Bias, Agenda & Opinion- How to spot it.

Wednesday, April 10th, 2024 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

In earlier posts we have highlighted how to look for ‘trusted sources’.
In this post we will focus a little more on bias, agenda and opinion and how it might influence the information provided and how it is provided by a source.
Check out these short clips from:

CTRL-F Digital Media Literacy-Verification skills course
Skill: Advanced Wikipedia: Bias and Agenda
Check the Claim with Jane Lytvynenko

You may also find the links below from University of Wisconsin and American Public University Library interesting and useful. They have lots of useful tips and hints for you to employ when doing your research

Identifying Bias

No post on bias, agenda and opinion should be without specific mention of what’s known as ‘Cognitive Bias’

In the words of famous physicist Richard Feynman

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

(As well as being a theoretical physicist Feynman was known for his engaging and entertaining lectures and he had a unique ability to communicate complex scientific ideas to a general audience making him one of the most popular and beloved science communicators of his time.)


                                    So, what is ‘Cognitive Bias’?

Psychologist Kia-Rai Prewitt, PhD, describes it thus
“If we have a cognitive bias, we may interpret information based off of our own beliefs and experiences. And sometimes, the ways that we interpret that information may or may not be accurate.”

Check out her article Cognitive Bias 101: What It Is and How To Overcome It where she also gives examples of each.

See also

In our search for what may be ‘true’ knowledge an awareness of bias and how it may manifest itself is key to effective research.

2023 Student Short Science Films

Wednesday, April 10th, 2024 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Science Academy 2023 Science Film students were tasked with making a short 3–4-minute film on an aspect of science close to their heart using only their cell phones and i-movie software.  They were introduced to science filmmaking techniques over four 90-minute workshops at our January Science camp. They then planned and developed their ideas between January and July camps and shot the footage they needed in their home area, completing final editing during a further four 90-minute workshops during our July Science camp. The project was tutored by Max Balloch, Otago University Science Communication and Philosophy  student and an alumnus of the Science Academy. Max is also an award winning podcaster.

Check out our 2023 student  films by clicking on the titles below

Adventures and the Magic Rocket Ship

Science Film Tutor’s Top Film


Alysssa Burt
Motueka High School

Erylle Del Mundo
Maniototo Area School,




 The Resilience of Time

Science Academy Director’s Top Film


Gian Hall
TKKM o te ngati kahungunu ki te wairoa



The Great Ocean Garbage Patch

Nathan Elliot
Murchison Area School

Amber Fissenden
Kaikoura High School



Algae Just Want to Have Fun

Jess Quinlan
Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu

Phoebe Mulry-Climpson
Golden Bay High school



Just Science Facts (Nothing Else, Pinky Promise!)

Annalise McDonnell
Queens High School

Kate Hayward
Queens High School




Psych Show

Maia Rakete-Gray
Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti

Ella Watts
Queen Charlotte College



Caffeine- How it keeps Us Going.

Cian O’Brien
Stratford High School

Sandee Barroga
Maniototo Area School



Trips over Trappist

Ashton Hasler
Ellesmere College

Caspar Denyer
Kaikati College




The Truth is Out There!… But Can You Find it?

Wednesday, March 6th, 2024 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

It’s no secret that the amount of misinformation and dis-information on the internet is increasing exponentially. Many young people struggle to evaluate information successfully (Osborne et al 2022)

This is the first in a series of Blog posts exploring a range of techniques that strive to identify mis/disinformation in the course of online research.


1. Wikipedia: Worthwhile or Worthless source?

You are quite likely you have been told by your teacher “Don’t use Wikipedia?”

Reasons often given are …………………..

  • Questionable Reliability:

It’s not always accurate

  • Susceptibility to Bias:

As anyone can create and/or edit Wikipedia articles we know nothing about the contributors or whether they have specific agenda.

  • Vandalism and Hoaxes:

Sometimes articles are vandalised for fun or written by individuals with a particularly strong viewpoint or agenda.

Won’t the same issues apply if we just did a google search on a new topic we want to explore?

If our goal is to find reliable information and sources on our topic are we ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ by slamming the door on Wikipedia completely?

Let’s remind ourselves on what Wikipedia is and how it works.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia founded by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001 and run by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Content is written collaboratively by its users with the goal of striving to provide accurate information from a neutral point of view on any topic covered.   Contributors to the site are governed by 10 Rules and Five pillars.

Wikipedia is the 7th most visited website on the Internet at time of writing and its reach is increasing (Zickuhr& Raine 2011).

While some teacher’s may disapprove of its use, studies have shown that a teacher’s disapproval of Wikipedia has little effect on whether student uses it (Chung 2012).

Let’s be honest, we’ve all used it!

So, let’s look at some of the Pros:

  • It is a great starting point for research with citation links that point to further sources, many peer-reviewed.
  • Wikipedia strives to police itself efficiently and correct factual errors as promptly as possible.
  • Articles are timely and can be updated without waiting for a new print edition.
  • Wikipedia has the potential to contribute to how students learn to think critically about sources and develop the skills to differentiate between knowledge that is supported by reliable evidence and unverified narratives.

Let’s be clear, I’m not saying you should be citing Wikipedia as your primary source but as a first stop it can provide links to peer-reviewed   research and help with identifying other keywords for exploring the topic further. It also has the potential to be a tool in helping us determine the veracity of other sites and help spot mis/disinformation.

Echoing the thoughts of Piotr Konieczny in his study ‘Teaching with Wikipedia in a 21st century classroom: Perceptions of Wikipedia and its educational benefits’ “educators and librarians need to provide better guidelines for using Wikipedia, rather than prohibiting Wikipedia use altogether”

To that end, check out these two YouTube clips for tips on how to use Wikipedia, despite its limitations, and make up your own minds as to whether it’s a useful research tool.

One is from a Washington State University Digital literacy Expert  and the other from two reporters specializing in debunking fake news on the internet, formerly from  the Pulitzer Prize Winning and now defunct Buzzfeed News.

Think about the techniques they outline, try them out, and make up your own minds as whether Wikipedia could be ONE potentially useful tool in your research arsenal for debunking mis/disinformation.

In future posts we’ll explore other tools and techniques for spotting mis/disinformation when researching online sources.

Any tips and comments from students and teachers  on techniques you use welcomed.


Chung, Siyoung. 2012. “Cognitive and Social Factors Affecting the Use of Wikipedia and Information Seeking.Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 38 (3)

Osborne, J., Pimentel, D., Alberts, B., Allchin, D., Barzilai, S., Bergstrom, C., Coffey, J., Donovan, B., Kivinen, K., Kozyreva. A., & Wineburg, S. (2022). Science Education in an Age of Misinformation. Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Piotr Konieczny. Teaching with Wikipedia in a 21st-century classroom: Perceptions of Wikipedia and its educational benefits. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 2016.

Zickuhr, Kathryn; Lee Rainie, 2011. “Wikipedia, past and present.” PEW Internet and American Life Project Survey, Jan 13, 2011.

Internet Search & Research Tips

Friday, March 17th, 2023 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments


The ability to search the internet efficiently and effectively  to target the information you need is a skill worth developing.  The tips in the links below will help you develop good search techniques.

  1. How to use search like a pro: 10 tips and tricks for Google and beyond


  1. Digital content — finding, evaluating, using and creating it

See the first 2 sections on:

    • How to find quality digital content
    • How to evaluate digital content
  1.  Online Research Skills for High School Students: Tips and Strategies: TPL Teens

From Toronto Public library in Canada this site has lots of good advice and the short  2-4min vid clips are worth a look if prefer a video demo

Online Verification Skills Series: Mike Caulfield

 Video 1: Introductory Video (3min 13)

          Video 2: Investigate the Source (2min 44)

Video 3: Find the Original Source (1min 33)

Video 4: Look for Trusted Work (4min 10)


Science Films 2022

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Science Academy 2022 Science Film students were tasked with exploring their favourite aspect of science and communicating their ideas through the medium of a short 3-4 minute film. They attended four 90 minute workshops at our January Science camp- planned and developed their ideas between January and July camps and shot the footage they needed in their home area- and completed final editing during a further four 90 minute workshops during our July Science camp. The project was tutored by Karthic Sanjiva Sivanandham from NHNZ Productions and an alumni of the Otago University Department of Science Communication and Max Balloch, 2nd year Marine Science and Science Communication student. Max is also a Science Academy Alumni from our 2020 Cohort.

Check out this year’s  films by clicking on the titles below

Microplastics – The Hidden Evil


Kea, Templer-Mcconnell,

Taikura Rudolf Steiner School



Kokopu Unknown


Logan Andrews :

Menzies College



Ko Kaikoura te Whenua


Ruslan Ataria-Ivannikov:

Kaikoura High School



Neptune’s Necklace, King of Kawaroa


Via Hooks:

New Plymouth Boys’ High School



The Feathered Fiends


Matthew Cory-Wright

Aotea College



Waitara River


Maioha Hunt

Waitara High School



1080: An Incredibly Brief Summary


Rheanna Dreaver:

Hornby High School



Ecosourcing in Practice

Jindh Bhullar:

Taumarunui High School

Science Podcasts 2022

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Science Academy 2022   Science podcast students were tasked with exploring their favourite aspect of science and communicating their ideas through the medium of  a short radio podcast. They attended four 90 minute workshops at our January Science camp and developed their ideas between January and July camps. They then completed final editing in the OAR FM recording studio during a further four 90 minute workshops during the July Science camp. The project  was  tutored by Taylor Davies-Colley, educator, science communicator and conservationist  along with staff from OAR FM Dunedin

All podcasts will be available on the OAR FM Dunedin Website and from your favourite podcast provider from the 22/07/22.

























Science Writing Competition-Dear Nature Podcast

Monday, June 20th, 2022 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Science Academy 2020 alumni and creator of Dear Nature Podcast series is running a science writing competition for Year 9-13 students across Otago  and Southland.

So if you live in those areas why not have a go and  you could win over $500 worth of prizes AND have your wining entry turned into a ‘Dear Nature Podcast‘ episode by Max.

For more info just look for the Dear Nature Podcast on Instagram or Facebook   or email

2021 Science Films

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Science Academy 2021  Science Film students were tasked with exploring their favourite aspect of science and communicating their ideas through the medium of  a short 3-4 minute film. They attended four 90 minute workshops at our January Science camp- planned and developed their ideas between January and July camps and shot the footage they needed in their home area- and completed final editing  during a further four 90 minute workshops during our July Science camp. The project  was tutored by Karthic Sanjiva Sivanandham from NHNZ Productions and an alumni of the Otago University Center for Science Communication.

Links to this year’s 8 films can be found by clicking on the titles below

 Running Free – A look at the science of prosthetic limbs 


by Angelina Gosse (Wentworth College)




The Plastic  Issue 

by Finn Goodman (Geraldine High)





Auckland’s Secret Bird Sanctuary 

by Aziza Shawudun (Zayed College for Girls)

Fili Fono (Wesley College)





 Restoration of Wetlands

by Te Mote Marsh (Te Puke High School)





Operation Nest Egg- Kiwi conservation at West Coast Wildlife Center

by Champagne Dela Cruz (South Westland Area School)

Rhyanna Pich (Waitara High School)




Project Drawdown- School Planting for the Climate

by Shion Ko (Whangarei Boys High School)





Hoiho: The Rarest penguin in the World

by Hamish Mills (South Otago High School)





Tracking Kiwi with an Airplane

by Liam Finer – (Hawera High School)





Student Podcasts 2021

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Science Academy 2021 Podcast students were tasked with exploring their favourite aspect of science and communicating  their ideas through the medium of Radio and Podcasting. They attended four 90 minute workshops at OAR FM studios  during our January Science camp- researched, planned and developed their ideas between January and July camps- and  completed final  editing and recording during  a further  four 90 minute workshops during our July Science camp  facilitated by Domi Angelo-Laloli & Taylor Davies-Colley  at OAR FM Dunedin.


Mangere College

Horowhenua College

Opotiki College

Tokomairiro High School

Tokomairiro High School

Te Wharekura o Manaia

Tararua College

Check them out  here  Science Academy 2021 Podcasts




2021 Winning Essays

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Every year, as part of our Science Academy application process students are asked to write an essay on Science in the 21st century under the theme of:

If you think of Earth as a ship voyaging through time and space, and the human race her crew, what is our mission and what is the role of science in achieving that mission?

Write an essay on the above theme that addresses the following:
• What do you think is the role of science in 21st-century society?
• How do you think science today is different from science in the past?
• What, in your opinion, are the qualities that are required of a 21st century scientist?
• What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing science and scientists in the 21st century?
• How do you think scientists could begin to address this challenge?

This year’s top girl essay was by Aruna Zacharaia from Otahuhu College and top boy essay by Shion Ko from Whangarei Boys High School

Aruna Zachariah

As an aspiring scientist, I believe that science is not just an academic subject. It is the experience of discovering the world around us. Each time we learn a new concept, it evokes feelings of awe, wonder and excitement. Science is often an adventure filled with fascination, disbelief, and at times, a lot of confusion! Science also holds a lot of responsibility. When we think of a ship, we think of the different structural components of it. Famous ships from history may pop up in our memory which further remind us of the magnificence of these beautiful floating vehicles. In these images and with our metaphor of the Earth as a ship, we often forget the human spirit that is interwoven throughout it. For science to continue pushing the Earth through ions of time and space, it is essential that we recognize the power of a collective human spirit.
The role of science in the 21st century is to continue experimenting with the impossible. As William Blake once said, “What is now proved was once only imagined.” The different fields of science rely on various fundamentals that were developed by great minds like Helen Keller, Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin. These fundamentals continue to guide our pursuits in unravelling our mysterious universe. However, it is important that the evolution of science does not go unchecked. The collective good of humanity should be the highlight of any scientific advancement. Science is unbounded and thus confining it is more challenging than discovering something new. To this degree, scientists need to have the courage to roll-back certain steps and innovations that are harmful for creation.
The role of science in society is to explore possibilities for a better world. In the past, scientific pursuits were focused on the betterment of a White, Western world, while people who look like me, from the Global South, have been victims of unchecked scientific advancement. In the 21st century, we must push science to reject these oppressive boundaries, and instead work towards creating a better world for everyone, inclusive of race, gender, and geography. As scientists of the 21st century, we must question traditional science so that more young people who look like me find a space in this field to learn, thrive and create. Science is not exempt from principles of ethics and justice. It is important that in the 21st century our scientific innovations are in accordance with the rights of all peoples. Scientific discoveries cannot be at the expense of people’s lives and traditional land. In our own context here in Aotearoa New Zealand, modern science should be respectful of Mātauranga Māori.
Although we are in the midst of a major climate crisis and a world-wide pandemic, I believe that the greatest challenge faced by science in the 21st century is the fact that we are now, in what sociologists call, “a post-truth” era. In this time of intense polarization around the world, scientific facts that we have held to be true for centuries are now being questioned. Furthermore, the echo-chambers of social media and ‘fake news’ have created high levels of scientific distrust amongst communities around the world. While scientists and medical professionals have been in a virtual war zone fighting to find a vaccine cure for COVID-19, we have seen people rejecting simple scientific measures such as mask wearing and social distancing. Research suggests that once the vaccine is developed, the next battle will be convincing people around the world to take it. Currently, some polls suggest that over 40% of the population in the developed world, will not take the vaccine once it is available.

As future scientists, my generation needs to reposition the field of science. We must challenge the distrust by communicating science clearly and openly to society. For society to believe in science again, and to gain back the trust, it is essential that we engage in grassroots initiatives. Science must be accessible. It is not just something that is for society, but rather, it is something that can be done with society. As we sail this ship to discover new scientific possibilities, no voyage can be truly fruitful unless it is inclusive of human spirit.

Shion Ko

A ship’s purpose is to sail, the crew’s duty is to keep the ship afloat, but it’s the captain who must steer the ship through the storm. When the crew does not follow the captain, and the captain does not manifest leadership, the ship is left to sink and burn. If the ship is Mother Earth, the human race as her crew, and scientists around the world as their captain, we are left to wonder, “Why are we letting our ship burn?” In the midst of an age of global connection and order, entropy in humanity is ever-present.
The greatest threats to mankind are being ignored by modern scientists while society goes about their day too enveloped in the present. While the validity of the science is continually questioned, the decline of natural resources, collapse of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, and the ever-increasing temperature of the Earth’s surface continues to burn our once-beautiful ship to the bottom of the sea.
Consequently, one must look back on the past and consider where it all went wrong, then looking to the present, one must explore the qualities of a great scientist to rightfully captain the ship, and lastly, one must define the greatest challenge to science in the near future to take action today and keep the ship afloat.

