John Kerr

John Kerr is a PhD student researching public attitudes towards science in the School of Psychology at Victoria University Wellington. He was a Media Advisor at the Science Media Centre for five years and has several years experience in both laboratory research and academic publishing.

Peeking inside a volcanic avalanche - News

Sep 06, 2016

New research has offered a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most dangerous results of volcanic eruptions – pyroclastic flows. “They are basically mixtures of hot volcanic particles and gas that race down the flank of a volcano to destroy everything its path,” says Dr Gert Lube from Massey University, describing these volcanic juggernauts. He and his colleagues have just published a new study in Nature Geoscience offering insights into the mysterious internal structure of these pyroclastic flows. While there is no doubt about the destructive nature of pyroclastic flows, what is happening inside the blistering streams of rock and gas has remained something of a mystery. Getting up close to study a flow just isn’t an option. The flows created by some volcanic eruptions can reach temperatures of up to 1,000 °C and travel at up … Read More

Ice ages led to ‘explosive’ diversity in Kiwi species - News

Sep 01, 2016

Ancient walls of ice separating kiwi populations have left their mark in the DNA of New Zealand’s most iconic species. A new study published this week in PNAS has revealed the enormous impact historic cold snaps had on the evolution of kiwis. Researchers based in Canada, in collaboration with Department of Conservation scientists, examined a database of kiwi DNA across the geographic range of the five known kiwi species. They found the five kiwi species divided into 11 distinct lineages, as well as another five or six extinct lineages. Read more about the study on Lead author Associate Professor Jason Weir, from the University of Toronto, told the Science Media Centre that the inclusion of more data in the new study revealed a clearer picture of kiwi evolution. “Our work here built on earlier studies but included a … Read More

Welly, Chch & Dunners: NZ’s most active cities - News

Aug 30, 2016

It seems the weather is no excuse. New Zealand’s cold, wet and windy urban centers are also where the most people get out walking and cycling.  Source: NZTA The findings come from a new report examining levels of active transport – getting around by foot or bicycle – and overall population health in New Zealand’s six largest cities. The aim of the report, Benchmarking cycling and walking in six New Zealand cities, is to provide a tool for officials, advocates and researchers to track progress in each city and to support ongoing investment in cycling and walking. Read more about the report on  No rain checks for active transport “We found some surprising results, such as that the weather does not necessarily influence whether more people cycle and walk,” says lead researcher Dr Caroline Shaw in a media release. Read More

What to do about astro-junk in NZ waters? - News

Aug 29, 2016

New Zealand is about join the space race with a new rocket programme, but Kiwis will need to have a think about how this is going to impact our surrounding waters. The government has just opened public consultation on new rules about how material jettisoned into the ocean from rocket launches will be dealt with under environmental legislation. NZ space rocket industry ready to launch Rocket Lab’s promotional video Space-faring start up Rocket Lab is planning to provide frequent, low cost launch services to a growing international small satellite industry. Customers recently signed to fly payloads on their new lightweight Electron rockets include NASA, Moon Express and Spire. Rocket Lab is planning to conduct test launches in late 2016 with a longer-term plan to build towards a maximum of one launch per week from its Mahia Peninsula … Read More

Proxima b: the Earth next door? - News

Aug 25, 2016

The astronomy world is abuzz following the discovery of a planet in a neighboring star system, sitting in just the right position to – theoretically – host liquid water.  It is still over four light years away, but the planet Proxima b in the Alpha Centauri system is the closest Earth-like planet we’ve found. The discovery is published today in the journal Nature. The planet has an estimated mass of at least 1.3 times that of the Earth and its orbit sits right in the ‘Goldilocks Zone‘ where the temperature is within the range where water could theoretically be liquid on its surface. Read more about the discovery of Proxima b on With liquid water being one of the key components of life – as we know it – there has been understandable excitement about the discovery. “Many exoplanets have been found … Read More

