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

Weekend reading: The Wisdom of Crowds vs The Black Swan - A Measure of Science

Jun 25, 2010

The Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb (Random House, 2007, 366 pages). The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki (Anchor, 2005, 336 pages). Do markets work?  Writing from perspectives that precede the recent financial crisis, Nicholas Taleb, Wall Street trader turned academic, and James Surowiecki, economics correspondent for the New Yorker, offer insights into the strengths and weaknesses of market forces.  Surowiecki opens with an account of a pre-industrial version of that school gala staple, guess the number of jelly beans in the jar.  While Surowiecki’s seventeenth century protagonists are interested in the weight of an Ox, rather than a quantity of sweets, he notes that the average guess of a crowd in either case is typically very close to the actual answer.  The first half of Surweicki’s book is devoted to understanding under what … Read More

The fiftieth post - A Measure of Science

Jun 18, 2010

Having reached my fiftieth post, I will indulge myself a little by reflecting on some of the posts that have been and gone. Writing this blog has been both a lot of fun and a lot of work. Thanks to google analytics I can see that people do read it, although some articles attract considerably more readers than others. The top five articles by page views are listed below: 1. Is superconductivity the wrong science for New Zealand? 2. Kiwi superconductivity overcomes resistance Superconductivity reigns supreme and indeed the topics for both these articles were suggested by readers.  The first generated a lengthy discussion in the comments section, and as a result this article has the most page views by a wide margin.  However it still leads even by unique page views.  If … Read More

New Zealand’s productivity paradox: Part VI - A Measure of Science

Jun 10, 2010

This is the last post in my series on Philip McCann’s paper [1], which considers New Zealand’s productivity paradox: why, despite being ranked very highly for the factors that are normally thought by economists to drive economic growth, is New Zealand’s economy is just an average performer? In the previous post, I discussed why McCann doesn’t see a paradox. In fact: ’In the current era of globalisation, New Zealand’s combined lack of any major home market effect, the lack of major agglomeration effects, and the extreme geographical isolation, breaks the usual link between entrepreneurship, innovation and growth which is evident in other countries.’ McCann’s argument is based on ideas from economic geography, in particular that high spatial transaction costs in knowledge-based activities have lead to the regional agglomeration of high technology … Read More

The quantum mechanics of gadgets - A Measure of Science

May 31, 2010

I will be on Bryan Crump’s show again this week (Radio New Zealand Nights, 8.42pm Thursday June 3rd).  Bryan wants to talk about how quantum mechanics underpins modern technology. If quantum mechanics exists in the public consciousness at all, it is through some of its spookier concepts like Schrödinger’s cat, wave-particle duality or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.  While these ideas are important in quantum mechanics, at least in the present day, few technologies directly exploit these more exotic phenomena. Today, rather, it is the ’quantum’ that we make most use of in modern electronics through a device called a transistor. You probably own billions of transistors … but do you know what they do or how they do it?  Transistors are basically an electrically operated switch that can be used either … Read More

The new Rutherford Discovery Fellowships - A Measure of Science

May 28, 2010

In its budget releases earlier this month, the Government provided more details about the new Rutherford Discovery Fellowships.  In particular, the funding for these Fellowships has been obtained by axing NZ S&T Post-Doctoral Fellowships, a scheme that brought myself and a number of my colleagues at the MacDiarmid Institute back to New Zealand early in our careers. As I argued in a recent post, the old scheme played an important role in developing new talent the RS&T system.  So while the new Discovery Fellowships do address an important need, I think considerable damage has been done to New Zealand’s talent pipeline by the axing of the NZ S&T Post-Doctoral Fellowships. The loss of the Post-Doctoral Fellowship scheme There are more than 400 post-doctoral fellows employed in New Zealand; roughly 10% of these, including many … Read More

Canadian research networks - A Measure of Science

May 14, 2010

I am in the USA this week attending a meeting of a Canadian research network that is very similar in some ways to New Zealand’s Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs).  The Canadian scheme is called CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) and was set up in the 1980s to try to counter the understandable tendency of Canadian scientists to collaborate with their US neighbours rather than their often more geographically distant Canadian colleagues. Like our CoREs, CIFAR funds collaborative research activities between Canadian scientists from multiple institutions. I am at the meeting of CIFAR’s Nanoelectronics programme.  There have been a lot of cool talks; one interesting (if slightly disturbing) highlight was a talk on the development of a real time in vivo (i.e. surgically implanted) device for monitoring levels of specific biomolecules in the blood.  So far it … Read More

New Zealand’s productivity paradox: Part V - A Measure of Science

May 09, 2010

I am getting towards the end of my discussion of Philip McCann’s paper, ’Economic geography, globalisation and New Zealand’s productivity paradox’ [1]. In my last post on this topic, I discussed the importance of agglomeration economies for knowledge based production.  Agglomeration in the modern economy is thought to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of the knowledge exchanges required for the production processes of high value-added goods and services.  In other words, there is a spatial transaction cost for knowledge intensive activities.  This leads to localisation of such activities, giving regions like Silicon Valley, and large cities like Sydney or Melbourne, productivity advantages that become ’locked in’ as the scale of such activities grows. With this post, I want to look at the impact of agglomeration economies in the New Zealand … Read More

Review of the New Zealand IP system released - A Measure of Science

May 03, 2010

The Ministry of Economic Development released a report on the state of New Zealand’s IP system last month.  The report, written for MED by Auckland Uniservices, was based on a number of stakeholder surveys conducted last year.  The aim of the review was described in MED’s request for proposals as: … to ensure government policies and practices, in respect of intellectual property, are well aligned to support [the goal of lifting New Zealand’s level of productivity].  The focus of this work is on improving productivity and to identify areas which have the potential to support this goal.  The report is to assess how well New Zealand businesses understand and use intellectual property and where opportunities exist to improve the intellectual property rights system. Based on the survey, the report makes a number of recommendations: Government agencies … Read More

Scientific collaboration within Australasian cities - A Measure of Science

Apr 26, 2010

Does scientific collaboration depend on city size?  And if it does, are smaller cities with fewer institutions and fewer scientists more collaborative?  Or do bigger cities with more specialisation and more opportunities for interaction support more collaboration? To get at this question, I looked at scientific papers published in 2009 listed in the Thompson Reuters Web of Science database that had at least one author in a major Australasian city (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Auckland, Adelaide, Canberra).  From the list of co-authors for each city, I constructed the corresponding co-authorship network. The 2009 Auckland co-authorship network is shown on the right.  In the middle sits the largest connected component of co-authors which contains 72% of the authors in the diagram.  Not all of these authors will be Aucklanders of course — many are … Read More

New Zealand’s productivity paradox: Part IV - A Measure of Science

Apr 23, 2010

In this post, I will continue my discussion of Philip McCann’s paper, ’Economic geography, globalisation and New Zealand’s productivity paradox’ [1]. McCann argues that it is New Zealand’s economic geography that is the reason for its poor productivity performance. In this post I’ll try to sketch some of the underlying ideas from economic geography that McCann utilises. There is a general perception that globalisation is levelling the world economy (see Thomas Friedman’s book ’The World is Flat’).  The outsourcing of manufacturing from Europe and the US to parts of Asia certainly receives a lot of attention in the media – even I have blogged about it.  However, McCann argues that the world is not becoming as flat as we might think.  In fact, over the … Read More