External Projects for Student Research in Science Communication

1. Freshwater mussels in the Ashburton Basin

The Department of Conservation is interested in determining the level of threat posed by mammalian predation in freshwater mussels in the Ashburton Basin. Freshwater mussels are in gradual decline in New Zealand and it is thought that a many of populations are senescing. This process is also being observed internationally. DoC has a project area called O Tu Wharekai and is working on the freshwater mussels which inhabit the lakes and a number of streams. They have observed in the streams that the mussels have a very limited spatial distribution and most have appear to have limited recruitment. An additional concern is the high level of predation that appears to be going on, as active middens of shells are common. It is likely that Norwegian rats are diving down and bringing up mussels. There are many holes that probably lead to nest chambers and middens may be found at the entrance to these. Given the observed limited rates of mussel reproduction and recruitment, rats may be having a substantial impact. Firstly, DoC would like to determine that rats are indeed the culprits and then what level of impact they are having. It would be great to catch them at it!

This project would attempt to film rats fishing for mussels, as evidence of predation. At the same time, it might be possible to capture some interesting underwater behaviour or to attempt some inspection of a nest chamber. Accommodation is available in the basin and the DoC team could provide some money for travel.

For more details go to http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/land-and-freshwater/wetlands/arawai-kakariki-wetland-restoration-programme/sites/o-tu-wharekai/
Or contact:
Rosemary Clucas
Freshwater Ranger PhD ~ Wahine Toa
Raukapuka Area Office ~ Canterbury Conservancy,
Department of Conservation ~ Te Papa Atawhai
North Terrace, Geraldine 7930 ~ PO Box 33 Geraldine 7956
Phone (03) 693 1077 ~ VPN 5577 ~ Fax (03) 693 1019
The New Zealand Footprint Project: the Ecological Footprint of Kiwi Lifestyles and Urban Form

2. Public outreach associated with the Alpine Fault, and the Alpine Fault – Deep Fault Drilling Project

The Alpine Fault in western South Island is the major structure defining the Pacific-Australian plate boundary in this region. It is an active fault that ruptures every 200-400 years in a magnitude ~7.9 earthquake, and is thought to have last ruptured in 1717 AD. It is globally significant and similar in character to the San Andreas Fault in America or the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey. However, the Alpine Fault is unique in the fact that rapid uplift and mountain building has exhumed fault rocks from depth, and uplift continues to restrict earthquake activity to depths that are shallower than normal. Consequently, it is of interest to a range of scientists both within New Zealand, and internationally.

There are spectacular outcrops of the Alpine Fault throughout the West Coast of the South Island. We think that these outcrops, and information about the geological significance of the structure, would be of interest to tourists visiting this part of New Zealand. In recent years we have interacted with the Department of Conservation about the idea of providing more information, and the opportunity to visit the outcrops, but we are not able to spend as much time as is needed to put together all the relevant information. Comparable information is available about geology of the Waitaki region through the Vanished World project (http://vanishedworld.co.nz/).

Additionally, a major project for New Zealand’s geological community, The Alpine Fault – Deep Fault Drilling Project (DFDP) (https://wiki.gns.cri.nz/DFDP), is currently underway and looks set to become bigger in coming years. The project proposes to drill, sample, and monitor the Alpine Fault at depth, to take advantage of excellent surface exposures and the relatively shallow depths of geological transitions, and hence to better understand fundamental processes of rock deformation, seismogenesis, and earthquake deformation. In January 2011, we drilled our first shallow boreholes at Gaunt Creek (http://www.otago.ac.nz/geology/news/dfdp/dfdp-1.html). Funding is in place for stage II of the project, which involves a ~1.5 km deep borehole to be drilled in the next few years. We would like there to be a dedicated outreach component to this project.

We believe that promotion of the Alpine Fault and / or the Deep Fault Drilling Project outreach could form the topic of a Science Communication + Geology supervised MSc or PhD project.

Please direct enquiries to Virginia Toy (virginia.toy@otago.ac.nz, Ph: (03) 479 7506).

