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#EQNZ: "The very best of human spirit"

Issue 125 March 18 - 24

#EQNZ: "The very best of human spirit"

The country and Christchurch in particular paused today to reflect on the disastrous earthquake that struck the city at 12.51pm on February 22.
Amid the moving tributes to the victims of the tragedy was an appeal from Prime Minister John Key to take on board the lessons learned in the wake of the tragedy as Christchurch starts to rebuild.

"We need to learn from the tragedy of February 22 and we've learned a lot already," he said, pointing out that scientists and engineers had an important role to play in making sense of what happened in Canterbury and how we can make that region and the country in general more resilient to disaster.
Canterbury - the scientific response

Scientists gathered at the Royal Society this week with exactly that in mind as they launched a paper answering some of the most asked questions about the earthquake and the destruction it caused.

Leading the panel, the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, said there was no scientific reason not to rebuild Christchurch:
"Houses are munted and you have the personal problems that causes, but people didn't die in houses, they died in older buildings downtown and rock falls.What everyone agrees is we have enough knowledge now that a rebuild can start."

Sir Peter also took aim at Ken "Moon Man" Ring and his unscientific predictions of another large earthquake in the Canterbury region for around March 20.

Lunch "non event" with the skeptics

In the same vein, the NZ Skeptics co-founder Vicki Hyde will join
geologists, earthquake engineers, MP Nick Smith and NewstalkZB morning host Sean Plunket on Sunday for a lunch on top of the Port Hills in Christchurch on March 20th, the time when so-called Ken Ring has predicted the earthquake will hit.

"There may well be a tremor then - we´re getting multiple after-
shocks every day after all," admitted Hyde.

"But it will have nothing to do with the phase of the Moon, the position of Jupiter, dolphins beaming sonar signals to the Moon, the existence of Indo/Egypto/European culture in NZ thousands of years ago, or any of the other truly odd ideas that Mr Ring has espoused."

Earthquake predictions were the subject of prime time TV this week as both Campbell Live and Close Up focused on Ken Ring's theories - and the effect they are having on the people of Canterbury.

After an earlier shambolic interview John Campbell conducted with Ken Ring, reporter Tristram Clayton, a journalist with a scientific background, came back with one of the best analytical pieces on the issue of earthquake prediction since the Ken Ring affair blew up. Good work Campbell Live in turning around the issue with some solid science reportage.

Japan nuclear situation at critical point

There's been enormous media activity this week covering the evolving crisis in Japan. Attention has largely shifted from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent devastating tsunami to the potential fallout from ailing nuclear reactors at Fukushima's Daiichi plant.

Comments and backgrounders for the media have been coming through thick and fast from across the Science Media Centre network. We'd like to recognise in particular an extraordinary effort from the SMC Japan, despite loss of their website infrastructure and the obvious disruption to their daily lives they are experiencing.

Given the general sparseness of nuclear expertise in our avowedly nuclear-free nation, the SMC NZ has been extremely grateful to our colleagues overseas on this occasion.

And to the handful of local experts who have put their hands up and volunteered to take media enquiries -- a big thank you as well.

For a full list of updates and commentary on Japan's situation, see the New from the SMC section below.

On the science radar

Rare mix of factors combined to worsen Christchurch quake, rain on Titan, nukes and media hysteria, probe first to orbit Mercury

New from the SMC


The Canterbury earthquake and the science response
- A joint SMC media briefing hosted by Prof Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, in association with the Ministry for Science and Innovation (MSI) and the Royal Society of NZ.

Outside the evacuation zone: Health effects from low dose radiation - Commentary from NZ ionising radiation consultant Dr Peter Roberts on the cancer risk from short-term exposure.

Fukushima - Projections for a radioactive plume -
Comments from the UK SMC. See here

Radiation - Backgrounder from SMC Canada. See here

Fukushima reactor breach: radiation and health effects - Comments and backgrounder from the AusSMC. See here

Nuclear experts on the latest at Fukushima - Comments from the UK SMC. See here

Experts on Japan's nuclear crisis and analysis of the earthquake - Information from the UK and Japan SMCs. See here

Japan's nuclear crisis - Q&A with experts - Collated by the SMC Japan. See here

SCIENCE BLOG: The Japan Daiichi incident moves on - Friday update - Analysis from Dr John Price.

