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What the heck’s a ‘black smoker’?


What the heck’s a ‘black smoker’?

A new exhibition opening at the National Library Gallery in September promises to take visitors on a fascinating journey through more than 200 years of science in New Zealand.

Butterflies, Boffins & Black Smokers: two centuries of science in New Zealand celebrates New Zealand science, from the early 19th-century naturalists to the most cutting-edge research taking place today, with reflections on mātauranga Māori.

‘This exhibition will really astonish people,’ says National Librarian Penny Carnaby. ‘It’s not until you have an opportunity to see everything in one place that you realise just how innovative and adventurous our scientific community really is, and always has been.’

The National Library is pleased to have obtained two well-known and highly experienced researchers to curate this exhibition: Veronika Meduna, the producer and presenter of National Radio’s weekly science programme Our Changing World, and Rebecca Priestley, a science writer and historian. Both are regular contributors to the New Zealand Listener.

Veronika and Rebecca decided to approach the vast topic of two centuries of science in New Zealand by taking a biographical tack.

‘Our approach to this exhibition is to tell the life stories of those who dedicated much of their energy to science and exploration,’ says Veronika. ‘We’re certain that visitors to the exhibition will find these scientists’ lives and endeavours as fascinating as we have researching them.’

Butterflies, Boffins & Black Smokers takes a broadly chronological approach, illustrating the changing nature of science in New Zealand, and the changing role and work of scientists.

‘Visitors will move through science in this country, from Māori traditional knowledge such as navigation and cosmology through to profiles of New Zealand’s emerging scientists – the people to watch in the future,’ says Rebecca. ‘Along the way they will discover all sorts of people, from Joseph Banks, the botanist on board Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, to Joan Wiffen, the first person to discover dinosaur bones in New Zealand, to Meto Leach and Hohepa Kereopa, a Crop and Food scientist and Tuhoe tohunga, who are together exploring medicinal plants traditionally used by the Tuhoe.’

Displays in the exhibition will feature some of the bird skins collected by Walter Buller, the notorious 19th-century ornithologist, and a chimney of an underwater volcano – a black smoker. Familiar names from New Zealand’s scientific history will be featured, including Charles Fleming, Ernest Rutherford and Alan MacDiarmid, alongside less well-known scientists who have equally made their mark upon the world.

The curators say that it’s been an exciting experience working on the show, especially delving through the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library whilst researching the exhibition at the National Library.

‘People tend to think of the Turnbull as concerned with the humanities,’ says Rebecca. ‘But there are some fabulous collections deposited there featuring scientists such as Ernest Marsden and Julius von Haast, and we’ve drawn these into the exhibition.’

Butterflies, Boffins & Black Smokers will be accompanied by a dynamic programme of free public events, including talks and panel discussions by leading New Zealand scientists and science writers, film and performance nights, guided tours of the exhibition and activities for children.

Butterflies, Boffins & Black Smokers: two centuries of science in New Zealand
National Library Gallery
5 September – 26 November 2006
Free entry

Curator Biographies:

Veronika Meduna is the producer and presenter of Our Changing World, National Radio's weekly science programme.Veronika trained and worked as a scientist, working in the field of soil microbiology, but has been writing about scientific topics since her first year as a biology student. She contributes regularly to the New Zealand Listener and other publications, and is a contributor to Te Ara: the online encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Her work has earned her several awards and grants, including an Asia New Zealand Foundation grant to join a team of archaeologists in Cambodia in 2004 and an opportunity to visit science teams in Antarctica in 2001, and again later this year. In 2002, Veronika spent three months at Green College at Oxford University as a Chevening David Low Fellow, studying the media’s role in communicating scientific risk and uncertainty.

Rebecca Priestley is in the final stages of a PhD looking at New Zealand’s nuclear and radiation history, from the early use of x-rays and radium to an examination of current uses of nuclear materials and technology in New Zealand science, industry and medicine.

Rebecca regularly writes and reviews on scientific topics for a range of publications, including the Dominion Post and the New Zealand Listener, and is a contributor to Te Ara: the online encyclopedia of New Zealand. She wrote the introduction to Awa Press’s recent publication The Elegant Universe of Albert Einstein, a collection of lectures by New Zealand scientists first broadcast on National Radio as the Royal Society of New Zealand E=mc² series.


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