Pop-up laboratory puts invertebrates under the microscope

Department of Conservation —  28/07/2015

Members of the public recently got a chance to work with real-life lab equipment when they participated in Wellington’s first Open Lab.

DOC Ranger, Amy Brasch, writes…

The Open Lab is a mobile laboratory – free for the public and run by DOC volunteers.

The aim of the Open Lab is to increase awareness of New Zealand’s diverse and interesting population of invertebrates and provide a unique learning opportunity for the public.

Luke and Mary Jane Smith take a turn at working the microscope.

Luke and Mary Jane Smith work the microscope

This first Open Lab appearance at Zealandia, on Saturday 18 July, drew more than 50 participants, eager to have a go at using real-life lab equipment.

“It’s a great learning experience for everyone. The children are quick to learn how to use the microscope,” says Honorary DOC Ranger, Dr. Karin Mahlfeld.

Looking under the microscope. Left to right: Karin Mahlfeld, Milly Smith, Olive Smith, Mary Jane Smith, and Luke Smith.

Left to right: Karin Mahlfeld, Milly Smith, Olive Smith, Mary Jane Smith, and Luke Smith

Lab equipment, including microscopes and laptops, had been kindly loaned to the Open Lab from The Clinic, a community-led learning initiative at Ngaio School.

Samanth McPherson (age 8) discovers something under the microscope.

Samantha McPherson (age 8) – quick to learn how to use the microscope

Kids and adults started their Open Lab experience by rummaging through soil and leaf litter to find live invertebrates.

Given the wet weather during July, this was a perfect opportunity for families to get their hands dirty while staying dry.

Once the participants found an organism, they had the chance to view it under a microscope, and identify it with the help of scientists.

Samantha and Jessica McPherson digging through the dirt in search of insects.

Digging through dirt in search of insects

“The children are really fascinated to see what’s out there on a microscopic level,” said Zealandia Education Ranger Sue Lum.

“The Open Lab’s hands-on approach captures the wonder of the kids’ interest and imagination.”

“The Open Lab brings the outdoors in! It’s a great activity when it’s raining,” said Kate Studd, chemical engineer and mother of two.

Dr. Karin Mahlfeld amplifies a microscope image to a big screen TV.

Dr. Karin Mahlfeld amplifies a microscope image to the big screen

Mayflies were the most common invertebrates identified at the Open Lab at Zealandia.

Scientists were particularly excited to find a leaf-veined slug, which is member of an ancient family of terrestrial molluscs. This particular species is commonly found around the Wellington region and looks just like a gherkin.

It’d be great if you could make it along to the next Open Lab. It’s at the Cockayne Centre at Otari-Wilton’s Bush on Sunday 23 August from 2–4 pm.

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