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Taming tutorials: your secret weapon

21 Mar 2017 - 10:54 in Achievement


“My name is Howard Lukefahr and I’m a Senior Tutor within Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science.

My job is to help students do well in their first year Engineering papers and gain admission to second year programmes. To do this, I work with the academics to develop and teach tutorials, labs and review sessions for a range of first year classes. I also offer individual help to anyone who needs it. If I am not busy teaching, I am always available to students who come to see me for help with learning.

University is very different from secondary school. It’s a lot more fun! Instead of memorising facts and equations, you get to really understand how they work, and then use them creatively to design useful devices. It’s certainly challenging, but also very rewarding.

In your college maths and science classes, you probably came across some pretty hard problems. But the exam problems were always the same as the assignment problems and the examples in class. At university, the test and exam problems may use the same concepts as the assignment problems, but they will be quite different. So new students also have to make the transition from remembering solutions to inventing solutions themselves. But once you’ve solved some problems yourself, you’ll really want to solve more – it’s addictive!

We also have some really capable student tutors. These are second, third and fourth year, and postgraduate students, and they have completed the same papers you’ll be taking. You’ll see them in your labs and tutorials, and also around campus. They are a hugely valuable resource to you, so get to know them. University is all about learning as much as you can, so we pick our tutors carefully to maximise your learning. Make use of them!

Another important part of the first year experience at ECS is the evening workshop tutorials. These run twice a week for a few hours each time. Students work on assignments, forming small groups to collaborate if they wish. Help is available for all first year students from multiple tutors, and as a bonus we provide students with snacks and refreshments at these sessions. Generally these tuts are a lot of fun. It’s a great way to catch up with your friends as well as staying on top of the first year workload.

It’s very important for students to get involved with all aspects of academic life as early as possible. Arrange study groups, come to the evening tutorials, and make the most of all the resources available to you, and you’ll hit the ground running. It’s a lot harder to catch up than to stay on top of things, so don’t wait until a small problem becomes a big problem. We are always happy to see students who need help, want to learn more, or just want to chat.

I also work closely with our ECS Pastoral Support Manager, Craig Watterson. If it all gets too much, he is your first port of call and also your most important contact in your first year, so you should get to know him as soon as possible. If you need academic help, he will refer you to me or another one of our tutors. If it’s something else bothering you or one of your friends, he will work with you to find a solution that you are happy with.

Our motto within the Engineering school is “Think it! Plan it! Build it!” This motto of course refers to technology, such as the awesome robots you will be designing in your first year, but it also applies to your academic career: Think about what you want! Plan how to get there! Build the skills and tools you need to do so!

For more info or to have a chat, you can email me at or visit me in CO261.”

Keep calm and carry on

13 Mar 2017 - 09:57 in Achievement


“I’m Craig Watterson and I manage the School of Engineering and Computer Science’s pastoral support programme. And no, ‘pastoral support’ is not about learning how to milk cows! It’s actually about helping all first year students with the exciting transition to university life.

A student’s first year of Engineering or Computer Science is crucial. It’s a major life transition. You have to be self-motivated for the many tests and exams. On top of that, you might have left home, shifted country, begun relationships – and need to work and have a social life as well.

I work closely with our lecturers and the Associate Dean of Students, and I manage two senior tutors who help with academic support for students through labs and tutorials, as well as evening study sessions. Pastoral care is about engaging students on a personal level so that they are in a good headspace to learn.

In the first two weeks, all new Engineering students take a diagnostic test so we can get an idea of their maths skills. Next, I contact students to make sure they are taking the right courses, and to make them aware of all the extra help available. We know that if students engage with pastoral care early on they gain confidence and quickly lose the fear of asking for help – it’s about providing a safe, caring and inclusive environment for students to thrive in.

Throughout the year I continue to monitor students’ academic progress, and where issues arise, I provide early intervention to help students get on top of things. This is usually an informal and confidential chat where we discuss what is going on and work together to find a way forward.

This can often be as simple as helping you get a time extension, or knowing who to talk to about dyslexia, or arranging to contact a course coordinator. I have extensive knowledge about all the services offered by the University, from academic support and social clubs, through to financial and health services.

I also know all about the staff, courses and processes within the School of Engineering and Computer Science. In fact, I can probably talk to you about pretty much anything you need! It’s all about making you feel like you can come and chat any time about your studies and how it’s all going for you.

I have an open-door policy when it comes to getting help and advice. No question is a dumb question at university! If I can’t help, I will direct you to someone who can. The best thing to do if you have a friend who needs help is to bring them to see me. Together, we can overcome the many challenges of university life.

