Tour of new centre reveals fun in science

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 12:58 09/06/2014
Cawthron Institute open day
PATRICK HAMILTON/NELSON MAIL
FOCUS: Oliver Lewis, 9, of Richmond gives his cousin, Elijah Barney, 5, a boost so he can see didymo cells, at the Cawthron Institute open day yesterday.

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Nelsonians got the chance to explore the Cawthron Institute's revamped Halifax St East site as its doors were swung open to the public.

The institute holds an open day every year, and this year included a tour of its brand new marine and freshwater research centre, the EnviroTech Wing.

From various lectures, visitors learned about the potential dangers of some food, what goes down our drains and how to identify dolphins by dorsal fin.

The institute's community educator, Jo Thompson, said it was a fantastic day with people aged from 4 months to 93 coming out to learn about how science affected their daily lives.

"We had a good turnout and we had scientists from nearly all of our teams representing their research to the public.

"It was really fun, actually," she said.

Free beverages and scientists from the freshwater, ecotoxicology, coastal science, aquaculture, food technology and biosecurity teams were on hand to walk people through the institute's research and the practical implications of the science.

Plastic rocks mimicking the effect of rock snot, aka didymo, were on display, looking realistic, as were imitations of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae, which made appearances in the Maitai River last summer.

Marine mammal ecology research assistant Katie Halliday walked science enthusiasts through research carried out on hector's dolphins, with full skeletons of the creatures as well as life-size pictures on display.

She demonstrated how software, which recognises dorsal fins, helped scientists identify and observe them without having to remove the creatures from the water or being invasive.

Her work involves going out to Admiral Bay near French Pass and observing dolphins in the area.

She said her job was like any other, with good days and bad days - but the good days were exceptionally good.

The tours gave visitors a chance to act as scientists and peer through microscopes at different organisms.

They learned about the 72-hour development of zebra fish, the monitoring of algae levels for the aquaculture industry, how microalgae could be used as biofuel and an electrical energy source, and how the institute was developing new science to avoid having to use mice in experiments.

Freshwater scientist Robin Holmes gave a presentation on how community-based initiatives were helping to support stream habitat restoration on farms, and Kevin Heasman talked, later in the day, about aquaculture.

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The history of the institute was also displayed. The Halifax St has been the home for the institute since its establishment 93 years ago. On the site of the new EnviroTech wing, tobacco research was undertaken in the 1920s.

- Nelson

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