Ever since the first captain Aristotle, science has evolved exponentially as new fields were discovered and technology advanced like the adaptive radiation of the Australopithecines. However, science had little structure and was disregarded from the public eye; bunched in the same category as myth and magic. Yet, as new captains came and went, science increased in significance. Galileo Galilei—named as “The father of science” by Einstein—first used the experimental scientific method and brought order to eureka. Through it all, the ship Terra Mater sailed through spacetime captained by names like Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Nikola Tesla, and brought humanity to modern-day science. All positive scientific developments have a unanimous underlying purpose; to increase the survival and happiness of the human race. Whether it be the invention of the light bulb, the development of cars, or the research into medicine, science has aimed to ensure the crew survives and the ship stays afloat. As it seems, the ship’s destination is the immortality of humanity.

However, “With great power comes great responsibility” and when that power is abused, the consequences are unquantifiable. The first being the weaponization of nuclear science, the next being the destruction of natural environments, and finally, the acceleration of climate change through pollution. Unfortunately, fixing the past is still in the realms of science fiction, and so the consequences of these issues must be resolved today; the greatest being global warming which, if a major change to prevent it is not undertaken within the next few years, will burn humanity alive on its deck. Hence, I believe that global warming should be the top priority over research into any other field of science, yet environmental scientists are earning nearly half the salary of scientists in any other field. The first step must be to create an incentive in the general public to fight climate change as a dysfunctional crew will only fuel the fire. By raising the salary of environmental scientists and increasing funding for related research, not only will the results of their studies be more helpful, but also the number of environmental scientists will increase; hence bringing in future scientists that would have otherwise chosen more stable careers in biomedical engineering or astrophysics. Likewise, a strict plan must be developed with specific requirements that must be met to ensure the reduction of the global carbon footprint so that governments around the world begin to take notice of the previously ignored climate change protests and understand how they can support the movement. Regardless of how, something must be done to weaken the fire before it gets out of control, or the ship will never reach its destination.

In order to lead the crew, a great captain is required, just as great scientists are required to lead society. A great scientist is one that is not just intelligent or an outside-the-box thinker, but is also curious and creative, patient and persistent, flexible and open-minded. Even more so today, a great scientist must be able to discover the problem, understand the problem, come up with the solution, and

have the power to carry out the solution. Consequently, scientists should be better connected to the government and have a greater say in the choices made. If a scientist can teach how to solve the world’s biggest problems, those problems will no longer be unsolved. A captain that teaches the crew how to maintain the ship will have a ship sailing twice as fast.

To conclude, science has developed rapidly to the point we are at today, and all because it intends to bring humanity one step closer to immortality. However, mistakes are made, and consequences arise because of them, and so scientists must take action to stop the fire of climate change from consuming the Earth. In order to do that, great scientists must be elected not only to research, not only to come up with the solutions, but also to teach and carry out the solutions. Otherwise, the fire will grow while the crew stands there with empty water buckets. Action must be taken now, or immortality and the longevity of the human race may as well be thrown out the window.


Research Tips Reminder

Friday, April 9th, 2021 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

By now you will all be well into the research phase of your science communication projects for presenting at the July camp.  Here are a couple of blog posts from previous years that you may find useful. With so much `stuff’ out there on the web evaluating your sources is a good skill to learn. There is a good link in the posts below to a short  Otago University online course  on how to evaluate websites.

Good luck with your research and be careful not to go too far `down the rabbit hole’  and end up with what my MSc supervisor called `information narcosis’ – so much background information on your topic  it’s overwhelming!   Start  jotting down key points you want to mention  AS you do your research reading .Get a base script down as soon as possible after brief initial research stint and  research only what you need to fill the gaps, better explain and  illustrate the key message (theme)  of  your talk, podcast, film, display.

Setting off on a Treasure Hunt: Researching for a talk, film, podcast

July Science Talks: Knowing your Material


Image source: Clipart Library

Science Can Be Funny But………………..

Friday, October 30th, 2020 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

……..can science comedy also be an effective tool  for  enhancing  understanding and support for science?

Science and comedy may seem like an odd pairing.  Science is a serious business, right?  And everyone’s sense of humour is different. Does science comedy work as a tool for communicating science effectively to a public audience.

In this short blog I make no claims or draw any conclusions.
Rather we are just going to dip our toes into the world of science comedy by looking at a few examples of `comedic science’ and let you come to your own conclusions as to whether you think comedy can be a tool to enhancing understanding  of science in a public audience.

Do science comedians rely on a pre-knowledge of science and/or a specific topic?

How does/could/ comedy enhance the understanding & support for science in a non-scientific public audience?

Check out some of these science comedians and more and you decide

Science Laughs :Brian Malow
‘A Virus Walks Into a Bar…’ and Other Science Jokes

Scientist Turned Comedian: Tim Lee

Science Comedian Vince Ebert | Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017  

Science doesn’t know everything: Dara O’Briain

All of the above a background in science- Dara O’Briain  for example has a degree in mathematics and theoretical physics from University College Dublin and besides stand-up comedy has presented a number of science shows for BBC including School of Hard Sums, Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club)

Sneaking Science into Stand-Up: Kasha Patel
NASA Science Writer, stand-up comedian and founder of ‘DC Science Comedy’ Kasha Patel actually researches the effectiveness of her own science comedy by analysing over 500 of her science jokes as she explains in her 2019 TEDx talk.

Closer to home Andrew Scott from  Otago University School of Science Communication looked at Science comedy  for his Master’s degree  entitled Funnily Serious: Using Comedy  to communicate Science”  part of which included a   comedic science film entitled Tangled Waters  looking at the use of ant-shark nets along the Dunedin coastline. (Maybe I shouldn’t have put this in ahead of possible beach visit at upcoming December Camp!)

Want to dive further in the world of Science comedy?
Check out  Crastina’s International List of Science Comedians

Finally, if you come across an example of science comedy that you think does a really good job of enhancing understanding and/or support for science let me know in the comments.

Enjoy and good luck with your upcoming NCEA external exams.



The Unknown Explorers of Prehistory

Friday, July 31st, 2020 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

As a boy I had a fascination for Arctic explorers; Nansen, Nordenskjold, Peary, Franklin Cook, and a Scot by the name of John Rae. Many years later when working as an interpretive tour guide at Denali National Park in Central Alaska I found myself working alongside Yupiks, Athabascan and Aleuts and was reminded that as my boyhood heroes pushed north in their clunky wooden-hulled ships in search of that elusive Northwest Passage they encountered people already living on that frigid landscape and who had been for thousands of years.

Where did they come from? When did they arrive and how did they get there?

The classic story I learned at school was that first Americans crossed the land-bridge (Beringia) from Siberia at a time of warmer interglacial climate around 11,000-14, 000 years ago.

However, this is assertion is increasingly being challenged by recent archaeological finds.
What is emerging is evidence of a much earlier arrival than previously thought at a time of `Glacial Maximum’ when the `land-bridge’ was buried under kilometre thick ice sheets.

Who were these men and women – these nameless explorers of prehistory – and could they really have crossed a Beringian ice-cap?

Anatomically they were the same as you or I but what did they wear, how did they navigate, how did they survive such hostile conditions?

What were their hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears as they pushed further and further into an increasingly hostile environment? Were they driven by the pursuit of something new and better or fleeing from something bad?

Or is it simply that the urge to make ‘split-infinite journeys’ and “boldly go where no-one has gone before” is inherent in us as a species. That pull of the far horizon, to explore, took us out of Africa and remains with us today as we plan to colonise other planets.

The more one delves into what we know of these earliest of Arctic explorer/colonisers one can’t help but admire the tenacity, resilience and bravery they must surely have had to cross from Asia to Alaska and down through the Americas.

Until recently the commonly held theory was that the first human inhabitants of the Americas arrived somewhere around 11,000 years ago. Known as the Clovis people after a characteristic type of stone tool first found at a site in Clovis, New Mexico in the 1930’s their stone tools have subsequently been found across the Americas.

Then, in the 1990’s evidence began emerging from a number of sites of earlier occupation, the most famous and controversial being the Monte Verde site way down in Southern Chile. Monte Verde sparked intense controversy within the archaeological community as it claimed evidence of occupation as early as 14,500-18,500 years ago. To have reached Southern Chile by then those first colonisers would have had to have crossed Beringia much earlier than previously thought. ‘’Not possible” say the glaciologists! Beringia would have been covered in kilometre deep ice sheets at that time.

Could they have snuck around the southern coast of Beringia? Perhaps these tenacious early colonisers coastal hopped up the east coast of Asia, round to the Alaskan Archipelago, down the British Columbian coast to California, Mexico and beyond to South America.
This Coastal-Settlement Theory is gaining more and more traction with archaeologists as new sites are discovered.
Sea levels at that time of Glacial Maximum would have been up to 120 metres lower exposing many coves, beaches and islands submerged today. The single longest sea journey might well have been less than 200km.

Marine Archaeology is challenging at the best of time but nowhere more so that around the Bering Sea and Alaskan coast, so gathering evidence for the coastal- settlement theory remains challenging. While only a few coastal sites have been found dating from about 11000-15000 years ago the search continues as new archaeological techniques and technology develops.

What we do know is that as early as 60, 000 years ago proto-Melanesians were a seafaring people. There is evidence of voyages of 150- 450 km by 32,000 years ago. All of which supports the idea of a possible coastal settlement path up the coast of Asia and across to the Alaskan Coast of the Americas.

The Chiquihuite Cave Site
Now a newly discovered site in Mexico has pushed the arrival of the first Americans back even further -a whole 15,000 years earlier than previously thought!
Chiquihuite Cave is located far inland in a remote mountainous region at a height of nearly 3000m. Over 2000 stone tools have been unearthed along with other evidence that push the arrival of the first Americans back to 25,000-30,000 years ago!
“We don’t know who they were, where they came from or where they went. They are a complete enigma. We falsely assume that the indigenous populations in the Americas today are direct descendants from the earliest Americans, but now we do not think that is the case.
By the time the famous Clovis population entered America, the very early Americans had disappeared thousands of years before. There could have been many failed colonisations that were lost in time and did not leave genetic traces in the population today”. Says Archaeologist Dr. Ciprian Ardelean.

No human remains or DNA has yet been found at this site so it is not possible to know for sure the genetic lineage to possible founder populations in Siberia and Beringia.
The traditional view that most Native Americans (in both North and South America) are mainly descended from the same ancient peoples that most Chinese, Japanese and other East Asians are descended from is now also being challenged by recent genomic research. This suggests that the initial peopling of the Americas was probably carried out by a different group of people partly related to ancestors of modern-day Australian aborigines, Papua New Guineans, Andaman Islanders and Mamanwa people from the Philippines.

Whether those early explorer colonisers fought their way on foot across expansive glaciers and down an ice-free corridor within Alaska or battled stormy seas around the fringes of a frigid Beringia they must have been remarkably tough and resilient individuals and communities.
The individual identities  of the very first to  make the crossing will remain forever unknown. Since we have no Nansen, Nordenskjold or Peary to be our Arctic explorer heroes from that era we are left with a collective reverence for an unknown people who had the tenacity, endurance, drive and fortitude to make the toughest migration since our species walked out of Africa somewhere around 80,000 years ago.

Sources & Further Reading:

YouTube Links:

Most archaeologists think the first Americans arrived by boat. Now, they’re beginning to prove it

How the First Americans Got There

Landmark find rewrites world’s prehistory as it is currently known

Earliest humans stayed at the Americas ‘oldest hotel’ in Mexican cave

Evidence of human occupation in Mexico around the Last Glacial Maximum
Ciprian F. Ardelean, Lorena Becerra-Valdivia, […]Eske Willerslev : Nature (2020)

Illustration credits:
1. Tyler Jacobsen
2. Kenneth Garrett
3. Chris Burns
4. Dr. Ciprian Andelean

Sleep – “The Main Course in Life’s Feast and The Most Nourishing”

Monday, May 11th, 2020 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

moonlit sky with stars

Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary labourer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.”
So wrote William Shakespeare.

I’ve never really thought of `The Bard’ as being a cognitive scientist but he is uncannily close to the truth with those words if we take a brief dive into sleep science research.

So, what is your  sleep routine? Are you a morning or a night time person? Do you go to bed at same time every night or just whenever?

I’m a night time person myself and often don’t get to bed till midnight or later if I get engrossed in some creative project. At the other end of the day I wake early, hate sleeping in and am a big fan of sunrises so, if  pre-dawn sky looks promising will often head out with camera, tripod and thermos of coffee to watch the new day unfold. As a student  I was as guilty as  the next man  of pulling a few too many `all-nighters’ in the run up to exams or during post exam party season. My first post-university job was as a `Water Bailiff on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and involved night shift work -patrolling the river after dark looking for poachers! And it doesn’t get dark till very late in summer on the Outer Hebrides (Great use of a zoology degree, eh?). In my late 20’s I crewed on an private Antarctic expedition ship  for over a year where our `watches’(shifts) ran four hours on 8 hours off over the 24 hour cycle. As part of the expedition  I  spent 11 months in a tiny hut  on the Antarctic continent with just 2 companions.  There we went from 24 hours daylight to 24 hours darkness that  lasted about 3 months ( It would be fair to say  that the `novelty’ of 24 hours darkness wears off fairly quickly !).  The terms `night’ and `day’ as determined by the hands on the clock lose their meaning. I quickly discovered that the key to maintaining daily motivation, mental and emotional balance was `routine’. Having  a routine for the `day’  meant Antarctic night became an experience I could relish and  cherish forever !

Outside of  those diurnal extremes I’d always held to the belief that it doesn’t really matter when you go to bed? Life is for living, right? The body will tell you when it wants to sleep? What ever time  that happens to be that day doesn’t really matter!

How wrong I was!

I’ve recently discovered that there’s a lot of research that says it does matter!
Not just when you sleep but how much sleep your body gets.

What’s more, the implications of not sleeping well and regularly could have profound effects not just on your ability to learn but on your cardiovascular system , reproductive capacity and immune systemSo as we look for ways to maximise our protection against CoVid19 a good night’s sleep  may well be another powerful tool in the cupboard.

It is clear that far from being at rest during sleep your brain is beavering away  and working very hard  to keep us  healthy, and sane.

Sleep is our  superpower according to brain scientist Prof Matt Walker.Matt Walker on TED Stage

In his short TED talk, he eloquently presents us with some sobering research and conclusions on how we potentially abuse our bodies through our sleep habits.


The data and conclusion presented  in his talk  blew me away  when I first watched  and this along with further reading on the topic has made me re-evaluate my current sleep regime. 

Have a look for yourself  and if not convinced, here a few more links on sleep science  you may find interesting:

Why do we sleep? Russell Foster
Russell Foster is a circadian neuroscientist: He studies the sleep cycles of the brain. And he asks: What do we know about sleep? Not a lot, it turns out, for something we do with one-third of our lives. In this talk, Foster shares three popular theories about why we sleep, busts some myths about how much sleep we need at different ages — and hints at some bold new uses of sleep as a predictor of mental health.

The brain benefits of deep sleep — and how to get more of it
Dan Gartenberg
There’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep. What if technology could help us get more out of it? Dan Gartenberg is working on tech that stimulates deep sleep, the most regenerative stage which (among other wonderful things) might help us consolidate our memories and form our personalities. Find out more about how playing sounds that mirror brain waves during this stage might lead to deeper sleep — and its potential benefits on our health, memory and ability to learn.

Sleep-Engineering: Improve Your Life By Manipulating Your Sleep
Penny Lewis Lewis is a neuroscientist at the University of Manchester, where she runs the Neuroscience and Psychology of Sleep (NaPS) lab. Based on the latest neuroscientific research Penny Lewis shows why sleep is thought to be critical for combining and restructuring memories, and thus to form the basis of creativity.

