Science and Technology Alert: Issue 45

1. MARSDEN FUND NEWS

(i) Marsden Fund Life Sciences Panel

For the 1999 Marsden Fund applications the Life Sciences panel will be replaced by two panels as follows (with the acronyms in brackets).

  1. Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour (EEB) Studies related to the interrelationships between organisms and their environment; evolution and behaviour
  2. Cellular, Molecular and Physiological Biology (CMP) Studies related to understanding the activities that occur in cells and tissues, and their integration within living organisms.

At present the largest number of applications to the Marsden Fund are submitted to the Life Sciences panel. The areas covered in the life sciences are quite diverse and the large number of applications makes the task of assessment rather daunting. The Marsden Fund Committee expects that the suggested division will be an improvement for both the assessing panels and the applicants.

(ii) Breakthrough takes Otago scientists to leading edge in quantum physics

A University of Otago physics research team has produced a new form of matter – Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC). This puts New Zealand at the forefront in the race to discover new quantum properties of matter and to seek practical applications.

Last week, Otago scientists led by Dr Andrew Wilson cooled a gas of rubidium atoms to the coldest temperatures ever created, near a billionth of a degree above absolute zero at minus 273.15 degrees Celsius, to produce the BEC. BEC is a new state of matter predicted to have remarkable laser-like properties. In future, these may be able to be used as a basis to manufacture highly sensitive measuring instruments and advanced computer chips.

The Otago breakthrough has caused world-wide excitement amongst physicists because the importance of BEC is considered comparable to the discovery of laser technology in understanding light.

Otago joins an elite group of 14 physics research laboratories including at the University of Colorado, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, the Ecole Normale Superieur, and the Max Planck Institute that have produced BEC. The Otago research group is the first outside of the USA, France and Germany.

Strong support for Otago’s BEC project has been provided by the Marsden Fund, which is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand and was set up by the New Zealand Government to foster excellence in fundamental research.

For an animated representation of the atomic clouds condensing see http://www.physics.otago.ac.nz/research/becexpt/exptpage.htm

2. WORLD CONFERENCE ON SCIENCE – SCIENCE FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: A NEW COMMITMENT

This conference is being organised jointly by the International Council For Science (ICSU) and UNESCO and will be held in Budapest, Hungary from 26 June to 1 July 1999.

The conference will analyse where the natural sciences stand today and where they are heading, what their social impact has been, and what society expects from them. It will also establish what efforts need to be made to advance science in response to these expectations and to the challenges posed by human and social development. For further information about this conference contact usher.s@rsnz.govt.nz.

3. INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR HORTICULTURAL SCIENCE (ISHS)

Recently the Royal Society provided financial assistance for Professor Errol Hewett MRSNZ, Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University, to attend the Council Meeting and AGM of the ISHS in Belgium. During the meeting he was elected as the Commissioner for Postharvest in ISHS. Dr Mark Nichols also from the Institute of Natural Resources at Massey was elected Chair for the Section on Root and Tuber Crops. They will both therefore become members of the decision-making Executive for the ISHS. This will provide an opportunity to promote New Zealand, its horticulture and its science in this international forum. For a copy of Professor Hewett’s report please email usher.s@rsnz.govt.nz.

4. HSNO ACT UNDERWAY FOR NEW ORGANISMS

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 came into effect for new organisms on 29 July 1998.

From now on, any one who wishes to introduce a new animal or plant species to New Zealand requires approval from the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA New Zealand). Approval is also required for genetically modified organisms, new organisms in containment and low-risk species as defined by the HSNO regulations.

ERMA New Zealand has already received and notified four applications for GMOs including petunias, sugarbeet and potatoes. Information about the applications is available on their website at http://www.ermanz.govt.nz. The website also has information for potential applicants and submitters.

5. MATHEMATICS IN NEW ZEALAND: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

A report entitled ‘Mathematics in New Zealand: Past, Present and Future’ has just been published. This report has been prepared for the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology by a Review Team appointed by the Royal Society of New Zealand Standing Committee on Mathematical and Information Sciences and chaired by Professor Jeff Hunter MRSNZ.

