Archive July 2010

Best science apps for the iPad Peter Griffin Jul 19


If the treatment of Wired, the Financial Times and the BBC shows the iPad holds a lot of promise for a moribund media, signs are also good that this device and the new wave of touch-screen tablet computers could do great things for communicating science.

I’ve been using the iPad for around six weeks now and have pillaged the App Store of everything science-related as well as checking out what science magazines and journals are already available for the iPad through other online outlets such as Zinio.

So far the range is limited, but the handful of apps already in circulation suggest the iPad’s interface is a natural fit with science when it comes to getting across scientific concepts across all sorts of areas of science. Astronomy in particular features prominently among the first wave of iPad apps as my top 10 list of science-related iPad apps shows…

Top science-related iPad apps available (so far)

Star Walk

This one Night-Skyhas been winning plaudits all over the web – an interactive star chart that uses the iPad’s GPS chip to find out where you are and display all of the stars, planets and constellations that are visible from where you are. You can hold the iPad above your head to line up the cellestial bodies so you know where to look.

PadGadget adds: “Other nice touches include, the Time Machine feature which show the night sky over a multiple year period. Sky Live gives you a view of the moon’s phases and elevation, as well as rising data for the Sun, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus.  Picture of the Day gives you access to a nice library of space imagery”.

Price: NZ$6.49

Science Glossary @ Vision Learning

vision learningA sort of Wikipedia for science, for the iPad. This easy to use glossary of scientific terms and concepts is from Vision Learning, which offers a lot of very good free explanatory articles on science related subjects on the web. All of that info has been tailored to the iPad in a user-friendly app. The best thing is that it is free. I’d like to see a more expansive reference app building on the Science Glossary – more of a true Wikipedia for science, with embedded video, audio and diagrams to enhance the experience. Maybe they are saving that for version 2…

Price: Free

Newton’s Cradle

newtonA surprisingly simple but addictive little app for the iPad which replicates in digital form Newton’s cradle, the device Newton built to show how momentum and the transfer of energy works. It’s also become a fashionable gadget for executives to have on their desks in recent years, the clicking of the balls as they strike each other in time can also be quite relaxing. The physics are nicely replicated on the iPad, which when propped up on a stand can double for your own Newton’s cradle for your desk. Not much else to see here, but an enjoyable little app well engineered for the iPad and designed to make you thnk about the physical forces that define our existence.

Price: US$2.99


wolframIt hasn’t really caught on with mainstream web users, but the WolframAlpha search engine is incredibly useful, particularly for science-related queries. This app, specially formatting search results for the iPad doesn’t offer up anything more than you would get search via a regular browser, but its a lovely looking app, that presents results in a fresh, attractive way. Map integration with results is a nice touch too. I can see researchers finding this a highly useful tool to have near at hand. Well worth the money.

Price: US$2.59

3D Musculoskeletal Anatomy Quiz

muscleA set of sophisticated for the apps for the iPad deal in great depths with human anatomy and let you explore parts of the body with medical and anatomy related quizes to test your knowledge of the human body. I found even the entry level questions difficult, but its a fascinating way to acquanit yourself with aspects of the human body and challenge yourself at the same time – something that is more likely to make your remeber what you’ve learnt. The entry level quiz apps are free, but more indepth apps priced at US$19.99 go into human anatomy in great depth and employ rotatable 3D images as well. Very slick.

Price: Free through to US$19.99


supernovaA fairly simple but spectacular looking astronomy-related app that lets you navigate your way around an exploding star. I like playing with this one late at night before bed. It’s very relaxing in a new-age sort of way! Here’s some more background about how the app was created but it was apparently inspired by photography from the Hubble space telescope.

Price: US$0.99

Others of note:

Popular Mechanics – Available formatted for the iPad through the Zinio electronic publishing system. Nothing fancy here in the way the magazine is delivered on the iPad which is a little disappointing. But Wired’s interactive features shows what is possible for science publications on the iPad especially when it comes to infographics and embedded video.

Price: US$12 for a 12 month subscription (75 per cent discount)

Science Illustrated – Similar story to Popular Mechanics – looks great, but nothing sensational in the functionality department. Still, as a magazine that is near impossible to get in New Zealand (and an airfreighted copy will cost a bomb if you do find one), this is a nice way to acquaint yourself with a good looking popular science magazine that places an emphasis on beautiful imagery.

