Big year for top achiever

00:03, Jan 23 2013
rachel cottam
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, left, Rachel Cottam, and Dean Schmidt, general manager corporate affairs at Genesis Energy at Realise The Dream last month

New Lincoln University student Rachel Cottam, heading into a four-year degree in environmental management, may need a breather before lectures start after a busy 2012.

The 17-year-old former Lincoln High School student has a long list of academic achievements behind her. She won the regional Canterbury/Westland Science Fair in August and was named as an outstanding student by her school and attended the week- long Royal Society "Realise The Dream" event in December.

The financial headaches which afflict some students might not be a problem however - she also notched up five scholarships along the way, one a Lincoln University Scholarship Award, which pays for her first-year tuition.

The 'Realise the Dream' takes 20 students who have undertaken an "outstanding piece of science research or technology development" on an all-expenses paid trip around the North Island.

Along the way students are hosted by science organisations and are given the opportunity to see some of New Zealand's cutting edge science first hand.

Rachel's investigation "These Little Piggies Went to Market", which took out the science fair award, earned her entry.


Rachel said she researched different living environments of pigs (indoor and outdoor) and if the conditions affected the taste of the meat. She studied free- range and indoor intensive piggeries and compared behaviours over 24 hours in both environments.

She said there were no significant stress behaviours observed in either group, but there was a variation of normal behaviours due to the living environments.

A taste test by her fellow Lincoln High students last year proved the difference between the meats was insignificant.

"Realise the Dream"students were hosted by the Liggins Institute, Massey University, DairyNZ and Niwa.

Rachel said her favourite visit was to Genesis Energy at Tokaanu and a team exercise where they had to come up with a proposal to prevent ash entering the water intake system after a volcanic explosion.

"That was really neat as a volcanic eruption could easily be a possibility" she said. Her group won a prize for the most innovative solution.

Her involvement in the event and her work last year had altered her perceptions: "I no longer see issues as black or white but understand that there are shades of grey in everything we do".

It had given her a greater understanding of the challenges "we face in the world today". Through her degree she intends to work toward encouraging sustainable business practices.

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