Genesis Energy
Royal Society of New Zealand

Participant Projects: 2013

View the Participant Projects Archive: Click on the links: (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014)

20 of New Zealand's top secondary school science researchers and technology students have been selected for the 2013 Realise the Dream event. These students were selected from 42 nominations and underwent a two stage rigorous judging procedure.

Realise the Dream will begin in Auckland on Sunday 8 December and finish in Wellington on Saturday 14 December. During that time they will be hosted by various science research organisations including the Liggins Institute Auckland and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare The participants will then travel together by coach and go to Huntly where they will be hosted by Genesis Energy for the day and then onto Hamilton where they will be hosted by DairyNZ. From there it is overnight in Palmerston North where AgResearch have a range of activities planned for the participants. On the 12th they travel to Wellington where they are spending time at NIWA. 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, 18, Mount Roskill Grammar School, Auckland


The aim of this project is to eliminate the need for Sohailís client to strain his muscles while cleaning house windows high up on a ladder by building a robot to automatically clean the windows for him. Sohail kept the option open of developing his robot to clean high rise buildings as he has found that many lives have been lost due to high rise maintenance accidents. He started this project by drawing up a few concepts and then decided on the most viable one.

Through lots of research online Sohail managed to source suitable parts within his budget to build the robot. He then went onto drawing up his design using Google Sketch Up (a free 3D design software) after which he constructed the first prototype. Sohailís first prototype successfully climbed a 900 metre window and was able to spray it with water but there were major issues with this model that limited its reliability, efficiency and effectiveness. To address these issues he began working on version 2 of his robot in which he has made significant changes and improvements that bring his robot one step closer to development for high rise buildings.

The biggest issue with the first prototype was its reliability while climbing which was limited because of its large size and weight. To solve this problem Sohail decided to split the device into two separate units. One is a cleaning unit which sticks to the window and does the cleaning and the other is a control panel unit which houses all of the passive components that are not required for the movement of the robot. This design has also improved the robots reliability while climbing and cleaning and has made the device more portable. The control panel is now equipped with gauges to monitor pressure and vacuum levels in the system and a graphics LCD display on which the robot displays a real-time progress map of the window it is cleaning. This map is a scaled down drawing of the window the robot is cleaning and the area that has been cleaned is shaded on this map to give the user an active update of the robots cleaning progress.

Sohail has also added ultrasonic distance sensors for non-contact window edge detection and the speed of the robot is now 4 times faster than the first prototype as he has installed faster motors. The electronics of his system is controlled by the Atmega128 microcontroller which he has upgraded from the Atmega32 as it provides additional input/output ports as well as more flash storage memory.

To program the robot Sohail has used BASCOM-AVR. To improve the cleaning efficiency of his robot he has built a new dual-squeegee design that more effectively cleans the window. Overall these significant improvements have addressed the issues of reliability, speed, size and weight and have made Sohailís robot more intelligent. These added key features take his robot one step closer to development for high-rise buildings.

Sohail is very satisfied with this prototype but he wishes to develop it further and his next major step is developing a mechanism for my robot to climb from one window to the next.

Clara Autet, 18, Kerikeri High School


Working as a blueberry picker and packer during the summer, Clara became interested in the chemical and nutritional value of berries, and possible ways of preserving them. She was interested to see whether freezing would affect the chemical and physical properties of blueberries. If it did not, this would mean that blueberries could be exported, transported and stored over much longer periods of time, both commercially and domestically, facilitating the blueberry industry in New Zealand and overseas. The second issue Clara also wanted to investigate was to evaluate the effect of time frozen on the four factors. She was wondering if the length of time the blueberries were frozen would also affect them differently.

Clara carried out multiple tests to investigate the effects of freezing and time frozen on blueberries, and in particular the Vitamin C concentration, sugar levels, acidity, and firmness of the berries and water content. She believed that the blueberries that would have been frozen for the longest time would have the smallest concentration of Vitamin C because time and the freezing process would degrade the Vitamin C and that the fresh blueberries would have the highest Vitamin C content. She did not think the sugar and acidity levels would change. She thought the firmness of the blueberry would be greatly diminished by the freezing process. She undertook several tests with collaboration from the local Plant and Food Research Centre.