Price: US$24 for a 12 month subscription (60 per cent discount)

Solar Walk – A great little app that gives you a scale model of the solar system and lets you use the iPad’s touch screen to navigate your way through it, gaining different perspectives on planets and moons as you observe from different parts of the solar system.

Price: US$4.19

Any other great science apps I’ve yet to come across?

Exoskeleton has shades of the Martin Jetpack Peter Griffin Jul 15

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Wellington Venture capitalist Jenny morel today unveiled her latest high-tech start-up and one that has the same sort of high-concept and high risk aspects of her investment in the Martin Jetpack.

The idea behind the Rex Bionics exoskeleton is not unique – many engineering labs, including those of the US Army have been engaged in developing exoskeletons for all sorts of commercial, medical and military applications.

the Rex exoskeleton

the Rex exoskeleton

Rex is designed very much with the disabled in mind as the promotional video below shows. Giving someone who has been in a wheelchair for years the ability to get back on two legs, albeit with limited movement is pretty compelling. Morel, who is serving as Chair and CEO of Rex Bionic has the following uses in mind for the  exoskeleton:

* Stand up to cook dinner at home, or in a friend’s house

* Enjoy the health benefits of being upright and moving around

* Stand and work at a workbench safely, rather than getting a face full of debris

* Socialise with friends around the barbecue

* Play a few games of pool or foosball with friends

* Reach things on the high shelves at home, in the supermarket, or at work

* Stand up in family photos like graduations and wedding shots

How much will the Rex cost? A staggering US$150,000. Such is the complexity of exoskeletons this will remain the domain of disabled people who are incredibly wealthy or can get insurance subsidisation for the Rex. What does it say about New Zealand innovation? Well, according to TVNZ, Prime Minister John Key was pretty enthusiastic at the launch of the Rex today:

Today’s launch was attended by Prime Minister John Key who praised the inventors for helping put New Zealand design at the cutting edge of technology.

Morel’s investment in Rex Bionic follows her backing of the Martin jetpack, a rather bulky backpack that allows a pilot to hover off the ground for an extended period of time – say 30 minutes of thereabouts. Its the only thing that’s really come along since the Bell jetpack that was incredibly compact but only gave you enough thrust for less than a minute of flight. For that reason, the Martin Jetpack has grabbed headlines all over the world, despite sluggish take-off in the sales department. According to an article in the Press newspaper in February however, that could change in the next few years:

The Martin Aircraft Company has signed a $12 million joint-venture deal to start production of the world’s first commercially available jetpack.

The Christchurch-based company has been developing the jetpack for more than a decade but has struggled to find New Zealand funding for commercial production.

Company chief executive Richard Lauder said the joint venture would build Martin Jetpacks at an overseas factory, with the aim of making 500 units generating annual turnover of $100 million within three years.

Like the Jetpack, the Rex is high-concept, hi-tech and very niche in terms of the markets it can tap. Both investments are a bit of a departure from Morel’s previous investments – more conservative software/ICT type companies. There would appear to be more risk in the likes of the Martin jetpack and the Rex from an investment return point of view. But these types of innovations certainly capture people’s imagination. The question now is whether both devices, both a long time in the creating, can become sustainable businesses that really take New Zealand innovation to the world.

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Crazy science letter of the week part 11 Peter Griffin Jul 14


This crazy letter comes courtesy of Sciblogs reader Alistair Mowat, who describes it as “priceless”.

“Here is something akin to the discovery of the Japanese soldier found in the late 1970’s on a Pacific Island who was oblivious to the end of World War II,” he adds. “A man has been discovered in Tauranga, NZ,  in 2010 totally unaware of the existence of Fick’s Law of diffusion from 1822.”

And here it is, from the Bay of Plenty’s Weekend Sun

Source: Weekend Sun

Source: Weekend Sun

Describing your research – soundbites from Wellington Peter Griffin Jul 13

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The Wellington workshops of the Emerging Researchers roadshow featured the highest number of social scientists of all the main centres.  Here’s how they summed up their research in a couple of sentences…

My colleague Dacia Herbulock stepped in to run these sessions while I was down in Dunedin for the science festival.

Here are her top 10 favourites…

Does moving in time with other people, like dancing, bond them together and make them behave more cooperatively? I am testing this with controlled experiments, manipulating synchrony and measuring pro-social behaviour.

