Issue 125 March 18 - 24
#EQNZ: "The very best of human spirit"
and Christchurch in particular paused today to reflect on
the disastrous earthquake that struck the city at 12.51pm on
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
"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
New from the
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
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
SCIENCE BLOG: The Japan Daiichi incident moves on - Friday update - Analysis from Dr John Price.
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
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
(Cochrane Systematic Review)
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
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
(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.
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.
: 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)
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: http://www.brainweek.co.nz/events for full details.
International Farm Management Congress - 20-25 Mar, Christchurch - Theme: "Thriving in a global world - Innovation, Co-operation and Leadership"
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
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.