Chemistry Show

Science magic show

A science magic show with Dave Warren at St Gerard’s School in Alexandra (images: Angela Moeke)

Science ‘magic’ shows, also known as chemistry shows, are a chance to excite students about chemistry and show them some fun science. Dave Warren from the University of Otago chemistry outreach programme presents chemistry shows in schools, along with experienced university students who get to improve their communication skills. Magic shows are quite often used as an initial visit to generate pupils’ interest before they experience ongoing science activities at school.

Dunedin North Intermediate School has a strong association with Dave Warren and has been conducting science activities at the school for a number of years. One of the aims of the outreach programme is that students will end up pursuing chemistry or scientific studies at the University of Otago.

Ruth Beran experiences the excitement of a science ‘magic’ show, presented to a packed hall of Year 7 students by Dave Warren, Masters student Ruth Warren and research assistant Marina Roxburgh. Ross Leach, principal at Dunedin North Intermediate School, and Year 8 teacher Kara Whaley, explain why chemistry shows are important for their students.

Kakapo on Hauturu-Little Barrier Island

The kakapo population currently numbers 124 individuals, and most birds are found on Whenua Hou-Codfish Island, near Stewart Island, and Anchor Island in Fiordland. These populations have been intensively managed for the past 20 years in an effort to increase numbers. Last year seven kakapo were transferred to Hauturu-Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf as part of a six-year experiment to see if kakapo can breed there and successfully raise chicks without intensive management. A further two kakapo were transferred in October 2013, and Alison Ballance joins kakapo ranger Leigh Joyce a few days after their release to see how far they have moved, and to hear about new technology that is making it easier to monitor kakapo from a distance. Chick Timer transmitters indicate when females have begun nesting, while Check Mate transmitters record when a male kakapo has mated and who with. Kakapo were present on Little Barrier Island from the early 1980s to the late 1990s and two chicks successfully fledged in that time.

Climate Change Report

Swiss climate scientist Thomas Stocker, the joint chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I, visited New Zealand earlier this month to discuss the key findings of the recently published Fifth Assessment (AR5) report on the science of climate change. He took part in a seminar organised by the New Zealand Climate Change Centre and the Royal Society of New Zealand, together with Working Group I lead authors Dave Frame, Tim Naish, and Jim Renwick. In this interview he discusses near-term projections of sea-level rise, the degree to which we are already committed to climate change and how much carbon we can emit before average global temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius.

You can also watch the seminar sessions, or find out more about the IPCC’s report  and headlines (pdf).

Genetics of Smell

Richard Newcomb and Jeremy McRae from Plant and Food Research have just published the results of a study investigating whether the ability to smell certain odours has a genetic basis.

The researchers tested nearly 200 people for their sensitivity to ten different flavours that occur in food, then searched their genomes for areas of DNA that differed between those that could smell a given compound compared to those who could not.

Alison Ballance finds out that the results suggest that sensitivity to four of the compounds tested – isobutyraldehyde (malt), β-damascenone (apple), 2-heptanone (blue cheese) and β-ionone (violet flowers) – is based on genetic differences. The differences in sensitivity did not seem to be linked to ethnic background. β-ionone is present in foods such as tomatoes, oranges and Pinot noir wine.

The paper was published in Current Biology. Ruth Beran reported on this study when it was in its early stages.