You are going to have fun and learn a lot during your first year. We have some amazing lecturers that are simply inspirational. You’ll be playing with programming and even designing and building functional robots from day one. Our student Engineering club also offers fun social events such as quizzes, paintball and LAN parties.

For more info or to have a chat, email me at or visit me in CO253.”

4D visit from South Korean government

07 Mar 2017 - 14:37 in Achievement


A representative for the South Korean government recently visited Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science to observe research taking place in computer graphics.

Mr Kim Byoung-Gwan, this Prime Minister’s Fellow for Korea, viewed research which is part of a Korea/New Zealand government-funded project, HDI24D: Human-digital content interaction for immersive 4D home entertainment.

The project is a collaboration between Victoria University, the University of Canterbury and three Korean universities: Ewha Women’s University, Hongik University and Korea University.

The research is to develop techniques for novel home entertainment using mixed reality technology, to provide immersive visualisation and tangible interaction between viewers and digital content.

The New Zealand part of the project is led by Dr Taehyun Rhee, director of Victoria’s Computer Graphics Laboratory. His research focus is on perception-based rendering, specifically lighting and composition that allows seamless incorporation of computer-generated objects into live video. He is also investigating ways to reduce visual discomfort in users wearing virtual reality headsets.

Mr Kim, who has extensive commercial experience with computer graphics techniques, trialled one of Dr Rhee’s demonstrations of real and computer-generated objects. When asked which were computer-generated, he was impressed to find that he was unable to tell the difference.

Computer Graphics Programme Director, Professor Neil Dodgson says, “Dr Rhee’s research is at the cutting edge of computer graphics. Even with the power of modern graphics cards, it is stunningly difficult to get virtual objects embedded in video, in real time, with correct lighting and shading.

“This project exemplifies the sort of international research collaboration that Victoria is so good at. We were delighted to have Mr Kim visit and to have his input on the ongoing work of our collaborative project. We look forward to future successful work in this area between Korea and New Zealand.”

Oscars win for Victoria researcher

27 Feb 2017 - 09:33 in Achievement

Adjunct Associate Professor John Lewis of Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science has won a Science and Technical Award from the Academy® of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a pre-Oscars ceremony recognising technical achievement in filmmaking.

John, alongside Weta Digital colleagues Luca Fascione and Iain Matthews, was recognised for the development of the software ‘Facets’.

Facets enables animators to bring live performance facial expressions to animated characters.

The trio designed, engineered and developed the software at Weta Digital for the making of the movie Avatar. It has since been used in many films including The Adventures of Tintin, The Hobbit movies, The BFG and The Planet of the Apes series.

"Avatar introduced the practice of capturing the actor's facial motion at the same time as the body, by using a head-mounted camera and computer vision techniques," says John.

“The actor's motion is then solved into muscle motions, and these muscle motions are replayed on the animated character.

“The system is also engineered to allow artists to easily adjust the animation if needed—something that is not possible with many motion capture approaches.”

18 scientific and technical achievements were recognised at the ceremony in Beverly Hills.

This is John Lewis's second Academy® Award. He was previously awarded for pose space deformation, a technique for flexibly simulating the skin shape of a moving character. The technique has become widely used in movies and games.

Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science offers degrees in collaboration with Victoria’s School of Design, uniting design, computation and mathematics.

The University recently announced the establishment of a new state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Miramar’s film sector, in collaboration with Weta Digital and Miramar Creative Ltd. The Centre will initially be the base for two of Victoria’s Master’s programmes—the Master of Design Technology and the Master of Fine Arts (Creative Practice).

Postdoctoral Fellow: Introducing Hamed Sadeghi to ECS

23 Feb 2017 - 11:53 in Achievement


Name? Hamed Sadeghi.

Born in? Iran.

Lived in? Iran and Canada.

First job? Tutor at the University of Toronto.

Position at VUW? Postdoctoral Fellow.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Exciting state-of-the-art research.

Key research interests? Machine learning, Deep learning.

Why Wellington? It's a beautiful city!

Favourite movie? 'Hacksaw Ridge'.

Favourite musician? David Garrett.

Quote to live by? "The sky's the limit" (Cervantes).

Senior Tutor: Introducing Morgan Atkins to ECS

23 Feb 2017 - 10:36 in Achievement


Name? Morgan Atkins.

Born in? I was born in sunny Napier, famed for its orchards, wineries, and Art Deco style buildings.

