Author Archives: secretary

Explore Matariki at the Planetarium

Gary Sparks, Director of Holt Planetarium and President of HB Astronomical Society

Thursday 1 June 2017 at 7.30pm
Holt Planetarium, NBHS, Chambers Street, Napier
Admission by gold coin donation;  50 people maximum

To secure your place, please send an email to

Throughout history, the changing yet cyclical patterns of stars in the night sky have been used to record the passage of time. Cultures around the world also used the patterns of stars to act as a library of sorts to help pass along myths and legends. For ocean going groups like the Polynesians, navigation stars were critical for their survival as they traversed the southern ocean.

Using our Zeiss ZKP-1planetarium projector, I will show you how the Polynesian cultures perceived the end of one year and the beginning of the next, the time of Matariki.

Matariki in the night sky. Image courtesy of pbkwee,

This meeting will take place after the AGM of the HB Branch of the Royal Society which starts at 7.00pm.

Illuminating new medicines

Dr Siouxsie Wiles

Thursday 12 November 2015 at 6.00pm
Century Theatre, MTG Hawke’s Bay, 9 Herschell Street, Napier

Eventbrite - Illuminating new medicines - NAPIER Ten by Ten

Bioluminescence or ‘living light’, allows glow worms to lure food, fireflies to find a mate and nocturnal squid to camouflage themselves from predators. In this Ten by Ten talk, Dr Siouxsie Wiles will explain how bioluminescence is helping scientists discover new medicines to kill the antibiotic-resistant superbugs that experts predict will bring about the end of modern medicine within the next decade.

These talks are free and open to the general public.  However, to ensure a seat, please register to obtain a ticket. Enquiries: 04 470 5781 or

About Dr Siouxsie Wiles

Siouxsie WilesSiouxsie is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland where she combines her twin passions for glowing creatures and nasty microbes to better understand superbugs and find new medicines to kill them.

Siouxsie is passionate about demystifying science for the general public, and raising awareness of the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. She is a blogger (Infectious Thoughts) and podcaster, as well as being a regular science commentator for Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme. Siouxsie has also teamed up with Australian graphic artist Luke Harris, to make short animations describing nature’s amazing glowing creatures and the many uses of bioluminescence in science:
The Hawaiian Bobtail Squid
Meet the Lampyridae | Firefly
Meet the Lampyridae II – from Fireflies to Space Invaders
Dr Wiles was awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize and the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Callaghan Medal for science communication in 2013 and the 2012 science communication prize from the New Zealand Association of Scientists. She is on the Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and seeks to be a role model for increasing the participation of women and girls in science.

With grateful thanks to Te Pūnanha Matatini and the Photon Factory and Dan Walls Centre for Pure and Applied Optics at the University of Auckland for their support of this talk.


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Sensing Technologies

Application of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology and remote sensing in conservation and ecological research, and commercial operations

Professor John Brooks

25 November 2015 at 6pm
Lecture Theatre 1, EIT, Gloucester Street, Taradale

John Brooks

Professor John Brooks, one of New Zealand’s top food microbiologists, lectured in food microbiology at Massey University and Auckland University of Technology for 36 years. In January 2014 he travelled to Antarctica with the Centre for UAV Research, part of the Institute for Applied Ecology at AUT. On this trip, John was Chief UAV Pilot, using two of AUT’s UAVs to provide proof of concept and to collect data on cyanobacterial mats in the Taylor Dry Valley.

In his talk, John will talk about UAV technology in general and then specifically about the Skycam UAV SwampFox, which he took to Antarctica.  He will bring the Fox and Ground Control Station (GCS) with him, show the operation of the aircraft and its systems, and run a simulation on the GCS to show the mission control functions.  There will be brief coverage of the photogrammetry software used to analyse the data.   He’ll explain the importance of cyanobacterial mats in the Dry Valleys, and show us pictures of the Taylor Dry Valley in Antarctica, and a video clip of a demonstration flight over the Spaulding Pond.

John will also outline the commercial application of UAVs, for example, to monitor the condition of forests throughout their life cycle, to assist the owners to plan harvesting.

John’s visit is jointly hosted by the Hawke’s Bay branches of the Royal Society of New Zealand and the New Zealand Institute of Food Science & Technology, of which he is a Fellow.


