Science and Technology Alert: Issue 53


The Royal Society of New Zealand is pleased to announce that David A Thom CBE has been awarded the 1998 Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement. The Award consists of a medal and an expenses-paid series of lectures in 1999 to regional science societies affiliated to the Royal Society of New Zealand. The award was established in 1988 to commemorate the life and work of Sir Charles Fleming FRS FRSNZ.

David Thom, a civil engineer, has made significant contributions to the protection and maintenance of the environment in three main areas: in conservation; in the development of environmental policy; and by changing the culture of professional engineers towards environmental sensitivity. For the first two, his influence has mostly been in a national context. In engineering he has argued that engineers have a central role in conservation and sustainable development and has set about changing the whole culture of engineering worldwide, through policy, practice and education. In 1987, at the time of the National Park Centennial, David Thom wrote a significant book ‘Heritage: the Parks of the People’, which deals with the history and present state of national parks in New Zealand.


Earlier this month Dr Selwyn Maister, Dean of Science at the Christchurch Polytechnic, presented a talk entitled ‘Science in the New Zealand polytechnics’ at a Royal Society of New Zealand Canterbury Branch Meeting.

Although a relatively small section of the New Zealand science education scene, the polytechnic contribution is applied and highly focused for the employment requirements of New Zealand’s science employers.

From small beginnings in the 1960s, the polytechnic science departments grew rapidly through the 1970s and 1980s as the polytechnics diversified, responded to employer demands, and served the science requirements of other programmes especially in the health sector.

In more recent years there has been a dramatic growth in research and consultancy along with the development of post-graduate and graduate science qualifications.

In his presentation Dr Maister tracked the growth and diversification of polytechnic science and reported the results of a recent survey he had carried out to ascertain the size of the sector. Dr Maister’s full talk is lodged on the Royal Society website at


Canterbury University has appointed a woman to its management for the first time. Dr Jan Cameron, the Dean of Arts, is the new Pro Vice-Chancellor (academics)and takes up her appointment on 16 November 1998. Professor Bob Kirk MRSNZ, Head of the Geography Department, becomes Pro Vice-Chancellor (research) also from 16 November 1998.

Associate Professor Philip Butler, of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, took up his position as the new Pro-Vice-Chancellor (resources) on 19 October.

Professor John Burrows, of the university Law School, takes over as Deputy Vice-chancellor on 1 July 1999.


The Ministry of Education launched its IT strategy this week. Key points include:

(a) an ‘on-line resource centre’ website which will provide teaching resources over the internet, and also feature an ‘interactive centre’ for teachers’ training courses for principals to help them use information technology more effectively in their schools. An innovative feature of this is that those schools already using IT well will be contracted to provide support and training for other schools.

(b) the promotion of a scheme to encourage industry to recycle used computers to schools.

The policy, to cost $16 million over three years, was launched by Education Minister Wyatt Creech and Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.


The University of Canterbury’s Council has approved a Graduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies. This programme has been developed in association with Antarctica New Zealand with input from all the universities, government agencies, and the wider Antarctic community. This intensive 12-week interdisciplinary programme will commence in January 1999. The summer school component from 11 January to 19 February includes a 7-10 day field trip to Scott Base. This is followed by a major supervised project. The programme is targetted at students from all the disciplines and professionals working in Antarctic-related fields. The Programme co-ordinators for the 1999 programme are Professor John Hay, Woodward Clyde Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Auckland, and Dr Brian Stewart, Lecturer in Marine Science at the University of Otago. Dr Gary Steel of Lincoln University, a psychologist, and Dr Margaret Bradshaw, a geologist, will contribute to the research-oriented programme at Scott Base.

Applications for the 20 places on the programme beginning in January 1999 close at the end of October. Full details are on the web:


Sara Perrett, Form 7, Awatapu College, Palmerston North; Abi Ferguson, Form 6, Otumoetai College, Tauranga; and Kirsty Dobbs, Form 5, Christchurch Girls’ High School, will be presented with 1998 Young Historians Awards at Parliament Buildings next week. These Awards are designed to promote the study of history in secondary schools and to recognise the achievements of students and teachers of history. They are jointly sponsored and administered by the New Zealand Historical Association and the New Zealand History Teachers Association, with the assistance of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Three Awards are made at 5th, 6th, and 7th form level. Each Award comprises a $500 cheque, plus membership of the New Zealand Historical Association and a year’s subscription to the ‘New Zealand Journal of History’.

The judging panel is made up of representatives of NZHA and NZHTA. In 1998 the judges were: Dr Charlotte Macdonald and Professor David Hamer, NZHA; and Mr Dale Burden and Mr Dominic King, NZHTA.


A new consultancy report describing the changes in climate likely to occur over the next four seasons as a result of the La Niña event is now available. ‘New Zealand Climate and La Niña: Prospects for 1998/99’ is targeted at decision-makers in land-based industries, banks, rural policy groups, etc. It contains an array of maps in full colour, covering the coming Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. It gives not only the change in average rainfall but also the changes in probabilities both of high rainfall and of low rainfall. Explanations of the maps are provided.

