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Young scientists at the BASF Kids’ Lab solve the world’s problems

01 December 2017
Dr Peter Swedlund from the School of Chemical Sciences sharing an experiment to interested school children at the BASF Kids' Lab
Dr Peter Swedlund from the School of Chemical Sciences sharing an experiment to interested school children at the BASF Kids' Lab

The BASF Kids’ Lab, hosted by the School of Chemical Sciences, is a hotbed of brilliant (and sometimes amusing) solutions to some of the biggest problems the world is facing today.

Dr Peter Swedlund, who co-presented the annual event with laboratory manager Katrina Graaf, was entertained by one young problem solver who declared the best way to stop global warming would be to ‘open the ozone hole to let the heat out’.

Katrina has been involved in every University of Auckland BASF Kids’ Lab over the last 12 years and says the enthusiasm from both children and their teachers never wanes.

“I love seeing the kids enjoying themselves conducting the experiments and realising that science is all around them,” she says. “But one of my favourite memories is when a primary school teacher – who had been so bogged down with numeracy and literacy that she hadn’t been teaching science – realised that science could actually help with both numeracy and literacy!”

She will also never forget the moment one student exclaimed the BASF Kids’ Lab is ‘better than McDonalds!’

Chemistry beating the fabled golden arches is a moment to relish, indeed…

Two of biggest challenges for School of Chemistry staff is the pre-event organisation and making sure there are new, engaging experiments that can be carried out by primary school students and will also fit into the tight timeframe.

However, Katrina says that thanks to support from BASF Australia and the contributions of Judith Poland and Lucy Mo (Faculty of Science), the two-day event runs very smoothly.

“Keeping it fresh, four times in two days is another challenge,” Peter says. “Luckily, the sheer excitement from the kids triggers a distant memory and helps to keep us motivated.”

The overall aim is for kids to experience some of the more enjoyable aspects of chemistry and provide some counter balance to the ‘forces of chemo-phobia’. Both Peter and Katrina believe these sorts of events help ensure diversity in our future scientists. 

“We make sure we invite schools from a range of deciles [one to ten], schools with variety of ethnicities, and our postgraduate laboratory mentors are chosen carefully for diversity as they are the role models for our future scientists,” they explain.

Engaging students with fun experiments and building their confidence in science opens their eyes that science is possible for everyone.

Feedback boards from this year’s BASF Kids’ Lab recorded the following comments:

I shall treasure the worm for about a week! * The slime was epic * Courtney and Krystal are the best * It was beyond fun – this has been a spectacular day for me * I wish I could come back every day * I learnt that apple has no Vitamin C * I learnt that Berocca had 2000 Vitamin C * It was great but I would like more slime * Coming to University was soo much fun * Best school trip EVER * I [heart] Science.

BASF Kids’ Lab 2017 was held on 23 and 24 November at the University of Auckland as part of an international outreach effort. School of Chemistry staff who have been involved in presenting the BASF Kids’ Lab in previous years are Dr David Salter and Dr David Ware.

BASF Kids' Lab 2017
BASF Kids' Lab 2017
BASF Kids' Lab 2017