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

New Zealand’s voyage of economic self-discovery - A Measure of Science

Jul 22, 2011

How do we generate improved economic growth for New Zealand?  Sir Paul Callaghan argues that we must shift from low productivity industries, like wine and tourism, to new high productivity industries, such as advanced manufacturing.  If we were to do this, we would no doubt lift our economic performance.  So why don’t we just get on with it?  What’s holding us back? It’s the economy, stupid There is no lack of opinion on the matter:  check out the comments that follow this NZ Herald editorial.  Much of the debate relates to the size and role of government.  Twenty years ago, a group of economists might have held a similar discussion.  The Washington Consensus (now defunct) more or less held that ’Once a developing country government establishes the rules … Read More

Markets and the scientific method - A Measure of Science

Jul 06, 2011

I went undercover last week at the New Zealand Association of Economists conference to see what they had to say about innovation.  Not so incognito was the Undercover Economist, Tim Harford, Financial Times columnist and author of several highly entertaining popular economics books, who delivered the opening keynote address at the conference.  In this post I will touch on some of the ideas that Harford covered in his talk. Harford made his name with 2005’s Undercover Economist, an account of the effects of markets in our everyday lives.  Via a deft deconstruction of the factors that govern the price you pay for your morning espresso, he delivers an orthodox expose of the inner workings of the marketplace:  markets are good for you, except when they aren’t, in which case there are straightforward interventions that will correct … Read More

Professor Hendy retires - A Measure of Science

Jun 27, 2011

The Allan Wilson Centre ca 2002. Penny and Hendy are second and third from the left in the back row. No, it’s not me … it’s my Dad, Mike Hendy, who retires this week from his Chair in Mathematical Biology at Massey University in Palmerston North. Not surprisingly, people often ask me whether I am related to Mike Hendy.  Hendy is an unusual last name, which we get from our Cornish ancestors, and Mike is probably the best known New Zealand Hendy, especially in academic circles. On the Googling of Hendys If I google ’Hendy’ at with the flattering personalised search features off, I find that Dad shows up in third place, after the town of Hendy in Wales and some chap called Peter Hendy, the commissioner for transport in London. So what has my Dad done … Read More

Lifting New Zealand’s productivity through R&D - A Measure of Science

May 24, 2011

It gave me a warm glow to see innovation put at the heart of Labour’s new policy offerings this week.  As I said to the Herald last week, I held no optimism for R&D in the 2011 Budget: “Both our government R&D spending and our business R&D spending is pretty tragic, both in terms of our percentage of GDP and in absolutes.  A lot of the work I’ve done shows that you get what you pay for.  If you want a high-tech, export-based economy then you actually need to put both public and private sector money into it and we haven’t had a Budget in my lifetime that’s actually addressed that.” However, Phil Goff put R&D tax credits back on the table at the Labour Party conference over the weekend.  R&D tax credits were introduced by Labour … Read More

Sir Paul Callaghan on sustainable economic growth - A Measure of Science

Apr 20, 2011

Another great talk from Paul Callaghan, available on YouTube: Paul argues that New Zealanders have earned their prosperity by exploiting their environment.  Not only does this bust the myth that we are clean and green, Paul points out that we are poorer for it:  in fact, this strategy has seen our GDP plummet to the bottom of the OECD ranking.  This approach to paying our way in the world is neither economically nor environmentally sustainable. Particularly telling is the slide at 8 minutes, which shows how we earn our living in New Zealand.  Ever wondered why our productivity is so low?  Paul suggests that it is because we choose work in low productivity industries, such as tourism and the wine industry. At 13 minutes, regular readers of this blog will be wondering … Read More

The New Zealand Innovation Ecosystem Map - A Measure of Science

Apr 14, 2011

Ten days ago we released a map of New Zealand’s largest inventor network using Google Earth to geo-locate the inventors in New Zealand. The map revealed some interesting connections between companies and public sector research organisations that at first sight may have seemed unrelated. It also showed that Kiwi inventors are collaborating across the country, with Auckland well connected to the other major centres. This time I would like to release the full New Zealand map (get it here – you will need Google Earth to open it), which I have decided to call the innovation ecosystem map. It contains all the New Zealand-based inventors from the European Patent Office database, including those in the previous map (note that you can toggle between the previous map and the full map in this file if you wish). It’s … Read More

New Zealand’s largest inventor network: A glimpse of our innovation ecosystem - A Measure of Science

Apr 04, 2011

We have been experimenting with ways to represent the inventor networks that we can extract from patent databases.  In this post, I will focus on New Zealand’s largest inventor network, as extracted from 30 years of European Patent Office (EPO) data.  The network gives us a glimpse of New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem. At the left is a network we have constructed showing the largest group of connected inventors in New Zealand.  Each red dot represents an inventor, and the size of the dot represents the number of patents on which that person is named. Inventors are connected by a blue line where they have shared a patent. There are four hundred and fifty inventors in the network, and it links fourteen New Zealand companies:  Fonterra, A2 Corporation, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Genesis Research and Development, Wrightson Seeds, … Read More

How to shut down a nuclear reactor - A Measure of Science

Mar 16, 2011

As Japan deals with the after-effects of its strongest earthquake on record and an even more devastating tsunami, the world’s attention is focussed on the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  The plant houses a number of nuclear reactors, which, despite being shut down during the earthquake, need to be carefully managed to ensure that the nuclear fuel is kept cool.  This has not happened, as back up diesel generators failed in the tsunami, leaving pumps unable to circulate water through the reactor to stop the fuel from heating up. How does a nuclear reactor generate electricity? Nuclear reactors generate electricity by heating a coolant via a fission reaction. Fission is the process whereby unstable heavy elements, such as uranium, decay into lighter elements. For example, uranium-238, the most commonly occurring natural form of uranium, will decay to lead over a period … Read More

The world’s biggest inventor network - A Measure of Science

Nov 08, 2010

I have been on the road recently giving my talk on evidence for agglomeration and networks in the international patent record.  Over consecutive weeks I gave talks at the the New Zealand Association of Scientists meeting in Wellington, NZ eResearch Symposium at the University of Auckland and then at Running Hot at Te Papa. Phew. It is a lot of fun presenting this work to such diverse groups of people and as this is not my core area of expertise, I usually learn a lot from my audience. Nonetheless if I ever get invited back to talk at the NZAS meeting again, I must remember to wear my suit as when I got to the podium I was mistaken for the AV technician.  Despite this minor set back, I think … Read More

Critical mass or is mass critical? - A Measure of Science

Oct 20, 2010

In research and development, it’s often taken for granted that teams require a certain critical mass to be successful.  Indeed, in a recent paper [1] two European researchers claim to have seen the effects of critical mass in the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and its French equivalent (HT: Mark Wilson).  However, I think that their findings may be an artifact of the assessment process, rather than evidence for critical mass. By looking at how group research quality depended on the size of a group, the researchers observed a linear relationship between size and assessed quality.  Indeed, I have seen a similar correlation between inventor network size and productivity in patenting.  However, in their study they found that this correlation holds only up to a certain group size, which … Read More