19 November 2013: Why did the pigeon cross the road?

Dr Claire Postlethwaite, 7.30 pm Tuesday 19 November 2013. Holt Planetarium, Chambers St, Napier.

The November lecture was “Why did the pigeon cross the road? Modelling animal behaviour with mathematics”.  How migrating animals find their way over long distances remains one of the great, unanswered  questions facing biologists today. Despite intensive research for over 60 years, there has been no  convincing explanation of the mechanisms animals use for determining their position relative to a  target location. Dr Postlethwaite’s research in this area combines ideas from both mathematics and behavioural  ecology.

Due to their ease of handling and willingness to home, homing pigeons have long been the  experimental model for the study of animal navigation. Dr Postlethwaite and colleagues are developing a predictive mathematical model for how animals  navigate over long distances. These results will be applicable to a wide variety of migratory species.  They expect their results will explain how birds such as godwits can fly non-stop from Alaska to  New Zealand, a trip that requires locating a target only 2-3 degrees wide when migration begins.

Dr Claire Postlethwaite, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, Auckland University completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Cambridge. She specialises in research in Dynamical Systems, and mathematical models of animal behaviour. She was recently been awarded a Marsden Fast Start Grant for research in animal navigation.

A summary of Dr Postlethwaite’s research can be found at http://www.math.auckland.ac.nz/~claire/research.html

29 October 2013: Light quality and plant responses – LEDs for greenhouse production

Dr Huub Kerckhoffs, 7.30 pm Tuesday 29 October 2013. Holt Planetarium, Chambers St, Napier.

Huub KerckhoffsThe optimal use of light plays an important role in horticultural production. By manipulating the light environment we are able to control and steer crop growth and development. Innovative lighting technologies such as LEDs can provide optimum crop specific ‘light recipes’ at every crop stage. In greenhouse horticulture especially, this can be used to maximise crop quality and returns.

Huub Kerckhoffs is a lecturer in Horticultural Production within the Institute of Agriculture & Environment at Massey University. He received his PhD in plant physiology from Wageningen University (Netherlands). Huub has a broad background on how light and other stimuli are controlling growth and development in a wide range of cropping systems. He worked on this in several countries (Netherlands, UK, US, Japan, Australia) before coming to New Zealand.

Switch – The Movie. What is the future of Energy?


“Switch” is a film produced as part of a project of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas. The project’s aims are to build a base of understanding about Energy, to promote its conservation and efficient use and to provide an objective view on how the world can meet both increasing demand for energy and environmental goals.

In September 2013, the Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society teamed up with the Institute of Professional Engineers NZ to host a screening of the film, followed by a discussion led by a panel of experts.

In the film, Dr Scott Tinker, Director of the Bureau, leads the viewer on a 90-minute tour to illustrate the different ways the world produces the energy it consumes. Using the amount of energy the average person in the Western world consumes per year as a handy metric, he compares the amount of energy each primary or secondary source can produce. He vividly makes the point that despite measures to conserve energy and increased production efficiency, global demand will continue to grow in step with the economies in developing countries such as China and India.

“Switch” owes its title to the notion that, given the earth’s finite resources and mankind’s environmental consciousness, at some point in the future, oil and coal as primary sources of energy will be overtaken by cleaner and more sustainable alternatives (gas, nuclear, and renewables such as hydro, wind, geothermal and solar). “When,” it asks, “is that likely to take place, and how will the energy mix look when it does?”

Following a break for refreshments, we reconvened to hear the views of Geothermal Energy specialist Ian Thain, Electrical Engineering Consultant John Geoghegan, and John Penny from ABB Power Electronics. They were able to give a New Zealand perspective on this topic and answer some of the many questions that the film had generated in our audience of over 70.

We thank Eastern Institue of Technology (EIT) for hosting the screening at their Taradale campus.

To stage this event, the HB Branch of Royal Society purchased the rights to show the film for educational purposes. If any schools or colleges would like to host a screening, we would be happy to help; please contact Antony Steiner using the “Council” link at the top of this web page.

Reviewed by Antony Steiner