A quick look at the Cretaceous world- A blog David Lillis
Check out the PDF of the most recent blog by David Lillis: Cretaceous Blog
A Great History- A poem by David Lillis
Despite flame and thunder and despite the force of crashing storms,
A lonely sphere; no sound of breathing yet.
But there a tiny shape is stirring;
Spawned in primal seas in times remote,
At first minute, and barely life at all, but living.
And then a panoply of forms so small; ethereal and yet unnoticed,
Construed of shattered stuff of meteors and fabrics of celestial things,
Of rended elements of broken rock and stone,
And mixed in raging floods and pitched in heaving seas,
And fashioned from the dust of stars unknown.
Uncounted change upon uncounted change,
Unnumbered evolutions in unbroken line,
Transforming one kind to a different kind,
A drift from one small place to places everywhere,
Increasing seamlessly in scope and pattern and design.
As season gathers upon season,
And centuries, arranged in one expanding order, run their course,
And so those mighty armies swarm and crawl and glide among the trees;
Earth’s revolving figure, now clothed in garb of brilliant greens,
In skies and ancient grounds and distant seas.
Another aeon; then more aeons, one-by-one,
This giant age gives way to that,
And many diverse forms, so many throngs of different frame and shape,
Attending heat and cold and light and shade,
Some striking forth and some retreating from the dark,
All gifted with the gift of birth,
All struggling and, at end, submitting to the throw of fate;
And, dying, yielding back their substance to the earth.
So many intervals of range beyond imagination,
And centuries where legions vanish and fresh armies take their place,
Through spells of freezing ice and spells of scorching desert,
Unnumbered realms of vast rebirth and those of desolation,
So many gone; of them remaining not one trace.
So it has been; so it will pass for ages still to come,
No gods to blame; but capricious and irrevocable fact,
No spirits to evoke for world’s creation,
A tapestry of truth and not an act;
Life lives for life and not for mankind’s fascination.
For Mike and Linda (12 November 2019)
For more poetry, check out David’s website: https://david.mystatisticalconsultant.com/2019/12/06/a-great-history/
Why was the HMS Endeavour ever here?
By Brian Jones
17 November 2019
It’s rather sad that in all of the misinformation and fake news in New Zealand around the arrival of James Cook to “discover and colonise” New Zealand, there has been a rather stunning silence about the achievements of the expedition from the Scientific community.
Figure 1 Captain Cook, engraving by W. Bond, from “The Three Voyages of Captain Cook Round the World. Vol. I. Being the First of the First Voyage. Published 1821.
After all, New Zealand was “found” by Abel Tasman 127 years previously (in 1642) while looking for a southern sea route from Java to Chile. His men were the first Europeans to officially encounter Māori.
By contrast, Cook was in command of a scientific expedition financed not by the British Government but by the Royal Society. A transit of Venus was to occur in 1769 and would not re-occur for another 100 years, so the Royal Society determined to measure the transit at various sites around the world (Hudsons Bay, North Cape (Norway) and the Pacific). This was important stuff. The transit would enable the calculation of the size of the solar system – Venus was the key, Halley had realised in 1716. By noting the start and stop times of the transit at the three locations, the distance to Venus and the sun could be calculated through the parallax effect. It was also expected that the expedition would look for the “Terra Australis Incognita” the hypothesised continent whose existence would balance the land masses of the Northern Hemisphere.
|The parallax effect is the apparent displacement in the position of an object viewed at the same time along different lines of sight. For example, a speedo needle in a car may read 50 kph to the driver, but appear to be a different speed to the passenger, due to the angle of viewing. Our brains also use parallax (two eyes looking at the same object).|
It was a voyage on a par with a trip to the moon. The explorers were on their own, in uncharted waters with no assistance possible if they got into trouble. Banks was to write in his journal “we took our leave of Europe for heaven knows how long, perhaps for ever”. It was expected that at least half of the crew would die of scurvy, accidents and diseases so to this end the Endeavour was to trial the novel idea that certain foodstuffs could prevent scurvy. Notwithstanding his success in taming scurvy, Cook eventually lost 40% of his men through accidents and disease. As late as the 19th Century it was expected that sailing ships voyaging between Australasia and the UK had a one in ten chance of disaster and to lose at least one crewmember per trip was common. How much more so was the risk in 1768?
