Science Digest: March 1995

Survey of science community

A project to establish a survey of NZ scientific community attitudes and opinions is to be undertaken. The Royal Society is pleased to announce that Dr Jack Sommer, Knight Professor of Public Policy, University of North Carolina, has been awarded a grant under the Fulbright Scholarship scheme to initiate the survey. Dr Sommer will visit NZ for three months from May to August in both 1995 and 1996. He will create a baseline of information that will allow for future changes. The survey will be created in consultation with the Society and an international panel of experts with a view to enable countries participating in the scheme (so far Switzerland and the USA have expressed interest) to compare relative trends. Dr Sommer will be based at the Society in Wellington and will also conduct seminars on policy issues throughout New Zealand.

Seismic imaging of Southern Alps begins

Work starts early in March on a four-year, seismic cross-section study of the central ‘waist’ of the South Island to help scientists get a better understanding of how continental rocks deform near a plate boundary such as the Alpine Fault. A team of scientists from Victoria University, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences and Otago University, together with US scientists from the University of California, will carry out sophisticated computer imaging of how rock is being deformed underneath the Southern Alps where the Pacific and Indian-Australian lithospheric plates converge and slide past each other. Seismic data will be gathered from reflections of small explosions drilled at 1 km intervals on a coast-to-coast line from north of Timaru to the West Coast. Part of the funding will come from a $US3.5 million grant from the US National Science Foundation. Victoria University geophysicist Tim Stern said the scientists hope to find out why there is comparatively little earthquake activity between Arthur’s Pass and Fiordland even though the Alpine Fault causes a 100 km wide zone of deformation. Dr Stern said this situation would normally produce large earthquakes.

Ballast water symposium

The Royal Society, in association with the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, is to hold a national ballast water symposium on 27-29 June 1995 in Wellington. The symposium will cover both research and policy/legislation issues. Speakers will be drawn from all major sector groups affected by the ballast water issue including the shipping and fishing/aquaculture industries, and regulatory agencies. Several speakers from Australia–which has taken a leading role in research on the problem and initiatives to solve it–have been invited. Invitations to attend will be sent to a wide range of organisations in March. Anyone wishing to attend who does not receive an invitation should contact Brian Balshaw, Executive Officer, the Royal Society, Box 598, Wellington.

Science educator to tour NZ

The Royal Society is working with the NZ School Trustees Assn to bring David Jones from the Leicestershire County School and College Support Unit to NZ for a two-week tour from 21 May to 3 June. David has experience and expertise in science education, especially gender and equity issues, teaching styles, and curriculum management as well as school and curriculum review. His programme of visits will be included in the next issue of Science Digest.

Scientific cricket

How do you cure cricketing woes? Turf culture scientists have come up with a way to take the guesswork out of measuring the pace and bounce of cricket pitches. The machine, commissioned by the Turf Culture Institute at Palmerston North, delivers a ball onto a pitch from a high-powered crossbow at 90 km/h and a series of light sensors measure the ball’s speed onto and coming off the pitch. They also measure the height of the bounce.

Institute director Keith McAuliffe said it will be an excellent tool for proving what happens on tracks around the country rather than relying on opinions of captains, umpires and commentators.

The $10,000 machine was designed by Dr Brian Wilkins, author of a book on the science of cricket ball flight. The machine was developed to help increase the pace of NZ pitches.

Science Digest

Science Digest is a monthly newsletter which aims to communicate news of interest to the research community, particularly to scientific and technological societies, and branches and individual members of the Royal Society. Please feel free to copy and distribute with your organisation’s newsletter.

Anyone joining the Society as an individual member will be sent the Digest free to their own address. Bulk issues at cost can be supplied at request.

Technology education

The Royal Society is holding a two-day conference ‘Technology, Science and Quality Education for the 21st Century’ at RSNZ’s Science House, Wellington on 11-12 April. This conference aims to update participants on recent changes in science and technology education, compare the NZ situation with that in Scotland, and identify issues for future development. A feature of this conference will be a video conference with participants in Scotland. For further information: Roy Geddes at Auckland Institute of Technology (ph: 09-307 9999, ext 8725) or Peter Spratt at RSNZ.

