Alert Newsletter 705

1. New Marsden Fund Council Chair appointed

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has announced the appointment of Canterbury University Professor Juliet Gerrard as the new Chair of the Marsden Fund Council.

The Marsden Fund was established by the Government in 1994 to fund excellent fundamental research. It is a contestable fund of $53 million administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council.

The Marsden Fund Council is responsible for developing the strategic direction of the Fund and for choosing the proposals to be funded.

Professor Gerrard replaces Professor Peter Hunter who is stepping down at the end of February when his term expires.

Professor Gerrard obtained her doctorate in biological chemistry from Oxford University, before being appointed as a research scientist at Crop & Food Research in 1993. In 1998 she began lecturing in biochemistry at the University of Canterbury, where she is now Professor and Co-Director of the Biomolecular Interaction Centre.

She won a National Teaching award for sustained excellence in tertiary teaching in 2004, and is an active member of three of New Zealand’s Centres of Research Excellence, as a Principal Investigator in both the MacDiarmid and Riddet Institutes and an Associate Investigator in the Maurice Wilkins Centre. Beofre her appointment as Chair, she served as Chair of the Cellular, Molecular and Physiological Biology Marsden Panel, and Deputy Chair of the Marsden Council.

2. Massey University distinguishes two science professors

Paul Rainey FRSNZ, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study and the Institute of Natural Sciences, and theoretical physicist Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger FRSNZ, director of the Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics at the same institute, have been named distinguished professors for their outstanding work and international eminence in the fields of evolutionary genetics and theoretical physics. The award of distinguished professor is the highest recognition the University can bestow on professorial staff who have achieved positions of eminence internationally in their field. No more than 10 can hold the title at any time.

Professor Rainey is part of an international team of scientists working with Zespri and Plant and Food Research to sequence PSA genomes in a bid to identify and understand the diversity and differences between various strains of the virus and its impact on plant resistance. His distinguished research background culminated last year in being appointed a member of Germany’s most prestigious academic institution, the Max Planck Society. He is currently a James Cook Research Fellow. He is also principal investigator at the Allan Wilson Centre for Ecology and Evolution, and visiting professor at Stanford University in the United States, where he is co-director of the Hopkins Microbial Diversity programme.

Professor Schwerdtfeger is currently working on graph theoretical aspects of fullerene structures , the origin of biomolecular homochirality and its implications for the origin of life, gas separation with graphene membranes (methane separation to avoid future disasters like the Pike mine), relativistic effects in heavy and superheavy elements, and high-pressure physics. A career studded with research accolades and awards includes winning last year’s Fukui Medal for outstanding theoretical/computational chemists in the Asia-Pacific region for his achievement in quantum chemistry, in particular for his deeper understanding of quantum relativistic effects.

3.  Writers and Readers Week keynote address by Tim Flannery

Writers and Readers Week opens with a keynote address by internationally acclaimed scientist, explorer and environmentalist, Tim Flannery.

Few are more passionate or knowledgeable about the natural world than 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery.  He is chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council and has written over a dozen books including his award-winning bestsellers The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People and The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change.  His more recent Here On Earth: An Argument for Hope charts the history of life on our planet and is an extraordinary exploration of evolution and sustainability.  Tim Flannery’s session is hosted by David Young.

When: Friday 9 March 6.30 – 7.30pm
Where: Wellington Town Hall
Tickets: $33

Book in person at Ticketek outlets  Online:  By phone: 0800 Ticketek (842 538)

4.  New Journal of Psychology issue on psychology and disasters

The New Zealand Psychological Society has released a special issue of the New Journal of Psychology on psychology and disasters. The journal features responses, research and practice in the months of earthquakes in Canterbury. 

An example of content is  “How communities in Christchurch have been coping with their earthquake”. Libby Gawith of Christchurch focuses on what Christchurch people coped with on 22 February  2011 and how they were coping at the end of 2011. The changes and strains are reported frankly and with constructive suggestions for recovery from future disasters. This is a compilation of how ordinary people in the community coped, how things have changed and what they have done to keep their communities functioning as the year has passed.

5. FUSIONZ website for science, technology, humanities jobs

This week, Fusionz has 1 vacancy for jobs. The latest job is:

Molecular Scientist – Section Head at Labtests: Labtests, Auckland

For more information and to list your vacancy –

6. Conference: Do emerging scientists have a future in New Zealand?

The New Zealand Association of Scientists is hosting a one-day conference at Rutherford House in Wellington, on 16 April. The conference will focus on early-career scientists. 

The conference is targeted at emerging scientists, their existing and potential employers, future emerging scientists, policy makers and politicians.

Confirmed speakers to date:
–Professor Richard Blaikie, Deputy Vice-Chancellor University of Otago;
–Phil O’Reilly, BusinessNZ;
–Dr Warren Smart, Ministry of Education;
–Hans van der Voorn, IZON;
–Dr Mark Stagg, RSNZ;
–Cosmin Laslau, PhD Student Auckland
–Dr Melanie Massaro, University of Canterbury;
–Dr Debbie Hay, University of Auckland
–Dr Richard Furneaux, IRL

Registrations open 1 March 2012.  A full programme is available at

7. Lyell-Murchison Project – physical conditions of seismogenesis

The Buller region in the northwestern South Island has given rise to two of New Zealand’s largest historic earthquakes – the M7.1 Inangahua earthquake of 1968 and the M7.8 Murchison earthquake of 1929, as well as a number of more moderate shocks.  These earthquakes appear to involve the reactivation under horizontal compression of steep fault structures inherited from earlier periods of crustal extension (compressional inversion).  Active compressional inversion on steep reverse faults is also occurring in northern Honshu giving rise to a number of damaging ‘inland earthquakes’ in recent years. 

Under the leadership of Professor Yoshihisa Iio (DPRI, University of Kyoto) and Associate Professor Tomomi Okada (RCEP, University of Tohoku, Sendai), a 4-year research project (2011-2014) has been funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to investigate the physical conditions of earthquake generation in the Buller region.  The project also involves New Zealand researchers from Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago, and from GNS Science. The New Zealand coordinator is Emeritus Professor Richard Sibson ( of the University of Otago.

8. BioBriefing Workshop

NZBIO is organising a BioBriefing workshop to be held on Wednesday, 28 March, following on from the annual NZBIO 2012 conference.

The BioBriefing workshop is a one-day course for the non-scientist which highlights science and technology concepts that are the basis of the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries. The course is for participants that require a working knowledge of fundamental terms and applications used in drug discovery and drug development.

The course will be the first course of its kind offered to the general New Zealand market. As this will be the first time the course has been organised and run in New Zealand, there will be limited spaces available.

For more information please email Kirsty Jehle  (

9. Follow the Royal Society of New Zealand on Facebook and Twitter

Get timely updates from the Royal Society of New Zealand team via our Facebook and Twitter channels.


Please forward the Royal Society of New Zealand Alert newsletter to any non-subscriber to whom the material may be relevant and who may wish to receive the publication regularly. To join (or unsubscribe) –