Category Archives: UC News

Wimshurst and whimsy: A piece of UC’s “shocking” history

UC recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of New Zealand icon and UC alumni Ernest Rutherford, who was a student at Canterbury College between 1890-1895. While Rutherford was a student here, he was strongly influenced by his teachers, including Professor Alexander William Bickerton. As part of our research for the Canterbury College Survey we have uncovered a number of scientific instruments on campus that are closely connected to Bickerton, and which may have even been used by Rutherford.

Professor Bickerton was a rather controversial figure at Canterbury College engaging in many disputes, including a concern with an educational system that he felt focused too heavily on rote learning and memory. However, Bickerton was well liked by students and his willingness to support experimentation by his students certainly worked in Rutherford’s favour.

The Canterbury College Department of Chemistry opened in 1874 with Professor Bickerton at the helm. The Department acquired many useful scientific instruments like this Wimshurst machine. Some of these devices were bought, but others appear to have been made in-house to allow students the chance to experiment with the latest technology. Rutherford himself likely experimented with such machines throughout his studies and career. For example, while working on his second thesis in 1894, Rutherford essentially invented a new method of studying high-frequency current oscillations in electrical circuits. The first stage of this process necessitated his modifying a Voss machine, another electrostatic machine very similar to the Wimshurst.

Wimshurst machine in care of School of Physical and Chemical Science

The Wimshurst machine was invented between 1880-1883 by James Wimshurst in England. This machine, using electrostatic induction, has a crank that sets two glass plates and wooden pulleys in motion. That in turn creates a lightning like spark between the two electrodes at the top. While a spark of electromagnetic energy does not seem as impressive now, at the time it was being considered for its potential in many areas. For example, an article in a 1908 publication of The Waimate Daily Advertiser talks of electrical wires being strung over fields, because it was thought that the static electricity could be used as “fertilizer” to stimulate crop growth. The article claimed that it led to 29% brighter wheat. Nowadays, static electricity is commonly used inside equipment such as printers to attract the ink and toner to the paper.

Bickerton regularly demonstrated scientific experiments for the community, such as by replicating Nikolas Tesla’s experiments with high-frequency transformers. As Rutherford progressed through Canterbury College he also gave these demonstrations for the public. For example in 1894 Rutherford gave a talk on ‘Electrical Waves and Oscillations’ for the Dialectic Society, the highlight of which was ‘a reproduction on a small scale of Tesla’s experiments on the rapidly alternating currents.’ Demonstrations of this nature would have required the use of Department equipment such as the Wimshurst machine.

We are very lucky at UC to have access to items like this and to be able to learn from them in a whole new way. When Bickerton and Rutherford were at Canterbury, these objects were new technology, charged with potential.  Now they can show us the spark of scientific brilliance that eventually led to the technology that we use so casually on a daily basis.

The Canterbury College Survey is hunting out more touchstones of cultural heritage like this from the later part of UC’s history, post 1957. If you have noticed any neat looking relics in storage or references to objects in your research let us know!

Please contact us if you know of any items that you think might fit the criteria for the new stage of the project, or which illuminate the history of UC in any way. We are excited to continue working with you all!

Find out more about the Canterbury College Collection online here>

Contact the Canterbury College Survey Team at

Long Service Leave

Staff who are eligible for Long Service Leave (refer Long Service Leave guideline) are required to take their Long Service Leave within five years of it becoming due, or it will be forfeited. In exceptional circumstances, a staff member may be permitted to extend the period of five years.

UC recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic is an exceptional circumstance. Due to the impact of Covid-19 on overseas travel, UC acknowledges that your plans to use your long service leave may be or may have been disrupted. Consequently, if you believe that your ability to take Long Service Leave within the 5-year timeframe has been disrupted due to Covid-19 then please talk to your manager or your People & Culture Business Partner. 

We do however encourage all staff to take leave for their wellbeing and to show support for New Zealand’s economic recovery and tourism industry.

Celebrating Fresh Thinking: Professorial Lecture Series

Join me in celebrating the very substantive contribution to academe made by Professor Elena Moltchanova in the next presentation in the Professorial Lecture Series for 2021.

Date:               Thursday, 11 November, from 4.30 – 5.30 p.m.

Location:        E14 – Engineering Core

I encourage all staff and postgraduate students to attend this lecture, to actively support our new Professors, and take the opportunity to appreciate the fantastic research being undertaken in parts of the university we may be less familiar with.

Presentation details:

“Serial Killers, Epidemics and Control” – Presented by Professor Elena Moltchanova, School of Mathematics and Statistics.

How many patients can a doctor kill before someone notices? What about a statistician? (Hint: significantly more!) Could it have been stopped? When to declare an epidemic and what to do once it has been declared? When is it worth it to gamble? Is learning worth the wait? In this talk, I will discuss the underlying principles of the control chart theory which can help answer all these questions. I will also introduce a novel dynamic control chart and explain how, together with reinforcement learning, it can help us make better decisions in the future.

Professor Ian Wright

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research | Tumu Tuarua Rangahau

WORD festival pivots on

We’ve all done our fair share of pivots lately, but we have to hand it to the WORD festival, which has pulled off the mother of all pivots to deliver a revised programme of events and give us all something to look forward next month – 10 to 13 November.

UC is a proud partner of WORD and we share their passion for ideas, connection and amazing writing across the board.

If you won tickets to WORD events way back in August, the team will be in touch to let you know if your event is still on.

If you want to buy tickets to events, please do, the arts sector needs your aroha and support, and you need to know about these amazing and inspiring opportunities:

After the Tampa with Abbas Nazari and Helen Clark (via zoom link), chaired by Ekant Veer has moved to the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium, Christchurch Town Hall so there are now more tickets on sale.

The festival has gained two outstanding international writers, Helen Garner and Ruth Ozeki, in The Faraway Near, the custom-built digital venue that was created for just these challenging times. Tickets for both these new events are on sale now.

The faraway Near: Tommy Orange (Cheyenne, Arapaho) the author of There There, an electrifying, multi-layered story about a version of America that few of us have seen: the lives of urban Native Americans.

And there is much, much more to dive into plus many events will have livestream online tickets released soon.

We all need a little inspiration so do treat yourself, take a break from marking, or get away from your computer, and get yourself along to an event that fills your bucket and makes you smile (or laugh or cry or all of the above).

Mandatory vaccination update

As you might be aware, the Government announced that it will be expanding the scope of the Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021.

What this means for students

Following this announcement, a list has been created naming all courses which require students to be fully vaccinated to be able to enrol to. You can find them here under ‘UC Programmes with vaccination requirement’.

What this means for staff

The two key expansions that are affected by the latest Government announcement were:

  1. High-risk workers in the health and disability sector will need to receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by 30 October 2021 and be fully vaccinated by 1 December 2021. This includes general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated. It also includes non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori providers and non-government organisations who provide health services.
  2. School and early learning staff and support people who have contact with children and students will need to receive their first dose of the vaccine by 15 November 2021 and be fully vaccinated by 1 January 2022. This includes home-based educators and all those support people in schools and early learning services such as teacher-aides, administration and maintenance staff and contractors.

At this stage there are some grey areas as to whether certain duties and roles will be covered by the mandatory order. The Government has not provided further detail on this yet and as soon as they do, we will provide more clarity.

Due to the tight timeframes, People and Culture need to proceed whilst awaiting further details. The first step is to identify staff members who are both clearly covered and may be covered by the mandatory order for some or all of their work. If this is affecting you and your role, you will receive an email from People and Culture in the next few days with further information.

There will be further information and updates once the Government provides clearer information on how the mandate is affecting tertiary education.