Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch
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Current Council

Prominent Members

Prominent Members

Ernest RutherfordErnest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford was accepted as a member of the Canterbury Philosophical Society on 6th July 1892, midway through the third year of his BA degree at Canterbury College. His first two research papers were printed in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. This required that the paper be first read before the Institute or one of its branches. Rutherford's first paper (covering the second year of research, ``Effect of the Discharge of the Leyden Jar on the magnetization of iron) was taken as read and printed in the Transactions for 1894. His second paper (covering his first year of research, ``Magnetic Viscosity'' and ``Periodometer for measuring the periods of rapidly alternating currents'') was read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury by Jack Erskine (after Rutherford had left the country) and printed in the Transactions for 1895. Rutherford Website


Karl PopperKarl Popper (28-07-1902 -- 17-09-1994)

Karl Popper is regarded as one of the great philosophers of science of the 20th century, who wrote extensively on social and political philosophy. He was born and taught in Vienna and published "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" in 1934. Concerned about the rise of Nazism he emigrated to New Zealand in 1937 and taught philosophy at Canterbury University College until the end of World War Two. His "The Open Society and Its Enemies" was written in Christchurch and is said to be one of the most significant books of the twentieth Century. He was a member of the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In 1938 he gave a series of public lectures on "Philosophy For The Scientist: The Nature of the Scientific Method, Analysis of Scientific Experience and of Theoretical Systems", and "Problems of Causality, Determinism, and Probability", and later lectures on scientific method into the 1940s. In 1946 Popper moved to the London School of Economics where he became professor in 1949. Popper is best known for his attempt to repudiate the classical observationalist (inductivist) form of scientific method in favour of empirical falsification. In political discourse he is known for his vigorous defense of liberal democracy. Austria awarded him the Grand Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria and he was knighted in 1965. He died on 17th September 1994 at the age 92.

Vida Mary Stout (20-02-1930 -- 21-07-2012)

The death of Vida Stout came after a long fight with Parkinson’s disease. Typically, to the end Vida was determined not to give way to increasing disability. After her retirement in 1996 she continued to go into her office almost every day, until concerns for her safety prompted the university to forbid her access. Thereafter, with her walking stick, increasingly with other mobility aids, and eventually in the company of a carer, whenever possible she took daily walks along Creyke Road, and did her shopping at the nearby supermarket.

Vida followed the path of most New Zealand undergraduates, taking her first and second degrees at the tertiary institution nearest to home. In her case, this was Victoria University College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of New Zealand. With a distinguished Master’s thesis, she travelled to England to undertake doctoral studies at the University of London. Then as now the university was formed of a number of quasi-independent colleges, and Vida was accepted as a graduate student at Bedford College, one of the two women’s colleges. Situated in Regent’s Park, it offered easy access to all parts of London and the other colleges of the University. Students could, and mostly did, take part in classes and lectures at other colleges. Social activities brought them into contact with students from all the other colleges and from all parts of the world. In the early 1950s it was also possible to travel to Europe, and Vida, like other students at the time, may have taken advantage of this.

Appointed to the Department of Zoology at Canterbury College as Assistant Lecturer, she began her Canterbury career in 1957, and became one of the stalwarts of the university in what Professor John Simpson once called the “Golden Years”. Staff, appointed for perceived competence in both teaching and research, were largely entrusted to judge for themselves how long it was reasonable to devote to a project before it could be written up and presented for publication. In Vida’s case, this was just as well, since there was very little material on which she could base her studies in the limnology of South Island lakes. The data first had to be collected. This involved travel to a range of locations, at altitudes ranging from near sealevel to small cirques in the Fiordland mountains, across the full breadth of the South Island and at all times of year. Initially beginning work on the easily accessible small lakes near Kaikoura, the 1960s expansion of the universities and their funding made more extensive travel feasible. Vida acquired one of the early Range Rovers, and used it to travel widely. It had the advantage of four-wheel drive, and comfort for long journeys.

I met Vida soon after my arrival in New Zealand, in 1960. We were congenial, and I was eager for every chance to learn more of the New Zealand, especially South Island, environments. Consequently I leapt at invitations to accompany her almost anywhere, and I took part in a number of field investigations as a totally untrained research assistant. These included going by float plane to some of the Fiordland cirque lakes, where I was judged not competent to balance on the floats while samples were collected (the pilot did the job instead - I just passed gear as required and stowed it as it was returned). However, I did row her out to the middle of some of the lowland West Coast lakes, including Lake Matheson in a very old and leaky boat - I baled and balanced the boat while she collected her samples and took a range of readings of water temperature and clarity. Vida spent the evenings processing her samples to the point where they would survive transport back to the lab, and stored them in the motel shower. There can be few South Island lakes from which she did not collect samples.

She continued her collecting activities throughout her career at Canterbury, as she progressed up the academic scale, and was eventually awarded the distinguished and rare position of Reader. During this time, she maintained active contacts with overseas scientists and organisations, becoming a member of the International Limnological Society. She attended its meetings, and assisted in the organisation of its first Southern Hemisphere conference. At least one period of study leave was spent in Sweden, where she took part in field trips in the Arctic which involved travelling on skis. Skiing was a new activity for Vida, but typically she was determined not to miss the opportunity to see new locations, and added a new skill to her repertoire.

Whereas appointment to the position of Reader in some universities would signal a recognition of research excellence and the opportunity to devote oneself to it, this was not the case in Canterbury. If anything, in Vida’s case it seems to have coincided with an increase in administrative responsibilities. She acquitted herself as well in these as she did in her research and teaching, becoming Dean of the Faculty of Science from 1984 to 1988, and Deputy Chair of the Academic Administration Committee from 1992 to 1995. She was invariably fully briefed and alert on any and all issues that came before her. She took a major part in setting up the Environmental Science programme. Throughout she maintained her genuine interest in the progress of her students, continuing to offer support and advice as this was needed.

Retirement gave Vida the opportunity to follow some of the interests which had necessarily been restricted. Her mobility was becoming increasingly affected, but she continued to take part in the Eric Mangin Field Weekends, which were such a valued feature of the pre-quake programme of the Canterbury Branch. Retirement gave her more freedom to follow some of her long-term interests. A keen gardener, she was a member of the Canterbury Rhododendron Society, and attended conferences of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association.

Throughout her time at Canterbury she was a committed member of the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society for about 55 years, regularly attending meetings, and President in 1983. She was one of only a few members accorded Honorary membership status in recognition of her tireless support of the Branch.
Jane Soons

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