common of these plasticizers is bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, a chemical that could have negative health effects if it is absorbed. Robert conducted experiments on PVC gloves to see if bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate can be leached out of the gloves with a common household and laboratory solvent, and to examine the effects of temperature on any such leaching. He treated samples of gloves with propan-2-ol at various temperatures and then hydrolysed the extracts to precipitate any phthalate salts so they could be dried and weighed. The % of pthalate extracted from the glove material rose from 23% at 30C to about 41% at 65C. These percentages seem high but they are in line with the amounts of plasticizers used to make very flexible PVC.

The conditions of Robert's experiment undoubtedly would have extracted much more of the plasticiser than would leach out from gloves under normal human use. Nevertheless he points out that it remains possible that non-negligible amounts could leach out and come in contact with the users' skin. Robert suggests that his work could be extended to examine the release of plasticiser vapour - a step that would require development of very sensitive laboratory techniques.

James Watson, 17, Burnside High School, Christchurch


Have you got a Rubik's Cube puzzle sitting frustratingly unsolved on a shelf for years? James has the answer for you. James has taken his knowledge of how to solve the cube, translated it to computer code, designed, developed and built a robot (named George) to manipulate the cube guided by his solver code with a 100% success rate. There are existing robotic solutions but what makes James' solution unique is the fact he achieved it largely unassisted and the low budget style he chose. A Popsicle stick tray and a LEGO figurine replace the dexterous artificial fingers of contemporary high budget models.

Translating thought patterns and physical manipulations into a coherent computer code is a remarkable feat. The initial positions of all 26 pieces of the scrambled cube are loaded into a 3D virtual model and a solving sequence of rotations and flips are quickly generated by a Python script on a laptop. This sequence is then loaded onto the microprocessor of the robotic platform which controls the servo for the rotating tray and flipper robot. Typically it takes just a few minutes for George to solve the cube for you.