Science Digest: November 1994

Basic research fund set up

The eight-person committee to administer the new ‘blue-skies’ basic research fund set up in this year’s Budget has been announced by Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Simon Upton. The fund has been named the Marsden Fund after Sir Ernest Marsden, associate of Lord Rutherford, Victoria University physics professor and first director-general of the DSIR from 1926 to 1954. Marsden Fund chairman is Dr Ian Axford FRS, chairman of FRST. Other members are: Dr Garth Carnaby FRSNZ (Wool Research, Chch), Dr Roger Slack FRS FRSNZ (Crop and Food, Palm.Nth), Dr Janet Davidson FRSNZ (Museum of NZ), Professor Roy Kerr FRSNZ (Auckland), Professor Carolyn Burns FRSNZ (Otago), Professor Dick Walcott FRS FRSNZ (Victoria), and Professor George Petersen FRSNZ (Otago). The Marsden Fund aims to support research not subject to the socio-economic goals of the Public Good Science Fund. The Marsden Fund starts in 1995-96 with a $6 million budget, rising to about $11 million in 1996-97. The fund’s $2 million increase on Budget night figures is due to transfers from existing allocations. Output 36, Fundamental Research, contributes to the difference.

Social Research CRI to close

The Institute for Social Research and Development, the smallest of the Crown Research Institutes established in 1992 is to be wound up, the Minister for CRIs Simon Upton announced. He said the institute had been unable to achieve the breadth and depth of competency needed for long-term viability. Against strong competition for staff, not enough senior researchers were attracted to build a successful business. Current work will be continued by association of each research team with other institutions. Mr Upton said the Government still required a strong social science capacity. To do this he will be commissioning a study to examine the issues involved. He expected the study to cover the need for publicly funded social science research and assess how adequately it is being funded. The Royal Society’s Social Sciences Committee has written to Mr Upton urging the maintenance of a social science research capability in the public sector.

Irradiation study needed

The Royal Society is considering studying the whole issue of irradiation, the society’s Chief Executive Officer Ross Moore said. There was a strong body of opinion that there was a need for a review of the 1989 irradiation regulations on scientific and other grounds, Mr Moore said. Recently Labour Party spokesman Pete Hodgson said the Government was ignoring policy on irradiation by not calling for a national assessment of a proposed plant. The Taupo District Council is considering planning consents for an irradiation plant, though its use has not been specified. Food irradiation is banned under the 1989 Food Act Regulations. Mr Hodgson said the Government’s 1989 policy on food and industrial irradiation also stated that consents should be ‘called in’ by the Minister for assessment by a national planning authority. Secretary for the Environment Roger Blakeley said while food irradiation was clearly illegal, the applicant could still apply for a consent for other purposes such as irradiation of medical or industrial products.

Environment science committee

The Royal Society has recently established a Science of the New Zealand Environment Committee, with Professor John Hay, University of Auckland as convener. The new committee met with officials from the Ministry for the Environment to discuss issues of mutual interest including the recently-released government publication Environment 2010 Strategy.

Fisheries to merge with NIWA

Most of Fisheries Research is to join NIWA in a merger by July 1 1995 providing negotiations can be settled by December 31, 1994, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The ministry said that if details could not be settled a stand-alone Fisheries CRI would be formed. All current research activities would be transferred, plus associated services. A Government statement said that the MAF Fisheries-NIWA merger would result in a name change for NIWA. A policy-making Ministry of Fisheries (MOF) will also be formed. This will leave a Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to deal with traditional policy concerns of the primary production sector except for fisheries and forestry.

Some Science news to Digest

This is the first issue of a new Royal Society monthly newsletter containing news about science, technology and recent research. We have named it Science Digest because it is meant to be just that – a digest of science highlights from the previous month.

Science Digest is aimed at better communication with the wider science and technology community via the many categories of member represented within the Royal Society of New Zealand. Fellows and individual members of the Society will receive their copies direct.

News will be kept short so that as many items as possible can be published. We are looking for news of interest to our diverse membership that now includes the social, technological and engineering sciences, in addition to the natural sciences.

This and future copies of Science Digest will be available on Internet through the Society’s Gateway to New Zealand Science on World Wide Web.

Please send any possible items to Lindsay Clark, Science Digest editor , Royal Society of New Zealand, Box 598 Wellington. Phone (04) 472-7421. Fax: (04) 473-1841. E-mail:

NZAS survey of S&T

An Association of Scientists survey of 837 scientists in government, university and private industry yielded generally negative views about their work, but the survey had some positive features. The survey found 70% of scientists felt happy about the amount of basic science they were able to do, while 85% believed their qualifications and experience were well used. But the survey also showed that nearly 30% were looking for another job. Survey authors said effects on morale since restructuring were shown in a number of ways: only 36% of government scientists felt secure in their jobs against 75% in universities; more than half of government scientists said they had been relocated or disestablished; funding decreases had adversely affected 78% of working scientists.

