Science and Technology Alert: Issue 59


The Marsden Fund has been established by the Government to support excellent research and researchers, and to provide increased opportunities to undertake research that is purely curiosity-driven. It complements other sources of funding such as the Public Good Science Fund. Indicative funding for new proposals in the year commencing 1 July 1999 will be in the vicinity of $7 million.

Applying to the Marsden Fund is a two-tier process. The initial application, called a Preliminary Proposal, is restricted in length and has to be submitted by 8 February 1999. Submission of a Full Proposal is by invitation only. You will be advised by 9 April 1998 if your Preliminary Proposal has been successful.

Information on making applications; application forms; guidelines for Marsden Fund Committee and Assessment Panels; Referees and Marsden Fund Terms of Reference are available: (a) from your research coordinator if you are at a university or CRI; (b) on the Royal Society website; or (c) from the Marsden Fund office, phone 04-472 8345, email


Professor Leslie Kay FRSNZ took 40 years to develop ultrasonic technology to allow blind people to ‘see’ with sound. His invention, Kaspa, has won him world acclaim and the Saatchi and Saatchi Innovation in Communication Award. Kaspa (Kay’s Advanced Spatial Perception Aid) is the culmination of a lifetime’s work in electrical engineering for Professor Kay, 76.

Kaspa, a tool for sensing space, beat entries from 27 countries. It mimics the system used by bats to navigate using sound waves. A small control unit and a headset worn by the user sends and receives sonar signals in a four-metre arc. The signals bounce off any matter denser than air and are heard through stereo earpieces as different tones.

But having come recently back from receiving the award worth almost NZ$200,000, Professor Kay is facing a huge challenge – how to get the device to the blind people who most need it. Despite the global recognition for Kaspa, there is little public funding in this country for such devices and as yet no professional instructors training blind people in their use. Kaspa costs $5000 plus training compared to $20,000 to train a guide dog and Professor Kay says the devices should be funded by the Government through its gadget supply agent Equipment Management Services.

Professor Kay will meet with the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind and Saatchi and Saatchi within the next few weeks to look at how the device could be used in the future and how Kaspa can be marketed on a broader scale.


Lincoln University toxicologist Dr Ravi Gooneratne has won the ‘best paper of the year’ award for an article in a top international scientific journal.

Dr Gooneratne has won the George Fleming prize for the paper ‘Effects of chelating agents on the excretion of copper, zinc, and iron in the bile and urine of sheep’ published last year in ‘The Veterinary Journal’.

This United Kingdom publication, formerly known as ‘The British Veterinary Journal, is one of the leading professional journals in the veterinary science field, and the prize commemorates its founder Professor George Fleming (1833-1901).

Dr Gooneratne holds qualifications in both veterinary science and toxicology and is a past winner of a national science communicator of the year merit Award. He is a Senior lecturer in Lincoln University’s Animal and Food Sciences Division.


The Royal Society is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 1999 R H T Bates Postgraduate Scholarship is Paul Davidson, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Canterbury.

Mr Davidson’s research is in computational neuroscience and is aimed at understanding and modelling the processes involved in human purposive movement. The project is a collaborative effort between the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineeering, University of Canterbury, the Departments of Medical Physics and Bio-engineering and of Neurology at Christchurch Hospital, and the Department of Systems and Control at the University of New South Wales.

The primary aim of the project is to investigate and extend current knowledge of the brain, and in particular the processing performed by the sensory-motor system. This will be achieved through the formation of a realistic model for the brain’s purposive movement. It is hoped that the model will improve understanding of certain neurological disorders, particularly Parkinson’s disease.

Mr Davidson graduated Bachelor of Engineering with first class honours from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Canterbury and is the recipient of a William Georgetti Scholarship from the New Zealand Vice Chancellors’ Committee and a Shirtcliffe Fellowship.

The R H T Bates Postgraduate Scholarship was established by the Royal Society in 1991 in memory of Professor Richard 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’ love of interdisciplinary research, the scholarship is available 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.


A further 7 fellowships have been offered for 1999 taking the total awarded to 18.

