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Kids' invention helps scientists tackle kauri disease

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Scientists now have an improved kit for checking whether streams are carrying a water mould that kills kauri trees, thanks to a new design developed and tested by primary school students.

Until now, researchers investigating kauri dieback disease used small mesh bags filled with leaves to test streams for the water mould. But they found it tricky to remove the leaves without contaminating them, and this affects the accuracy of the test.

Nick Pattison, a teacher who works in South Auckland, saw that this was a problem during his Science Teaching Leadership Programme with Dr Stan Bellgard, a scientist at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research.

“I was with Stan [Bellgard] and he took me to see field work,” he says. “I realised how cumbersome the process was while helping his PhD students back at the lab.”

He then took the problem back to Dawson Primary School, Rongomai School and Kauri Flats School.

The students at Dawson designed and then 3D-printed a new cage-like ‘cassette’ using a 3D printer from AUT.

“We used a bathtub and fish tank at school [to test this prototype] while working with the scientists and Laura [Kelly] from Fisher and Paykel,” Nick says.

This design wasn’t quite right. The students found that it was too light and kept bobbing on the surface. They also found that the lid kept popping open, spilling all the leaves. They needed the cassette to float in the middle – not at the top or bottom – and they needed the lid to stay shut.

Students at Rongomai then added two new design features to help make the cassette work properly. They added a loop so that the lid could be tied down with string, and created a small compartment where weights such as stones could be added to get the buoyancy right.

This design has now been adopted by Stan and other kauri disease scientists across New Zealand. The innovation baton has also been passed to students at Kauri Flats School, to see if they can develop an even better design.

“It's so awesome to see this happen,” Nick says. “This is the project that inspired my current work [at Ormiston Junior College] and the students seemed to really enjoy it.”

Students testing the kits

Read Stan Bellgard’s conference paper about this work (external link)

Photo credits: Stan Bellgard/Nick Pattison (used from Stan's conference paper)

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