Students make a splash with nature research

Jose Hong Straits Times 12 May 12;

SOME people might feel that research is best left to scientists in universities and laboratories. But last month, 11 teams from various secondary schools and junior colleges set out to prove them wrong in the Little Green Dot Student Research Grant Symposium 2012.

The symposium, held for the first time, was jointly organised by Ikea Singapore, the World Wide Fund for Nature (Singapore) and the Nature Society (Singapore).

It marked the culmination of eight months of scientific research undertaken by the teams last year.

From May to December, the teams collectively received $45,000 in funding to conduct research on the theme of marine and freshwater conservation.

They were picked from a pool of 34 projects by a panel consisting of the three organisers.

These projects ranged from measuring the biodiversity of Singapore's coasts after reclamation, to efforts in saving the Malayan Boxshell Terrapin.

The students' findings were presented at the symposium.

One highlight was the work undertaken by Sharmaine Wong, Andrew Chia, Dillen Ng and Lim Jia Min of the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science.

The 18-year-olds studied the effect of changing salinity levels on marine copepods, tiny aquatic crustaceans that form an important part of the food chain.

Their research showed that copepods can be killed when the surrounding salinity levels are changed drastically. The finding has potential implications for the management of Singapore's reservoirs when water is discharged into the sea.

Despite this, the students acknowledged that their work was far from conclusive.

'We're not confident that the results are foolproof,' said Sharmaine.

However, what the students have managed to accomplish thus far has impressed those who have supervised them.

'What struck me about the students' projects is that they actually managed to do anything related to marine and freshwater conservation at all, contrary to the popular perception that there's no nature left in Singapore,' said Mr Goh Ter Yang, outreach officer of the Nature Society.

He noted that Singaporeans hardly talk about the natural environment, except when 'some place is going to be bulldozed and people start protesting', leading to a negative discourse.

He hoped the results of the students' research will provide a chance 'to talk about our environment in a more neutral and curiosity-inducing light'.

The Little Green Dot Student Research Grant continues this year, this time with the theme of forest conservation.