Promoting Science and Technology

BIG Science Adventures

Mt John Observatory

The third national video competition for secondary school students (Yrs 11-13), sponsored by Freemasons New Zealand, had high stakes – six all-expenses-paid expeditions to remote and beautiful locations around New Zealand, with the ultimate prize of a trip to the Antarctic.

Teams of three students and a teacher were first tasked to produce a five minute video on a local science story. From these, six teams were chosen and assigned to one of the six BIG Science Adventures: Nelson College team went to the Bay of Islands to study whale and dolphin populations with Scott Baker from The University of Auckland; GNS Science geologists, Tim Naish and Brent Alloway, showed the Burnside High team the potential violence of White Island and the central plateau region; the Royal NZ Navy vessel Resolution transported the Timaru High boys and host geologist Hamish Campbell to the Chatham Islands, where Hamish finally proved his theory that the islands rose from the sea very recently – just one million years ago it seems; the girls from Pakuranga College were whisked to Stephens Island in Cook Strait by helicopter, during a brief interval between the June storms – here, biologists from Victoria University continue their studies of the tuatara population; Wellington High School students were surrounded by deep snow as far as they could see from the majestic viewpoint of the Mt John Observatory at the foot of Lake Tekapo, where astronomers are using microlensing techniques to detect planets; and the sixth team from Pukekohe High School journeyed south to a cold and misty Doubtful Sound where Stephen Wing from Otago University is studying the food chain.

To compete for the trip to Antarctica, each team had to make a ten minute documentary about their host scientists’ research, but this time with the help of new graduates from the University of Otago Natural History filmmaking course, who joined them on the expedition and helped them with editing afterwards. The students learnt a lot more about filmmaking as well as science.

Wellington High School students Hannah Newport, Joe Russell, and Josh Barnes with Sir Edmund Hilary

All the teams were brought together in Wellington for the announcement of the winners by Sir Edmund Hilary. More weather drama – this time fog – prevented him from being there in person, though new technology enabled his presence by video. He finally made it later that afternoon and the students and teachers had the opportunity to meet the great man himself.

Sadly, the girls from Pakuranga College could not get on a flight in time, so Sir Edmund and Lady Hilary kindly received them at their home in Auckland at a later date. All the students received a photo of the Antarctic signed by Sir Edmund.

The team chosen for the ultimate adventure, the trip to Antarctica, was Wellington High, who produced a superb chronicle of the night time vigils of astronomers at Mt John and what their work practically entails. Fog again interfered with travel plans, delaying the team’s outward journey, and resulting in a longer stay in Antarctica for Sir Edmund, who was there with the Prime Minister for the 50th anniversary celebrations of Scott Base in January 2007. The students’ trip was made possible by Antarctica New Zealand’s Youth on Ice programme and was an incentive that spurred the students to work incredibly hard and produce documentaries of the highest standard. They each tell an inspiring story of New Zealand scientific research which illuminates our understanding of this country, and though incidental to its purpose, shows its great beauty.

The Pakuranga College team: Gordon Lawrence, Jenny Suo, Eileen Gallaher, and Monique Higgins at Sir Edmund's home.

The Royal Society expresses its gratitude to the Freemasons of New Zealand for sponsoring these life-changing experiences for our young people, especially David and Anne Mace, Noel Ryan, Laurence Milton and the late John Roil.

We are indebted to Lou Sanson and his staff at Antarctica NZ for making the trip to Antarctica possible.

Lloyd Davis, who heads the Natural History filmmaking course, gave invaluable advice and assistance and his students demonstrated how well this course is developing their filmmaking talents.

We also wish to thank Admiral David Ledson and the Royal NZ Navy, especially the crew of HMNZS Resolution, for their practical support.

Chris Parnell at Apple Computer Division of Renaissance provided six brand-new Macbook Pros complete with the latest video-editing software for the teams to edit their documentaries. Thank you Gresham Bradley of e-net Limited for your work on the Hot Science website which hosted the competition.

Finally, thank you to the judges of the competition, the scientists who hosted the students, and to Sir Edmund and Lady Hilary for honouring the students’ work by coming to Wellington and making everyone’s day.

Are Angels OK?

