Science and Technology Alert: Issue 48


Sir John Scott, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand which represents the majority of New Zealand scientists, today said that the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion, both in New Zealand and overseas, is that genetically engineered medicines and foods are safe for human consumption.

‘We believe that the debate surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in New Zealand is beginning to stray from the informative. The risks are being overplayed. To date the debate has focused mainly upon the perceived risks of this technology, but we must not lose sight of its huge potential benefits in areas of food supply, food quality, nutrition and health’, said Sir John.

‘While we have total confidence in the integrity of scientists, regulations and the safety systems which have been set up, the Royal Society recognises the concerns of the public and strongly supports mechanisms by which consumers are kept informed about developments in biotechnology’, he says.

For the full text of the Royal Society press release on this important topic see

News media reaction to the President’s statement will be included in our daily news service.


New Zealandís capacity to undertake effective applied mathematical research is in danger due to government, industry and business attitudes.

The failure of New Zealand industry to recognise the significance of the mathematical sciences was revealed as a major concern on Monday at the release of ‘Mathematics in New Zealand: Past, Present and Future’. The report, prepared for the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, and compiled by a review team appointed by the Royal Society of New Zealand Standing Committee on Mathematical and Information Sciences, was released during a discussion forum at Science House in Wellington.

The review, chaired by Massey University at Albanyís Institute of Information and Mathematical Science head, Professor Jeffrey Hunter MRSNZ, investigated current trends in mathematics, the role of mathematical sciences inside and outside of educational institutions, contributions to the economy, and factors likely to affect their role in the future. The report also provided the Ministry with recommendations for strengthening the role of mathematics in New Zealand.

For the full Press Release see


This year’s New Zealand Mathematical Society Visiting Lecturer Dr John Fauvel is a historian of Mathematics from the Open University in the United Kingdom. Dr Fauvel will arrive in Auckland on 26 September and spend three weeks touring through the universities in a southerly direction.

His itinerary is as follows:

1. Auckland University (contact Mon, 28 Sept, 2.00 pm ‘The role of history of mathematics within a university mathematics curriculum for the 21st century’ Tues, 29 Sept, 3.00 pm ‘Teaching versus research? the Oxford experiences of John Wallis, J. J. Sylvester and G. H. Hardy’

2. Massey at Albany (contact Wed, 30 Sept, 12 noon ‘Mathematics in action: New Zealand images’; 4.00pm ‘Scenes from the prehistory of chaos theory: Newton, Raphson and other problem-solvers down the ages’

3. Waikato University (contact Thurs, 1 Oct, 11.00 am, ‘Teaching versus research? the Oxford experiences of John Wallis, J. J. Sylvester and G.H. Hardy’ Fri, 2 Oct, 11.00 am ‘Mathematical and engineering creativity in airships, bombs and love letters: the public and private worlds of Barnes Wallis’

4. Massey University, P. Nth (contact Mon, 5 Oct, 11.00 am, ‘Mathematics in action: New Zealand images’; Tues, 6 Oct, 11.00 am ‘The role of history of mathematics within a university mathematics curriculum for the 21st century’; 7.30 pm ‘Mathematical and engineering creativity in airships, bombs and love letters: the public and private worlds of Barnes Wallis’ (a joint meeting with the Royal Society)

5. Victoria University (contact Wed, 7 Oct, 12 noon, ‘Teaching versus research? the Oxford experiences of John Wallis, J. J. Sylvester and G. H. Hardy’ Thurs, 8 Oct, 4.00 pm, ‘Using history of mathematics in the classroom’ Fri, 9 Oct, 12 noon, ‘Scenes from the prehistory of chaos theory: Newton, Raphson and other problem-solvers down the ages’

6. Canterbury University (contact Mon, 12 Oct, ‘Teaching versus research? the Oxford experiences of John Wallis, J. J. Sylvester and G.H. Hardy’ Tues, 13 Oct, evening, ‘Scenes from the prehistory of chaos theory: Newton, Raphson and other problem-solvers down the ages’

7. Otago University (contact Thurs, 15 Oct, ‘The role of history of mathematics within a university mathematics curriculum for the 21st century’ Fri, 16 Oct, ‘Teaching versus research? the Oxford experiences of John Wallis, J. J. Sylvester and G.H. Hardy’


The Government introduced a Bill on Wednesday that will overhaul and update legislation relating to animal welfare that is almost 40 years old.

Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control Minister John Luxton said the Bill imposed obligations on owners and those in charge of animals to ensure that the physical, health and behavioural needs of animals were met and that pain and distress was alleviated. This contrasted with the Animals Protection Act 1960 which had a narrower focus on punishing acts of cruelty.

The Bill applies to animals considered capable of feeling pain including all live mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, octopus, squid, crab, lobster and crayfish.

The Minister said in a statement the Bill responded to public concern about the use of animals in research, testing and teaching and to the approval of animal exports. He said the Bill would not replace Labour MP Pete Hodgson’s Animal Welfare Bill and that his Bill would still be considered by the Primary Production Select Committee.

The Government had supported Mr Hodgson’s Bill when it was introduced late last year. However, Mr Luxton said there had been gaps in his Bill and the Government had decided it would be easier to draft its own legislation. Key differences were that the Government Bill did not apply to hunting, fishing and pest control, and did not prohibit the tail-docking of dogs. He also said the provisions relating to animal export, research, testing and teaching, and the approval of organisations to enforce the legislation were more comprehensive.


As well as the Ocean Drilling Program presently taking place to the east of New Zealand, there will be another oceanographic expedition in New Zealand and Australian waters from 16 October till 12 November. This is the TASQWA expedition by the German research vessel SONNE.

The objective is to carry out paleoclimate research in the Tasman Sea and Southern Ocean. The objective is therefore similar to that of the Ocean Drilling Program and last year’s expedition by the French research vessel MARION DUFRESNE (which ended in Lyttelton).

Eleven research institutes will take part in the TASQWA expedition, four from Germany, two from France, three from Australia, and two from New Zealand. The New Zealand groups are:

* GRAINZ (Geoscience Research and Investigations New Zealand), Christchurch. GRAINZ scientists on board will be Dr Gerrit van der Lingen (Director of GRAINZ), and Dr Kerry Swanson (GRAINZ & Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury). GRAINZ is being funded by the Foundation for Research, Science & Technology.

* NIWA. Their shipboard scientist will be Dr Helen Neil from Wellington.

The SONNE will leave from Wellington early on 16 October. The expedition will end in Hobart on 12 November.

Detailed information on the TASQWA expedition can be found on its website.

There are many scientific links and co-operations between the scientists of the MARION DUFRESNE expedition, the JOIDES RESOLUTION expedition and the SONNE expedition. The GRAINZ team is planning to have a scientific workshop/conference in the field station of the University of Canterbury in Westport in 2001, bringing all three science groups together to discuss their progress and achievements.

An important initiative from the GRAINZ team is the establishment of contacts with 13 New Zealand schools, from Northland to the West Coast. These schools will contact the SONNE once a week to learn about its progress and achievements. Each school has already received a package with background information and maps. The schools will also plot the ship’s position from week to week.


The Ocean Drilling Program, with an international group of 50 scientists and technicians on the JOIDES Resolution, was on Thursday hove to 450 km east of Chatham Islands in up to 12 m waves and winds up to 110 km/hour. On Tuesday it completed Hole 5, recovering 625 m of core containing a continuous history for the last 20 million years of one of the largest deep ocean currents. This Hole is one of the best oceanic records ever obtained for the Neogene. The ash layers it contains provide one of the most complete records of the large volcanic eruptions from the North Island over this time span.

The next site will be either to the north, near the Hikurangi Channel, or in shallower water nearer Chatham Island, depending upon the weather.


