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SMC Heads-Up: Science links with China, ocean drilling, wine

SMC Heads-Up: Science links with China, ocean drilling and a change in weather for NZ wine

Issue 226 12 - 18 April 2013


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Govt boosts science links with China

A large business delegation to China this week headed by the Prime Minister highlighted the country's growing economic importance to New Zealand.

But China's value as a science partner was also underscored with the Government revealing plans to place a science and innovation counsellor in Beijing. New Zealand has similar representatives in Brussels and Washington D.C. and the addition of a counsellor in China will aim to boost scientific collaboration between the two countries.


The Government also renewed a scientific exchange programme between the two countries, which will run for three years and be overseen by the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Science Media Centre's parent body.


It will allow up to ten scientists to travel in each direction each year, with collaboration focused on areas including water research. non-communicable diseases and food security and safety.

Mutual benefits


With China spending big on science and technology in a bid to out-innovate the US and Europe, the spin-offs from deeper collaboration with New Zealand scientists and research institutions are obvious.


In 2009, China overtook Japan to become the second-largest investor in research and development after the United States. Last year's budget saw government spending on science and technology increase to US$36.1 billion, a 12.4 per cent increase on the previous year. Areas of priority, such as agricultural technology, received big increases in funding - up 53% in the case of agriculture.


The Chinese Academy of Sciences is now considered world-class and Chinese scientists are widely publishing in the world's best scientific journals.

Issues with quality


While China's focus on research has paid dividends, it faces major issues in improving the quality of its tertiary sector - and the research it is engaged in.


China had 23 million students in higher education in 2011 and after a determined effort through the 1990s to lift tertiary education, now boasts over 100 universities, two of which - Tsinghau University and Peking University, featured in the 2013 Times Higher Education rankings of the best 100 universities in the world.


But according to Scientific American: "...the number of academic staffers with a doctorate, in both public and private institutions, has increased recently but still constitutes only 14 percent of professors, compared with 70 percent of faculty at reputable Chinese institutions who have earned a doctorate. Academic salaries are low, with the exception of a small percentage of highly productive academics at top universities".

Collaboration with New Zealand may appear to favour the latter country more, but the red giant will also be keen to leverage New Zealand's strengths in conducting quality research and tertiary education.

Initiative to study NZ tectonic zone

Due to its precarious position atop the active Pacific - Australian plate boundary, New Zealand has been selected as one of three sites in the world for a major new scientific drilling initiative to further our understanding of submarine volcanoes, trenches, landslip zones and megathrust earthquakes.

The GeoPRISMS initiative is a special programme of the US National Science Foundation, attracting ongoing funding of US $5 million per year, with MBIE providing additional support.


160 scientists from ten countries will meet in Wellington next week to decide which NZ drilling projects will get the green light over coming years. Promising sites include the Kermadec Arc, the Lord Howe Rise and subduction zones off the coast of Gisborne and Fiordland.

Media seeking further information on the GeoPRISMS workshop can contact John Callan at GNS Science (04 570 4732; j.callan@gns.cri.nz)


On the science radar...

Software puts names to faces, inter-species mind link, Neuro-research critically assessed, 'Dark Lightning' radiation for plane passengers and the oldest youngest dinosaur.

Climate to change face of NZ wine

A warming planet might not be bad news for New Zealand wine growers, according to a new study which predicts suitable grape growing land could more than double here in the next 40 years.


Research from Chilean and Californian scientists, published this week in PNAS, found that the area of land suitable for growing grapes would change substantially around the world under predicted climate shifts in the next four decades.


According to the study, classic wine-producing regions such as California and the Mediterranean will experience substantial losses of vine-friendly land, whereas New Zealand, western North America, and Northern Europe show substantial increases in suitable area.


The author's model estimates that New Zealand's potential wine growing area could increase by 168 percent.


To sustain wine production, the authors contend, growers will need to expand and adopt novel farming practices that are likely to impinge on undisturbed high biodiversity areas and use limited water resources.

Dr Glen Creasy, Senior Lecturer in Viticulture, Lincoln University Lincoln, commented to the SMC:

"With regard to New Zealand, the authors of the paper indicate that global warming will result in the potential for vineyards to be planted in a much larger part of Canterbury and Marlborough coastal areas, inland of Wanganui and west from Martinborough to Masterton.

"These are already being explored by the wine industry, as witnessed with the successful development of vineyards in the Ward region of Marlborough and in the Waitaki Valley of Canterbury."

