Seminar Series

We will be hosting New Zealand and international academics to talk about contemporary issues relating to science, technology and the environment – how they impact our lives and societies, and how we can respond to them.

Details on past and upcoming seminars are below. All welcome! 

Nayantara Sheoran Appleton runs our seminar series. If you have any questions please contact her at

Upcoming events

Details for the seminars happening in the second half of 2020 will be posted here when available.

Screening of Picture a Scientist

Date: Tuesday September 22 2020. 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Location: TTR LT1, Te Toki a Rata, Kelburn Campus


Picture a Scientist chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing
a new chapter for women scientists. Biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks, and geologist Jane Willenbring lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experiences in the sciences, ranging from brutal harassment to years of subtle slights. Along the way, from cramped laboratories to spectacular field stations, we encounter scientific luminaries – including social scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists – who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all.

Image of invitation to screening of "Picture a Scientist". Description of film, the when, the where, and rsvp are in text on the webpage. Other text: "Quietly devastating", The Boston Globe; "Fascinating and frightening examination of bias", WGBH; “Sweeping in scope yet
intimately compelling", Science. "PICTURE A SCIENTIST was an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film’s virtual theatrical run reached 47 theatres across the USA in June 2020, and raised money for two organizations advancing women of color in STEM."

Past events

The grim reaper’s second harvest: The 1918 influenza pandemic in Dunedin

Date: Thursday August 13 2020. 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm

Location: See our Facebook page for a recording.

Nine thousand New Zealanders died in the worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918 for which the country was ill-prepared. The depleted public health organisation muddled through thanks to regional empowerment and the sharing of ideas, as demonstrated in Dunedin. This presentation will explore how the health system worked, identify the key individuals involved, the measures taken to prevent and contain the outbreak, and the effects of the pandemic. The influenza pandemic also gave an enduring legacy of public health organisation and legislation date-stamped 1920, but which was crucial to managing COVID-19 a century later.

Dr Warwick Brunton is an honorary senior lecturer in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago. He is a health historian and former public health administrator and policy-maker in the Department / Ministry of Health (1972–96) and Associate Dean (International) in the Health Sciences Division (2004–12).  His PhD thesis studied the development of national mental health policy in New Zealand, 1840–1947. Warwick has published a number of papers on public health, health legislation, mental health, public inquiries and health care organisation in New Zealand.

The COVID Pandemic: Lessons for the future of food and energy

Date: Thursday July 30 2020. 11:00 am – 12:00 noon

Location: See our Facebook page for a recording.

The COVID pandemic brought home to many of us just how precarious our civilisation has become, a reminder of just how temporary and insecure human civilisations have been in the past. We are now at a point in history where this civilisation faces an unprecedented storm of imminent existential threats from living planet issues like climate and biodiversity crises to more human centered issues like antibiotic resistance and inequality.

Almost all our planetary life support systems are teetering at the edge of or falling over tipping points. In NZ and much of the world to produce food we have destroyed the self-organising ecosystems that had co-evolved over millennia and replaced them with energy intensive fossil-fuelled farming and processing systems dependant on mechanical and chemical intervention. These interventions have major ecosystem and human health impacts and we must radically change how we live and produce food. 

Dr Mike Joy has developed bioassessment tools used by many regional councils and consultants. He has published scientific papers in many fields from artificial intelligence and data mining to the freshwater ecology of sub-Antarctic islands. He has been working for two decades at the interface of science and policy in New Zealand. Mike has been working for two decades at the interface of science and policy in New Zealand. In his role as senior researcher with the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, he works on improving the connection between science, policy, and real outcomes to address the multiple environmental issues facing New Zealand.

One thousand ways to story a toxin

Date: Monday June 15 2020. 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm

Location: See our Facebook page for a recording.

Tetrodotoxin (TTX) is a neurotoxin that accumulates benignly in starfish, pufferfish and blue-ringed octopus, but that blocks nerve signals in mammals that consume it, inducing paralysis, even death.

