Steve Pointing

Professor Steve Pointing is Director of the Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand, AUT University. He completed his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Great Britain, with undergraduate focus in biochemistry and postgraduate study in microbiology. His doctoral research addressed marine fungal and bacterial colonization of shipwreck timbers from the Tudor warship Mary Rose. After gaining his doctorate he lived and worked in Hong Kong until 2012, conducting research on the microbial ecology of extreme environments. He now calls Auckland home, and his research focuses on environmental issues with regional and global relevance, including New Zealand’s strategic commitment to Antarctica. Steve is on Twitter @stevepointing

Hannibal, Yellowstone and dinosaurs with malaria – weird microbes - Pointing At Science

Apr 06, 2016

Today on my Dear Science show on 95.0 bFM radio we have a special feature on weird microbiology stories that are making the headlines this week.  You can listen to the podcast here. Poo microbes reveal Hannibal’s route over the Alps Source: Wikimedia Let’s start with a history lesson: Hannibal was Commander in Chief of the Carthaginian army during their war with Rome in the 3rdcentury BC; Carthage was a city state in what is now Tunisia and was at the time Rome’s main rival. Hannibal pulled off what is seen as one the greatest military strategies of the ancient world. He marched his entire army of 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 elephants over the Alps to fight the Romans in their own backyard. After several victories he ultimately lost the war … Read More

Ant-tastic science - Pointing At Science

Mar 23, 2016

There have been several recent scientific papers about ants that really caught my eye. I share some thoughts on these below, or you can listen to my Dear Science podcast this week for more on these stories. War and Peace – ant style African acacia ants build their colonies in trees and are well known for their aggressive role in fending off large herbivores from their ‘tree house’ with a fierce bite. They also regard ant colonies from any other tree as mortal enemies. Ants are particularly aggressive to one another and fights can leave thousands dead on both sides. This has been hypothesized to leave post-fight colonies more vulnerable to further attack. A study by Kathleen Rudolph and Jay McEntee in Behavioural Ecology has demonstrated how some ant colonies have developed a novel … Read More

Mātauranga Māori in science - Pointing At Science

Feb 09, 2016

At my Institute we actively nurture a spirit of collaborative learning in our research and teaching relationships by developing tikanga (Māori protocols) for ensuring the cultural safety and comfort of all research stakeholders. We wanted to share our experience and so have just released a new video on the Sci21 websiteby conservationist Dr John Perrott, acknowledging the value and integrity of Mātauranga Māori in science. Here is a quote from John on this issue: “Indigenous knowledge is enshrined in New Zealand’s culture and legislation through the Treaty of Waitangi. The importance Māori place on the environment, and native flora and fauna in particular is demonstrated in Māori art, oral narratives and proverbial sayings. Understanding Māori knowledge and cultural norms is essential for science practitioners in New Zealand if they are to build effective working relationships with Māori communities. Read More

I’m baaaaaack! - Pointing At Science

Feb 03, 2016

After a fantastic kiwi summer totally off the grid, it’s time to get back to work, and also to the fun part of science – which for me is all things ‘scicomms’ My radio show ‘Dear Science – science that makes sense’ kicks off again today and has a fresh new look and a new co-host in Sara Shirazi.  Today we discuss the history of coconuts and cats, and ask the essential pythonesque question “what have the Romans ever done for us?” Tune in at 12:30pm today on 95.0 bFM or listen to the podcast The Sci21 portal is expanding its content, if you haven’t been there yet make time to view the latest video upload ’emerging infectious diseases’ – particularly relevant if anyone is following press coverage on the Zika virus. A new feature is the Sci21-open … Read More

