• Peter Dreaden introducing school children to the Lab-in-a-box

    Peter Dreaden introducing school children to the Lab-in-a-box

  • Inside the Lab-in-a-box

    Inside the Lab-in-a-box

  • Using the equipment inside the Lab-in-a-box

    Using the equipment inside the Lab-in-a-box

With Lab-in-a-Box (LIAB) we want to help everyone turn their hand to practical science, discover how science works and what scientists do.

The project is supported by the Bioheritage National Science Challenge and the Bioprotection CoRE, and will focus on science related to conservation genetics, pest control and eradication and our biological heritage. The project also wants to initiate conversation about the use of new science technologies such as CRISPR and gene drive to support the aspiration of the resarchers working towards achieving a Predator-Free New Zealand.

LIAB is a mobile science laboratory, built in a 20 foot shipping container. It comes fully equipped with both science “gear” and people – an educator, researchers, students or professors from around New Zealand. The mobile science laboratory will be delivered to rural schools and communities, to support science teaching in rural schools, spark interest in science in rural communities, and leave the communities with a citizen science project with continued supported from the LIAB team.

The citizen science project is based on designing and deploying new wasp traps, and will deliver these to schools during the day. After school and in evenings the LIAB will act as a safe-space for families to engage and discuss the science around the new technologies proposed to eradicate pests in New Zealand.

LIAB also aim to deliver a Bio-Blitz programme, providing a centre for a school or community to learn about biodiversity of their own environments, and providing expertise to help them interpret that data, as well as a large menu of science engagement modules that will be available to North Island schools or communities with specific interests.

Bioheritage and Bioprotection science materials

Preschool and early primary: Modules on insects to teach identification of insects in the environments around schools/preschool.

Primary and intermediate: Modules on bees, beneficial and pest and marine conservation.

Scondary students: NCEA-linked programmes on conservation genetics (in terrestrial and marine environments), population genetics, genetic modification and forensic genetics (in a conservation context). These modules have been developed particularly to support the teaching of genetics in schools, as this is often poorly covered in NCEA, but is vitally important in having a scientifically literate population to wrestle with the wealth of future technologies in genetics and genomics that are on their way.

What is Lab-in-a-Box?

LIAB is built from a 20-foot shipping container which opens down one side to double its floor space, and then rolls out a frame to produce a weather-proof, self-contained laboratory. The laboratory contains fold-out tables, chairs and benches, and equipment ranging from compound and dissecting microscopes through astronomy telescopes, electrophoresis equipment and 3D printers, to water quality testing equipment, magnifying glasses and a drone. The Lab-in-a-Box is set up for teaching, with every wall being a white board we can project images from the inbuilt cameras attached to microscopes. LIAB also runs rural broadband internet to allow connection with experts through video conferencing.

LIAB folds into a normal secure 20-foot shipping container, allowing transport by road, rail or sea without any further modification, and is entirely self-contained if necessary, with equipment for running water, independent waste, and a generator for power if needed.


Lab-in-a-box is a collaboration between Genetics Otago, Otago Museum, Marine Studies Centre, VUW, BHNSC, BPRC, Dodd Wall Centre, Te Papa and is supported by the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund and the Biological Heritage Challenge.

The team assembled for this project has a wide range of abilities and expertise and comes from a range of institutions.

  • Prof Peter Dearden (University of Otago) will lead the project. Peter has led the previous Lab in a Box projects and is a Callaghan Medal winning Science communicator. Peter is a geneticist who works with both the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge and the Bioprotection CoRE
  • Dr Craig Grant (Otago Museum) will lead the educator teams who deliver content in Lab-in-a-Box. Craig is Director of Science Communication in the Otago Museum, and a skilled organiser and deliverer of community engagement and communication.
  • Prof Nancy Longnecker (University of Otago) will lead the assessment of Lab-in-a-Box. Nancy is a world expert in assessment of science communication activities and will supervise the PhD project linked to Lab-in-a-Box.
  • Prof Phil Lester (Victoria University of Wellington) will support and lead the Victoria University of Wellington contribution to the project, and provide his expertise in Wasp biology and control.
  • Prof Travis Glare (Director Bioprotection Research Centre and Lincoln University) will support the Bioprotection Research Centre contribution to the Lab-in-a-Box project.
  • Dr Andrea Byrom (Director Bioheritage National Science Challenge) will support the Bioheritage Challenge contribution to the project.
  • Dr Andrew Cridge (University of Otago) will provide support and education based on conservation genetics and GM technologies.
  • Nathalie Wierdak (Otago Museum) will provide her outstanding science communication delivery skills to support the community engagement programme.
  • Dr Belinda Cridge (University of Otago) will support our engagement with early primary and pre-school audiences.