Clara performed a titration to determine change in Vitamin C, used a pH meter to measure the change in acidity of my different samples, used a digital refractometer to measure sugar levels (BRIX), used a manual penetrometer to determine the change in firmness of the blueberries, and compared fresh and thawed blueberry weights with the dried weights of the fruit to obtain water percentage. She also tested for the presence of iodate to resolve an issue it created in the Vitamin C concentration calculations.

Freezing did not affect the concentration of Vitamin C in blueberries, as error bars cancelled any variation. Small levels of iodate were present, affecting the Vitamin C in the tests, and this was taken into account in her calculations. Freezing did not affect the acidity or sugar levels of the berries. The only significant change caused by freezing was the force needed to squeeze one blueberry: the firmness was greatly reduced.

The firmness of the blueberry is greatly affected by the freezing process, as its cell walls had burst, reducing the structural support of the fruit, and creating a much squishier blueberry. Despite this physical variation, freezing remains a great way to preserve the goodness of blueberries. This allows the berries, to provide a wide range of nutrients essential for the body to be stored for long periods of time, whether in commercial or individual domestic freezers.

Feeling re-energised, and helping keep the winter bugs away is now as easy as having a blueberry smoothie. You can now freeze blueberries in summer to beat the winter blues.

Meran Campbell-Hood, 15, Logan Park High School


The aim of Meran’s research was to find out whether determining mineral differences in soil by photographic measurement of grass colour was possible under natural light and weather conditions.

Sodium selenate was used in the experiment as it is easily absorbed by plants and is commercially available. It was specifically the selenium that was of interest, as New Zealand soils tend to be very selenium deficient and this can lead to poor health in cattle unless they are fed selenium supplements.

Due to the natural setting of the experiment weather and light conditions could not be controlled. However, the goal of the experiment was to identify, using statistics, the colour changes caused by the selenium among any effects caused by environmental conditions. All samples were exposed to the same environment, so any differences caused should consistent among the samples.

The experiment was conducted over 80 days, with sodium selenate applied to three 4x1m plots at concentrations of 500, 50 and 0 (control) parts per million. During this time, hourly photographs of the samples were taken – the camera looked down on the grass from a high angle so that roughly the same amount of each piece of grass was in the picture. Photographs were taken before and after treatment with sodium selenate in order to determine whether the treatment caused an immediate colour change.

Some samples had to be discarded due to issues such as sunstrike on the camera lens and snowfall (which covered the sample grass), but there was enough overall data that the reliability of the statistics was not affected.
Data was extracted from the images using a Python script that identified the sample areas, converted the pixels into numbers and saved this data into a new file. This was then fed into an R script that was used to get the numbers for hue, saturation and value and to perform statistical analyses on the data.

In some cases, there were strong shadows on the lawn. Meran dealt with such shadowing by using clustering algorithms to categorise the pixels by how bright they were and then splitting data into two groups based on its brightness.

Comparison of data from before and after sodium selenate treatment showed that a statistically significant (p < 0.05) change in plant colour occurred after treatment. These changes were apparent in all variables measured. Clustering analysis also identified differences between the sample plots with no prior knowledge of selenium concentrations.

As analysis from pictures taken by fixed-location DSLR cameras can be used to determine colour differences in grass), the next step would be to take pictures from different angles and see if similar analysis is possible. This would determine whether or not the camera has to remain static in order to detect colour difference. Should the camera be able to be moved, this technique could be used for analysis from ad hoc locations, and thus would be more useful for field research.

Bailey Dawbin, 14, Craighead Diocesan School, Timaru


Bailey chose to research the ideal pen grip with the aim to test speed, neatness and commonness allowing her results to establish an optimum grip. A secondary purpose was to prove her Mother wrong as she had continually tried, unsuccessfully, to get Bailey to change her own grip.

With controlled variables in place Bailey tested her target group by photographing each participants grip, testing their speed when writing "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" continuously for 30 seconds and then assessing the neatness of their output. From this research Bailey established there were seven prominent grips, some of which were quite unusual. Her findings were presented in graph form which clearly highlighted that the tripod grip was the overall leader. The only difficulty Bailey encountered during her investigations was finding a successful method to collect the data. After setting up a booth with a sign hoping to entice students to come and participate she had no takers. A change of tact meant going to her target audience and visiting classrooms directly.