Science Fair winner tackles sexual equality

For the first time a social science project has won top honours at the ECNZ NZ Science Fair. Katie Elkin won the ECNZ Premier Award at this year’s fair held at Rotorua. Katie, aged 16 of St Hilda’s Collegiate in Dunedin, interviewed 150 people in the course of an intense five-month study investigating gender-related differences in spatial ability, visual memory and vocabulary. Her research confirmed what she had suspected – that sexual equality was a biological and scientific lie. The prize is a travel award to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Canada in May 1995.

A report from the Royal Society’s review of science fairs will be available shortly.

Special travel awards granted

The scientific contribution of indigenous people was recognised at the 1994 New Zealand Science Fair with a special travel award to an outstanding Māori student Adam Manakau, of Taipa, Northland. Adam, along with Leanna Kent, an Auckland science teacher, has been sponsored by the International Science and Engineering Fair to its next fair in Canada.

PM calls for more private R and D

New Zealand farmers and agriculture-related businesses must find new ways to wring benefits from processes of research, design, development and marketing, Prime Minister Jim Bolger said this month.

These processes would account for up to 80% of the value of customised branded exports with the value of direct production as little as 10-15%. There was an impressive range of new technologies and research areas NZ should be exploring.

Despite NZ’s long history of applying science to agriculture there was evidence of under-investment in this process today. Private sector R&D funding in NZ was 0.3% of GDP, compared with a 1.1% average or OECD countries.

Government had promised to lift its own research spending by a third. ‘Will you come with us?’, Mr Bolger said when asking the private sector for a stronger commitment to research.

R and D pays off

Christchurch mobile radio company Tait Electronics, which was last month voted New Zealand’s top exporter, is ploughing its profits back into the business. Tait has put 12% of its annual income into research and development for long-term projects, plus large sums into international market research. Managing director Angus Tait says all returns needed to be reinvested for the hi-tech operation. Sales have doubled in 3 years to $100M.

New name for science teacher group

New Zealand Association of Science Educators (Inc) is the name adopted by the former New Zealand Science Teachers’ Association. Robyn Baker, who succeeds Anne Hume as president of the association, says the name change will help remind people that the organisation involves science educators from early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education, science technicians, and others with a commitment to science education. The association secretariat is based in Wellington at the Royal Society.

Māori maths, science group formed

Concern at under-achievement and low participation of Māori in mathematics, science and technology has led to formation of the National Association of Māori Mathematicians, Scientists and Technologists (NAMMSAT). The association will look at improving Māori achievement in these fields and how to increase participation in science-related jobs. An conference is planned for July 1995.

Ethics draft response

The draft code of ethics for scientists and technologists sent to constituent societies, branches and individual members in the October newsletter has drawn many constructive comments. Thanks for these. The closing date for response to the Royal Society is 30 November 1994 (email:

Safety Act concern to educators

The new Health and Safety Act is causing some concern among science and technology educators because the Act has implications for teaching practices in the laboratory or classroom. Peter Spratt, the Royal Society’s education executive officer, is keen to hear of the effect of the Act and possible suggestions for inclusion in classroom guidelines. Contact the Royal Society, email:

Science, maths curricula in Māori The first-ever maths and science curricula in Te Reo Māori have been published and distributed to schools in recent weeks.

Copies are available from the Ministry of Education.

Education staff person

Richard Meylan has been appointed by the Royal Society to its science and technology education section, to assist Peter Spratt. Richard, who takes up his position mid-November, will service the national science fair movement and co-ordinate the Association of Science and Technology Centres. He was head of geography and social studies at Newlands College, Wellington and has produced teaching resources for the Waitangi Tribunal, Ministry for the Environment and the DSIR. Richard was contracted to evaluate the effectiveness of Department of Conservation displays from the visitors’ perspective.

Society legislation now ready

The legislation that will establish the restructured and renamed Royal New Zealand Society for Science and Technology is now ready for introduction into Parliament. Chief Executive Officer Ross Moore said it has taken a long time to fulfil the consultative process and to reconcile some of the differences that inevitably arise when framing legislation for an umbrella organisation as diverse as the new society. Where possible the legislation follows the format and content suggested in the review panel’s 1992 report to Government. A new feature is the decision to retain the name The Royal Society of New Zealand for the academy element of the organisation.

Changes in NSS Climate Change Committee

Judy Lawrence, environmental strategy manager for the NZ Dairy Board, has been appointed convener of the National Science Strategy Committee for Climate Change, taking over the position from Dr Jim Ellis who served for three years. Dr Warren Williams has resigned from the committee. Two new members have been appointed: Dr Bruce Campbell, AgResearch, Palmerston North and Mr Chris Collins, Eden Resources, Wellington.