The results of the collaboration between New Zealand writers and physicists were published by Victoria University Press in May 2006 and launched by the writers, plus project leaders Bill Manhire, Paul Callaghan, and MC Kim Hill, at the Paramount Theatre in Wellington (31 May). The theatre was sold out. Before the launch and since, there have been numerous presentations about the project at various exhibitions, writers and readers festivals, and other events. In June, a small group involved in this unique project – Paul Callaghan, Witi Ihimaera, Kim Hill, Eva Radich and Glenda Lewis – left for the UK where they were joined by Jo Randerson at the Science Festival in Cheltenham. They also presented the project to ex-pats and locals in Cambridge and London, at the NZ High Commission. The presentation was capped in stunning form by an excerpt from Whale Rider, the final scene where the waka and new hopes for the future are launched into sunlit East Coast seas.

This project was inspired by 2005 World Year of Physics, the centenary of Einstein’s most productive year. It was supported by the government’s Smash Palace sci-art Fund. The trip to the UK was additional and was funded by British Airways, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ Institute of Physics, Radio New Zealand, British Council, The University of Auckland and, of course, the Royal Society of New Zealand, which organised and contributed to the cost of the trip.

Special personal thanks to Chris Lucas, Pat Walsh, David Bibby, Geoff Austin, Phil Smith, Felicity Connell, Tom Barnes, Hon Margaret Austin, and our UK hosts and supporters, Sian Ede, Kathy Sykes, Francis Lucian Reid, Mary Fenwick, Mark Warner and Martin Rees.

The writers were, in no particular order, Margaret Mahy, Witi Ihimaera, Catherine Chidgey, Glenn Colquhoun, Elizabeth Knox, Dylan Horrocks, Jo Randerson, Vincent O’Sullivan, Chris Price and Lloyd Jones.

The physicists were Geoff Austin, Rob Ballagh, Phil Butler, Paul Callaghan, Howard Carmichael, Matthew Collett, Pablo Etchegoin, John Harvey, David Hutchinson, Kate McGrath, Tony Signal, Alistair Steyn-Ross, Margaret Steyn-Ross, Jeff Tallon, Michael Walker, Andrew Wilson, and David Wiltshire

As evidence of the project’s success, the book sold out after 4 months and has been reprinted.

Here are two poems from the anthology: one by Massey University physicist Tony Signal (his first to be published), the other by poet Glenn Colquhoun. The two formed a very successful partnership, with Tony explaining to Glenn some of the more difficult equations he had decided to master and interpret.

Growing Space, by Tony Signal

Of course, yours wasn’t the first universe I’ve made.

God tinkers around in a shed at the back of the garden,

A retired artisan with a collection of vintage gear:

Coppery tanks, pipes, the smell of diesel and old kerosene,

An array of apparatus, disused tools and cylinders.

A bubble rises from froth and expands

And bursts, popping our ears. The machinery relaxes.

Ah well, that’s what happens most of the time.

You’ve got to hold your tongue just so, not grip the tools so tight,

Even so, there’s no guarantees in this business -

Pure chance anything turns out at all.

Some more adjustments, the foam pushes out another globule

Which inflates, fills with incandescence. Floats out through the skylight

Suddenly bigger than the shed and inky blue around the edge.

The centre blazes brighter than a thousand suns.

F=GMm/d2, by Glenn Colquhoun

Falling is a space, he said;

The apple to the earth inclined.

I feel the embrace, she said

All the stars above our heads

Fill the sky with purple lines.

Falling is a space, he said.

You and I are so ensnared;

One to fall and one to climb.

I feel the embrace, she said.

Draw me down into your bed,

Hold me to your lips like wine.

Falling is a space, he said.

All the planets overhead

God within his arms aligns.

I feel the embrace, she said.

But I will orbit you instead

And you will be my only time.

Falling is a space, he said.

I feel the embrace, she said.

Brainstorm Series by Kim Hill

Hon Margaret Austin, Martin Lord Rees, and Kim Hill in the Master's Lodge, Trinity College, Cambridge.

