Curious Minds – Tangaroa College: A spoonful of sugar

Posted on 18 January 2023

With rising concerns about sugar consumption in our youth, year 11 biology students at Tangaroa College have set out to investigate how the body absorbs and processes fructose, a sugar found in fruits commonly used as a sweetener in processed food and drinks.

Supported by scientists from the University of Auckland’s Health Sciences department, the first phase of the project involved using Hbreath monitors to analyse the variation in fructose absorption among students.

Teacher Chandar Dewan says, “My goal is to get students more interested and to encourage them to continue in the sciences. They have really enjoyed the learning so far, going on trips [to the University of Auckland labs and Participatory Science Film Festival] and doing practical hands-on science.”

The next steps in 2023 include analysing how absorption is impacted by factors such as age or exercise. There are also plans to expand the experiment to teachers and family members to increase participation and interest in their school community. Students hope that, through this project, they will be able to inform and encourage their peers to make smarter choices in the soft drinks aisle.

The project, along with the opportunities and connections it has created, is an example of how enquiry-based learning can connect science topics to real-world problems and applications.

Curious Minds Project Manager, Ying Yang, says, “This project has a lot of interesting STEM aspects, from the biochemical processes happening in our bodies to understanding how technology is used for scientific measurements. It’s also unique in that this research is being done predominantly by and for young Māori and Pacific people. When you consider the impacts of health inequities in our communities, it is really important that more Māori and Pacific students are encouraged to pursue health sciences. We need that diverse representation, and to achieve that, we need to provide more opportunities like this to our rangatahi.” 

Find out more about Tangaroa College’s fructose experiments in the video below.