The Quake Trackers programme (a joint project between Victoria University and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences) uses students’ natural curiosity about earthquakes to promote scientific enquiry and improve earthquake hazard awareness in New Zealand using simple seismographs installed in secondary schools. The programme was launched by the Hon Maurice Williamson at Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt yesterday. Further information from


Wellington Public Show When: Sept/Oct School Holidays (23 September to 11 October) Where: Shed 11, Queen’s Wharf, 9.30 am to 4.30 pm daily. Admission fee: $6/adult with 1 accompanied child free; additional children $5; children under 5 free


At the next meeting of the Parliamentary Education and Science Committee on Thursday, 1 October, it will continue being briefed by the New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research Limited on genetically modified foods. This meeting will occur in room G-011 in Parliament House from 10.00 to 11.30 am. This meeting is open to the public.


Associate Professor Ming Singer, Dept of Psychology, University of Canterbury, has been awarded the biennial Hunter Award in recognition of her research on social and organisational justice. The Hunter Award is the New Zealand Psychological Society’s highest award.

Professor Terry Healy, Leader of the Coastal Marine Group at Waikato University, has become the first New Zealander to win a prestigious German Award. The $150,000 award, from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation of Germany, recognises Professor Healy’s outstanding research on coastal marine science.

Professor Roger Morris FRSNZ, Head of the Massey University ‘Epicentre’, a leading centre for research into the epidemiology and control of animal diseases, has been appointed as an independent assessor of bovine tuberculosis (Tb) research programmes for Britain’s Ministry of Agriculture. Professor Morris says there are real benefits for New Zealand in gaining insight into the research being conducted in the United Kingdom. There are close parallels between the Tb problems in the two countries despite the fact that in the United Kingdom the principal Tb disease carrier is the badger while in New Zealand it is the possum.


Triple gold medallist Peter Snell officially opened the $2.2 million UniSports Centre for sports performance yesterday at The University of Auckland’s Tamaki Campus. The Centre is new Zealand’s most comprehensive Sport Science and Sport Medicine facility and the only one of its type in the country.

The UniSports Centre already works with top New Zealand athletes like Kuala Lumpur cycling gold medallist Sarah Ulmer and top squash player Leilani Joyce.

Says Professor Bob Marshall at The University of Auckland’s Department of Sport and Exercise Science, ‘This is the closest New Zealand will ever see to an Institute of Sport.’


Applications are invited to undertake a PhD programme to measure and model the effects of elevated CO2 concentration on soil and root respiratory processes and microbial activity in large Pinus radiata and Nothofagus fusca (red beech) trees that have been grown for six years in open-top chambers.

The programme will be undertaken at the open-top chamber site in Christchurch and funded by the New Zealand Forest Research Institute and Landcare Research for three years. The work will be an integral part of ongoing research supported by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. Supervision will be provided by Dr David Whitehead and Dr Peter Clinton from these organisations and Dr Matthew Turnbull at the Department of Plant and Microbial Sciences, University of Canterbury. There will be opportunity to interact with two other students presently working at the site on related projects.

The successful candidate will receive a thorough training in the research skills related to carbon balance at the whole- tree scale, with emphasis on litter, root and microbial biology, chemical analysis of organic carbon compounds and physical aspects of CO2 diffusion in soils. The project will be based around the aspects of the rate of litter breakdown and the chemical determination of the products, respiratory fluxes from roots and microbial components and identification of changes in the composition of microbial populations. Use of the results to model CO2 fluxes will be encouraged.

This research effort is a contribution to the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE) component of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and is providing data for modelling the long-term response of forest ecosystems to global climate change.

For applications and further information please e-mail:


The Trustees of the Society of International Applied and Theoretical Limnology (SIL) 1987 Trust Fund are seeking applications for a Guest Lecturer and/or Travel Award for the 1998/99 year. Applicants must be members of LimSoc and application forms and copies of the terms and conditions are available by emailing or can be down-loaded from the LimSoc website Applications should be lodged with the Secretary no later than 15 November 1998.


This new book by Lindsay Poole FRSNZ, which covers interesting aspects of the authorís distinguished career in botany and forestry, is available through the Royal Society.

From birth at Whatatu in 1908 and youthful bird-nesting in Tuparoa Bay to visiting the 100-year-old redwood grove in Whaka Forest during the 1997 forestry centennial celebrations, much of Lindsay Pooleís life has been involved with trees.