New food production paradigms: why farm systems are changing

Dr Charles Merfield

Director, Future Farming Centre, Biological Husbandry Unit Lincoln

7:00pm – 8:30 pm, Wednesday 26th August 2015 (Note earlier time)
Hawke’s Bay Holt Planetarium in Napier

13032009338 smModern farming systems are 70 years old. They have been very successful at meeting their key aim; maximising food production. However, society is asking farmers to take on new aims including providing ecosystem services to protect and enhance the environment.

Four key technologies created modern farming: fossil fuels, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, soluble lithospheric fertilisers and agrichemical pesticides. There are increasing issues with each of these both from the input (e.g. cost, resistance) and outcome (e.g. pollution) sides.

Sustainable agriculture is smart agriculture that uses all available tools to find long lasting alternatives. A key to developing and analysing farm systems is overlapping the sciences of physics, chemistry, biology and ecology. Sustainable farming can be viewed as a martial art, probing and testing the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses then using smarts, not brute force, to win the contest.

Viewing farming through the eye of Darwin’s Law of Evolution will allow more sustainable and durable solutions to be developed.

Charles MerfieldDr Charles Merfield is the founding head of the BHU Future Farming Centre which focuses on ‘old school’ agri/horticultural science and extension.

Charles studied commercial horticulture in the UK and then spent seven years managing organic vegetable farms in the UK and NZ.

In the mid 1990s he moved into research, focusing on sustainable agriculture including soil management, pest, disease and weed management general crop and pasture production.

He has been fortunate to work and experience agriculture in diverse range of countries including NZ, UK, Ireland, USA and Uruguay. He therefore has a broad knowledge of real-world farming as well as science as well a deep understanding of the history of agriculture and science, which enables him to paint the big-picture of where modern farming has come from and where it is going.

Bird Evolution – from Dinosaurs to DNA

AllanWilsonSeries2015Scott Edwards, Prof. of Zoology, Curator of Ornithology, Harvard University
Wednesday, 12 August 2015 from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Napier venue: National Aquarium of New Zealand, Marine Parade, Napier


The Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society is delighted to be included in the Allan Wilson Centre’s 2015 International Lecture Series.

In this lecture, Scott Edwards explains that birds are the living descendants of dinosaurs.  This theory, based almost entirely on the size and shape of fossilized bones, is now the world view shared by most evolutionists.  What is less well known is that the genomes of birds – comprised of over 1 billion DNA letters and thousands of genes – bear traces of their dinosaur ancestry as well.

Modern genomics reveals how bird genomes reflect their streamlined and high-energy lifestyles, epitomized by their ability to fly. Deciphering the language of DNA reveals the origin of birds’ unique traits, such as feathers, the mystery of evolutionary reversals, such as loss of flight, and provides clues to their stunning diversity and survival in the face of global environmental change.


Scott Edwards is Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. He moved to Harvard University in late 2003 as a Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology after serving as a faculty for 9 years in the Zoology Department and the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Scott‘s interest in ornithology and natural history began as a child growing up in Riverdale, Bronx, NYC, where he undertook his first job in environmental science working for an environmental institute called Wave Hill.He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1986.

In New Guinea and Australia he researched ecology of birds-of-paradise and studied the genetics and population structure of a group of cooperatively breeding songbirds called babblers (Pomatostomus) found throughout Australia and New Guinea. He received his PhD in 1992 from the Department of Zoology and Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, in 1992.  He conducted postdoctoral research in avian disease genetics at the University of Florida, Gainesville.  He has conducted museum-based fieldwork throughout the U.S., Australia and the Pacific region and has interests in many aspects of avian biology, including evolutionary history and biogeography, disease ecology, population genetics and comparative genomics.

He has served on the National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration, the Senior Advisory Boards of the US National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), and on the Advisory Boards of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian.  He oversees a program funded by the National Science Foundation to increase the diversity of undergraduates in evolutionary biology and biodiversity science.  He is currently serving as Director of the Division of Biological Infrastructure in the Biology Directorate of the National Science Foundation.

The rise and fall of tuatara and wasps

Victoria Uni Extinction vortex Flier

Lecture Theatre 1, Eastern Institute of Technology, Taradale
Wednesday 19 August at 5.30pm

If you would like to attend, please email  with ‘Napier lecture’ in the subject line or phone 04-463 5791 by Friday 14 August.

