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5 December 2019 – Auckland Grammar School 2019 Dux

A big congratulations to Alex Hornung, Auckland Grammar School 2019 Dux. Over the last five years Alex has worked incredibly hard to achieve fantastic results. I've found he's someone who is not satisfied with just knowing answers; he also wants to know why things work the way they do. His work ethic and desire to understand whatever he learns will serve him well as he heads to university. I wish him the very best.

26 November 2019 – More NCEA maths exam errors

Well, another exam season and sure enough, there were errors in the NCEA Level 2 Mathematics and Statistics exam. I've made an answers page looking at some of the questions, with worked solutions and comments on the questions.

15 November 2019 – Youngest ever electrical engineer

Laurent Simons looks like a pretty typical 9 year old boy from Amsterdam. But...

Laurent graduated from secondary school in the middle of last year aged 8 after completing six years of work in just a year and a half. He said at the time maths was his favourite subject "because it's so vast – there's statistics, geometry, algebra". He took a two month holiday then started at university. A year and a half later he's due to graduate next month (December 2019) as the youngest ever electrical engineer.

Universities around the world are reported to be offering Laurent scholarships for Masters and Doctorate degrees. He and his family have not announced where he will be studying, but it'll be a PhD in electrical engineering while also completing some medical studies.

He has considered becoming a heart surgeon, an astronaut, "going into computers", and is now interested in making artificial organs and robotics. (His choice of study thus makes a lot of sense.) Congratulations Laurent.

Update 13 December 2019: Laurent Simons' parents have pulled Laurent from Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) before he graduated because TUE wanted Laurent to take more time, graduating in the middle of next year. TUE also warned against putting too much pressure on Laurent.

The delay was not acceptable to Laurent's father Alexander, as he had specifically wanted Laurent to graduate while he was age 9 in order to become the youngest ever university graduate; Laurent turns 10 on 26 December.

The family will likely next be heading to a university in the USA.

19 September 2019 – Girls in STEM

Mikayla Stokes, a first year engineering student at University of Auckland, found that events aimed at encouraging girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) weren't doing the right things in the right way, so she and Amelia Lockley set up TechGirlsNZ with the aim of putting that right.

In May this year the two ran the first TechGirlsNZ event, aimed at secondary school girls.

A youth for youth event on a mission to create a new type of innovative event for teenage girls thinking about getting into STEAM, where they can make meaningful connections, learn new things, network with others, and truly be inspired with a more hands-on and unique approach.

This article on Stuff outlines some of the struggles Mikayla has faced with stereotypes and sexism.

30 August 2019 – Spiderman is a vigilante

A physics project at the 2019 NIWA Auckland Science and Technology Fair has shown that Spider-Man is a vigilante, killing at least 85% of the people he punches using his most powerful upper cuts.

Student Bianca Santayana analysed punches thrown by the crime-fighting superhero in the game Spider-Man PS4 and found that the amount of force exerted by Spider-Man in order to punch his opponent (or victim) off the ground by up to 3.25 metres was more than enough to cause an internal decapitation. Explaining the consequences of this in her project she says "only 30% of cases do not end in immediate death and an extra 15% of cases where people survive until the emergency room and die in their subsequent hospital stay."

She thinks "the world is better off without him" and finishes "it should now be clear that Spider-Man should be classified more as a vigilante than a hero which was proven through the experiment and calculations."

Visitors to the NIWA Science Fair tended to agree, but one thought that the word vigilante was too euphemistic. "He's basically going about murdering people" said one surprised father after reading the project.

The science fair is open to the public on Saturday 31 August 2019 from 10am to 5pm.

29 August 2019 – Science Fair

It's that time of year again. The NIWA Auckland Science and Technology Fair is on tomorrow, Friday 30 August, in the Mt Roskill Grammar School hall. Open to the public from around 6pm, and on Saturday. More info at www.scifair.org.nz.

29 August 2019 – Maths Grid new record time

On 15 August one of my year 8 students broke an almost seven year record for the standard maths grid (which features the 2x to 12x tables, skipping the 10x table, in a 10x10 grid). Her time beat the old record by two seconds. Two other year 8 students have also recently demonstrated they are capable of the same speed or even faster, but have not yet achieved perfect accuracy (or legibility). A fourth year 8 student is less than 20 seconds behind. I expect more records to be set in the coming weeks.

