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.

You’re more likely to bet the farm if your friends do too - News

Apr 13, 2018

A recent study in Scientific Reports suggests that being in the presence of peers (such as friends, coworkers or acquaintances) who engage in risky behaviours may have an influence on individual choices. In a laboratory task led by Livia Tomova and Luiz Pessoa, participants who knew of riskier behaviour taken by their peers, tended to make riskier choices themselves. However, observing safe choices by others was associated with less risky behaviour. 52 students aged 18‒25 years old were asked to take part in a laboratory-based task to measure risk taking. The students could earn money by pumping up a balloon, but the chances of the balloon exploding (along with the chances of the student receiving any money) increased with each pump. Following the first round of the test, participants decided how much they wanted to pump the balloon up and were told … Read More

Mental health disorders among leading causes of children’ illness - News

Apr 13, 2018

According to a study published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, although global rates of mental disorders in children have remained stable over time, the decline of infectious diseases will place mental disorders among the main causes of disease in children aged 4-15 years. In the study, Marie-Laure Baranne and Bruno Falissard at INSERM, France describe the prevalence of mental disorders among children aged 5-14 years in each of the six regions of the World Health Organisation – Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Europe, the Easter Mediterranean, and the West Pacific Region. Baranne and Falissard found that even in emerging regions, the prevalence of mental disorders is high and constant over time. According to Baranne, “We found that the prevalence of mental disorders in young people remained stable between 2000 and 2015, which suggests that mental disorders are not decreasing … Read More

Higher cigarette prices would help millions avoid poor health and extreme poverty - News

Apr 12, 2018

According to a study published in the BMJ today, a significant increase in cigarette prices would aid millions of people around the world avoid poor health and extreme poverty. The study concluded that people on low incomes have the most to gain, and the researchers argue that modest action by many governments “could yield unprecedented health gains and poverty reduction.” Smoking is a major risk factor for many cancers and for respiratory and cardiovascular disease. In New Zealand, smoking was one of the two leading modifiable risks to health in 2013. It accounted for about 9% of all illness, disability and premature mortality, according to the Ministry of Health 2016. Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year the world over, including 5 million from direct tobacco use, and more than 600,000 due to second-hand smoke exposure ( … Read More

Brows on fleek: Expressive eyebrows in early humans - News

Apr 11, 2018

There are a number of things about my physical appearance I’m not 100% happy with. I’m pale, covered in freckles and I burn like a crisp on the odd sunny day. But perhaps worst of all is the fact that my eyebrows are virtually non-existent. Unless I carefully pencil them in each morning, my friends and coworkers struggle to ascertain whether I am happy, sad, angry or confused. As anyone who can waggle their eyebrows will tell you, brows are a useful tool for expressing emotion. New research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution suggests that social signals may have contributed significantly to the evolution of prominent brow ridges in early humans, as opposed to physical drivers. Modern humans tend to possess smooth and vertical foreheads, with communicative eyebrows – even if they have to be drawn on at times. However early humans … Read More

The SMC Video Competition: History of David Glacier from the Cosmos to Atoms - Guest Work

Apr 10, 2018

Recently, the results of the Science Media Centre Video Competition were revealed. 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 PhD candidate Jamey Stutz’s project on the David Glacier in Antarctica.  How did you become interested in the David Glacier? My research group has been very busy over the past few years working on many outlet glaciers in Antarctica.  Every glacier is a bit different but in a way quite similar. The David Glacier is a … Read More

Solution to 50-year-old mystery could lead to gene therapy for common blood disorders - News

Apr 06, 2018

In a recent study published in the journal Nature Genetics, UNSW Sydney-led researchers have used CRISPR-gene editing to introduce beneficial natural mutations into blood cells to boost their production of foetal haemoglobin. This study solves a 50-year-old mystery about how these mutations operate and alter the expression of human genes. Naturally carried by a small percentage of people, these mutations contribute to blood disorders such as sickle cell anaemia. “Our new approach can be seen as a forerunner to ‘organic gene therapy’ for a range of common inherited blood disorders including beta thalassaemia and sickle cell anaemia,” says Professor Merlin Crossley, leader of the study and UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic. “It is organic because no new DNA is introduced into the cells; rather we engineer in naturally occurring, benign mutations that are known to be beneficial to people with these conditions. “It … Read More

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