Elf Eldridge

Life as PhD student - Just So Science

Jul 08, 2012

As PhD students, we often don’t do a great job communicating a lot of things: our science, what supervision we want, what our dreams for our field and research are, or how we feel about our job prospects. After playing Pounamu at the Transit of Venus forum, another failure of communication came to my attention: the failure to paint ourselves as human. Several of the Pounamu comments, whilst not directly insulting, suggested that scientists can appear as cold, aloof and possibly even unethical at times – which is the absolute antithesis of the characteristics of many of the scientists I interact with on a daily basis. Indeed, if I had to guess, I would say that many choose science as a career out of a desire to help their fellow man, or out of simple curiosity. So here’s … Read More

Transit of Venus forum in review - Just So Science

Jun 08, 2012

Having just returned from three days away at the Transit of Venus conference in beautiful Gisborne, I’ll just share my thoughts as a wrap up. Again I stress that these views are my own and I was unable to attend many of the sessions so they may be a little premature. In three days of talks, discussions, presentation and networking the thing that struck me most, and that will stick with me for years to come, was the extra-ordinary hospitality and commitment of the Tolaga Bay community. Not only did the entire community open their hearts and school to us, but they shared something far greater: they reminded us what even a small group of people can achieve if they share a combined vision for their future.  I think perhaps, this was part of what Sir Paul Callaghan wanted the … Read More

Mysterious crosses - Just So Science

May 16, 2012

Continuing from my last post, where I mentioned a few of the crosses in our southern skies, I’m going to take a closer look at some of the weird and wonderful objects located near them, namely the Carina and Keyhole nebulae, the ‘Southern Pleiades’,  one of the few naked eye Wolf-Rayet stars and NGC2516. Keyhole Nebula Keyhole Nebula I’ve mentioned the glorious Carina nebula before (it’s visible as the pink cloud above the diamond cross in the last image of my previous post), sitting halfway between the southern and false cross. However, buried within the bigger and brighter Carina nebula, lies the Keyhole nebula — a cool, dim cloud of dust and gas only visible as it blocks the light from the bright nebula behind. Southern Pleiades IC2602 This wondrous open cluster (actually it’s … Read More

Jeweled Crosses - Just So Science

May 13, 2012

Reflecting on my previous posts, Just So Science has become a little complaining and angsty as of late, so without further ado here’s a return to something we can all agree on – our night skies are a treasure during winter! Most people are familiar with the Southern Cross, or Crux, or ‘Te Punga’ (the anchor) to several Maori tribes, which hangs high in our southern skies at this time of the year, accompanied by the two bright pointer stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri that help you find it. (They’re often called the pointers because drawing a line between the points you to the real Southern cross). And if you ever forget the shape, you can always see it on our flag: NZ Flag showing the four brightest Southern Cross stars Just between Crux and the pointers … Read More

NZAS Conference follow-up - Just So Science

May 12, 2012

So, one month on from the NZAS emerging scientist’s conference, what has come from a conference that aimed to discuss whether emerging scientists have a future in New Zealand? The answer, in this author’s opinion at least, has been a resounding ‘Maybe’. One publications that highlighted the themes debated at the conference is ‘Callaghan vision stumbles on realities’ published in NBR. I decided to blog (okay rant) a little about this, as it contains rampant examples of the type of short-sightedness that makes the above question all the more relevant. Starting with the NBR article: ‘The Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI)…is the holder and supporter of the concept [Paul Callaghan’s vision for NZ]…But despite the best efforts of society, the science community and MSI, the battle for Sir Paul’s vision appears to be losing ground.’ Rubbish. There … Read More

Kiwimars Science:Water, water everywhere – but not a drop to drink! - Just So Science

May 06, 2012

Evidence of water-erosion on the martian surface As interesting as the martian atmosphere is, there’s one compound that’s presence is probably more important than all the others combined: water. Whilst some early astronomers convinced themselves they saw vast canal systems on the martian surface, it wasn’t till Mariner 9 reached the red planet in 1971 that direct evidence of the presence of water was observed – in the form of erosion patterns, weather and vast canyons and floodplains later photographed in more detail by the Viking missions. The importance of confirming the presence of water on Mars cannot be understated, simply because we believe water to be a pre-requisite for all known life on Earth – so it’s presence on a foreign world within our solar system goes a long way towards answering one of mankind’s biggest and most enduring … Read More

Kiwimars Science: Welcome to Mars - Just So Science

Apr 26, 2012

Welcome to Mars! Whilst the martian environment is considered ‘most similar to Earth’s’ when compared to other planets in our Solar System, that’s a bit like saying an insect is ‘most similar to a human’ when compared to a rock, a spoon and cellphone. Whilst both of the above might be true, it really doesn’t to justice to the weird and wonderful nature of the martian environment. Both Mars and Earth are ‘terrestrial’ planets, so called because you’re able to wander around on them, like the Apollo astronauts did on the lunar surface 30 years ago. You would feel a little lighter on Mars than you’re used to here on Earth though – because it’s much smaller than the Earth: about half as wide and only about 1/8th of the Earth’s mass. Mars as seen by the Hubble space … Read More

Kiwimars 2012: Kiwis doing what Kiwis should - Just So Science

Apr 25, 2012

An example of Kiwis participating in the sort of forward-thinking science that we need to attract  and retain talent in New Zealand is the 2012 Kiwimars crew. Supported by the ‘Kiwispace Foundation‘, Kiwimars is a 2 week expedition where 4 New Zealanders (and 2 Australians) travel to NASA’s Mars Desert Research Station in the deserts of Utah. There they are performing a simulation mars landing, and live life as if they were actively on the red planet. Whilst there are some insurmountable hurdles, like the gravitational difference between Earth and Mars, every care is taken to make the simulation as realistic as possible. Astronauts have to wear full operational space suits when they leave the ‘hab’ where they live, as well as taking 30 minutes or more in the airlock to ‘decompress’ in preparation … Read More

NZAS 2012 conference impressions - Just So Science

Apr 18, 2012

I’m going to finish up my following of the NZAS Emerging scientists conference, with my own reflection on the things that have been said and done. Sciblogs own Peter Griffin has already reviewed many of the main discussion points of the conference – so I won’t rehash them here (although you can follow the hashtags #nzas and #nzasconf for a broader viewpoint). I simply intend to pull out what I believed to be some important takehome messages, actions and knowledge I gleaned from the attendees. I stress again that what follows in entirely my own opinion, for the naive and idealistic viewpoint that it is, and does not represent the views of ANY organisations that I’m affiliated with! Optimism The question: “Do emerging scientists have a future in New Zealand?” that the conference centred on, … Read More

Emerging NZ Scientists – Catherine Davis and Shalen Kumar, Te Ropu Awhina Mentors - Just So Science

Apr 15, 2012

Te Ropu Awhina whanau 2011 These answers were provided by Catherine Davis and Shalen Kumar, both senior mentors in Te Ropu Awhina, Victoria University’s whanau that I have blogged about before. Both are final year PhD candidates in Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences. 1. NZAS has picked emerging scientists as the topic of their yearly conference. What does that say about the current climate for emerging scientists in NZ? That there are certain issues with the current climate that need to be addressed and new avenues of science and communication needs to be explored. This doesn’t just mean slight modifications on current science but inspiration into new ways of tackling problems faced by the wider community. 2. Do emerging scientists want a future in NZ? Why would they choose NZ instead of overseas? There is … Read More