Her final conclusion saw the traditional tripod grip came out on top. Information gained through her preliminary research and coupled with Bailey’s own experience it was clear that once a pen grip habit is established it is extremely hard to change.
Although the final results were not consistent with Bailey’s hypothesis and even more concerning they were conclusive of the grip her Mother had been promoting, she feels the results definitely have taken her beyond her original project aims.

The realisation that science is not all about proving things right but is also about the knowledge you gain by proving yourself wrong. Her thinking had been expanded by the final outcome and thoughts moved towards ways of implementing her findings into early learning institutions.

Bailey thinks that although her topic was different she felt it was relevant and interactive, she saw it connect with people and make them want to learn more about it.

Rhys Duncan, 15, St Peterís School, Cambridge


Air quality is characterised by contaminants including fine particles, known as particulates. Particulates can range from diameters of 0.0001 μm to 1000 μm and are extremely harmful to humans as they can be small enough to cause severe damage to respiratory health. PM10 is a measurement of all particulate 10 μm in diameter or smaller and is the most widely used air quality indicator.
Rhys has developed an inexpensive ambient air sampling system to monitor the PM10 concentration in his home town of Te Aroha. There are many organisations that monitor air quality in New Zealand, with the Waikato Regional Council operating an on-going programme in towns across the Waikato, however, monitoring has not yet been carried out in Te Aroha. The aim of Rhys’s project was to investigate whether or not Te Aroha currently has an air quality issue.
Rhys carried out his investigation during a 6-week period in the winter months and collected a total of ten samples over three locations within Te Aroha. He was able to network with Hill Laboratories in Hamilton who supplied the delicate membrane filters and provided the before and after filter masses. The measurement technique used by Rhys was based on a gravimetric analysis method accepted by the Ministry for the Environment and allowed him to calculate average particulate concentrations.
Rhys’s sampling results and analysis indicated that Te Aroha does not have a significant air quality issue. Rhys also compared his findings to other towns and cities and concluded that the average 24-hour particulate concentration in Te Aroha is lower than that of other towns in the Waikato, and also the cities of Hamilton and Christchurch. Geographic and climate considerations largely explained the observed similarities and differences.
The Waikato Regional Council plans to begin air quality monitoring in Te Aroha in 2015 - Rhys is interested to see how the results of his investigation compare with this future data!

Jonathan Everett, 15, Whakatane High School


Jonathan has designed and built an automatic gear change system for his bike, and to also include a manual gear change option. This came about from discussions he had with a number of competitive and recreational cyclists. He identified a need for an automatic system that was not too expensive.

Jonathan wanted the bike gears to adjust in response to a change in pedal cadence (rpm). He designed the system and bought the necessary components: arduino micro computer card, servos, switches and a hall effect sensor. He learned how to control the servos from the arduino board and also learnt to send and receive signals from the other components. Jonathan removed the springs and the cables from the two derailleur’s so that they could be controlled directly by servos. He attached a servo to the bike frame with a specially made bracket and connected it to the front derailleur with a wire rod. He attached a special bracket to the rear derailleur so that it could move with it as the chain length expanded and contracted. He connected the servo and the derailleur with another wire rod so that he could control its position.

By experimentation Jonathan calibrated the servo positions required to move the gears up and down. He worked out the order he needed to change the gears in terms of front and rear gear combinations.

He set his bike up on an indoor trainer so that he could develop and test his system. Firstly he programmed the arduino to move the derailleurs in response to push-buttons. He attached a hall effect sensor to the frame and magnets to a pedal and used the pulses to calculate pedal rpm. He wrote code so that when the rpm dropped the bike automatically moved into the next hardest gear, and when the rpm increased it moved into the next easiest gear.

Jonathan got two competitive cyclists to test-ride it. They gave him some useful feedback which he incorporated into his system. He then attached the components to the bike and rode it on the road!

Zoe Glentworth, 13, Palmerston North Girlsí High School


For the last two years Zoe has been researching the insecticidal properties of kawakawa. She has developed a commercially successful kawakawa insect repellent in the form of a balm, which is available online and in stores around New Zealand. Zoe has a partnership with the Herb Farm, who she is continuing to work with to develop kawakawa products.
Kawakawa, a native to New Zealand, also known as the pepper tree and Macropiper excelsum contains lignans which carry insecticidal properties. Looper caterpillars are the only known insect to have developed an immunity to these properties. They are responsible for the many holes often found in kawakawa leaves. Kawakawa is also known for its healing and curing properties.
Research for this project was based on the Māori use of kawakawa. The Māori used to chew the kawakawa leaves and rub them on their skin as an insect repellent. Liaison with Tanenuiaraingi Manawatu Incorporated (Mandated Iwi Authority) has been valuable.

