19 February 2020
The Swedish Engineering Student Solving the Seaweed Problem in Tauranga Harbour
For Matilda Fransson, moving from Sweden to Tauranga for a summer has opened up a world of possibilities.
The 24-year-old chemical engineering student originally moved here as part of a 10-week independent study programme. During that time, she has worked with other students and lecturers at the University of Waikato to try to solve the problem of plentiful seaweed in Tauranga’s harbour.
But Matilda quickly realised that 10 weeks was not enough. She made arrangements to stay on, completing her Master’s Degree at the University of Lund remotely so she can further explore life, seaweed and sustainability in New Zealand.
Growing up in Sweden
“Sweden is a country where you can be very free and have a lot of opportunities. It’s an organised, safe country.” – Matilda
Born in the southern province of Småland, Matilda moved away at 16-years-old to attend a boarding school in Lund with an excellent horse training programme. Matilda has loved horses since her first ride at the tender age of two. After a childhood spent tending to these majestic creatures, Matilda wanted to see if the life of a horse trainer was for her.
After graduating, she worked as a horse trainer for several months in the Netherlands. While the experience taught her a great many things – responsibility and empathy, strong communication skills and how to work with different types of people – ultimately, Matilda decided to keep her love of horses as a passion, and instead pursued a chemical engineering degree at the prestigious Lund University.
Helping Solve Tauranga’s Seaweed Problem
As part of her engineering studies in Sweden, Matilda had to take on an independent research project where she could put her training to practical use. So, after months of searching for the perfect project and making connections all over the world, Matilda moved to Tauranga in November 2019 to take part in a summer research project with the University of Waikato’s Coastal and Marine Research and Education Centre.
“I knew I wanted to go abroad for this practical experience. Having spent so much time with horses, I haven’t had many chances to go overseas.”
Working out of a lab at Sulphur Point, Matilda and her research partner got to business exploring how fermenting algae can affect plant growth.
It’s no secret that there’s too much seaweed in Tauranga’s harbour, caused in part by fertiliser run off. Comparing three different types of algae fermentation, Matilda’s experiment hopes to replace chemical fertilizers with an algae-based plant feed that is gentler on the sea.
“Our findings can be used in horticulture and agriculture to offer more sustainable ways to give plants what they need to grow better and take up nutrients faster.”
Loving Life in Tauranga
For Matilda, coming to the other side of the world was an exciting prospect. Being so far from home has given her the chance to experience a new way of life and discover her independence.
“Tauranga has turned my life upside down - in a good way! I was used to having a long way to travel to school and a lot of farm work. Here, I have total freedom.”
Upon arrival, she lived in the University of Waikato’s new student accommodation on Durham Street before moving out on her own. Living downtown, Matilda loves the Tauranga waterfront and can often be found skateboarding along The Strand or over the Harbour Bridge to Sulphur Point.
“Tauranga means safe harbour and that’s really what it feels like here.”
New Zealand versus Sweden
Much of what Matilda loves about Sweden, she sees mirrored in Tauranga.
“It’s a beautiful city and a calm environment. It’s really safe and, since I’ve only been here for summer, the sun has been shining nearly every day.”
A pleasant surprise was the friendly, welcoming nature of Kiwis.
“People don't make small talk in Sweden. Here, people are more open, smiling at each other as you walk past. To me, it feels like a really happy place.”
One area where Sweden surpasses New Zealand is in sustainability. Sweden is incredibly advanced with recycling, public transport and environmentalism and Matilda would love to find a way to implement Swedish practices in New Zealand.
The Summer open Labs
Matilda has made sure to get outside her laboratory bubble, and a highlight has been participating in Priority One and the University of Waikato’s weekly Summer Open Labs. Focussing on innovation in science and technology, these labs offer students a place to learn industry innovation covering areas such as project management, design thinking, strategy and team work.
One of Matilda’s favourite workshops was a design thinking session where people from the city were asked to brainstorm solutions to the growing issues around transportation. Matilda found the concept of interviewing people off the street – people truly affected by the challenge – was revolutionary.
“Tauranga feels like a real hot spot for innovation. The way people work here is very different from what I’ve seen before.”
Extending Her Stay
Ten weeks only gave Matilda a taste of New Zealand, so she has now extended her stay to at least seven months. Not only will she wrap up her independent study programme, but she has also decided to complete her Master’s Degree remotely. After that, who knows?
“I have a lot of inspiration from my experience here. A lot of creativity flowing. Maybe I’ll look for a project or internship, perhaps on algae or maybe something completely different.”
Matilda is open to a range of work opportunities, not necessarily in engineering. What matters is that her work aligns with her values.
“I want to work on solutions for the environment, people and animals. Maybe research, design processes, sustainability. I’m open to many options.”
Another idea that has crossed her mind is to heighten the relationship between Lund University and the University of Waikato. Having done the groundwork on her own, she sees a real benefit for a more formal exchange between these two institutions, cultures and countries.
Tauranga’s many innovative companies in the field of sustainability certainly makes staying here an appealing prospect. And while the future still hangs in the balance, Matilda is certainly glad she came to New Zealand to study.
“I wouldn’t wish for any single thing to be different.”
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