3. Bioengineering and Nanomedicine

The University of Otago has recently established a Centre for Bioengineering and Nanomedicine (www.otago.ac.nz/bioengineering). This Centre builds on Otago’s strengths in biomedical research and aims to bring together researchers with exciting and diverse research interests such as the development of biomaterials, biomedical devices, pharmaceutical engineering and nanotechnology and connect them with each other and with industry. Projects might include designing a website that is attractive to industry as well as international students, creating videos or podcasts of research in bioengineering & nanomedicine, or developing an advertising strategy for a new Masters course in Bioengineering. For further information contact Victoria Jameson (victoria.jameson@otago.ac.nz).

4. Faster than a speeding human body

Explore the relationship of humans and their cars; communicate the science of vehicle safety, the psychology of driving, the “why” of road design and traffic management. Determine what is needed to make cycling a safer alternative in Dunedin? In association with Charlotte Flaherty at the Dunedin City Council and the Dunedin International Science Festival.

5. Biodiversity Crisis?

Project with Graham Wallis (Zoology, Otago): The phrases "biodiversity crisis" and "species extinctions" are thrown around casually, but what do people understand by either "biodiversity" or "species". This project looks to inform, after having assessed understanding. There is of course a vast literature concerning what scientists mean by these things, in the philosophy of biology, but it would be interesting to hear Joe Public's perception of what is meant by these terms, or look at how the media use the terms. No doubt there have been overseas studies, but the issue has local context, and the NZ angle would be interesting given the profile that the conservation ethic has here.

6. Sensing the chemistry of native plants – interactive displays for the Orokonui EcoSanctuary

How our senses of smell, taste, sight and feel tell us about the ways native plants protect and advertise themselves. Smell – stinkwood; Taste – horopito, pepper tree; Sight – red flowers for birds; Feel – nettle/ongaonga or rimu resin
Dr Nigel Perry
Team Leader, Bioactives
The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited
Dept of Chemistry, University of Otago
T: +64 3  479 8354

7. Portobello Aquarium

(1) Developing a new display on plankton

(2) Developing a new Treasures of the Sea display

(3) Scientist at Sea Exhibit.... eg Polaris display (see below)

Scientists at Sea – To answer many questions about the sea, scientists are required to journey out to sea on research vessels like the University of Otago’s RV Polaris and use scientific equipment to sample the depths.

A tracker will be placed on the Research Vessel so that we are able to follow its whereabouts in the southern ocean. A computer programme will allow us to view the boat’s current location and past journeys on a display panel. Short videos will take the viewer out to the boat and meet the scientists and see research in action (interviews, sampling, underwater footage etc.).
This fits well with the school programmes as the New Zealand Curriculum (2007) requires a move away from science as a body of knowledge that students learn about, towards science as a process that students learn to do. This exhibit will encourage the students to think about complex real world problems and develop skills in scientific thinking. The exhibit will highlight a range of careers in the marine sector.
We will use the excitement of the sea to culture the interest of the community in range of sciences that are fundamental to the knowledge economy of NZ and critical in our future decision-making. This station will link directly with cutting-edge researchers across the biological, chemical, geological and physical sciences

8. Cape Kidnappers film

The Cape Sanctuary Advisory Board would welcome a student team to make a film about the project as part of your course requirements, or students to help communicate about the project in other ways. There may be some prospect of helping the participating students with accommodation (a hut is available for project personnel at Ocean Beach), and there would be any amount of help in kind with logistics and information. One of the team’s goals is to maximise the educational and conservation advocacy benefits of mainland islands. Once the film has been aired in the usual way, the Cape Sanctuary would probably like direct visitors to their web site (currently being developed) or visitor’s centre to the film. If other media are used, again we would hope to link to the material or host it on the project’s website.
Naturally the students would have to find their own stance and story line. However some of the potentially interesting aspects of an investigative styled film at Cape Sanctuary include:
• • Conservation philosophy: where are eco-sanctuaries heading and why? Do they deliver benefits? (see the gathering controversy in the forum articles Scofield et al. 2011, Hayes 2012, Innes et al. 2012; Scofield & Cullen 2012).
• • Different values in ecological restoration: DoC and community have different priorities? See Phipps et al. (2011).
• • The citizens science army: the volunteers and their hunger for projects like Cape Sanctuary
• • International ecotourism – brown kiwi tracking and playing golf on the world’s only Audubon accredited golf course!
• • Integrating big business and conservation
• • Integrating farming with ecological restoration
• • The tactics and intricacies of successful translocation (seabird transfers and hand rearing, acoustic attraction to bring the transferred fledglings back)
• • Katipo spider and sand dune restoration
• • Predator control for conservation
Henrik Moller
Professor, Centre for Sustainability: Agriculture, Food, Energy, Environment – Kā Rakahau o te Ao Tūroa (CSAFE)
University of Otago
PO Box 56