I am a translator of geology, I can read the landforms and landscape and tell you the story of past climate.

Trying to find out the cellular targets of a potential drug is like bumping into osmeone in the street and tracking the next thousand people that they meet.

All smokers know how badly they need a cigarette when they can’t have one. I’m trying to figure out how our brain chemistry tricks us into thinking we need this.

Getting your message communicated clearly in the media is like trying to tame a tiger. You can use a whip and a hoop, but as soon as your back’s turned, it will bite your head off.

Can colour make your food crop appear distasteful to insects? Using experiments and evolutionary theory to reduce the ise of insecticides.

I am looking at why there is no “I” in team. I examine the language that rugby players use with one another to create a team identity.

I study invasive yellow crazy ants. If we find out what makes them crazy, we might be able to stop their invasions.

Electrons spinning in harmony help us save space and energy.

Same as Stephen Hawkins’ quote but replace “universe” with “human wellbeing”.

And a cross-section of the rest…

* Talking about sex with your friends and keeping a straight face, can be a harrowing experience. Place this conversation in a typical secondary school classroom and it becomes a social minefield. THis is why I am interested in the use of language in sexual education classrooms.

* Fly fishermen catch rainbow trout as they migrate upstream. I study how trout that migrate up different rivers and streams are related and how we can manage trout to keep them running upstream all season long.

*Planets zoom around the sun without slowing down, but down here on earth, electrons have a much harder time moving through materials. How then do they move with no resistence in these new superconductors and why at such high temperatures?

* Tuatara are one of the most primitive vertebrate forms of life on th eplanet. Yet they have a very complex immune system and are free of a wide range of diseases that affect people and other animals. Why?

* Apparently water flowa through rocks, but how does it really flow? That is what I am trying to measure.

* Like a paint blob spinning on a turntable, my research screams in and out of focus as each new layer gets squirted into the mix. Can I summon the courage to turn off the turntable and see what it really looks like?

* To discover new medical treatments, it makes sense to get help from someone that has been in trhe game for millions of years – nature.

* Moving to a new country can sometimes feel like a move to a different planet. People act differently, speak differently and look differently. I do research that looks at how these newcomers make their strange new worlds feel like home.

* Growing up with more than one culture is confusing. My research asks what does it really mean for a young person to be multicultural in New Zealand and do some young people manage this better than others?

* Churches are organisations which have a large influence on people, so I’m looking at how the architecture of churches influences and organises our behaviour and relationships.

* You can tell who they are by the viruses they carry, developing a method to distinguish salmonella isolates based on pro phaqe content.

* Sexual offending affects a majority of New Zealanders. My research focuses on how to rehabilitate and reintegrate sex offenders so future sexual offences are prevented.

* Are charity appeals insulting to both the viewers and the subjects? I’m studying the reaction of young people in New Zealand to charity appeals. Do they motivate or turn people off aid? Plus, what do the subjects of these appeals think?

* We make artificial sea shells.

* Effective teams need diversity to be effective. This is especially true for the teams that create computer software that we now rely on in our daily lives.

* Gas escapes from us all and we know where it comes from too. The production requires an absence of O2. What about the oxygenated ocean? Where does the methane come from and how is it generated in the presence of O2? This is the oceanic methane paradox.

* What first aid is provided in the New Zealand workplace today and how did we get to this place?

* The aim of my research is to examine socio-culturally diverse workforce perception of workplace diversity practice. Just simply look at people’s perception towards diversity at the workplace in multicultural society.

* A needs analysis of polytechnic business students in writing business correspondence in English.

* To study the expression of human qualities in art and science.

* Former breast cancer patients preconceptions, experiences and evaluations of public and private healthcare systems in New Zealand.

* Information and communication technology is a popular tool of the 21st century. Improving Pasifika tertiary students achievement can be enhanced through upskilling their ICT skills.

* Science investigation becomes a norm in science classrooms at the lower secondary school in Malaysia. However, how effective this approach ti promote student learning is remains unknown.

* I go diving and take photographs to create a flicker book through time of how sponge assemblages change through space and relate the pattern worldwide.

* Drugs of abuse rewire the circuits in your brain. We want to know how so we can flick the switch off to stop the change.

* Just as how we organise a party determines who is going to ocme, how we manage cities determines what kind of space we get.

