Lynley Hargreaves

Lynley Hargreaves is a freelance science communicator with a background in mathematical physics. After a stint overseas at Physics Today magazine, she spent happy years working for the Royal Society Te Apārangi, albeit with intermittent disappearances to the mountains of the West Coast of the South Island. From this now permanent West Coast base, she has been conducting IAQ interviews since the beginning of 2014, asking a wide range of researchers how their work can give us insights into the workings of the world.

Understanding evolution – the changing enzymes of E. coli - Infrequently Asked Questions

Sep 10, 2014

PhD candidate Katherine Donovan, who is using mass spectrometry to look at whether the evolved protein is changing its dynamics Making a bet at a conference led to a Marsden Fund research grant for Canterbury University’s Dr Ren Dobson. His team are now looking into how nature – in, to our eyes, an apparently haphazard way – manages to evolve new enzyme functions in response to life in a novel environment. By investigating E. coli, the team are providing insight into both causes of antibiotic resistance and the nature evolution itself. What is an enzyme exactly? Enzymes are protein catalysts that nature uses to speed up the chemical processes of life. Enzymes are the work horses of cells that give organisms the ability to perform a broad range of cellular chemistry—from breaking down food to breathing … Read More

Helping autistic children to speak - Infrequently Asked Questions

Aug 27, 2014

A child chooses icons to ‘speak’ with Professor Jeff Sigafoos When Victoria University’s Professor Jeff Sigafoos offered autistic children the chance to communicate in three ways, it perhaps wasn’t surprising that the kids did best with the system they liked the most. It was also unsurprising, maybe, that most of them liked the computer-based system the best. But what is astonishing is that during the intervention some previously non verbal children actually started to speak. It must be amazing for these children and families. The families all seem to be very pleased with the progress of their children. The children also seem to really enjoy participating in this research. When the research assistants enter the classroom, for example, the children often jump out of their seats to greet them! All of the children have learned new communication skills as … Read More

Early memories: future proofing for teenage wellbeing? - Infrequently Asked Questions

Aug 14, 2014

Professor Elaine Reese How much of their early life will your children remember? How coherent a life story can they tell? The University of Otago’s Professor Elaine Reese tells us how successive Marsden grants are helping her unravel the links between parent conversations and the way teenagers handle life – their wellbeing, their level of trust, and whether they can see silver linings in the storm clouds of life. What’s the typical age for a first memory? The average age for European adults is around 3-1/2 years, but there’s a wide age range for “normal” first memories, from under 1 up to age 6-7. In research that Harlene Hayne conducted, Maori young adults had earlier memories – on average from just over 2-1/2 years – compared to European and Chinese young adults. Is it important to have early memories, … Read More

Stick Insects: The Clone Wars - Infrequently Asked Questions

Jul 30, 2014

Spot the Clitarchus hookeri After the end of the last Ice Age, as forest replaced the tundra covering much of the South Island, a clone army of female-only stick insects advanced slowly across the land. Thousands of years later, they are still holding ground against the more efficient sexual population of the same species living in the north. Associate Professor Thomas Buckley – jointly employed by Landcare Research and the University of Auckland – explains how a Marsden grant helped him discover the secret past of South Island stick insects. Associate Professor Thomas Buckley What do you like about stick insects? As a child I was intrigued by stick insects. Several species were very common in Wellington City including within my back yard. I learned how to identify them and when the opportunity came to research them as … Read More

Fluorescence, quantum dots – future solar cells - Infrequently Asked Questions

Jul 16, 2014

Plastic solar cells – which may start appearing on hardware store shelves in the next decade – do things a little differently from the silicon-based photovoltaic variety. They’re bendy, less efficient but getting steadily more so, and they also emit tiny bursts of fluorescent light. Dr Justin Hodgkiss, Senior Lecturer at Victoria University and Principal Investigator at the MacDiarmid Institute, explains why fluorescing is not what you want electrons to do and how his team can measure this ultra-fast behaviour. What does your laboratory look like? Black curtains shut out all of the sunlight from my solar cell lab, and instead we use femtosecond laser pulses (one femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second) to understand how the solar cells generate electricity from light. A jungle of hundreds of mirrors and lenses directs different coloured laser … Read More

