Life is coming up clover

Budding scientist recognised

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 26/12/2012
Minushika Punchihewa
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ
FLOWER GIRL: Palmerston North Girls' High student Minushika Punchihewa has scooped a science prize worth $3000.

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A budding young Palmerston North scientist has been chalking up thousands in prizes and travel for her focus on a familiar flower.

Palmerston North Girls' High year 11 pupil Minushika Punchihewa, 16, has picked up a $3000 cash prize and a trip including three days sightseeing in Sydney and an Antarctic sightseeing fly-over, from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

She picked up the award for her work researching the genetic variables of white clover - a common feature of lawns and meadows throughout rural New Zealand.

The prize is not the first this year for the young scientist.

This month she took part in a "realise the dream" science tour of New Zealand with 19 other young scientists specially selected by the Royal Society, taking in the best and brightest of New Zealand's scientific facilities in a week-long trip worth $7000.

For her project, Minushika analysed white clover flowers to find out whether they followed Mendelian genetic theory. The science-focused pupil wanted to know why some clover produced a chemical that advertised its lack of tastiness to predatory bugs, while others did not.

Minushika felt humbled to get the award over so many bright peers on the tour - which put paid to her original dream career of being a wildlife scientist.

"I was surprised and so happy." she said. "Going on the trip made me consider other options. My project was on plants and now I want to consider a career in that."

She got the chance to take the science tour, with highlights including an opportunity to test blood specimens from trout at the Leigh Marine Centre in Auckland, after scooping the lion's share of Manawatu secondary schools' science fair awards. Her awards included the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science and Central Association of Science Educators Prizes, as well as Dairy New Zealand and Fonterra High Distinction Prizes and an AgResearch internship.

Next, she will undertake a two-year project with her mentors, to study a new variant of white clover with the chance to have her work published in the New Zealand Journal of Science before she even leaves secondary school.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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