Transfer of knowledge

The Royal Society and the NZ Society for Farm Management have just initiated a new approach to disseminating scientific information to audiences outside the scientific community. The Royal Society’s NZ Journal of Agricultural Research is important to the agricultural sector and in the March issue of the Farm Management journal abstracts of eight papers and expanded articles based upon three scientific papers will be published. This exercise is being trialled for 1995.

Review of journals

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology is reviewing the seven scientific journals published by the Society’s publishing arm, SIR Publishing. Recommendations are expected to be made to Government by 31 March 1995.

New Year Honours

Congratulations to Dame Anne Salmond for the honour received in the New Year Honours List. She became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to historical research. Dame Anne, a professor at Auckland University, is a Fellow of The Royal Society of New Zealand and is recognised as a leading social anthropologist. Among others to appear in the New Year honours were: Joan Wiffen CBE, of Haumoana, Hawke’s Bay, for services to science, particularly her production of the first evidence of terrestrial and flying dinosaurs in New Zealand; Professor Gavin Kellaway CBE, former head of the Department of Pharmacology, Auckland School of Medicine, for services to pharmacology; and Professor John Mackie OBE, Nelson, for services to surveying and the community. Professor Mackie was responsible for establishing the Otago University Surveying Department.

100 years of X-rays

A teaching resource X-Rays–the Inside Story, produced for the Royal Australasian College of Radiologists to celebrate the discovery of X-rays by Röntgen in 1895, will be released to schools next month. There is a primary and a secondary resource package, each of which contains student activities, teacher guide material and a video. Further information: Forestry Insights, CPO Box 39, Auckland.

NIWA-Fisheries merger closer

The planned merger between the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and MAF Fisheries Research on July 1 this year took a further step with the signing of the merger heads of agreement/memorandum of understanding by Minister for Crown Research Institutes Simon Upton, the Minister of Fisheries Doug Kidd, and the NIWA board. NIWA will absorb MAF Fisheries’ research on fish biology, aquaculture, fish stock research modelling and assessment, and consultancy advice. New members of the reconstituted NIWA board are: Jo Anne Brosnahan, Northland Regional Council chief executive; Associate Professor John Montgomery of the Auckland University School of Biological Sciences; Dr Donald Thompson, recently retired chief meteorologist of the Meteorological Service of NZ; Nicholas Jarman, consultant on fisheries and food and former Fishing Industry Board general manager; and Alexander Laing, a partner in Ernst and Young. They join two previous board members, Don Sollitt and Dr Margaret Mutu.

Bates scholar

The recipient of the 1995 R H T Bates Postgraduate Scholarship is David Biggs, a PhD student researching image processing in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Auckland. His research aims to develop techniques for improving the appearance of images contaminated with electronic noise (like the ‘snow’ on untuned television sets) and out-of-focus blurring from scanning electron microscopes. The Bates Scholarship was established by the Royal Society in 1991 in memory of Professor Bates FRSNZ, who held a personal chair in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Canterbury.

NZ invention rides out Japan quake

New Zealand-designed base isolation bearings, which protect structures from earthquake damage, came through with flying colours in the recent earthquake in Kobe, Japan, says the bearings’ inventor, scientist Bill Robinson of Industrial Research Ltd.

Two buildings and six bridges protected by the bearings in the Osaka area survived the quake without damage. Many earthquake protection devices in the tremor did not work well, Dr Robinson says. The lead-cored rubber blocks are fitted between the base of a building and its foundations, allowing some sideways movement during a quake.

Dr Robinson says the Japanese were becoming more interested in using overseas technology as a result of the Kobe quake. The new Museum of New Zealand building and the renovated Parliament Buildings in Wellington use the bearings.

More than $3 billion worth of bridges and buildings in NZ, Japan and the US were now isolated by the NZ-designed lead-rubber bearings. In the Los Angeles earthquake last year a base-isolated hospital suffered no damage while another unprotected hospital nearby had over $400 million in damages.

New Science Fair package

A new package has been negotiated with ECNZ, the sponsor of the ECNZ Science Fair. This will involve a higher profile for the national science fair, continued support for regional fairs, and a new support for the primary school level. Details will be released in the next Science Digest.

