Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
Rotorua rangatahi and whānau, expert weavers and scientists have been blending traditional knowledge and science to create truly unique materials.
A new way of creating kete (baskets) has begun at Paratehoata Te Kohea (Tunohopu) marae in Ohinemutu, Rotorua.
Rangatahi, weavers and Scion scientists gathered at the marae to weave together Māori knowledge and science – literally – in a new project known as Te Pākārito.
Te Pākārito is run by Ngāti Whakaue as part of Matakōkiri, a pūtaiao (science) education programme for children aged between 7 and 14 years.
“We’re exploring how to create meaningful storage units for the Matakōkiri science kits – something that represents who we are and what we do,” says Caroline Newton, Amokura Paetawhiti (education facilitator) for Matakōkiri at Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iko Ake Trust.
Eva Tait, also from the Trust, adds, “We also want to revive the use of harakeke and have our young people know that harakeke has been used for everything and anything.”
The rangatahi and their whānau spent the first half of wānanga tuatahi learning about traditional ways to work with harakeke. They made kete and learnt how to extract muka (harakeke fibres) with guidance from weavers Karl Leonard, Tracey Robens and Cori Marsters.
“We have whānau involved in our projects as well as rangatahi because we want science and mātauranga Māori to be something that is shared at the dinner table just as much as it is at school,” Caroline tells us.
After lunch, Lou Sherman, a researcher at Scion, and her colleagues showed the rangatahi many different types of plastics, and how to create things from them. These ranged from biodegradable plastics, to composite plastics that include natural materials like wood or grape skins, to 3D printed objects.
“I really liked the scientists’ talk about the different materials they made and how they were used,” says 14-year-old Maraea. “I didn’t know that things like bioplastics existed.”
The rangatahi and adults then formed three groups. Each group had the challenge of exploring how they could create a unique product from blending old and new techniques.
“I enjoyed the brainstorming part,” Rihan, 14, tells us.
“We decided that we would make a purple plastic sheet with bits of muka in it, cut the sheet into strips and then weave the strips like harakeke into a kete.”
Next, the groups went to Scion’s headquarters, where they investigated the techniques and processes that would be used in creating their three pieces and then put these into action.
The first group (Kete Hanumi) cut up muka into short pieces, which was added into molten liquid plastic before the whole combination was dyed purple and mechanically processed into flat sheets ready for cutting and weaving.
The second group (Ahu Waru) attempted to create a 3D printed kete instead of weaving it by hand. They first digitally scanned the shape of a traditionally woven harakeke kete, which was then uploaded to a computer as a 3D image.
After filling in any gaps with 3D design software, this image was exported to a 3D printer, where spools of the same muka-blended plastic – moulded into cable shapes rather than flat sheets – were fed into the machine to create Scion’s first 3D printed kete.
The third group (Meke mai Muka) took a different approach again. They decided on creating a fibreglass bowl, but with muka fibres added to strengthen the glass fibres. The rangatahi arranged their fibres inside a mould, added resin to it and let it harden.
It was not just the rangatahi and whānau who were learning new techniques:
“I loved learning about the harakeke and how to use it to make the fibres and weave the baskets,” says Lou from Scion. “I’ve never done anything like that before - it was really special.”