Science Digest: Issue 17


Elections for the Council of The Royal Society of New Zealand are now in progress. If eligible, please ensure you exercise your right to vote. Three Councillors have been declared elected unopposed following the close of nominations. They are Professor Sir John Scott (Health Sciences and Technologies Electoral College), Mr Howard Bezar (Primary Production Sciences and Technologies) and Mr George Jones (Regional Constituent Organisations). The result of the elections for seven contested seats will be announced within the next month.


Earlier today we distributed an important statement from the Presidents of the Royal Society, Sir John Scott, and the President of the Academy Council of the Society, Professor George Peterson. By now, members with access to email will have had time to study the statement and the comments are already coming in, both in quantity and quality. Others will receive the statement with this issue.

Please consider the statement carefully and let the Society have your comments and suggestions. Email us on fax us on +64-4-473 1841, or post your comments to the Society, P O Box 598, Wellington.


Preliminary applications for Marsden funding are currently being processed. 765 applications came to hand by the 9 February closing date. This is an increase of 20 on last year.


We seldom mark the close of a diplomat’s tour of duty but cannot ignore the contribution made by the retiring British High Commissioner, Mr Robert Alston. During his three years in New Zealand, Mr Alston has been particularly concerned to foster new initiatives in S&T collaboration with Britain and to ensure that S&T had a high profile in the British Council’s 1997 Link Programme. Many individuals and groups in our membership have benefited from British Council support in recent years and in this context we must note the part played by the Council’s current Director, Paul Smith and his predecessor, Francis King.

The long familiar trade name ICI disappears from New Zealand and Australia. The UK-based ICI has sold its Australian interests. ORICA, an Australian public company with over 60,000 shareholders, is born.


In the last Digest/Alert (#15 of 30 Jan 98) we referred to the Science and Technology Contestable Fund. The article was about the S&T Promotion Contestable Fund.


Our last Digest/Alert reached a Kiwi family living at an altitude of 3840m in the Himalayas. Sue and John Heydon are volunteers who run Sir Edmund Hillary’s hospital at Kunde, Nepal. The hospital is in the Sagarmatha National Park, not far from Mt Everest. One of the Heydon sons, Edward, is in Form 2 at the correspondence school this year and he is interested in participating in our Young Investigators’ programme which is aimed at Form 1-2 students and their teachers. It is noteworthy that the first response to our announcement of this innovative programme came within hours from such a distant outpost. The Society welcomes Edward’s interest in science and will be giving him a complimentary subscription to the HELIX magazine in addition to Young Investigator material.

The response to this programme from readers of Science Alert has been encouraging and we look forward to bringing you more news of this programme.


Please complete and return the questionnaire we distributed late last year. The response has not been as good as we expected but perhaps more replies will arrive now the holiday period is over. It is difficult to improve the lines of communication within our diverse and diffuse family if members fail to give us contact details. If you want another form sent, please e-mail:

Of the replies received only 22% want to receive the Digest/Alert in hard copy form by fax or post while 78% wish us to use e-mail. Some members who had access to the world-wide web were reluctant to see the web used as the primary means of contact, e-mail was preferred. Infrequency of use and difficulties of access were quoted as reasons why the web was not favoured. We need considerably more replies before any firm conclusions can be drawn.


‘Antarctic Futures’ is the theme of a three-day workshop to be held in Christchurch 28-30 April 1998. Organised by Antarctica New Zealand, the workshop is open to anyone with an interest in Antarctica’s future. Further details available on

The latest two-page NEWS sheet (Issue 7, January 98), published by Antarctica New Zealand, is available to anyone interested in New Zealand’s activity on the great white continent. Fax Antarctica New Zealand +64-3-358 0211 if you would like to be added to the mailing list.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced that functions of the Naval Antarctic Support Unit (NASU) in Christchurch are being transferred to other units of the US Antarctic Program. NASU will be disestablished on 31 March 1998, ending 42 years of continuous US Navy presence in New Zealand. The change will not affect America’s research endeavour in Antarctica or NSF’s overall responsibility to fund and manage US Antarctic Program functions. Further details of the announcement are available from NSF by Faxing +64-3-3589060.


The opening of the $317m Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa on Saturday 14 February is proving to be a major logistical exercise. Following the formal opening by the Prime Minister (Hon Jenny Shipley), there will be a public celebration to which every citizen is invited. The large numbers expected to attend require a high level of security and the provision of queue minders, entertainment and refreshment for those queuing.