Why Schools should start later for Teens
Wendy Troxel
Teens don’t get enough sleep, and it’s not because of Snapchat, social lives or hormones — it’s because of public policy, says Wendy Troxel. Drawing from her experience as a sleep researcher, clinician and mother of a teenager, Troxel discusses how early school start times deprive adolescents of sleep during the time of their lives when they need it most.
This talk is more related to US teens where many schools start ~ 7am. (Perish the thought !) but still worth a look.

Additional references related  to  some of the specific research cited in  Prof. Matt Walker’s talk can be found here

Finally, a few starter  tips for a good night’s sleep

  1. Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, no matter whether it’s the weekday or the weekend. Regularity is king!
  2. Keep it cool! Aim for a bedroom temperature of around 18 degrees Celsius.
  3. Avoid the urge for that last look at your emails or just one more Youtube clip just before bed .
  4. If find yourself tossing and turning  and not able to get to sleep, get out of bed and go to a different room and do something different. Your brain will very quickly associate your bedroom with the place of wakefulness, and you need to break that association. So only return to bed when you are sleepy.
  5.  Try  and avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol  before  bed time

For more Healthy Sleep Tips  from our Otago University  Well Sleep Centre click here

So if you find  yourself  struggling with aspects of school work, prone to colds and flu and  life just generally  getting you down try re-evaluating your sleep routine.

In  the words of  a more modern prescient writer, the  “Dean of science fiction“,
Robert  A. Heinlein:

“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more !”

Using Podcasts to Learn About Science

Thursday, April 30th, 2020 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Written by Petrina Duncan

If you enjoy listening to stories and are naturally curious, podcasts are a way in which you could learn more about almost any topic you can think of. There are lots of benefits of listening to podcasts: you can do other tasks such as exercising at the same time, a wide range of global topics are covered, you will hear a range of communication methods, and you can visualise as you listen which engages multiple parts of your brain. Learn about other benefits here.

The diversity of podcasts is huge, so here is a list of some science-based podcasts accessible online which you can browse through to find topics you are interested in or curious about. Enjoy the show!

New Zealand Podcast Series:

  1. Our Changing World This excellent science and natural history series has been running for many years on Radio New Zealand (RNZ). The weekly show is currently hosted by the very talented Alison Ballance, a zoologist, wildlife filmmaker, writer and radio producer. Alison often goes on location for her stories to labs and field sites in remote and rugged places, eg. Antarctica, Codfish Island and the Chatham Islands. Highly recommended. Also worth listening to is Alison’s four-part series called Voice of the Iceberg set in Antarctica.
  1. Critter of the Week Presented by Jesse Mulligan (RNZ) and Nicola Toki (Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Ambassador), this weekly session combines a friendly chat with a scientific description of uncharismatic but loveable, lesser known species in NZ. For example, learn about the NZ antlion, Bryde’s whales, basking sharks, or Smeagol the gravel maggot. Who knew there was a maggot named after Smeagol?
  1. Science Express Presented by Te Papa museum in Wellington (see their blog), these podcasts are recordings of live interviews with experts, recorded in front of an audience. Learn about diverse topics such as the psychology of criminals, fossil hunting for dinosaurs and drilling into the Alpine Fault. Not a weekly series.
  1. Scigest Described as ‘podcast-sized servings of digestible science from the world of Plant and Food research’, this has something for everyone. Within their numerous podcast episodes, learn about topics such as the future of food, the personality of a snapper, stink bugs and the career path to becoming a scientist. A must for future scientists, especially those interested in plants, food, horticulture, biosecurity or genetics.
  1. Stupid questions for scientists Although not strictly a NZ podcast, the presenter is an award winning science communicator, Dr Michelle Dickinson, better known as Nano Girl, who now teaches at the University of Auckland. Described as “a brilliantly entertaining, while delightfully educating podcast which brings together top comedians and scientists. Topics include animal intelligence, medicinal majijuana and the science of attraction. Riveting stuff!

Australian Podcast Series:

  1. The Science Show A weekly radio series produced by the ABC in Australia. The Science Show provides unique insights into the latest scientific research and debate, from the physics of cricket to prime ministerial biorhythms. Hear about the future of space research, how young people view science, life at extreme ocean depths and amazing stories about blood.
  1. Great Moments in Science Another ABC Australia production, host Dr Karl Kruszelnicki reveals ‘groundbreaking and life-saving’ science stories, as well as a few ‘wacky and implausible’ ones. Be absorbed by topics such as why humans are no longer cannibals, why 5G won’t kill you and the intelligence of spiders.
  1. Science Friction Described by the ABC as ‘science, culture and everything in between’ this series focuses on topics which might be slightly contentious, edgy or controversial. Hosted by award-winning science presenter/journalist Natasha Mitchell. Check out their recent podcast on bats, pandemics and China’s wildlife markets with relation to the COVID-19 virus. Great interviews with relevant experts.

British Podcast Series:

  1. 5 Live Science Podcast Join Dr Chris Smith and the ‘Naked Scientists’ for a weekly update of science news stories and analysis from the BBC radio. Their topics are diverse, their humour is entertaining, and they even answer questions from the public about science topics. Episode examples: beached whales, bright Neanderthals, the Coronavirus, veganism, gene editing. Great listening.
  1. Costing the Earth An excellent BBC radio series which covers a wide range of global environmental and conservation topics. They often go on location and interview lots of different experts. Episode examples include: eco anxiety, how young people are taking on climate change issues, and ending the age of plastics. Subscribe and upskill.
  1. Discovery Explorations into the world of science from BBC radio. The presenters often interview leading scientists who have made significant discoveries in their field of research. Episode examples include gene research, stem cells, COVID-19, locust plagues and micro-plastics in the ocean.
  1. CrowdScience The BBC take ‘questions from the public about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.’ Updated weekly, you can hear answers to questions like:  Can science explain why I love shopping? Why are we obsessed with crime? Would humans still exist if dinosaurs were alive? Fascinating stuff.
  1. BBC Inside Science Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that’s changing our world. Of particular interest to NZ biology students will be their podcasts about human evolution, eg. The hidden history in our DNA – Part 1 – Sex and Disease and The hidden history in our DNA – Part 2 – Travel and Culture.

American Podcast Series:

  1. Sciencemag A weekly science podcast show, produced by the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). Two or three topics are discussed each week, including interviews with expert scientists. They currently have a strong focus on COVID-19 related stories (like most science podcasts!). Other topics include: visiting a near-Earth asteroid, why adults are always badmouthing the next generation, and the limits on human endurance. Something for everyone.
  1. Overheard at National Geographic Each week, the presenters ‘dive into one of the curiously delightful conversations they’ve overheard around National Geographic’s headquarters. You’ll be introduced to the explorers, photographers and scientists at the edges of our big, bizarre, and beautiful world.’ Hear about zombie mice, the hidden cost of the perfect selfie, and how beavers work as carbon releasers of the permafrost environment. The National Geographic website has lots of other wonderful things to explore.
  1. Scientific American  If your attention span is short, these podcasts might suit you. They are short, snappy and always interesting. Learn about worm-like creatures which are our ancient ancestors, puffins using tools, COVID-19 updates and fungi on flaky scalps. Delightful !

Hopefully this list of science podcasts inspires you to tune in, get inspired and practise the art of listening. Remember that podcasts are also available through itunes, spotify, iHeart radio, Google Podcasts and radio network websites like the BBC, ABC, RNZ and our own local Dunedin based OAR FM:  Science Academy(OUASSA) Student Podcasts and University of Otago Science Notes.

Are ALL Viruses Bad?

Thursday, March 26th, 2020 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

graphic of sausage-shaped bacteria with pin-like viruses attachedWith all that is going on  around us,  all across this beautiful planet of ours and the word `virus’ dominating everything we see, hear, read in the media at the moment I found myself thinking “Are all viruses bad? Are there any useful, beneficial viruses? And  why  ARE bats  such good carriers  off so many nasty diseases – over 60 of them!”

It seems highly likely that viruses do play a substantial part in maintaining a healthy body.  You have probably heard of our `microbiome’ but what about our ‘virome’
Read more here:
How ‘good’ viruses may influence health 
Not All Viruses Are Bad For You. Here Are Some That Can Have a Protective Effect
And here:
Viruses Don’t Deserve Their Bad Rap: They’re The Unsung Heroes You Never See
[In  the embedded Ted-X talk in this link, the always engaging, Peter Pollard also  illustrates some illuminating facts about how much C02 freshwater ecosystems pump into the atmosphere, due in part to viruses… everything is linked! ]

And on the question of why bats are such good carriers of disease.Brown bat in flight
Check out:
Why Do Bats Transmit So Many Diseases?

BEFORE YOU CLICK-  Spend a minute thinking about what you know of bat behaviour and basic physiology …. (The answer may take flight in your head…(hint))


However, when all is said and done our thoughts are all on one virus at the moment.

Ever wondered how the tests for Coronavirus work?
May you never have to take one!

Need a refresher on just exactly what viruses are and how they work?
Check out this great Khan Academy Tutorial on Viruses and the  text Q&A that follows.

Stay safe
Be patient

Science Academy 2019 Student Podcasts

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Exploring  effective techniques for communicating science to a public audience is a key component of Science Academy (OUASSA). Every year our students undertake a project under one of four science communication streams:- Interpretive Science Talks, Science Film Making with your cell phone or Ipad, Museum Science Communication, Science Radio Podcasting.

This year Shannon Colbert and Domi Angelo-Laloli from Community Access Radio’s OAR  105.4FM Dunedin mentored eight of our students  through the process of constructing a short science podcast by means of interactive workshops in the studio and on-line  support throughout the year.

Below is a list  of the topics they covered

Physicists on the Pitch
by Abdul Ahmadi from Mangere College

Discover the science behind Soccer! From Newton’s Laws of Physics, to the Magnus Effect and the use of `Cleats’.

Operation: Space-cial Exploration
by Jessica Marshall from Opihi College

Billions of stars, hundreds of planets, a black hole or two, but how do we know this? What feats of engineering were needed to bring us this knowledge and what will be needed to further understand the world around us?

The Periodic Podcast
by Niamh Frizzell from Awaptapu College

This podcast is about history of the periodic table, the `International Year of the Periodic Table’ and the celebrations that surround it.

Error 1387 Gene Unavoidable
by Seruwaia Matairavula from Wesley College

In this podcast I discuss Genetics at Otago University and how the study can benefit humanity. I am accompanied by Sean, a Masters student studying genetics, and Science Academy attendee, Cameron Bergin from John Paul II High School in Greymouth.

The Extra-terrestrial Podcast
by Corban Taylor from Opotiki College

If you want to listen in to a good friend and I talk about aliens and all that jazz then listen in, as we discuss our views on alien beliefs.

Are We Living in a Simulation?
by Maddison Ridder from Verdon College & Cameron Bergin from John Paul II High

Have you ever felt like you have no control, like your whole life is set out for you? Have you ever thought that maybe you’re living in a simulation? Well, it’s more possible than you’d think. This podcast is going to investigate the reasons why we could be part of a simulation.

Lost in Translation
by Gemma Marnane from Central Southland College

If you are willing to deny convention, it becomes more worthy of attention. For all the knowledge, all the fear, we forget to speak of the meaning, which is hidden. Take this, imagine a world in words. It forms languages and societies, stipulates mutations, natural selection and forms gene pools and populations. It’s the world. We are all just a little lost in translation.

Becoming a Midwife
by Tamel Robertson from Aurora College

My podcast is based on the life of a midwife and the duties in her role. I will be interviewing midwife Margaret Gardner to gather information for the listener as well as myself as I plan on beginning my study to become a midwife next year, in 2020.

Have a listen here at

Happy Listening!

Muslim Scientists- A legacy long before the European Enlightenment.

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

As our hearts go out to the victims of the Christchurch Mosque attack I find myself Montage of portraits of famous historical Muslim scientistsreflecting on the significant contribution to science made by the Islamic culture.
The brutal and tragic massacre of innocent civilians in a Christchurch Mosque on 15 March 2019 is a sad and sobering reminder of our capacity for extreme intolerance of a belief system other than our own.
As a species we seem to embrace belief systems. There are estimated to be over 4,000 belief systems or religions across the globe with nearly 75% of humankind practicing one the five most influential religions of the world: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam.

Science, on the other hand is not a `belief system’ but a process – a problem-solving approach we call the `scientific method’:-

1. Make an observation.
2. Ask a question.
3. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
5. Test the prediction.
6. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

As such it is universal – a universal process we can apply to help us unravel the mysteries of the world around us.
Many exponents of the scientific method may themselves be religious. There is no contradiction in that. Science is a process.
“The father of the Big Bang theory was actually a Catholic priest, the pioneer of modern genetics was an Augustinian monk, or the decoder of the human genome converted from atheism to Christianity in his 20s

The world of science owes a great deal to the Islamic culture. 

Long before the European Enlightenment, scholars and researchers working from Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan to Cordoba in Spain advanced our knowledge of astronomy, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, medicine and philosophy.*

So I thought I’d make today’s blog a brief celebratory foray into the world of famous Muslim scientists.

Here are just 10 who made a significant contribution to the world of science, our world over the last few hundred years.

1. Jabir ibn Hayyan: 721-815 AD
“Father of Chemistry”. His text on chemistry and alchemy laid the foundation of modern chemistry
2. Ibn al-Haytham: 965 AD
Astronomer, mathematician, and physicist. Invented the Pin-Hole Camera.
3. Al-Biruni: 973-1048 AD
Scientist, mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and natural scientist.
At the age of 17 he calculate the latitude of his village. Calculated radius of the Earth.
4. Al-Kindi: ~ 805-873 AD
He was the first to discover sound waves.
Wrote 260 books on various subjects &was expert in several subjects like, physics, math, astronomy, geography, music, and especially philosophy.
5. Ahmed Zewail: 1946-2016
Nobel Prize winner and “father of femtochemisty”.
6. Abdus Salam: 1926-1996
First Muslim to receive a Nobel Prize in science for his contribution in electroweak unification theory
7. Ibn al-Nafis: 1213- 1288 AD
He was the first who fully describe the pulmonary circulation of the blood.
8. Aziz Sancar:  Born 1946
Nobel laureate for his work on DNA repair
9. Ali Javan: 1926-2016
Quantum Physics and Spectroscopy. Co-inventor of gas laser 1960
10. Omar Khayyam: ~1048-1132 AD
As well as being famous poet he solved and classified cubic equation. His method was largely based on geometric solution and his solar calendar was one of the most accurate.
(See the references below if you want to explore further)


What are the most widely practiced religions of the world?
Big believers: Dr Stephen Juan 6 Oct 2006

How the scientific method is used to test a hypothesis.
Kahn Academy

First worldwide survey of religion and science: No, not all scientists are atheists
Phys.Org Dec 3 2015

Did History’s Most Famous Scientists Believe In God?
Forbes (Quora) June 26 2018

Are religion and science always at odds? Here are three scientists that don’t think so
Anna Salleh ABC Science 24 May 2018

Top 20 Muslim Scientists and Their Inventions

Muslim Scientists

Further Reading:

Science and Islam: A History*
by Ehsan Masood
Icon Books Ltd; UK ed. ISBN-10: 9781848310407

Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists 
by Michael H. Morgan
National Geographic; Reprint Edition  ISBN-10: 9781426202803

Setting off on a Treasure Hunt: Researching for a talk, film, podcast

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Having decided on your  topic the next challenge is researching the science around that topic and collating the information you need to get across your key message(s) or theme  about your topic.Cartoon of Footrot flats dog scribbling furiously

There’s so much information out there it can be overwhelming.  Even more so in these days of  `false facts’ and `fake news’.

What’s the agreed knowledge, what’s new, what’s controversial?

So I thought I’d highlight a few post from previous years that may help you as you dive into the research phase of your science communication projects.

July Science Talks: Knowing your Material

July Science Talks: Knowing your Material

How to evaluate websites

Online Literacy E-learning module

As you are researching, one approach is to sort the information you think is relevant to your project around the 5 key questions:  what?, where?, when? why? and how?

That will help you when you start pulling the first draft  together.

Finally, when it comes to conveying a difficult science concept to a public audience never underestimate the value of the children’s section of the library.

If you are looking for a good graphic to illustrate, for example how DNA replication works, or nuclear fission vs fusion, those found in  books aimed at young readers will not only  be more easily understood by non-scientists, they will be more attractive and engaging when  presented  on screen, rather than an overly complicated  diagram from a university level text. ( Don’t forget  to credit any image you use).