He also noted that some of the environmental concerns raised in the paper did not apply to New Zealand vineyards, which had minimal ecological impacts and in some cases even benefited biodiversity.

"I regard the research as important, but would caution against the blind application of their findings to the New Zealand situation, which differs in significant ways to other areas of the world."

You can read Dr Creasy's full comments and further expert commentary and media coverage on the Science Media Centre website.

Wanted: Sci Comm Professionals

Not one, but two high-profile communications vacancies are currently being advertised in the science sector-- but you had better get in fast, application are closing soon.


New science commercialisation crown agent Callaghan Innovation is hunting for a Communications Specialist who can help the fledgling institution engage with stakeholders in industry, research, science and technology sectors (applications close today!)


And the environmentally focussed NIWA is seeking a Senior Media Advisor to help maintain the Crown Research Institute's consistently high media profile (applications closing Sunday).


So if you're a communications professional with a flair for science, why not throw your hat in the ring?


Quoted: Science Media Centre UK

"Few scientists can have contributed so much to the sum of human happiness as Bob Edwards"

Dr David Lynn of the Wellcome Trust commenting on the Death of IVF

Pioneer Prof Sir Robert Edwards.


New from the SMC


Experts Respond:

Climate warms to NZ Wine: Viticulture experts comment on a new study showing that New Zealand's vine-suitable land could more than double by 2050.


In the news:


Wine climate shift: Read a round up of media coverage of the wine and climate change research.


IVF pioneer dies: Bob Edwards, a pioneering fertility scientist whose ground breaking research lead to the success of in-vitro fertilisation, died this week.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's posts:


Lightning Labs shows off its first flowers of startup blooming - Peter Kerr checks out a hub of selected lean IT startup companies aiming for investment.

sticK


Science! thou fair effusive ray... - Grant Jacobs dusts off some 18th century science poetry.

Code for Life


Spin Doctors go to work on PBRF - Performance-Based Research Funding results gets all the universities blowing their own horns, writes John Pickering.

Kidney Punch


Research highlights

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.


Saturn's ring 'rain': The discovery of an imprint of Saturn's rings on the planet's upper atmosphere implies that charged water is 'raining' out from the rings onto the planet, according to new research. These observations are the first direct measure of how Saturn's ionosphere reacts to ring 'rain'.

Nature


Sleep sounds boost memory: Playing sounds synchronised to the rhythm of slow brain wave activity during sleep enhances memory recall later, according to a new study. The sounds enhance the slow wave activity in the brain, which is thought be important to memory formation.This author says the study demonstrates an easy and non-invasive way to influence human brain activity to improve sleep and enhance memory.

Neuron

Making brains see-thru: Researchers have developed a new method of making tissue translucent, meaning that cells and tissue structures can be viewed at the microscopic level without having to cut the tissue in thin slices. The researchers show that can they make mouse and fish brains, and sections of human brains, see-through, allowing them to label or stain certain cells and map out 3D networks.

Nature


Moa's ark: Some of the largest female birds in the world were almost twice as big as their male mates. New research shows this amazing size difference in giant moa was not due to any specific environmental factors, but evolved simply as a result of scaling-up of smaller differences in male and female body size shown by their smaller-bodied ancestors.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Beans battle bed bugs: Researchers, inspired by a traditional Balkan bedbug remedy, have documented how microscopic hairs on kidney bean leaves effectively stab and trap the biting insects. Now they are designing synthetic material that mimic the leaves to be used as bedbug trapping material in the home.

Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Google clues to mental health patterns: A new study finds that Google searches for information on major mental illnesses follow seasonal patterns, suggesting mental illness may be more strongly linked with seasonal patterns than previously thought. Searches on ADHD, anxiety, bipolar, depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and suicide all decreased significantly during summer months in both the US and Australia.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine


Policy updates

Some of the policy highlights from this week:

Food health claims regulated: Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye this week signed off on new food standards regulating what heath claims can be included on labelling.

China links: Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce this week signed a scientist exchange programme between New Zealand and China and announced the establishment of a senior science and innovation representative in China.


Upcoming sci-tech events

What is a physicist doing in the jungle? Biomimetics of the rainforest - Public lecture from Prof Ille Gebeshuber (Austria) - 16 April, Auckland.

What if...Recent changes in New Zealand's weather continue? - "What-if Wednesday" lecture from Prof Andy Sturman - 17 April, Christchurch.

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

ENDS

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