* Sensible beliefs structure creates practical teaching practices that identifies learners’ diverse needs.

* Young women get a hard time for getting sexy in public. Just because its blah for the audience, doesn’t mean its not good for young women doing it.

* Two people are paddling in opposite directions in a canoe. The canoe doesn’t move as there is no change in direction.

* I work with bacteria that shields itself from the human immune system to cause disease. I am trying t find a way to break that shield.

*What is it about being online that is so compelling for individuals that it drives them to connect with others even when they don’t know who they are?

Nanorods, Sauvignon Blanc win out in science funding round Peter Griffin Jul 12

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The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has today unveiled its main “public good” funding round grants which total $48 million and fund everything from the development of the New Zealand titanium industry, through to restoring wetlands.

More details of these interesting research projects will hopefully emerge in the media in the course of the next week.

The full list of projects funded is listed below… further details on the FRST website.

• Integrated fresh water solutions–Massey University

$350,000 per annum over three years to integrate freshwater scientific and environmental data with socio/cultural and economic data; this will enable local water managers to improve the quality of the freshwater ecosystem in the Manawatu catchment.

• Embryo survival–AgResearch

$1.7m per annum over six years to research why only half of ovulated eggs produce lambs and calves. Increasing embryo survival by 3 per cent is expected to boost primary sector revenue by $150m per annum.

• Bioengineering technologies for breast and lungs–University of Auckland

$1m per annum over four years in research to develop new diagnostic and treatment procedures for breast cancer and respiratory disease by using realistic computer models.

• Titanium alloy powder–University of Waikato

$599,400 per annum over two years to enhance the capability and international competitiveness of the New Zealand titanium metal industry sector by improving current powder consolidation processes. Improving production is expected to lead to $100-200m per annum in titanium products exports by 2019.

• Making lambs immune to parasites–AgResearch

$683,300 per annum over six years to identify methods to improve lambs’ immune system resistance to parasitic worms. If successful this will provide farmers with further tools to manage worms and problems associated with drench resistance.

• Magnetic resonance capability–Victoria University of Wellington

$650,000 per annum over two years to develop a suite of prototype technologies that will result in products and methods for nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging markets. This will benefit New Zealand companies such as Magritek and other companies in the electronics, machining and plastics moulding sector.

• Restoring wetlands–Landcare Research Ltd

$600,000 per annum over six years to reverse the decline in wetlands, and to see a 15 per cent increase by 2016 in the number and area of wetlands being restored by wetland land-owners and managers.

• Nanorods for acoustic microscopes–Industrial Research

$300,000 per annum over three years to develop a new nanotechnology-based advanced instrument to measure fibre homogeneity and alignment in plastic products. This will support New Zealand high-value plastics manufacturers.

• Anti-allergen ingredients from raw milk–Fonterra Research Centre Ltd

$250,000 per annum over three years to develop ingredients that prevent the onset of allergic disease, in a similar manner to anti-allergy effects of raw milk, but in a way that is safe for infants.

• Novel Sauvignon Blanc wines–Plant & Food Research

$2m per annum over six years to provide New Zealand’s wine industry with the tools to produce new and distinct flavour-style of Sauvignon Blanc wines that attract a premium export price.

• Renewable high performance coatings–Industrial Research Ltd

$440,000 per annum over four years to develop novel coating ingredients, for use in the paint industry, that can be manufactured from readily-available raw materials with minimal environmental impact.

An epic win for New Zealand innovation Peter Griffin Jul 12

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I wrote a while ago about Team One Beep, the group of University of Auckland students who had come up with an innovative way to send data out to remote areas using a sliver of FM radio spectrum.

Well, late last week we heard that Team One Beep took out third place at the final of the Image Cup in Warsaw. Wired has details of all the winners.

Let me put this achievement in perspective – 325,000 students from over 100 countries entered the competition. Yes, that’s 325,000 as in more than a quarter of a million people! And this team of guys makes it into the top 3 teams in the world. It’s a bit like the All Whites making it to the play-off for 3rd and 4th places at the soccer World Cup.

As a judge of the initial elimination round for the New Zealand Imagine Cup I think we chose well!

But actually, the decision was very easy. Team One Beep blew everyone else out of the water back in the preliminary round which meant that they were a sitter to progress to Poland.