While it might seem daunting at first, delving into the research phase of  any science communication can be fun and exciting as  you set off on a treasure hunt for  relevant information on your  chosen  topic – a topic that you are already passionate about!




Why Maths is Important to Me

Monday, October 15th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Why Maths is Important to Me


Sarah Bird   Hawera High School



Maths is an abstract science dealing with the concept of number, quantity and space, which makes it a rather difficult concept to explain the importance of.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know a lot about maths. I know how to do the basics. I can add, subtract, multiply, divide, do basic differentiation and integration, put numbers in formulas and work out the area for a two-dimensional shape.

I understand that maths is more than numbers. There are letters involved. And real-life situations to apply maths concepts to. Most of the time you will never need trigonometry in your life. Or algebra. But maths is everywhere and its importance to me and others cannot be ignored.

In calculus, we are taught the acronym DELSDEBT for optimisation problems. Finding the minimum or maximum values. For a long time, I have struggled with this concept, but I’m slowly starting to figure it out. It doesn’t always have to relate to just calculus equations either.

Draw a diagram – Be creative. Maths doesn’t always have to be formulas on a sheet and a long paragraph of information to be put directly in a calculator. It also shows that there are multiple ways to approach a problem and taking the time to draw gives you time to think about the problem.

Equations are formed – Start to put the information together in a logical manner. Find the pieces of the puzzle. Put the things that need to go together, together. Its relevant information finding. Reading the question (somehow the easiest, yet hardest thing to do in solving a problem).

Link equations- Start to put the pieces together. All the equations into one to limit the number of variables. It makes things simpler. This step is sometimes not even necessary. Not all steps are.

Substitute – There is the beginning of the solution. All relevant pieces of information are almost in place. It’s delegating what numbers go where in the problem. For a real-life problem, who does what tasks and what their tasks are.

Differentiated- This is the part of calculus where you actually differentiate the equations. There is now a direct plan on how to solve the problem. It’s also the step you need to get at least an achieved for the question in the NCEA Differentiation paper. Sometimes this is the step you need to get to and you can’t go any further. You may need more help. And if you carry on and fail the rest, at least you know you got something of the problem right.

Equate to zero- Find the values to find the maximum or minimum. Using more information to solve the problem. Last minute organisation of activities. The frantic panic of finishing internals or homework assignments when they are not yet finished, yet are so close to being complete.

Back substitute- This is where you find the maximum or minimum. The actual solution to the problem. What is the actual answer?

Test you have answered the question – If you have taken the time to follow this whole process, you might as well check you have the right answer and answered what the question asked. There is no point in answering 8 to 2+4. Double check everything is done.

Then you can let out a sigh of relief knowing that you have done everything in your power to solve the problem. As mentioned before, the problem doesn’t always have to be maths.

Maths is important to me, because there is a process that goes along with it. Yes, you can put numbers in a formula, get the right answer and you will successful with it. But sometimes you put numbers in a formula and still have absolutely no idea what you are doing and what the point of it all is. If there is process and order to how you approach a situation, it is a lot easier to find out where you went wrong, how you can improve things and what actually went alright.

Maths doesn’t always have the answers, but it’s a good way to start finding some. It will tell you whether you were right or wrong. And it might even point you in the direction of the right answer.

What Science Done For Me

Thursday, September 27th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

What Science has done for me

Head shot of student Fylgia Romero
By Fylgia Romero
Ellesmere College

In a world full of war and conflict, science plays a very significant role for me – a young and curious member of society.

Science is defined as a ‘branch of knowledge’. Science is often associated with white laboratory coats, big textbooks and confusing equations. But science is more than just these things to me. Science for me is an eye-opener to the world around me and predominantly, the world inside me. Science is a key to every door I face throughout many different aspects I find myself in.

Science continues to play significant roles in every aspect of my journey from the moment I was still a single cell. Little did I know how far we have come in science looking back through history and to how we used to live. But little by little, it all starts to piece together. Science never fails to fascinate me as a youth full of awe and wonder.

From my understanding, science has always been there. Everything works together in our universe and it has allowed the human species to survive to this date. However, not all of us are fortunate. I am blessed to be living in this developing country. We are blessed to have the freedom and access to modern technology as well as people who have the knowledge of how to heal diseases. Science has slowly taken over. Because of the development of the medical field and our knowledge we now know how to cure, even the most degenerative diseases, saving many innocent lives. Our knowledge of physics has taken us above the skies exploring what we have not yet seen. We now have satellites which allow us to connect with people all over the world and warn us of meteorological issues. Our knowledge of chemistry has made us see matter and what does and doesn’t really matter. We now have laboratories that particularly look at creating promising chemicals in the hopes of contributing to society’s needs. Our knowledge of biology and agriculture have made us see life in different forms – all of great value. We now have procedures we consider trustworthy enough to push us, individuals, to our next steps. Science has woven our society closer together than we have ever been before having the majority of us united with the same scientific beliefs. These are just little pieces that come together to make science what it is right now.

It all depends on the context. For me, as a person of strong faith, I believe science is interchangeable with faith. As much as most non-believers say that science challenges faith, I believe that science and faith coexist in this argumentative society of ours. I, as a science student, believe that the things around me are made up of millions of tiny particles – without seeing them. I believe that there are millions of other universes outside ours – without seeing them. I believe in the different biochemical systems inside my body – without seeing them. And this is why I consider science and faith connected because faith is a matter of believing without seeing, thus having faith in science and in my Creator – whom I don’t see but still strongly believe in.

Science is a realm that needs to be explored much further. There is so much we do not understand and some things we may never will. Is there even an end to knowledge? We continue in the hopes of making our world a better place for everyone even if it costs a great sacrifice. They say ignorance is bliss. But where would we be without the knowledge we have gained through discoveries made in our past? Science has done a lot for me and have seen that it has too for many individuals. As we continue putting these pieces together, I believe that science will continue expanding in our minds. We can only hope that future generations will continue our search for answers for the good.

Science in a Day

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Science in a DayHead shot of student Jorgee Robb

by  Jorgee Robb   Gore High School

There is a lot that science does for me in a day, but not only does science helps me, it also helps you. It is everywhere and we don’t even know that it is science because it is ‘regular’ and ‘normal.’ So now let’s consider the science of a perfectly normal day.
There’s a ringing in my ear. Slowly I pry open my eyes, darkness still fills the entirety of the room. I reach over, push snooze on my loudly ringing phone. This is the first piece of science that I use for the day. The cell phone was invented by Martin Cooper, of Motorola, back in 1973. Not only does the cell phone send and receive calls as well as texts, but also offers Google, email, a camera and just about anything your mind can imagine. I step out of the warm haven and pad down the hallway to the kitchen. I put on the jug and put bread in the toaster. Yet again, I thank people for their inventions. The first electric jug was invented by Compton and Co in 1891. The toaster was invented by Alan MacMasters in Edinburgh in 1893. Through the years both have been updated to what they are today.

Once fed and dressed, I leave for Gore in my car. Thanks to science I can travel 45 minutes by car to school. The car was invented by Karl Benz who built his first automobile in 1885 in Mannheim, Germany. Thanks to his invention, I can have a better education and more opportunity. When I arrive at the aging, rough cast building of Gore High School, like every Monday morning, I have study first. I dodge past all the juniors to the study room, where I can settle down and finish my history essay, on the Treaty of Waitangi. I pull out my laptop, which was first imagined by Alan Kay in 1968. Now with the conveniences of laptops, writing my essay is much easier than writing the Treaty of Waitangi back in 1840. Second is chemistry, where we are doing titrations. Titrations were first used by Karl Fischer in 1935, to determine the trace amount of water in a sample. Nowadays, we think this is ‘old fashioned’ technology, yet it is still relatively new. Calculus is third, where we are studying systems of equations. The calculator is extremely handy in calc and takes less brain power typing in the numbers. Blaise Pascal invented the mechanical calculator in 1642 but now it has many more features such as the ability to graph an equation or solve equations for you. Biology is next, where we are learning about CRIPR-CAS 9. This technology could forever change the way humans live by changing the DNA base sequence of the DNA of an organism. It gives people with hereditary diseases a hope and a future. School assembly is before lunch. We are able to see the words to the song we sing and the slides to the PowerPoint of the topic talked about with the help of a projector. Eadweard Muybridge invented the first movie projector in 1879, but now they are used for much more than just movies.

When I get back home, from a ‘long day at the chalk face,’ I go to feed my sheep. I get Sheep in a paddock with a 4 wheeled quad bikeon my 4-wheeler motor bike, which helps me move hay. Edward Butler first imagined the self-moving bike in 1884. Now motorbikes come in all shapes and sizes and are extremely helpful for farmers. Stepping out of the typical Southland rain, I head inside to cook tea. Tea is easily cooked in the electric oven and takes no time or thought. However, from 1906 an electric oven had never been thought of until Lloyd Groff Copeman did. He then manufactured his design and now it is extremely uncommon for someone not to have an electric oven. Electric Ovens were invented to make cooking easier. I sit down in front of the heat pump, which is keeping our farm house mild. The heat pump was first invented by Peter Von Rittinger in 1855-57. He discovered that circulated air could be transformed into heat, making the heat pump.

Sitting here I think about my day and how the different aspects of science have helped my day. Some inventions help us day to day, while others help for specialist activities. All these inventions help not only me but you too, they make our lives much more easier and allow us to fit in more to our day. We take for granted what science and scientists have brought us, without these technologies and inventions our lives would not be what they are today.

Paper Making – My First Encounters

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Paper Making – My First EncountersHead shot of student

Nakita  Corfield
Dargaville High School

It was there! After school, while exploring through my grandfather’s shed I found a
“How-to-make paper” guide. You see, after witnessing my after school delicacies of blackberries that grow across the gravel road being covered with dust as cars drove by, I knew I had to take action against waste contamination.sheets of rough grey recycled paper

And it was there, at that moment when I found the kit that I knew I could do something about it. I could use paper that I drew on, spilt juice on, and even paper that my dog had stepped on with her wet and dirty paws to make new and fresh paper. I spent hours ripping apart paper into the tiniest pieces that I was able to make. Next, I would soak the torn paper for a couple of nights to soften it. Then I could use my blender to create a pulp. Once this step was complete, the hard part was over. All I had to do is lay the pulp onto drying racks and wait. This was the most irritating part for my 7 year-old self. All I wanted was to witness my magnificent masterpiece reborn.

My paper looked nowhere near as good as store bought fresh paper. The oddly coloured grey pulp sat in uneven piles all over the rack. If I didn’t allow enough time for the paper to completely dry, it would crumble through my fingers. So getting the timing right was key.

Little did I know that 10 years later I would be researching the` Kraft Process’ of how paper is created through NCEA. This research internal made me realise that I was introduced a lot sooner to science than I initially thought. It wasn’t when I first made hokey pokey during my intermediate years, it was even sooner – I just didn’t understand it yet. At the age of 7, I accomplished the art of papermaking. Like how I pulled apart old pieces of paper whereas paper mills finely dice the wood that they receive into the correct sizes, ready for the cooking process. However, unlike H2O that I used to soak the pulp in, a special solution called white liquor which is a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide is used. This removes the lignin – a substance in trees which make the cells of the trees wood hard. Once all of the required lignin is removed from the pulp, it is then screened for any knots and twists that were missed. If only I had added this step into my process! Then I would have had clean smooth paper. An extra step at the paper mills of bleaching the pulp is added. This enables the paper to become the desired colour. Finally, like my process, the pulp is laid out and left to dry.

Now that I know what steps I can use to make my homemade paper even better, I hope to use it in the near future!


Me and the Hive

Friday, September 7th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Me and the Hive

by Jehu Brogden     Stratford High School

Jehu Brodgen head shot


Buzz, buzz, buzz. Stay still Jehu, you’re a statue, think calming thoughts3 photos of bee hives like ice cream, like this bee kindly flying away. These were my thoughts as I stood petrified on a summer evening, out beekeeping with my father. As always, I was wondering how the heck my father had talked me into doing this. Sure, their honey is sweet, but their barbed stinger is sharp and there are approximately sixty thousand1 of them. All armed and ready to go. Then I feel it, the soft griping of the insect’s six legs, as it slowly starts to crawl up my overalls. I see it’s “abdomen is abruptly bent downward2” its readying for the sting in the exact moment my body tenses. I feel the hot burning sensation as the barbed dagger enters my body, I know the bee is dead. But I need to run.

Bees may not form an angry storm cloud like we see in films, but they do work together to get rid of a threat to the hive. I run as fast as I can, my legs pumping, and I swear that I have never run so fast in my life. I arrive at home in a world of pain, but thankfully I know what to do. I sprint to the kitchen and seized a packet of sodium bicarbonate (or as I knew it at the time baking soda). Next I quickly removed the stinger as it was still pumping its venom into me (which is composed of 88% water and is acidic with a ph. between 4.5 and 5.53). Once I had done this I spread the paste on thy skin and let out a sigh of relief as I knew that the acid in the venom was being neutralised. This was the first time that I can remember using science, because science to me is not just knowledge but being able to apply this knowledge.

Some days later…

The bees are surrounding us once again with their ugly buzzing, crashing into my bee suit like kamikazes. They have no remorse, just like me at this moment. I was fed up with this queen rearing business. The hives are even more unhappy than usual, although to be honest I can’t blame them. After all we had just split the hive and made it queen-less. But when you are getting stung daily you do start to question your father’s choice in hobbies. At least painting doesn’t hurt.

We quickly took out a frame of brood and returned to our shed. It was time to start grafting. I was nervous at this point because, if I mucked this up then all work we had done in the last week would be for nought. I turned on the cold light and held the grafting tool loosely. It was shaped like a pen but had a spatula at the end. It’s just a game of Operation I say to myself. The goal is to very, very gently slide the spatula down the side of the comb and then gently remove the larvae without rolling or squashing it. Then I had to gently place them into the prepared queen cell. Once I had repeated this 10 more times and placed the frame inside the hive the anticipation mounted, as there would be no way of knowing if any were undamaged. We had to wait 8 days from the time we put them into the incubator till the queens emerged from their cells. We do this to separate the queens because otherwise “should other queens emerge they fight when they meet4”. On the eighth day I found that six queen’s cells had hatched. My father and I were excited as this was my first attempt and his previous try had failed.

Science has helped me and my father because beekeeping relies heavily on observation. This is because first we had to observe the bees’ behaviour to gain the knowledge we needed and then we had to learn how to apply this knowledge. This skill is useful as a lot can go wrong with bee hives including American foul brood, varroa and robbing. The ability to observe the hive’s behaviour and have the knowledge to diagnose the problem is essential to beekeeping and other areas in life.


1: Contemporary Queen rearing by Harry Laid Law Jr pg1.
2: The hive and the honey bee collaboration of: E. L. Atkins, R Banker, Dr. C. G. Butler, G. H. Cale, Sr., Dr. G. H. Cttzale, Jr., Dr. E. Crane, C. C Dadant, W. J. Diehnelt, Dr. A. Dietz, Dr. B. Furgala, Dr. N. E. Gary, Dr. T. A. Gochnauer, C. E. Killion, Sr., Dr. E. C. Martin, Dr. E Oertel, J. Powers, Dr. F. Robinson, Dr. W. C. Rothenbuhler, Dr. F. Ruttner, Dr. H. Shimanuki, Dr. R. W. Shuel, Dr. R. E. Snodgrass, W. A. Stephen, G. F. Townsend, Dr. J. W. White, Jr., Dr. P. C. Witherell, and H. F. York, Jr. pg 110.
4: Contemporary Queen rearing by Harry Laid Law Jr pg 8.

The Food of Your Future

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

AquAdvantage Salmon

The Food of your Future

Head shot of student Joe Glancy


Joe Glancy​ ​South Westland Area School​ ​(2018)


Who doesn’t enjoy a perfectly cooked salmon with a freshly baked loaf of bread. Mmmnnmmm! I know I do! This seafood that we know and love is becoming increasingly popular in our diet, but will it be the same for our grandkids – will it last?

In 1989, research began on the AquAdvantage Salmon which scientists claim can reach market size almost twice as quickly as normal salmon. The creation of AquAdvantage salmon begins with the selection of two DNA sequences: one from a Chinook Salmon ; the other from an eel-like fish called the Ocean Pout.

