Science for Survival: AMN8’s Nano Trio

February 14, 2017

Three top international women scientists working in advanced materials and nanotechnology conference inspired an overflowing audience, including primary and high school students, by describing their work and experiences on the road to science.

Many common threads bound together the stories of Professor Silvia Giordani, Dr Carla Meledandri, and Professor Natalie Stingelin. We learnt that science is hard and science is unexpected – taking the path of science opened doors they never expected and took them to places they never thought they’d go. Science means learning all the time – it means being driven by curiosity and being stubborn to get results. And all three had inspiring high school science teachers! For more on the panel’s talk and Q&A with the audience, read the article in The Spinoff.


The Science of Soccer

February 14, 2017

Catalyst plucked bioengineer Dr Albert Folch from the 2017 AMN8 conference and took him to Shotover Primary School to talk to students about the science of soccer and the end of the world. You can read more about his talk at The Spinoff.

Constitution Aotearoa – A Catalyst Conversation

February 9, 2017

Donald Trump and Treaty of Waitangi issues added topicality and spice to the Constitution Aotearoa discussion with Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and constitutional lawyer Dr Andrew Butler. In Queenstown at the invite of Catalyst, they met with an engaged audience keen to participate in a nationwide conversation about New Zealand’s Constitution.

New Zealand does have a constitution, but it is neither well-known nor well understood.  It is subject to political whim, as Parliament can change or remove fundamental rights and protections without consultation or a popular mandate.

Palmer and Butler argued a modern, codified Constitution would strengthen democracy, make government more transparent and accountable, and protect human rights. They proposed a constitution “that is easy to understand, reflects New Zealand’s identity and nationhood, protects rights and liberties, and prevents governments from abusing power”.

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Einstein, Time and Light

January 29, 2017

Bangs, whizzes, levitation and the secrets of the universe were revealed when Nobel Laureate Professor William D Phillips of the Joint Quantum Institute, National Institute of Standards and Technology and University of Maryland, presented a lively, multimedia presentation on Einstein’s insights into light and how they have changed how we think about time.

In the 20th century, scientists used light to cool a gas of atoms to temperatures billions of times lower than anything else in the universe. Now, these ultracold atoms, Einstein’s theory of gravity and the discoveries of optics pioneers from Ibn al-Haytham to today, are converging upon a great scientific and technological wonder: atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever.

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Half a Century of Studying Antarctica and Climate Change

December 7, 2016

Dr Peter Barrett published his first article on the potentially “unstoppable and catastrophic” effects of climate change on Antarctica in the NZ Listener in 21 February, 1981. This came after almost two decades of research on the ancient coal-bearing strata of the Transantarctic Mountains, and a decade drilling for Antarctica’s past climate history coring strata off the Victoria Land coast.

Peter explained how further drilling has shown that Antarctica’s ice sheet first formed around 34 million years, as atmospheric CO2 levels declined from 800+ parts per million in the “Greenhouse World”, cooling global temperatures. A further decline below 400 ppm 2-3 million years ago led to further cooling and the Ice Ages, with ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere as well as Antarctica.

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The Mysterious Case of the Slimy Algae: what we know – and don’t – about the ‘Lake Snot’ invading Queenstown lakes

November 23, 2016

The invasive didymo and more recent lake snot recently found in Lake Wakatipu share characteristics – but there is one difference that makes lake snot more problematic, University of Otago freshwater scientist, Dr Marc Schallenberg says.

Both are diatoms (a type of algae) with long polysaccharide threads made of chiton that they secrete. Didymo’s tail is cotton-like and not sticky. With lake snot, the threads form a sticky slime of greater nuisance value – clogging water filters and sticking onto swimmers, fishing gear and boats – that could potentially be less susceptible to chemical control, protected from treatment agents by its cover of slime.

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Is It True What Happened To You? Stories Of North Korea’s Human Rights Violations, And A Path Of Action To Make Them Otherwise

September 28, 2016.  

Prof Bob Huish has spent much of the last two years listening to North Korean defectors and studying what is literally a black hole on the satellite map – largely through detecting its ripples.  Like who is trading with North Korea, following the flow of sea traffic into Nampo Port and investigating how different companies, governments and individuals get around the substantive international sanctions banning business dealings with DPRK.

He spoke of the Songbun ‘caste’ system, where unbiased loyalty to the Kim dynasty buys favours while those classed as hostile are punished for political crimes by being sent to political labour camp – a punishment then inflicted on their children and grandchildren. Satellite photography suggests 150 – 200,000 North Koreans are currently in these camps.

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China: What Is Driving Its Strategic Outlook?

Dr Bates Gill, Kippenberger Fellow – August 15, 2016

At least four critical factors shape Chinese foreign and security policy today – the first two are long-term and historical in nature, the second two are more contemporary.

The first is what Dr Gill called the forces of “historical geodemography” and the challenges it has posed to Chinese stability and security over many, many centuries. That is, the lengthy borders, large size and enormous population, making it perpetually vulnerable to foreign incursion while also giving it huge resources to maintain political, cultural and military sway. It huge domestic population also has meant that threats to regime survival more often than not arose from within, hence the importance of quelling political and social discontent across a vast Han population and, as China’s borders have expanded, across ethnically non-Han populations also.

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Confessions of an Activist

July 12, 2016

Dugald McTavish’s “seeds of activism” were sown when three projects threatened the Moeraki Boulders, and hewn as peak oil reared its head. As a water engineer he had the background knowledge, but how to get people interested? Thus the Hampden Community Energy Forum was born, filling the local community hall for three weekends in a row.

That group, started in 2004, is still going strong with a recycling shop at the local transfer station creating an ongoing revenue stream for its activities. It showed Dugald that lecturing didn’t work; “people don’t want to be preached to, so you have to do more projects.”

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Luminescence: The Spectrum of Science

June 27, 2016

Around 500 people visited “Luminescence: The Spectrum of Science” and left the one-day festival with a little more science lighting up their world. Most of the 500 attendees were our youngest bright sparks – primary school students from schools across the Wakatipu basin.

Audiences watched interactive demonstrations and met young scientists to talk about and explore the science and technology of light in this outreach project associated with the Dodd-Walls annual symposium and held in collaboration with Otago Museum and Catalyst.

Participants got to measure the width of their own hair with a laser beam, have their faces painted with fluorescent paint, discover how 3D movies and polarised sunglasses work, play with bre-optic cables like the ones which make the internet work, explore how white light splits into all the colours of the rainbow and lots more.

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