TTX is swimming in storyings. In Japan, stories surround a traditional delicacy of pufferfish (fugu) that is lethal when incorrectly prepared. In Haiti, TTX powder is linked to voodoo practices of controlled poisoning that leave victims in a zombie-like state, between death and life. Stories about TTX travel, moving between academia, pop culture, and variously located everyday discourses. My talk takes up TTX’s biomedical repositioning as a treatment for managing pain. I recognise this as one instance in a long history of Western biomedicine incorporating elements from culturally distinct medicinal practices, and re-framing those elements within biomedical conventions. Recent international clinical trials of TTX as pain-management are one such procedural re-framing of this neurotoxin, and they offer a site in which scientific narrative negotiations of folklore and the neuromateriality of life can be understood.

Dr Mythily Meher is an anthropologist, feminist STS scholar and a migrant settler living and working in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her research on scientific knowledge and healthcare draws together ethnographic detail, a decolonising praxis, and attention to affective forces in order study, theorise and work towards transformative justice. This work is motivated by the subversive potential that is latent in infrastructures and institutions, and the urgency with which we must turn this potential towards addressing inequities. She is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Auckland investigating the potential for greater health equity through transport infrastructure, and is also developing research tracing a toxin through diverse ecological and scientific epistemes.

Mirrors on the land: Histories of lakes, limnology, and law

Date: Monday 8 June, 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm

Location: See our Facebook page for a recording.

My work on Mirrors on the Land: Histories of New Zealand’s lakes raises questions at the confluence of history, science and law. In this talk I discuss the history of lake science in New Zealand. How have limnologists here come to understand our lakes, and how they may differ from lakes elsewhere?
And how has that understanding informed environmental management, policy and law? Scientists have been acutely aware of the link between our declining freshwater quality and the increasing intensification of land use since the 1970s. How and why has this knowledge failed to prevent accelerating pollution of so many of our lakes and the destruction of their biodiversity?

Dr Jonathan West is a historian broadly interested in how people and place have shaped one another in Aotearoa New Zealand. He grew up in and around Dunedin, and studied English, Political Studies, and latterly History at the University of Otago. His first book The Face of Nature: An Environmental History of the Otago Peninsula recently won the W. H. Oliver Prize for best book on New Zealand history, won the J. M. Sherrard Award in New Zealand Regional and Local History, and was a finalist in the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. This year his essay with David Haines on labour in the maritime Tasman world won the Bert Roth Award for Labour History. He manages the Historian team at The Office for Maori Crown Relations – Te Arawhiti. He has enjoyed a year’s leave from his role to take up the J. D. Stout Fellowship at the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies, at Victoria University of Wellington, to work on his next book Mirrors on the Land: Histories of New Zealand Lakes.

Science in a crisis

Date: Monday 25 May, 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm

Location: See our Facebook page for a recording.

New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been underpinned by a sustained transdisciplinary effort across the research community. New programmes of research have had to be launched in the midst of a global crisis, with research agendas well ahead of the government’s understanding of its own needs. The goals and outcomes of this research have had to be communicated to the public and policy-makers simultaneously, in a highly-charged political environment. New Zealand’s own research has had to be synthesised with a fast-moving and often confusing international literature.

In this talk, I will describe some of my experiences in being involved in this effort, including my preliminary observations on what has worked, what hasn’t, and what we might need in the coming years as we continue to manage this and other crises. In particular, I will argue that it is unstructured and open collaborative approaches that were most effective in the early phase of the crisis, but that this has not come without some costs. I will suggest ways in which we might strengthen the research community’s ability to respond to this and future crises.

Professor Shaun Hendy FRSNZ is the Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini (‘the meeting place of many faces’), a New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence that brings together mathematical and computational scientists with ecologists, social scientists, and the humanities in a transdisciplinary research environment to focus on complex systems. He is also on the M. bovis eradication Strategic Science Advisory Group for Biosecurity New Zealand and is leading the COVID-19 modelling effort for the National Crisis Management Centre. In 2013 he was awarded ANZIAM’s E. O. Tuck medal for research in applied mathematics. He is also a well-known science communicator, and in 2012, he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize. He is co-founder of two start-up companies, Toha and Nebula.

Are we (finally) cyborgs: COVID-19, digital technologies, and knowing from others

Date: Monday 11 May 2020, 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm

Location: See our Facebook page for a recording.

35 years ago, in The Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Harraway proposed we reimagine the world, and our place in it, by moving away from thinking of ourselves as having an ‘essential’ human or animal nature, inviting us to think of ourselves as cyborgs, as a chimeric union between animal and machine. So as I appear to you mediated through Zoom, speaking into a microphone, extending myself into your space via your computer screen, are we (finally) cyborgs? 