The Ocean Pout lives in the near freezing waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. The growth hormone gene from the fast growing Chinook Salmon is combined with the antifreeze promoter of the Ocean Pout (a promoter is a sequence of DNA that ‘turns on’ a gene). By genetically joining these two DNA sequences, scientists are able to create a gene that keeps that internal, fast growing, hormone factory switched ‘on’ during those cooler winter months. Something that salmon normally do not do. This means that they can be farmed year-round and in any climate. Resulting in a fish that reaches market size in just 18 months rather than three years for normal salmon. These are the offspring intended for our dinner plates on those warm summer evenings.

This AquAdvantage Salmon is the very first of its kind. Never before has a genetically modified animal been approved for human consumption. In 2015 the United States approved the production, sale and consumption of the AquAdvantage Salmon. Many other GM animals have been developed and tested but politics and public fears have kept them off our dinner plates. The FDA claims that this salmon will have no effect on consumers … that’s you and me … and will look, feel and taste just like a normal Atlantic Salmon, which is what we all want.

The company that produces AquAdvantage Salmon believes in sustainable seafood production. They claim that their product is better for both consumers and the environment. The Salmon will be raised in land based farms, meaning that there is no risk of escaping salmon entering wild populations and no risk of diseases spreading out of containment. All waste water is filtered extremely well and reused; the small amount that is not required is cleaned of all contaminants and used on nearby tomato farms as fertilizer.

GM salmon use roughly 20% less feed then normal salmon, therefore making it a whole lot cheaper to feed them. Also these AquAdvantage salmon are grown in land based systems close to the production factories. This eliminates the cost to transport them to the place where they cut them up. This has created a salmon that is just as tasty as a wild one but costs a whole lot less to produce.
Business man, Brendan Borrell, claims that the normal salmon cost almost $1.50 to make whereas the AquAdvantage Salmon has a cost of less then $1.00!
A major environmental implication of farmed salmon is the increased preservation and protection of wild populations, populations that have been in decline since at least the 1950’s. By eliminating the need of wild salmon commercial fishing and introducing more land based farms, many threats to the wild salmon are removed. Currently these threats include reduced food supply caused by over-exploitation of the salmon feed, parasites
spread by water based fish farms and destructive fishing techniques. By introducing land based systems such as the one used by the AquAdvantage Salmon, the wild salmon will be protected from these threats and be allowed to live their lives largely uninterrupted.

David Suzuki, Canadian academic and environmental activist, feels very strongly about GMO’s. For years he has been promoting outright bans on GMOs, despite the fact that many scientists have declared them perfectly safe for all of you to consume. He and other anti-GMO activists have been able to stall crucial experiments with GM crops that are designed to improve yields and nutrition, which would benefit poor people around the world.

Ronald Stotish, chief executive of AquaBounty, also claims that the main advantage of the salmon is that the fish can be grown in tanks inland, greatly reducing the effects on the environment. “Demand for global protein is increasing,” he says. “We have to do a better job and we have to do it efficiently.”


Now then, I know those of you that get out
there and have been to South Westland
Salmon Competition, you will know just
how little fish are around. In fact, just in the last few months, I have been out chasing
salmon on the Waitaha River several  times. Even though I have had no luck recently, I thoroughly enjoy the feeling of a wild salmon fighting with your line. This is a feeling that I strongly want our future generations to experience.

Personally, I am all for the Genetically Modified AquAdvantage Salmon.

From my research, I think that it is an incredibly well thought out process that takes into account all the various viewpoints. I was especially impressed with its environmental impacts. In order for one of the prime cattle beast from your local dairy farm to put on just 1 kg of body weight, it requires 8 kg of food. Whereas a GM salmon needs just 1kg of food to put on 1 kg of body weight. This shows that the salmon is among the most economically sustainable protein source for humans. All of a sudden this GM salmon has become one of the few animals that puts on weight in equal proportions to its feed. However, currently the NZ ministry for the environment does not allow you and I to purchase and enjoy any fresh meat, fruit or veg that is a GM product. I think that they should change their stance on this. If we can convince them to allow the sale of AquAdvantage Salmon here in our hometown, then we would be giving the wild populations of salmon in our local rivers a much better chance of surviving. I am talkingabout the Wanganui, the Waitaha, the Whataroa, the South Westland fishing competition. All of these places will be able to host a larger population of salmon for your future generations to enjoy.

If you are interested in finding out more please take time to look at the
AquAdvantage Salmon home website




Reference List: new-zealand st-gmos

Futuristic Animals from the Past?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Futuristic animals from the past? 

Harriett Spoelstra – Ruawai College


The enclosure is empty; the dinosaur has disappeared! Scientists are unable to control this creature, this monster – deadly but amazing. We’ve all yelled at the screen as movie characters act dramatically stupid; at the scientists in Jurassic World who create a creature too powerful to control or understand; at the cartoons with the evil scientists who accidentally make a supervillain. This hunger to learn everything, to create something just because you can is what makes these characters so memorable.
Scientists (a term that covers a whole range of people and jobs) have greatly contributed to making the world what it is today, and scientists who have a passion to help and learn about our world are the key to a future that we would like to come true.

What if it were possible to bring back species long extinct?

Let the moa and the mammoth walk again? Or let a dinosaur once more paw the earth, or even make something new move and breathe? That power so often found in books or movies may soon not just be in our heads but in our hands.

New Zealand is a land of paddocks full of sheep, cows and chickens. If we were to
take a look at these creatures in the past, they would look quite different to the
domesticated version we are so used to. Through intensive selective breeding,
domesticated animals have been transformed so they better suit our needs; they
can produce more meat and grow more quickly. Breeding has also been used to
reduce infection and avoid diseases.

paddock with cattle &rainbow


Living on a farm myself, I can
easily see how our ideas and
inventions influence the land and
in turn influence our lives. This is
one way we have used scientific
methods in an attempt to create a
world which can better support us.


Modifying animals for our own purposes can be a terrifying and controversial concept, but human nature seems to dictate that we will continue to pursue this.

Genetic modification in the lab is different to intensive selective breeding but ultimately both are using science to change animals to suit us. De-extinction is a term that can be misleading, as we wouldn’t be able to bring back a creature that was extinct but rather create a hybrid with a close living relative, and so make a proxy of the extinct species. De-extinction is a concept that seems rather terrifying yet exciting. However, I wonder how different a creature made in this way would be from its ancestors, and I wouldn’t want to create a new creature that doesn’t fit into our world. An animal’s interaction with its environment is what influences its behaviour and quality of life. We may have to give ourselves limits on what we do, for the sake of our ethics; what would be the point of ‘bringing a species back to life’? Where would they live and how would they be able to survive in a world of humans, especially if humankind was a cause of their extinction?

The temptation to bring back species, or even help prevent endangered species from becoming extinct would be very great but I think we should be careful not to try and ‘rule’ over animals but rather do something that benefits the world as a whole and its future as well as humankind, especially when this science is not at all cheap. We may intend to help animal-kind as well as human-kind, but this technology may give us the feeling that we don’t have be proactive in protecting animals because we could always just bring back extinct species at will. Of course, I am talking about extreme circumstances and a future which may be more fitting in a sci-fi movie than reality but a version of this future could be real and may be not so far away.

In a world without science, there would be no new knowledge contributed to society, no inventions; the paddocks dotted with designer cows I see whenever I look out the window would not be possible. Science, and our understanding of it, has developed alongside the development of humankind. It is a part of me and my life, and the life of everyone who has ever wondered how something worked or used a cell-phone, turned on a light, or even just ate food cooked in a kitchen. Through science humans have developed the ability to influence genetic modification for our own purposes and technology is rapidly advancing right at this very moment.

We must always remember that our curiosity and scientific methods have made our present world and will make our future, but just because we have the power to genetically modify animals and humans doesn’t necessarily mean we should.


Photo credits:

Kiwi Hunt

Thursday, July 26th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Below is the first in a series of science blogs written by our Year 13 Students.

This one is by Jasmin Mosimann from Motueka High School

Kiwi Hunt

With our receivers in our packs and the aerials strapped on the back, we head off on our kiwi hunt into Kahurangi National Park. Although Dad and his three colleagues, Sandy, Robin and Paul are all volunteers for Friends of Flora and have plentiful  experience hunting down kiwi, this would be my first sighting of a kiwi in the wild. Today we would be hunting down Iwa, one of the 40 Roroa/Great Spotted kiwi relocated into the Flora Catchment over 4 separate relocations since 2010. I know that today would be a monumental day, since Iwa is one of the last Roroa to have her transmitter removed for good and to be released back into the wild where she can no longer be tracked or protected. I am excited yet nervous that we will find her at all, as we set off into the still awakening forest. The white huff of dewey moisture hangs low on the forest floor, reluctant to leave. Its damp fingertips trace my exposed arms and legs as it makes its way through the forest, winding its way between the maze of trees, seeking out the coldest, dreariest corners of forest. Spidery tentacles of moss draw it in thirstily as it passes. Like the arms of a giant, silver, mountain and red beech penetrate the rich, moist soil in their desperate reach for the skies, frozen in time to age and allow lichens and mosses to flourish, warts and numerous extra fingers to grow. These noble, majestic giants are now beginning to lose their leaves as the seasons change, littering the forest floor with small serrated leaves ranging from mud brown through to russet orange, pale yellow and lime green. Our footsteps are muted by the spongy wet foliage underfoot, and the rest of the forest is equally still, aside from the odd bellbird chattering in the treetops.

As we approach a river, its persistent gurgling andmountain creek in foreest pounding drowns all other noise, yet somehow, in its presence, it is more silent than the gentle hushing of the forest. The swing bridge to the other side is a thin steel contraption, barely wide enough for a person and hanging uncomfortably low over the water. As I cross, I look down into the gushing current through the loose wire mesh beneath my boots,  ripping tightly to the sides as it wavers side  to side. Once on the other side  we carry on and the rhythmic thumping of the vigorous water fades as the sounds of the bush take over again. The cheerful chattering of a fantail follows us as it snaps up the insects which we disturb. Darting left and right, its movements are as sharp as a tango dancer as it thrusts its tail in every possible direction, watching its back wherever it goes. Its boldness and fearlessness is astounding, as it flits about just inches from my head, before landing on a twig in front of me at eye level. It cocks its head at me, incredibly pompous for its size. Its cinnamon chest is puffed proud as it fans and un-fans its tail, attempting to frighten hidden prey into movement. I imagine its life in the forest when I’m not here watching it, building its nest with moss, hair, grass, fern scales and rotten wood fibres before finding a mate and laying its eggs. Feeding its young would mean frantically hunting insects all day, flushing them out from the canopy and bringing them back for its young. Although I know this lifestyle must be challenging, threatened every minute by stoats, rats and possums it seems somehow very serene and free-spirited from my perspective.

The rhythmical beeping of the receiver gets louder and more persistent as we continue up the steady incline. The vegetation here is quite different than that of the valley below, with thinner trees which are spaced further apart. Beech is still dominant, but some prominent alpine species of shrubs are also beginning to show such as the mountain nei nei, a peculiar tree with a wig of spiked leaves at the end of each warped branch, straight out of a Dr Seuss book. With the antennae plugged into the receiver and the volume on ‘high,’ I hold the cobalt blue antennae above my head, moving it from left to right. Turning back to the left, the beeps become closer together, indicating that the kiwi is on this side of the ridge. We carry on up the hill for another 500 metres, until we are directly uphill of where we expect the kiwi to be. From here on we must be as silent as possible, as not to awaken her in her burrow. Luckily the dampness of the forest helps dull our footsteps as we head off the path, weaving between trees and over fallen branches as we move down the hillside. Now that we are in amongst the trees without a trace of humans or a track, it is difficult not to be intimidated by the vastness of the Kahurangi, the blanket of podocarp forest draped over the hilltops, down into the countless valleys, spread all the way to Karamea on the coast.

As the beeping of the receivers get louder, we turn the volume right down and hold them to our ears, whilst trying to pinpoint her burrow. Once we think we have the right tree trunk, there is a mad scramble to find all of the entrances into the burrow and block them so that she can’t get out. Once we have her trapped, it takes a lot of digging into the decaying tree and deep into the umber soil so that we can flush her out to the main entrance, and Dad can catch her. He grabs her by her legs, with one finger between them so that they don’t rub together to prevent injury. Once she is safely out, he cradles her in his arms so that Sandy can measure its bill, which is used to help determine Iwa’s gender and age.

Although all of the kiwis in the project have been recaptured every year to replace the batteries in the transmitter, the beaks of kiwi grow significantly over short periods of time. Her weight is also measured, an astounding 3.45 kg the heaviest kiwi in the project, a pleasant surprise indicating that she is well nourished. Once all of the measurements and inspections have been completed, it is time to remove her transmitter. As Sandy slides the scissor blade between Iwa’s leg and the tape holding the transmitter, I think of how monumental this is for the kiwi and for the project. The amount of time and effort which the whole project has required is significant, and now it is all coming to an end.

The kiwi introduced to this area will only be able to be traced by acoustic recorders to monitor the approximate number of kiwis still in the Flora Catchment. Once the transmitter is off, Iwa will only be identified by a small metal band around her ankle. She will now be free! Once Sandy has cut it off, she asks if I  would like to hold her, so like I had practiced the day before with my dad on one of our chickens, I put my hand around her legs, with one finger between, and hold tight. Cradling her with my other arm, I’m surprised by the large size of her feet and claws and how soft her feathers are,  reminding me how fragile and vulnerable she and her species are. As she relaxes into me, and the warmth of her small body fuses with mine, I think of how special this moment is, and if this will still be possible in the future. Out here, the landscape  constantly reminds me how small and insignificant I am, yet isn’t judgmental or vindictive.

The seemingly insignificant forces of wind, rain and ice carve the rock and sculpt the landscape, yet the flora and fauna learn to adapt, forever changing and evolving. This is a place that I hope a girl just like me hundreds of years in the future can still experience, with its same raw natural beauty.

Jasmin Mosimann

Six Minute Talks to Stir Your Curiosity

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

At our Science Communication sessions in January  a number of you  commented that 6 minutes wasn’t long enough to get a science message across  to a public audience.
Here’s a link to a series of 6 min TED science talks that might help convince you otherwise.

Don’t forget also there are a number of posts in our blog archive that will help you prepare your talks,

e.g. March 7th 2017 : Engaging Hearts and Minds: Themes are Messages

April 21st 2017:   Welcome Everybody…Some Musings on Introductions

May 12th 2017:   Tell me what I want to hear,    to name just a few.

Simply go to the archives tab on the left and select the specific month.

For those of you working on films and science blog writing see what good examples  you can find in these science communication styles and we’ll  put them up on a future post with any that we  come across.

Don’t forget to check to  keep posting on Knowledge Forum!



Why `Knowledge Forum’ & Some Tips on Use of the `Scaffolds’

Thursday, February 15th, 2018 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

It’s great to see some of you getting in and using Knowledge Forum!

While acknowledging that the front end of the KF software is not the most eye-catching compared to other software you may be used to using, the concept of a community mind map and that of applying scaffolds to the posts you make is important in encouraging you to go beyond simply stating opinions and start to build knowledge as a community.
Knowledge Forum is part of a long term study that Wing has been running since OUASSA began in 2011. To date Wing has published a number of research papers demonstrating the efficacy of developing the knowledge building approach to knowledge creation in High School students. So by participating you are not only developing your knowledge building skills but also contributing to a growing body of evidence on efficacy of this approach to learning.
Science is an evidence based process. Theories are based on evidence. New information/research provides evidence that lends weight to or casts doubt on a theory, from which may come a new theory.
As Wing explained at the January camp KF is a knowledge building tool. You are all part of a Knowledge Building community and as such you build knowledge by seeking out and presenting evidence. Evidence discovered through research.
The critical evaluation of information is an essential skill when conducting quality research. Assessing and evaluating information involves common sense, knowledge, scepticism, and verification.
At the end of this post is a link that will help you develop your research skills.
For now here are some tips for using the scaffolding tabs in KF

Tips for using the Scaffold Tabs in Knowledge Forum

My Theory:
A theory without evidence is an opinion. So don’t be afraid to cite the evidence that leads you to that theory
My theoryWhy was film originally created? Are we still using film in the way it was intended or has that change? If so for good or bad and why/how do we know this?
While there are some really interesting questions in there, this is more of an
“I need to understand” scaffold. Michaela is seeking information to answer a question (…or two…or three!)

