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Royal Society Alert – Science News Bulletin


Royal Society Alert 115 2 March 2000

1. Death of Lady Fleming
2. NZAS questionnaire for all molecular biologists
3. British adviser calls for international GM foods panel
4. RSNZ North Shore Branch
5. Honouring Marianne North
6. Mathematical skills - continuation of the debate
7. Strong field of woman scientists for Zonta Award
8. New Zealand joins United States school environment programme
9. Festival play on Rutherford
10. Website aims to help technology skills shortage
11. "Nova: science in the news"
12. Internet workshop on windchill
13. Protein purification course
14. MSc position available
15. People
16. Radio programmes
17. Across the desk
18. Future events
19. Contributions to "Royal Society Alert"
20. Subscribing and archiving


The Royal Society was saddened to learn of the death on Saturday, 26 February of Lady Fleming. The widow of Sir Charles Fleming FRS, FRSNZ, Peg, as she was universally known, provided strong support for Charles in his many scientific activities and in his role as President of the Society. The naming of the cicada species paxillulae (Latin for "little peg") was one of Charles's characteristic tributes to his wife who had provided such unwavering support for his activities.

Peg served as a Trustee of the Balivean Trust established by Sir Charles Fleming which has supported many good causes in science and technology. It has materially assisted the Society to maintain its portrait collection; the cause of women in science has also benefited from the Trust's generosity.

The Royal Society is delighted that Peg was able to come to the Society in April 1999 to present the Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement to David Thom CBE, to hear his lecture and to meet up with many friends from her Wellington days. The supper after Mr Thom's lecture was filled with many happy reminiscences.

Peg will be sadly missed by many for her friendship, hospitality, wide knowledge of the natural sciences, and her enthusiasm for the many causes she continued to embrace when she moved to live permanently in Waikanae.


It is possible that a proposed moratorium on releasing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be extended to field trials for the duration of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Genetic Engineering.

1. Is the current public debate about the safety of genetic engineering and GMO release affecting your ability to do science?

2. Would a moratorium on field trials affect your long-term commitment to staying in New Zealand?

3. In relation to Point 2, have you had a job offer from overseas?

4. Would you advise a student to take up a career in gene technology?

Please email your replies to Janet Grieve, President NZAS


Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, has called for an international panel to keep the public informed about issues concerning genetically modified food and biotechnology.

Sir Robert told an OECD meeting on the safety of GM food that the forum could be similar to the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that was set up to tackle the challenge of global warming.

He said the panel should include scientists who are both supporters and critics of the technology. "When there are things on the shelf that people want to buy the public will need some kind of ecumenical body that embraces all opinions and doesn't speak just for Greenpeace or the government," he said.

Sir John Krebs, the Oxford zoologist who is chairing the OECD meeting, backed the idea. "You've got to get the science right so you need the best scientific advice from around the world," he said.

"However, the debate is far wider than simply getting the scientific analysis right. We've got to include a broader range of technical expertise and also bring in those who represent beliefs and values and consumer concerns."

Opponents of GM food claim it has not been properly tested and its long-term effects are unknown. But proponents say it is as safe or safer than traditional food and is needed to feed a growing world population.


The Royal Society of New Zealand brings to members' attention the establishment of a new Branch of the Society. The Inaugural Meeting of the North Shore Branch is to be held on 16 March.

When the new Act for the Royal Society of New Zealand came into law in 1997, provision was made for the setting up of "Regional Constituent Organisations". Consequently the establishment of branches was formalised to assist with the fostering of the aims of the Society. One very important responsibility is to foster and "promote public awareness, knowledge and understanding of science and technology (in their widest forms)" to the public.

A small working party has assisted Professor Jeffrey Hunter, Convener, in putting together the attached programme for 2000. The intention is to have four meetings a year, open to all members of the public, with presentations on topics of wide interest. For this year, all meetings will be held in the Study Centre of Massey University, Albany Campus (Gate 1, off Highway 17).

A very cordial invitation is extended to those who would like to attend the Inaugural Meeting on Thursday, 16 March.

North Shore Branch Programme

*Thursday 16 March, 2000 Professor Ted Baker FRSNZ, Structural Biology Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

"Structural biology - new challenges from the revolution in genomics"

The current genomic revolution is already transforming the biological sciences. Among many new challenges is the need to discover the functions of all of the gene products and to learn to use genomic sequence information effectively. This talk will discuss parallel developments in structural biology, which bring together elements of chemistry, physics and biology, and can reveal functional and evolutionary relationships that are hidden at the sequence level.

