Category Archives: Must See Science

Wild the City

As people live in more urbanised environments they often have less access to nature. Wild the City aims to integrate nature back into the cities to create more multipurpose and livable spaces.
We all know if we if we ‘feel blue – touch green’.  Being in nature makes us feel better so why not have these spaces in our cities?
Imagine walking on your way to work and you could pick an apple, hear native bird song and feel relaxed. 

    There are so many opportunities for psychological, spiritual health benefits from experiencing nature in urban places.

    Our cities are the solution for conservation. We need to experience nature on a daily basis to develop awareness of our native birds and environmental ethic.

    If you would like to find out more about Wild the City– I am presenting in the at the St David Lecture Complex, University of Otago 4.00 Saturday. Or see


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    Natural City

    At the top of the harbour, there’s a little area called the Anderson’s Bay inlet. Originally it was twice the size until Dunedin’s growing population demanded more land! (And so half was ‘reclaimed’, although shouldn’t it just be ‘claimed’ since no-one had ever claimed it before?)

    Anyhoo, I’ve lived in Anderson’s Bay all my life and spent many hours as a kid poking at crabs, feeding ducks and jumping on the dead octopii. More recently, through an interest in photography, I took note of all the bird life that visits the inlet but even I wouldn’t have thought that there was up to 16 different bird species that visit or live in the inlet area. Someone else had taken notice though.


    Jill Hamel of the Save the Otago Peninsula group organised for an artificial bird roost to be constructed in the inlet as a refuge for the birds from people and canines in May 2009.

    This is possibly one of the first examples of an artificial roost in the world and after a slow start (just the ducks and the gulls) there are now up to 8 species at a time on the roost, usually at higher tide.

    The Anderson’s Bay Inlet Roost has become a resource for seeing the natural world up close and this is similar to what one of my fellow Science Communication student is working on.

    Tess Bunny is advocating the notion of “ReWilding the City” and currently has an installation at Wall Street which you should head along and check out. I’ve asked her to do a guest post, so that should be coming your way shortly!

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    Science is Real!

    Another great video from They Might Be Giants, so much better for kids than the Wiggles!!

    Science is real – don’t let anyone tell you different 🙂

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    I’m a big kid now…

    I went along and checked out the Freaky Science show at the Otago Museum today, and while it wasn’t the Cafe Vulgar one as advertised, it was an informative and exciting show.  Although, I suppose anything with loud bangs and expanding marshmallows is awesome.

    Balloon Antics #1

    Check it out!  It’s Amadeo, the Safety Scientist!  He’s demonstrating what happens if you put liquid nitrogen in a plastic bottle, and then put a balloon over the top. 

    First it inflates, and then inflates some more!  Hmm, I wonder what will happen…

    … the ‘sonic boom’ echoed throughout the museum shortly after this photo.  Awesome.  I fully admit to letting out a high-pitched shriek at this.  Apparently the rubber exploded at the speed of sound.  Or something.

    Operation Air Removal: Marshmallows!

    Next came the removal of air from marshmallows and pineapple lumps!  Amadeo rigged up a air-sucker-outer to a container full of confectionary and then commenced Operation: Air Removal.

    This is what it started out like.  Both the marshmallows and the pineapple lumps expanded, with the chocolate cracking on the lumps.

    This was the end result!  But wait!, there’s more: this is what happened when the air was let back into the container (apologies for the poor quality video):

    And the marshmallows ended up smaller than when they began!  And they got eaten by an appreciative audience.

    Water was also used for this demonstration, where the water began to bubble and boil as the air was removed, as the water became a lot colder (like at the top of a mountain) and therefore it boiled at a lower temperature.

    Balloon Antics #2

    The poor old balloons came in for more abuse when Amadeo poured the dry ice into the red container and placed an inflated balloon (and a rotten banana from the Tropical Forest!) into the container.

    Basically, the balloon shrunk as the air inside froze, turning to liquid!  When Amadeo cut open the now small balloon, you could see liquid air pour out!  And the banana got smashed.