My theory ” I think Film was originally used for entertainment, but over time I think, as people started to realise the large audience that film acquired as it became more popular, it started being used for other things such as education.”

This is an interesting theory that now needs backed up with a “New Information” scaffold that cites some reference/ research that the original use for moving pictures when first invented was for entertainment. By doing so you lift your statement from an opinion to a theory backed by evidence.

The “New information” scaffold should be one of the most used in the scaffolds tool box. Use it to cite references, link to articles, Youtube clips etc. that build on a theory or a “Need to understand” post.

As a particular stream of posts grows and the amount of new information and new theories grows, there comes a time when you might feel the need to pull the various threads together under a “Putting our knowledge together” scaffold. Look on this scaffold as a kind of “So this where I think we have got to…” with this theory, our collective knowledge so far etc.

If you have a better theory that one that is proposed click the “A Better theory” scaffold but don’t just state another theory of your own and leave it at that. Try and state why your theory is better backed up by evidence in form of information/references etc. under, “New Information”

Using Knowledge Forum, like everything else that’s new, takes a little time to master, but the techniques are not difficult and the rewards will come in your school work later this year and when you go on to Tertiary studies. So don’t be afraid to give it a go.

Another advantage of KF is that all your OUASSA colleagues have the opportunity to help by contributing to each growing discussion, the development of which is so much easier to see in the mind-map interconnected post layout than a linear discussion on other social media platforms. Many hands make light work so use each other’s expertise to help you build your knowledge, you don’t have to be in the same group to help out someone else.

So get into KF and try using the scaffolds to build on a theory, to build on and idea, to build knowledge!

Finally, as promised here is a link to a module on on-line research literacy that you might find useful:
Evaluating Information Sources

Reach for the Stars

Monday, December 4th, 2017 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Reach for the stars that burn brightest in your universe !Silhouette of child on beach at dusk/dawn with hand outstretched toward a rising/setting sun/star


Wishing  our 2017 Cohort every success in the future

Look forward  to seeing some of you here at Otago University next  year!

The importance of where we are to where we are going?

Friday, October 27th, 2017 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

I came across this short TED talk the other day and found it intriguing in its application of maths and geo-positioning physics. Not to mention the claims for its implications to future global society.

 A precise three-word address for everyplace on earth

But just what really are the pros and cons of this system?



Get your critical thinking cap on and let us know your thoughts.

You might also want to check out what YOUR 3-word address is here.




“Welcome Everybody……” Some musings on “Introductions”

Friday, April 21st, 2017 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

In this week’s Science Communication post I thought I would focus on Introductions.
Your introduction establishes not only the topic your show is about but also who you are and the theme or key message you plan to deliver about that topic.
It’s your opportunity to let the audience know the nature of the journey you are going to take them on and engage them right from the start.
There are variety of ways to engage your audience in your introduction
I’m going to focus on just three today
The first is from a Royal Society lecture on antimatter by Tara Shears. Note the strong eye contact with the audience, the structured outline of what is to follow and the emphasis on the fact she will be explaining the relevance of what she will cover.

The second is by climate scientist James Hansen. Here he uses a strong question as an attention grabbing tool and goes on to introduce the science via anecdotes from his own personal journey.
This speaker relies heavily on reading his script. Do you find this style more or less engaging than that of Tara Spears? Imagine how much more engaging he would be if he were to abandon reading every single word of his script as written, step out and face the audience with strong eye contact as he relates his own personal story. He knows his own story. Does he really need a script for that? Would it not be that much stronger adopting a more conversational tone along the lines of what you would use when relating a story from your past to a friend or colleague?

The 3rd is Dr. Jenny Germano a dear colleague from my days as Volunteer co-ordinator at Department of Conservation.  Jenny went on to study urinary frog hormones here at University of Otago. On the day she submitted her PhD thesis she entered the ` 3min Thesis’ speech competition with a talk entitled “Taking the Piss out of Endangered Frogs” …..and won the competition!
A number of things to note with Jen’s introduction. Her passion for her subject hits you from the word go, her use of hand gestures builds on that engaging passion and is even used to good effect in clarifying a couple of semi-technical terms- cardiac puncture and orbital sinus – simply by pointing to her heart and eye in mid-stream without having to pause. Note, no notes or script. She knows the stuff so she can talk from the heart and focus on the audience and not on trying to remember what comes next.
(Note that the graphic in the body of her talk is targeted at an audience of entirely academics as opposed to  the general public audience you will be presenting to in July. So bear that in mind when composing your own graphic support material. The less technical the better for our audience in July)

Have a look at some other science communicators in action and if you find one with an  introductory style you find engaging send me the link and I’ll post it for others to view.

Public Perception of Risk with New Science & Technology

Thursday, April 6th, 2017 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

In my last blog post (Knowing Your Material) I talked about researching your topic and the importance of narrowing down that research to address a key message (theme) i.e. the `take-home’ message you want the audience to understand about your topic. WhenGeneric shot of small seated audience we understand something we don’t just `know’ about it but we ‘feel’ for it – it means something to our overall well-being. So in communicating science we need to not only enhance the knowledge of the audience but also engage their emotions, hence the reason your workbooks are entitled `Touching Hearts and Minds’. With that in mind, in this post I thought we’d focus again on the audience and what you might consider about them as you distil your research into an effective and engaging talk to deliver a strong ‘take-home’ message.
Considering your audience is especially important for a talk that involves science on a controversial or potentially controversial topic.
We should consider our audience for every talk, of course.
Questions you should consider when asked to give any talk are.
Will I be talking to:
• An interest group with a specific viewpoint/attitude to my topic and/or science in general?
• Is there likely to be a specific age or gender or ethnic imbalance in the audience?
• Is our audience likely to already be knowledgeable on my topic?
• How is the audience likely to perceive the organisation I am representing?
As Emily pointed out in an earlier post (The Crowd Goes Wild) a public audience will contain a mixture of  what we could term:-
1. “Science Fans”,
2. “The Cautiously Keen”,
3. “The Risk Averse”,
4. “The Concerned”.
While your museum audience in July is likely to have a high proportion of “science Fans’” and “The Cautiously Keen”, you may also have parents/caregivers, members of public who fall firmly in “The Risk Averse” and “Concerned” categories. I think of these last two categories as  people who come through the door thinking “this topic (science in general) is dangerous and poses a real threat to the health and safety of myself, my family, and or my existing way of life and things I currently value”.
With that in mind I came across an interview with Dr. Craig Cormick who has published widely on drivers of public attitudes towards new technologies.
The five key lessons that come out of his research on public perception of risk are as follows:
1. When information in complex people make decisions based on their values and beliefs rather than on facts and logic
2. People seek affirmation of their attitudes or beliefs, no matter how fringe, and will reject any information or facts that are counter to their attitudes or beliefs
3. Attitudes that were not formed by facts and logic will not be influenced by facts and logic
4. Public concern about the risks of contentious science and technologies are almost never about the science itself and therefore scientific information alone does very little to influence those concerns
5. People most trust the people whose values mirror their own.
What does that mean for us when preparing a science talk on a potentially contentious issue?
Good science communication is “more than information. It’s a revelation based upon information’”

In moulding how we present our information we are always seeking techniques that best acknowledge concerns, value systems within the audience and seek to lead them to that  “Ah hah!” moment when they decide for themselves the positive values of the science you are talking about, rather than `being told’ by you the scientist/speaker. Once you have a base script for your talk we can look at which of the techniques we explored in our workshops and in our workbook might be most effective in making  our presentation engaging, relevant and convincing.  That’s one of creative, fun parts of pulling a good talk together.
Here is  Craig Cormick’s interview:-

 It’s quite long, though the interview itself is only 27 mins  there is 18 mins of Q&A  that follows. If you get bogged down after the first 5 minutes of the interview here are some time cues to the more relevant and useful parts of his discussion:
9 min – Affirmation of fringe/whacko ideas and the Google search engine
18 min:32sec – The Role of Trust in influencing public perception
22 min:45sec -The Role of academics/researchers
26 min– Weirdest idea on the internet?
Perhaps the essence of what I’m trying to get across about science communication and contentious issues can be best conveyed in the following quote
“People don’t care what you know,
                                 People want to know that you care”
Dr. Vincent Covello
 Centre for Risk Communication

July Science Talks: Knowing your Material

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Developing a Research Plan

No-one expects you to be an expert on your topic and there is only so much you can cover in a 10 minute presentation. However, you should research your topic thoroughly.  A good research plan will help ensure accuracy, establish credibility and achieve your objective of enhancing understanding.  When you have decided on the key areas of your topic you want to focus on divide up the research duties amongst your team.

Your key research areas will come out of   Step 2 of your Topic to Theme Recipe.
Step 1.  Select a general topic
“Generally my presentation is about………………
Step 2.  State your topic in more specific terms
“Specifically, however, I want to tell my audience about………………”
Step 3.  Now, express your theme.
“After my presentation, I want my audience to understand that……………”
Remember to complete each line as one complete sentence. This will help focus your research on the key aspects of your topic that are relevant.

                                          (From Sam H. Ham, 1992)

Beware of Bias!
Good research materials should be objective, presenting a balanced view of the topic. If you deliver biased information, your credibility with the audience will suffer.
As you embark on your research take a minute to reflect on the following sources and their potential for bias.
You may find this link designed for first year Otago University students useful also
Evaluating Information Sources:

Credit Where Credit is Due
If you use someone else’s ideas, words or pictures in your presentation, you should acknowledge the original source if known. You can do this by:

  • Attributing the source as you speak (As Marie Curie once said “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”)
  • Indicating the source after a direct quote , graphic, image on Powerpoint slide
  • Showing a list of source material after  the final slide of your show as part of your conclusion/thank-you

Failure to give credit where credit is due may damage your own credibility and violate copyright law.

What’s Hot and What’s Not.
As you do your research, remember:
People love to hear:

  • Good stories
  • Inspirational thoughts and quotes
  • Unusual facts (Catfish have over 100,000 taste buds over the surface of their body)
  • Facts involving huge numbers in terms they can understand..
    (Each nerve cell  or neuron is about 10 microns wide. If you were able to line up all 100 billion neurons in your brain in a straight line that line would be about 1000 km long. That’s like from Dunedin to Auckland!)

             (Adapted from `Neuroscience for kids’ by Eric H. Chudler)
  • Things that evoke emotional or physiological responses (scary things, beautiful things, amazing things, happy things) – the `intangibles’ around the `thing’ you are talking about.
  • Things that are important to them

They don’t really care much about….

  • Ordinary scientific data (Around 1.5 billion litres of domestic wastewater is discharged into the environment on a daily basis in New Zealand).
  • Being `told what they must do’.
  • How much you think you  know about your topic.

Good luck with your research and remember we are here to help so don’t hesitate to get in touch if need clarification and/or help with anything.


Engaging Hearts and Minds: Themes are messages

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

During our very short foray into some key techniques for engaging a public audience I emphasized the importance of moving beyond merely having a `topic’ for your talk and developing a ` theme’, or key message, that you want to convey about your topic in the 5-6 minutes that you will have for your science shows in July.
It’s great to see some of you moving in this direction in your closed Google Community groups. I strongly encourage you to use the three sentence approach to taking a topic to a theme developed by interpretation specialist Sam Ham. Namely:


Step 1.                Select a general topic

“Generally my presentation is about……

Step 2.                State your topic in more specific terms

“Specifically, however, I want to tell my audience about…”

Step 3.                Now, express your theme.

“After my presentation, I want my audience to understand that…..”

Complete each line as one complete sentence.

This will not only give you presentation a focus it will make researching for your show that much more manageable.

A worked example

Grace posted this as part of  the Medical Science group discussion

“What is antimicrobial resistance and how do we combat these new resistance mechanisms that are emerging and spreading on a global scale”   

Step 1.                Select a general topic

“Generally my presentation is about……      Antimicrobial Resistance

Step 2.                State your topic in more specific terms

“Specifically, however, I want to tell my audience about…   

..what antimicrobial resistance is, how it is emerging and spreading on a global scale, and how we might combat it

Step 3.                Now, express your theme.

“After my presentation, I want my audience to understand that……………..”

This, your overall theme for the show, will come out of the research you do to address the  3 sub-topics in Step 2 above

Sub-topic 1:  What is Antimicrobial resistance?

Sub-topic 2a: How it is emerging.

                2b: How it is spreading.

Sub-topic 3: How we might combat antimicrobial resistance?

A key message or sub-theme can then also be developed for each of the sub-topics above


The sub-theme or key message around sub-topic 1: What is Antimicrobial resistance? might be something like:

  • Antimicrobial resistance is a bigger threat than many realise


  • Antimicrobial resistance is a beautiful and extreme example of adaptation  in action.

You then do the same with sub-topics 2 and 3 and come up with the key message you want to convey at that part of your talk. Out of which will come an over-all theme for your whole presentation which you can use to develop Step 3

“After my presentation, I want my audience to understand that……………..”

After you’ve done this and only after you’ve done this you can then distil a snappy theme title for your show.

It really is that simple, but like science itself you have to apply some rigour and consistency to the steps.

Give it a go and email me your  first crack at ` 3 sentence theme development sentences’ by March 13th.

Don’t worry if Step 3 is not quite refined.  Your final theme statement will emerge from the research on the body of your presentation (Step 2).

Look forward to reading your topics and themes.

Speciation without tears

Monday, February 22nd, 2016 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Ernst  Mayer, considered  as one of the world’s leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th Century once wrotemayr-2

Anyone who writes about “Darwin’s theory of evolution in the singular, without segregating the theories of gradual evolution, common descent, speciation, and the mechanism of natural selection, will be quite unable to discuss the subject competently.

So if you are struggling with the concepts around the mechanisms  of  `speciation’  this entertaining short video clip might just be for you.







Speciation: Of Ligers & Men – Crash Course Biology #15

Reach for the Stars

Monday, November 2nd, 2015 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Best of Luck  to all of you  for your final NCEA & Scholarship Exams from all of us here at OUASSA.

Aim High!,      Silhouette of child on beach at dusk/dawn with hand outstretched toward a rising/setting sun/star

Believe in Yourself!

Don’t Panic!


Reach for the stars that burn brightest in your universe !



Look forward  to seeing some of you here at Otago  University next  year!

Can Meat Actually be Eco-Friendly?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

In a country that relies heavily on agriculture- all be it heavily swayed towards dairy rather than meat production, for now at least- this a question worth investigating.
I came across this article as part one of a series of three articles on the question

Should we eat meat?

Meat in supermarket

Writer, Nathanael Johnson, author of All Natural: A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier. looks at this question from 3 perspectives:
• Environmental sustainability,
• Morality,
• Practicality.
In the first of these articles he asks the question
Can meat be sustainable?
You may find some of what he discovered on this topic quite illuminating.

“A frightening and potentially dangerous technology”

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

That was how Otago University Prof Peter Dearden  from Genetics OtagoChinese genome scientist(1) described  a recent paper by a groups of chinese scientists describing the first genetically modified human embryos and opening a route to germ-line modification of our own species.

Check it out  and add your own views to the Sciblogs  comments  page.

It’s Eureka Time again !

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Eureka Science Communication Awards 2015

Eureka header_2013Hot off the Press  from Eureka HQ:

2015 EUREKA! Workshops and timetable

After a bit of a hiatus we can now advise the dates and venues for our free regional workshops which will help students prepare for the 2015 Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Awards competitions.
This year the Awards have been increased so that the Premier Award winner will take home a prize of $10,000.  Other prizes have also been adjusted.
We will also offer scholarships on the basis of the relevance of presentations to the 11 Science Challenges identified by the Government.

Entries for the Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Awards must be in by 5 p.m. on Friday 19 June – students should go to the EUREKA! website to register their entries.

It is advisable for students to visit the site and bone up on the entry criteria before submitting their entry to avoid the risk of disappointment if they fail to complete the entry requirements.
In addition they can attend one of the six regional workshops where they get all the information they need, including advice on presentation, research and analysis techniques, which will help them put forward the best entry they can.
Details of the dates and venues of the 6 regional workshops are available from the EUREKA! website
Please note that the Wellington and Hamilton workshops will be held on 18 April so its important that students are advised as soon as possible.
Ministry of Education distributed collateral will be in schools in short order.