Psychologist in China

Sik Hung Ng, Professor of Psychology at Victoria University and a Social Sciences Committee member of the Royal Society, has visited China at the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Ng visited psychology departments and centres in Beijing and Shanghai in January and gave lectures on ageism and intergenerational communication. The Royal Society was pleased to be able to assist Professor Ng and to provide an opportunity to strengthen contacts with the social sciences in China.

Industry-climate change workshop

Industry groups will be able to contribute their ideas towards climate change research priorities at an industry research priorities workshop hosted by the National Strategic Science Committee for Climate Change to be held at the RSNZ, Wellington, on Friday, 17 March. The workshop aims to assist the NSS Committee to identify priorities and gaps for climate change research, and to explore ways of developing collaborative research programmes with industry. Sector workshops will include: steel, aluminium, cement; agriculture and fisheries production and processing; manufacturing; forestry production and processing; transport; insurance and banking; health; energy production and management; and built environment. For further information or to register, please contact Sue Usher at the Royal Society.

President at Indian jubilee

Professor Philippa Black, President of the Society, recently attended the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi. She attended the official functions and participated in two special day-long discussion meetings on ‘The New Global Order: Role of Science and Technology’ and ‘Funding of Science and Technology, Research and Education.’ Professor Black also took part in a council meeting of the Federation of Asian Scientific Academies and Societies (FASAS) held in conjunction with the jubilee celebrations. The Royal Society recently joined FASAS. Among items covered at the council were: funding of FASAS-sponsored activities including the production of a federation newsletter, a lectureship programme, participation in the activities relating to population and development in the Asian region, and the organisation of the Asian Conference on Science and Technology to be held in Kuala Lumpur in late 1995.

Asthma workers hunt mites in public places

Asthma researchers have begun a national study of dust mites in public places such as movie theatres, creches, schools, and even churches. Wellington School of Medicine’s Asthma Research Group believes house dust mites — or more precisely their faeces — contribute towards asthma.

Armed with vacuum cleaners, researchers will be taking samples from 140 randomly selected public buildings and aeroplanes. Researchers want to be able to compare domestic and public environments.

Wellington Asthma Research Group senior research fellow Julian Crane said the study follows research on 450 homes that showed New Zealand’s house mite incidence was as high as, or higher than anywhere in the world. About 50 asthma specialists from southeast Asia met in Wellington for a summer school on asthma management where this country’s expertise in treating asthma was a feature.

Science teacher fellowships

Nineteen teachers have been awarded NZ Science and Technology Teacher Fellowships from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. They are:

Graeme Batchelor (Riccarton High) who goes to Canterbury Health to explore the use of hospital science and technology as a teaching resource.

John Dunlop (Otahuhu College) to develop astronomy education with Auckland University Physics Dept and Auckland Observatory.

Peter Foster (Otago Boys High) to investigate Otago-Southland geology with Otago University Geology Dept.

Paul Hewson (Westland High) to work on dairy industry science and technology interaction with Westland Dairy Co.

Ben Hingston (Western Heights High) to develop knowledge and skills of forest industry at Waiariki Polytech.

Warwick Lidgard (Mercury Bay) to establish a baseline ecological survey of Hahei Marine Reserve with the Dept of Conservation.

Tracey Lindegreen (Mt Roskill Grammar) to work at Hort Research Mt Albert on sensory perception of fruit texture.

Neil McKeegan (Riccarton High) to work on polymer chemistry and enzymology at Canterbury University Chemistry Dept.

Martin Marshall (Iona College) to gain information on the wine industry at Vidals Wines.

Kevin Nicholson (Fraser High) to improve knowledge of technological advances in horticulture at Hort Research Hamilton.

Wendy Paul (Kawaha Point) to develop interactive activities with the Forest Research Institute’s education centre.

Julia Peters (Taupo Intermediate) to work with the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences to develop material resources on the Taupo volcanic area.

Neil Rankin (Shirley Boys High) to support development of senior food science technology through school visits to local industry and Lincoln University Veterinary Sciences Dept.

Peter Sommerville (Christchurch Boys High) to work on new information technology applications at International Centre for Antarctic Information and Research.