23 May 2019 – Neutristors

New Atlas reports: Neutron generators provide materials analysis and non-destructive testing tools to many industries, including oilfield operations, heavy mechanical production, art conservancy, detective work, and medicine. Many of these applications have been limited by the rather large size of current industrial and medical neutron sources. Now Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) ... has invented a new approach toward building tiny neutron generators called neutristors.

The neutristor is a small solid-state device which uses deuterium-deuterium fusion to produce a stable helium-3 atom and a neutron. The devices thus contain no radioactive substances.

D + D → n + ³He

Devices already exist which allow the production of neutrons on demand without radioactive iostopes of heavy elements, but they are "big and clunky" compared with the new devices, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I thus believe this is a very significant step in the development of new nuclear technologies, of similar importance to replacing valves with transistors. Estimated production cost is US$2,000. See this video for more information.

15 May 2019 – Plastic in the ocean

An incredible 10% of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by a type of bacteria that was only discovered 30 years ago, and it turns out chemicals leaching out of plastic can significantly affect how well the bacteria can do stuff, as explained in this article: The results were striking with the chemicals impairing the Prochlorococcus' growth, reducing its ability to photosynthesize, and altering the expression of a large number of its genes.

The tests were performed in a laboratory and with the limited amount of research presently done on the subject it's very difficult to know how the chemicals actually affect these bacteria in the ocean, but it does look like it's one more way we're polluting our planet.

21 March 2019 – Gun laws change

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced changes to our gun laws banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. As of 3pm, they cannot be owned with an ordinary A category licence. The decision has been noted all around the world.

"This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like" – US Senator Bernie Sanders.

This guy sounds like he "gets" New Zealand:

USA 6 yrs after Sandy Hook
•Thoughts & prayers

New Zealand 6 days after Christchurch
•Ban semi automatic assault weapons
•Buyback program
•Pay for all funerals
•Provide income for harmed
•Māori dance
•Wear solidarity scarf
•AND Thoughts & prayers

– Qasim Rashid, Esq, attorney, candidate for the US Senate in the state of Virginia.

27 February 2019 – Mini Lava Cave Exhibition

A mini version of the very popular Into The Underworld lava cave exhibition is returning, this time to Cornwall Park. A subset of the stunning illuminated lava cave images shown at Silo 6 (twice!) will be displayed in Huia Lodge from 9 March to 7 April 2019, open 10 am to 4 pm 2019.

Huia Lodge is open 10 am to 4 pm daily. For more information see cornwallpark.co.nz/whats-on/exhibition-intotheunderworld.

11 February 2019 – Heroic Garden Festival

The Heroic Garden Festival is on this coming weekend, 16-17 Feb. There are a whole lot of interesting gardens across Auckland that can be visited, and even one garden that features a cave.

I'll be keeping cool in the cave for some of the weekend, explaining to visitors how lava caves form and how many there are around Auckland. Buy a ticket, support Mercy Hospice, and descend into the Underworld!

5 February 2019 – Magnetic north pole on the move

Since 1831 when the magnetic north pole was first located in northern Canada, it has been on the move northward. It's been a slow journey, and in the mid 1900s it was only moving at about 11 km per year. However, in the last decade or so the rate at which it's moving has greatly increased, and it's now racing at about 55 km per year. That's fast enough that a new World Magnetic Model has just been released, a year earlier than its normal five-yearly update.

To make it more interesting, no one is quite sure why it's happening. One idea is that there are two magnetic field patches – one in northern Canada and one in northern Russia – that vie with each other to determine the location of the north magnetic pole. The Canadian patch has apparently recently been getting weaker, meaning the resulting magnetic pole position is heading quickly toward Russia, and crossed the international dateline at the end of 2017. To make it even more interesting, the location of the south magnetic pole has not moved much at all. See this National Geographic article for more info.

To be clear, the "north" in what I've been calling the north magnetic pole is a geographic reference, and magnetically it's actually a south magnetic pole. That's why the north end of a compass needle (the pointy end) is attracted to it.

18 January 2019 – Booking being taken

Another year beginning, and all the things to do that come with it. I'm accepting bookings, so now would be a good time to make enquiries about tutoring for 2019.

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