If teachers wish to attend the workshops they are very welcome and will be provided with the course materials so they can help their students through the entry process.
A special teachers workshop has been organised by the Canterbury organising committee for 23 April – details on the Eureka website.

The regional competitions will be held in late July (dates and venues still to be finalised).
The National Finals Symposium will be held on 3 September in Wellington and will be followed by the Awards Dinner at Government House hosted by the Governor General, His Excellency the Right Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae.

Plans are afoot to extend the Eureka! programme into intermediate and primary schools so we can build a pathway for children from Year 4 (8 year olds) to become champions for the value of science, technology engineering and mathematics education for the future of New Zealand’s economy, society and environment.

Any questions or comments?  Don’t hesitate to contact

Francis Wevers
National Convenor
Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Awards Programme

For more details go to:

For details of the Otago Regional Workshop contact:


Stepping Up and Out for Climate Change

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Anthropogenic Climate Change has once again hit the headlines ” It’s all so overwhelming! What can I do?  I got my finals coming up and  all my energies are focused on  them”  (And so they should be!) But what when they are over?  When you do come up for air  and/or need some inspiration as to what one individual can do check out this 18 year old from the US who impressed me not only with her commitment to the cause  but with  how articulate she is able to argue her case and the case of people her own age.kelsey Juliana-2crop “As world leaders converge for the UN’s global summit on climate and thousands gather in New York for the People’s Climate March, an 18-year-old Oregonian student, Kelsey Juliana, is walking across America to draw attention to global warming and taking her case to the US supreme court. Now just out of high school, she’s co-plaintiff in a major lawsuit being spearheaded by Our Children’s Trust that could force the state of Oregon to take a more aggressive stance against the carbon emissions warming the earth and destroying the environment. She’s walking across America as part of the Great March for Climate Action, due to arrive in Washington, DC, on November 1.” Video interview link:

Would you be willing to exchange your clothing for plumage?

Thursday, September 11th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Ever heard of  ‘Transhumanism‘?Lucy Glendining sculpture of feathered child

Over the past few years, a new paradigm for thinking about humankind’s future has begun to take shape among some leading computer scientists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists and researchers at the forefront of technological development.

 “Transhumanism”  is the name for a new way of thinking that challenges the premiss that the human condition is and will remain essentially unalterable.

 `Transhumanists’ say this  assumption no longer holds true. Arguably it has never been true. They argue that such innovations as speech, written language, printing, engines, modern medicine and computers have had a profound impact not just on how people live their lives, but on who and what they are.

What might happen in the next  20, 50, 100 years ?

A new book entitled  the The Proactionary Imperative presents a  the cultural, intellectual and ethical `justification’ for the emerging  transhumanist movement and in so doing paints an ethically  challenging and scary scenario for  the future of the human race?

“Fancy living forever, or uploading your mind to the net? The Proactionary Imperative embraces transhumanist dreams, but reminds why we need medical ethics”.

Laws of Physics Rule in Karate

Monday, June 9th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Emily’s creative approach to teaching physics  hits the  International Science Festival !

Emily Hall demonstrating Karate move as part of Physics class


Many pupils do not see physics as an interesting subject, but teaching them karate is a practical and interactive way of helping them to learn the concepts of physics without even thinking about it.




Check it out in Otago Daily Times here

and on TV here

For more on the International Science Festival go to:

Last Call for Eureka Awards Entries

Monday, June 9th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments


Eureka header_2013

Only 7 days to go for EUREKA! entries

It would be great to see an  OUASSA student in the competition.

Why not back yourself!

You gotta be in to win.
And even if you don’t win you will have learned at  lot  and had fun along the way!

Students who are intending to submit an entry for the 2014 Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Awards should be putting the final touches on their synopsis and making sure their entry is made on-line by next Sunday at the latest.

This year’s competition has more prizes than ever before and there are also Scholarships valued at up to $2500 on offer for the first time.

These scholarships will be awarded to any of the students in the top 28 who are eligible for selection for the national finals. More details on these scholarships will be released soon.

Mailing address :
Rotary Club of Wellington
PO Box 10243
Wellington, Wellington 6043
New Zealand

Copyright © *2013* *|RCW EUREKA! Trust*, All rights reserved.”

Calling all Biologists…Chemists…and maybe even Physicists

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Daniel has posted a great question on  the
Knowledge Forum Biology Curriculum: Human Evolution   Discussion View:LifeSpiral2

Q: What are the best examples in the world today that support the
theory of evolution


I’m putting the challenge out there for you all.

This is a great opportunity to get back into Knowlege Forum with a topic at the heart of the biology curriculum.

Is the evidence all  from Biology? 

If you have forgotten how to log-in   to Knowledge Forum and build on a post we will be putting  up  a  link to refresher tutorial very soon but flick us an email in meantime and we’ll get you in there right away.

PS When you get into the  Knowledge Forum – Biology Curriculum: Human Evolution View you are looking the build-on the post  titled ‘Support’ on the far right of the Discussion View.

Update on Eureka! Awards & New Scholarships

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Eureka header_2013

Date change for Eureka! entries.

After the success of the regional workshops, and taking into account the fact that students entering the Eureka! Sir Paul Callaghan Awards do not have to submit a video this year, it has been decided that the deadline for the entries into the competition will be extended. Students will now be allowed to submit entries until 5pm on Sunday the 15th of June.

Students must still submit their entry on the Eureka! website,  and email the synopsis of their idea and how they plan to present it. They have already received a number of entries and the regional competitions are shaping up to be great events.

Another addition to the Eureka! Sir Paul Callaghan Awards in 2014 is the introduction of scholarships. These scholarships will be awarded to any of the students in the top 28 who are eligible for selection for the national finals. More details on these scholarships will be released soon.

Eureka mailing address is:
Rotary Club of Wellington
PO Box 10243
Wellington, Wellington 6043
New Zealand

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More on `Bad Science’

Monday, April 28th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Ben Goldacre is a doctor, academic, campaigner and writer whose work focuses on uses and misuses of science and statistics by journalists, politicians, drug companies and alternative therapists.Ben Goldacre

His first book Bad Science reached #1 in the UK non-fiction charts and has sold over half a million copies worldwide. His second book Bad Pharma discusses problems in medicine, focusing on missing trials, badly designed research, and biased dissemination of evidence. He wrote the Bad Science column for a decade in the UK Guardian newspaper, and has written for the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, the New York Times, the BMJ, and more, alongside presenting documentaries for the BBC.


Check out his  TED talk from 2011- Battling Bad Science.

His topic aside note how by simply  talking about what he knows, driven by the passion and enthusiasm he has for his topic,  he has  no need for speech notes and rote learning of his speech

Spotting Bad Science

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

I came across  this the other day  in a post  from a friend who works in the health sector  in Scotland and thought it might be useful in honing your analytical and critical thinking skills

List of 10 things to look out for when deciding  whether reported science in valid or not

The vast majority of people will get their science news from online news site articles, and rarely delve into the research that the article is based on. It is  therefore important that people are capable of spotting bad scientific methods, or realising when articles are being economical with the conclusions drawn from research, and that’s what this graphic aims to do. Note that this is not a comprehensive overview, nor is it implied that the presence of one of the points noted automatically means that the research should be disregarded. This is merely intended to provide a rough guide to things to be alert to when either reading science articles or evaluating research.

Spotting-Bad-Science  Poster PDF

PS Teachers:  Check out the their infographics page for some interesting and informative posters you can download:


Eureka – Sir Paul Callaghan Science Communication Awards 2014

Friday, March 14th, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Calling all budding Science Communicators!

Eureka header_2013

The purpose of the EUREKA Awards & Symposium  is to identify and foster young leaders who, through their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, their entrepreneurial vision, and their persuasive communication skills, will bring about the New Zealand foreseen by Sir Paul Callaghan: “the most beautiful,stimulating and exciting place in the world in which to live.”

A student will give a 12 minute presentation in which s/he will demonstrate:

  • Substantive knowledge about a specific science, technology, engineering, mathematics  innovation idea;
  • the application of it for the social, and/or economic, and/or environmental benefit of New Zealand;
  • and persuasive communication skills in “selling” the idea.

Each student will have submitted a written synopsis of their presentation prior to the regional competition.

The winner of the Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Premier Award will win:

  • The Premier Award Trophy
  • A $5000 grant towards future studies

Three Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Highly Commended Awards valued at $2500 each will be presented to the three runners up.

Each of the remaining 8 finalists will receive a $1000 Sir Paul Callaghan EUREKA! Merit Award.

Special Prizes

Special Prizes will also be awarded for students who deliver best category presentations.

In 2014 it is anticipated there may be as many as 10 additional awards in this prize list which will be available to all students whose presentations are submitted by Regional Organising Committees for participation in the National Finals.

For more details go to:


What does it mean to be human?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

What does it mean to be human

This website from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is chock-full of information on our human origin. Check out the  `What’s hot in human origins’ section for  the latest news, There’s a great interactive time line and multimedia section or just browse the comprehensive content of the site.

Science vs Anti-science: Is it that simple?

Friday, October 4th, 2013 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

When discussing  science communication the crusade is often seen as scientists or science believers  striving to convince/convert  anti-scientists  of/to the `truth’ of  their science. 


An all too prevalent approach is embodied in  a maxim along the lines of  if you meet resistance to science, throw facts at those who resist. If that doesn’t work, throw more facts at them, and throw them harder.


From a  look around the world at current controversial scientific issues it is evident that this approach is not working. 

In this  article  To change anti-science activists’ minds, go beyond science, Rod Lamberts from Australian Center for Public Awareness of Science at ANU gives four suggestions for  scientists to ponder on. 

Food for thought ?



Farewell Voyager !

Friday, September 13th, 2013 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

I was in my first year at Glasgow University when the Voyager Space craft was launched.  1977. Then its mission was to explore the outer planets. Very few people believed  it would even get that far. painting depicting voyager in stellar dust cloud

Today it’s almost 19 billion km from home! Radio signals will take the best part of a day to get back us from there! How many near misses with asteroids, meteors and comets large and small has it had on its travels? What wonders it  must have `spied’ – If only it had eyes.

Time then to remember  and pay tribute to  Kiwi  Bill Pickering – Sir William Hayward Pickering.    A young will pickering standing next to  model rocket

Like many OUASSA students he grew up in rural New Zealand- Havelock at top of South Island in Bill’s case.   Educated at Wellington College he ended up in America as part of the `Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)  at Pasedana California and  then onto  the  space programme in the 1950’s
From a choice of three NASA space programs, manned space flight, Earth satellites and exploration of the solar system, Pickering opted for the latter. He would take JPL where none had gone before, into deep space to carry out NASA’s massive program for the exploration of the solar system and its planets”
“Accept the Light (of knowledge) and pass it on” was the motto of his  beloved Wellington College. Sounds like great advice for any aspiring modern scientist.

Where are you now Voyager?  Seen anything even remotely as beautiful as earth?
Watch and enjoy

Just in time for Easter….!

Thursday, March 28th, 2013 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

It’s Official!  Chocolate is good  for  you!

So says the science.collection of chocolate animals

 Or does it?

Research from my old university in Glasgow  claims to show that eating just a single chocolate bar has a direct effect on the brain and may cut the risk of stroke. 


Is it a case of roundabouts and swings? 


Calling all Science Communicators

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments


Eureka Science Communication competition 2013  Banner




There is  up to $5000 to be won in this nationwide competition
Each finalist gets $1000.


Be inspired
Meet like minds
Find out what the judges are looking for
Develop winning ideas
Learn awesome presentation skills
Boost your confidence

Elizabeth Connor, the inaugural winner of the Prime Minister’s prize for science communication, is to run a series of workshops for students who intend to enter the Sir Paul Callaghan Awards for Young Science Orators. Workshops will be fun and interactive and will help you put your best foot forward to try to win the prestigious Sir Paul Callaghan Supreme Award.

It’d be great to see an OUASSA presence! You gotta be in to win!

Click here for more info:


The Dawn of De-extinction. Are you ready?

Friday, March 15th, 2013 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

“Throughout humankind’s history, we’ve driven species after species extinct: the passenger pigeon, the Eastern cougar, the dodo … A colour collage of threatened species

But now, says Stewart Brand, we have the technology (and the biology) to bring back species that humanity wiped out. So — should we? Which ones? ”

Check out  Stewart Brand’s TED  Talk here at 

 Is it the answer to every conservationist’s prayer?

As Barry Hillman  muses in  on one of  the responses,
“Sure, we have a responsibility to un-do the damage we’ve done,let’s try to change our thinking and become a more caring society that has no need to damage our world and then we can spend more of our valuable and limited time on earth creating instead of repairing.”

What do you think? 

There’s a follow-up here, a panel video discussion `hot off the  press’  from March 15th  : 

(OUASSA students: You can now comment on our Blog-posts,  but after clicking ` Comment’ box, you will have to sign-in using your Otago University login given  to you at the January camp)

Avian Influenza: H5N1 Researchers Ready as Moratorium Nears End

Friday, January 4th, 2013 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

 Just because we can does it mean we should?

Researchers who study the H5N1 avian influenza virus will soon be able to do some science that’s been off-limits for nearly a year.

This has sparked  renewed debate on the dangers of developing a strain that  can move between mammals.
Fearing that such “gain-of-function” experiments could enable terrorists or a lab accident to start a deadly human pandemic, critics demanded stricter controls on science that could be used for good and evil.

Read on for the full story on how scientists globally are trying to address this issue.

Reach for the stars!

Friday, November 9th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Wishing  all of you the best of luck with your Scholarship and  NCEA end of year exams!
From ALL of us here at OUASSA.

Don’t panic!cartoon of two penguins  standing. one with fish over top of head as if being eaten by it


Reach for the Stars!

Silhouette of child on beach at dusk/dawn with hand outstretched toward a rising/setting sun/star



The Fish With A See-Through Head

Friday, October 19th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments


Macropinna Microstoma: The Fish with a  See-Through HeadPhoto of deep sea fish  (Macropinna  Microstoma) with a transparent head

Every once in a while  (well, actually more often  than you might think) nature comes up with something so bizarre  it leaves you shaking your head and  pondering  “How? How? How?” and  puzzling  “Why? Why? Why?”

Found 600m or more down off the coast of California, the species lives in nearly total darkness. A transparent fluid-filled sack replaces the top of the head and two spots above the mouth, called nares, act somewhat like human nostrils, chemically sampling the water.

Experts think the fish hangs motionless in the current with its eyes swivelled upwards to spot the faint silhouettes of its prey. If it spots something it likes the look of, it rolls its eyes back to the forwards position and swims up to intercept it with its small, toothless mouth.

Check it out on this short video clip

Macropinna microstoma A deep-sea fish with a transparent head and tubular eyes

So, what’s the evolutionary advantage of a see-through head?
Would you want one for yourself?
( Might make wearing a beanie compulsory for some of us!)

Clambake Extinctions, Volcanic Deccan Pies & Demise of Dinosaurs

Friday, September 14th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

“Most researchers think the dinosaurs, many plants on land, and much of the life in thePainting showing dinosaur in landscape and comet hurtling through sky above sea succumbed to a huge cosmic impact 65.5 million years ago. But new evidence from the sea floor just off Antarctica points to a major extinction there a geologic moment before the impact. The culprit in this earlier cataclysm may well have been humongous volcanic eruptions in India—the same eruptions that some researchers have credited with wiping out the dinosaurs.”

Read the full story here

Follow your `Curiosity’

Friday, August 3rd, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Here’s one for all you fans of  extra-terrestrial science

NASA’s most ambitious mission to Mars is landing August 5, 2012.

“The rover, nicknamed Curiosity, has a greater range than any rover before and it carries an impressive array of science instruments. It will explore terrain on Mars where water once flowed, searching for evidence of life.”

Check  out this cool 5 min video from The Futures Channel website

Tune into the landing on August 5th

Climate Sceptic Changes His Mind

Monday, July 30th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

THE Earth’s land has warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius in the past 250 years and ”humans are almost entirely the cause”, according to a scientific study set up to address climate sceptic concerns about whether human-induced global warming is occurring.

Richard Muller, a climate sceptic physicist who founded the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, said he was ”surprised” by the findings. ”We were not expecting this, but as scientists, it is our duty to let the evidence change our minds.”

He said he considered himself a ”converted sceptic” and his views had received a ”total turnaround” in a short space of time.

