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Student story

Deane Thomas

31 August 2023

"I didn’t know what I was capable of until I put myself forward for this..."

Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and Statistics
Master of Product Design

At only 26, Deane Thomas has a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Product Design, and she’s passionate about an eco-friendly economy.

Her summer project, funded by the University of Canterbury’s Biosecurity Innovations (UCBI) team, was a step in the right direction.

Over the last 200 years, possums, stoats, and other invasive species have caused significant harm to New Zealand’s native wildlife. Poisonous baits and traps have helped reduce invasive populations, but our country’s rugged landscape can make some areas impossible to reach on foot.

Recognising this problem, the Department of Conservation (DoC) and UC’s School of Product Design collaborated to create “long-life lures” – baits with a 6–12 month lifespan which can be placed within DoC’s traps. Currently, traps are baited with peanut butter or fruit which only remains attractive to pests for a short period of time.

Thomas aimed to 3D-print a biodegradable case for the lures which can ultimately degrade into the environment overtime. This is important for reducing environmental pollution, and the long-life aspect of the lures means less labour is required to keep the traps attractive to pests.

Usually, 3D printers use a thermoplastic material which bends when warm and holds its shape when cooled. Trying to achieve the properties of thermoplastics without the use of conventional plastic proved an exciting challenge for Thomas.

Biodegradable filament exists, but only some will be able to decompose in your compost bin; whereas others are designed to degrade in industrial composting facilities.

Thomas took all this information on board in her attempt to create a biodegradable filament that can decompose in your compost bin, which was able to be created in-house using the School of Product Design’s facilities.

“It can get hard with these sorts of projects to keep going when you don’t see progress. I had to keep reminding myself 'there’s only so much I can achieve in 5 weeks'.”

Sustainability was front-of-mind for Thomas while working on this project. She says she’s happy to have worked on something fit for a circular economy – a world where waste can be composted and landfills become unnecessary.

“…The [lures], when disposed of, end up going back into the system in some way or another that doesn’t involve environmental pollution.”

Post-UCBI project, she’s kept on the lure development track. Her research she conducted during her master’s project and during the UCBI summer project helped her understand the behaviour of different materials involved in additive manufacturing.

With the help of the unique expertise and skills offered by the School of Product Design staff, she has moved on to exploring various designs and prototyping methods for the development of the long-life lures.

Thomas hopes her research will provide UC’s Product Design students with insight into 3D printing materials, and the importance of sustainability. She says students should just “give things a go” and make sure they get involved early.“I didn’t know what I was capable of until I put myself forward for this.

“Don’t count yourself out early, give everything a go.”

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