Our Changing World
Thursday 11 August 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
Exercise and Dehydration
Jim Cotter in the lab; and marathon runners at a drink station (right image: Chris Sullivan/Seen in Dunedin)
At the University of Otago’s School of Physical Education, Jim Cotter and Honours student Rachel Kingsford are investigating how dehydration before exercise affects vasopressin (a hormone which causes the kidneys to conserve water) to see if it could lead to improvements in athletic performance.
Research so far suggests that some dehydration may actually benefit those who do cardio exercise regularly, and for the general population, research indicates that rather than drinking eight glasses of water a day, people should be guided by thirst.
Ruth Beran goes to the Environmental-Controlled Lab to watch as Glen Chisholm, an athletic volunteer, is put through some gruelling experiments.
Peter Raven on the Global Biodiversity Crisis
Each year the University of Otago invites a distinguished botanist to deliver the John Smaillie Tennant Lecture. This year’s speaker was pre-eminent botanist and conservationist Professor Peter H. Raven. He is now President Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, a world-leading botanical research and education institution which he led for four decades. One of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Planet, he has received numerous awards and notable fellowships, belongs to nearly 20 international Academies of Science, was a member of President Bill Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, and received the United States National Medal of Science in 2001. He spoke in Dunedin on ‘How many species will survive the twenty first century?’
Alison Ballance grabbed the opportunity to talk with Peter Raven the morning after he flew in from the United States and delivered his talk to a full house, and just before he flew out again to Australia to deliver a plenary address at the International Botanical Congress.
Weeds and Vegetation Plots on Raoul Island
Weeds in the ‘pet plant’ line-up near the hostel on Raoul Island (left) include Brazilian buttercup (centre) and black passionfruit (right). (Images: A. Ballance)
Subtropical Raoul Island is highly modified, and although introduced cats, rats and feral goats have been eradicated, it still bears a weedy legacy from many years of farming and horticultural efforts in the late 1800s, mainly by the Bell family. Made famous in the book ‘The Crusoes of Sunday Island’, the Bell family grew fruit – including Raoul’s well-known oranges – and vegetables to trade with passing whalers. For many years Department of Conservation staff and volunteers have run a weeding programme (PDF) on the island, aiming to rid the island of the most destructive weeds. Alison Ballance joins DoC biodiversity ranger Sian Potier to meet some of the worst weedy offenders, displayed in a ‘pet plant line-up’ near the hostel.
But first Alison heads into the forest where botanists Sue Bennett (above right) and Nicky Atkinson (above centre) are resurveying permanent vegetation plots put in place to monitor how the vegetation changed following the rat eradication in 2002. Their work was proving more challenging than usual due to large amounts of damage caused by Cyclone Bune which passed over the islands at the end of March 2011.
Cyclone Bune knocked out the tops of many nikau palms (centre) and blew over many pohutukawa (right), but native seedlings (left), which are more abundant since rats were eradicated from the island, should be able to take advantage of the extra light caused by gaps in the canopy (images: A. Ballance).
Ageing Wine with Electric Fields
Jonathan Scott pulled curious crowds with the wine maturator at the Waikato University stand at this year's Fieldays. (image: Waikato University)
It all began as a summer research project to test the validity of work published by a team of Chinese scientists. Jonathan Scott, at Waikato University's Department of Science and Engineering, was expecting to disprove the group's claims that wine could be matured rapidly using electric fields. He used an astringent-tasting homebrew for the first run through a maturation device, built by summer research scholarship recipient Mark Benseman, and surprised himself when it became noticeably smoother and sweeter after less than three minutes' exposure to a 1000-volt electric field. The team also included Sadhana Talele, who had just finished a doctoral project on electro-poration – the process of using electric fields to make holes in cell walls to allow flavoursome material inside to escape. So far, red wines have responded to the treatment much better than whites, and the team hopes to raise interest from the wine industry to run a larger-scale trial.
Genetic causes underpinning the development of cancer, results from the joint Australian New Zealand whale research trip to Antarctica last year, the terrestrial team get ashore on some of the less visited islands in the Kermadec group, and tracing silent earthquakes under the lower North Island.
Audio from Thursday 11 August 2011
Not all audio is available due to copyright restrictions.
Exercise and Dehydration ( 12′ 53″ )
21:06 Jim Cotter and Rachel Kingsford are investigating dehydration to see if it could help athletic performance
Peter Raven on the Global Biodiversity Crisis ( 21′ 15″ )
21:20 Pre-eminent botanist Peter Raven spoke in Dunedin recently on 'How many species will survive the 21st century?'
Weeds and Vegetation Plots on Raoul Island ( 13′ 30″ )
21:34 Plots that are resurveyed every three years show how the vegetation of Raoul Island is changing, and the island's worst weeds
Ageing Wine with Electric Fields ( 12′ 51″ )
21:46 Waikato University scientists have developed a machine that can age wine within minutes by exposing it to an electric field.