Read more:

Revenge of the Weeds

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Plant pests are evolving to outsmart common herbicides, costing farmers crops and money

“It’s a story suited for a Hollywood horror film, yet it’s also a tenet of evolutionary biology. Introduce a toxin to a system, and you inevitably select for resistant survivors. These few individuals gain a reproductive advantage and multiply; sometimes they can’t be stopped with even the most potent chemicals.”

Read on for some sobering thoughts:

New OUASSA Staff Member

Friday, June 8th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Hi everyone

My name is Darren Smith.

I’ve just joined the OUASSA team and will be helping out Kate and Steve for the rest of the year.

I’m a biology teacher and the sea has always been my playground, passion and study – and has been since I was old enough to gut a fish and focus a microscope. I have a Masters degree in marine biology and have worked on science research projects looking at the effects of nutrient enrichment on coral reefs and fishing impacts on seafloor communities. I’m also really into sharks, but hopefully not as a potential prey item!

I’m here to help you get the most out of your OUASSA experience and am really looking forward to reading your posts on Knowledge Forum and helping you find the answers to your biology curriculum questions. I’ve been following your progress on KF and have made a few posts on the Marine Science Project A, so maybe take an opportunity for a look. 

See you all soon at the July OUASSA camp for an awesome week of fun, challenging and rewarding science!

Solar Landfills: The future?

Friday, May 25th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

An innovative  approach to alternative energy
Using landfills to generate solar power.
Mark Roberts of HDR Engineering is working on two of these solar landfill projects in Texas and Georgia.

Have a listen to the 7 min audio clip below from Radio NZ National’s ` This Way Up’ programme.  ( Scroll down to `Solar Landfill’)

 and check out the detail on this website

Knowledge Forum: Synthesis of Project A Discussion Views

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

 Hi  All
Your task is a simple one:
You are each to make to a New Note that pulls together the knowledge you have gained from the knowledge building discussion on your Project A View (Maths, Physics, Marine Science or Zoology). 

We have added a new set of scaffolds entitled ‘My Synthesis’ to help you do this.

Use these scaffolds to help you synthesise what you have learned from your Project A discussion and to highlight the ideas, posts and links that helped your knowledge building most. 

Post your synthesis as a New Note titled `My Synthesis’ within your Project view.

This task should take you no more than 30 minutes.

Date Due:  Fri 25th of May

We look forward to reading your ‘My Synthesis’ post. 

Don’t forget if you have ANY technical problems using Knowledge Forum let us know right away.  For those of you who haven’t been in for a while, have forgotten how to use the software or have lost the starter guide given you at the January camp, we are happy to  email you another copy and/or run a short refresher on-line using OtagoConnect.

Soon we will be posting the Project B views (Chemistry, Biochemistry/Genetics, Computer Science and Geography) to create an on-line discussion and to synthesize ideas generated between now and the July camp. 

May we take this opportunity to remind you that we expect you to access Knowledge Forum at least once a week to read the posts of others and to make a new note. This is your contribution to the Academy between camps and is part of  the  commitment  you undertook when you applied to The OUASSA.

Don’t forget the Curriculum Views are there  to post questions asking for advice or assistance with internals and externals etc. We will gladly help where we can!

Seven Equations that Changed the World

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Having trouble  seeing the relevance of all those formulae  in maths?

“THE alarm rings. You glance at the clock. The time is 6.30 am. You haven’t even got out of bed, and already at least six mathematical equations have influenced your life. The memory chip that stores the time in your clock couldn’t have been devised without a key equation in quantum mechanics. Its time was set by a radio signal that we would never have dreamed of inventing were it not for James Clerk Maxwell’s four equations of electromagnetism. And the signal itself travels according to what is known as the wave equation.

We are afloat on a hidden ocean of equations. They are at work in transport, the financial system, health and crime prevention and detection, communications, food, water, heating and lighting. Step into the shower and you benefit from equations used to regulate the water supply. Your breakfast cereal comes from crops that were bred with the help of statistical equations. Drive to work and your car’s aerodynamic design is in part down to the Navier-Stokes equations that describe how air flows over and around it. Switching on its satnav involves quantum physics again, plus Newton’s laws of motion and gravity, which helped launch the geopositioning satellites and set their orbits. It also uses random number generator equations for timing signals, trigonometric equations to compute location, and special and general relativity for precise tracking of the satellites’ motion under the Earth’s gravity.

Without equations, most of our technology would never have been invented. Of course, important inventions such as fire and the wheel came about without any mathematical knowledge. Yet without equations we would be stuck in a medieval world.

Equations reach far beyond technology too. Without them, we would have no understanding of the physics that governs the tides, waves breaking on the beach, the ever-changing weather, the movements of the planets, the nuclear furnaces of the stars, the spirals of galaxies – the vastness of the universe and our place within it.

There are thousands of important equations. The seven I focus on here – the wave equation, Maxwell’s four equations, the Fourier transform and Schrödinger’s equation – illustrate how empirical observations have led to equations that we use both in science and in everyday life”.


Read  more here.

There is a cool  video clip to watch too!

Was Human Evolution Caused by Climate Change ?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Neanderthals at the cave site of Trou Al'Wesse in Belgium, clinging on as climate deteriorated. (Credit: Digital painting by James Ives)

Neanderthals at the cave site of Trou Al'Wesse in Belgium, clinging on as climate deteriorated. (Credit: Digital painting by James Ives)

Although an African origin of the modern human species is generally accepted, the evolutionary processes involved in the speciation, geographical spread, and eventual extinction of archaic humans outside of Africa are much debated. An additional complexity has been the recent evidence of limited interbreeding between modern humans and the Neandertals and Denisovans (a newly discovered group from Siberia). Modern human migrations and interactions began during the buildup to the Last Glacial Maximum, starting about 100,000 years ago. By examining the history of other organisms through glacial cycles, valuable models for evolutionary biogeography can be formulated. According to one such model, the adoption of a new refugium by a subgroup of a species may lead to important evolutionary changes.

   “Ultimately, this model explains why Homo sapiens as a species are here and the archaic humans are not.” Dr J.R. Stewart

The research also leads to interesting conclusions as to how and why Neanderthals, and indeed the Denisovans, evolved in the first place.

Check out the full article here

An Introduction to Practical Electronics: Resource

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Thanks to Lynne Newell from FutureIntech for this link 

An introduction to Practical Electronics, Microcontrollers and Software Design is a PDF book (800 pages+ and growing)  written by  Bill Collis from Mount Roskill Grammar School for students  who are starting out in electronics. It is based around the PCB CAD software Eagle, the ATMEL AVR microcontroller and the BASCOM-AVR cross compiler. It aims to help students use software like Eagle and Sketchup for their chosen projects, and how to write and plan successful code using statechart principles. There are many examples of block diagrams, circuits, layouts, flowcharts, statecharts and code in the book for many different interfaces and products.

New study says ancient hominid males stayed home while females roamed

Friday, March 16th, 2012 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

The males of the two bipedal hominid species that roamed the South African savannah more than a million years ago were stay-at-home kind of guys when compared to the gadabout gals, says a new high-tech study led by the University of Colorado Boulder. Dr Petrus le Roux from the Department of Geological Sciences at UCT was part of a team which studied teeth from a group of extinct Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus individuals from two adjacent cave systems in the Sterkfontein-Swartkrans area in South Africa.

hominiid skullThe research team used high-tech laser ablation mass spectrometry to measure isotope ratios of strontium in the hominid tooth enamel in order to identify specific areas of landscape use. A naturally occurring element, strontium, is found in rocks and soils and is absorbed by plants and animals and becomes incorporated in the enamel of their teeth during development. Since unique strontium signals are tied to specific geological substrates – like granite, basalt, quartzite, sandstone and others, they can be used to reveal landscape conditions where ancient hominids grew up Sandi Copeland, UC Boulder Adjunct Professor and lead study author explains, “The strontium isotope ratios are a direct reflection of the foods these hominids ate, which in turn are a reflection of the local geology”. The researchers found that the strontium isotope signals in half of the female teeth indicated that they were derived from outside the local area, which contrasted with that of the males. In the latter only about ten percent suggested that they were from elsewhere, implying that the males probably grew up and died in the same area. Sandi Copeland said, “One of our goals was to try and find something out about early hominid landscape use. Here we have the first direct glimpse of the geographic movements of early hominids, and it appears the females preferentially moved away from their residential groups.” She said that the new study results were somewhat surprising as they had assumed that more of the hominids would be from non-local areas, as it is generally thought that the evolution of bipedalism was due in part to allow individuals to range longer distances. “Such small home ranges could imply that bipedalism evolved for other reasons”, Copeland said.

Professor Matt Sponheimer, UC-Boulder anthropologist and a co-author of the article, says, “It is difficult enough to work out relations between the sexes today, so the challenges in investigating the ways that male and female hominids used the landscape and formed social groups over a million years ago, are considerable. Disembodied skulls and teeth are notoriously poor communicators, so the real difficulty with a study like this is finding new ways to make these old bones speak”. The female dispersal pattern seen in the two hominid groups is similar to that of many modern humans, chimpanzees and bonobos, but unlike most other primates, including gorillas, where one or two males dominate a group of females, explained Copeland. “This study gets us closer to understanding the social structures of ancient hominids, since we now have a better idea about the dispersal patterns”, she said.


Contact: University of Cape Town, Faculty of Science Newsletter, March 2012, Page 11

Science Dept Outreach Links

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

The links  below will take you to school support material from each of our key science departments:

Biochemistry   Dept Outreach  

Chemistry Dept Outreach:

Computer Science Dept  Outreach

Genetics Dept Outreach

Marine Science Dept Outreach

Mathematics  Dept Outreach

Physics Dept Outreach

Zoology Dept Outreach

Triple Helix Resources

Friday, September 2nd, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments


is focused on the provision of quality biology and general science teaching materials.
Their aim is to produce resources that will not only help teachers to teach and students to learn but will also encourage a lifelong fascination with science and the living world

“Making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty.”

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Statistics may be defined as “a body of methods for making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty.”   W.A. Wallis

How  confident are you with Statistical theory and practice?

Would you like to use state of the art analytical software on real problems  to hone your skills?

Otago  University has made a series of video clips  of researchers talking about  using statistics in their research. The clips include  examples from zoology, nutrition, psychology, chemistry, physiology within the university and DoC and AgResearch Ruakua outside the University.

But wait there’s more….!!!!!

The videos come with matching data sets  and a powerful, free-to-use menu-driven schools version of the statistical package GenStat .

A FREE school version of this software has been developed for New Zealand Schools. You can even  access the software freely at home once your  school is registered.

The video clips and data sets come with lessons using `GenStat Schools’ and all of the resources are available from the department’s website

A school can apply for a FREE GenStat Schools Licence at

If you haven’t heard of GenStat take this to your Maths Teacher right away  and start making use of this great resource.

‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis: Radio Interview

Sunday, August 7th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Rebecca Cann   is “Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology, and member of the International Scientific Advisory Panel of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution. She co-authored the influential study which showed modern humans evolved from a single African population”  but there is a strong Otago University link through  Professor Alan Wilson  way back in 1950’s. Check out the story on national radio podcast from Sat 6th Aug  at 9.05 am  

Science and doubt in the Global Warming arena

Thursday, July 21st, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments


  to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe. 2 . to distrust

It’s an individual thing, right? We read something  `we’ decide .

But can doubt also be `manufactured’ , promulgated  by  orchestrated action?

 I would strongly recommend  you listen to podcast of recent Michael King Memorial Lecture here in New Zealand entitled Science and Doubt  by American Professor of History  & Science Studies Naomi Oreskes.

Download it to your Ipod  and listen to it on your way down to camp.

Then make up your own mind

`Optogenetics’: The Stuff of Science Fiction?

Thursday, July 7th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

When  I was  a wee lad back in Scotland  one of my favourite films  was  a movie called  `Fantastic Voyage’.
Based on an Issac Asimov novel it’s about a group of scientists who, along with their hi-tech sub are  miniaturised  and injected into the body of an emminent scientist. Their  mission:-  to  perform some very targeted brain surgery from within using lasers.
(The film is often most remembered by film reviewers for a  scene where our hero has to rip ‘giant’ (to them) `phagocytosing’ white blood cells from a wetsuit-clad Raquel Welsh.  At the time I was way too young to understand why `that scene’ was so appealing to grown-ups!   Especially when there were so many other cool scenes of them travelling  through the blood stream, lungs, inner ear and finally in the brain surrounded by  hanging  neurones!).
Anyway, when I read this article on `Optogenetics’ -a new technology that  potentially allows scientists to switch  individual neurones on and off by means of light –  the movie leapt into my mind and I  became intrigued to read on.

 It’s  a  facinatating concept  and another example of 21st century ingenuity from   the rapidly expanding world of nanotechnology.

Check it out here:-

or read full article here

P.S. For all the film buffs out there, a remake of ‘Fantastic Voyage’ in rumoured to be one of James Cameron’s latest projects.

Arsenic-based life debate continues

Friday, June 17th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

debate cartoonThere’s no more stimulating way to end a busy week than a good scientific controversy!

And we are NOT talking Global Warming  this time!

More than a dozen researchers voice their  concerns  about a 2010 paper that claims bacteria can use arsenic in place of phosphorus in its DNA and other biomolecules

Check out this story in Science from June 2, 2011 and associated links

So, which side are you on ????

Protein Synthesis

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

DNA fromwwwbuzzlecomA more sedate way to get to grips with Protein synthesis
than Kev’s recent link to  DNA Rap song on Youtube

This set of animated slides with View Again and Go-back options allows you to get to grips with  the process at your own pace.

More animated `learning objects’ can be found at

Into ‘Chaos Theory’ ?

Friday, May 27th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

 Ever heard of James Gleick? Fractal

James Gleick is an American author, journalist, and biographer.
His first book, Chaos: Making a New Science (1987) chronicled the development of chaos theory, and his subsequent books include Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (1999), and biographies of Richard Feynman and Isaac Newton. His new book is The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood (Fourth Estate, ISBN: 978-0-00-742311-8).
He is being interviewed by Kim Hill on RadioNZ National at 9 am tomorrow
28th May.

Check him out  at

Evolutionary Evidence from New Zealand

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Kakapo,Kea, kaka complexStruggling to get your head around role of polyploidy in speciation, adaptive radiation and such like?
This page brings those concepts into focus using New Zealand examples.

Check out the rest of the Evolution for Teaching site for  information on ‘Human Evolution’, `Darwin & Religion’, Earth’s History & Evolution’ and `Theories, Hypotheses, & Laws’.

A good authoratative site from University of Waikato with a links to glossary &  a useful FAQ page.

The TalkOrigins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Monday, May 23rd, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

 This web site is intended to provide an overview of the study of human evolution, and of the currently accepted fossil evidence. It also contains a very comprehensive treatment of creationist claims about human evolution. If you are not interested in creationism, you can easily skip those pages. If you are interested in creationism, you can go directly to the pages on creationist arguments; they contain links to the fossils under discussion when necessary.

The Physics of Climate Change: A Powerpoint Resource

Saturday, May 14th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

This presentation by  Keith Burrows  is designed for teachers to use in schools or with their local community.

Picture1 (Small)

It contains reasonably ‘heavy’ science aimed at senior students or serious adults.,1,The Physics of our Climate

A ‘lighter’ version is in the pipeline and will be put on soon. In the meantime, for younger students some sections of this presentation could be omitted.

Storms of our Grandchildren author in NZ

Friday, May 13th, 2011 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

Dr. James Hansen, world renowned climate scientist and described as the ..”scientist with the most powerful and consisitent voice calling for intelligent action….”, is in NZ giving a series of public lectures around the country.

He will also be interviewed by Kim Hill on RadioNZ National  tomorrow morning. So if can’t get to one of his public talks  have a listen or download podcast of  his interview.

8:15  Sat 14th May James Hansen
Dr James Hansen is the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and one of the best-known climate scientists in the world. He is visiting New Zealand to give a public lecture, Climate Change: a Scientific, Moral and Legal Issue, in Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, Dunedin, Gore and Christchurch, from 12 to 21 May. He will also participate in the Symposium on the Future of Coal (17 May, Wellington), and the Festival for the Planet (21 May, Auckland).!/JamesHansenNZTour?sk=events