Genesis Energy
Royal Society of New Zealand

Participant Projects: 2014

View the Participant Projects Archive: Click on the links: (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

16 of New Zealand's top secondary school science researchers and technology students have been selected for the 2014 Realise the Dream event. These students were selected from 32 nominations and underwent a two stage rigorous judging procedure.

Realise the Dream will begin in Auckland on Saturday 6 December and finish in Wellington on Saturday 13 December. During that time they will be hosted by various science research organisations including the Liggins Institute Auckland, the Photon Factory 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 on to Wellington to a range of activities planned for the participants. 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 two years.

Students who have been selected from New Zealand are:

Alex Edwards, 13 Kerikeri High School, Northland

Alex Edwards PROJECT TITLE: WHAT IS IN YOUR RIVER

Alex swims and catches eels in the Waiaruhe and Waitangi Rivers. The Waiaruhe River is very close to where Alex lives and when it rains heavily it sometimes means that her family’s land is flooded and also her neighbour’s property can also be flooded.
Her main concerns when it rains heavily are flooding and sediment pollution especially sediment that reaches the Bay of Islands where she likes to go diving.
Last year Alex attended a farmers meeting where she was asked to investigate whether the Waiaruhe or the Upper Waitangi, carried the most sediment to the Lower Waitangi River and the Bay Of Islands.

Alex focused her efforts on the amount of sediment in each river firstly by looking at which river has the highest total suspended solids and then finding which river has the highest water clarity. She used her results to calculate and predict which river would contribute the most sediment to the Bay of Islands, explaining her results by examining the substrate, topography, vegetation and land use surrounding each river. She measured flow rate, river height and mapped the river bed and calculated the total amount of suspended solids flowing into the Upper Waitangi and to the Bay of Islands from each river.

She found that the Waitangi River had the highest total suspended solids concentration after rainfall. The Waitangi River was usually the clearest before heavy rain whereas the Waiaruhe River was usually the clearest after rainfall events. The Waiaruhe River contributed the most sediment to the lower Waitangi River and to the Bay of Islands.

Alex wrote to the Waitangi River Catchment and Farming for the Future Steering Group recommending that they focus on encouraging farmers to fence off water ways and establish riparian vegetation along the upper Waitangi as well as the Waiaruhe River to prevent any additional sediment from entering the water over that which is already being contributed by natural erosion processes further up-stream.

Lucy Ellingham, 18, Kerikeri High School, Northland

Clara Autet PROJECT TITLE: WEEDING OUT PHOSPHATES

Phosphorus is an element which is essential to both plant and animal life. In a waterway, dissolved phosphate ions are taken up by things like plants and algae, which use phosphate to produce adenine triphosphate, the energy currency which drives nearly every chemical process, including photosynthesis.

When there is an excess of phosphate in the water, these plants and algae are able to grow at an accelerated rate. This can be problematic because it can lead to eutrophication, where disasters like algal blooms de-oxygenate the rivers and greatly reduce survival chances for many other species. Phosphate pollution can come from a number of sources, but one of the most pressing is our agricultural sector.

Farming activities can lead to increased phosphate and nitrate levels in waterways through a number of mechanisms, such as the failure to exclude livestock from rivers, effluent runoff from pasture, over-fertilisation, and the leeching of nutrients into groundwater. These problems are compounded in areas with high volume rainfall, where soil erosion and surface flooding take an even greater toll.

Lucy wanted to investigate the impacts which phosphate levels have on plant growth, as well as investigating calcium carbonate, a key component of agricultural lime, as a possible solution to the problem. She was inspired by her experiences growing up in Northland, an intensive farming region which is currently struggling to curb the effects of water pollution in agricultural areas.

Lucy examined the effect of phosphate concentration on the growth of duckweed, a protein rich aquatic plant with an extremely high nutrient demand and a rapid reproductive rate, and narrowed down the “danger zone” for plant growth. She undertook a study of waterways on two different farms to establish the importance of practices like fencing and stock exclusion in preventing nutrient pollution, and finally, she conducted a series of studies looking at whether calcium carbonate could reduce phosphate levels in real-world polluted rivers. This showed that calcium carbonate could be a promising new lead in combating nutrient pollution.