In this presentation, I want to think about the way COVID-19 has amplified our reliance on technologies. Technologies have always allowed us to extend our potential, from transportation to communication, and in a trivial way, we have nearly always been cyborgs. While some of this extending of our potential is beneficial, some is problematic. What I focus on here are the digital communicative technologies; those technologies that allow us to share information, communicate content, and so on. From Google to Zoom to Qualtrics, the pervasiveness with which these technologies interfere in/interact with our lives alters how we know, who we know from, what we count as knowledge, and what gets left out. I am especially interested in what these technologies’ impact on our experience of knowing means for us as academics interacting in the relationship between science and society, and for us humans as (somewhat) rational beings.

Dr Fabien Medvecky is a social epistemologist. He studies the relationship between knowledge and society and how social interactions shape, create and direct what counts as knowledge. And there’s no better space to study this than science communication and science policy. He usually take a philosophical approach in his studies, though he also engages in empirical research. Basically, data without good reasoning isn’t particularly insightful, and reasoning without grounding it or relating it to the empirical world isn’t particularly meaningful. He is especially into value-laden topics, from ethics to economics (the discipline, not the economy). He is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago.

COVID-19: How the epidemic is evolving and human endeavours

Date: Monday 4 May 2020, 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm

Location: See our Facebook page for a recording.

COVID-19 is not the apocalypse, but it is challenging us as leaders, scientists, health professionals, and as a community. 

The traditional approaches to some solutions have been thrown out the window, and less than four months after China told the WHO they had a problem a lot has happened—some of it truly inspirational. We will look at the build-up to this global health emergency and where we are at since that day, 31 December 2019. Our ultimate exit strategy from this pandemic will rely on vaccines. This presentation with cover what, where, and how, vaccines are being progressed by new approaches to investment, discovery, development, and production.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris is an Associate Professor in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care at the University of Auckland, and the Director of the Vaccine Datalink and Research Group. She has a PhD in Vaccinology and is particularly interested in factors associated with vaccine safety and reactogenicity, and the performance and safety of vaccines. Helen has a blog primarily devoted to vaccines and vaccination where she often discusses vaccine myths and matters of current interest in vaccinology. She is the Chair of the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS).

Science in the media: Disasters, outbreaks and experts

Date: Monday 16th March 2020, 12:00 noon – 12:50 pm

Location: MY 632, Kelburn campus

With over a decade of experience working on the front lines of breaking news and complex science in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Science Media Centre is uniquely placed to track the ways controversial issues emerge and evolve in the public arena. Using the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Whakaari / White Island volcanic eruption as case studies, this seminar will examine the realities of modern media, misinformation and hype, trust in science and the role of experts in a crisis.

Dacia Herbulock is Director of the Science Media Centre. She joined the SMC at its launch in 2008 with experience covering science, environment and social issues across radio, film, documentary and television news in New Zealand and abroad. Over the past decade, she has designed and led initiatives to broaden New Zealand’s network of media savvy experts, improve journalists’ understanding of complex science issues and make relevant information accessible to the media when science is in the headlines. She is an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Centre for Science in Society at Victoria University of Wellington.

Innovation communication: Bridging science communication and responsible innovation

Date: Thursday 13 February 2020, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Location: TTR 205, Kelburn campus

This talk takes its point of departure in the literature on Responsible Innovation and argue that it has under-emphasized the issue of communication. While some address the need for transparency and open dialogue (Stilgoe et al, 2013; Pidgeon et al, 2013), I will argue that there is a need for a much broader idea of ‘innovation communication’ (Plesner & Horst 2012; Davies & Horst 2016) in RRI. ‘Innovation Communication’ should be defined as an integral part of the innovation process, which aims at generating support for the development of an innovation such that it can become a stable part of the emergent socio-material reality. This includes explicitly developed communication strategies but also more implicit organizational messages and even the innovation process itself. Seen in this way, science communication is a significant and central element of the entire innovation process and therefore also of Responsible Innovation. The talk will use empirical examples from different technological domains such as bioteknology, self-driving cars and renewable energy.

Maja Horst is Professor of Responsible Technology at the Technical University of Denmark and Professor of Science Communication at University of Copenhagen. Her research is focused on responsible research and innovation, public engagement with science, management and communication of research. She has published widely, including the 2016 book Science Communication: Culture, Identity and Citizenship co-authored with Sarah R Davies. Maja Horst has also been experimenting with interactive science communication installations inviting citizens to discuss the social responsibility of emerging scientific fields. For this, she was awarded the Danish Science Minister’s Communication Prize in 2009.

