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.

Sleepwalking, Sex, and Murder: Part Two - Guest Work

Jan 09, 2018

Part One in this Sleepwalking Saga can be read here. The Sleep Centre Thinking I’d benefit from a hands-on experience of sleep studies, I contacted a sleep clinic. According to their website, the clinic staff perform a “wide range of home sleep tests for snoring, sleep apnoea, sleep/wake cycles, restless legs, and other sleep disorders.” The kind folk at the clinic kindly agreed to give me a tour of their facilities, and off I went. I arrived at the Sleep Centre, feeling slightly nervous. Tales of alien abductions and midnight probings unwittingly entered my head as I gazed at the building’s shiny metallic exterior. Readying myself with a few deep breaths, I walked inside, where I was met by a suspiciously friendly nurse. After initial introductions, the nurse showed me the clinical diagnosis … Read More

Sleepwalking, Sex, and Murder: Part One - Guest Work

Jan 08, 2018

‘Twas 2am on the night all hell broke loose, and all through the house not even a metaphorical mouse was stirring – except for me. Clad in my faded Mickey Mouse nightie, I tottered out of bed, carefully opened the front door and pressed the doorbell, repeatedly and insistently. The bell’s shrill cries reverberated through the house, sending it into a state of disarray. Children tumbled bleary-eyed from their beds, the neighbour’s horrid little Jack Russell Terrier started yapping, and my father sighed with frustration. Hauling himself out of bed, he wrapped his nightgown around him and headed out in search of his wayward, ever-infuriating daughter. Meanwhile, said daughter had escaped down the garden path and was heading out onto the open road, where a bemused late-night cyclist swerved to avoid the ghostly figure. My father … Read More

Revenge – sweet from the age of six - News

Dec 20, 2017

Both chimpanzees and  six-year-old children love seeing punishment doled out, even if it costs them, according to a paper published online this week in Nature Human Behaviour. These findings reveal new insights about the evolution of peer-punishment as a means to enforce social norms and ensure cooperation. We know from previous research that humans and some animal species experience empathetic distress and concern when seeing others harmed. Adult humans however have also been shown to experience feelings of pleasure –  when the harm is perceived as a deserved punishment for antisocial actions. “In humans, empathic reactions can be radically undermined and change to feelings of pleasure when the suffering victim was previously antisocial or perceived as an outgroup member.” Natacha Mendes, Nikolaus Steinbeis and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences devised an ingenious experiment … Read More

Breast cancer screening is reaching Pasifika women too late - News

Dec 15, 2017

A recent study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal has revealed a number of differences between Pasifika women and New Zealand European women diagnosed with breast cancer in New Zealand. The team found that Pasifika women in New Zealand are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer when the disease is already relatively advanced. The research team examined records of breast cancer diagnosis in Auckland and the Waikato between June 2000 and May 2013 and found that a third of Pasifika women had advanced disease at diagnosis compared to less than a fifth of Pākehā. Later diagnoses increases the risks of breast cancer. However, increased access to healthcare and ensuring all Pasifika women get screened at an appropriate time can cut the proportion of women diagnosed late. Breast cancer in New Zealand According to the Breast Cancer Foundation of New Zealand, breast … Read More

Healthy eating linked to happiness in children - News

Dec 14, 2017

“I’ll start eating healthily… tomorrow.” We’ve all said it, and inevitably, we’ve all fallen prey to that tempting slice of pizza or that luscious slice of chocolate cake. But it’s clear that a healthy diet has its benefits, and recently, an international team of researchers have found a link to better self esteem for kids with a healthy diet. According to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, healthy eating is associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems, such as having fewer friends or being picked on or bullied, in children regardless of body weight. The study also found that children who ate healthier had fewer emotional issues and fewer issues with bullies or friends, regardless of how much they weighed. The researchers reviewed data collected … Read More