Kerry Stevens (Motueka High) to work at Hort Research, Riwaka to investigate apple breeding strategies.

Margaret Ward (Ilam School) to work with Canterbury University Physics Dept to extend the ‘Ask a Scientist ‘ scheme and develop a ‘Focus on Science’ fortnight.

Morley West (Rotorua Lakes High) to work with the Dept of Conservation on native bats.

Jock Whitley (Waiuku College) to work with the Leigh Marine Laboratory of Auckland University on the science and technology of marine conservation and reserves.

Cynthia Wood (Darfield High) to work with Lincoln Ventures/Lincoln Technology on biosensing applications.

For enquiries on next year’s applications contact Peter Spratt, Executive Officer-Education, the Royal Society.

NZ’s summer UV rays equatorial

Levels of harmful ultra-violet light in New Zealand and other mid-latitude southern hemisphere areas were about 50 percent higher than those at similar latitudes in the northern hemisphere, scientist Richard McKenzie from NIWA’s Lauder atmospheric station says. UV ray levels in New Zealand in mid-summer were comparable with those at the Equator, Dr McKenzie says. Most of the difference was due to air pollution absorbing many of the harmful rays in the northern hemisphere, though some was linked to the climatological difference in ozone between the hemispheres and the more rapid ozone depletion in the south which persists over the summer months. Also, Earth was further from the sun during the northern summer, reducing the intensity of sunlight, he says. Scientists believe ozone depletion in the past 15 years caused an increase of 8 to 10 percent in harmful UV rays reaching NZ. UV levels are expected to rise another 2-3 percent before peaking about the turn of the century as international controls on ozone-depleting substances lead to a recovery in the protective ozone layer.

Bryozoologists meet

The 10th conference of the International Bryozoology Association, sponsored by the Royal Society, was held in Wellington recently and attracted wide registration from overseas scientists. Following two conference addresses on marine natural products and aquaculture, the Society organised, at short notice, a meeting with Dr David Newman from the National Cancer Institute in the US to discuss agreements which the NCI Developmental Therapeutics Programme has with countries to legalise collections and safeguard the rights of countries which contribute to the collections. Those present included members of the Society’s Biodiversity Committee Dr George Gibb and Dr Chris Battershill; the President of the Systematics Association of NZ, Dr Wendy Nelson; Dr Murray Munro, University of Canterbury; and Professor Don McGregor, Chief Scientist at MoRST.

Workshop on energy held

A one-day workshop on priorities for non-traditional renewable energy was recently hosted by the Royal Society in association with the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA) and MoRST. The workshop’s purpose was to establish guideline ‘industry’ priorities in order that FRST had some authoritative document to use when assessing public good research fund bids from the non-traditional renewables sector. Interested parties should enquire through the Society.

Fish stock seminar

An expert in fishery stock assessment and fisheries management, Professor Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, Seattle, will give a public seminar organised by the Royal Society on ‘World Fisheries Collapses: Lessons for New Zealand’ in the Ilott Concert Chamber, Wellington, on Tuesday 14 March 5.30-7.30 pm. One of the central themes of Professor Holborn’s address is that most of the world’s fisheries are not collapsed, while those that did collapse did so through natural causes.

More success for Science Fair winner

Catherine Muller says her naturally inquisitive nature is the secret to her success in science. Last year Catherine, now 17, won first prize in the national ECNZ Science Fair competition and a trip to the world competition at Alabama University in the US.

There she was judged first in zoology, outshining 930 others from 26 countries. This year she is one of two students from New Zealand given a study trip to London University, selected from a Rotary Club-organised holiday school for science students at AIT.

The Samuel Marsden Collegiate student says her secret is her inquisitiveness. ‘I have questions and I want to find out the answers. That’s why science is so rewarding.’ Her research into killing mosquitos with native plant extracts won her a $US50,000 scholarship to Alabama University. Next year she will study at Victoria University for a BA and BSc.

Climate change discussion

Dr Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was recently guest at a scientific discussion hosted by the Royal Society and NIWA in Wellington on how the accuracy of predicted climate change might be improved and tested. The meeting was convened by Judy Lawrence, Convener of the NSS Committee for Climate Change.