Position: Freelance science communicator and educator, contracted to GNS Science, Lower Hutt.
Field: Communication and education.
Aliki Weststrate is a science communicator and classroom teacher. She is working with Earth scientists on a project to better understand the Hikurangi subduction zone, which extends offshore down the entire length of the east coast of the North Island.
Science communication and outreach
Aliki’s path to science communication and education has been meandering. She originally did an MSc in psychology and, after graduating, worked in human resources. It was during her time working in science education for the Royal Society of New Zealand that she realised there was a strong need to help science organisations connect with schools. Many scientists want to interact and share their learning with school students but feel like they don’t have knowledge of the education sector or the connections to do it, so Aliki studied primary teaching through Victoria University of Wellington. This has given her a great deal of understanding and knowledge when working with teachers and creating resources that are useful.
I think the science issues and challenges of our time are incredibly important to teach to our rangatahi. Kids are natural scientists and love having real, authentic experiences with experts, so my job is to facilitate that. Seeing them have those lightbulb moments when they learn something about our amazing planet is just the best feeling.Aliki Weststrate
Aliki’s current project with GNS Science is varied. She communicates the research that scientists are undertaking to understand past earthquakes on the Hikurangi subduction zone, as well as what they are doing to measure current earthquake behaviour. The findings are important for civil defence planning and local community responses to an earthquake.
Aliki’s work with GNS Science includes many fun field trips, including getting to know the geology of the North Island’s east coast and sharing this with local students and teachers.
Sailing with the research ship JOIDES Resolution
In 2018, Aliki got the chance of a lifetime to be part of a 2-month International Ocean Discovery Program science expedition to the Hikurangi subduction zone on the research ship JOIDES Resolution. This vessel travelled 50–100 km off the coast of Gisborne and used its unique drilling equipment to take samples from within the subduction zone. It also installed New Zealand’s first sub-seafloor earthquake observatories.
Working alongside and observing the 35 international scientists on board was an incredible experience for Aliki. She says, “Seeing scientists working together for 12 hours straight each shift, 60 days in a row, and still manage to be so collaborative and passionate was a real privilege. I believe scientists all share a deep curiosity about the world and that they have learned how to ask questions that can be tested and verified. They are like highly specialised detectives, trying to solve the problems that they encounter. But they can’t do it alone, so seeing them combine their knowledge to build the big picture is really inspiring.”
Nature of science
Aliki describes scientists as highly specialised detectives. What are some of the skills and characteristics that scientists need?
Learn about the work of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and New Zealand’s contribution in Voyages of discovery.
The introductory article Aboard JOIDES Resolution expedition #375 provides more detail about the voyage to explore the Hikurangi subduction zone and has links to Aliki’s blogs.
Watch Aliki in this PLD webinar as she explores some of the science involved in learning more about natural hazards, including volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and lahars.
Visit the JOIDES Resolution website to find out more about the expedition to the Hikurangi subduction margin.
Read more about the GNS Science-led Hikurangi subduction zone project, funded by the MBIE Endeavour grant from 2016–2021.
Listen to RNZ’s Our Changing World segment about expedition #375 to study New Zealand’s largest fault.
Outer Reaches is a company Aliki Weststrate founded in 2016 to connect organisations to schools and communities.
Sign of the times is an activity Aliki developed while living and working on JOIDES Resolution.