Mmmmm … the science behind your latte! - News

Dec 13, 2017

Coffee-lovers, rejoice! Scientists may have discovered the ideal speed for pouring espresso into milk, according to an international study run by Princeton University, published in Nature Communications this week. Using liquids that mimic espresso and milk, the researchers tested a variety of pouring speeds and found that the second liquid needed to be added at faster than around 21cm per second to give those lovely creamy-brown layers under the delicious foam we all enjoy. Pattern forming systems Pattern forming systems are some of the intriguing and fascinating phenomena encountered in phenomena throughout science and technology. In nature, one might find such patters in the surface of deep water, oscillations in flames, large-scale von Kármán vortex streets in clouds, and the symmetric shape of snow flakes. These patterns comprise some of the earliest self-organized systems. They have attracted great curiosity and scientific … Read More

Fossils show dinosaurs were ticked off by parasites too! - News

Dec 13, 2017

A 99 million-year-old fossil found in Myanmar has revealed that out feathered dinosaurs were riled with ticks just like modern animals. The team of European researchers, lead by Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, unearthed the ticks found several specimens in pieces of amber, including one entangled with a dinosaur feather, another engorged with blood and others near a dinosaur nest. According to the researchers, there is more than enough evidence to indicate that these ticks fed on feathered dinosaurs. Hard tick photographed at Cabañeros National Park, Spain. E. Peñalver. What are ticks? Ticks are ectoparasites (external parasites), living off the blood of mammals birds and occasionally, reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are scientifically classified as Arachnida, and there are a variety of tick-borne diseases. Ticks had evolved by the Cretaceous period (the last of the three … Read More

Global Warming is causing a reduction in the Northern Hemisphere’s wind energy resource - News

Dec 12, 2017

As the climate warms, it is expected that the amount of wind available for converting into electricity will decrease in the Northern Hemisphere. The study, published this week in Nature Geoscience, finds that this projected decline will particularly affect the central United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, the northern Middle East, and central, northern and far eastern Asia. In contrast, it predicts a robust increase in the wind available to convert into energy for tropical and Southern Hemisphere regions under high-emissions scenarios. Wind Farms Wind farms are composed of groups of wind turbines in the same location, used to produce electricity. The capacity to generate power from wind farms is growing rapidly around the globe, as a clean and low-impact alternative to fossil fuels. Global installed wind power cumulative capacity has grown on average by … Read More

DNA shows tiny tardigrades are just as cool as we thought - News

Jul 28, 2017

New genome sequences have revealed exciting new information about the origins of tardigrades as well as the genes that underlie their extraordinary ability to survive in extreme conditions.  A team of researchers led by Mark Blaxter and Kazuharu Arakawa from the universities of Edinburgh, Scotland and Keio, Japan respectively, have carefully stitched together the DNA code for two tardigrade species. What are tardigrades? Tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets) are water-dwelling, eight-legged, segmented micro-animals.They were first discovered by the German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773. The name Tardigrada derives from the Italian word for “slow stepper”, and was given three years later by the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani. Tardigrades are famous for their amazing ability to withstand complete dehydration, resurrecting years later when water is again available. They can be desiccated, frozen, exposed to radiation or sent into space, and still they … Read More

Rise in e-cigarettes linked to rise in smokers quitting - News

Jul 27, 2017

The recent rise in e-cigarette use among US adult smokers is associated with a significant increase in smoking cessation, finds a study published today in The BMJ (The British Medical Journal).  Based on the largest representative sample of e-cigarette users to date, this study emphatically argues that e-cigarettes have helped to increase smoking cessation at the population level. What are e-cigarettes? Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are handheld electronic devices that try to create a feeling like smoking tobacco. They work by heating a liquid to generate an aerosol, commonly called a “vapour”, that the user inhales. The liquid in the e-cigarette, is usually made of nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine, and flavourings. Not all e-liquids however contain nicotine. The scientific community has not yet reached a consensus on whether e-cigarettes are an aid to quitting smoking. Some experts suggest that e-cigarettes will have a positive impact on smoking rates … Read More