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Festive Scientific Fun with UCOL and Te Manawa’s Laboratree

UCOL Laboratory Science team.

It’s not often that you see a Christmas tree decorated with COVID-testing equipment. But that’s just what Te Manawa visitors are coming across, with UCOL’s ‘Laboratree’, made from laboratory tools and equipment.

“We’re always wanting to get kids and the community engaged in science,” says UCOL Senior Lecturer, Bob Stewart. “The original Laboratree was actually created as a bit of fun by one of our lecturers, but we then realised we could give it a proper go and use it to really spark conversations.”

The Laboratree is made up entirely from the equipment you can find in UCOL’s science labs. There’s PCR tubes (which are used for COVID testing), burettes, petri dishes, molecular models – even a skeleton’s foot hidden in there from the biology class. Meanwhile brightly-filled beakers show hydrophobic and hydrophilic reactions, and demonstrate spectrometry with colour reagents.

“There’s so many hidden details – we’re making up guides now to help visitors figure out which piece of equipment is which, and what it’s used for. Miku Imai and Naidene Schneider, our two science technicians that assembled it, made it over a few days and did a phenomenal job.”

After a year where science has been front page news, Stewart is hoping this reminds locals to think about a career in the field. “Many people don’t realise the wealth of scientific training we offer at UCOL, with everything from introductory courses to our Bachelor of Applied Science (Laboratory Science). There’s really high demand – we’ve frequently had a 100% employment rate for domestic graduates of our New Zealand Diploma in Applied Science. They come out as fully trained technicians, and go on to work for companies like Fonterra, MedLab, AgResearch, and NZ Pharmaceuticals. One of our lecturers was actually in charge of Palmerston North’s COVID testing lab, with a UCOL graduate working alongside her.”

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“For those who see the tree and find themselves getting interested in all the gear and what it’s used for – get in touch with us. You might just find the path to some amazing study and career opportunities!”

For the Te Manawa team, they’re thrilled with the reaction they’re seeing from visitors. “Kids love it – they see it when they come in, and just go running to it!” says Te Manawa Curiosity Experience Manager, Jaime Court.

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