Header image with fluorescence microscopy image showing cells with supernumerary centrosomes

Geoffrey A. Charters MSc (Hons) PhD (Pathology)

Molecular oncopathologist


Curriculum vitae


About me

Contact information

What sort of person am I?

O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see ousels as ithers see us!

Robbie Burns: To a Louse

I once commented to a friend that the character from literature with whom I identified most closely was Eeyore. She was very surprised to hear this and said that she thought I was much more of a Tigger; and that surprised me just as much. It seems that I may be the person least able to give an accurate description of my personality, but I do hope it is a little better than the subject of the Burns poem above!

Even so, in the best traditions of Julie Andrews, I'll list a few of my favourite things below, and they may give some clues, but for as for how I seem to other people, well, I must direct you to other people, my referees.

"These are a few of my favourite things"

The bush

Bush track and waterfall

Bush track & waterfall, Atkinson Park, Titirangi

Right now, I live in a rainforest by the sea.

My interest in native plants really began in childhood, with excursions to beach and bush, and developed more at University, in particular, with one field trip led by John Braggins, who opened my eyes to the world of the small: the mosses and the liverworts; and the not so small: the ferns. He is a very accomplished and notable botanical photographer, and his images redirected my fledgling photographic interest toward the paradoxically named "macro" scale, on which, more below.

Kowhai in flower

Kowhai in bloom
Auckland City


Titirangi Beach


Parataniwha in sepia



In the New Zealand bush there are greens of every hue in the foliage, and berries of scarlet, orange, purple, indigo and black. The stunning gold of the kowhai in flower heralds the arrival of spring, and the crimson pohutukawa reminds us that it is summer, holiday time, and Christmas. There are textures of bark and earth; of soft mosses and sharp leaves. Fragrances waft through the forest: from Alseuosmia, the bush "daphne", from the cabbage trees, from the scented perching orchids, from the forest itself. For the lucky tramper, there is the wonderful aroma of the crushed leaves of the rarely encountered eau-de-cologne bush, the mairehau. There is the song of the tui from the morning to the call of the ruru late at night, the sighing of the wind, and the chatter of the stream. The forest is a realm of sensory delight.

N.Z. native orchids

Pterostylis banksii

Pterostylis banksii

Acianthus fornicatus

Acianthus fornicatus

Earina mucronata

Earina mucronata

Nematoceras 'Whiskers'

Nematoceras "Whiskers"
Waitakere Ranges

These are all wonders, but among them my chief interest is in the quirky, the overlooked, and the rare. The image above shows a damp bank beside a waterfall. ten minutes walk from home, that is clad in the ground cover parataniwha (Elatostema rugosa). It forms dense mats beside streams, and has pale green foliage with an incredible purple-bronze underside. I have a theory that it only grows naturally within the sound of running water as this invariably seems to be the case. It's not rare, nor easily overlooked, but it does have a quirk: it is a nettle, but it has no spines. If it had, the northern bush would be a much less appealing place.

New Zealand's flora boasts the tallest moss (Dawsonia superba, growing up to 0.5 m tall!), the broadest thalloid liverwort (Monoclea forsteri, with thalli the size of dinner plates), an absolute stunner of a fern (the Price of Wales Feathers Fern, Leptopteris superba), the plant with the longest leaf known (Lygodium articulata, a climbing fern: another quirk), the only fuchsia with upright flowers (Fuchsia procumbens, a ground cover whose psychedelic yellow flowers have no petals and blue pollen!), another fuchsia that grows into a large tree, whose loose flaking bark was rolled and smoked by early bushmen (Fuchsia excorticata), and a few species virtually identical to those found in 300 million year old fossils (Psilotum and Tmesipteris species).

It has plants to keep insects away (the ngaio), plants that catch insects and digest them (the sundews, Drosera sp.), and even a tree that catches birds, the parapara (Pisonia brunoniana). It has plants that can heal (Hebe leaves for diarrhoea; Phormium gum for constipation or as an antiseptic), plants that can easily kill when ingested (the tutu), and trees that may prove life-threatening even to touch (The Fierce Nettle, Urtica ferox).

It has the largest buttercup (Ranunculus lyalli) and forget-me-not (Myosotidium hortensia) species in the world, and violets (Melicytis ramiflorus), daisies (Olearia arborescens) and gloxinias (Rhabdothamnus solandri) that are trees! It also used to have the tallest lily (Cordeline sp., the cabbage tree), but it was reclassified into a different family. It has a tree with wood less dense than balsa (the whau, Entelia arborescens), and, until it was propagated, the rarest plant in the world (Tecomanthe speciosa), rescued from extinction from just a single specimen. There is much for the student of quirks in the New Zealand flora!