What was it about them that make them so good? Well, they had it all – a big picture, altruistic goal to improve education in poor countries by bridging the digital divide. Their solution was incredibly simple but effective. It leveraged off an existing programme aimed at poor countries – the One Laptop Per Child programme. The team presented with clarity and passion and were incredibly professional.

This is the mix of ingredients that makes up for a winning entry into the Imagine Cup. These guys will go far, and according to Microsoft they are already working on rolling out their One Beep solution:

Back in New Zealand the team will continue to develop the software in hopes of bringing it to market. Vinny and the team are working with Oxfam, OLPC and governments around the world to make bring this software to countries around the globe, helping improve education in impoverished countries.

Just finally, I’d like to address a bit of an argument that sprung up in the comments related to my last post on One Beep. One commenter was outraged that Team One Beep were getting publicity through the Imagine Cup for something which he claimed was not a new concept. Well sure, people have been sending data over radio spectrum for a long time and the physics and applications behind this are well known. But the combination of the transmission, the use of the OLPCs and the clever software written to translate the signal into text for people to read is what makes this a great solution.

It is one thing to be first with an idea, its another thing entirely to get momentum for the idea so it can be put into use. Team One Beep have managed to do that. That is the primary output of being innovative and is exactly what we need to be encouraging young scientists, engineers and technologists to do.

More on Team One Beep and the Imagine Cup for news and information.

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Describing your research – soundbites from Palmy Peter Griffin Jul 09

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Slightly belated, but here are the results of the Palmerston North workshops on the Emerging Researchers roadshow, where scientists had five minutes to sum up their research in one or two sentences only.

My top 10 favourites from Palmy…

Imagine if we could have the FIFA World Cup stadium surface area condensed into a one gram material. What could be done with this kind of material?

It’s like the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – finding clues tohow microbes are stuck to each other in the rumen of the cow.

How to make chickens lay one egg per day or 365 eggs in 365 days. I want to increase the amount of protein for human consumption.

I pretty much know how much water I drink, cook with, use to take a shower and flush the toilet. But water footprinting can also tell me how much water it takes to make my cup of coffee, my shirt and my shoes.

A glass of milk or a pieceof cheese. Have you wondered how the proteins interact differently in order to change from one state to another?

Like layers of paint on an old fence our floodplain sediments preserve a record of river behaviour over time. By peeling back the  layers we may better understand how river systems have responded to environmental changes and how they may respond in the future.

Our Earth’s future could be resting in the mouths of cows. Reducing methane emissions could save our precious planet from overheating.

Searching for a falcon in a pine forest is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Using the broadcast of a falcon’s call is like using a magnet to attract the needle.

Will a child affected with Duchenne and Beckens muscular dystrophin be able to walk, run and do all the sorts of things a normal child would? Yes, if scientists crack the code and solve the structure of missing proteins.

And a sample of the rest

* Malnutrition among infants in developing countries continues to rage like a hurricane. A replacement in cereal given to them with sweet potato holds the key to this storm.

* Find where the bacterium come from and where theywill go. Oh, the bacterium is campylobacter and it causes diseases in the human gut.

* Good  manners for cows!

* Can we save people from misleading truths of science by clearly emphasizing the ‘truth’ behind the crucial research connected to the welfare of humankind?

* Thousands of hectares of trees are cut down each year that are home to New Zealand’s only land mammals – bats. What happens to these bats and can we protect them?

* Environmental pollution is pushing us to a point of no return. Resources need re-investment, otherwise volcanic ash and oil spills will take our breath. This bank is closed for cash-out.

* Surprisingly you will find solar energy will improve your diet with  more nutrition and less microbes.

* Greenhouse gases cause global warming and climate change. We mitigate them by putting  less fertilizer on your farm.

* Icebergs are created the same way as breaking off a piece of chocolate. The only question is what happens when we run out of chocolate?

* Plants differ in the way they recycle their nitrogen. This research is about finding those plants that are really good at it so that we can use less fertiliser and have a cleaner environment.

* How do we feed the world tomorrow? Design plants for sustainable agriculture.

* Pine infecting fungus slows growth of New Zealand’s  pine plantations. We are testing other fungi for their ability to wage war against the pine pathogen and encourage growth ofour forest pine.

* Are you drowning in a huge amount of data but staring at information? If so,  you really need data mining to help  you out.

