Shaun Hendy

Professor Shaun Hendy is Director of Te Punaha Matatini, the Centre of Research Excellence based at the University of Auckland. His PhD was in astrophysics and cosmology (he watches The Big Bang Theory for the equations), but these days he apply physics, mathematics and computer simulation to solve problems in materials science and nanotechnology. Recently he has also been applying a few ideas from complex systems theory to look at how innovation works in New Zealand and overseas. He'll use this blog to report some of the results, and to discuss other topics that are of importance to New Zealand science. Shaun is on Twitter @hendysh

How much does flying contribute to climate change? - Climate: Explained

Nov 27, 2019

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to How much does our use of air travel contribute to the problem of climate change? And is it more damaging that it is being created higher in our atmosphere? Shaun Hendy, University of Auckland The flight shaming movement has raised our awareness of air travel’s contribution to climate change. With all the discussion, you might be surprised to learn that air travel globally only accounts for about 3% of the warming human activities are causing. Why all the fuss? Before I explain, I should come clean. I am writing this on the train from Christchurch to Kaikoura, where I will give … Read More

10 years of the Science Media Centre: Shaun Hendy - Guest Work

Jul 06, 2018

Back in the dark ages, back before there was a Science Media Centre, the Royal Society sent me on a media training course for scientists. This was in the early 2000s, and the country was in the midst of a debate over genetic modification. The course was designed to frighten young scientists, so that if they ever had the misfortune to encounter a journalist they would be able to confidently assert that they didn’t know much English (‘ein bisschen’) and ask if the journalist had seen ‘mein tourbus’. It worked. Other than a short stint on Our Changing World, I didn’t talk to a journalist for another seven years. So imagine my terror when in 2008 I joined the management team at the MacDiarmid Institute and Paul Callaghan told me that I needed to build a media profile. Worse, … Read More

Scientists need to hold policy-makers to account - A Measure of Science

Sep 30, 2014

Over on Public Address last week, New Zealand Association of Scientists President, Dr Nicola Gaston, wrote a very important post on Science and Democracy. When politicians ignore scientific advice, or special interests seek to undermine such advice, how should scientists react? Dr Gaston considers the guidance on offer for scientists in such circumstances in the Royal Society of New Zealand’s code of ethics and rules. Dr Gaston’s post is very timely. In Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics it was alleged that ex-MP Katherine Rich arranged for the posting of “hits” on a popular blog in order to undermine scientific advice about the health risks of consuming alcohol or fatty, sugary foods. While Rich, who is Chief Executive of the Food and Grocery Council, … Read More

Science and its privilege in the policy arena - A Measure of Science

Aug 25, 2014

Scientific evidence is held in high regard by New Zealand’s government and its public officials, and frequently plays a significant role in the policy arena. As the late Sir Paul Callaghan said, “‘Science is the compass on the voyage we must all make into the twenty-first century.” But as government moves to appoint science advisors across its Ministries, it is worth reflecting on why science should be valued so highly. Why should scientific evidence be privileged over other inputs into the policy-making process? “Scientists should stick to the facts,” concluded the Vancouver Sun after an interview with the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, on the role of scientists in policy. Sir Peter has argued that scientists must act as brokers of knowledge – not advocates – when providing advice to policy-makers. Read More

Misogyny in science - A Measure of Science

Jul 09, 2014

I had to wait until fourth form for my first lesson about feminism. I went to an all-boys school in provincial New Zealand, where classes on contemporary political issues were few and far between. So I sat up straight when my maths teacher told us that feminists believed that “All men are rapists.” For his fourteen-year old audience, he felt the need to clarify “What they mean is that all men are capable of rape.” But he had thought long and hard about this: “Remember boys, if you ever meet a feminist, just tell her that all women are prostitutes.” What a dick. Today I work in physics at the University of Auckland, where it is my turn to teach the next generation of young scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs. As a country, it is universally acknowledged that we have a … Read More

Evidence-based science policy - A Measure of Science

Jun 11, 2014

In May last year, the New Zealand Herald ran an editorial in which it declared: Science has been a black hole for taxpayers’ money. Governments of all stripes agree that science is something they should fund without knowing very much about it. Ironically, the editorial went on to praise the virtues of the National Science Challenges (NSCs), which had been announced a few weeks later. Ironic, because the NSCs are shaping up to be one of the biggest black holes that science has sent the taxpayer’s way in a long time. In this post I want to introduce the emerging science of “science policy”, which represents a new approach to evaluating the outcomes of science and innovation investment and offers hope for rescuing science funding from the Herald’s black hole. The dark arts Many … Read More

Timing is everything - A Measure of Science

Feb 17, 2014

Today, I will be reflecting on the importance of good science communication at the University of Waikato’s International Symposium on “Transforming Engagement on Controversial Science and Technology”. There is a lot to say, and a lot that has been said, about science communication. In this post, however, I want to reflect on an aspect of science communication that is often overlooked.  Sir Peter Gluckman, in his role as the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, wrote last year about scientists, the media and society. In his essay, he warns scientists of the dangers of becoming advocates for a particular cause, instead arguing that scientists need to act as knowledge brokers for society. Sir Peter’s article is well worth reading, but I think it neglects an important aspect of science communication – namely, that of first response. Scientists as … Read More

Marsden 2013: Big increase in funding lifts success rate - A Measure of Science

Jan 24, 2014

This post is late, very late! I have a long list of excuses, many of which involve moving to Auckland and writing a Centre of Research Excellence Proposal. But with the 2014 Marsden round almost upon us, it is well past time to look at the numbers from 2013. 2013 saw a big increase in the funds handed out. In fact the $68m awarded was the largest ever*, only surpassed by the 2009 round ($65m) if you adjust for inflation. In real terms, the Marsden fund has handed out about 18% more each year over the period 2008-2013 than it did over the preceding decade. The average funding awarded to each successful proposal (fast-start and standard) continues to hover just below $600k. If the total investment was high in 2013, while the funding per proposal remained static, … Read More

The Physics of Santa - A Measure of Science

Dec 24, 2013

At this time of year, many parents worry about the risks posed to their children from exposure to Santa Claus. We know very little about the science of Santa because the government refuses to fund research into Christmas,as it cannot be linked to direct economic benefit. Yet, as Colin Craig has been at pains to remind us this year, unless we know the facts, how can we be sure that Santa’s reindeer are chemical free or whether he even exists? Luckily, Radio New Zealand commissioned a small study this year to answer some of New Zealanders most pressing concerns about Santa*. Many New Zealanders want to know how fast Santa has to travel to deliver all his gifts. We estimate that Santa has a bit over 30 hours to do this, assuming that he starts around … Read More

Pounamu returns Thursday Aug 29 - A Measure of Science

Aug 25, 2013

This coming Thursday (Aug 29) from midday we will be running Pounamu again for 24 hours. This is a free, online game set in a future world where all of us can use science as easily as they can use a computer now. We ran the game for the first time last year, in conjunction with the Transit of Venus forum and boy was it addictive. Sciblogger Michael Edmonds wrote a post about his experiences last year. Like Michael, I found it to be one of the most stimulating and exciting forms of science communication I had ever engaged in – I learnt a lot. You play by posting micro-forecasts (concise ideas – 140 characters, like twitter) of future possibilities, or build on and reshape other players’ ideas. Here’s a micro-forecast … Read More