Mention the words “New Zealand” and “science” in the same sentence, and one image automatically springs to mind; that of Ernest Rutherford, earnestly staring out from the $50 note.
Yet there are many more diverse and compelling scientific and technological innovations throughout New Zealand history. From Tā moko uhi (chisels) and pioneering plastic surgery techniques, to disposable syringes and the Britten motorcycle, kiwi scientific ingenuity is fascinating, varied and internationally appreciated.
Jean Balchin, an honours student of English Literature at the University of Otago has begun a series of articles examining the history of NZ science and technology through the lens of 25 objects. Aptly named ‘A history of New Zealand science in 25 objects‘, the series will be published on Sciblogs throughout June and July, and will be converted into a set of podcasts later in the year.
Jean’s project was inspired by A History of the World in 100 Objects, a 100-part radio series written and presented by Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum. MacGregor used objects of ancient art, industry, technology and arms, all of which are in the British Museum’s collections, as an introduction to windows of human history. As with this project, Jean has striven to include a wide variety of ‘objects’ that encompass many scientific disciplines and periods of Kiwi history.
To this end, a painting of Maungawhau pā through which the Māori technology of pā fortifications may be explored, is found alongside a beer bottle, representing the continuous fermentation brewing process pioneered by Morton Coutts. Interviews from Professor Richie Poulton from the Dunedin Life Study, Audrey Eagle, the renowned botanical illustrator and other esteemed scientists and innovators will supplement Jean’s own research.
Already the blog has delved into the forensic science of floating pig heads, the computer wizardry behind the epic battles in the Lord of the Rings films, the changing face of plastic surgery and the science of a crisp, cold beer.