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Science Deadline: Biosecurity funding boost, Mars landing site chosen and our first 2019 SAVVY

Biosecurity funding boost

Research into combatting kauri dieback and myrtle rust was given a $13.75 million funding boost this week.

The investment will be used to accelerate the work already being done by Government agencies, councils, research providers, Māori and interest groups, Minister Megan Woods announced.

The BioHeritage Challenge – one of the National Science Challenges – will receive the funding to conduct the research and it will be split between the two diseases with work on myrtle rust receiving $5m and kauri dieback $8.75m.

The new funding is on top of previous research funding of $6.9m for myrtle rust and $4.7m for kauri dieback allocated in 2018/19.

BioHeritage Challenge kaihautū Nick Waipara said his team was acutely aware of the urgent need to stop the diseases spreading, but his excitement at the new funding came with caveats, Newsroom reported.

“It’s not a huge, huge programme. Research is quite expensive. It’s not going to solve everything we need to know about kauri dieback.”

Challenge director Andrea Byrom told Newshub that what is needed is to "know where it is, how to detect it, and what to do to shut it down".

But University of Otago statistician Dr Phillip Wilcox said much more funding was needed to tackle the problem.

"That money that's been allocated will probably seal some of the gaps but maybe not all of them, and maybe not the most important ones either."

Days before the announcement, Minister Woods approved a separate $422.5 million total additional investment in the 11 National Science Challenges, saying they were "fundamentally changing the way science is being undertaken in New Zealand".

The decision followed a mid-way review of the challenges and brings the investment so far to $680m, but it was met with some scientists calling for greater transparency around the work.

Professor Shaun Hendy, the director of Te Pūnaha Matatini at the University of Auckland, wanted to see more public data on who is being funding for what, the NZ Herald reported.

“Right now its very hard to tell whether the challenges are engaging well with emerging or Māori researchers, for example, or whether funding is going to an old boys’ network.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the biosecurity funding boost and the National Science Challenges review.

Quoted: RNZ

"If you're going to really try and transform the science system and put these goals out there ... there should be some analysis of the extent to which that's working or not, so I think that's what we'd like to see."

MacDiarmid Institute and University of Auckland Associate Professor Nicola Gaston on the National Science Challenges mid-way review, which has not been publicly released.

Mars landing site chosen

NASA has announced the landing site for its Mars 2020 rover, which is due to touch down in February 2021 in a mission to search for signs of ancient life.

A giant impact basin known as the Jezero Crater was the winning site from four final contenders – chosen for its geographically rich terrain, with landforms up to 3.6 billion years old which NASA hopes will shed insight into the planet’s ability to sustain life.

The mission will see scientists use the Mars 2020 rover to collect rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth in a future mission.

University of Auckland astrobiologist Professor Kathy Campbell was part of a team that unsuccessfully pitched a hot springs landing site known as Columbia Hills - which has already been visited by the Spirit rover, where it got stuck in late 2009, she told Newstalk ZB.

Hot springs are hotbeds of microbial life on Earth, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to send a better-equipped rover to finish what Spirit started, she said, but believed the space agency wanted to avoid repetition.

"In a way, there's a huge advantage of us knowing what's going on, and in a way which was a huge disadvantage in terms of site selection. They just wanted to go somewhere new and make new discoveries."

Dr Duncan Steel from the Centre for Space Science Technology said there was generally a trade-off between where the engineers would choose, and where the scientists would like to go.

"The engineers’ job is to get the mission landed without a mishap, whereas the scientists want to go to the most interesting places – and ‘interesting’ generally means ‘dangerous’."

Next week, NASA’s InSight mission is scheduled to land on the Red Planet, which will investigate the planet’s crust, mantle and core.

The SMC gathered expert reaction on the announcement.

Upcoming SAVVY workshops

Our flagship media training course returns in 2019 - with the first two-day workshop of the year in Christchurch.

Further 2019 workshops will be confirmed at a later date, but we're taking applications for Christchurch now, and it would be a good idea to apply before Christmas:

7-8 February

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public.

Ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work.

Applications close 10 January


SAVVY Express

We're also bringing our 15-minute media training Science Media SAVVY Express programme to two conferences before the end of the year. Participants in SAVVY Express receive individual coaching to help them speak on camera about their research in an engaging way, and receive a polished 90-second video edited from their best takes during the session as an added bonus.

We work hard to create a supportive, confidence-building environment for participants, and find the conference setting provides an ideal opportunity for busy researchers to try their hand at new skills.

SAVVY Express is also great for experienced researchers seeking a quick refresher of prior media training.

We'll be at the following conferences before the end of the year. If you'll be attending, sign up for a session and encourage your fellow conference-goers to do so too.
28 Nov Dunedin


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