MEDIA BRIEFING: Nuclear incidents in Japan - experts answer journalists' questions - The AusSMC held two briefings on this topic this week (Tuesday and Thursday). Recordings available.
SMC Japan:

Q&A on the Nuclear power stations (updated) - This post contains background on 1. Radiation exposure, 2. Cooling the reactor, 3. About the explosion. Updated to 16 March

Research highlights

Risk statistics risky for health choices - A new Cochrane review highlights the importance of carefully handling statistics when discussing risk. The review found that health professionals and consumers may change their health decisions when the same risks and risk reductions are presented using different statistical formats.
(Cochrane Systematic Review)

Sperm finds egg with a little help - Helper cells surrounding the human egg release a hormone that helps sperm find their way, and the way this works is explained in new research. The hormone progesterone stimulates a unique ion channel in the sperm cell's tail, causing it to wriggle with renewed vigour. The authors think identifying this channel could aid development of a new class of non-hormonal contraceptives.

Effects of ADHD and alcohol on children's learning - A new study has compared the verbal learning and memory performance of children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) with that of children with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The children with PAE had initial problems with learning information, reflecting inefficient encoding of verbal material. The children with ADHD had difficulty retaining information over time, reflecting a deficit in retrieval of learned material.
(Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research)

Zoos critical to survival - One in seven threatened species can be found in a zoo or aquarium worldwide, yet these institutions receive little consideration in global conservation efforts, according to a policy feature in Science. Captive breeding may be the only practical conservation option for an increasing number of species as habitats decline.

Stock market traders gain by syncing up - Like chorusing cicadas, stock market traders spontaneously sync up throughout the day, and the traders who sync most often, make the most money, new research has found. The study analysed the second-by-second transactions of stock market traders over one-and-a-half years. Rapid information dissemination through instant messaging (IM) contributes to the traders' synced-up behaviour, though the traders themselves are unaware they are acting in concert.

Over 60s : put away your phone before crossing the street - Researchers have found that older adults (aged 59 - 81) take significantly longer than young folks to assess the safety of a street crossing when talking on mobile phones. However, the extra hesitation before stepping into the road did nothing to improve their odds of making it across without putting themselves in harm's way.
(Psychology and Aging)

Carbon cycled from oceans to air during extreme global warming events - Frequent extreme warming events in the planet's past (48 -50 million years ago) have now been linked to rapid releases of dissolved carbon from the oceans. These coincide with variations in the Earth's orbit. The warming events started quickly, and recovered quickly too (in geological terms) suggesting that greenhouse gases trapped in sediments -- implicated in longer-lasting warm-ups -- were likely uninvolved.

Hubble snaps close-up of Tarantula Nebula - The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced an outstanding image of part of the famous Tarantula Nebula, a vast star-forming cloud of gas and dust in our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The new picture shows a close-up of the Tarantula's central region, glowing brightly with ionised gases and young stars.
(Hubble press release)

Policy updates

Some highlights from the week include:

Kaipara Harbour tidal turbines approved - Crest Energy has received the green light for installation of up to 200 tidal turbine power generators in the Kaipara Harbour. The Environment Court last month ruled the renewable energy project could proceed, with a number of conditions attached.

Dairying and Clean Streams Accord - The latest Snapshot of Progress report (2009/2010) was released, showing a mixed record of compliance with efforts to reduce freshwater pollution.

Retaining Women in Engineering initiative - The Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ), along with officials from the Ministry of Women's Affairs, has developed a business plan which aims to increase the number of women in engineering.

R&D funds on offer - Innovative businesses in the high value manufacturing and services sector can apply for a share of over $48m in research and development funding in the 2011 funding round of the Technology Development Grant.

Storage of frozen eggs, sperm and embryos consultation - ACART has extended the deadline for public submissions on the current 10-year time limit for storage of IVF materials to 25 March

Upcoming sci-tech events

Brain Day 2011 - 19 Mar, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin - Events celebrating the wonders of the human brain. See: for full details.

International Farm Management Congress - 20-25 Mar, Christchurch - Theme: "Thriving in a global world - Innovation, Co-operation and Leadership"

Accelerator Mass Spectrometry International Conference - 20-25 Mar, Wellington - Covering the technology's applications in: archaeology, nuclear physics, cosmogeochemistry, biomedical sciences, environment, geology, hydrology, ocean sciences and nuclear safeguards. See here for more.

NZBIO 2011 -
21-25 Mar, Auckland - Conference highlighting the broadening impact of biotechnology across many industries.

Future of Fairness Symposium - 22-23 Mar, Dunedin - Exploring the challenges emerging technologies pose to society's ideas of equality and fairness -- from the sporting arena to the genetics laboratory, to our future generations.

Science meets art: Investigating pigments in art and archaeology -
23 Mar, Auckland (repeated in other centres in coming weeks) - 2011 Royal Society of New Zealand Distinguished Speaker Professor Robin Clark

For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.


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