Where your imagination lives - Infrequently Asked Questions

Jul 02, 2014

Associate Professor Donna Rose AddisWhen Associate Professor Donna Rose Addis gets study participants to imagine – for example, their dad in a laser tag park with an inflatable boat – she finds a surprising thing. The more variable their brain signal, the better the story the participants tell. The University of Auckland Associate Professor explains how a Marsden grant has helped her start to figure brain flexibility out. How do you get people to imagine such crazy scenarios? We first have participants recall 100 memories; in doing so, they generate information about people they know, places they have been and objects they have encountered. We then mix up these details, which sometimes results in weird combinations! Participants then imagine a future scenario involving these details – and depending on the nature of the combination, the resulting imagination could be … Read More

How mixed-age air bubbles ‘smear’ the climate record - Infrequently Asked Questions

Jun 18, 2014

Victoria University’s Dr Ruzica Dadic It may be as slow as watching paint dry, but measuring how fast air bubbles move through slices of ice is far from boring. The slow sublimation of gas bubbles under a temperature gradient in ice cores tells Victoria University’s Dr Ruzica Dadic a complex story about how much we might be missing in measuring past climates, and what that means for the future. What’s the difference between snow and ice? Snow is a porous material and therefore the air in snow is always exchanged with the atmosphere. When snow is compacted through overburden pressure, the pores close off and it becomes ice. Ice is not porous and the air that is trapped in air bubbles within the ice remains at more or less the same composition as at the time that the … Read More

New drought response found in kauri trees - Infrequently Asked Questions

Jun 04, 2014

Like the Lorax, the University of Auckland’s Cate Macinnis-Ng speaks for the trees. A plant ecophysiologist, she translates how kauri trees respond to drought based on probes, loggers, and sensors. Dr Macinnis-Ng explains how her Marsden-funded research can help inform both the past and the future of these giants of Northland’s forests. Why did you choose to work on kauri trees? I’ve always been fascinated by how trees work and kauri are particularly interesting because they are so big and live for so long. Like many tree species, kauri store information about the climate in their tree rings. This climate record is particularly long for kauri because of their longevity and the sub fossil specimens buried in Northland extend the record thousands of years. The pattern of tree rings seems counter-intuitive to me because larger rings happen during dry … Read More

Left-handed myths and the origin of language - Infrequently Asked Questions

May 22, 2014

Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis Left and right-handed people are watching pantomimes and making up words in the latest Marsden-funded work by the University of Auckland’s Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis. While the study participants are thinking about gestures and language, the research team is watching their brains. Professor Corballis explains why this may help us understand how talking in humans first began. Do you expect to see any difference between left and right-handed people? There is very little evidence for systematic differences, although some large-scale studies suggest slight deficits in academic skills (reading, mathematics, memory) in mixed-handers relative to both left- and right-handers. Some studies suggest greater creativity in left or mixed handers, but this is slight, and may be due to nonright-handers being in a minority rather than any difference in brain structure. However nonright-handers are more … Read More

Kids in court: how cross-examination can kill the truth - Infrequently Asked Questions

May 07, 2014

Dr Rachel Zajac Dr Rachel Zajac works at the intersection of psychology and law. She’s looked at how jurors make their decisions, why eyewitnesses are often mistaken, and why forensic science evidence might not be as reliable as it looks on TV. With clever experiments and careful research, she works to prevent miscarriages of justice. Now she’s focused on an area that can strike horror into any heart – cases of abuse, and the difficulties that children face when testifying in the courtroom. Do kids have worse memories than adults? The first thing to note is that everyone’s memory is unreliable. While it’s nice to think that our recollections are faithful renditions of what we’ve experienced, the truth is quite different. I tell people that memory is like putting something into storage with a dodgy storage company: not everything … Read More