The uses and abuses of Māori ancestral remains in the development of western Science

Date: Thursday 7 November 2019, 11:00 am – 12:00 noon

Location: TTR 205, Kelburn campus

The repatriation movement is gaining considerable momentum across the world, yet the history of the collection, sale and research of Ancestral Human Remains still remains largely unknown. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the collection, or more correctly theft, of tūpuna Māori (Māori ancestors) for the purposes of increasing Western knowledge about the development of the human species and the coming of the Māori, is a part of our history that needs to be brought to light. This seminar looks at the development of Western science in New Zealand in relation to the study of Māori ancestral remains and how this has developed into more modern scientific research which is being undertaken today as part of the repatriation process.

Dr Amber Aranui is the researcher for the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, where she undertakes provenance research to aid in the return of Māori and Moriori ancestral remains back to their descendant communities. In her work as the programme’s researcher over the past 11 years Amber has developed an interest in the collection and trade of human remains and the effects this had on indigenous peoples throughout the world. Amber has a background in Anthropology and Archaeology and has recently completed a PhD with Victoria University of Wellington, focusing on Māori perspectives around repatriation and scientific research of Māori ancestral remains.

Amber is of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Tūwharetoa, descent, and is dedicated to working with iwi Māori as well as other indigenous peoples throughout the world.

Academic showcase 2019

Date: Thursday 24 October 2019, 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Location: TTR205, Kelburn campus

Public mistrust of science

Date: Thursday 10 October 2019, 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm

Location: AM103, Kelburn campus

Scientific evidence seems to have lost its authority to persuade. In a new world of easily accessible, rapid, mass communication all kinds of ideas⁠—good and bad⁠—can travel fast. A deluge of information leads to people seeking simplicity, yet ideas without evidence may often be dressed up in the sometimes deliberately obscure language of science. In this talk Richard Arnold will discuss some of the reasons why it’s hard for evidence to be seen as convincing in today’s world. He’ll use examples from statistics, politics, health and sport to investigate why and when we choose to believe.

Richard Arnold began his research career in astronomy, and after working in medical and official statistics is a statistician and data scientist. He has published in a variety of domains of applied statistics including statistical seismology, fisheries and the theory of reliability. He has an interest in the communication of science and has been the election night statistician for TVNZ at the last four elections.

Picture of Annemarie Jutel

Diagnosis – Truths and tales

Date: Thursday 19 September 2019, 11:00 am – 12 noon

Location: AM 103, Kelburn campus

The announcement of a serious diagnosis is a solemn moment, where a person’s life may seem to be forever cleaved into “before” and “after”. It is also the beginning of a new story, a story we can all imagine, even if we have never received such a diagnosis. In this presentation, critical diagnosis scholar, Annemarie Jutel, will shed light on the many stories we tell about diagnosis, and will ponder the degree to which these stories influence the experience, and the possibility of their retelling in different forms.

Opening science: The principles and practice of citizen science – Monica Peters

Date: Monday 26 August 2019, 11:00 am – 12 noon

Location: MY 632, Kelburn campus

Citizen science has emerged as a powerful means to democratise scientific research. Well-designed studies can fill important knowledge gaps in addition to fulfilling public engagement goals. In NZ, community-based environmental monitoring (in the context of restoration initiatives) forms a large component of citizen science but research initiatives now include public/environmental health and disaster management dimensions. This presentation will chart a course through the history of citizen science, define the field and review the key principles that distinguish citizen science from traditional scientific practice. The emergence of citizen science associations in Europe, the US, Australia, Asia and now NZ reveals a more critical focus on citizen science practice and a desire to mainstream new methods of working that have a robust philosophical foundation and practical outcomes.

Monica works freelance at the interface between science and the public on diverse community conservation-focussed projects throughout New Zealand. She chairs a Citizen Science Think Tank in Wellington, which aims to bring greater strategic direction to citizen science in NZ as well as enhance the credibility of citizen science as a research method. Monica is also on the executive of Forest and Bird and blogs regularly under on citizen science and community-led environmental restoration. She was recently awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to research citizen science policy and applications in Hong Kong, UK, Germany and Austria.