Te Papa (originally the Colonial Museum) and the Royal Society (originally the New Zealand Institute) have common origins, along with a number of other scientific institutions in New Zealand. This family of institutions can trace its ancestry back to Sir James Hector, the first director of the museum and statutory manager of the New Zealand Institute. Our common founder is recognised in the naming of the Hector Library at Te Papa where the Royal Society’s serial publications are housed. Another institution founded by Hector was the New Zealand Geological Survey (now the New Zealand Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences). GNS has made a significant contribution to the provision of exhibits at Te Papa and is responsible for the spectacular entranceway. Other research institutions to have made a contribution to Te Papa are NIWA, Landcare, and Victoria University of Wellington.

We wish Te Papa well for a highly successful launching. May it enjoy a long period of service to the people of New Zealand, both as a showcase revealing the story of this land and its people and as a scientific research institution of international repute.


Applications are invited by the Zonta Club for its biennial science award for women scientists. The award comprises a cash prize of $5,000 and a round-the-world air ticket to facilitate overseas study. Established in 1990, the Zonta Award recognises women who make a significant contribution to scientific research and who promote science as a career for women. The last recipient was Dr Wendy Nelson, botany curator at the Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa.


Widespread criticism of the application of the Resource Management Act has resulted in the appointment of a person to write a critique of the Act’s land use provisions. In announcing the choice of town planner, Mr Owen McShane, to provide the critique, the Minister for the Environment, Hon Simon Upton, said he expected the report to be controversial. He had asked Mr McShane to focus on whether land use controls permitted by the Act (including subdivisional controls) delivered environmental benefits. The full text of the Minister’s statement will be available at


There is discontent across the Tasman in university science. A recent poll conducted by the Federation of Australian Science and Technology Societies (FASTS) put the difficulties being experienced by science departments in Australian universities as number one in a top ten issues’ list. The problems encountered sound a little familiar: a rise in staff workload, funding cuts as universities scramble to make savings, increasing pressures on infrastructure and so on. Evidently, those looking for solutions from the West Review have been disappointed, the resultant report has been described as lacking in focus and clarity. FASTS is sponsoring a forum on ‘University Science – Crisis or Crossroads’ on 25 February at the National Press Club in Canberra. If anyone concerned with university science is in Canberra on or around this date and could represent the Society as an observer, please e-mail

Implementation of a proposal to disband ANZAAS in Australia has been deferred. Several prominent organisations, including the academies, have conferred to assess the implications of an Australia without ANZAAS. The Royal Society withdrew from ANZAAS in 1990 and the last activity in New Zealand was the Association’s Congress at Massey University eleven years ago. The science publication ‘Search’ has now been merged with ‘Australasian Science’.

The Australian House of Representatives has been examining the effects on research and development of public policy reforms implemented over the past decade. FASTS reports that the exercise was made quite challenging in that the Federal department servicing the select committee could not produce details of the reforms referred to. FASTS submission said, inter alia: ‘that moves by (the Australian) Government to corporatisation, privatisation and outsourcing are in some cases moves away from areas which should be the responsibility of Government. These cases threaten public-good research and long-term planning which is the basis of successful science’.

Collaboration between the S&T academies, science communicators, FASTS and ANZAAS has resulted in a jointly sponsored forum to be held 7-10 May 98 in Melbourne during National Science Week. Entitled ‘Science Now’, the forum will showcase Australia’s newest and best science and technology to the media and the public, with special emphasis on the work of younger researchers who are just starting to make their mark. It appears to us that this worthwhile initiative will save at least one of the functions that were at risk with the possible demise of ANZAAS.


The Royal Society is pleased to announce that the recipient of the R H T Bates Postgraduate Scholarship for 1998 is Sven Ostring, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Canterbury.

‘Communication using computer networks is rapidly becoming a feature of every day life for the average person,’ he says. ‘To ensure that users of computer networks receive the service they desire, engineers have to understand the unique characteristics of both the network system and the communication traffic using the network.

‘The goal of my research project is to utilise the self-similar characteristics of network traffic to design more efficient network services for customers.’

Mr Ostring graduated Bachelor of Engineering with first-class honours from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Canterbury in 1996. In 1994 he was named NZ Aluminium Smelters Research Scholar and was an Ian McMillan Prize winner. He was awarded a University of Canterbury Doctoral Scholarship in 1996.

The R H T Bates Postgraduate Scholarship was established by The Royal Society of New Zealand in 1991 in memory of Professor Bates, a Fellow of the Society, who held a personal chair in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Canterbury from 1975 until his death in 1990.

In accordance with Professor Bates’s love of interdisciplinary research, the Scholarship is open to a wide range of students in physical science and engineering whose research aims to apply information/image processing to studies in medicine, the physical sciences or engineering.


Set up in response to concern over New Zealand’s less than desirable performance in mathematics and science, the Ministerial Task Group has deliberated over the past few months on ways of improving the achievement of NZ students in science and mathematics.