A traineeship with the Forest Service was followed by the theoretical study of forestry and science at the Forestry School at Auckland University College. Then followed practical activities with the Forest Service, such as quartermastering unemployment camps, shooting deer and a spell in Head Office, during the depression, and a year in the Botany Division of DSIR. With the war came scientific liaison work in London, and then a spell in the Forestry and Timber Control of the British Military Government in Germany. There he became involved directly in the strictly controlled forestry administration and operations. Wood was absolutely essential for war. The forests has not long gone through one world war, had survived and looked as though they could supply another. In spite of overcutting, the long-term needs and sustained yields of the forest were paramount.

On his return to New Zealand he was appointed Assistant Director and in 1949 Director of the Botany Division, and this led unexpectedly to being appointed Assistant Director of the Forest Service, and later Director-General.

By 1950 the Service was becoming broadly based and particularly active in establishing plantation forests and preparing the way for the sale of substantial quantities of wood from planting that was started at the beginning of the century by Lands Department. While disposal of the wood was achieved readily enough, disposal in a safe forest way proved to be impossible. This had adverse repercussions in all wood sales through to the 1980s and eventually led to the demise of the Forest Service.

‘Trees,, timber and tranquillity’ (published by C. Rex Monigatti Publishing, ISBN 0-473-04789-6) is in hardback, 148 pages, with colour and black & white photos. It can be purchased for $35 from the Royal Society through SIR Publishing; email


A new 320-page book entitled ‘Owning the Future: Integrated Risk Management in Practice’ was launched by the Prime Minister at a function held at Parliament on Monday, 21 September. The Centre for Advanced Engineering believes that this book is an important and timely contribution towards better risk management in New Zealand in the future.

The book is edited by Professor David Elms FRSNZ of the University of Canterbury and contains 24 chapters by invited authors.

In launching the book, the Prime Minister noted the increasing importance of a rational approach to risk management at the levels of the individual person, the company or organisation, and the nation.

Brochures and order forms for purchase of the book are available from John Blakeley MRSNZ, Executive Director of CAE. The price is $80 plus GST.

Contact email is


The following events are some of those listed in our conference database as taking place in New Zealand in the next 2 months. For a full listing see

Urban sustainability workshop ‘What sustainability means in an urban context’, Wellington, 7 October 1998. Registrations are still being accepted. For further information see or email ] NZ Institute of Surveyors Annual Conference, Palmerston North, 16 – 20 October 1998. Email:

New Zealand Grassland Association Annual Conference, Nelson, 20 – 22 October 1998. Email:

Building a future for women’s health, Auckland, 2 – 3 November 1998. Email:

Leadership priorities for New Zealand science and technology, Wellington, 5 – 6 November 1998. Email:

Environment & Property Rights Conference – Private Rights and Public Benefits, Christchurch, 10 – 11 November 1998. Email:

‘Soil – the earth’s edge’, Gisborne, 16 – 20 November 1998. Email:

Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia Annual Conference, Auckland, 20 – 22 November 1998. Email

Ethnobiology: Dialogue between cultures. Forging meaningful partnerships, Whakatane, 23 – 28 November 1998. Email

Australian and New Zealand Ecological Societies Joint Meeting, Dunedin, 24 – 27 November 1998. Email:

Meteorological Society of New Zealand & New Zealand Hydrological Society Joint Conference, Dunedin, 24 – 27 November 1998. Email:

NZ Geological Society/NZ Geophysical Society Conference/AGM, Christchurch, 30 November – 3 December 1998. Contact GSNZ Conference, Dept of Geology, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch

Molecular Ecology Meeting, Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre, National Park, 4 – 6 December 1998. Email:


Contributions for inclusion in ‘Science Alert’ are welcome. Please email items of interest to


Please forward Science Alert to any non-subscriber to whom the material may be relevant and who may wish to receive the publication regularly.

To join, send any message to and you will receive both the science news headlines (daily) and Science Alert (weekly).

To unsubscribe, send an email message to: Within the body of the message (not in the subject line) put: unsubscribe rsnz-list (for Science Alert, and/or:) unsubscribe rsnz-dailynews (for daily news) In the next line put only the word: end (this prevents your signature lines creating error messages).