*Tuesday, 23 May 2000 Emeritus Professor John Morton, FRSNZ "The World Alive": Paradigms for Biology in the New Century"

*Tuesday 20 June, 2000 Mr Chris Folland, Daley Centre, The Meteorological Office, Bracknell, United Kingdom "The Greenhouse Effect and Climate Change"

*Tuesday, 5 September 2000 Professor Paul Spoonley, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Massey University at Albany "The Information Age : Social and Economic Implications for New Zealand


On Monday, 6 March the Ambassador of Chile will host an evening to present the book "Chilean Flora through the eyes of Marianne North, 1884". The presentation with slides will be made by the book's authors, Ms Antonia Echenique and Ms Maria Victoria Legassa.

The book contains reproductions of some of the paintings by the internationally renowned British botanical artist, Marianne North, painted during her stay in Chile. The originals are currently exhibited at the Marianne North Gallery in Kew Gardens, London.

Marianne North, an English woman, typical of the Victorian era, travelled to Chile in 1884. Her main interest was to find the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria imbricata, now known as A. araucana) a native Chilean tree, one of the tallest trees in the world, which had not yet been painted by her. The works of Marianne North are an extraordinary project. The singularity of her paintings is the product of all her circumstances, the longing to see and paint the world's flora in its natural habitat; the audacious and difficult journeys of a woman who travelled alone in the middle of the XIX Century. She visited many countries, including New Zealand and Australia.

The presentation will be held at Science House, 11 Turnbull Street, Thorndon, Wellington, on Monday, 6 March 2000 at 6pm.

If you wish to attend, please RSVP to Kath Evans at the Royal Society's offices, phone 472 7421, fax 473 1841 or by email:


In the previous two Alerts we have published articles about the mathematical skills in schools and universities. Below are two more opinions received from Members in relation to Dr Maindonald's comments.

"Sadly, I must agree with the comments of Dr. Maindonald regarding the decline in mathematical skills within the university community. Part of the problem is that, in their quest to be "everything to everybody", the universities have greatly expanded the "easy options". These options do not include mathematics as part of their curricula. This has resulted in a substantial degradation in the undergraduate degree, to the extent that a degree is almost now required for any skilled occupation. A more subtle problem, which was alluded to by Dr. Maindonald, is that the "easy option" path means that students specialise too soon and hence do not have the opportunity to develop logic skills of the type that are required in mathematics. The problem is not quite so acute in graduate school (at least not in the US), because of the great influx of students from countries that still value mathematical skills. However, I believe that these countries, too, are now on the slippery slope to mathematical oblivion. Even in the physical sciences, where good mathematical skills have always been regarded as a "must", there has been a marked reduction in mathematical prowess over the past decade or so, and one wonders where it will occur next. Perhaps in mathematics?

Dr Digby D. Macdonald, FRSNZ, FRSC Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Director, Center for Advanced Materials, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802

"I was particularly interested in the comment made by Dr Maindonald that `the mathematical skills that secondary leavers bring with them are not being further developed to the level that is needed for their further work and training'. In this context one point being made here was that the undergraduate degrees that these students were completing often did not require a mathematical component even though the inclusion of mathematics was likely to either make the students more employable or to enable them to pursue a wider range of post graduate studies.

As an educator of prospective secondary school teachers I have a developing interest in the nature of tertiary qualifications. It is evident that applicants have more "mixed" qualifications that 20 year ago. The increased choice of courses within any one area means that many students are completing degrees that have given them either considerable knowledge in a very narrow area or with a little knowledge of a wide range of areas with no particular depth in any one area. The former may be useful if the student intends continuing at the postgraduate level and the latter if the initial degree is intended as a general education and so a step to other education or employment. However, I am finding an increasing number of people inquiring about being a teacher of science, for example, whose degrees are only peripherally related to the school science curriculum. There is the old age challenge for the physicists/mathematicians who find they will be required to teach their area of expertise as well as chemistry, geology, astronomy and biology (in the context of teaching science at years 9-11). It is however the proliferation of biological and applied biological sciences that particularly relates to the current concern. A degree in Human Nutrition, for example, leaves large areas of biology unexposed, as does a degree where one area of biology has been the major focus, such as plant biology. Compounding the issue for these biology- related qualifications is the fact that an increasing number do not include any chemistry or mathematics.