Zoe’s product aims to provide an alternative to insect repellents containing harmful chemicals like DEET- short for dimethyltoluamide. DEET is an active ingredient found in many insect repellents and is known to strip paint, pollute waterways and has well documented side effects - such as headaches and fatigue. This knowledge challenged Zoe to make an insect repellent that was effective, natural and good for your skin at the same time.

As part of research development Zoe investigated both steam and hydro distillation to extract the volatile compounds. Kawakawa condensate was mixed into different sprays using combinations of kawakawa, eucalyptus and geranium condensates. Eucalyptus and geranium also have natural insecticidal properties. The most effective spray was the kawakawa and eucalyptus. But it was not as effective as Zoe’s original kawakawa balm.

Another challenge was that the spray was too runny; it was hard to apply evenly and dripped off. The solution was to increase its viscosity by adding glycerol. This made the spray into a roll-on. The roll-on results were better than the spray. The flies stayed for an average of 6.4 seconds, but more flies landed- Once again not as effective as the balm.

To improve these results, with the assistance of Lynn Kirkland at the Herb Farm, Zoe developed a cream. The kawakawa cream was made using 3 emulsifiers and 3 different extraction methods – hydro distillation, ethanol tincture and oil infusion. The cream was made to see if the three combined extraction methods would bring out the volatile compounds that were needed to repel the insects. The results showed the same amount of flies landing on the participant’s skin as the balm but the flies stayed on for an average of 12.06 seconds. This was 6 times longer, indicating that the cream, was less effective than the balm.

Zoe’s investigation shows that all the kawakawa products were repelling, but the kawakawa balm was the most effective showing that, the oil infusion extraction, used to make the balm, produced the best results. The oil soluble insect repelling volatile compounds in kawakawa were most effective, when extracted by oil infusion as opposed to distillation or alcohol tincture. With these new findings Zoe will continue to investigate kawakawa’s insecticidal properties and develop her insect repellent products with the Herb Farm.

David Jagoutz, 14, James Hargest College, Invercargill


Many people die each year from hypothermia, a case in which the body’s temperature is below the regular amount needed for metabolism and normal body functions, and if not treated quickly enough, will cause death. Hypothermia can occur anywhere that is cold, but mostly in outdoor sporting situations. When people are out in groups, a person may embarrassed to admit that they are holding up the group, so David’s aim for his project was to design and construct a prototype of a device which tells your companions how close a person is to hypothermia through 10 LEDs programmed to look like a thermometer.

Listed below are the main parts of the process that David completed:

• David designed and 3D printed a body/housing for the LEDs through concepts and selection processes.
• Prototyped the electronic circuitry.
• Programmed a microcontroller using C++ (a common programming language) to calibrate a thermistor, map its output to a visual LED representation and average the data to smooth the output and reduce erratic variables.
• Produced pre-production engineering drawings - orthographic, isometric and sectional views. All of which would be needed to take the product into production.
• Tested the design.
• Sought professional opinion and evaluation from a professional engineer and a surgeon.

Melanie Jones, 17, Kerikeri High School


Melanie lives in the Bay of Islands and noticed that coastal erosion had become a problem, threatening roads, homes and trees along beaches in the area. She founded the Long Beach CoastCare group which, over the past three years, has planted over a thousand Spinifex plants (a native dune binder that prevents coastal erosion) along Long Beach in Russell. However, she found that Spinifex is under threat from the introduced kikuyu grass which grows vigorously and smothers Spinifex as well as forming a dense mat that doesn’t move with the dynamic dune, causing its collapse and leading to coastal erosion. Melanie found that existing methods of kikuyu control are not entirely suitable for the beach environment and through observations, hypothesised that concentrated saline solutions had potential to kill kikuyu while not harming Spinifex, so her aim was to investigate their use as a means of organic weed control on coastal dunes.