The implications of her findings could be significant for the New Zealand dairy industry. While there are existing water treatment systems, the lack of affordability and accessibility for farmers means that they are currently unlikely to use these systems. However, if a farmer can instead put agricultural lime in a permeable, removable container in his dam, he is far more likely to consider using it than if the solution was complex or prohibitively expensive.

The next step of her research looks to develop prototype treatment systems and test them on real farms, something which could have broad reaching implications for water quality.

Therese Featherston, 17, Queen Margaret College

Therese Featherston PROJECT TITLE: THE MATTER OF GATA

Past research and knowledge has led to the scientific theory that blood can only be produced in the bone marrow of humans. In some emergency situations, common allogeneic blood transfusions, from a patient to patient, are needed. This requires blood donated from a healthy patient. However, this type of common transfusion carries risks of transmitting diseases such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as well as Hepatitis B and C. A new method is needed for culturing and synthesising blood to be donated, for example autologous transfusions, so that the common allogeneic transfusion is not required.

Research into a new tissue that contains the same important factors required for erythropoiesis (red blood cell production) could provide us with the basis for culturing blood. GATA-1, a type of transcription factor, holds a very crucial role in the final stages red blood cells being produced, so was the focus of the research. This led to the research question:

“Does the haemogenic endothelium of infantile haemangioma express GATA-1?”
Infantile Haemangioma (IH), commonly known as a strawberry birthmark, is a tumour of microvessels which goes through characteristic growth stages: firstly a proliferating (rapid growth) stage, followed by a stage of involution (shrinkage). Haemogenic endothelial cells are a main set of cells within the strawberry birthmark. They are typically made up of two layers: the inner endothelium and outer concentric pericyte layer. It is these layers of the haemogenic endothelium that the research targeted.

The experimental process used was immunohistochemistry, the process of detecting certain substances within cells of a tissue sample. Fluorescent coloured images are produced that showed where these certain substances were expressed in a tissue sample. Using this technique, the key transcription factor, GATA-1, was targeted to see if and where this protein was expressed in both involuted and proliferating IH. The tissue samples were surgically removed from patients ranging in age from 3 months to 12 years.

The results showed that GATA-1 is expressed in the endothelium layer of proliferating infantile haemangioma only. This is shown by an increase from around 0.5% coverage of GATA-1 present in involuted haemangioma to 10-60% coverage in the images of proliferating tissue samples.

Due to the knowledge of GATA-1 having such a key role in the production of red blood cells, these results suggest a new site for erythropoiesis. The results of this research indicate that strawberry birthmarks could therefore be a new tissue for autologous transfusions, where the blood can be synthesised and then donated to patients. This new method would therefore eliminate the need for current allogeneic transfusions and the risks associated with the process.

However, further research into other key transcription factors, such as GATA-2 and FOG-1, is required in order to support the new method and then eventually carry out testing.

David Jagoutz, 15, James Hargest College

David Jagoutz PROJECT TITLE: HEARING IMPAIRED ALERTER

David believed that the safety of deaf or hearing impaired people could be improved upon by adding a reliable way of alerting them to important alarms or events.
He planned to develop a wrist-worn device that alerts the wearer via a vibration, a smoke alarm that sends a signal wirelessly to the alerter when smoke is detected and possibly a doorbell which sends a signal wirelessly to the alerter when a button is pressed. He wanted to show that the alerter is versatile and can handle many things at once to create an easier and safer life for hearing impaired people. He wanted it to be a possible alternative to a guide dog, or an aid that helps in an environment where a dog may not be permitted. David also intended to solve the problems of cumbersome design in assistive products by designing and producing a prototype device that is attractive, convenient to use, designed with care and has an affordable price.

