Our Changing World
Thursday 16 June 2011, with Alison Ballance, Ruth Beran & Veronika Meduna
9:06 pm Thursday 20 June: Our Changing World
In a world first, a New Zealand vision scientist has discovered that playing Tetris under controlled conditions may be a cure for lazy eye in both children and adults. While some might query whether a video-game played close up is good for eyesight, Ben Thompson from the University of Auckland has proven otherwise, with the popular tile-matching game helping to train both eyes to work together. Lisa Thompson spoke with Ben and trial participant Jane Brock, who is seeing improvements in her vision first-hand.
At GNS, ion beams are being used to force atoms into solid materials and change their properties, for example making them harder, or more compatible with the human body. Ruth Beran meets John Futter to see some of the projects he is working on.
Since kaka were introduced to the fenced sanctuary Zealandia in 2002 they have grown in numbers to more than 200, and have become a regular sight in parks and gardens in central Wellington. Kerry Charles has just completed her Masters degree at Victoria University, investigating the damage kaka are inflicting on some urban trees, and Alison Ballance joins her in the Botanic Gardens to find out more.
Dillon Mayhew from Victoria University explains how the mathematics of codes and ciphers allows us to transmit volumes of information accurately and securely electronically around the world.
On This Programme
Life in Antarctic Sea Ice
Andrew Martin and Ken Ryan drilling an ice core (Scott's Terra Nova hut in the background), and Ken Ryan showing algae growing on the bottom of an ice core (Mount Erebus in the backgroun). Images: A. Ballance
Each winter the sea around Antarctica freezes (click here to see the extent of Antarctic sea ice over the preceding 30 days).. By mid June the sea ice already wraps Antarctica in a giant frozen blanket, and it reaches its maximum extent of about 18 million square kilometres in late September. While it looks desolate and inhospitable, the sea ice is actually home to a great diversity of algae and microbes that live within or on the underside of the ice.
While Alison Ballance was at Scott Base last summer she visited a research project called Life in the Ice, in their field camp at Cape Evans. Ken Ryan and Meghana Rajanahally from Victoria University, Julie Deslippe from the University of British Columbia, and Andrew Martin from the University of Tasmania explained their work and demonstrated some of their techniques. Ken began the tour by explaining why the sea ice is the Antarctic equivalent of a sheep farm, with the algae on the underside of the sea ice being the grass, and tiny krill being the sheep.
Ken Ryan sawing up an ice core, and Andrew Martin about to deploy a CTD into a large dive hole drilled in the sea ice (Images: A. Ballance)
Limits to Freshwater
Last week, scientists gathered to discuss Earth’s biophysical limits and whether continued economic growth is possible within finite resources. This interview focuses on freshwater, a renewable but increasingly limited resource. Only 3% of the planet’s water is fresh, but most of it (about two thirds) is not available as it is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. Most countries already face shortages of freshwater.
New Zealand is one of few countries in the world with an abundance of freshwater, but some rivers and aquifers are at risk of depletion. As a new policy on freshwater is coming into effect on July 1, Clive Howard-Williams, an aquatic ecologist at the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere, discusses limits on freshwater quality and quantity and how water management could be improved.
Oxygen and Free Radicals
University of Otago, Christchurch’s Christine Winterbourn (above) and Amelia Albrett are studying oxygen and free radicals. In particular, they’re looking at the process whereby our white blood cells generate superoxide to kill bacteria, a process which involves the generation of chlorine bleach by an enzyme, myeloperoxidase. Ruth Beran visits them in their temporary laboratory in Christchurch, to find out why her work could have implications for people with cystic fibrosis.
Christine Winterbourn will be giving a seminar entitled Living with Oxygen on 28 June at 7.30pm at the Speirs Centre, Palmerston North Boy’s High School, Featherston Street, Palmerston North as part of the Marie Curie Lecture Series - a year-long national tour of talks by female New Zealand chemists in honour of Curie’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
The large eradication taking place on Macquarie Island, transferring Okarito kiwi to Blumine island, and visiting the anechoic room at IRL to find out about binaural sound.
Audio from Thursday 16 June 2011
Not all audio is available due to copyright restrictions.
Life in Antarctica's Sea Ice ( 25′ 50″ )
21:06 Antarctic sea ice is home to a great diversity of microbes and algae living in and under the ice
Limits to Freshwater ( 12′ 26″ )
21:34 Although New Zealand has abundant freshwater resources, there are still limits to its quality and quantity
Oxygen and Free Radicals ( 13′ 01″ )
21:46 Christine Winterbourn's work on free radicals and their effect on the human body may help understand cystic fibrosis