Australian greenhouse partnership

Greenhouse ’94,the recent Australian-New Zealand Conference on Climate Change in Wellington gave an excellent overview of current climate change science, and likely climate change impacts on Oceania. The meeting also gave a boost to collaboration and sharing of information between Australian and New Zealand scientists. Liaison has also been improved through the invitation of Dr Martin Manning (NIWA) to serve on the Australian National Greenhouse Advisory Committee. Dr David Wratt (Royal Society representative) will participate in a climate change assessment by Australian scientific and technological academies for the Australian Government.

Young PhDs win funding

The Royal Society recently funded 13 PhD students to attend their first overseas science conference under the Young Scientists Award scheme. Closing dates for applications are March 1 and October 1 each year.

Scholarship underpins Museum

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa must have a vision based on a bedrock of scholarship and research, an external research review committee says. Questions had been raised to the part research will play in the future of the museum. The review committee says there must be a core of museum staff across all its major disciplines who are acknowledged scholars in their field. There must be a balance between interpretation and research. Future achievements will be highly dependent on the fruits of research, the committee says.

Medals awarded

New Zealand Science and Technology Medals have recently been awarded by the Royal Society:

Margaret Austin, Labour MP and spokesperson for science and technology, and for education, has been awarded a medal in recognition of her work as a founder of the NZ Science Teachers Association and for her contribution to science curriculum development.

A group of science education researchers in the Science Education Research Unit at the University of Waikato also received recognition for its Learning in Science Project for research undertaken between 1979 and 1981. Their research was influential in the new science curriculum.

Colin Percy, Science Fair Board chairperson for the past three years, has been awarded a medal for his long-term commitment to science education. A former lecturer at the Auckland College of Education, Mr Percy has been involved for almost 30 years with science fairs.

NOMINATIONS close on February 28 next year for the 1994-95 NZ Science and Technology Medals. Information and nomination forms are available from the Royal Society. Nominations may be made by society members or by recognised scientific and technological institutions.

New maths and information science group

A new group to represent and promote the mathematical and information sciences has been formed as a standing committee of the Royal Society. The committee encompasses the disciplines of pure and applied mathematics, computer science, operational research, statistics, and teaching relevant to these disciplines. Convener Professor Graeme Wake of Massey University said low appreciation of maths and information sciences would be detrimental to all New Zealand science. Societies represented are the Mathematical Society, Informatics group of the Computer Society, Operational Research Society, Statistical Association and the Association of Mathematics Teachers.

Editor appointed

Lindsay Clark has been appointed communications editor by the Royal Society. Lindsay will be responsible for the Society’s communications with societies, individual members, the wider science community and the public. Lindsay is a senior journalist who has specialised in writing about science in recent years. He was science reporter and former business editor with The Dominion, and a science journalist and editor with the DSIR.

Databases on CD-ROM

The first New Zealand CD-ROM compact disc of science and technology databases and journals has been published by the Royal Society as part of a joint venture with Industrial Research Ltd. Called Spectrum-NZ Science and Technology Databases, the CD-ROM has over 150,000 records. It has been produced by Royal Society scientific journal editor Jaap Jasperse, in association with Geoff Bethal and Dave Robinson of IRL. Two years ago Jaap was the first NZ student to submit a PhD thesis on compact disc. Spectrum contains abstracts of NZ science journals published since 1918, full text of the Royal Society’s seven scientific journals published in 1993, plus abstracts of 334 theses. Biggest database is the STIX 70,000 record SciTec IndeX. Other databases are the MAF Fisheries catalogue FISH, the Building Research Assn’s file BRANZ, the Cement and Concrete Assn’s CCA, Geological and Nuclear Science’s GEOBIB and GEOPUB, and Landcare’s BUGS invertebrate index. Spectrum costs $495 and is available from the Royal Society’s SIR Publishing unit.

AgResearch performance

AgResearch says in its annual report that its financial performance was above expectations with total revenues up 4% to $88 million, thanks to higher commercial income. Profit after tax more than doubled to $4.8 million from $2.3 million last year. Chairman Alan Frampton says the year ahead would see more emphasis on gaining access to new and emerging technologies, and the establishment of additional joint research centres with universities and research associations. Chief Executive Bill Kain says NZ universities’ output of agricultural sciences doctoral graduates is alarmingly low. Offshore recruitment will be necessary. Over $2 million is to be spent for graduate study programmes and training.

Double Helix Club

Young people with an interest in science and technology can join the CSIRO/Royal Society’s Double Helix Club. The subscription is $30 pa, and members receive an attractive science magazine every two months and other benefits. This is an ideal Christmas present. Send a cheque made out to the Royal Society with the name and address of the recipient, and you will receive the latest issue by return mail.

Santa and Society on Internet for Christmas

This year, the Royal Society’s Double Helix Club members can write to Santa through Internet from 1 December. Just drop in on him at The Internet address for the Cyberspace Christmas Campaign is

While you are on the Internet call the Royal Society’s Gateway to NZ Science which includes science and technology news, links to other science resources and Antarctic information, including our ICAIR home page.

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