Describing your research – soundbites from Auckland part 2 Peter Griffin Jul 08


More researchers from the workshops at the University of Auckland describing their research in one to two sentences.

These were the largest workshops yet so I came away with a huge number of slips of paper – not all of them are listed as a result, but this should give you a flavour of the inventiveness of the Aucklanders!

My favourite ten

The ultimate goal of my research is to cure tuberculosis just like a simple cold, a dozen tablets and that’s it.

We are basically building a time machine that allows us to travel backwards to understand the evolutionary history of viruses and forwards in to time to predict future epidemics.

Computational physics is like directing a play — your actors are electrons and nuclei,  you set the stage and tell them what to do. Sometimes though, they don’t behave and you end up with a very different story to the one you expected — that’s the exciting bit!

Pressure is not always bad. High pressure processes your New Zealand Greenshell mussels and you have that crunchy, sweet, fresh product — better always, under pressure.

The virus that just crashed your computer is one of many that originated from one source, like any other biological virus. We find out where it came from.

Making computers smarter. Challenging human dominance in games.

Darwin described the evolution of animals in the natural world. My thesis describes the evolution of the perception of animals in literature.

Revealing the secrets of the human brain might change the face of the 21st century as the transistor changed the 20th century.

Arctic and Antarctic fish don’t freeze in sub-zero waters — they have special antifreeze peptides that I want to understand.

Getting drugs passed through the cornea of the eye is like trying to squeeze through a closed door. Lets see if we can overcome that with nanotechnology.

And a sample of the rest…

* In 50 years time,  two year olds will be using online technology to shape and form the world they  live in and so will 90 year olds! My research is about building the pathways to our shared future.

* A half-hearted person cannot succeed, so  is a half-hearted geometric model. Full-heartedly, we are trying to get a full-heart model for humans.

* While complex  at first glance, the purpose of computer languages is to make it easier to communicate what you are trying to make happen, not more complex. I aim to make that understanding clear.

* How not to have a food allergy… don’t eat.

* Designing and developing a new way to cast metal products thats gonna change the way casting has been done for hundreds of years.

* As I design more intelligent machines, its the harder jobs that will become scarce. The postman, secretary, gardner jobs are secure forever.

* It is not what you know but who you know which determines where you go as a tourist. The connection between the people you know and where to travel to as a tourist.

* When the brain is injured and neurons die, inflammatory cells respond to try and help it repair. We are trying to understand how these cells are acting and how this can be improved.

* Wouldn’t it be nice to know that positive lifestyle choices during pregnancy could have beneficial effects for your unborn child? I’m  looking at whether exercising during pregnancy can reduce the risk of offspring obesity while still in the womb.

* What is it in human nature which yearns for the unexpected. Different colours and patterns in flowers bring delight to the soul.

* Printing — a quiet storm of beauty everywhere else but here. Why?

* New Zealanders are passionate about seafood and its production. What we don’t know is what it is doing to our marine environment.

* Apparently,  social entrepreneurship will cure the world’s social and environmental ills. Really? How? How does society fill the gap between business and government in innovative ways.

* I am looking to the age old question: are men really THAT promiscuous? But by studying this in Tui birds  instead of humans.

* Stick insects are a prime example of evolution. So much of New Zealand’s diversity is continually discovering new branches of the evolutionary tree.

* We take drugs everyday, but developing a new drug is harder than winning lotto.

* The task of finding a miracle drug for malaria is  like finding that one grain of sand on the beach, only to lose it again when the next wave comes washing in.

* If we could find an accurate and reliable way of determining the age of bruises, we could provide stronger evidence in suspected cases of physical abuse.

* When people on a guided tour see a whale in the flesh questions bubble  to the surface, but the big question is how their curiosity makes them connect the story of the whale’s survival with their own actions.

* We often imagine, hypothesise and speculate science, but microscopy allows direct visualisation of the science.

* Germs in dirt might make a treatment for HIV.

* I’m working on the chemical assembly lines in bacteria and fungi. We are trying to map out why they make what they make and not something else.

* Red wine is good for your heart, but alcohol will kill you first if you drink too much.

* In the springtime, Kiwifruit buds break at all different times. Like soldiers waking to a loud whistle in the army barracks we want those buds to break in perfect unison,  ready for the summer growth ahead.