Science removes doubt about Christmas - Pointing At Science

Dec 16, 2015

There is an increasing awareness that university science research needs to be relevant to the real world, so here I share a particularly good example of how science has helped to explain something I am sure we have all puzzled over at one time or another. Father Christmas, or Santa as he is also known, does such an amazing job Christmas delivering gifts to children all over the world. It may, however, surprise you to know there are some who think what he does is impossible and because of this there are even people out there who don’t believe in Santa. I have conducted theoretical research on this topic. Whilst the findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, I think it clearly shows how science holds the answer to this particular issue and this will hopefully put … Read More

The science of modern life - Pointing At Science

Nov 18, 2015

On my Dear Science show this week, I highlight new research that may help to explain how we respond to some aspects modern life. Obesity increases risk of respiratory disease The first study is from Montreal, where a disturbing connection between obesity and respiratory health has been identified. The Journal Risk Analysis reports how obese individuals breathe up to 50% more air each day compared to healthy individuals.  This is due to their higher metabolic demand, and dwarfs the volume of air that even professional athletes breathe when competing.  The research highlights that the greater volume of inspired air means that exposure to pollutants, particulates and allergens is much higher in obese people and this is translating to higher incidence of respiratory disease.  As society becomes increasingly urbanized (and more polluted), … Read More

Art meets science in Antarctica - Pointing At Science

Nov 16, 2015

If you are in Auckland from now until 24thJanuary then you might want to check out the Elusive Earth: Refined images of Antarctica exhibition at the TSB Bank Wallace Art Centre.  The artwork will definitely appeal to the scientist in you, with images of the natural landscape and scientific fieldwork that have been filtered, collaged and abstracted to provide a unique view of this stunning continent.  The artists have been sponsored by Antarctica New Zealand, and so too has the science I will showcase in my public lectures.  I am giving weekend lectures on the interface of science and art in Antarctica.  These are set in the gallery itself, inside a beautiful nineteenth century building with comfortable designer couches for you to sit on! Here is the abstract for my November public … Read More

Some quirky armchair physics - Pointing At Science

Oct 28, 2015

I featured a trio of really interesting new scientific publications this week on my Dear Science radio broadcast, with a quirky physics theme that illustrates how the purest science can explain really diverse ‘stuff’. Ant colonies that behave as a liquid A report by scientists at Georgia Tech published in Nature Materials this week offered an interesting perspective on ants – suggesting they behave as both a solid and a liquid – and even share these properties with tomato ketchup! Ants have complex societal organisation, and a striking feature is that they respond to environmental challenges with amazing feats, for example in floods a colony will self assemble to form rafts and they can also build bridges from their bodies to span gaps.  These are very much behavioural characteristics of a solid. Read More

Almost Armageddon? - Pointing At Science

Oct 13, 2015

There were a large number of people who believed that the end was nigh last weekend, after reports that a massive asteroid was going to pass perilously close to Earth and possibly even impact and cause global devastation Armageddon style.  The fact that I reported this story on Monday’s Paul Henry Show attests to the fact this did not happen – but what were the facts? And how much of a risk is there really for an asteroid impact? The US space agency NASA’s Near Earth Objects program (NEO) tracks objects in space, and this is really the only major effort to monitor the risk of asteroid impact. NEO is an umbrella for many projects that use both ground and space telescopes and they have identified an astonishing amount of ‘stuff’ in space. The wide field infrared survey … Read More

Life on Mars – one step closer? - Pointing At Science

Sep 29, 2015

NASA has delivered the first proof that moving ‘liquids’ on Mars’ surface are made of water, albeit extremely salty brines. These are likely to be ten times saltier than seawater here on Earth and so a human would receive burns from contact with these brines.  However, extremely salty lakes that occur in many desert environments from California to Tibet do support simple microbial life that can tolerate high salt content – and so this new study suggests they may be the sort of extant life we could expect on Mars.  These microbes often colour the water vivid pink due to a pigment they contain called bacteriorhodopsin, and so I think that some scientists may now start wondering if this has potential as a ‘biosignature’ molecule for life on Mars.  For many years NASA has had a ‘follow the water’ strategy … Read More