She first established that a 10% salt solution is sufficient to kill kikuyu while not harming Spinifex and then investigated why Spinifex was unaffected by calculating the percentage of chloride in the leaves of both plants when applied with the solution. Melanie found that the leaf-curling adaptations of Spinifex meant that it did not absorb the chloride in the spray and hence could tolerate the solution, while kikuyu absorbed it and died. She then investigated ways of making saline solutions more practical by minimising the number of sprays and found that 2 applications of 15% spray could achieve 100% plant death in kikuyu without affecting Spinifex.

Melanie then trialled this at the beach, spraying the 15% solution on the established kikuyu plants that were smothering the Spinifex and found the results very promising, with three sprays of 15% solution proving effective in supressing the growth of kikuyu, while Spinifex and another native dune binder, Pingao, were unaffected. She then developed a way to utilise seawater to make the 15% saline solution by calculating the chloride in both seawater and 15% solution to work out how much ordinary table salt needs to be added to every litre of seawater to make it a 15% solution. This means that a 15% solution can be easily and cheaply prepared at the beach.

Other groups in Northland are also trialling Melanie’s 15% saline solution prepared from seawater for controlling kikuyu on coastal dunes with very positive results and it is proving to be a cost-effective, convenient, safe and effective solution to the problem of kikuyu on coastal dunes.

Carena Lai, 17, Diocesan School for Girls’ Auckland


After having watched a documentary on homeopathic medicine, Carena was inspired to look into the antimicrobial properties of wood. She thought if these natural properties could be used in alternative medicine, then perhaps it could be extended for use in the food industry. Therefore, she decided to test these properties in relation to their application on chopping boards.

After extensive trial procedures, Carena managed to narrow down her testing boards to five different types of wood: pine, cedar, beech, white oak and massa. These boards were chosen from prior research by leading scientists. Since Carena wanted to test the antimicrobial properties of wood, she investigated the inhibiting effect on E. coli survival on the surface of the different boards over a 3 hour period. She began with two aims – firstly, to test if there were any antimicrobial properties, and secondly, to see if there was a presence for these properties and which wood proved to be the best at inhibiting E.coli survival. Carena hypothesised that pine wood would have the highest inhibiting effect, as suggested from literary precedent.

To test this hypothesis, Carena performed 5 trials on each board, each by inoculating the boards in E.coli. Then samples would be taken at the interval of: 0, 15, 30, 45, 60, 120 and180 minutes using sterilised agar on top of microscope slides through the contact process. The sterile agar slides were then placed in an incubator for 48 hours, and after which, Carena counted the number of visible bacteria colonies. From this data, she concluded that all the woods showed some antimicrobial effect, but none were significantly different to each other. These results show promise for future consideration in the food industry, as perhaps, antimicrobial properties of appliances can be used to reduce the incidence of food poisoning.

Dana Lambert, 14, John Paul II High School, Greymouth


The aim of the experiment was to test the strength of a spider’s silk thread for small and large spiders to see which would make a stronger thread. Dana was also interested in the different structures of webs so she decided to test two spider families that constructed different webs to see if there was a difference. The hypothesis was to test whether larger spiders produce stronger spider silk thread than smaller spiders.

Five spiders ranging in size from each of the two following families were captured weighed and placed in labelled containers:

5 Orb web spiders Araneidae
5 Grey House spiders Desidae

Spider silk thread was attained from each spider by gently encouraging the spider to drop off the end of a stick by its silk thread back into its container. The silk thread was then grabbed at each end by the assistance of a second person and a light plastic pouch was carefully taped to one end of the thread. Water was then slowly added to the pouch by pipette until the silk thread broke. The pouch with the water then dropped into an already weighed container. The weighed container that caught the pouch and the water were then weighed to determine the mass held by the strand to get the strength of the spider silk. Five replicates were carried out for each spider and an average calculated for each spider.

Based on the results, the hypothesis is correct. Comparison of the silk thread strength between the largest spider and the smallest spider showed the larger spider definitely has a stronger thread.
While the experiment showed that larger spiders have stronger silk thread, the experiment also compared the silk thread strength of two species of spider. When comparing the two species it is clear that the Orbweb spider had a stronger silk thread than the Grey House spider, this may be due to techniques used to build their web.

