The Nelson Science Society

Welcome to the webpage of the Nelson Science Society (NSS) and its constituent, the Astronomy Section. The NSS is a branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand and exists to promote science within the Nelson/Tasman region - we do this by holding regular scientific talks from a variety of experts throughout the year and by promoting science education in schools and colleges.

The Astronomy section is run as an independent constituent of the NSS and maintains its own program of events (see Astronomy Section pages for full details and newsletter). Please bookmark this website to see details of all upcoming events sponsored by the NSS and its Astronomy section (and other events of interest), and to see details of past activities etc.


****Don't forget to register for next Wednesday's talk from Professor Stephen O'Brien!!!

****Cambridge Astronomy Professor to talk to NSS on May 5th!!!

Next events:

Wednesday, 22nd April, 6.00pm. A Moving Landscape of Wildlife Genetics.Professor Stephen O’Brien. An Alan Wilson Center Sponsored event. Old St Johns, register for tickets at:

There will be significant demand for these tickets so please get in early!

World leading molecular biologist and conservationist, Dr Stephen O’Brien, is the next speaker in the Allan Wilson Centre’s international public lecture series, touring the country 21–30 April (schedule below). He is Chief Scientific Officer at St Petersburg State University, co-founder of the Genome 10K Project (an ambitious scientific mission to sequence the genomes of 10,000 invertebrates) and author of science adventure stories, “Tears of the Cheetah and other Tales from the Genetic Frontier”.

Dr O’Brien uses the tools of molecular biology to help protect endangered species and understand devastating diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and is credited with the discovery of CCR5-∆32, the first of 40 human AIDS restriction genes that impart natural immunity to HIV.

As one of the founders of conservation genetics, a field that began just 30 years ago, Dr O’Brien will explain to New Zealand audiences how powerful new genetic technologies have revolutionised our ability to understand the natural history of threatened mammals, and recognise hidden genetic vulnerabilities. Conservation genetics is now an important factor in every management decision about saving wildlife.

His talk will show what life histories are revealed in the genomic footprints of tigers, cheetahs and the Florida panther.

In the case of the Florida panther this led to “bold genetic action”. In the 1990s there were fewer than 30 animals left of this subspecies. The demographic and genetic computer models were quite clear – if nothing was done there was a 95% chance that the species would become extinct within 25 years.

“That was the headline that finally turned the heads of even the most vociferous objectors to invasive action,” says Dr O’Brien. “We supplemented the population with a handful of ‘first cousins’ from across the Mississippi, called Texas cougars – but not until after a long political exchange where objectors and self-proclaimed experts were arguing that we should just leave them alone.”

Genetics is particularly useful for identifying the numerous hidden dangers that further threaten endangered mammals. These include historic events such as inbreeding or infectious disease, such as Ebola, which affects chimpanzees, and canine distemper, which decimated the wild dog in East Africa.

24 April 7:00 pm. Astronomy section star party.

Cawthron Atkinson Observatory which is on the grounds of the Clifton Terrace School. Gold coin donation.

Tuesday May 5, 7.30pm. Astronomy, Cosmology and the big question in Nature
Prof. Gerry Gilmore (Cambridge University, UK). Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture. Room 2A11, NMIT. All welcome, non-members $2.
The talk: All cultures have been thinking about where we, and the Universe, came from. Modern science has made impressive progress, linking big questions from the largest to the smallest scales. This talk will give a top-level overview of how we address big questions, and where we are with the current big questions – dark matter, dark energy, and more.

Gerry gained his astronomy PhD in NZ, followed by five years (1979-1984) at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Now he’s at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University, where he is currently Professor of Experimental Philosophy. Other roles: Scientific Coordinator of Opticon, the EC Optical Infrared Coordination Committee for Astronomy, UK Principal Investigator of the Gaia data processing consortium. His main focus is near-field cosmology, using precision studies of kinematics, dynamics, stellar populations, chemical abundances to deduce the fundamental properties of the early Universe.

Advance Notice: Dear Nelson Science Enthusiast, we’re looking for storytellers for a science-themed Couch Stories show in mid-June. Couch Stories are true stories, told live on stage, without notes, slides - stories told the old-fashioned way. You should be willing to tell a 5 minute, true, personal story which illuminates some aspect of science. Your story can be about anything – from a “Eureka” moment or a brilliant mentor, to a bungled experiment or a childhood passion for spiders. Whatever your subject, your emphasis should be on telling a personal story or anecdote rather than delivering a lecture. You’ll get help crafting your story at a story-telling workshop in May run by the co-creators of Couch Stories, Jo Anne Firestone and Ro Cambridge.

WHEN: 7pm, Wed 10th June 2015 

WHERE: The Boathouse. Check out talks from previous shows:

CONTACT: Nigel Costley, president of the Nelson Science Society on or phone 03 548 3101.