Jean Balchin

Jean Balchin is an English Literature Honours student at the University of Otago, Dunedin. When she's not busy painting, playing the piano or writing essays on Robert Burns, you can find her curled up with a recently published book on science. Alternatively, she'll be bugging her flatmates about their recent findings.

Free online tool could help women decide on breast reconstruction - News

Apr 05, 2018

A new study published in Psycho-Oncology has revealed that a free web-based decision aid that helps women with breast cancer make decisions regarding reconstruction surgery after mastectomy is likely cost-effective. BRECONDA (Breast Reconstruction Decision Aid) is a tool that helps people make decisions about breast reconstruction surgery. It was developed in collaboration with an international team of breast surgeons, oncologists, and researchers. According to the website, “BRECONDA has been created to help you decide, along with your surgeon, which option you prefer after mastectomy – whether or not to have a reconstruction, and if so, what type of reconstruction will best suit you.” The Australian study included 106 who accessed BRECONDA for six months and received usual care and 116 women who received usual care only. Use of the online app resulted in significantly less decisional conflict and greater satisfaction … Read More

The SMC Video Competition: John Mortimer, Chaucer, and a mysterious manuscript - News

Apr 05, 2018

Last week, the results of the Science Media Centre Video Competition was judged. It was an incredible competition, open to previous participants of the SMC’s science video workshops. There were eight entries, and the judges were incredibly impressed with the creativity and quality of the entries. I was fortunate enough to watch all eight entries and chat to a number of the participants. This week and next, we’ll be running a series of articles on the various projects. Today we’re looking at Professor Simone Marshall’s project on a very special and mysterious manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400). Wikimedia Commons. Who was Chaucer, and what are the Canterbury Tales?  Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) is known as the Father of English literature, and is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages. A Renaissance-man of sorts, Chaucer … Read More

The SMC Video Competition: The Hihi Sperm Race - Guest Work

Apr 04, 2018

Last week, the results of the Science Media Centre Video Competition was judged. It was an incredible competition, open to previous participants of the SMC’s science video workshops. There were eight entries, and the judges were incredibly impressed with the creativity and quality of the entries. I was fortunate enough to watch all eight entries and chat to a number of the participants. This week and next, we’ll be running a series of articles on the various projects. Today we’re looking at Dr Helen Taylor’s project on Hihi conservation, and a very intriguing fundraising and awareness campaign.  How did you become interested in the hihi? I’ve been aware of hihi ever since I moved to NZ seven years ago to pursue a PhD working with little spotted kiwi. My research focuses on what happens when populations get very … Read More

Careful of that flying bottle top! - News

Apr 03, 2018

I don’t know about you, but the soundtrack to my summer was characterised by the crash of waves upon the beach, the sizzle of sausages on the barbeque and the sweet “pop” of a Corona bottle. Unlike many people across New Zealand – my friends included – I did not receive a bottle top to the eyeball.   Bottles containing carbonated beverages frequently cause ocular injuries due to exploding glass shards, or blunt trauma from corks and bottle tops. Screw bottle caps have reduced this risk, although a large number of beverages – such as Corona – still opt for a pressed metal cap.   Flying bottle tops from beer bottles have been accompanied by a burden of ocular trauma across New Zealand. Over a three week period in Nelson, three identical cases of … Read More

Potential genetic link in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) identified - News

Apr 02, 2018

A case-control study in the UK and USA has found that rare genetic mutations associated with impairment of the breathing muscles are more common in children who have died from sudden infant death syndrome (cot death) than in healthy control children. Published recently in The Lancet, this study seems to indicate that there exists a possible genetic element of the disorder. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected, and often inexplicable death of a seemingly healthy child. Also known as cot death, it is the leading cause of post-neonatal death in high income countries. However deaths are rare, and an individual baby’s risk is low. There are around 300 cases of SIDS each year in the UK, 2,400 in the USA, and it occurs most frequently within the first three months of a baby’s life. The mechanisms behind SIDS are unclear, … Read More

Yawn! Social jetlag is associated with decreased academic performance - News

Mar 30, 2018

As a perpetually exhausted university student, I wake every morning to the shrill sound of my alarm clock, and curse myself for embarking on a course of tertiary education. Only yesterday I woke up at 7am to cram for an exam the same morning. It was a nightmare. I drank two coffees, gobbled down a chocolate bar, and executed a number of starjumps and strange poses in the girl’s toilets to wake myself up. If only I could have slept in till about midday, and leisurely headed into university, with all my faculties and sanity intact. I’m sure I would have got a much better grade.  According to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, social jetlag (the misalignment between a person’s body clock and the environment where they live and work) can have a negative impact on academic performance. This especially … Read More

Epilepsy drug exposure in womb linked to significantly poorer school test results - News

Mar 29, 2018

According to a study published recently in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, exposure to epilepsy drugs in the womb is linked to significantly poorer school test results among 7 year olds. Evidently, prospective mothers need to be fully informed of the risks of treatment. However these risks need to be weighed against the need for effective seizure control during pregnancy. Currently, women with epilepsy who need drugs to control their seizures are advised to continue taking them during pregnancy, as convulsions can harm both mother and the unborn child. While several studies have indicated a link between epilepsy drugs, particularly sodium valproate, taken during pregnanchy and neurodevelopmental disorders, few of these studies have been based on real life circumstances (ie population data). Thus to address this, the researchers employed routinely collected healthcare information from the Secure Anonymous Information Linkage … Read More

Audrey Eagle’s Botanical Drawings - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Mar 28, 2018

When I was a child, my father and I would sit at the kitchen table after tea, armed with a set of Reeve’s watercolour paints, a grubby cup of water, sheets of cartridge paper and various picture books depicting the flora and fauna of Great Britain. My Dad was quite the artist, and he patiently taught me how to pull the red paint down the page into the curve of a fox’s tale, and how to carefully splatter flecks of yellow to create a field of buttercups. Perhaps we should have looked to our own backyard for artistic inspiration, but my father was from Scotland, and he missed his homeland dreadfully. Teaching his young daughter how to capture the likeness of honeysuckles and china roses, grey squirrels and bluebells was one way of remembering the … Read More

World-first study links birth interventions and long-term childhood illness - News

Mar 26, 2018

A comprehensive study lead by a team of leading international researchers has found significant links between medical interventions used in the birthing process – such as caesarean section and induction – and a child’s long-term health. Illustration depicting Caesarean section. Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 Western Sydney University collaborated with University Medical Center Groningen and VU Medical Center, Flinders University, UCLAN University, Sydney University and the University College Cork on the landmark study, analysing linked population and health data, pertaining to 491,590 healthy women and their children born in New South Wales from 2000-2008. The children’s health was then followed during their first 28 days of life, and up to 5 years of age, until 2013. It was discovered that babies who experimented an instrumental birth (one in which the doctor employs … Read More

Frozen embryos better than fresh for women struggling to get IVF to work - News

Mar 23, 2018

A recent study conducted by a research team at The University of Western Australia and Fertility Specialists of Western Australia has found that women undergoing IVF who have had embryos fail to implant have more success using frozen ones than fresh ones. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is an assisted reproductive technology (ART). It involves extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus. Around one in ten women who undergo IVF experience Recurrent Implantation Failure (RIF); recurrent unsuccessful embryo implantation. In the current study, the researchers studied 84 patients who underwent 140 IVF cycles, in order to identify success rates by comparing the two different types of transfers (frozen versus fresh) with recurring unsuccessful cycles. According to co-author Professor Roger Hart from UWA’s Division … Read More