* Our aim is simple – to detect breast cancer from the blood of women and treat those women in the best possible way.

* To improve health status and quality of life in older adults through physical activity.

* I am looking for the factors that link obesity to its positive influence on the bone disease osteoparosis.

* Baby green and gold kiwifruit are both green. Why does one ripen to yellow and the other doesn’t?

Describing your research – soundbites from Auckland part 1 Peter Griffin Jul 06

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The Emerging Researchers roadshow trucks on and more researchers who participated in my Communicating your Research workshop have come up with succinct ways of describing their science or research.

Apologies to those in Palmerston North, I left your workshop exercises in Wellington while I was home briefly so will post them on my return. See below for the presentation slides from the workshop.

My favourite 10 from the session at AUT North Shore campus:

When Jaws screened, people viewed the sea in a different way. I’m exploring the Jaws effect of outdoor accidents on outdoor education.

Don’t you just wish you could always enjoy healthy food with none of the dryness or yuck flavour? We work on getting just the good stuff out of the fruit and vegetables to put into good-tasting food.

If my job defines me and I earn 10 times less than my expatriate colleague, am I 10 times less valuable than them? If so, how can we ever be friends?

Boundaries of flesh, boundaries of cloth, boundaries of space. We are what we wear, or are we?

I think, so I am existing! So, think how you are going to think!

Space is always political.

Marine reserves are not zoos, so why do tourists  get free passes?

A simple evacuation plan can be ‘run like heck!’. But how do we deal with half a million people running out of Auckland if one of its 49  volcanoes erupts?

A fish living in a rockpool is exposed to a 1 in 100 year hot day at low tide. How much heat can it take before it has to evolve or die?

Yeast is important for beer. It also helps solving beer-induced problems.

And a sample of the rest…

* If a person suffers a stroke and loses function in their arm, what is the best way to restore some of that function? We are developing a system to investigate this with the aid of robotics.

* With respect to the prevalence of chronic disease in children, we need to encourage them to be more active not by focusing on physical activity only, but also by interrupting sedentary behaviours.

* Using clinical tests to diagnose shoulder pain is like trying to fit hundreds of jigsaw pieces into a picture. These results will reduce the number of pieces, improving chances of completing the picture in a shorter time.

* Like our preference for ice cream flavours, our preference and tolerance for different sounds and loudness levels is unique to individuals. Some sounds, like ice cream can be restorative, but it is certain that both affect our physiology and not necessarily for the good.

* If a human is working closely with a robotic system, you need to make sure that his arm doesn’t get ripped off. This research project is about developing new motor systems that provide the safety features necessary.

* What is a university if you can still get a degree via online learning from the comfort of your home?

* Food is something we eat to survive. Functional food research gives you healthy, nutritious and tasty foods for all to enjoy!

* Making the most of the goodness of fruits and vegetables without the ‘yuck’ factor.

* New Zealand history talks about an egalitarian ‘better Britain’. But how does this founding ideology affect modern service delivery in hospitality?

* Pacific Islanders are often disadvantaged in terms of health outcomes and social services. Our study finds evidence to support positive changes for these people.

* Crystals are exquisite, but the most beautiful thing about a  protein crystal is that it gives us the opportunity to see in minute detail how it works, and how a drug might help or hinder it.

* Fish are great sources of food. But how are neurotoxins within them causing harm to humans?

* Can you be a vegetarian,  live in cold waters and be just like any other fish in the neighbourhood?

Describing your research – soundbites from Christchurch Peter Griffin Jul 01

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Another city and another few dozen emerging researchers attempting to describe their research goals in a couple of sentences after just five minutes of thought.

One interesting thing, Dunedin-based scientists are certainly a lot more legible than their colleagues in Christchurch! I’ve had to leave out several samples of the latter group as I couldn’t decipher the handwriting.

Nevertheless, some imaginative ways of describing research. Here’s my top 10 favourites from Canterbury…

My sheep’s foot has gone gooey and fallen off. I’m finding out what bugs make this happen.

The heart of a tumour is like the heart of Auckland City, impossible to get in and out of. Angiogenesis is the process by which the tumour relieves the pressure on its core. So if we can stop the traffic, we can kill the tumour.

To predict the next invader, all we need to do is look at human nature.

Do dams damn our landscapes?

