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.

Deep water corals glow in the dark to survive - News

Jul 05, 2017

It has long been established that corals in shallow waters glow because of fluorescent proteins that act as sunblock, protecting the endangered species from the sun’s intense rays. As any kiwi can attest, too much sunlight is bad for humans. Excess sunlight is also detrimental to corals. Some shallow water corals produce fluorescent proteins to block excessive sunlight that could harm the zooxanthellae. However, this doesn’t explain why numerous corals in deep waters are also brightly fluorescent. It turns out that corals in deep water are fluorescent for the exact opposite reason – to absorb the little light there is for the benefit of photosynthetic microorganisms that provide most of the coral’s energy needs. Found within most corals are photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. These microscopic algae live within the coral’s tissues, … Read More

Considering the Character of Galaxies - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Jul 04, 2017

One day, when I was seven years old, I decided to camp out in the treehouse with my brother John. It was a poorly planned venture from the start; we misjudged the cold, the ferocity of the mosquitoes and our own temperaments. John got spooked looking at the gnarled bark of the tree, reading faces in the knots of the wood. I fed him peanut butter sandwiches and told him to shut up. We fell silent when the clouds drifted away from the night sky and the stars began to shine like glowworms in the dark of a cave. I remember lying there, marvelling at the beauty of the Milky Way and pointing out the constellations to my brother. Beatrice Tinsley Our understanding of the evolution of stars, galaxies and the universe … Read More

Unravelling the twisted story of DNA - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Jun 28, 2017

This grainy, black and white photograph is quite possibly the most important photograph in human history. Photograph 51, the unimaginatively-named X-ray diffraction image of DNA was taken by Raymond Gosling in May 1952, a PhD student under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin at King’s College London. Photograph 51 triggered the development of the DNA model and confirmed the prior postulated double helical structure of DNA. The photograph also illustrates how petty feuding got in the way of scientific development. I was actually introduced to the concept of DNA by another illustration; a deftly-drawn cartoon by the perennially hilarious Gary Larson. Two squat, rather dull-looking men sit guzzling beer at a pub, while an equally sluggish bartender turns to address another patron — a thickset young man crying … Read More

The Britten Motorcycle - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Jun 23, 2017

Andrew Stroud on the Britten V1000 at Paeroa, Waikato, New Zealand in February, 2011.  My brother John loved motorbikes. As a child, he would fling aside his toy trains and model cars, and happily roll a mini motorbike along the terrain of his legs and arms for hours, muttering “vrmm-vrmm” under his breath. He was also notoriously bad at saving. The prospect of eating two minute noodles for months didn’t dissuade him from buying his first motorcycle at the age of 18. He didn’t have his motorbike license, but we lived in a small backwater town. The hills and fields of the surrounding farmland were ever so tempting, and luckily the local police and farmers turned a blind eye to his reckless behaviour. John’s motorbike wasn’t particularly safe. It was huge and unwieldy; a rusty blue … Read More

The Martin Jetpack - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Jun 20, 2017

His science faltered in the sun hot sun  he fell through  blazing like gold  at the end of a rainbow.  – Icarus, Michael Dransfield Last night, I dreamed I could fly. I took off running, leaping off a yellow cliff, and soaring over a technicoloured basin of trees, hills and cottages. The wind ruffled my hair, and I gasped at the beauty of it all; Aotearoa stretched out before me like a Don Binney painting. Humanity’s desire to fly through the air like a bird has been etched in our collective consciousness, from the ancient Greek myth of Icarus to the space opera adventure comic strip Flash Gordon. The Martin Jetpack is this dream made real.   History of … Read More

Disposable syringes and drug addiction - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Jun 16, 2017

The nurse steadied my arm as she gently positioned the syringe barrel in place. “You can look away if you need to,” she said, “it will soon be over.” I squirmed in my seat, but kept my eyes fixed on the needle as it gently slid beneath my skin. I was six years old, and photographs of children suffering from measles, mumps and rubella kept me awake at night. I would toss and turn, imagining that every tickle from my flannelette sheets was the first bump of an angry measles rash. This cold, silver needle gliding into my vein represented freedom from this anxiety. It stung, and it made me feel queasy, but any childhood fear of contracting some horrifically virulent disease was alleviated. Colin Murdoch Disposable syringes made of plastic are commonplace today. We don’t blink twice upon … Read More

Plastic – It’s Electrifying! - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Jun 13, 2017

To this day, I vividly recall my tragic attempts in product design class at high school. Our teacher, underpaid and underprepared, threw caution to the wind and let us do as we pleased. The only instructions we were given was that we had to make something that could be used as a night light. To this end, I set about creating a tacky rocket-themed monstrosity, complete with a flashing line of LED lights. I was so proud. I wasn’t aware then that a Kiwi scientist from Masterton had helped discover and develop the conductive polymers that allowed these little lights to flash obnoxiously. When I think of materials that conduct electricity, I imagine burnished copper saucepan bottoms, plugs and the static on metal handrails. I certainly don’t think of plastic. It has long been established that electrical conduction can … Read More

Decomposition and decapitated pig’s heads - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

May 31, 2017

Decapitated pig’s heads floating in the moonlit water may sound like a scene from a B-grade horror movie, yet Gemma Dickson’s investigation into the microbial marine decomposition of human and animal remains has revolutionised forensic science. This may come as a surprise, but currently, if human remains wash up on shore, there is no established scientific method to conclude how long the body has been in the water. Moreover, given that our country is surrounded by coastline, a great number of accidental and suspicious deaths occur at or around the sea. Bodies in seawater are at the mercy of a variety of decompositional factors which depend on the remains themselves and the specific marine environment. Pigs Heads Marine bacteria appear to play an integral role in marine decomposition, though this process is poorly understood. Dickson set out … Read More

Mordor, Massive software and Mount Doom - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

May 24, 2017

“A last alliance of Men and Elves marched against the armies of Mordor. On the slopes of Mount Doom they fought for the freedom of Middle- Earth.” Galadriel’s thrilling, ethereal voice floated over the chaos and bloodshed of the battlefield. A wearied, battle-fatigued Elrond lead rank after rank of elf archers, and the seething mass of orcs retreated before the army of the last alliance, shrieking with anger and desperation. I sat there, mouth agape and eyes goggling as the deep echoes of the drums announced Sauron’s arrival. A shiver ran up my spine, and my flesh prickled as the Dark Lord laid waste. The armies recoiled, and a wave of fear rippled through the thousands gathered. Death was nigh. The Lord of the Rings film series is considered to be … Read More

The importance of accurate science reporting - Guest Work

May 14, 2017

“Science values detail, precision, the impersonal, the technical, the lasting, facts, numbers and being right. Journalism values brevity, approximation, the personal, the colloquial, the immediate, stories, words and being right now. There are going to be tensions.” – Quentin Cooper, of BBC Radio 4’s Material World. Open up Facebook or scroll through Twitter and you’ll immediately be presented with a deluge of thrilling ‘new scientific discoveries’. From the astonishing revelation that chocolate can cure cancer to the more sinister claims that vaccines cause autism, fake news has invaded the scientific sphere. TV, digital radio and the internet provide essentially unlimited information on a wide range of issues. When one takes into consideration the myriad experiments and discoveries made by scientists worldwide daily, it becomes obvious that there is a great demand for intelligent … Read More