64-3-4799244 (University Office)
CSAFE Fax: 64-3-4795266
64-3-4730024 (Home)
64-27-2268688 (Mobile)
Skype Address: henriksportable
Email: henrik.moller@otago.ac.nz, ecosyst@ihug.co.nz

9.Explore the academic side of brain science in the context of a degree in Science Communication.

Brain science is an incredibly hot field right now! We have an insatiable thirst for understanding who we are and how our personalities came to be. Brain diseases are the leading causes of death and disability the world over. And even if not life-threatening, brain disorders such as mental illness can have a significant and lifelong negative impact on sufferers, and their friends and families. Because of this, significant amounts of money are spent trying to cure or prevent brain disease, and critical government policy decisions are made based on understanding how the brain works and how it becomes diseased. Science Communication in Neuroscience is desperately needed, to engage and enthuse members of the community of all ages about how the brain works and how new discoveries are being made each day by brain scientists. Our government needs to know the importance of brain research to the health and wellbeing of our society, and about how the latest findings in brain research bring hope for curing or preventing brain disease. Industry professionals who make drugs or devices that can help people with brain injury or disease need to know the latest findings in brain research and to become linked-up with scientists so the two can synergise to develop new strategies and therapeutic approaches to combat brain disease. If any of this resonates with you, consider doing your SciCom degree with a focus in Neuroscience. Or perhaps, practicalities aside, you’ve just always been fascinated with the brain – how it works, how it forms, what happens when it becomes injured, or is stricken with mental illness or degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. With general questions about how this might work contact Christine Jasoni christine.jasoni@anatomy.otago.ac.nz and/or Jenny Rock.

10. Projects are available for students interested in Neuroscience, including in the Jasoni Lab http://develneuro.otago.ac.nz/
For example:
Was your mother's health during pregnancy to blame if you feel awkward at parties or have a hard time fitting in? It may seem a strange question, because your life now is so far from the time when your mum was pregnant with you. But we know that a mother’s health during pregnancy can have a profound effect on the health of her baby; just consider the dramatic effects that a mothers drinking or smoking can have on her baby's health. As it turns out there are many pregnancy complications that a woman cannot control - such as obesity, diabetes, infection, and stress - that can increase the risk that her child will suffer from mental illness.
Since mental illness is a problem with the way the brain works, we look at how pregnancy complications affect the prenatal (before birth) and early childhood development of the baby's brain, looking specifically at the way the brain is wired because brain wiring is what makes us who we are. Since mental illness fundamentally distorts who we are, then this seems like a logical place to look. And we almost know this intuitively; in fact, it’s common to hear it said that people who are sometimes annoying or unusual should simply be thought of as just being wired a little bit differently. Fair enough. But sometimes this wiring can be so different that it results in mental illness. We focus specifically on understanding how pregnancy complications might be involved in tangling the wires in the developing baby’s brain such that the risk of mental illness is increased.

