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Taking science to the extremes

Residents on the remote Chatham Islands have been exploring the world around them, from tiny forces to massive planets.

Students with Rubens Tube

Children, teachers, family and locals on the remote Chatham Islands have been investigating questions like ‘what are stars made of?’ and ‘what is quantum physics?’ as part of a four-day science extravaganza. 

The activities, run by demonstrators at Otago Museum and the Dodd-Walls Centre as part of their Extreme Science project, have given over 60 school students their first taste of scientifically exploring the world around them.

In one session, locals explored the physics of sound, through making ‘oboes’ from straws, shakers and guitars. They were also treated to a Ruben's Tube demonstration, in which a row of flames showed how sound travels in waves and how these change for different pitches.

In another session, the school kids investigated how all five of their senses work – touch, taste, smell, hearing and vision: from optical illusions to berries that make lemons taste sweet.

Tasting lemons

“It’s fun 'cause we get to do a whole heap of science experiments,” says 10-year-old Jesse. “I’ve learnt lots. It shows me all different ways to study light.”

Charlotte, a Year 7 student at Te One School, adds, “It’s actually quite fun. We made this light box and a star wheel. I learnt that light can travel really, really fast.”

Using the light box

Te One teacher Brian Dunn says that science is a natural extension of what his students already do as Chatham Islanders.

“I think there’s so much that the children do practically. All that observational stuff and seeing and hearing things happen rather than sitting at desks doing sums.

"This is their playground. They’re pig hunters, fishermen, farmers. They’re experimenting all the time when they’re in the bush – that ‘number 8 wire’ Kiwi type stuff.”

The fun also extended outside school. The team installed a pop-up planetarium in Kopinga Marae and invited locals to explore which stars and constellations could be found where. They also demonstrated how to use a telescope, so that locals could continue their astronomical curiosity for years to come.

There was even a science-in-a-pub talk for the residents public to attend.

“We don’t get anything like this over here. There are people here who are just desperate for this kind of knowledge,” says attendee Sarah Goomes.

“You look at people like these who have taken the time to come and talk to us and think, 'that’s big'. That’s really big for these children and it’s a big treat for me!”

David Hutchinson, who heads the Dodd-Walls Centre, adds, “No-one left [the pub talk] afterwards - everyone was enthused and wanted to stay for conversation to talk about what we were doing.”

Pop-up star dome in Kopinga marae

On the last day, the team travelled by boat to the even more remote Pitt Island School, where they spent the morning doing similar scientific activities.

Afterwards they headed back to Kaingaroa School on Chatham Island, where they held a science show and night sky session.

“The expedition to the Chatham Islands was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” says Otago Museum Director Ian Griffin, who led the night sky sessions. “The clear, dark, unpolluted night sky was incredible and I’ll never forget our sunrise boat trip to Pitt Island with dolphins and albatross. 

"It was also priceless seeing the smiles on the students’ faces as they helped explode our hydrogen-filled balloons - which is what it’s all about!”

The team of science communicators in action

“I like science a lot!" says Tiake, a Year 2 student at Te One School. "What I like most is blasting rockets up. I would like to be a scientist when I get older. I’d like to make things fizz up and smash all day!”

Silvio, a Year 7 student at Te One School, adds, “It was awesome! I actually want to study physics when I go to high school. I’d like to work with atoms and molecules and things like that.

“I really like these scientists coming to visit. I wish they could come more often.”

Student holding fire

About the project

Otago Museum LogoDodd-Walls logo
Extreme Science
is run by Otago Museum and the Dodd-Walls Centre, with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.



Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

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