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

Getting Off the Grass - A Measure of Science

Aug 06, 2013

Fonterra’s discovery of the bacterium that causes botulism in a batch of whey protein concentrate has alarmed many.  As the whey protein is an ingredient in popular infant formulas, many parents will be worried that they have inadvertently exposed their children to potentially fatal bacteria.  Hopefully, the recall of  products that use Fonterra’s whey ingredient will prevent any illness, even if it appears that these recalls may have been tardy.  One would also hope that Fonterra learns from the experience, because when Fonterra stumbles, so does the rest of the country. This latest incident illustrates once again how important it is that New Zealand diversify its economy.  In fact, this is the subject that I address in my upcoming book, Get Off the Grass, co-authored with the late Sir Paul Callaghan.  I’ll be launching the book with a … Read More

Complexity, emergence and networks - A Measure of Science

Jul 11, 2013

What do magnets, stock markets, and Facebook all have in common? With Get Off the Grass off to the printers, I now have some time to ponder such important questions. So tonight at 8.40pm, I’ll be back talking to Bryan Crump on Radio NZ Nights about what it is that these things share: namely, complexity. (You can listen the interview here.) It’s complicated We are surrounded by complicated things. It seems obvious that both the behaviour of the stock market, which is a result of many individual investment decisions made by thousands of investors, and the behaviour of a magnet, which is the aggregate of the magnetic properties of a very, very large number of individual atoms, are complicated. What is much less obvious is that the stock market and a magnet should behave anything like each … Read More

Valuing Science in New Zealand - A Measure of Science

Mar 20, 2013

On April 3rd, the New Zealand Association of Scientists is holding its annual conference to ask “What is the value of science in NZ?” (you can register here). As the conference chair, Dr Nicola Gaston, puts it: When scientists are asked to describe scientific research that isn’t done for short-term economic benefit, they call it blue-skies research, basic, fundamental, or sometimes investigator-led. But what do these terms mean to non-scientists? Is it perhaps time to discuss the value of the science that we do more explicitly, without necessarily resorting to economic jargon? Nicola will have to grit her teeth, because I am going to make excessive use of economic jargon in this post. How do you put a value on science? This is actually a very difficult question. If I asked you to place a value … Read More

An unfortunate experiment in peer review - A Measure of Science

Mar 10, 2013

A few months ago, Sir Peter Gluckman made the observation in a discussion paper (“Which science to fund: is it time to review peer review?”) that While scientists pride themselves on objectivity, there is surprisingly little in the way of objective assessment of the nature and quality of peer review processes for grant allocation. Ironically, under-resourcing at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment last year has provided us with an opportunity to put one aspect of the peer review of grant proposals to the test. In the midst of yet another restructuring, the Ministry was unable to run a complete peer review process for the 299 proposals it received last year. The results of this incomplete process allow us to put peer review to the test. Sir Peter’s paper is particularly concerned that the peer review … Read More

Marsden 2012: Success rate continues to fall - A Measure of Science

Oct 25, 2012

This year’s Marsden Fund results were announced this morning.  The full list of successful proposals is available on the Royal Society of New Zealand website, or, if you prefer, you can get a sampling of what the media made of the lucky winners via the Dom Post and the Herald.  This year the success rate has dropped  to 7.7%, a half percent lower than last year and the first time it has been below 8%. Although many of us would like to see the Marsden fund substantially increased, the figure below shows that the historically low success rates of the last three years have been driven by a large increase in the number of proposals received rather than a loss of funding. This increase in the number of proposals may reflect a reduction in the amount … Read More

Pounamu - A Measure of Science

Jun 01, 2012

Next week on June 7-8, we will be running an on-line game called Pounamu using the Institute for the Future’s foresight engine.  The engine brings a large community of people to come together to investigate, explore and discuss a future scenario.  Pounamu invokes a future New Zealand that is trying to make its way in the world by drawing on its wits.  Not so different to today, maybe, except that the growth of the web information has become much more accessible, while the skills that it takes to turn this torrent of information into useful knowledge have become more highly prized.  In Pounamu, New Zealand must learn to export knowledge not nature. We will be running the game in conjunction with the Transit of Venus Forum that take will take place in Gisborne at the same time.  While … Read More

40% of our post-doctoral fellowships gone? Who’s to blame? - A Measure of Science

May 27, 2012

’Are we failing our scientists?’ asks Nikki MacDonald in last Saturday’s Dominion Post. MacDonald posed this question after obtaining figures from the Ministry of Science and Innovation showing that the number of post-doctoral positions funded by the Ministry fell from 386 in 2007/8 to 323 in 2009/10.  And this decline occurred before the government had axed the New Zealand Science & Technology post-doctoral fellowships in Budget 2010.  When the last of the current NZ S&T post-doctoral fellows finish in a year or so, we may have lost almost 40% of the MSI funded post-doctoral positions that we had in 2007/8. No wonder then, that in 2011, Christchurch scientist Melanie Massaro and more than five hundred others from around the country called for action to address the lack of opportunities for post-doctoral researchers in New Zealand.  According to MacDonald’s article, the … Read More

Sir Paul Callaghan (1947-2012) - A Measure of Science

Apr 02, 2012

Sir Paul Callaghan was arguably the greatest scientist ever to ply his trade in New Zealand. He led the world in his chosen field of science. He led a team of almost three hundred scientists who changed the way New Zealanders do science. He led the thinking behind the science and innovation policies that are embraced today by the major parties in New Zealand politics. Paul was born in Whanganui in 1947 and often attributed his interest and aptitude for science to the adventurous, free-wheeling childhood he was able to enjoy there. He did not come from a wealthy family, and he was always grateful for the opportunities afforded to him through the New Zealand public education system. This no doubt helped cement Paul’s strong sense of social justice and compassion for the less fortunate. He studied physics at Victoria … Read More

Marsden 2011: Toughest year ever? - A Measure of Science

Oct 10, 2011

The successful Marsden Fund applicants were announced on Thursday after what might have been the toughest round ever. Although the total number of proposals received in the first round this year was slightly down, the overall success rate plummeted to just over 8%, the lowest in the data series I have*.  The overall success rate since 1998 has been 10.5%, but to achieve that rate this year the Royal Society would have needed to fund another 25 proposals, requiring approximately $15 million more than the $53 million available. The number of applications received has stayed close last year’s historic high, quite possibly because the new Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences panel continues to attract proposals on subjects that previously would not have received Marsden Funding.  Unlike the mid-2000s, where success rates fell at the same as … Read More

Women in Science - A Measure of Science

Aug 19, 2011

The recent 2011 snapshot of women in science in New Zealand (you can get it here from the The New Zealand Association of Women in the Sciences) makes for sobering reading.  Peter Griffin has reproduced some of the stats in his blog. In a nutshell, the report shows that there is a large gap in pay and status between men and women in science, especially at the highest levels.  There is evidently plenty of more work to do, but I believe that there would be big benefits for New Zealand if we were to close the gender gap in science.  The report does a great deal to bring transparency to the treatment of women in the scientific workforce, and this in itself is an important step forward. The report shows that the gap between … Read More