Pupils dig into nature's secrets

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 21/11/2012

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Two Palmerston North pupils have been chosen to take part in a prestigious science roadshow because they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty.

Plants hold a particular fascination for year 11 Palmerston North Boys' High pupil Kyle Robertson and Girls' High pupil Minushika Punchihewa, who will be among 20 New Zealand secondary school pupils taking part in the roadshow.

Kyle's interest in nitrate has seen him hands-deep in farmland soil for a good part of this year.

Minushika's gaze has also been towards the ground.

She researched the genetic idiosyncrasies of white clover, a common fixture of lawns and meadows in rural New Zealand.

The pair will attend a Royal Society week-long science roadshow next month that will take them on a whirlwind tour of New Zealand's top science facilities.

They will also meet leading researchers on a tour from Auckland to Wellington, called Realise The Dream.

Both Kyle and Minushika were big winners at this year's Manawatu Science and Technology Fair, taking top prizes for their projects.

Both won Dairy New Zealand and Fonterra High Distinction Prizes and AgResearch internships.

Kyle also won Youth Science and Technology Prizes from Fonterra and AgResearch.

Minushika won the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science and Central Association of Science Educators Prize.

Kyle's research involved analysis of nitrate leaching on farmland around Manawatu.

He took soil samples to assess the implications for nearby waterways and made findings on which plants could stunt the leaching, resulting in less water-borne algal bloom.

"I was just browsing, really, and I thought nitrate leaching was an interesting topic to do because I like looking at soils," he said.

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.

Her initiation into the science world means Minushika does not side with some peers who might think science is "boring".

"There is a whole range of science paths," she said.

"Maybe they just haven't experienced science to the fullest."

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- Manawatu Standard

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