Jared Lee, 18, Onslow College, Wellington


Jared investigated the interactions between a jet of water and a soap film. Two very distinct patterns form in this phenomenon, the first is where the jet of water will enter into the soap film but not escape it, and this causes the jet to bounce between the layers of the bubble forming a wave like shape.

The second pattern is where the jet penetrates the film at an angle, and passes through both layers of the film, the film then pulls up on the jet which causes it to exit at a different angle to which it entered. This "deflection" pattern was the focus of Jared's project and through thorough experimental methods he derived a mathematical equation to accurately predict the angle at which the jet will exit the film based on the physical principle of surface tension.

This experimental project allowed a substantial amount of learning and experience for Jared in the field of applied physics. In the future Jared hopes to improve his model to be stronger and more widely applicable to see potential use in liquid jet machines such as 3D printers or water jet mills.

Tzu-Jui Lin, 17, Botany Downs College, Howick


Many schools in New Zealand have Athletics Day and/or other sports events such as Swimming Sports. These events not only require a lot of preparation ahead of the date, but also require recording and storing of complicated data. Traditionally at Botany Downs Secondary College this was done through an extremely large Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with everyone’s names and used to track the competitive and non-competitive results of participants. This process is cumbersome, error prone and extremely time consuming as it required searching for each student individually and entering their result. It was found that these entries could take up to one minute each to complete!

Tzu-Jui has worked with his teachers on Athletics Day in 2013 to understand the issues with the current method in order to design a robust and fast management system which would manage the results for each student for any sporting event that can handle the huge amount of data that is generated on that day. This resulted in a system that could be used for any sporting event that is simple to set up and cuts the entry time down by more than 70%. The system has successfully completed small scale trials and is pending large scale use on the next sporting event.

Lily Mason-McKay, 17, Wellington High School


Lily wanted to know why a ball can levitate in a tilted air stream. She was asked to solve this problem earlier this year for a physics tournament and she became increasingly fascinated by it. At first this problem looked easy. She did a google search and found numerous articles explaining that this levitation was simply due to a principle called the Bernoulli principle. However, as she continued researching, Lily found that none of these articles actually had enough evidence to support their theory (and most of the articles gave no evidence at all!). Also, as she delved further into her research she found there were other not as well-known theories that could also explain the levitation effect (with equally scarce amounts of evidence to support them!). She found there were three contending theories called: The Bernoulli theory, The Coanda theory, and the Magnus theory. Since she couldn’t find evidence from other articles, she conducted practical investigations herself. She devised methods to differentiate between the two theories:

The Magnus theory predicted the ball was spinning whilst in the air stream. So to isolate the Magnus theory, she changed the center of mass of her ball. The position of the center of mass determined whether or not the ball spun in the air stream. Her tests showed no difference between the maximum angle of tilt of a spinning ball and non-spinning ball, so Lily concluded the Magnus theory wasn’t causing the ball’s levitation.

To investigate the other two theories, she created a mathematical model, used smoke inside the air stream to visualize the airflow, and did further research for studies online. However, no result was conclusive. She developed a model to explain how both theories might be occurring simultaneously, concluding that the levitation is most likely due to: The Bernoulli theory, the Coanda theory, or a combination of both theories. This is still a work in progress as Lily has designed other testing methods she would use in the future to isolate these contending theories.

Lily also worked to maximize the angle of tilt where a ball could be supported. To do this she changed the ball’s mass, diameter and surface, the air speed, and the air stream diameter. She found how each variable affected the maximum angle of tilt and proposed explanations to support her findings. She has begun development of a new testing method and, in the future, she hopes to develop a model that can predict the maximum angle of tilt of the ball in any given scenario.

Thomas Morgan, 18, Marlborough Boys’ College, Blenheim


Osteoporosis is a major health problem in both NZ and the rest of the world and is set to become a much larger issue in future years due to the aging population. Vitamin D is used in both the prevention and the treatment of osteoporosis. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium which in turn aids in strengthening bones. Mushrooms are known to be a rich source of Vitamin D but only after exposure to UV light.

There are a number of different forms of Vitamin D. The two active forms are cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3) and ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2). Ergocalciferol is found in mushrooms after exposure to UV light. Ergocalciferol is chemically similar to cholecalciferol and has been shown to have a similar biological activity in the human body. When mushrooms are exposed to UV light ergosterol is converted to ergocalciferol. During the conversion the structure of ergosterol is changed and the number of double bonds increases from 3 to 4.