The new Teacher Fellows are: Sara Sinclair, Tainui School Dunedin; Joanne Standley, Wanganui Girls College; Michael Duncan, Sacred Heart Girls’ College, New Plymouth; Jeffrey Gunn, Cashmere High School, Christchurch; David Mossop, New Plymouth Boys’ High School; Ann Marie Weir, Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, Hamilton; Tania Lineham, James Hargest High School, Invercargill.

For further information see the Royal Society website

Application forms and guidelines for the 1999 round will be available from the Administration Officer, NZ Science &amp Technology Teacher Fellowships and from our website after 18 December 1998.


The Delta Technology Project was officially launched yesterday by Mr Bill Doak, a business entrepreneur. The launch was held at Art for Art’s Sake’s gallery upstairs at Capital on the Quay. Glynn McGregor of Technology Education New Zealand welcomed representatives from a range of community groups including Tranz Rail, the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Institution of Professional Engineers, Kingston Morrison, Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner, and NZEI Te Rui Roa.

Students from St.Patrick’s College, Kilbirnie, and Roseneath School were on hand to discuss their work. The students from St Patrick’s College have worked with engineers from Tranz Rail to develop an efficient method of cleaning locomotives. With a bit of help from Art for Art’s Sake and City Gallery staff, 7- and 8-year-olds from Roseneath School planned and held their own exhibition. They undertook all aspects of holding an exhibition from framing the art work to serving the wine and cheese at the opening.

The Delta Technology Project is designed to enable technologists to work with teachers for the benefit of students. Community links are important to the successful implementation of the Technology Curriculum. As teachers come to terms with this new learning area. community links provide students and teachers with an opportunity to experience technological practice first hand.

The project includes the production of resource material. This material is a series of case studies examining how schools are approaching the task of introducing technology education into their school curriculum. These case studies have been produced, not as an example of the way technology should be taught, but rather in an attempt to provide a window into current classroom practice in technology education. The particular case studies chosen present an insight into the methods adopted by a range of schools in the planning and delivery of technology units across the levels from years 1-10. Copies of the resource material are available from the Royal Society


The 1998 National Science &amp Technology Fair is currently taking place at Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand. It will be the last held under the sponsorship of ECNZ who have supported them since 1991. ECNZ hosted a reception last evening and Chief Executive, Dave Frow, spoke of the value of S&amp T Fairs and said how his organisation had valued the association with the Royal Society of New Zealand and the host of volunteers who made the movement such a success. The Royal Society President, Sir John Scott thanked ECNZ for their 8-year sponsorship and said he looked forward to continuing the association with one of the SOEs that were coming into being on 1 April 1999.

The Award Ceremony is being held this evening and a full report on the fair will be in next week’s Science Alert.


A futures dimension was once again added to the ECNZ National Science and Technology Fair by the New Zealand Futures Trust. The student participants were asked to write a brief summary of the impact their project could have on how we live in New Zealand over the next 5 – 25 years. The responses that have been received so far have been wide-ranging.

Kylie Bates and Claire Finch, two 15-year-olds who tested bacteria growth levels on a range of common apparel fibres, pointed out that people may not be working in the most suitable apparel. With more knowledge about bacterial growth there would be potential to create more suitable fibres and improve personal hygiene.

Bryn Fenwick, an 18-year-old student from Christchurch, saw the demand for clean water increasing as domestic and industrial waste contamination of rivers, lakes, and hydro dams increase and has designed a new gross pollution trap suitable for use in rivers and storm water drains. It is designed to be cheap and easy to construct, low maintenance, and to have a minimum effect on the environment.

Twelve-year-old Matthew J T Herbert is concerned with the potential ergonomic problems of increased use of computer work stations, designed for adults, by young children. He could see the potential for increased health problems in the next millennium and has created a programme to help to raise the young people’s awareness of the problem and suggests possible solutions.

Seventeen-year-old Alan Grainger recognised that his project did not have any obvious immediate value, but that there was future potential in being curious about things we do not understand and investigating them scientifically. Alan had written a computer program to randomly generate a pipe in a cube, tested it 36 million times, and demonstrated two bizarre phenomena.


Powerplay is Science Alive’s (Christchurch’s Science and Technology Centre) latest exhibition. Designed and built in Australia, Powerplay is a challenging and innovative interactive hands-on exhibition designed for young and old alike; it encourages creative thinking but most of all it is great fun!