But it is with the native orchids that I find my greatest fascination. New Zealand has a modest representation of this family, with around 100 species recognised. The exact number fluctuates as it is an active area in taxonomy, and reclassifications are frequent and entirely new species are still being found.

For the most part, the orchids of New Zealand do not have the large showy flowers of the popular commercial cultivars from the tropical or sub-tropical regions. The plants themselves can be quite unobtrusive: the pixie cap orchid (Acianthus fornicatus) is only about 1 cm tall from the ground to its single small leaf, but it carries a spray of 5-10 flowers to five times that height. The spider orchids (Nematoceras and Corybas) are similar in size overall, but instead carry a single relatively huge flower. These tiny plants are often overlooked, even by those who enjoy spending time in the forests, but when one begins to recognise them, and takes the time to inspect them closely, all of the complex structure and beauty of their more flamboyant cousins is there to be found, but in miniature.

For me, every trip to the forest is an orchid hunt, and every discovery of an orchid in a new location is a triumph. Best of all is the first sighting of a species I had not seen before, and I still have many more such events to enjoy as to date I have encountered perhaps fewer than 30 of the known species. Within walking distance of my home I have found at least ten species, and I am sure that there are others to be seen, if only I look in the right places at the right times.

These are the interests that determined my choice of residence when I returned to Auckland University from Hawke's Bay, combined of course, with the general quietude afforded by these natural surroundings, a very important thing where long periods of study are involved. So here I reside, in the rainforest, surrounded by birds, trees, and orchids, with a short walk through the bush to any of three beaches. Incredibly, this paradise is not in some remote hinterland, but is within a 30 minute drive of the centre of New Zealand's largest city. Here, on the doorstep of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, is Titirangi.


Photography is a long-held interest of mine stimulated I'm sure by a cousin who was a professional photographer, and an elder brother who set about building a darkroom and making his own enlarger, and going so far as to develop and print his own colour film at home, a remarkable achievement for the times. Photography is at the intersection of art and science; of technique and technology. It is never totally objective; the photographer chooses a position in the spectrum from prosaic to poetic, and applies his or her skills to convey a message, whether the intention be to portray in two dimensions the essence of what actually exists in three, or to evoke an emotion in the viewer, or with supreme skill, both.

My photography experienced a lull during the time I spent in Hawke's Bay, partly through the pressure of work, and partly because my favourite subject matter, the bush, was not so readily accessible. Then, the personal computer revolution happened, and then the digital camera revolution. When I had the opportunity to spend more time on photography, I was in a bind. I wanted the flexibility offered by digital processing, but I could not afford equipment that would give me the quality I wanted.

Archiscape 3

"Archiscape 3"
Auckland City

Archiscape 2

"Archiscape 2"
Auckland City

Fluorescence microscopy

Rhythmic gymnastics

"Rhythmic gymnastics"
U of A

For Debbie

"For Debbie"
U of A

The tipping point came after a trip to Egypt where I'd lugged my film gear around and ended up with little to show for it. Prior to a trip to Thailand I bought a "point-and-shoot" Canon A70. Most of the time, used as intended, it was very good, but it did frustrate me enormously with problems of shutter lag and poor flash exposure at close range. I missed the precision and control offered by my Olympus OM gear. Digital SLR was the way to go, and I made the transition to a Canon EOS 30D by "borrowing from the future" and spending more than I could really afford. My sights then and now are on full frame digital, and the recently released Canon 5D Mark II is the camera for me, just as soon as I can justify the not inconsiderable cost. In the meantime, I hone such skill as I have with the time and equipment at my disposal, and spend far too long reading and contributing at the premier internet forum for users of Canon equipment, photography-on-the.net, where I have made over 6500 posts.

My long term ambition is to complete a photographic survey of the New Zealand native orchids, and recently, I've had the idea of adding waterfalls to the list. Some of the illustrations on this page show that I'm on the way already and give an idea of what I'd like to achieve. Lately, I've been trying abstracts and cityscapes, with some pleasing results, I think. My weakest area is in portraiture, probably because plants and buildings tend to be very patient with me.