In tandem with the trip to the UK to present Are Angels OK? in Cheltenham, Cambridge and London (see above) Kim Hill and producer Eva Radich interviewed several scientists for Kim’s regular Saturday morning programme on National Radio and a special series called Brainstorm. She interviewed Sir David King, Martin Lord Rees, Douglas Parr, James Lovelock, Susan Blackmore, Mark Lythgoe, Paul Broks, Frank Close, Johnjoe McFadden and Richard Wiseman.

Again, thanks to the sponsors of the trip (mentioned above) for making these possible.

The Brainstorm series was ranked the second most popular programme in 2006 in terms of downloads from the RNZ site. It is interesting to note that three of the top four most popular programmes in 2006 were science based (Brainstorm, In the Goldilocks Zone and Richard Dawkins’ interview with Kim Hill)

Climate Change

The Royal Society has joined in, and initiated, activities to inform the public and media about climate change.

March Conference

Leading up to the watershed conference in Wellington in late March, led by the Victoria University Institute of Policy Studies, the Royal Society and the MacDiarmid Institute ran a series of in-depth classes for invited media and other influential communicators on the scientific evidence relating to climate change (See VIP Science Class below.) The communications unit also initiated and organised a fun public awareness poster campaign on Stagecoach buses in the week before the conference. The ‘spot the celebrity on the bus’ poster featured, among others, the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University Pat Walsh, writer Elizabeth Knox, and Antarctic scientist Peter Barrett. Conference keynote speaker, Lord Oxburgh, tried out one of the new trolley buses, and drew the winners of the competition, who received free bus passes.

In the Goldilocks Zone

A series of programmes about our climate, the evolution, migrations and mass extinctions of life on earth, and the threats to human civilisation, was produced by Radio New Zealand and the Royal Society. A creative director and scientist were appointed to take charge of each of the six programmes, with a content outline to work to. Many thanks to Phil Smith and Justin Gregory of Radio NZ who directed and produced the series.

1. In the Goldilocks Zone

Creative Director: Leo Gene Peters

Content Director: Tim Naish

2. Through the Wardrobe Door

Creative Director: Dave Armstrong

Content Director: Hamish Campbell

3. Great Migrations

Creative Director: Nick Blake

Content Director: David Penny

4. Rise of the Thinkers

Creative Director: Tim Spite

Content Director: Charles Higham

5. A Plague upon their Houses

Creative Director: Geoff Pinfield

Content Director: Miles Fairburn

6. We are the ones we have been Waiting for

Creative Director: Jo Randerson

Content Director: Paul Callaghan

Towards CarboNZero

The communications unit has been working together with Landcare Research and WWF on a promotional programme for CarboNZero, a developing web-based facility for individuals and organisations to assess, reduce and offset their carbon emissions. (See Science Honours Dinner.)

The Royal Society of New Zealand has begun its own CarboNZero certification programme.

Lecture Series

A number of lecture series on climate change were organised using expert New Zealand scientists. These were held in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin plus a day-long seminar in Auckland. We are indebted to the willingness and enthusiasm of the scientists who participated in these lecture series including Tim Naish, Dean Peterson, Murray Ward, Brett Mullan, Ann Smith, Paul Callaghan, Craig Rodger, Bob Lloyd, Gerry Carrington, Ralph Chapman, David Wratt, Gavin Kenny, Nigel Issacs, Sean Weaver, Richard Warrick and Matt McGlone.

Steven Hatfield-Dodds of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation visited New Zealand in October and the communications team organised a series of meetings with policy makers, researchers and media.

VIP Science Class

In 2005, the Royal Society experimented with a science class for a small invitation- only group of journalists, broadcasters, artists, and others from the creative and science sectors. The idea was to teach them some fundamental physics, 2005 being World Year of Physics in honour of Albert Einstein’s productive 1905 year.

Physicists Howard Lukefahr and John Hannah of Victoria University of Wellington were enlisted to lead the class, which they did to great acclaim from their discerning mature students. A big thank you to Paul Callaghan and the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology for their large contribution of time to this series.