11. Department of Conservation Projects:

•Fiordland conservation (Te Anau Department of Conservation)
A Fiordland Film Scholarship is available to students from the Department of Conservation in Te Anau. This award is offered to support Science Communication students in the making of a conservation themed film (in some cases other projects including books will also be considered) with a link to Fiordland. The following are suggested project topics (other ideas are also highly encouraged):
World leaders in Conservation
The concept for this story is to consider history, as well as where we are today and where we think we can get to in conservation. The documentary could cover NZ's history as conservation world leaders and our world first's in conservation. And about what is possible. The first conservation attempt is generally considered to be Richard Henry on Resolution Island in 1890's. He was ahead of his time, realising early on that our native species would become extinct due to introduced mammals. He pioneered species translocation methods and the concept of island sanctuaries. This story could cover the successes and trials of learning how to eradicate pests on islands and the mainland: on the small scale (Breaksea Island) and now today large scale (Campbell and Resolution Islands) as well as successful management of critically endangered species through transferring them to pest free islands. It would be great to include the efforts from the public and private sector and community as well as the current strategic thinking around what is possible…a pest free NZ. Sir Paul Callaghan's speech not long before his death on the matter has sparked off much debate among lead conservationists and the public alike into whether this is a possibility.
Contact: Caroline Carter, Ranger - Community Te Anau Area Office email: ccarter@doc.govt.nz or DDI: +64 3 249 0200
Protection of bats
Most New Zealanders don't even know we have bats or any native mammals apart from seals, yet we have two species of endangered micro bats. One of these is as endangered as the kakapo and takahe. Bats have declined through habitat degradation and the introduction of pests such as stoats, cats and rats. Rat control around roosting areas appears to enable populations to increase slowly. However we still have many issues in relation to educating the public that bats exist and that we need to poison rats to protect them and also ensure cats are controlled - a single cat can clean up several 100 bats in a night! The bat population around Geraldine/Pleasant Point in particular is a good albeit sad example of a population heading towards extinction. They have diminished in number dramatically over the past few years – the problem there is that they use trees on private farm land and are subject to losing the roosts when farmers fell them. Also no rat control is done to protect them.
Contact: Hannah Edmonds, Ranger - Biodiversity Te Anau Area Office email: hedmonds@doc.govt.nz or DDI: +64 3 249 0200

•Biosecurity – Pest-free islands campaign (Auckland/Northland, Department of Conservation)

Department of Conservation and their conservation partners are on a mission: to protect islands along the northern coast from the Hauraki Gulf to the Bay of Islands. The threat is unwanted stowaway pests. A number of these islands are pest-free or partly pest-free, and support rare and endangered native species. Other places, like the highly visited Waiheke Island, are brimming with pests!

The challenge is to raise the profile of our native sanctuaries, to highlight the risk that pest plants and animals pose to their natural values, and to motivate behaviour change to help protect them. Key stowaway pests include rodents, Argentine ants, rainbow skinks, soil and weed seeds. There are a vast number of audiences and vectors. The communication challenge is the fine balance between education and compliance messages.

We are looking for someone to help design effective interpretation, a web-hosted short film, and possibly the development of an app. Research into the most effective ways of communicating biosecurity issues to people visiting pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf and/or Bay of Islands would be most welcome.
Contact: Sandra Jack, Community Relations Ranger, Auckland email: sjack@doc.govt.nz or DDI: +64 9 445 9751
Helen Ough Dealy, Community Relations Ranger, Bay of Islands email: hodealy@doc.govt.nz or DDI: +64 9 403 9006 or +64 9 407 0300

•Long Bay Marine Reserve – a communication challenge (Auckland, Department of Conservation)

The Long Bay Marine Reserve is situated at the northern end of the popular East Coast Bays in Auckland and gets thousands of visitors each year. Many have no idea that their favourite picnic spot is a marine reserve. Long Bay Marine Reserve does not have the high profile of nearby Leigh/Goat Island Marine Reserve. And marine reserve offending is high. Challenges include a number of access points to the beach, locals vs. visitors to the area, high use by Pacific Island and Asian communities and an imminent increase in community use due to the nearby Long Bay residential development which is now underway (an additional 2000 dwellings and up to 5000 people). Communication is around the values of the area and/vs. the strong compliance message.
Contact: Sandra Jack, Community Relations Ranger, Auckland email: sjack@doc.govt.nz or DDI: +64 9 445 9751

•Kiwi Ranger short film series (Department of Conservation)