That my research into melanoma led to fluorescence and confocal microscopy was an unexpected treat. In addition to documenting my work, there were artistic marvels to be seen, if not directly at the microscope, then later, when the separate colour channels were merged. I believe that the award I received from the BIRU for the best microscopy image of 2006 was due in part to the artistic merit of the image I submitted, not merely to the depiction it gave of an important biological process. That image, "Constellation" can be seen at the bottom of the introduction page of this website, but I've included another two fluorescence microscopy images here, "Rhythmic gymnastics", and "For Debbie", an abstraction created by request for a colleague. That there is beauty to be found even within terrible disease is as surprising as it is disturbing.

I'm currently building a portfolio of work at my flickr site, but it's early days yet.


High among my list of interests is reading and my favourite genre is Science Fiction and Fantasy. Without any doubt my favourite author is Jack Vance. His use of language to paint vivid descriptions of strange places, peoples, and cultures is unequalled in my experience. He is literally a wordsmith, coining new words as needed to fill the semantic gaps that his visions create, but he typically does this in such a natural way that the reader may simply gloss over the word taking from it its intended meaning without ever realising that something unusual had happened. He interweaves rare and arcane words and usages with neologisms so seamlessly that if a dictionary were to be consulted over an unfamiliar word it is even money as to whether it will be found or not! One might easily suspect that "chife" was just an obscure word for stench, and "smaragdine" a new colour Vance had invented, and be wrong in both cases. One might accept implicitly that a "dendron" must be a tree, only to find that it does not actually have that sense in English, and then question the use of the word "diligence" to refer to a taxi, only to find that it is perfectly legitimate. Of his novels, by far my favourite is "The Eyes of the Overworld", in which a cunning petty thief, caught in the act by a wizard, is cast across the world to obtain a violet cusp that affords a view of the Overworld, and must journey home beset on all sides, including the inside (!), by those who would do him mischief. As a vehicle for escapism, the rich and colourful writings of Vance are incomparable. The excellent and very often humourous works of Harry Harrison ("The Stainless Steel Rat"), Larry Niven ("Ringworld"; short stories in "Neutron Star"), Philip José Farmer (the "Riverworld" series), and Isaac Asimov ("The End of Eternity") are also on the bookcase, among hundreds of others. In other fictional genres, I especially enjoyed "Catch-22" (Joseph Heller) and "To Kill a Mockingbird" (Harper Lee), and in non-fiction, the story of British Scientific Intelligence during World War II, "Most Secret War" (R. V. Jones), was a fascinating read. I've made repeated attempts to read "War and Peace" and "Lord of the Rings", but so far I have found both impenetrably dull.


In recent years my favourite movie of all time has changed from "Sophie's Choice" (Merryl Streep at her best in a tale of immense anguish and survival; of humour, insanity, and ultimate release), to the radically different "Pulp Fiction" (a chronicle of a lifestyle utterly alien to me, which, once one becomes inured to the violence, is extremely funny), to "Pleasantville" (an amazing allegorical tale questioning the limitations we place on our world through the way we choose to view it).

Honourable mention to: "Aliens" (scariest movie ever), "Repo Man" (Emilio Estevez: "You Repo Men are all out to lunch!"), "Motorama" (a road movie with a strange flavour), "Koyaanisqatsi" (mind-numbing cinematography), "Summer Story" (one moment of weakness and the potential for joy is replaced by tragedy), "The Blues Brothers" (Carrie Fisher with a bazooka; Elwood: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses." Jake: "Hit it."); The Madness of King George (a great adaptation and a wonderful performance by Nigel Hawthorne); To be, or Not to be? (Mel Brooks; something for everyone); and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (Steve Martin and just about every big name in the history of modern cinema).


I enjoy classical, jazz, and blues, and some rock music, depending on my mood. Of these, my greatest satisfaction comes from classical music; that I listen to, the others I just hear. If I could listen to the works of only a single composer forever more, I would choose J. S. Bach. In my estimation he is unchallenged for technical perfection of composition, marrying simple but truly lyrical melodies (e.g. "Air on a G string") with his sublime use harmony, often multilayered sequentially in complex canons. The 3rd and 5th Brandenburgs, the latter with its amazing harpsichord cadenza, the Sonatas and Partitas, the Inventions; these are all favourites. When Bach needs a rest, it is time for Beethoven (The Violin Concerto, The 6th and 9th Symphonies), Holst ("The Planets", "Jupiter" in particular), Sibelius ("The Karelia Suite"), or Mozart (just about anything).