The class was so well received that the Royal Society decided to continue in 2006 with a series on climate science and energy, anticipating VUW’s climate change conference in late March. A number of scientists contributed: Lionel Carter, Mike Hannah, Nancy Bertler, Gerrit Van der Lingen (presenting a skeptic’s viewpoint), Jim Renwick and Bruce Girdwood. We were also lucky to have a special visit from Ronald Wright, author of Short History of Time, who was in New Zealand for the Arts Festival and who attracted a sell-out 800 plus to his presentation at the Embassy Theatre.

In October/November a third series of classes on natural disasters – both geological and biological – was conducted by Dr Hamish Campbell of GNS Science. His colleagues, Dr Martin Reyners and Dr Gaye Downes, covered earthquakes and tsunamis respectively. Dr Virginia Hope, Leader of the new National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Diseases, scoped the diseases that threaten us. Next? A series early in 2007 on the science of land use.

2006 Royal Society of NZ Distinguished Speaker, Professor Mandyam Srinivasan

The navigating power of bees was the intriguing topic of Professor Srinivasan’s lecture series in March 2006. A renowned communicator, Professor Srinivasan has since received Australia’s top science award, bestowed by the Prime Minister. He gave his lecture, plus professional seminars, in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

The Royal Society of New Zealand is grateful, as always, to David and Genevieve Becroft, who fund the Distinguished Speaker Programme.

2006 Rutherford Lecturer, Sir Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate 2001 and President of Rockefeller University in New York, toured New Zealand in July/August. He gave the 2006 Rutherford Memorial Lecture to large public audiences in Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin as well as specialist seminars to packed lecture halls at universities. He also gave the UNESCO New Zealand Science Lecture at Nelson College, which was celebrating its 150th anniversary.

We are very grateful to the Royal Society in London for their ongoing support of the triennial Rutherford Memorial Lecture programme.

Science Headlines

Science Headlines is a new service managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand and funded by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. Aimed at putting journalists in contact with scientists directly and at getting more New Zealand research into news stories, Science Headlines consists of quotes from scientists on topical news issues. Topics so far have ranged from landslips and erosion to hospital bugs.

Speaker’s Science Forum

Between March and June, a series of 5 presentations was held in Parliament’s Grand Hall for MPs and parliamentary staff.

Dr Jim Watson, President of Royal Society of New Zealand (to June 2006)

Energy Farming: the new economic frontier

Roy Hemmingway, Chair, Electricity Commission, and Chris Mardon, Director, Energymad

The Power of One: energy saving ideas for New Zealand – how can we get New Zealanders to act now to save energy and halt climate change?

Dr David Wratt, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Floods and drought: New Zealand’s changing climate

Professor Ian Evans, Massey University

Preventing school dropouts: child behaviour disorders

Dr Ian Brown, Leader, Hydrogen Technology Programme, Industrial Research Limited

Energy Rich or Energy Poor?—commercialising new energy technologies

This series will continue in 2007

2006 Science Honours Dinner

Grand Master of Freemasons New Zealand David Mace, and Anne Mace. The Freemasons are general sponsors of the BIG Science Adventures video competition.

The fourth annual dinner to present and celebrate the top science awards and medals was held at the Hilton Hotel in Auckland on 15 November. Kim Hill was MC, though she found herself to be one of those on the receiving end when a surprise announcement was made of her election as a Companion of the Royal Society of NZ.

Hon. Steve Maharey presents the 2006 Rutherford medal to Professor Ted Baker.

This year’s recipient of the Rutherford Medal was Distinguished Professor of Structural Biology at The University of Auckland, Ted Baker. Professor Baker is director of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery and one of the first in the world to solve a complete protein structure. The Medal was presented by Hon Steve Maharey, Minister for Research, Science and Technology.

Science Honours Dinner MC Kim Hill.

The Pickering Medal was presented to Professor Murray McEwan of Canterbury University for the application of cutting-edge chemistry to the commercial measurement of trace organic compounds in air, and Dr John Hay, Chief Executive of ESR, received the Thomson Medal for outstanding and inspirational leadership in science management.

This was New Zealand’s first CarboNZero awards dinner. Any unavoidable carbon emissions from travel, the venue and catering, were offset using verified carbon credits. These credits are generated on forest regeneration sites, which are located on marginal land throughout New Zealand. Grove Mill, the world’s first carbon neutral wines, were served exclusively.