It is of great concern to me that there appears to be a decreasing number of people who have both the knowledge and interest to be teachers of science and mathematics. However, I do not think this is just an issue about secondary teacher supply. I think it highlights an issue about the way tertiary intuitions have needed to expand their offerings to attract greater numbers of students and as a consequence students are making choices that are not necessarily strategic for themselves or the country as a whole. I need to acknowledge that the majority of student teachers that I am working with did not "plan" to enter teaching - less that 20% of the students have entered College directly from tertiary study. People are more likely to have multiple careers and it seems to me that we need to ensure that students have the information to strategically plan their tertiary qualifications so that a wide range of options (for further study and/or employment) continue to be available to them."

Robyn Baker MRSNZ, Director, School of Graduate Studies, Wellington College of Education and a member of the Royal Society's Council.


Organisers of this year's Zonta award for women in science have been impressed by the strength and diversity of those applying.

Thirty-one women have put their names forward from fields as diverse as biochemistry, botany, cellular and molecular biology, organic chemistry, environmental science, geophysics, as well as marine science.

"It is a very strong field of extremely well-qualified women who also show that they have a commitment to science and the community," Lindsay Park, convenor of Zonta Wellington's Science Committee.

The Zonta Club of Wellington is running the Award which is held every two years. The closing date for applications was 17 February and the award will be made at Government House in April. The aim of the award is to promote science as a career for women as well as providing encouragement to those already in the field.

A short-list of 10 candidates has now been selected and that will be further reduced to three by a panel of judges who represent a number of different scientific disciplines. The three finalists will be interviewed before the final selection is made.

The recipient of the award will be funded to fly to Europe and the United States for further study, with $5,000 cash. As well she will receive a special medal designed by well-known sculptor Tanya Ashken who is a past member of Zonta.

The principal sponsor of the award is AgResearch, with contributions from BP Oil New Zealand, the Balivean Trust, the John Ilott Charitable Trust, Hill's Pet Nutrition NZ Ltd, and the Sutherland Trust. The Zonta Club of Wellington contributes financially to the award as well as organising it.


New Zealand schools are to join an American environmental awareness programme run via the internet.

Education Minister, Mr Mallard signed an arrangement with United States ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun at Hutt Intermediate School on Tuesday that will enable New Zealand schools to join the Globe (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) programme.

"It will mean New Zealand school children will participate in gathering data for research from around their communities. That data will be reported via the worldwide web and will contribute to scientific research to help the environment," Mr Mallard said.

The Globe programme, which is undertaken in 4000 schools around the world, provides extensive environmental education material which supplements existing curriculum material. The Government will contribute to professional development of one teacher at each Globe school, and the project will cost about $350,000 a year over the next three years. It will be available mid-year.



The World Premiere of Stuart Hoar's play "Rutherford" opens at Circa Theatre, Wellington on Saturday, 4 March, and runs until 8 April. Directed by Susan Wilson, "Rutherford" is a play which looks at the life of New Zealand's famous son, Ernest Rutherford, the brilliant scientist who, with an extraordinary team, was responsible for splitting the atom, an event as far reaching as Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

The cast includes Ray Henwood as the older Rutherford with Kelson Henderson playing him when younger.

Please contact ticketek 04 384 3840 for bookings during the Festival (4-26 March); for the remainder of the season (28 March - 8 April) bookings may be made through Circa Theatre, 04 801 7992.


A website aimed at New Zealand's technology industries is trying to solve a critical shortage of skilled technologists that is hampering this country's drive towards a knowledge economy. "Desktop News:Technology" is a news and information website which provides a wide range of publicity, PR and email newsletter services to the electronics, software, automation and telecommunications industries.

However, the site is now offering a "Technology Jobs" section which posts vacancies in New Zealand's technology industries (apart from the IT industry).

The Desktop News site can be found at: Click through to the "Technology Jobs" section and its related pages.


The first topic for the year - Is Australian wildlife fair game? - asks whether the growing commercial use of wildlife is compatible with good conservation. Have a look at


During the week 3-7 April 2000, the Meteorological Service of Canada will host an international workshop on windchill. The workshop will bring to light the most recent advances in knowledge on the combined effects of winds and low temperatures on human comfort, safety and outdoor activity. Interested groups such as meteorologists, researchers, social scientists, educators, communication experts, health care and public safety agencies, outdoor industries such as construction, tourism and clothing as well as cold-sport professionals will contribute to discussions.