I'm still learning about jazz but I can see it becoming quite prominent in my musical selections. John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis; these are my models, but I like anything from Swing to Smooth. I enjoy the singing of Ella Fitzgerald (there's a great version of "Summertime" with Louis Armstrong) and Norah Jones, and the folk/blues of Tracy Chapman (in small doses). Blues is an interesting genre, but not surprisingly, I find it can be a bit depressing at times. Oddly though, that appears to be its intended purpose.

The most evocative song I have ever heard is the medley of "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" and "Wonderful World" by Brother Iz, used somewhat incongruously I thought, ukulele notwithstanding, in the movie "50 First Dates". I can never quite figure out if it makes me happy, sad, or both.

Of the musical styles of the last 20 years, I can enjoy Techno, Electronica, and even Trance, but I have no time at all for the Urban genres of Hip-hop and its ilk. With no melody, no harmony, no rhythmic variation, and incomprehensible lyrics, it is just meaningless noise to me.





Fairy Falls
Waitakere Ranges

I've been to the northernmost tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, as far south as Dunedin, as far west as Doubtful Sound, and as far east as Gisborne. I've seen the massive kauri trees at Waipoua, the incredible sand sculptures at Rangi Point on the Hokianga Harbour, eaten the best fish and chips imaginable on the beach at Opononi while watching an incredible sunset gently unfold. I've walked most of the bush tracks in the Waitakere Ranges and the iron sand surf beaches of Auckland's West Coast. I've panned for gold in rivers in the Coromandel, and chipped amethyst from a huge boulder there. I've seen more native orchid species in one day than I thought possible on the climb to the top of Great Barrier Island. I've walked in the geothermal wonderland that is Rotorua, with its boiling mud, geysers, sulphur-encrusted rocks, and steaming earth, and tramped around Lake Waikaremoana and to Lake Waikareiti. I've abseiled down subterranean waterfalls at Waitomo and floated in an inner-tube along an underground river with glow-worms like stars above. I've strolled among thousands of rhododendrons at Crosshills in Taranaki, and thousands of rose bushes at Frimley Park in Hastings.

The Tongariro Crossing

Mangatapopo waterfall

Mangatapopo Valley

Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes
Below Red Crater

Blue Lake

Blue Lake
South Crater rim

Tongariro panorama

Blue Lake

I've traversed the Tongariro Crossing many times; its reputation as the best one day walk in the world is easily justified. A trail through an alpine valley with a forest a thousand years old, but less than knee-high, punctuated with incredible flowering herbs, buttercups, daisies, and orchids, follows a quick stream to an old lava flow. The climb reveals a desolate moonscape, devoid of all but the hardiest plants and lichens, with the prefect cone of Ngauruhoe towering above. Another climb, and the edge of Red Crater is achieved, with its amazing colourations, and a vista across a volcanic plain to a circular lake of pure blue. Then, down the steep flank of Red Crater, past the small Emerald Lakes there, across the plain, and up to the rim of Blue Lake itself, where a glance behind reveals the amazing spectacle of the cone of Red Crater, the peak of Ngauruhoe, and the distant bulk of Ruapehu perfectly aligned. The descent then begins, through tussock and fern, past the Ketetahi hot springs, and down to a lower altitude than the beginning of the walk, with forest becoming taller and richer as the more salubrious climatic conditions allow.

My experiences of the South Island are much less extensive. I've visited Christchurch, Arthur's Pass, Greymouth, and Dunedin and the Otago peninsula with its gannet colony and, of course, Larnoch Castle. I've visited Fiordland several times, travelling the Dart and Shotover Rivers by jet-boat and the latter also by raft, and I've travelled the length of the notorious Skipper's Road. I've walked the Milford Track from Lake Te Anau, past the foot of the Sutherland Falls to Milford Sound. At the McKinnon Pass, it was -20°C with 50 knot winds; my hands got so cold so quickly that I could only just work the clips on my pack to get out my spare socks to use as mittens. Obviously, I was ill-prepared, but I had not anticipated such conditions at the height of summer! From Milford Sound, I took a roller-coaster helicopter ride back to the area of the Southerland Falls and later landed on the Pembroke Glacier.

I have travelled further afield on occasion. In Australia, I've spent time in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, and northern Victoria. In Hawaii, I flew by helicopter over the lava fields at the southern tip of the Big Island in absolute awe: we hovered above a skylight in a lava tube watching the glowing torrent flow within rushing to be quenched by the sea, and feeling the heat through the canopy.