The Navy was told to find a ship, and they chose the Endeavour. Cook was chosen as Master because of his experience in observing the transit of the Sun in 1766 and from his experience as a formidable surveyor and cartographer. Cook was subsequently to train Bligh and later Flinders in chart making, the latter went on to map most of the Australian coastline. Cooks’ charts of the New Zealand coast were still in use into the 1970’s.
Figure 2.Chart of New Zealand, Captain Cooks Journal Copy published 1893
The Royal Society appointed Joseph Banks Esquire to lead the scientific expedition “a Fellow of this Society and a Gentleman of large fortune well versed in Natural History” together with a retinue of 8 including the naturalists Daniel Solander and Herman Spöring, The astronomer Charles Green and the artists Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan. There were also 4 menservants, two of whom were servants from the Revesby estate (see tombstone photo of one) and two were Negro servants (both of whom died of exposure in Tierra Del Fuego). All of the civilian party were funded by Banks. It has been estimated that the expedition cost Banks personally 10 000 pounds – equivalent to 1.8 million pounds today.
At the time he was chosen, Banks was a well-established and published scientist with a formidable network of colleagues throughout Europe and with interests in botany, natural history, ethnography, fossils, medicine, archaeology and astronomy. He would be appointed as President of the Royal Society in 1778.
The expedition brought home 30 000 specimens, including 14 000 new species, a feat that has not been equalled since. For New Zealand, what Cook did document was a huge collection of plant and animal specimens, drawings charts and other artefacts that perhaps comprised the first and largest collection of carefully documented scientific material from New Zealand to be obtained by any expedition visiting these shores. Banks had difficulty in publishing the drawings of his plants. He intended to publish 14 folio volumes of his natural history discoveries and 738 copper plates were engraved but through various difficulties and pressure of other work, they were not published. Finally in 1980 a limited edition of the full set was published in colour by the Natural History Museum and Editions Alecto. You can see examples of the beautiful drawings on the internet.
There has been comment on the so-called “secret orders” that Cook received, and the “Claiming of New Zealand for the crown. The secret orders have in-fact been published and can be read at http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-MacHist-t1-body-d3-d7.html
Figure 3 Tombstone of James Roberts, manservant to Joseph Banks. Born and died at Mareham-le-Fen, Lincolnshire. Photo by author..
What’s a million years between friends?
By David Lillis
9 April 2019
“Most of us these days accept that life has followed some kind of evolutionary process that has played out over a very long period of time. However, getting our heads around the enormous lengths of time available for the evolution of life is next to impossible, even for those who work in relevant scientific fields….” Read more on EVOLUTION in a Blog post by David Lillis.
A Subtlety of Earth’s Gravity and its Rotation
By David Lillis
10 March 2019
As is well known, Earth is not a perfect sphere. Because of its rotation, the centrifugal effect makes it bulge slightly at the equator and slightly squashed at the poles, to produce what we refer to as an ‘oblate spheroid’. However, the centrifugal effect also applies to a body on the Earth’s surface as it rotates about Earth’s rotation axis. This force appears to modify the effect of pure gravity and tends to reduce slightly the quantity we call ‘weight’. Click here to access the article: A_Subtlety_of_Earths_Gravity
This article provides an elementary introduction to the effect of oblateness and the centrifugal force on Earth’s gravity for non-Earth scientists, students and other interested readers. Software written in the R language is provided for those who wish to reproduce the calculations and graphs presented here: Gravity_R_Code
Insectageddon: a global crisis of insect extinction and population decline
By Phil Lester
28 February 2019
A recent review has demonstrated a “dreadful state of insect biodiversity in the world, as almost half of the species are rapidly declining and a third are being threatened with extinction”. This is a major issue for New Zealand. Read more in an article published in the Press by Phil Lester.