In past El Niño and La Niña events, individual consultancies have been undertaken on demand, but this year the standard document will allow more organisations and companies to get access to this scientific expertise. The $450 + GST consultancy report is available from NIWA by emailing:


On 19 October NIWA released its annual forecast for the pattern of tropical cyclone risk in the South Pacific islands region this coming cyclone season. Higher than usual risks of tropical cyclones are predicted for the melanesian countries of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia in the coming tropical cyclone season. This is due to the La Niña conditions which have begun to affect the South Pacific region’s climate this year. But Fiji and Polynesian neighbours in the eastern part of the South Pacific are likely to experience fewer tropical cyclones than average.

The predictions have been directly disseminated to the Pacific island countries and international agencies for planning the coming cyclone season. Last year’s forecast proved accurate, with record numbers of cyclones and a strong bias in occurrence in the eastern Polynesia. The predictions are based on previous research on the links with the El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon. The full statement with a table of risk estimates for the different countries may be found on NIWA’s website:


A second 1998/99 round of applications is now being called for under the following programmes of the ISAT Linkages Fund: – Bilateral Research Activities Programme – NZ/USA Cooperative Science Programme – NZ/FRG Scientific and Technological Cooperation Agreement Programme

Applications must apply to activities which are to be completed by 30 June 1999. Applications close on Tuesday 1 December 1998.

Guidelines and Application Forms are available for downloading from the Royal Society’s website

Potential applicants should contact their institutional ISAT coordinators for further details.


Jack Sommer, Knight Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at the University of Carolina at Charlotte in the United States will be well known to many of you because he carried out a survey of scientists and technologists in New Zealand in 1996 under a Senior Fulbright Fellowship. The Royal Society congratulates Jack on being recently made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement in Science.


Scientists have confirmed, thanks to the German-made mini-submarine ‘JAGO’, that there is a large active geothermal system under the bed of Lake Taupo. Via this joint German-New Zealand project, which was funded by the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) partly through PGSF and Marsden-funded projects and supported by the local Tuwharetoa tribe, scientists have retrieved interesting and important rock, gas, and hot water samples from the deepest part of the lake.

Project leader Dr Cornel de Ronde, a minerals geologist with GNS, said the project had achieved all its objectives despite the fact that rough weather had prevented some of the scheduled dives. As well as geological samples, the two-person submarine observed freshwater crayfish thriving in complete darkness at 160 m, and brought back an unidentified freshwater sponge, which has been given to marine biologists for identification and analysis.

Scientists at GNS will spend several weeks analysing the many samples and poring over the hours of video footage taken of the seabed (some of which was presented in a ’60 minutes’ documentary on 25 October). During one of the dives, the submarine went down to 188m – deeper than previously charted depths – and discovered a field of hydrothermal ‘chimneys’ which are thought to be rich in minerals. JAGO is owned by the Max Planck Institute and was brought to the South Pacific by a consortium of German Universities originally to survey the seafloor to the north-east of New Zealand.


This New Zealand Institute of Chemistry (NZIC) publication is a new edition of the original book and contains 100 articles in 17 sections. In addition to chemistry, aspects of technology, biotechnology, and the environment are covered.

It is available in loose-leaf form at $67 or bound at $77. Cheques should be made to NZIC Chemical Processes Publication. Email orders to


The following events are some of those listed in our conference database as taking place in New Zealand in NOVEMBER. For a full listing of conferences notified to the Royal Society as taking place in New Zealand and overseas in the next year or so, see

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

1998 Natural Hazard Management Workshop Christchurch, 4-5 November 1998. Contact Anne-Marie Duggan Canterbury Regional Council, ph 64 3 365 3828.

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. Contact email:

INTER*NOISE98, Christchurch, 16-18 November 1998. Contact email: or see website:

Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia Annual Conference, Auckland, 20-22 November 1998. Contact email:

Ethnobiology: Dialogue between cultures. Forging meaningful partnerships, Whakatane, 23-28 November 1998. Contact email:

Australian and New Zealand Ecological Societies Joint Meeting, Dunedin, 24-27 November 1998. Contact email:

Meteorological Society of New Zealand & New Zealand Hydrological Society Joint Conference, Dunedin, 24-27 November 1998. Contact email:

Eighth Conference on Labour, Employment and Work, Wellington, 26-27 November 1998. Contact e-mail Website is:

NZ Geological Society /NZ Geophysical Society Conference/AGM, Christchurch. 30 November to 3 December 1998. Contact email: Website:

Limnological Society Conference, Dunedin, 30 November to 2 December 1998. Contact email:

Microbes & Molecules 1998, Masterton, 30 November to 3 December 1998. Contact email:


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