Guest Work

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

Body mass and evolution: why the BMI is a limited measure of public health - Guest Work

Jun 28, 2017

By Andrew Dickson, Massey University Charles Darwin died in 1882 at the age of 73, likely of a heart attack. At the time, the average life span in England was about 44 years. Darwin, by any stretch of the imagination, was a long-lived man, despite suffering some significant health issues throughout his life. Mapped to New Zealand in 2017, he would have made it to around 110. He would have got a postcard from the Queen. There isn’t a lot of information about Darwin’s body mass. We do know that after the famous Beagle voyage in 1836, at the age of 26, he weighed 67kg and was 180cm tall. His body mass index (BMI) would have been 20.6, classified as a “healthy” weight. We also know he suffered multiple bouts of illness during his journey, and in … Read More

Sludge, snags, and surreal animals: life aboard a voyage to study the abyss - Guest Work

Jun 26, 2017

By Tim O’Hara, Museum Victoria Over the past five weeks I led a “voyage of discovery”. That sounds rather pretentious in the 21st century, but it’s still true. My team, aboard the CSIRO managed research vessel, the Investigator, has mapped and sampled an area of the planet that has never been surveyed before. The RV Investigator in port. Jerome Mallefet/FNRS. Bizarrely, our ship was only 100km off Australia’s east coast, in the middle of a busy shipping lane. But our focus was not on the sea surface, or on the migrating whales or skimming albatross. We were surveying The Abyss – the very bottom of the ocean some 4,000m below the waves. To put that into perspective, the tallest mountain on the Australian mainland is only 2,228m. Scuba divers are lucky to reach depths … Read More

The Lark Descending: are non-native birds undervalued in New Zealand? - Guest Work

Jun 23, 2017

By Stephen D Wratten, Lincoln University, New Zealand New Zealand has an audacious plan to protect its native birds. The country has pledged to rid itself of introduced mammalian predators by 2050 and, this year, will spend $20 million on the Battle for the Birds, one of the largest predator control programmes in the country’s history, across more than 800,000 hectares of land. Of the 168 bird species that are native to New Zealand, four in five are in trouble, according to a report published last month by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. New Zealand’s native birds deserve all the help they can get, but this should not detract from the fact that new data show that several introduced bird species are also disappearing. European settlers arrive with avian cargo The early settlers brought … Read More

Ancient DNA reveals how cats conquered the world - Guest Work

Jun 22, 2017

By Janet Hoole, Keele University Humans may have had pet cats for as long as 9,500 years. In 2004, archaeologists in Cyprus found a complete cat skeleton buried in a Stone Age village. Given that Cyprus has no native wildcats, the animal (or perhaps its ancestors) must have been brought to the island by humans all those millennia ago. Yet despite our long history of keeping pet cats and their popularity today, felines aren’t the easiest of animals to domesticate (as anyone who’s felt a cat’s cold shoulder might agree). There is also little evidence in the archaeological record to show how cats became our friends and went on to spread around the world. Now a new DNA study has suggested how cats may have followed the development of Western civilisation along land and sea trade … Read More

Volcanoes under the ice: melting Antarctic ice could fight climate change - Guest Work

Jun 16, 2017

By Silvia Frisia, University of Newcastle  Iron is not commonly famous for its role as a micronutrient for tiny organisms dwelling in the cold waters of polar oceans. But iron feeds plankton, which in turn hold carbon dioxide in their bodies. When they die, the creatures sink to the bottom of the sea, safely storing that carbon. How exactly the iron gets to the Southern Ocean is hotly debated, but we do know that during the last ice age huge amounts of carbon were stored at the bottom of the Southern Ocean. Understanding how carbon comes to be stored in the depth of the oceans could help abate CO2 in the atmosphere, and Antarctica has a powerful role. Icebergs and atmospheric dust are believed to have been the major sources of this micronutrient in the past. However, in … Read More

When do we stop vaccinating against an infectious disease? - Guest Work

Jun 13, 2017

By Rebecca Chisholm, University of Melbourne and Nicholas Geard, University of Melbourne Australia was declared measles-free in 2014. However, the recent importation of a case of measles into Australia from Indonesia illustrates the threat this disease still poses to Australians. It also underscores the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates against rare diseases to ensure re-introductions don’t lead to outbreaks. But when will we be at a point where it’s safe to stop vaccinating against measles? Or against other rare and infectious diseases? In short, vaccinating against an infectious disease can stop once the threat of future transmission is deemed sufficiently low. This may occur as a consequence of a disease being eliminated or eradicated. Disease elimination An infectious disease is considered to be eliminated from a geographical region if the number of new … Read More

No more playing games: AlphaGo AI to tackle some real world challenges - Guest Work

Jun 10, 2017

By Geoff Goodhill, The University of Queensland Humankind lost another important battle with artificial intelligence (AI) last month, when AlphaGo beat the world’s leading Go player Ke Jie by three games to zero. AlphaGo is an AI program developed by DeepMind, part of Google’s parent company Alphabet. Last year it beat another leading player, Lee Se-dol, by four games to one, but since then AlphaGo has substantially improved. Ke Jie described AlphaGo’s skill as “like a God of Go”. AlphaGo will now retire from playing Go, leaving behind a legacy of games played against itself. They’ve been described by one Go expert as like “games from far in the future”, which humans will study for years to improve their own play. Ready, set, Go Go is an ancient game that essentially … Read More

New blog – A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects - News

Jun 06, 2017

Mention the words “New Zealand” and “science” in the same sentence, and one image automatically springs to mind; that of Ernest Rutherford, earnestly staring out from the $50 note. Yet there are many more diverse and compelling scientific and technological innovations throughout New Zealand history. From Tā moko uhi (chisels) and pioneering plastic surgery techniques, to disposable syringes and the Britten motorcycle, kiwi scientific ingenuity is fascinating, varied and internationally appreciated. Jean Balchin, an honours student of English Literature at the University of Otago has begun a series of articles examining the history of NZ science and technology through the lens of  25 objects. Aptly named ‘A history of New Zealand science in 25 objects‘, the series will be published on Sciblogs throughout June and July, and will be converted into a set of podcasts later in … Read More

Will the Paris Agreement still be able to deliver after the US withdrawal? - Guest Work

Jun 03, 2017

By Bill Hare, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research In the short term, the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will certainly have ripple effects globally. But rather than fatally undermine the Paris Agreement, it will likely cause other countries to reaffirm their firm commitment to the full implementation of the climate deal. We are already seeing this effect in the forthcoming accord between the EU and China on climate and energy, focused on increasing ambition in the Paris Agreement. In the White House Rose Garden, President Trump said he wanted to start to renegotiate to see “if there’s a better deal”. “If we can, great. If we can’t, that’s fine”, he added. Lessons not learned from the Kyoto Protocol Given the location of today’s announcement, some might be tempted to draw an analogy … Read More

A 3D-printed rocket engine just launched a new era of space exploration - Guest Work

Jun 01, 2017

By Candice Majewski, University of Sheffield The rocket that blasted into space from New Zealand on May 25 was special. Not only was it the first to launch from a private site, it was also the first to be powered by an engine made almost entirely using 3D printing. This might not make it the “first 3D-printed rocket in space” that some headlines described it as, but it does highlight how seriously this manufacturing technique is being taken by the space industry. Members of the team behind the Electron rocket at US company RocketLab say the engine was printed in 24 hours and provides efficiency and performance benefits over other systems. There’s not yet much information out there regarding the exact details of the 3D-printed components. But it’s likely many of them have been designed … Read More