Laboratory Fraud is a growing “elephant in the room” for science In New Zealand.
By Brian Jones.
24 February 2019
Last summer (2017/18) as I worked as a Biosecurity auditor in Australia, I became aware of the growing problem of “Laboratory Fraud” and the apparent total absence of any mechanism in New Zealand (or Australia) to audit for such practices. True, the RSNZ has a Code of Conduct for members but that has limited effect, assuming that members have even read it!
Indeed there seems to be a general perception that if Laboratory Fraud exists at all, it’s not a problem here.
However, an Australian ABC Four Corners program in 2018 highlighted how bovine blood products were illegally smuggled into Australia as FACS buffer using false labels, before being relabelled as “Australian sourced” and re-exported. The assumption by buyers would be that the bovine serum was FMD free and thus exact a price premium, over serum sourced from South America (the real origin).
At the heart of the conspiracy was the firm PAA Laboratories, which was based in Austria, and acquired by GE in 2011. It was not Australian audit practices that picked it up. It was GE who discovered the scam and reported it to Australian authorities. In both Australia and New Zealand there is a perception that criminal activity does not occur in testing laboratories, therefore there is no need to audit for it.
The second “wake up call” for Australia was the outbreak of White Spot Syndrome in Queensland prawns in late 2017, which on investigation showed that a number of large importers, between them controlling over half the import licences for frozen prawns, were systematically gaming the biosecurity controls such that about 70 % of prawns on sale were infected with live exotic white spot virus (WSSV). Yet every shipment purported to have a test certificate to say that it had been tested (in Australia) by a NATA accredited test to be WSSV free. That investigation suggested that “trusted importers” is an oxymoron and that commercial laboratories may be providing test results that may be at variance with that obtained by government laboratories.
There are basically three types of laboratory fraud:
1) The first is relatively well known. It involves researchers who cheat on their experiments and publish false data in papers. This has been around for some time and is generally perceived as a “fringe” problem (but is it??).
The issue is, that for an increasing number of labs, funding requires the publishing of novel research results. The financial incentive to produce research that is leading edge but totally spurious is large. A 2018 NZ media report highlighted the role three Auckland University staff had taken in uncovering a huge medical research fraud in Japan, involving 33 research trials and over 50 animal trials. In 2017 China cracked down on some 400 researchers who were authors of 107 subsequently retracted papers in the Journal “Tumor Biology”. In 2018, China assigned the Ministry of Science and Technology responsibility for managing investigations and ruling on cases of scientific misconduct, taking the responsibility off individual institutes. The Chinese academy of Social Sciences takes responsibility for social scientists.
2) Commercial laboratories that issue false test reports for money. This is estimated by the global insurance industry to be a US$3 billion a year industry and affects food, healthcare, environmental and product testing for commercial gain.
This type of fraud falls into two broad types: a laboratory that is owned or has been captured by the client; or an independent laboratory that issues “favourable” test certificates for money. At one level this fraud is simply the issuing of false reports for which no actual testing was done. A more subtle approach is to use a test method that is flawed such that it gives the “right” result. This is particularly easy with real time PCR which is generally assumed to be infallible and is usually not (that’s a subject for a separate blog!). Disturbingly, this type of dodgy PCR can become an “accredited test” and bear a NATA or IANZ logo.
It is a crime that is particularly difficult to detect in normal quality audits (such as IANZ or NATA) as the auditor is not looking for deliberate fraud. It is also generally not appreciated that real time PCR results are machine specific and when the software is updated, the batch of reagents is changed, the machine platform is changed or the operator is changed, the test should be revalidated. The test is also sensitive to the number of cycles and the use of “cut-offs” in the amplification curve which can be manipulated to achieve the “right” result. All of this is documented in the literature, if you look, but most labs ignore the huge amount of work involved in true on-going validation of a test.