For more information, please email:


Presented in Hamilton, jointly by the University of Waikato and Amersham Pharmacia, the intensive 4-day course has been designed for industrial participants, and includes hands-on experience. It may be taken as a stand-alone short course, or credited towards a master's degree in Biotechnology. Closing date for the short course is 5 June, but places are limited, and the course was over-subscribed when it last ran.

For further information, email More information at


"Distribution and ecology of the bridled goby (Arenigobius bifrenatus) in northern estuaries"

An MSc position is available to study the distribution and ecology of Arenigobius bifrenatus. This is a burrowing estuarine goby which is thought to be an adventive, and may have been introduced from Australia to New Zealand via the ballast water of trans-Tasman shipping. The student will attempt to determine the current distribution of this fish, and its ecological role in estuarine habitats relative to other fish and invertebrate species.

The study is to be funded by the Ministry of Fisheries during 2000 and 2001, and includes a stipend.

For further information, email: or


*New Zealand Government Statistician leaving

The Government Statistician, Len Cook, will be leaving the New Zealand Public Service in May to take up the position as the United Kingdom National Statistician and Director of the UK Office for National Statistics. In his new role, Mr Cook will have similar responsibilities to those he has had as Government Statistician in New Zealand. He will lead a department of 3,000 employees.

At Statistics New Zealand, Mr Cook has made major improvements in the quality and timeliness of key economic statistics. He has also introduced carefully managed and planned improvements in the department's information technology so that Statistics is regarded as a leader in State sector information technology. Mr Cook has also taken initiatives to improve structural information that will support social policy initiatives.

*Recent Lincoln University appointments

Dr Tony Conner, a plant geneticist with the Institute for Crop and Food Research Ltd has been appointed a Professorial Fellow. He is contracted part-time from his position at Crop and Food Research to lecture in plant biotechnology at Lincoln University

Dr David Given, Manager of Lincoln University's International Centre for Nature Conservation and long-time advocate for the protection and advocacy of biodiversity, has been named an Associate Professor.

Dr David Jackson, Director of Lincoln University's Centre for Viticulture and Oenology, and regarded as a pioneer of cool climate grape growing in Canterbury, becomes a Professorial Fellow.

Professor Steve Wratten, Professor of Ecology at Lincoln University, has been appointed a visiting Professor at the University of Sydney, Orange.

Dr Keith Woodford, currently Associate Professor and Reader in Rural Management and Agribusiness at the University of Queensland is returning to New Zealand to become Lincoln University's Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness.


*Eureka! this week:

-A genetic vaccine to prevent epilepsy and reduce damage from stroke -Interview with physicist Bill Phillips, Nobel Laureate and laser cooling pioneer

Eureka! National Radio Sunday 2pm; repeated Monday at 7pm.

Contact Eureka!

*Discovery programme

Scientific development and research (BBC)

This features on National Radio at 9.06 pm on Friday nights and 12.06 am on Wednesday mornings.

*One Planet: Listen to this on National Radio at 9.06 pm on Wednesday nights.


The following publications have been received by the Royal Society this week.

Vetscript New Zealand, Mar 2000 Tearaway magazine, Mar 2000


Listed below are some conferences/events listed in the Royal Society conference database as taking place in New Zealand in the next few months. For a full list of conferences in New Zealand and overseas, access

The University of Auckland, Chemical and Materials Engineering Seminar.

"Suck it and see", Dr Ian Wilson, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK. Visiting Senior Lecturer, C&M Eng. UoA. 1:05pm to 1:55pm on Wednesday, 29 March 2000, School of Engineering, University of Auckland, Room 3.407. Contact email:

SPACETIME 2000, The Year 2000 Conference of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, Central Institute of Technology, Upper Hutt, 14 - 17 April 2000. Contact email:

Scientists' perceptions of the ethical implications of their genetices research. Royal Society Canterbury Branch Lecture by Dr Barbara Nicholas, HFA, Christchurch. Christchurch. Starts 8 pm, 3 May 2000. Contact email:

New Zealand Archaeological Association annual conference: "New approaches and future directions for New Zealand archaeology", Wellington, 5-8 May 2000. Contact email:

The manipulation of animals by plants. Royal Society Canterbury Branch Lecture by Dr Jay Mann, Christchurch, Starts 8 pm, 7 June 2000. Contact email:

NZ Society of Animal Production Conference, Hamilton, 26-29 June 2000. Contact email:

NZIAS/NZSHS Convention: The Noah Paradigm! Managing the Impacts of Climatic Variability, Palmerston North, 27-29 June 2000. Contact email:


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