During the development of the three devices he had used many different tools and acquired new skills. He started designing the cases with a simple design process involving sketching and moulding shapes out of baking clay, which allowed him to expand his thinking during the developments using computer design software. When developing the cases he mainly focused on aesthetics and ergonomics. Manufacturing the cases was easy, as he managed to utilise a 3D printer, which undertook much of the hard work.

The chips inside both devices have wireless antennae’s that allows them to communicate with each other. They are able to be programmed in a language called C++ from a computer. Each device has about five stages of code that David added onto until it was complete and usable. One method David used to program the devices was called OTAMP (Over The Air Programming), which allowed him to program the chips wirelessly and not have to disassemble them. The chips were then soldered with their components, such as the vibrating motor for the wrist worn alerter.

He believes that the wireless alerter, doorbell and smoke alarm operate effectively and achieve their purpose. All three devices look attractive and are efficient to use. They are also reliable, but more specialised soldering of the wires would be preferable so that the wires do not become loose. Future improvements to the prototypes may include the slimming of the thickness of the alerter, adding a battery status warning light to every device, improving the battery life of the alerter and the doorbell and making charging more accessible.

Emily Jagoutz, 15, James Hargest College, Invercargill

Emily Jagoutz PROJECT TITLE: CREVASSE RESCUE TRAINER

Through discussion with Alpine Club members and Mountain Safety Council instructors, Emily found that there isn’t a consumer product that allows people to practise a crevasse rescue at home accurately.

In response to this problem, she designed and manufactured a prototype of a crevasse rescue training device that enables people to learn and practise a crevasse rescue with ease, without having to be on glaciated terrain to do so. Emily learnt how to extract a person from a crevasse using a “Z haul” technique. This knowledge helped her make a list of detailed specifications for the design and build of the product. She sketched multiple concept ideas that were ranked according to seven important specification attributes: Cost, safety, size, weight, materials, finish and style. This allowed her to choose the best concept idea.

During the development stages Emily made and used a test rig to inform the development of her product. This informed her on what key problems needed to be solved, that she was unaware of before testing. A 3D printed model was made so she could look at what parts there were and the overall shape of the prototype.

The manufacturing process of Emily’s prototype involved Emily learning many new techniques. It was her first workshop experience like this, she had no prior experience of MIG welding and this was a challenge to her. Emily hadn’t been exposed to the equipment before and she had to learn how to use it all safely. She used a wide range of tools and processes including using a compound mitre “Chop” saw, an angle grinder, a pedestal grinder and MIG welding gear. When Emily had finished her prototype, she had it evaluated by some outdoor instructors and an engineer. Both parties said it was a strongly-built, appealing product that was easy to use.

Emily has had Adventure Southland, an Invercargill outdoor and recreation establishment, order two of her prototypes which will be further developed before being produced.

Nathan James, 16, Burnside High School, Christchurch

Nathan JamesPROJECT TITLE: iDISPENSE

The broadening of people’s taste in food and the increasing desire to become more environmentally aware is part of a driving force behind an increasingly diverse range of products being offered for sale in supermarkets. These changes have in part contributed to the development of bulk bin shopping, a system which for some customers is far from satisfying.

In response Nathan has developed an automated bulk bin dispensing system to help take the stress and uncertainty out of shopping in the bulk bin area of supermarkets. He has developed a prototype for a bulk bin which eliminates the need for people to put unhygienic hands into bins containing unwrapped food products. Nathan’s bulk bin dispensing system automatically dispenses food, based on a customer’s pre-selected quantity, alleviating the need for customers to rely on sight to estimate the amount of a product that they ‘think’ equates to the quantity they desire to purchase. While making the bulk bin shopping experience more user friendly for customers Nathan has also kept supermarket owners in mind, his system has been designed for ease of cleaning and maintenance while fitting within the constraints of the bulk bin section of supermarkets.

The project has involved both software and hardware development. Nathan has designed in ‘Inventor’ a worm drive based on the Archimedes’ screw and through a series of refinements has printed in 3D a version capable of driving a product out of a storage container. He has built a stepper motor driver circuit board and interfaced this with a Raspberry Pi computer system to control the dispensing of product from the storage bin. Nathan has also designed and 3D printed a flywheel which has been attached to the stepper motor as part of a self-regulating system to detect and clear product jams.