Mark Quigley on quake in Italy - News

Aug 24, 2016

The dust is still settling in the wake of the tragic 6.1 earthquake that struck near Norcia in central Italy. Latest reports indicate that at least 38 people died in the quake which has caused widespread damage in Norcia and nearby towns [Update: the death toll is now estimated to be 159 lives lost]. ShakeMap Intensity image from the US Geological Service. Associate Professor Mark Quigley from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne was an earthquake researcher at the University of Canterbury during the Canterbury quakes in 2010 and 2011. He provided the following commentary to the Australian Science Media Centre (via “The moment magnitude 6.2 earthquake occurred at 3:36 am local time with an epicentre approximately 10km SE of Norcia, Italy. The size of the fault that ruptured … Read More

Climate impacts on southern species – where’s the data? - News

Aug 23, 2016

We need to keep an eye on key species to track the impacts of climate change, but southern hemisphere countries like New Zealand and Australia are falling behind. The warning comes from South African and Australian scientists in an article published today in Austral Ecology. As the world warms, say the authors, we need long-term data to understand how plants and animals are changing their habitats and lifecycles. Without this knowledge, policy makers will be in the dark about the impacts of global change on biodiversity. This in turn will hamper adaptation planning and conservation management. “Few countries anywhere in the world have comprehensive long-term biodiversity data to support the development of detailed climatic change adaptation programmes,” they write, “but the lack of data and capacity to interpret it in policy, planning and management contexts is acute in much of the south.” They warn that … Read More

New medicines hiding in New Zealand forests - Guest Work

Aug 19, 2016

“The world currently faces a critical shortage of therapeutic drugs to treat disorders such as bacterial infections and chronic pain”, says scientist Dr Eric Buenz. “The New Zealand bush may have the answers.” Eric has highlighted his search for new drugs in a video entered into Thinkable’s ‘180 Seconds of Science’ competition, sponsored by the Royal Society of New Zealand. “New Zealand is very special place. Because of its geological history and geographic isolation it has relatively high level of biodiversity,” says Eric. Plant-based drug discovery in New Zealand on Vimeo. Most recently, Eric’s work has focused on compounds extracted from the ongaonga plant – the most exciting plant he has ever worked on. Ironically, this native stinging nettle may contain a new treatment for chronic pain associated with diseases such as diabetes, leprosy, Guillain-Barré syndrome and other … Read More

Ketamine & depression: NZ part of world-first clinical trial - News

Aug 16, 2016

New Zealand patients will be part of the world’s largest controlled clinical trial testing the “enormous potential” of ketamine as an antidepressant medication. A vial of ketamine. Credit: Wikimedia / Psychonaught Depending on who you ask, the drug ketamine is either a powerful anesthetic, a horse tranquilizer or an illicit narcotic.  However, there is now a growing body of evidence that the drug might also be an effective treatment for depression. A number of previous studies have shown that low doses of ketamine can quickly reverse some of the symptoms of depression, but there hasn’t been much research into the best way to administer the drug to get lasting results. “If you give a single treatment, the studies show that you get an amazing anti-depressant response that lasts at least a few days,” says Prof Colleen Loo, a … Read More

NZ native falcon is actually two types of bird - News

Aug 10, 2016

The New Zealand falcon, or kārearea, population is actually made up of two different subspecies, scientists have decided. Researchers from Massey University declare the subspecies split in a new study analysing the physical and genetic differences between kārearea from different parts of the New Zealand. The research is published in IBIS, International Journal of Avian Science. In collecting data on bird sizes, the researchers left no stone unturned. They dug up kārearea weights and measurements from studies dating back to the 1970’s as well data from frozen specimens of kārearea killed by accidental vehicle collisions, electrocution or poisoning and submitted to Department of Conservation offices. Preserved skins in the collections of Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, Canterbury Museum and Auckland War Memorial Museum were also examined. Two groups (squares and circles) identified by clustering of female kārearea wing and tail lengths. Read More