Powerplay is an electronic journey into a world where your imagination can run wild in a futuristic adventure playground. Combining creativity and technology it lets you ride on a magic carpet through mountains, paint with invisible electronic paint, or take charge of a control panel. You can even electronically change the way you look!

It’s all about technology, power and play! A great combination at Science Alive! The exhibition runs from 21 November 1998 through to 31 January 1999.


Important work into the investigation of diseases by the epidemiology group at Massey University has been recognised with a new research facility. The newly-opened Massey Epicentre is dedicated to training and research in veterinary epidemiology. It has attracted worldwide contracts for work on studying the way diseases behave, and how to control them.

Part of the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical sciences, the research programme has been operating for 13 years, building to a group of 63 people involved in research and development work.

Epicentre director Professor Roger Morris said as the centre grew, the university realised it needed to have a formal organisation, because of the scale of the activities, and its external contracts.

Professor Morris said it was one of the major centres for animal disease research in the world, proven by the number of overseas contracts it attracted. It held $3 million worth of contracts from government, industry and international organisations. The Epicentre attracted postgraduate students from all over the world. Their research has involved working on TB control in wildlife and livestock, investigating mad cow disease for the British Government, monitoring rabbit calicivirus disease to ensure it was working effectively, looking at exotic disease threats to native birds, and developing software for farmers and disease control organisations.


Representatives from a wide range of agencies involved in possum control research and the practical management of vertebrate pests are meeting in Blenheim this week.

The National Possum Control Agencies’ (NPCA’s) national ‘technology transfer’ seminar is to update attendees on research advances and other developments in pest control. The NPCA is the coordinating group for agencies involved in possum control.

Agencies involved in the seminar include the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, AgResearch, Landcare Research, the Animal Health Board, and regional councils.

The national seminar follows a series of regional seminars in October/November aimed at getting possum control research and technology out of the laboratory and into use in forests and on farms. NPCA national coordinator Maurice Kennedy says that whereas these seminars focused on the practical application of possum control techniques, this week’s seminar would address quality assurance and higher-level issues such as: *possum control strategies for the 21st century *the ecological consequences of poisons used in pest control *the impact of possum control on non-target species *the use of DNA fingerprinting to track the spread of Tb between wildlife and domestic animals *biological control of possums through immunocontraception *threats to the continued use of 1080 as a pest control tool.

Mr Kennedy says up to $15 million – mostly government money – is spent each year on research into new techniques for pest control, particularly possum control.


Professor Cuth Wilkins retired from the Department of Chemistry, University of Canterbury in 1981. Since then he has remained active in his research and is still to be seen regularly in the Department.

To mark his 80th birthday, a group of his former students and colleagues agreed to contribute to a book honouring his achievements. Fifteen papers in the general field of structural inorganic chemistry and a biography by David Buckingham have been collected into a 136-page book. This book has been published jointly by the Department of Chemistry, University of Canterbury, and the Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry (NZIC). It has been edited by Denis Hogan and Bryce Williamson.

The book is available to NZIC members for $27 and to others for $36, including GST and postage. To order email


The Proceedings of two one-day workshops on ‘Environmental and Occupational Health Research, Science and Technology’ organised by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the New Zealand Environmental and Occupational Health Research Centre (NEOH) have just been published. To purchase a copy at $20 (incl. GST and postage) email


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

Organometallic chemistry in the South Pacific: a celebration, Auckland, 24 – 29 January 1999. Contact email: or

IC ’99, a joint meeting of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and the Inorganic Specialist Group of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry, Wellington, 31 January – 4 February 1999. Contact email:

IPENZ Congress 99 Democracy, technology, &amp progress – engineering the responsible profession, Wellington, 4 – 7 February 1999. Contact email:

Gendered sites, human rights, gendered sights, human rites, Dunedin, 8 -11 February 1999. Contact email:

Pacific Timber Engineering Conference, 1999, Rotorua, 15 – 20 March 1999. Contact email:

Entomological Society of New Zealand 1999 Conference – ‘Aspects of biodiversity in exotic and indigenous New Zealand ecosystems’, Christchurch, 6 – 9 April 1999. Contact email:


Appropriate 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).