Nathan used load cells from electronic kitchen scales to measure the amount of product dispensed. He found that a linear relationship existed between the voltage from the scale’s load cells and the weight of the product. He subsequently used this relationship to determine change in weight of the system - equating to the amount of product dispensed.

Nathan has developed code in Python to control the different aspects of his dispensing system. To enable users to interface with the system he has incorporated an LCD Display and a USB numeric keypad.

In the future he would like to incorporate a more user friendly touch screen to provide customers with a graphical means of selecting their desired quantity to dispense.

The next step for Nathan is to incorporate a product labelling system which would detail the product’s name, weight and price in a means that could be scanned at the checkouts. This would increase the user friendly nature of the dispensing system and enable quick and accurate scanning of bulk bin selections at checkouts.

Kerman Kohli, 16, Macleans College, Auckland

Kerman Kohli PROJECT TITLE: THE HOMEWORK APP

Remembering homework has always been a challenge for many students. With the increased use of handheld devices in our everyday lives, Kerman decided to tackle this problem by developing a ‘homework app’ for the iPhone & iPad. The app is currently available on the App Store and has received 500,000 downloads worldwide since its launch two years ago.

Kerman’s app is unique to other homework apps as it has exclusive features such as subtasks, which help students break large tasks (such as assignments) into more manageable tasks, multiple reminders to ensure homework is handed on time. The app has a social networking feature that allows students and teachers to collaborate homework and an intuitive dashboard that shows a summary of a student’s homework.

One of the greatest challenges faced while developing the app was the steep learning curve involved. With no formal education in software development, Kerman has become a self-taught software developer over the course of the last four years. The release of any new software on the App Store has required him to test the software and work through issues like data stability, backwards compatibility with earlier versions. To ensure bugs are fixed, Kerman developed an extensive testing procedure to ensure crashes do not occur. This was done by using crash reporting tools that provided real-time analytics to identify any issues faced by users.

The Homework App has been a commercially successful app, ranking in the top 30 education apps in the United States and New Zealand and has been featured in the top 1000 apps overall in 135 countries worldwide. To generate revenue, Kerman has implemented various monetisation strategies such as banner ads and in-app upgrades that provide substantial income for his limited company which was setup by his parents last year.

The next step for Kerman is to develop the ‘Homework App’ for Android and create a web portal which will allow students to manage their homework through any web browser.

For more information about the app visit http://thehomeworkapp.com

Jason Leaming, 17, Kerikeri High School, Northland

Jason Leaming PROJECT TITLE: VERMICOMPOSTING

The continued growth of dairy farming in NZ and the move toward keeping cows on stand-off pads has seen a major increase in two significant waste streams, the wood fibre that is scrapped off the surface of the standing pads and the effluent that is now concentrated at the site of these pads. In combination these waste streams offer the farmer an opportunity to recycle valuable nutrients back into the soil as an up-valued soil conditioner.

This investigation explores vermicomposting as a tool to efficiently manage these two significant waste streams. Sludge was removed from a settling pond and mixed with a range of carbon products that are recommended by Dairy NZ for use in stand-off pads: wood chips, post peeling, sawdust and also wood shavings (used in calf sheds). The wood fibre/sludge mixtures were assessed on their acceptability to tiger worms (Eisenia fetida) by measuring the pH of the mixture and seeing if they corresponded with the preferred pH for tiger worms. The vertical spatial distribution of tiger worms was measured over a period of 15 days and the rate at which the worms moved into the different mixtures was assessed. The worm mass before and after this 15 day period was also measured to ascertain the mixtures’ ability to support worm growth. Finally, different ratios of sludge and post peelings removed from a calf shed were used in a choice chamber experiment to establish the worms’ preference.

Tiger worms were used throughout the investigation as they represent the worm species most widely used in vermicomposting in New Zealand. Tiger worms feed on decomposing organic matter, bacteria and fungi in the upper organic horizon of soil.