On a trip to Canada, I had the opportunity to visit Seattle, calling in at the Boeing factory on the way. In Seattle, I took an amazing tour of the past as part of the city as it was in the early 20th century still exists below Pioneer Square, with intact store-fronts and roads. This is due to the early city planners solving a terrible problem of flooding and poor drainage by redefining ground level and starting again by building elevated roads. Later, I travelled north-west through the Rockies from Calgary to Jasper, along the Glacier Highway. It was like 200 South Islands side-by-side, absolutely stunning. Most spectacular of all, I think, was Lake Louise, where the arms of the forested mountains encircle the lake, perfectly setting the stage for the centrepiece, the Victoria Glacier. I have never seen a more idyllic sight. From Jasper, I travelled overland for a day through over a thousand kilometres of continuous forest to Prince Rupert on the West coast, stopping once to watch a grizzly bear in a meadow of buttercups. The next day, I travelled 500 km by ferry on the 15 hour journey via the Inside Passage to Port Hardy, at the tip of Vancouver Island, then by bus to Nanaimo, where I took a 9 minute flight to Vancouver, and boarded a 737 bound halfway across the country to Winnipeg.

I spent a brief period in Bonn and Köln visiting my brother, before heading to Cairo to meet up with a friend for a three day cruise of the Nile to Aswan on which New Year's Eve would be celebrated. This began on a near-disastrous note when it appeared that she had not been met the previous evening as arranged, there had been no contact from her, she was known to have passed through Immigration at Cairo airport, and was now apparently lost, or worse, in a foreign land. All existing plans were abandoned as I set about trying to track her down, not even knowing if the people on whom I had to rely in doing so were complicit in her disappearance. Within a day however, she was located 500 km away in Hurghada on the Red Sea, and we were eventually united in Aswan after I travelled the thousand kilometres overnight by train, and she spent 11 hours in a bus. She was safe but we were both unwell, exhausted, and very stressed. In that state we embarked on our Nile cruise, just in time for New Year's Eve, and travelling in the opposite direction from that intended, heading back to Cairo. It is a fantastic story well worth a leisurely telling. Back on track, we visited the usual tourist spots, tombs, museums, and pyramids, but I think I was most impressed by the new library at Alexandria; it is spectacular. Honestly, I was not sad to leave Egypt, and if I should ever return, I shall endeavour to be prepared for all eventualities, however unlikely they may seem.

The most astounding experience I have had in my travels was not seeing the venerable Sphinx, or rushing lava, or Lake Louise, or Red Crater or the Boeing factory, but was the first time I experienced the vital chromatic diversity that is to be found snorkelling among coral, in Thailand. I was utterly enraptured; it was as if I had been transported to a stunning wonderland, an alternate reality, where there was no weight, no sound, and no effort, but everywhere were contrasts of solidity and fluidity, of simultaneous tranquility and drama, and a panoply of colours and forms of life from coral polyps to shoals of fish, all revealed by the bright shifting light in the utterly clear warm water.

Wine and food

I enjoy eating, it has to be said. A corollary of that is that I have become a fair cook. I went through a cake phase, turning out Black Forest Gateau variants at the drop of a hat for any occasion that came up, and all the while seeking to perfect a carrot cake recipe, which I eventually achieved to my satisfaction. I do have a penchant for spicy food: Mexican, Thai, Indian, and more recently Malaysian. My current projects are to find or develop decent recipes for butter chicken and beef rendang. So far I've had more success with the rendang. That's perhaps not surprising as one article I read reported a study of butter chicken recipes available on the internet and concluded that the only ingredient common among them was chicken. My interest in Indian food led to my constructing a make-shift charcoal-fired tandoor in my garden from a couple of ceramic pipes. It's great for kebabs, but won't work for naan, but that's OK.

My interest in wine was greatly stimulated by the time I spent in Hawke's Bay, an area rightly renowned for its fine wines. I did consider venturing into the industry myself, and completed a Certificate in Winemaking to see what was involved. Ultimately though, I heeded the advice of a prominent local winemaker, Alwyn Corban. "Geoffrey," he said, "let me tell you what my grandfather told me when I said I wanted to be a winemaker: 'Don't.'" From the outside, it appears to be a life comprised mostly of sitting in the sun and sampling the wares, while the reality is that it is very hard work with high risk and a considerable debt burden needed to finance an operation of a size likely to be economic. I admit to a bias toward Hawke's Bay wines: Tim Turvey's Reserve Chardonnay from Clearview Estate, and Gordon Russell's "The Terraces" from Esk Valley Estate are peerless.