As long ago as 1997 the US authorities were promoting the use of compliance programs in testing laboratories. It is a pity that such a code (available online) is not mandated in Australasian labs. Yet this type of crime is certainly not foreign to New Zealand.
In 2017 NZ Steel and Tube were taken to court by the Commerce Commission in part over batch test certificates for non-compliant steel mesh that they sold. Again, in its December 2017 Newsletter IANZ reported that fake IANZ documents had been detected in NZ and had also been referred to the Commerce Commission.
3) Companies that promote fake research to both support their product and rubbish results from competing research that suggests that their product is flawed. The latest in a line of large companies to be accused of that is Monsanto, over the carcinogenic properties of ”Roundup”. Revelations produced in US courts include confirmation that the company hardly tested the real-world toxicity of its products, actively avoided pursuing studies which might show unwelcome results, and ghost wrote the studies of supposedly independent scientists. The documents also show Monsanto systematically attacked scientists whose research threatened their profits (https://www.csu.edu.au/research/grahamcentre/news/feature-stories/feature-story/2018/glyphosate-and-fake-news).
Its perhaps time the NZ science community, and the bureaucrats who oversee the science (and social science) budgets, took a harder look at the provenance of the research they pay for and rely on. We might pride ourselves that New Zealanders “don’t do that sort of thing” but the limited evidence available suggests that some probably do.
Recent blogs on Astronomy for students
By David Lillis
7 November 2018
Royal Society Wellington Branch council member member Dr. David Lillis has written five blogs which could interest Year 8 students studying the Astronomy part of the Year 8 Science Curriculum. Students and teachers are welcome to download and use them. The blogs cover the phases of the moon, our solar system, and the causes of the tides and the causes of the Earth’s seasons. If you’d like to know more, read on…. Five PDF files are attached:
A quick look at prime numbers
By David Lillis
5 September 2018
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, and probably long before then, we have been obsessed by prime numbers. In this article, David Lillis (2018) of the Royal Wellington Branch, discusses our fascination with prime numbers. What are prime numbers? How numerous are they? David discusses their history of discovery and theory, and finishes by talking about future work.
This article is presented here with the permission of the New Zealand Science Review.
Explaining the Colours of the Spectrum to your Child
By David Lillis
28 February 2017
When your child turns nine or ten years of age, perhaps you may wish to interest him or her in science. Recently, my son turned eleven and, like all kids of his age, he has been exposed to some elementary science and mathematics at school. Like many people trained in the sciences, I have tried to guide him a little in mathematics and science, and have sought to extend him beyond the regular school curriculum in algebra and geometry. I have even taught him some simple computation and coding in the statistical and graphics programming language R (which originated here in New Zealand) and introduced him to Excel, teaching him about Excel functions, continuous and categorical variables, filtering data, sorting data and pivot tables, on the basis that skills in Excel will prove invaluable later on. In describing science or mathematics to my son, I have no hesitation in using Google, and in general I believe that there’s no major harm in using Wikipedia for kids!
The other day at Westfield Plaza, Lower Hutt, I bought a 64 mm triangular prism made by the US company The Light Crystal (http://www.sciencealive.co.nz/scienceshop/the-light-crystal). I wanted to tell my son about some basic science, in this case the splitting of light into the colours of the rainbow, allowing him to use the prism to split light, and adding human interest through the story of Isaac Newton and his scientific work at the time of the plague.
This epidemic occurred in 1665 and 1666, and was the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague to occur in England (though smaller scale outbreaks did occur in later times). Wikipedia tells us that this particular epidemic killed perhaps 100,000 people, roughly a quarter of London’s population, in a space of 18 months. The plague was spread by the Yersinia pestis bacterium, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected rat flea. Actually, Newton was forced to leave Cambridge for two years because of the plague, and so his work on the splitting of light was put on hold for that period. I thought that this story, even with its regrettable outcome for so many people, could nevertheless provide historic context for a young child encountering a fundamental principle of science for the first time. And so – after talking about the plague, we got to the topic of the colours of the spectrum!