All of the unused wood fibre and dairy sludge tested lay within the acceptable pH range for tiger worms. Wood fibre exposed to large amounts of urine ie calf shed post peelings, that lie outside the acceptable range can be favourably adjusted with the addition of dairy sludge.

All the particle sizes of the wood fibre tested were found to be acceptable to tiger worms and capable of supporting increase in their body mass beyond that of the compost. Due to the observation that the worms did not integrate themselves as fully in sawdust as the other fibres tested it is recommended that further investigation should be carried out before sawdust is used for vermicomposting.

While a comparison of the average worm density in each mixture may indicate a preference for post peelings this cannot be statistically proven and more trials are recommended. The preferred ratio within the limits that were tested is 1:3 calf shed post peelings to sludge (41% dry weight).

Vermicomposting can therefore be recommended as a possible onsite technology to process the twin waste streams of wood fibre and effluent generated by dairy farms. The next step would be to implement medium scale field trials with a continuous windrow system, testing resulting compost for its nutrient content and then comparing this output to that of current practises

Tim Logan, 17, Darfield High School, Canterbury

Tim Logan PROJECT TITLE: TO GRAZE OR NOT TO GRAZE
Over the last 150 years of European settlement, burning, stop-banking, and the introduction of adventive exotic plants has modified indigenous plant communities through competition and displacement of native species by competitively superior exotic plants (Meurk, 2008). Traditional dryland grazing practices in New Zealand consisted of extensive pastoralism with a low to moderate stocking rate (O’Connor, 1982) which was compatible with the survival of many non-palatable native species.

However, recent shifts towards more intensive agricultural practices involving ploughing, irrigating, fertilizing and high stocking rates are essentially “squeezing...herbaceous species between intensification on one side of the fence and dense, uncropped exotic grasses on the other” (Meurk & Greenep, 2003). Today, the remaining semi-natural grasslands are dominated by exotic sweet vernal (Anthoxanthum odoratum) and brown top (Agrostis capillaris) grasses and exotic shrubs and trees - gorse (Ulex europaeus) and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata). Remnant native vegetation; e.g. kowhai (Sophora microphylla), matagouri (Discaria toumatou), and silver tussock (Poa cita) are present only in low density. However, beneath the exotic grasses, native prostrate plants and nonvascular plants are present; e.g. creeping pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia axillaris), dwarf broom (Carmichaelia corrugata) and woolly moss (Racomitrium pruinosum) (Meurk, 2008). Small plants like these make up a large portion of our total biodiversity (Meurk & Greenep, 2003) and represent some of the last indigenous biodiversity left on the Canterbury Plains, but the dependence of these species upon low stature communities makes them incredibly susceptible to weed invasions and agricultural intensification, posing difficult questions for their management.

This investigation was focused on determining whether grazing by stock enhances survival of native prostrate plant species, and to investigate how soil depth influences the vegetation. A field survey was carried out between January and March 2014 in two predominantly exotic grassed sites located within the mid-Waimakariri floodplain.

Results from Boxplots and Multidimensional Scaling analysis of quadrats showed that the biotic variation between the grazed and ungrazed site was substantial, with grazed quadrats showing a higher diversity and abundance of native species. Species Accumulation Curves indicated that exotic vascular species tended to be widespread and relatively low in diversity; whereas native vascular species tended to be less dominant but high in diversity. Soil depth results show that shallower soils tend to correspond with an increased native percent cover and a decreased exotic per cent cover.

Comparing abundance and diversity of species between sites shows that stock grazing enhances the survival of native prostrate species in the mid-Waimakariri floodplain, with the biggest effect occurring on soils deeper than 20cm through thinning of dense exotic grasses that would otherwise outcompete most native species.

The results of this investigation show that in semi-natural grasslands in the mid-Waimakariri floodplain, stock grazing can occur in conjunction with ecological conservation. This finding debunks the common misconception that land is either set aside for “preservation of production” (H. Moller et al., 2008); rather sustainable land use through low-moderate intensity stock grazing could be considered to achieve both economic and ecological goals without the need for compromise. Semi-natural grasslands in the mid-Waimakariri floodplain, and other similar ecosystems, are a unique opportunity to restore and conserve a biodiverse agricultural landscape.