The Taskforce concluded that:

*students would achieve at a higher level in mathematics and science if parents and teachers had higher expectations of student success in these subjects; *teacher confidence in the subject being taught is important to student achievement; *the ideals and requirements of the curriculum need to be translated into practical activities that teachers can use in classrooms; *strategies for helping classroom teachers relate the use of materials to their own practice are essential; *targeted support is recommended for teachers of Māori medium education to help raise achievement of their students.

The Taskforce recommended that the Ministry of Education implement a number of short- and long-term strategies designed to raise student achievement through improving the support and advice given to teachers.

The Society is encouraged by the initiative taken in focusing on two key areas of the curriculum so important to New Zealand’s future development and prosperity. We look forward to the implementation in full of these recommendations and a continued emphasis on resourcing classroom teachers. The effective delivery of the mathematics and science curricula will result. There are a number of areas in which members of the Society could play an active part and we offer our support and assistance to the Ministry of Education in the pursuit of their goals. Members should also be aware of the Society’s ‘Young Investigators’ programme currently being trialled which was mentioned in last week’s ‘Alert’.

For more detail on the recommendations please access


This conference sponsored by the Royal Society’s IGBP (Global Change) Committee, will be held at the International Global Change Institute, University of Waikato on 7-8 April 1998.

Professor Eckart Ehlers, Chairman of the International Human Dimensions Programme Scientific Committee will speak at the opening session. The meeting will comprise a mixture of keynote addresses and workshops. Further details will follow in subsequent issues of S&T Alert and further information and registration will be available through the Society’s website. Contacts are Professor Richard Bedford, Department of Geography, University of Waikato; email: or Sue Usher at the Royal Society; email:


The Royal Society is an accredited nominating organisation for the Loder Cup Award. The award celebrates New Zealand’s distinctive flora and honours those who make outstanding contributions to its conservation. Individuals or organisations are eligible for the award. The last Loder Cup Award winner was Mrs Isabel Morgan of Napier who was chosen for her work in protecting and restoring the native flora in Hawkes Bay over 40 years.

If you wish the Society to consider making a nomination to the selection committee, please let us have the following information on the candidate of your choice: a CV and any background information on the reasons for the nomination, evidence that the nominee has consented to the nomination, a draft citation not exceeding 200 words and references from recognised authorities attesting to the suitability of the candidate.

The Loder Cup will be presented during Conservation Week in August and we are required to submit our nomination to the selection committee by the end of June. Please let us have any nominations, with the information required, no later than 30 April 1998 – this will allow time for the Society to decide upon its official nomination.


Two senior Victoria University science academics have been awarded personal professorships in recognition of their outstanding teaching and research: Charles Daugherty in ecology and Michael Crozier in geomorphology. Charles Daugherty is best known for his research on the tuatara, taking in the evolution, population biology, conservation and captive rearing of the unique reptile. He is regarded as a world leader in biological research that brings together conservation ecology and genetics. Michael Crozier is a world-renowned expert on landslides and one of New Zealand’s leading experts on natural hazards.

Dr Mark Fisher, formerly of AgResearch Invermay has started his new job as Manager of AgResearch Poukawa Research Station near Hastings. Dr Fisher takes over from Dr Chris Korte, who left Poukawa in August 1997 for Victoria, Australia.


The New Zealand Association of Scientists, assisted by the Royal Society, is holding a conference ‘Rabbit control, RCD: dilemmas and implications’ on Monday 30 and Tuesday 31 March 1998 in Wellington.

Further information will be circulated later and the NZAS website will soon have programme and registration details. Meantime feel free to contact: Janet Grieve Ph 04 386 0362; Email OR Chris Sissons Ph 04 385 5549; Email OR Mike Berridge Ph 04 389 5096 x 825; Email


Other events listed by the Royal Society as taking place in New Zealand in the next month or so include:

OECD international workshop on terrestrial planarians Christchurch, 16-20 February 1998. Contact: DAVID_ALFORD@ADAS.CO.UK

Environmental Management Skills Workshop Auckland, 18-20 February 1998. Contact NZ Quality College, Ph (09) 5256633 Fax (09) 5252266

The 6th Annual New Zealand Water Summit Auckland, 26-27 February 1998. Contact AIC Conferences, Ph 09 358 5566, TOLL FREE Fax: 0800 401 456

Environmental Justice & Market Mechanisms: Key Challenges for Environmental Law Auckland, 5-7 March 1998. Contact: OR Website

Sea Week: ‘Mountains to Sea’ Throughout NZ, 7-15 March 1998. Contact Department of Conservation.


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This file created on 13 February 1998, last amended 16 February 1998