We browsed the Internet and sourced the above two pictures using Google Images – Newton splitting light and a nice diagram of light refracting through a prism.
The following two photographs were kindly sent to me by Brian Jones, member of Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand Wellington Branch.
Here we see Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, where Newton stayed when Cambridge was closed by the plague and where he did most of his work on light. He had a little bedroom and study on the first floor, with a big fireplace for warmth. The living space was separated from the hay loft by a simple clay plaster wall. There was no bathroom or toilet as we know it. The toilet was outside, and the only washing facility would have been a large bowl.
The apple tree in the photograph above is supposed to be THE tree – whose falling fruit provided Newton with the clue to gravity.
The point is that Newton didn’t have a fancy laboratory. His family was very poor, even by the standards of his day. However, he used observation and had a questioning mind – attributes that we all have if we wish to use them!
Back to our discussion of Newton’s work! We also used Google to source some of the text of Newton’s original work on dispersive refraction (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1671, page 682). A very good web-site to source Newton’s original writings on optics and which provides clear accounts of Newton’s work is this one from the University of New South Wales (UNSW):
Let’s quote from Newton:
I procured a triangular glass prism, to try therewith the celebrated phaenomena of colours. And for that purpose having darkened my chamber, and made a small hole in the window shuts, to let in a convenient quantity of the sun’s light, I place my prism at his entrance, that it might be thereby refracted to the opposite wall. It was at first a very pleasing diversion to view the vivid and intense colours produced thereby.
A little later in the same text we learn that certain laws of refraction were already around at the time of Newton, but the challenge was to explain the laws of refraction to my own child. So, we took the prism outside on a very sunny morning in our back garden in Eastbourne. There he held the prism to the sun and created his first spectrum.
Here he is, casting a spectrum very successfully onto a painted wooden post on the morning of Saturday 25 February 2017. In the above photograph, he is holding the prism in such a way as to cast the component colours in reverse order, and thus blue and violet appear above orange and red. However, that morning he could see that blue and violet light was refracted more than red and orange.
Others before Isaac Newton had known that a prism separates sunlight, that oil on water gives rise to concentric rings of colour, and that bubbles can do something similar. Today, we have clear descriptions on how multiple reflections, refractions and transmission of sunlight through raindrops give rise to rainbows. My first clear description of the formation of rainbows was kindly provided by Professor John Lekner (of Victoria University) in an advanced physics class many years ago, and I think that I remember Professor Lekner telling us that, when we see a rainbow, in fact each of us has his or her personal rainbow because each of us observes from a slightly different location. I always emphasise this point to my son or to friends when we encounter a rainbow!
However, Newton was the first to explain clearly that it is refraction that causes sunlight to separate into its various colours (frequencies or wavelengths) and that each frequency or wavelength is refracted at its own unique angle.
Newton also showed that a second prism could recombine the colours to produce white light, and he showed that each colour is unchanged when passed through a second prism. So, while white light can be broken into component colours, none of those colours can be decomposed further. That’s interesting!
After Newton it became clear that white light is composed of light of different colours (frequencies and wavelengths), and that each colour is refracted differently. The different colours are the manifestation of light of particular frequencies or wavelengths, and the colours are refracted at different angles after passing through the prism. We refer to the separation of colours as dispersion.
In the UNSW web-site we learn that the medieval rainbow had only five colours: red, yellow, green, blue and violet, but that Newton added orange and indigo:
“ — so that the colours would be “divided after the manner of a Musical Chord”
(I. Newton in Opticks 4th edn, 127 (William Innys, 1730)”.
Though not addressed in Newton’s work (at least not addressed by him in any text or web-page I have seen), I nevertheless explained to my son some physics that is commonly introduced at senior secondary school – the notion of refractive index. Any sixth form or NCEA Level 2 Physics text will tell you that the refractive index (n) of a substance, like glass, water or air, depends on the speed at which light travels in that substance, relative to its speed in air. Specifically, it gives the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum (c) to the speed of light in the substance (v). So, we have a simple formula for the refractive index that even a young child can understand:
n = c / v
Now we can explain that the refraction (bending) of a particular frequency or wavelength of light, as it passes from one substance to another (e.g. from air to the glass prism), depends on its refractive index, which itself depends on the extent to which the light slows down in the second substance.