Tom wanted to measure levels of Vitamin D2 in oyster mushrooms after exposure to UV light using standard laboratory equipment and techniques. He researched widely looking to see if there was a way to achieve this. A variety of potential methods were considered but proved to be too expensive or involved chemicals not easily available in New Zealand.

The standard measurement method for Vitamin D2 is performed using expensive and sophisticated laboratory equipment such as High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). No laboratory in Marlborough has HPLC. Tom found a research paper which detailed a novel method of measuring ergosterol in yeast using a spectrophotometer. Tom then adapted and added to this method so that the amount of cholecalciferol (Vitamin D2) in oyster mushrooms could be found.
Tom realised that the difference in the number of double bonds could be titrated for using a simple iodine titration and thus the level of ergocalciferol determined if the original level of ergosterol is known (using the spectrophotometer). As far as Tom could determine from review of the science literature this had not been done before.

He grew oyster mushrooms in the dark and exposed them to varying amounts of UV light before being processed to extract the sterols including ergosterol and ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2). The iodine titration was performed and using an equation Tom developed himself, the level of ergocalciferol in each sample was calculated. These were plotted on a graph and showed a logarithmic relationship between time of UV exposure and the conversion of inactive ergosterol to the biologically active ergocalciferol (vitamin D2).

In summary Tom’s investigation demonstrated that Vitamin D2 levels in oyster mushrooms increase logarithmically with an increasing length of time of UV exposure. It also demonstrated that measurement of levels of Vitamin D can be made using standard laboratory equipment and a bit of resourcefulness and originality.

Jesse Prendergast, 17, Kerikeri High School

Jesse Prendergast PROJECT TITLE: CLEAN2

Studies have shown the amount of Nitrogen flowing into New Zealand waterways is rising. In Northland, farmers are required to fence off waterways to reduce the impact their herds have on the rivers. Dairy Farms cover 40% of New Zealand’s land, and are a significant contributor to Nitrogen pollution through fertiliser run-off and Farm Dairy Effluent (FDE). In the Waikato herd number increased by 37%, and Nitrogen levels in the rivers increasing by 40% between 1992 and 2002 . Weeds can grow excessively due to the increased fertility of the water due to more Nitrogen, which then choke streams reducing aquatic habitats and reducing flow rates. Eutrophication from the plants large demand for oxygen can create unstable aquatic environments that kill river-life.

This study looked at the use of Duckweed (a small, floating aquatic plant), as a possible method of treating effluent waste before it is released into surrounding areas. Duckweed was selected because of its ability to create for protein and its high demand for Nitrogen, and its fast reproductive rate. A series of five precursor experiments looked at Duckweed’s growth in varying Nitrate and Urea concentrations, Nitrate Concentrations in anaerobic and aerobically treated household waste, and how predicted Growth rates found in the lab compares to real scenarios.

Duckweed’s impact on Nitrogen levels was determined by growing the weed in standard solutions of Nitrate, Ammonia, Urea and a mixed solution. The concentrations chosen were matched to values found in FDE. The reduction in mass was calculated, so it could be applied to a farming context. It was found that 10 grams of Duckweed had the capacity to remove 98% of Nitrate, 94% of Ammonia and 96.8% of Urea from these concentrations over 7 days in 1-litre solutions.

Creating a Duckweed treatment of FDE would result in mass production of the weed, as it reproduces quickly in nutrient-rich areas. Therefore to determine the frequency of maintenance and the potential yield of Duckweed, the increase in Dry Mass of the Duckweed in the standard solutions was investigated. The Dry Mass of Duckweed increased by 89% in Nitrate, 37% in Ammonia and 67% in Urea over 7 days.
These numbers were applied to a scenario of processing real FDE with Duckweed, using the data above and trends found in the precursor experiments. A pond containing 25 kilograms of Duckweed on to every FDE system in New Zealand would result in reducing at least 20 tons of Nitrogen-based compounds from rivers every week, while producing a minimum of 16260 tons (440 tons dried) Duckweed for use in fertiliser or feed. This would reduce costs to farms, chemical fertiliser used as well as Nitrogen, other nutrients and bacteria found in FDE.