Georgia Putt, 17, Kerikeri High School, Northland

Georgia Putt PROJECT TITLE: BLOOMING ALGAE

An algal bloom is the rapid growth of microscopic phytoplankton in water. The high population density as a result of the blooms results in a visible discolouration of the water, and eutrophic lakes are often green and murky. Algal blooms are often caused by an excess of nutrients such as nitrates, which are in normal conditions, limiting nutrients for algal growth. In serious cases, a freshwater source that experiences algal bloom will become categorized as eutrophic. The harmful environmental effects of eutrophication include hypoxia, which is the massive depletion of oxygen caused by the decay process of the huge influx dead organic material that comes as a result of algal bloom.

Georgia became interested in the effects of algal blooms in freshwater lakes when the irrigation lake that she lives in close proximity to had severe problems with eutrophication. Since Nitrogen in the form of the nitrate ion is a common component of run-off of both agricultural and cattle farming, she decided to investigate its effects on algal growth. Georgia’s investigation consisted of 5 experiments. She tested the effect of both starting population density and nitrate concentration on the increase of an algal population and found peak values for both. (0.45mg/L nitrate and 0.0102g/L starting wet weight). Georgia decided that these results had potential real world applications for predicting the likelihood of algal bloom in freshwater sources. Seven lakes around Northland were visited and 3L samples collected. Once these samples were analysed for both nitrate concentration and algal population density, Georgia compared the results to those of the earlier experiments, which showed which of the lakes were at most risk for rapid algal growth.

To improve the applicability of the prediction model, a standard curve of algal population against light transmission was created, as this would allow these tests to be conducted on site, eliminating the need for the time consuming chlorophyll extraction method that Georgia used during her tests.

Having found a possible method for predicting algal blooms, Georgia wanted to test solutions for eutrophication – methods that would prevent algal blooms, or at least hinder them. Three potential methods were tested; bank planted willows, floating bulrush islands and a method of Georgia’s own creation, using zinc powder: Since zinc reduces nitrate to nitrite, and is toxic to algae in small amounts, this method seemed plausible. Georgia trialled each of the methods in 60L bins over the course of two weeks, taking samples every second day. She found that both kinds of planting significantly reduced the rate of algal growth, while the zinc method had little effect.

The two parts of Georgia’s experiment have the potential to be used in tandem with each other, with the prediction model showing when/where the planting solutions should be implemented in the real world.

Kyle Robertson, 17, Palmerston North Boys’ High School

Kyle Robertson PROJECT TITLE: PRESSURE'S ON! UR-IN 2 DEEP

The aim of this project was to evaluate the effect of soil compaction, caused by cow trampling, on nitrate leaching. Nitrate is naturally present in soil and so bromide was used to mimic nitrate because it is not typically found in soil and has similar properties. Two soil types were used for the experiment: Manawatu fine sandy loam (MFSL), which is a coarse textured soil, and Tokomaru silt loam (TSL), which is a fine textured soil. Custom soil testing systems were used to test collected soil cores and soil cores were compacted using a hydraulic pump to mimic an average dairy cow’s hoof pressure. The experiments were carried out in two stages:

i. Preliminary feasibility trials to optimise the methodology for characterising soil cores, applying the compaction treatment and refining the overall experimental design.
ii. The main trial involved testing physical properties of compacted and non-compacted soil cores, and applying a mimic urine solution (potassium bromide) to the cores, followed by a ‘rainfall’ event, after which bromide leachate samples were collected and analysed using ion chromatography.

The results showed that MFSL leached significantly more bromide than TSL in both compacted and non-compacted soil cores. They also showed that compaction significantly increased bulk density, significantly decreased total porosity, macroporosity (quantity of large soil pores) and rate of water flow and, surprisingly, significantly increased bromide leaching from both soils types. A possible explanation for the increase in leaching could be that the destruction of macropores reduced connections with micropores. Consequently, there would be less opportunity for bromide to disperse into the soil and so bromide would have leached more from compacted cores than from non-compacted cores.