Last year a number of questionnaires were distributed, specifically targeted to various sectors (universities, polytechnics, research organisations, professional associations and user groups in industry, business and government). These were to assist in the determination of the current situation and to predict future requirements in manpower, resources, activity and developments in the mathematical sciences in each of these different sectors.

The report highlights some major concerns that the Review Team believes needs to be addressed through the development of a national strategy for the mathematical sciences that will need to be tackled in a co-ordinated manner.

Review Team: Professor J. J. Hunter (Chair), (Massey University) Dr M. S. Bebbington (Massey University) Associate Professor S. J. Haslett (Massey University) Mrs J. Thompson (JAD Associates) Professor D. Vere-Jones (Victoria University of Wellington)

The Ministry of Research Science and Technology have approved a general release of the report. A Public Launch of the Report is being held at Science House, Royal Society of New Zealand, Turnbull St, Wellington, 4.30pm to 6.00pm on Monday September 21, 1998

For copies of the report email katherine@morst.govt.nz or check the website http: http://www.mcs.vuw.ac.nz/~edith/front.html

6. BRANZ ALPHA AWARD

The BRANZ ALPHA Award recognises and promotes the establishment of links between school science and technology programmes and science and technology as it is practised in the wider community. $2 000 is awarded at three levels: New Entrants – Standard 4, Form 1 – 2, and Secondary. One award will be made to a school at each of these levels. For further information and application forms email spratt.p@rsnz.govt.nz

Applications for the 1998 ALPHA award must be received by 16 October 1998.

7. BPTC COORDINATOR’S MEETING

BP Technology Challenge regional co-ordinators from around the country met recently at the Royal Society for their eighth annual meeting. This was a very positive and valuable opportunity for sharing ideas and discussing a range of issues. With introductory remarks from Patricia Watts of BP New Zealand and Ross Moore of the Society, the day was very rewarding with lots of exchange of information and experiences.

One of the key features of the BP Technology Challenge that was very obvious from the meeting is its flexibility and adaptability. Reports from around the regions showed the way that it is able to be modified depending on local needs. For example, the number of students in a team can vary; the number of Challenges carried out varies from two to five in a day; some areas hold their event during the school day, others have evening functions.

For further information on the BP Technology Challenge email chan.d@rsnz.govt.nz

8. OCEAN VOYAGE98

Don’t forget to also check out Science and Technology Teacher Fellow Bu Windsor’s voyage with scientists on the Tangaroa at http://oceanz98.rsnz.govt.nz/voyage98/

9. OCEAN DRILLING PROGRAM

Mr Hugh Grenfell writes of a stormy interruption to drilling at http://oceanz98.rsnz.govt.nz/drilling98.html

10. WORKSHOP ON URBAN SUSTAINABILITY

The Royal Society of New Zealand, the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment will be jointly holding a workshop on urban sustainability at the Royal Society on Wednesday, 7 October 1998.

The objectives of the workshop are:

  • to explore the social science contribution to the debate about urban sustainability in New Zealand;
  • to discuss the relevance of the concept of sustainable development of New Zealand’s urban environments; and
  • to identify information and knowledge gaps for the sustainable development of New Zealand’s urban environments.

For more information and for registration email waldmann.j@rsnz.govt.nz

11. FUTURE EVENTS

The following events are some of those listed in our conference database as taking place in New Zealand in the next month or so. For a full listing see http://www.rsnz.govt.nz/forms/conferences.html

Foodtech & Packtech ’98 Exhibitions, Auckland, 6 – 8 October 1998. Contact David King, Marketing Manager, XPO Exhibitions Ltd. Tel: 09 300 3957, Fax: 09 379 3358

NZ Institute of Surveyors’ Annual Conference, Palmerston North, 16 – 20 October 1998. Email: fink@pncc.govt.nz

New Zealand Grassland Association Annual Conference, Nelson, 20 – 22 October 1998. Email: pagrainbow@clear.net.nz

Leadership priorities for New Zealand science and technology, Wellington, 5 – 6 November 1998. Email academy@rsnz.govt.nz

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