Making the exhibits
Ron cuts the standard-sized exhibit bases from melamine board on the sawbench, cuts a groove to take the plastic edge moulding around the base’s edges using the router table, and cuts the side pieces with a picture framer’s guillotine. The working parts of the exhibit may be in wood or metal, but Ron’s favourite material (aside from its expense) is thick plastic sheet. There are many varieties and colours obtainable today that are strong, durable, and easy to machine.
One of Ron’s long-standing customers is the Science Roadshow, which travels New Zealand visiting schools. Groups of exhibits with various themes, such as earthquakes, have been ordered by the roadshow over the years. When New Zealand’s gigantic dairy cooperative Fonterra was the roadshow’s sponsor in the early 2000s, dairy science was highlighted. One dairy interactive display involved identifying different types of milk. Another featured small model cows being moved through a farm gate — magnets were again involved — but not all were able to be moved. Eight per cent of the toy animals fell over when attempts were made to move them. In real rural life, eight per cent of cows suffer from ‘staggers’ nationally. This condition is caused by toxins produced by a fungi that grows on ryegrass when the weather is favourable. The toxins make the beasts unsteady on their hooves and this is especially noticeable when they are moved. The lesson being taught is that dairy farmers have to be alert for problems with their animals and be ready with solutions. In the case of ryegrass staggers supplementary feed or moving to less infected pasture helps.
M¯aori technology and science were the focus of a recent set of exhibits. One illustrated the complex joints used to join up to three logs together to allow the building of very large war canoes, or waka taua, the largest of which could hold 100 warriors and be more than 30m long. The joint locked two lengths of tree trunk together producing a waterproof and immensely strong joint. The waka were not only long but, because of the large logs used, also quite beamy. This provided stability and allowed them to dispense with the outriggers used on canoes in the Pacific Islands. The very largest waka taua could seat five warriors across on most of the thwarts.
Where there’s a will
Ron has a science background. He obtained a New Zealand Certificate in Science (NZCS) (now a Bachelor of Applied Science) in 1969. He also has very-well-honed construction skills but, most important, he thinks, is his imaginative feel for the presentation of technological ideas. Ninety per cent of the exhibits’ designs are Ron’s. The National Science-Technology Roadshow Trust’s director Ian Kennedy describes Ron as being “careful and innovative”.
Ninety per cent of the exhibits’ designs are Ron’s
Left: The stone-cutting device with large diamond-tipped blade that Ron made as a teenager. The X-ray machine built at the same time has not survived
A roadshow exhibit of minerals and geodes