As a social anthropologist I conduct fieldwork with people, learning from them by living with them. But in the elephant stables of Nepal, I learnt that elephants are people too.

If all the world’s a stage, how do you design for small town tourism?

It’s like having a nice conversation with E.T.

The bigger you are, the bigger your poos. The bigger the poo, the more things you can find in it.

Imagine being stuck in a sauna or having cramp or muscle spasms so bad you collapsed. Sheep and cattle can get this from eating grass. So we are trying to change the grass.

Sometimes technology solves our problems and sometimes it is the problem. What makes the difference?

And some more examples from the Christchurch workshop on Communicating your Research… thanks to everyone who participated, it was a lot of fun.

* When grape genes change, you get a different wine. Are unstable genes behind some of the best Kiwi vintages?

* Altitude training for inactive folk – can periods of exposure to CO2 mimic the benefits of exercise?

* We think we know everything, but we don’t even know ourselves, the human body. I want to find out what’s hoing on in red blood cells, to shed a bit oflight into the darkness.

* Every manuscript, by definition, is a unique example of human labour. They all deserve to be studied and I’m doing what I can about that.

* How do you  know if the building that you are living in is safe or not after a huge environmental event like an earthquake? Structural Health Monitoring gives you the answer.

* We work on conserving the species we’ve accidentally almost killed off. We use genetic data to minimise extinction riskof threatened species.

* A victim of sexual abuse forgives the offender during a conference. What is the story behind it and how can other victims get there?

* I’m trying to find out how possums infect each other with bovine tuberculosis and how they give this disease to livestock.

* Not being able to stand up because your body can’t support you is a nightmare. Using robotics to overcome this is a sci-fi dream.

* Everyone is jumping onto the social media bandwagonthese days. But is it really worth it?

* Interaction between soil and structure in an earthquake event, is it going to make the damage more catastrophic?

* There’s no point in saving a building from an earthquake if all of its clothing and insides get ripped to pieces.

* People with anorexia are fighting against their body’s biological signals that are screaming at them to eat. If we can understand these signals better we may be able to devise a new treatment for this debilitating illness.

* There are strains of tuberculosis bacteria out there resistant to all known antibiotics. My research involves finding new drugs so that we can more effectively treat tuberculosis.

* Every living cell on the planet makes electricity. It’s now possible to fabricate electrodes that make capture and use of that electricity possible.

* Fish grow by eating smaller fish, but they also have a taste preference. I change these approaches to model the population dynamics in marine ecosystems.

* Minority languages are more threatened than endangered species. The race is on to document and preserve these unique vessels of human culture, history and experience.

* When the Alpine Fault ruptures every 250 – 400 years, millions of cubic metres of rock are shaken from the thousand metre plus high cliffs of Milford Sound. The result – tsunami waves up  to tens of metres.

* Changing land-use degrades stream communities in tropical highland streams in Nigeria!

* To feed a burgeoning global population, agriculture is becoming more intensive and expansive at the expense of the natural environment and the biological communities it supports. I am researching how landuse intensification via agriculture is leading to excessive sediment washing into our streams and rivers, and what effect this has on the food webs of these habitats.

* The person next to you collapses to the floor, so you move to help her. Did you have reason to do that if she was faking?

* How long can you hold your head underwater? We are trying to understand how a fish can tolerate a few hours without water.

* Children of drug-dependent parents have a bleak future. We want to understand why that happens.

* People live longer than they expect to. How can we stop them running out of money?

* By the end of this century, the ozone hole will have recovered, but ozone-depleting greenhouse gases are on the rise. What will bethe next major driver of ozone destruction?

* The Tonle Sap floodplain is a place that remains up to six months a year under 10 metres of water. Yet an entire forest that supports the largest freshwater fisheryin the world lives here. I am studying how the water in the Tonle Sap affects its flooding forest.

* Research into the ability and willingness of older workers to pass  on their knowledge may ensure that a career’s worth of experience won’t just walk out the door.

* The way you design the bridge is influenced by the way the water moves underneath it. What noone considers is that the animals that live in the water change the way the water moves and hence, how you design the bridge.

* If a possum eats a leaf, does the tree die? I’m using mathematical models to seehow leaf browse affects largescale forest die back.

* Ten clinicians may describe different treatments. Building clinicians research knowledge can help.

* A better understanding of grapevine death will  help keep wine flowing into your glass for many years.

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