Interested in connecting kids and families to Nature? The Department of Conservation is looking for one or several motivated students to film a series of short snappy films about the Kiwi Ranger programme. Kiwi Ranger is a fun interactive programme offered to kids of all ages – and a great way to get to know some of our special places, including Aoraki Mt Cook, Mount Aspiring National Park, Arthurs Pass and Tiritiri Matangi near Auckland.
The way the programme works is that participants can pick up an activity booklet from the visitor centre at each location. Each site has an activity booklet and badge unique to the site. It's free and full of different activities ranging from scavenger hunts, short walks, activities that use all the senses, ranger interviews and word searches. Participants complete the activities then return the booklet to receive their certificate and unique Kiwi Ranger badge (they have become quite a collector’s item already!).
Since 2010, several sites have been piloted in the South Island. The success of the programme has now seen it extend to the North Island as well. We’d love for more people to become aware of the programme, and see how they can get involved. The successful applicant(s) for this project will have their work displayed on the web, within DOC visitor centres and at events around the country, as well as possibly a children’s television show on national television.
For more info about Kiwi Ranger, go to: http://www.doc.govt.nz/kiwiranger
Contact: Sarah Mankelow, Communications and Engagement Advisor, Christchurch email: smankelow@doc.govt.nz or DDI: +64 3 371 3742

12. Effective science communication: how do you assess the success of science communication and how does science communication affect public perception of science and scientists? In collaboration with Alison Campbell at Waikato University (http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/). Alison has some suggestions for really interesting and topical Masters projects.
a. A study of how institutional attempts at science “outreach” (festivals, school programmes, roadshows etc) actually affect perceptions about science in the community.
b. A study of the role of science communication in the understanding of evolution (as opposed to intelligent design and creationism) in the community.
c. A study of scientists attitudes to engagement in political and public debate - ie. why are scientists regarded as hiding in ivory towers

13. Portobello Marine Studies: Projects outlining the importance of marine research in communicating with the public. Portobello is looking for students to research school resources, podcasts/films for their touch screens, as well as other practical ways of interacting with the public.

14. Orokonui Ecosanctuary: Construct an exhibition for the Visitors Centre, podcasts for the website, school resources and school “shows”, information boards and signage (fauna and flora, ecology, info about the fence) but the Masters would also require some research, which could be on paper (comparison with other sanctuaries, their successes and challenges) or practical (monitoring changes with time after becoming an island).

15. The Gasworks Museum: Huge working steam engines and old equipment, with the potential to become a museum describing the history and future of fuels and energy. Produce exhibits, primary and secondary school teaching resources (technology and chemistry modules, cooking, energy conservation and history). There are opportunities to include exhibits, science shows or films on alternative fuels. The Gasworks Museum aims to develop a Sustainability Centre in the future.

16. Communicating relationships between fitness, fatness and health: In association with Jim Cotter, School of Physical Education (www.otago.ac.nz/profiles/staff/jimcotter.html). Jim says fatter but fitter is better than lean and sedentary, when it comes to cardiovascular and metabolic health. Get that message across using exhibits, demonstrations, websites or performance.

17. Communicating Medical Research: Follow up medical researchers who held either an Otago Medical Research Foundation grant or scholarship. Where have the students gone, once they finished their degrees and left The University of Otago? Has the research led to any medical advances? Develop podcasts to embed in the OMRF website or an exhibition describing medical research successes. In association with Dr Michele Coleman, Division of Health Sciences and OMRF Council.

18. Alternatives to oil: Interested in peak oil? Alternative fuels? The debate about land use for food v biofuel? wind and solar power? Keeping our houses warm? Plenty of areas to explore here. We have good links with Bob Lloyd and the National Energy Research Institute (www.neri.org.nz/researchers/12-bob-lloyd) and there are good projects to tackle in this area.

19. The new genetic technologies: The analysis of DNA and gene expression has been completely transformed in the past decade, as new sequencing and microarray technologies are developed. This is a world of big computers and complicated bioinformatic analysis, but it is also a world of amazing stories: from understanding the life of Neanderthal man to the development of new cancer treatments. In Otago we have many researchers and facilities for you to work alongside to develop your MSciComm project, including Colin Gavaghan at the Centre for Emerging Technologies.

20. Dunedin Community Salmon Trust
With Mark Lokman, Zoology, a trustee of the Dunedin Community Salmon Trust (the 'official' arm of the crowd that endeavours increasing salmon number sin rhe Harbour): we'd welcome a film making student if he/she would want to focus on our operation. There are some interesting folks associated with the trust-related activities, either in the Trust itself or amongst the volunteer club.

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