Community-based science continues to thrive in Taranaki with the awarding of funding of over $100,000 to a further nine projects under the Curious Minds programme.

Community-based science continues to thrive in Taranaki with the awarding of funding of over $100,000 to a further nine projects under the Curious Minds programme.

Taranaki is one of three regions to pilot the Curious Minds Participatory Science Platform (PSP) which supports community groups to work collaboratively with science professionals on locally relevant research projects. The latest announcements are the third round of funding since 2015 to be awarded to local projects.

Taranaki PSP coordinator Josh Richardson, of Venture Taranaki, says the projects that have received funding span a wide array of science and technology disciplines.

“The participatory science projects proposed by the Taranaki community range from telecommunications engineering through to organic chemistry,” he says. “All have a link to the region, and will help local groups to learn how science can be utilised to solve problems in their neighbourhoods.”

Many of the newly funded projects will be run through schools, Josh says.

“Opportunities like these inspire young minds to see the value of science and technology in everyday life, and give a clear line-of-sight to career pathways that students may have otherwise overlooked.”

Another benefit of scientists working in tandem with community groups is the opportunity for two-way learning.

“Science professionals offer the expertise necessary to conduct robust investigations, while community members provide local insight and cultural understanding that further elevate the research outcomes.”
Josh says interest in applying for the funding has increased significantly year on year. “We are seeing enthusiasm from community groups wanting to undertake science investigations right across the region, and the successful candidates this year are a reflection of this,” he says.

With at least two more projects still to be confirmed, 2017 will be the biggest year yet for Taranaki’s Curious Minds. Projects confirmed so far in this round include:
  • Hawera High School will investigate the way in which Mount Taranaki last erupted and how it will erupt again. From this it will deduce how prepared we are as a community to combat this natural disaster in terms of emergency management.
  • The Otaraua and Manukorihi Hapu will work with BTW Company to investigate the correlation between the ecological diversity (environmental quality) indicators of a waterway and watercress abundance, and whether the surrounding land uses have an impact on this.
  • Makahu School are setting up a trapping project to investigate the distribution of pest species relative to known areas of kiwi and long tail bat presence.
  • Massey University will be running an investigation in collaboration with New Plymouth Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools focussing on the wireless connectivity issues faced by communities, both rural and urban, in the Taranaki region.
  • Toko School are investigating the process of distilling materials for their essential oils and hydrosols. Students will test which natural materials make the best products for purposes such as cleaning, soaps, shampoos, and aromas. The intention is to produce products that are more sustainable than those in existing use within the school.
  • Woodleigh School want to find a way to effectively repel sandflies and mosquitos in their outdoor learning area ‘Tane Te Wananga.’ The students will be producing and testing the efficacy of several different plant-based insect repellents as well as physical alterations to the outdoor environment.
  • The Taranaki Conservationists and MAIN Trust are investigating threats to the New Zealand Dotterel, and what can be done to better protect this at-risk species. Local volunteers will conduct field work between Mohakatino and Sandy Bay.
  • Otaraua Hapu and Waitara Alive are investigating the health of whitebait spawning sites along the Waitara River. Local knowledge will be utilised to collate information on both historic and contemporary spawning sites. Volunteers and students will undertake a survey of the river to identify potential spawning sites and the threats that exist to their success.
  • Wild for Taranaki will work with Central and Makahu Schools to investigate what our feline friends get up to when we’re not looking. Volunteer cats will be fitted with GPS units and students will analyse the tracking data to see how, or if, their wandering patterns overlap with native wildlife.

Additional info:
The PSP is being piloted in three areas nationwide: Taranaki, South Auckland and Otago. It is an initiative under A Nation of Curious Minds, a government programme to encourage New Zealanders to get involved in science and technology.

A Nation of Curious Minds is coordinated by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. See