Leading ecology experts from Victoria University of Wellington are visiting Napier this month to give a public lecture on two animal populations facing very different challenges.

Dr Nicky Nelson and Professor Phil Lester from Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences will discuss the population dynamics of tuatara and wasps at their talk at the Eastern Institute of Technology.

Tuatara are iconic New Zealand animals facing possible extinction as a result of climate change, with rising temperatures impacting on the sex-ratio of the species, leading to a greater number of males being born.

Dr Nicky Nelson, who is also a Principal Investigator at the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, will present a case study considering these impacts, the role of re-introduced tuatara populations, and what conservation actions can help  save these national treasures, or taonga.

Professor Lester will discuss methods being developed to take the sting out of one of New Zealand’s most abundant, widely distributed and damaging pests—the common wasp.

It has been estimated that wasp numbers need to be reduced by up to 90 percent to effect an increase in the survival probability rates of our native animals. Professor Lester will discuss novel pest control projects he is leading as part of a National Science Challenge, including using mites, gene silencing and artificial pheromones.

Download flier here>

Symphony of the Soil

SymphonyoftheSoil6 – 8 PM, Tuesday 25 August 2015
Century Cinema, MTG, Napier

In this International Year of Soils, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has arranged a public viewing of the innovative documentary, “Symphony of the Soil” by Deborah Koons Garcia.

“Drawing from ancient knowledge and cutting edge science, Symphony of the Soil is an artistic exploration of the miraculous substance soil. By understanding the elaborate relationships and mutuality between soil, water, the atmosphere, plants and animals, we come to appreciate the complex and dynamic nature of this precious resource.”

“The film also examines our human relationship with soil, the use and misuse of soil in agriculture, deforestation and development, and the latest scientific research on soil’s key role in ameliorating the most challenging environmental issues of our time.”

The showing of the movie will be followed by pizza and a discussion forum.

Download printable flier here>

Gold coin donation, koha

IntYearofSoils HBRCColourLogo70mm

When Neanderthals and modern humans (and Denisovans) met


Tom Higham, Prof. Archaeological Science, University of Oxford

Thursday, 17 September 2015 from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Napier venue: Century Theatre, MTG, Herschell St, Napier

The Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society is delighted to be included in the Allan Wilson Centre’s 2015 International Lecture Series.

To ensure a seat, go to: click ‘Register Online’ under ‘Events’.

Tom Higham will discuss the period from 60,000 to 30,000 years ago, which saw the final dispersal of moderns out of Africa, colonising the Old World and Australia, and the disappearance of Neanderthals from the areas they had occupied for 200,000 years. We now know through ancient DNA research that ancient modern humans and Neanderthals probably interbred prior to the wider dispersal of modern people.

TomTimHigham is the Deputy Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, administers the Unit’s archaeological dating programmes and is secretary to the NERC – AHRC National Radiocarbon Facility advisory panel.

His research interests revolve around archaeological dating using AMS, radiocarbon AMS dating of bone, the chronology of the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic of Europe, reservoir effects in 14C, the application of Bayesian calibration methods to archaeological dating, dating novel sample types and sample pretreatment chemistry.

Our Moon: a source of wonder and mystery

Gary Sparks, Director, Holt Planetarium

Tuesday 23 June 2015 7:30 PM Holt Planetarium, Chambers St, Napier

A lecture following the Hawke’s Bay Branch Annual General Meeting.

Gary Sparks2Gary Sparks is President of the Hawke’s Bay Astronomical Society and Director of the Holt Planetarium in Napier.

In 2000, A Royal Society Teacher Fellowship enabled Gary to spend a year at the Holt Planetarium developing education programmes and curriculum resources.  In 2002 he was appointed Director of the Holt Planetarium, a role he continues to hold teaching astronomy and space education from pre-school to primary through secondary school.

In this lecture, Gary will discuss the Moon. He says, “The moon is our nearest neighbour in space. It has long been a source of wonder and mystery. This talk will look at the formation of the moon and how its appearance has enchanted people throughout the centuries.”

HoltPlanetarium     HBAstronomicalSoc