These results suggest that sandy soils are particularly vulnerable to leaching bromide (nitrate), and that soil compaction increases the risk of nitrate leaching from both coarse-textured sand and fine-textured silt soils. Based on the results of this experiment, (i) minimising the risk of soil compaction by reducing stocking rates and (ii) grazing cows predominantly on silt soils rather than sandy soils, could significantly reduce the risk of nitrate leaching from dairy farms into waterways.

Minushika Punchihewa, 18, Palmerston North Girls’ High School

Minushika Punchihewa PROJECT TITLE: DECIPHERING THE AMBIGUITIES OF TRIFOLIUM AMBIGUUM

Trifolium ambiguum is a relatively new type of Clover to New Zealand and is of great value to New Zealand’s’ agriculture because of its advantageous traits. Scientists are cross breeding T.ambiguum with the common White Clover (Trifolilum Repens), in order to implement these advantageous characteristics into New Zealand’s pasture. One of the drawbacks of using T.ambiguum in breeding programmes however, is that is exists as a polyploid series (with diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid forms). When diploid and hexaploid genotypes are cross-pollinated with tetraploid white clover, sterile and partially fertile triploid and pentaploid hybrids are produced. Due to their low fertility, triploid and pentaploid hybrids are less useful in plant breeding programmes. It is therefore very important that scientists know the ploidy of the T. ambiguum plants being used in breeding programmes.

To avoid this, T. ambiguum ploidies need to be confirmed before cross-pollination is carried out. Currently ploidy is determined by time-consuming chromosome spreads or expensive flow cytometry.

Minushika wanted to identify a number of morphological traits that the plant breeder can use quickly and inexpensively to predict whether a plant is diploid, tetraploid or hexaploid.

Seed of eight T. ambiguum commercial cultivars were obtained from the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre as well as 13 wild ecotypes whose ploidies were unknown. Twenty plants of each cultivar were grown by Minushika, during which various stages of plant growth, several seed, leaflet, leaf marking and floral characteristics were measured. The eight commercial cultivars with their known ploidy were used as controls and were used to establish statistical models for each of the morphological characteristics to predict the ploidy of unknown ecotypes.

Minushika found that there were three major traits (seed size, red fleck and banner petal size) which were identified as being useful for differentiating diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid plants. The results of this research are significant to plant breeders and scientists as ploidy can be estimated quickly in the field or glasshouse. The traits observed cover different stages of the plant life cycles of T. ambiguum so ploidy can be determined by the seed, during plant growth and flowering. Plant breeders could preferentially select particular seeds, cull unwanted plants at the seedling stage, or select individual plants during pollination. This could save a significant amount of time, resources and money.

Amiee Zang, 18 & Rena Liu, 18, Epsom Girls Grammar School, Auckland

Amiee Zang and Rena Liu PROJECT TITLE: TENOCYTE REGENERATION

Amiee and Rena’s project is based on tenocytes (tendon cells) and how to regenerate them when they are damaged as tendon injuries are very common (e.g. amongst sport and arthritis). Tendons are mainly made up of collagen fibres, which support the connection between muscle and bone. When tendons are injured, the collagen does not regenerate properly.

Amiee and Rena decided to investigate the growth factor lactoferrin (a protein found in milk) to see whether it increases the amount of collagen produced. By being able to potentially heal or improve tendon injuries means that people who suffer from them will experience less pain and less restriction of body movements.

The main result they obtained was that with increasing concentrations of lactoferrin, the amount of collagen produced from the tenocytes did not follow a corresponding trend. Thus the concentration of Fetal Bovine Serum (which provides nutrients for the cells) was examined. It was discovered that with increasing FBS concentrations, the amount of collagen production also increased. This meant their initial results may have been masked and inaccurate as there may have been cell population growth, contributing to collagen production.

As a result, the girls further conducted an experiment measuring cell growth from when the cells were treated with different lactoferrin concentrations to when the cells were fixed (preserved) for collagen measurement.

