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

Quantum computing - A Measure of Science

Oct 06, 2010

On Thursday evening, I will be talking about quantum computing on Bryan Crump’s radio show (Nights, Radio New Zealand National, 8.42pm, 7 October).  Bryan and I have had several conversations on the workings of contemporary computing technologies, from quantum mechanics to transistors, and then on to how transistors are assembled into integrated circuits.  This week, I want to take a look at what might be on the horizon in computing, thanks to some of the more exotic quirks of quantum mechanics and recent breakthroughs in quantum technologies. Quantum computers promise to be very good at doing things like breaking codes.  Conventional computers were developed to crack codes in World War II, and they played a decisive role in helping the Allies to their eventual victory. Any modern code must designed to exploit … Read More

Marsden 2010: Levels of funding and success rates fall - A Measure of Science

Oct 01, 2010

The 2010 Marsden fund results were announced by the Royal Society last week.  The Marsden fund supports much of New Zealand’s blue skies research and is one of the most prestigious grants available to New Zealand scientists.  In total this year, 102 proposals were awarded just under $60m to be spent over the next three years. How does this year compare with previous rounds?   Well, this year’s success rate of 9.4% is lower than usual, closer to the low of 8.8% achieved in 2005 than the long run average of 10.5%.  This seems to be mostly due to the large increase in proposals received, up from 934 last year to 1089 this year, rather than a drop in the number that were funded. This large increase in proposals may be due in part to the … Read More

How do we reverse New Zealand’s decline in global competitiveness? - A Measure of Science

Sep 15, 2010

The World Economic Forum has just released its latest global competitiveness rankings for 2010-11.  New Zealand has fallen from 20th to 23rd place, and is now seven places behind Australia.  What puts us behind our competitors, and why are we slipping? First, not all the news is bad.  We are ranked particularly well for the quality of our institutions (3rd), education (5th) and a variety of efficiency measures.  In fact, we are ahead of Australia in all these areas.  You will be aware of these strengths if you have read my series on Philip McCann’s analysis of the New Zealand economy. However, where we rank poorly is in infrastructure (37th), market size (60th), innovation (25th), technological readiness (25th) and business sophistication (30th).  We are behind Australia in each of these areas — well behind in some … Read More

The southern lights - A Measure of Science

Aug 26, 2010

Tonight I will be talking about the aurora on Bryan Crump’s radio show (Nights, Radio New Zealand National, 8.42pm, Thursday August 26th).  I won’t spend much time here explaining the underlying physics of the effect, but take a look at the beautiful infographic posted by Peter Griffin. Now although I didn’t see any sign of the predicted aurora a few weeks ago (did anyone with clear skies that night see anything?), I did regularly encounter aurora during the early years of my PhD studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. In fact, I managed to take a girl out to see an absolutely spectacular display on our first date. ’Ah, physics …’ I said, as we stared up at the blue, red and green streaks shimmering in the sky. Not the greatest … Read More

Picking Winners? - A Measure of Science

Aug 18, 2010

It seems to have become received wisdom recently that New Zealand must pick winners with its public science investment.  In this post, I argue that this is not new:  we picked our winners a long time ago, with a strong focus on agricultural and environmental sciences.  So what are the pros and cons of backing the same winners decade after decade?  You’ve got to get lucky sooner or later, right?  A matter of scale? A few weeks ago, I went to another Philip McCann seminar, this time at the Treasury.  This talk was again based on his paper [1] in the New Zealand Economic Papers.  Readers will be familiar with McCann’s ideas about the New Zealand economy from my series of posts on New Zealand’s Productivity Paradox.  There were … Read More

What science are Australians doing? - A Measure of Science

Aug 02, 2010

By popular request our intern has put together a subject area tag cloud for Australia from their 2009 publications in the ISI database.  As she observed, Australia is poorly designed.  So much so that it is hard to squeeze Canberra’s tag cloud in between those of Sydney and Melbourne.  In fact, you’ll see in the map below it has drifted out to the southern coast of New South Wales in a most aesthetic manner.  It may be in fact that many of the residents of Canberra would be in favour of such a move … Medicine and medical sciences dominate the clouds over Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.  Hobart looks a lot like Wellington with its emphasis on oceanography and marine biology.  Canberra seems to have a broader focus albeit with a strong contribution from the physical … Read More

Who are we collaborating with? - A Measure of Science

Jul 30, 2010

Our talented intern from MIT has produced another tag cloud.  This time she has taken a look at who we collaborated with in 2008 based on our co-publication preferences in the ISI database.   The resulting map is shown below: It’s clear we like working with Australians.  Those in Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch prefer to work with Sydneysiders, while those of us in Wellington prefer Victorians.  Hamiltonians have more exotic tastes with a clear preference for Californians.  And although Dunedin is often said to be the Edinburgh of the South, our southern scientists show a strong preference for London. Read More

What science are we doing? - A Measure of Science

Jul 26, 2010

What science are New Zealanders working on?  To help me answer this question, I have an intern from MIT here for her summer break.  Luckily for me, she hadn’t heard about Wellington’s winter.  (Not that our spring or summer are up to much either, although we can put on a decent autumn.) She is a very bright cookie, and she mastered the ISI bibliometric database and our network analysis software in no time at all.  She is mainly studying the bibliometric performance of the Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs), but she has found time to look into other aspects of New Zealand’s bibliometric record. Inspired by visualisations of the Twitter universe (such as trendsmap), last week we produced a ’tag cloud’ of subject areas Kiwis are publishing in across the main centres.  We picked the top … Read More

The story of the MacDiarmid Institute - A Measure of Science

Jul 23, 2010

In my job as deputy director of the MacDiarmid Institute, I regularly get to recount the story behind our Institute to all sorts of visitors.  Last week I hosted a group of US scientists on Wednesday and a small Iranian science and technology delegation on Thursday.  On Thursday this week I had the opportunity to introduce some of the members of Alan MacDiarmid’s family to the Institute after many had travelled to join us at the opening of the Alan MacDiarmid building at Victoria University. Our patron Alan MacDiarmid was New Zealand’s most recent Nobel Laureate.  He was born in Masterton on 14 April 1927, and although he spent most of his career was spent in the United States, he maintained strong links with New Zealand.  He attended school in the Hutt Valley near Wellington and took a … Read More

How the transistor took over our lives - A Measure of Science

Jul 12, 2010

On Thursday, I will be back on Bryan Crump’s radio show (Nights, Radio New Zealand National, 8.42pm, Thursday July 15th).  This week, we will continue our discussion of transistors, several billion of which are currently helping you read this article.  Last time, we talked about how quantum mechanics allows transistors to work as electronic switches.  This week, Bryan wants to discuss how transistors became so embedded in so many of the technologies we rely on in the modern world, and what exactly they are doing there! A valley of silicon? Although the idea had been around since the 1920s, the first transistor was made by John Bardeen and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs in New Jersey in 1947.  It was made out of germanium, a semiconducting material similar to silicon, … Read More