    Anyways, this post is getting long, so I’ll leave it there but head along to the other Freaky Science shows at the museum:

    What Goes In Must Come Out on Thursday and,

    The Menu of Cafe Vulgar on Sunday

    Lastly, a huge shout-out to Amadeo for a great show.  Stay classy 🙂

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    Eye of the Beholder?

    Science as art?  Art as Science?  Are these things relevant to each other?

    Pretty, huh?  These are patterns within the brain!  I must confess that I don’t follow the whole Science and Art schtick, unless it is perhaps about the origins of the materials used to paint a picture, or to tell how old it is, or even methods to show what is underneath a certain painting.  Or as a use in Science Communication though photos, exhibits, books and what-have-you.  I’ve been amazed at images produced from different scientific methods, especially in the micro-realm.  You could consider the humble nautilus, a cephalopod (related to octopus and squid).  It looks like this:

    These wash up on the shore (more in tropical areas!) and have a distinctive shell: brown and white patterned on the outside and a mother-of-pearl interior (due to the mineral aragonite which is a form of calcite).

    Nautiloids show up in all sorts of imagery, like the photo above, as well as applications in mathematics for their whorls! 

    Or as a template for a speaker:


    These pretty shells show life: growth patterns, environmental adaptions and the beauty within nature.  For me, there is one other application of art in science: giving us an idea of what came before.  nautiloids had a close relation, the ammonites, that died out with the dinosaurs, and so we can infer what they looked like and how they lived by comparing today’s living being with a fossil that last lived about 65 million years ago.  And think of the dinosaurs themselves, the bones themselves aren’t inspiring but the imagery produced by artists has meant they are ensconced in everyday life.  And this is what I think 😀

    Want to know more? Check out these discussions:

     So get along to the many arty science things on this week including (click to find times and venues):

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    Ever really thought about Dunedin in the early days, well maybe not so far back as when it was known as ‘Mudedin’ but before electricity and whatnot? Back then, gas was the power currency and the Dunedin Gasworks began way back in 1862, first powering about 20 or so ‘gas standards’ or lamps like you see outside the Otago Settler’s Museum. It soon expanded to providing the power for lighting, heating, cooking and industrial needs, peaking in the early 20th Century (when electricity gave it a run for its money) and finally closing in 1987.  Just think that there is over 300 miles (I’ll translate later) of gas pipes still under the ground in Dunedin!

    The Dunedin Gasworks Museum has preserved a large part of the machinery that used to run the gasworks and not only is it the only one in New Zealand, it is one of only three gasworks museums in the world, and the only one that has the original machinery running!  As well as just being really cool in having running steam machinery from the past couple of centuries, it also serves to demonstrate the physics of steam machiner and the chemistry of gas, which first came from coal, and then petrolium oil from the 1960’s onwards.  Did you know that aspirin comes from coal?

    So come along (and be very warm!) to the Gasworks Museum and immerse yourself in living history.  It’s open today from 12.00-4.00pm, I’ll be making pikelets on an old gas stove (which is pretty hard to light!).  It will also be open during the Science Festival Tuesday 06th – Friday 09th July, from 10.00am – 12.00pm. 


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    To Pop or Not to Pop…

    Popcorn.  It’s great, healthy even, if one leaves off the buttery goodness…  But other than eating it, I’ve never really thought about how it pops and even why it pops.  There was an article in the recent Dunedin Star about popcorn that wasn’t popping (01 July 2010)!!  Turns out recent weather (and high demand) meant that the pop-your-own popcorn (not the microwave stuff) wasn’t popping  into edible food, just blackening pots and leaving consumers unfulfilled.  Why?  Well, popcorn needs a certain amount of moisture to pop, and has to be stored after harvest to reach its ‘perfect’ moisture level (~13.5% if you will), and because of a huge demand last year, they had to use the new season’s corn earlier than usual.

    For how popcorn pops and why some don’t pop at all, check out  this article and podcast.

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