For the second time in two months, UNSW represented Australia at a highly successful community outreach initiative in the Cook Islands. 

The Aitutaki Science Expo, held on 13-14 December 2022, was designed to cater to school-aged children from 5 to 16 years of age to inspire the next generation of scientists. UNSW PhD Student Rick Leong and Water Research Laboratory Lecturer Helen Rutlidge attended the expo, giving approximately 500 attendees, both students and the public some hands-on experiences with UNSW water initiatives including floating mangrove platforms and water filtration systems.

Rick Leong said that it was both a privilege and an enjoyable experience to have a booth at the expo.

“Helen and I had heaps of fun educating the children on the importance of STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It was joy and satisfaction seeing the  gleaming eyes and smiles of the students when they were able to understand and solve simple water-related engineering puzzles, all of which provide integral knowledge to environmental issues faced on the island,” said Leong.

“As a strong supporter of community outreach, I really enjoyed giving back to society in terms of knowledge that will empower future Aitutaki and Cook Islander generations with knowledge in tackling issues related to STEM issues” added Leong.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to provide hand-on experiences to the children and it was great to see their enthusiasm for the various water engineering activities we provided. It was also a time to hear from the local organisations the challenges that the island is facing due to climate change, and we hope to be able to continue to work together with Cook islands in migrating the issues they face.”

The Aitutaki Science Expo followed the first Cook Islands Prime Climate Change Prime Minister’s Science Expo which was held in Rarotonga in October 2022. UNSW was represented at the October event by A/Prof Fiona Johnson and A/Prof Kristen Splinter. Similar to the first expo, UNSW joined other international invitees including Otago Museum, and local partners including Kōrero o te 'Ōrau, Cook Islands Women, Emergency Management Cook Islands - EMCI, Kōrero o te 'Ōrau, Cook Islands Marine Park - Marae Moana.

Initiated by the Tūhura Otago Museum in Aotearoa New Zealand, the science festival was aimed at engaging young people to learn more about science and technology. The theme for both events was “Synergy of Traditional Knowledge and Science – Keeping it Cool”, acknowledging that both science and Traditional Knowledge have an important role to play in the future of the Cook Islands.

We thank Ms. Melina Tuvarakai and the staff from the Climate Change Cook Islands, Office of the Prime Minister and Anna and Matt Blacka for assisting Helen and Rick with the logistics for this expo.