Category Archives: Science & Engineering

Nelson prides itself on being green. Our local city council has a number of initiatives aimed at promoting sustainability.  They have an “Eco Building Advisor”, giving free information on sustainable building practices. They are really pushing solar water heating, for example by lending the installation cost for certain selected systems and waiving fees for building consents.  But in practice, it’s really expensive to be green in Nelson!

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In a former life, I had a lot to do with Greenshell mussels.  There’s a large export industry based upon farming these shellfish, which are found only in New Zealand. Not only do they taste good, but they are also good for your health.  (I managed to get off anti-inflammatory drugs for about seven years by including Greenshell mussels in my regular diet, but that’s another story.)

But this multimillion dollar industry recruits its juvenile mussels in a very strange way.

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On Friday night I attended a public lecture, the 66th in a series which started back in 1917!  The venue was the Nelson School of Music where that 1917 lecture was held.  It was full (around 350 people), it had been booked out for weeks.

Thomas Cawthron
Thomas Cawthron

The event commemorates Nelson benefactor Thomas Cawthron, who when he died in 1915 left almost quarter of a million pounds to set up what is now the Cawthron Institute.

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I have just got back from Christchurch. Every 10 weeks, I travel to Burwood Hospital for treatment. I sit there for a few hours, swap stories with the other regulars (some of whom feel like old friends), then I’m off home again.  It’s a nice, quiet and occasionally very entertaining few hours. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to witness something quite remarkable: a patient comes in to have their implant tuned.  These “lucky” people have been fitted with a spinal-cord stimulator, an electronic substitute for painkilling drugs.  A small voltage generator is implanted under the skin, with a bunch of electrodes leading to various points along the spinal cord.  Very small voltages transmitted through these electrodes interfere with the pain signals travelling up the spinal cord to the brain. Result?  no more pain! Except sometimes some fine tuning is required, hence the following conversation overheard between patient and nurse: Patient (pale,…

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Recently there was a letter to the editor of the local paper complaining about the harsh attitude of the management of our airport. It was from the mother of a couple of teenagers who had parked in a place reserved for airport staff. The letter sparked a flurry of responses from the general public, enough to fill half page of the weekend edition. Opinions were divided: many agreed that the airport manager was cruel and inhumane, while others felt that people needed to take responsibility for their own actions. But the whole saga reminded me of a time when a more relaxed attitude would surface (and, I suspect, there was less pressure on parking spaces). At the very beginning of 93, I received a call from the airport manager asking if I knew the whereabouts of X.  Yes, X was a scientist on our staff. Well, X had left their…

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Last week, the Cawthron Institute announced it would be spending $2.2 million on upgrading their research facility, the Glenhaven Aquaculture Centre.  Here’s a piece about its very beginnings, a wonderful success story. Back in the early 90s, Cawthron Institute was approached by a young marine biologist with a proposal. Sam Buchanan wanted us to give him a job so he could complete a research project for his Ph.D.  He claimed that he was on the track to solving a problem that had stumped New Zealand scientists for the previous 20 years or more: how to grow Greenshell™ mussels in a hatchery.  (If you haven’t heard of these before, see here for more on this iconic New Zealand shellfish.) There were several problems with this idea. Cawthron didn’t have a hatchery, or anything remotely like the facilities that he would need. There was no money for such a project. Finally, we…

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