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.

Axolotl and flatworm genetic codes help solve regeneration riddle - News

Jan 26, 2018

When I was fourteen years old, I arrived home from school one day to find a large glass tank on my bedside table. Inside this tank was a curious creature, pale pink in colour, just floating there and eyeballing me through the glass. I instantly felt rather uncomfortable. What was this strange animal? Was it an alien? Why was it watching me so? Turns out, my younger brother thought it was a brilliant idea to buy a bunch of axolotls. He wanted to start his own business (my family is very entrepreneurial in nature) and to this end, he bought a few male and female axolotls. Within months, we had hundreds of baby axolotls swimming around in tanks in the garden. Every single room in my family’s house housed an axolotl, and our garden was riddled with … Read More

Opinion: Te Reo should be taught in schools – here’s why! - Guest Work

Jan 25, 2018

When I was 6, my family moved to Mangonui, a little fishing village in Doubtless Bay. Besides the world-class fish and chip shop and the clouds of sprats flying around under the surface of the water, I loved Mangonui for its embrace of te ao Māori (the Māori world). I was a little Pakeha girl from the North Shore of Auckland, and I’d never heard te reo Māori spoken before. I’d never learnt the captivating story of the primordial parents, Ranginui and Papatuanuku. I’d only ever seen the haka being performed on television, but here it was, right in front of me, frightening and spellbinding. Te ao Māori was a fresh, earthy way of learning and understanding the world, and I loved it. But it was not to last. After half a year, we moved down to Mangatangi, and I lost what te … Read More

I could have danced all night: Music and dance in convict times - News

Jan 24, 2018

A great many Australians and New Zealanders can trace their ancestry back to a convict or two, deported by the British government to various penal colonies in Australia between 1788 and 1868. In the early 17th century, the British government began transporting convicts overseas to American colonies. The American Revolution put a stop to all this however, and an alternative site was needed to relieve further overcrowding of British prisons and hulks. Earlier in 1770, the explorer Captain Cook had charted and “claimed possession” of the east coast of Australia for Britain. In order to prevent the French colonial empire from expanding into the region, Britain chose Australia as the site of its new penal colony. Prison hulks in the River Thames. Wikimedia Commons. In 1787, the First Fleet of eleven convict ships set sail for Botany Bay, arriving on 20 January 1788 to found Sydney, New … Read More

How to be a Hermit! - Guest Work

Jan 24, 2018

Are you haunted by the prospect of social interaction? Does the very thought of navigating supermarket aisles fill you with exhaustion? Are you repelled by the idea of head-banging to riotous music in a dark and sweaty stadium? In the cacophonous hustle and bustle of the 21st century, it’s no wonder many folks shun the maelstrom of modernity and head off into the wilderness for a little peace and quiet. Whether you are considering a life of prayer and penitence, or merely seeking haven from the incessant demands of social media, the eremitic life is for you. A hermit is a person who lives in seclusion from society. Would-be hermits (including myself) are a minority amid the sassy, gregarious crowds of modern society. The eremitic life is excellent for achieving inner peace, insight, spiritual guidance and renewed creativity. Indeed, the … Read More

Can you smell that? A hunter gatherer can! - News

Jan 23, 2018

Sniff, sniff. When it comes to naming particular colours, most people do so with ease. But for odours, it’s much harder to find the precise words. However, the Jahai people, a group of hunter-gatherers living in the Malay Peninsula are exceptions to this rule. An earlier study found that for the Jahai, odours are as simple to name as colours. A new study published in Current Biology on January 18 suggests that the Jahai’s special way with smell is related to their hunting and gathering lifestyle. According to Asifa Majid of Radboud University in the Netherlands, “There has been a long-standing consensus that ‘smell is the mute sense, the one without words,’ and decades of research with English-speaking participants seemed to confirm this. But, the Jahai of the Malay Peninsula are much better at naming odours than their English-speaking peers. This, … Read More

Caliban, Social Darwinism, Racism and Pseudo-Science - Guest Work

Jan 23, 2018

As you may know, I’m very interested in the intersection of science (or pseudo-science) and literature. My favourite play of ol’ William Shakespeare has to be The Tempest, set on a wild and remote island. In a nutshell, the sorcerer Prospero, the rightful and usurped Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion, enchanting spirits, and manipulation. Prospero conjures up a storm to cause his nasty, throne-stealing brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to believe they are shipwrecked and marooned on the island. Gradually, Antonio’s lowly nature is revealed, the King is redeemed, and Miranda falls in love with Alonso’s son Ferdinand. The shipwreck in Act I, Scene 1, in a 1797 engraving by Benjamin Smith after a painting by George Romney. Wikimedia Commons. However, what I find most interesting about … Read More

What turns you on? For women, it appears to be intellectual stimulation! - News

Jan 22, 2018

It appears as if the old adage might be correct – the best way to turn on a woman might be through her mind. Canadian scientists from McGill University have discovered that intellectual stimulation is more linked to women’s sexual arousal than men’s. Published last week in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, the study involved two groups (20 men and 20 women) who were shown movie clips (some humorous, some erotic) while their genital temperature was continually measured using infrared thermal imaging. Thermography allows for a direct comparison of the neural correlates of genital arousal in men and women. Participants also continuously evaluated how aroused they felt, and answered questions about liking the movies and wanting sexual stimulation. The participants’ brain activity was indicated by blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) and was measured using … Read More

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, and the Royal Society - Guest Work

Jan 18, 2018

The eighteenth century was an era of giddy scientific progress and the rejection of outdated beliefs. Observation and reason challenged preconceived notions about science, with the effects rippling into the religious and political spheres. Jonathan Swift was probably the most astute and innovative satirist of his age. As a High Anglican, Swift was greatly suspicious of the political and intellectual motives behind certain scientific ‘breakthroughs’. Recently, I reread Gulliver’s Travels, and found myself marvelling at the satire embedded in the third book, which focuses on Gulliver’s voyage to the island of Laputa. I just had to share this with you! Who was Jonathan Swift, and why did he hate Sir Isaac Newton? Jonathan Swift. Wikimedia Commons. Jonathan Swift was the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and was very active in the Anglican Church throughout his life. Read More

Exploring Scotland’s Loneliest islands - Guest Work

Jan 18, 2018

Out in the North Atlantic exist a collection of wild islands, rising in jagged ranks off the northwest coast of Scotland. Leaving my cosy cottage on Lewis, I set off across miles of ocean to the splintery archipelago of St Kilda, abandoned over a century ago. Here, the weather is a fickle, flighty mistress, cloaking the islands in mist and rain one minute, and melting into calm seas and beatific sunshine the next. For thousands of years, humans have fought to survive out here, seemingly on sheer determination, sea-water and salted puffin flesh. Little stone dwellings are all that remain now of these hardy people; the wind, rain, and waves have worn away everything else. These crumbling remains, like the ruins of Babel, conjure up the memory of the farmers, shepherds and fisherfolk who determinedly created a home for … Read More

The Journalist and the Murderer - Guest Work

Jan 17, 2018

‘Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.’ This is the opening line of Janet Malcolm’s sharp, analytical book The Journalist and the Murderer. Published in 1983, the book still challenges journalists these days. Malcolm is a cunning, insightful journalist. Whether she tackles psychology, literature or the criminal justice system, her bluntness and controversial opinions have often alienated her from the journalistic community. The Journalist and the Murderer tells the story of Jeffrey MacDonald, a narcissistic womaniser who was accused of killing his wife and two young daughters on 17 February 1970. Journalist Joe McGinnis was hired by MacDonald to write a book about his ordeal; MacDonald hoped the book would convince the world of his innocence. McGinnis … Read More