The two of us enjoyed the following videos:
That’s as far as I went and perhaps that’s about as far as we can go with a young child who is not yet of secondary school age and who is encountering the splitting of light for the first time. Actually, when I purchased the prism, I also purchased a gyroscope with the intention of explaining angular momentum – but that’s another story!
Please feel free to give feedback on introducing science to kids.
25 February 2017
The author wishes to thank Chrissy Boulton, Lucy Forde and Brian Jones for contributions to this blog.
The real price of food
By Brian Jones
Have you ever wondered where your food comes from? Ever wondered about the quality and looked at the labels? Well they may or may not be of any help at all. Recently I bought a Nashi pear with “manufactured in China” on the label. Just poor English? Or perhaps unwittingly very correct English?
The recent audit of the controls on imported raw frozen prawns into Australia (http://www.igb.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/final-uncooked-prawn-imports.pdf) has highlighted for me some of the biosecurity problems there, with a number of large import companies in Australia caught systematically “gaming” the biosecurity system to bring in containers of frozen prawns that avoided border checks and testing.
The reality is that food is a global commodity. Many New Zealand foods are sourced overseas or are sent overseas for processing before being returned. Back in 1994, I was involved in certifying the condition of Alaska Pollack exported from New Zealand to Iran. For those unfamiliar with fish, Alaska Pollack come from the Bering Sea, near Alaska, not the Southern Hemisphere – and the fish had been caught by Russians, sold to another party, then a NZ company and finally to Iran – without ever having left the hold.
In 2012, over ten thousand German schoolchildren in 5000 schools sickened after eating strawberries in their school lunches. China is now the world’s largest supplier of strawberries, and 44 tonnes of Chinese strawberries were bought by a European company Sodexo – a large food distributor that supplies lunches to German schools. The strawberries were likely sourced from China because they were cheap. A quick check on this week (March 2018) shows that frozen strawberries can be bought ex China for US$100 a tonne, https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/strawberry.html
Similar issues are likely to be occuring in New Zealand. New Zealand exports about 8000 tonnes of honey a year, yet “genuine” NZ Manuka honey ex china can be procured at $US 1789 a tonne, the supplier can supply 50 tonne per day. See https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/HACCP-Certification-Manuka-New-Zealand-honey_60668438168.html?spm=a2700.7724838.2017115.343.493182c3M0C1rg
Or another supplier can supply 500 tonnes a month from https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/100-Pure-Manuka-Honey_1854726201.html?spm=a2700.7724838.2017115.33.493182c3M0C1rg and a bit cheaper too. Of course, you will need labels, and alibaba can supply those as well:
Alternatively I could buy NZ 26% butterfat milk powder. Now the Global Dairy trade price is around US$3623 a tonne but NZ whole milk powder is available ex Poland, 20 000 tonne per month for US$500 a tonne. https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/New-Zealand-26-Regular-full-cream_50028944846.html?spm=a2700.7724838.2017115.64.6edb7739lXSv7A
Austrian and French companies are advertising similar prices at the moment. So, I could potentially buy the cheap full cream milk powder, 16 tonne per container, route it through Auckland and make a little profit on the side.
Which gets me back to prawns. Why would major importers want to actively avoid biosecurity checks on their product? Prawns in Australia, as in New Zealand, are retailing at around $15 a Kg, and yet prices on the international market for shrimp (which we and Australians call prawns) currently start at around US $3 a tonne (that’s right – three dollars a tonne). The potential profits are significant, however, to maximise profit, quality (such as being infected with unwanted exotic viruses) is potentially sacrificed.
The problem for MPI is having the resources and expertise to detect and counter “gaming” of international commodities on such a huge scale.