Chris Ryan, 17, Howick College


Plants are a potent source of bioactive compounds. It has been stated that 25% of drugs prescribed worldwide have been developed from plants and that over 121 active compounds developed from plants are used in drugs.
Rongoā is the traditional Māori way of treating illness and disease. It includes herbal medicines made from plants, physical techniques (like massages), and spiritual healing techniques. Accounts of rongoā indicate that Kawakawa (Macropier Excelsum) was useful for treating a wide range of ailments. It is still is used extensively in traditional Māori medicine.

Kawakawa (Macropiper Excelsum) is a New Zealand native plant. Many sources describe Kawakawa as being used to treat the symptoms of aliments associated with inflammation. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Two studies, screened Kawakawa and observed no anti-bacterial or anti-viral activity from Kawakawa extracts. The anti-inflammatory properties of Kawakawa have not been investigated previously.

This study sought to explore the disparity between the traditional uses of Kawakawa in rongoā and the scientific evidence of Kawakawa’s medicinal activity, through examining the effect of Kawakawa on inflammation.
The Kawakawa leaf was extracted into a liquid form. Two extracts were used: an aqueous extract that was analogous to making a tea and represented traditional Māori methods of preparing Kawakawa and an extraction method using organic solvents. These extracts were tested to ensure they weren’t cytotoxic. Anti-inflammatory tests were then conducted. Three key markers of inflammation were measured: nitric oxide (NO), and the inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and Interleukin 6 (Il-6). A reduction in any of these markers would indicate that the extract had anti-inflammatory properties.

The anti-inflammatory activity in this study that was observed through a reduction in NO, Il-6, and TNF-α production, provides scientific evidence to support the traditional uses of Kawakawa in rongoā. This knowledge is extremely significant to Māori communities. It suggests that further research into the medicinal actions of Kawakawa is warranted.

Weiming Yi 16 & Joy Hong 16, Epsom Girls’ Grammar School, Auckland


The production effect is the increase in memory retention of words that are vocalised relative to words that are silently read. The lyrics to songs are known to be easily remembered which stimulated the question of whether singing would have a greater production effect compared to speaking aloud.

Joy and Weiming tested twelve randomly selected students from year eleven at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School. After the students handed in their consent forms, each student underwent a series of tests in which they were asked to speak and sing different lists of nonsense words, which are single syllable three letter words consisting of consonant + vowel + consonant and do not exist in the English language. The time taken for the student to learn the list as well as the number of repetitions needed to learn the list was recorded.

This data was graphed for each individual student and then combined into one graph that showed the average of all the students. From this graph, there is an apparent trend that speaking has a greater decay of memory over time compared to singing. This means that over time, by singing, more words will be remembered compared to by speaking aloud. The time to learn the lists initially appeared to be quite similar for both speaking and singing. However, a statistical analysis proved that the data is not as significant as expected and the differences seen in the graph could have arisen due to natural variation inherent in the measurements. Even so, the data could become significant if more tests were undertaken and the further tests produced similar results.

Brittany Vining, 18, Palmerston North High School


The aim of Brittany’s project was to investigate whether an increase of whey protein in the diet of female adolescents improves their endurance, agility, and leg power in set physical tests. Thirty-five females, 14-17 years of age, participated in the double-blind trial over a nine week period, consuming either a protein or control smoothie three times each week. The participants in the trial also completed fortnightly physical tests to determine the improvement of certain components of fitness. These tests consisted of: the Cooper’s 12 Minute Endurance Test, the Illinois Agility Test, and the Horizontal Long Jump Leg Power Test.

Brittany also designed palatable smoothies, each containing the same amounts of water (200g), milk powder (17g), cocoa powder (8g) and caster sugar (12g). The only variable between the two drinks was the addition of 36g of Whey Protein Concentrate to the protein enriched smoothie. Brittany chose whey protein as the primary source of additional protein due to the high concentration of the amino acid leucine, which has been identified through other research to increase muscle protein synthesis and muscular development.

Brittany found that there was no significant difference in the physical performance of the group that received additional protein compared to those who did not. However she exposed the lack of protein in the diet of most of the trial participants. She extended her study to analyse the level of participation in physical activity, and found that the level of activity affected the percentage of change in results. Brittany’s research identified a current niche for investigations into the dietary protein intake of female adolescents of all physical activity levels. This demographic is becoming increasingly concerned with their diet, and it is essential that they receive correct, accurate and current information.