After modifying their method, Amiee and Rena repeated their experiment with 0.5% FBS concentration (which had no effects on cell culture growth). Even so, lactoferrin still had no general effect on increasing the production of collagen as no particular trend was observed. The cell growth graph also indicated that the cell population indeed did not grow either. This was disappointing for Amiee and Rena, but in science not everything turns out as expected.

However they were delighted to find that with 0.5% FBS, and increasing PDGF (a more well- known growth factor they used to compare with lactoferrin), there were increases in the amount of collagen produced. The cell growth graph for PDGF showed that the cell population also grew. But for the purposes of their investigation, increase in cell culture (from the effect of the growth factor itself) was also a positive outcome as this meant more collagen is produced overall.

Ultimately, the growth factor lactoferrin did not actually have any positive effects on collagen production. However the growth factor PDGF did show promising results of increasing collagen production.

In the future Amiee and Rena wish to investigate the exact differences between the two growth factors and look into gene expression – genes that break down collagen because if they could potentially switch off such gene(s), more collagen would be produced, hence enhancing the growth and healing of tendon cells which would be a major step towards the improvement of tendon injuries.

Maria Burnett, 16, James Hargest College, Invercargill

Maria Burnett PROJECT TITLE: SMART SWITCH

The Power Take-Off shaft, commonly referred to as a PTO shaft, is a rotating mechanical shaft from a tractor which is used to transmit power to attached implements. Since the PTO shaft can spin at up to 1000rpm, the tractor operator can easily get entangled, often leading to severe injuries. Maria’s client – a dairy farm operator - drives tractors and works with PTO shafts as part of his everyday work. With this in mind Maria set out to build a product that reduces or eliminates the risk of entanglement when working around a PTO shaft.

Maria has made a U-shaped shield that covers the tractor stub shaft and the front universal joint of the PTO drive shaft. When a person or object comes into contact with the shield, one of two micro switches are tripped, causing the PTO shaft to be disengaged.

Maria has taken into account her stakeholders concerns and has designed a product that can be attached or detached without having to interact with the PTO shaft at all. Her product is universal and works with a variety of tractors and can easily be moved from one tractor to another without disconnecting any machinery.

Maria aims to further develop her prototype based off comments of her stakeholders to make it smaller, more robust in dirty environments and more aesthetically pleasing.

Zoe Glentworth, 14, Palmerston North Girls’ High School

Zoe Glentworth PROJECT TITLE: SAFE SUNSCREEN SOLUTION

Choosing a safe and effective sunscreen can be a dilemma, keeping in mind that five or more sun burns, in a life time, can double your risk of developing skin cancer. Too much sunscreen on the other hand can contribute to the lack of vitamin D, potentially leading to osteoporosis and rickets or depression.

Zoe developed a new safe and effective sunscreen using natural UV blockers and absorbers. This builds on a previous product Zoe developed, tested and now markets, which is an insect repelling balm, whose active ingredient is a kawakawa leaf extract. She used this as the base of her new product, to produce a dual sunscreen and insect repelling product.

To achieve this she collected a variety of possible ingredients which included olive oil, refined blackcurrant seed oil, unrefined blackcurrant seed oil, Kawakawa leaf oil from Whakatane, Tauranga and Manawatu, Eucalyptus leaf oil from Te Mata Peak, Hawkes Bay and Kawakawa fruit oil from Tauranga.

Testing was carried out using a spectroradiometer to measure UVA energy absorption of each preparation.

These results have been used to produce a new product called Berry Sun Block (70% Kawakawa balm base, 10% Zinc oxide, 10% Titanium dioxide and 10% Unrefined Blackcurrant seed oil) which blocks 99.996% of UVA rays according to Zoe’s initial tests.

Berry Sun Block uses only natural components, including non nano titanium dioxide. Zoe hopes the kawakawa balm’s original insect repelling properties have been retained. She will test for this in the next development phase, along with preparations without titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, to test the UV blocking properties of the blackcurrant alone.