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Nanocamp 2013

The Institute’s 5th NanoCamp was held at the University of Otago during the week January 13–18, 2013. This year the NanoCamp was run in conjunction with, but as a distinct programme within, the University’s annual “Hands-On Science” school

Fifteen Year 12 students were selected for NanoCamp (from 50 applications), with participants from Auckland and Pukekohe in the north to Invercargill and Riverton in the south. All converged on Dunedin during Sunday and settled into Arana College before a Mihi Whakatau welcome, dinner with NanoCamp staff and a campus orientation.

Between Monday and Thursday, the students spent most mornings and afternoons in the Department of Chemistry in a mixture of introductory lectures and practical lab-based activities. These included the synthesis of an iron complex which was studied by Raman and Mössbauer spectroscopies, incorporated into dye-sensitised solar cells and crystallised for structural characterisation by X-ray diffraction. Other activities involved the preparation of gold nanoparticles and their visualisation by electron microscopy, and the synthesis and characterisation of liquid crystalline materials.

On Monday evening, all NanoCamp/Hands-On Science students attended a public lecture by Prof. Richard Blaikie on “Seeing Small”.

Social activities included a Quiz night, team obstacle course challenge and dance/games evening at the new Forsyth Barr stadium. During the Friday morning “Report Back Session” in front of 200 or so Hands-On Science peers, the NanoCamp students enthusiastically gave a short presentation of the experiments they had carried out during their busy week.

A survey of students at the end revealed that NanoCamp continues to be highly rated. The participants said that they will go away with a broadened view of science and the opportunities it presents, and seemed eager to share their new experiences.

NanoCamp 2012

NanoCamp 2012 was hosted by Victoria University of Wellington.    

Every summer, a group of top science students from across the country is hosted at one of our six partner organisations. Participants are selected from a large number of applications (55 were received this year) based on their academic standing, a written essay, and recommendations from their science teachers.

The 2012 contingent comprises students from Auckland (5), Hamilton, Gisborne, Nelson (2), Christchurch, Dunedin, Porirua, Lower Hutt (2), and Miramar. Participants from outside the Wellington region stay together at Te Puni Village, one of Victoria’s Halls of Residence.

The daily programme features interactive sessions focused on cutting-edge research topics in nano-science and nano-technology, including demonstrations of modern nano-fabrication methods and state-of-the-art equipment. Besides seeing the facilities at Victoria, the students are spending one day at the Gracefield sites of Industrial Research Limited and GNS Science.

Gabrielle Young, from Chilton St James in Lower Hutt, said that it was giving her “a more realistic view of what it’s all about. It’s not just white coats and labs all the time.”

“We had a cool lecture from Elf Eldridge (a PhD student) about nanotechnology and biological systems, and we extracted DNA from strawberries, which I didn’t know you could do.  All the tutors have been really nice, and answered all our questions, explained stuff clearly.”

The science sessions are facilitated by MacDiarmid-Institute Principal Investigators, with crucial help from their PhD students and postdoctoral fellows.

“The interaction between the visiting students and our researchers has been very stimulating to both”, says Prof Uli Zuelicke who has been in charge of organising NanoCamp this year. “Thinking of ways to describe to bright high-school students how we approach our science quite often provides a new angle for how we academics view very fundamental issues.”

In addition to the full and varied science programme, an equally exciting schedule of social evening activities has been organised by local members of the MacDiarmid’s Emerging Scientist Association (MESA). And with the weather cooperating marvelously, the visit to Carter Observatory was especially successful.

“These young technologists are New Zealand’s future.”, says Prof Shaun Hendy, who is a Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute.

“The high technology sector is the fastest growing part of the New Zealand economy, yet it is hampered by a shortage of scientists and engineers. I hope that the experience these young people had during their week at the MacDiarmid Institute showed them that cutting edge science and technology is alive and well in New Zealand and that it will encourage them to stay and build their careers here.”