Lived in? Other than Napier, I’ve lived in Central Hawkes Bay, Wellington and Lower Hutt. Of those, I love Wellington the most.

First job? My first job was delivering newspapers, way back when. My first full-time job was as a programming intern for SpikeFin - a job I got through what was then called ‘Summer of Code’.

Position at VUW? Senior Tutor, and part of the pastoral team under Craig Watterson. I’ll be heavily involved with the 200-level Software Engineering and Computer Science courses.

Most looking forward to at VUW? The challenges and learning experiences my position will bring. I’m looking forward to being able to run tutorials and do some teaching here and there, and being a part of the pastoral team.

Key research interests? My prior research has been in Artificial Intelligence and Concurrency, but I’ve also picked up an interest in education research.

Why Wellington? I’ve lived in Wellington since I moved here for university back in 2006. It’s got such a great atmosphere, and it’s just one of the easiest places to live.

Favourite movie? Song of the Sea (2014). A beautifully hand-animated masterpiece from director Tomm Moore that tells a very Irish fairytale.

Favourite musician? Right now? It’s probably Ramin Djawadi. Good music to do work to!

Favourite food? I have a bit of a soft spot for takoyaki, but there only a few places in town that do it.

Quote to live by? "We are not what other people say we are. We are who we know ourselves to be, and we are what we love" (Laverne Cox).

How to rock Orientation 2017

21 Feb 2017 - 12:16 in Achievement


Don’t miss the Bachelor of Engineering with Honours and Computer Science majors orientation on Thursday 2 March from 3-5pm in Maclaurin Lecture Theatre 101, followed by a welcome BBQ outside the Hub (gym side)…

Welcome to Victoria University of Wellington! If you’re new to Vic in 2017 you can settle in with the New Students’ Orientation programme held at the start of Trimester One. A huge range of activities, workshops and events have been scheduled to help you get your bearings, prepare for academic life, meet new people - and have fun along the way. This really is the best way to see what Victoria can offer you!

Orientation takes place the week before official classes begin and will run from Monday 27 February to Friday 3 March. You’ll also be sent a copy of the New Students' Orientation booklet with your confirmation of study from late-January 2017.

To really make the most of Orientation, take a look at the Orientation timetable to figure out what events and workshops you would like to attend during the week so you don't miss out. Most Orientation events are held at our Kelburn campus and we recommend that you attend as many as you can.

Don’t miss the Bachelor of Engineering with Honours and Computer Science majors orientation on Thursday 2 March from 3-5pm in Maclaurin Lecture Theatre 101, followed by a welcome BBQ outside the Hub (gym side). This is your welcome to the Faculty, where you’ll meet your lecturers and tutors, hear about what to expect in your first year, plus receive info on our student support services. This is also a good chance to ask any questions you may have and find out how you can make the most of your lectures, tutorials and labs.

Other helpful things you can do during Orientation week include confirming your lecture timetable, finding your lecture theatres, visiting your Faculty office, buying your textbooks at Vic Books, and checking out student services including the Accommodation Service, Disability Services, and the Student Health and Student Counselling services.

Study skills and IT workshops are also available for note-taking, essay writing and academic tips and to get you set up online to help you make the most of your studies. You can also take a tour of Victoria’s campuses and the central library so you can get your bearings before classes start. Māori, Pasifika, refugee-background and mature students have independent Orientation events, so if that’s you, check them out on the Orientation timetable.

Social events include the Campus Coaches kick-off, WGTN Hall events, and the Welcome Festival, plus you can find out what’s happening at Victoria Recreation, the popular gym on Kelburn Campus. Additionally, ‘Get Involved’ workshops are student-led sessions covering leadership opportunities, volunteer work, clubs, sports and overseas exchanges available to you during your time at university.

And finally, it wouldn’t be Orientation without Victoria University of Wellington Student Association’s ‘OWeek’ programme. OWeek is spread over a fortnight during which time you’ll experience great entertainment, from the annual Toga Party and campus stalls, to international music shows and comedy nights. This year, a number of local Wellington festivals are also part of OWeek, so you can get to know the city.

And, for the first time at Victoria, for five days, you and your friends can gather at the ‘Fringe At Victoria’ depot for guided tours of a variety of fringe shows held around the university.

So get stuck in, get involved, and get set up for a wonderful year of new experiences and academic success.

What now for newbies

03 Feb 2017 - 09:44 in Achievement


After our busiest year yet in 2016 and a well-deserved Christmas break, Engineering Faculty Dean Professor Dale Carnegie is predicting exciting times for staff and students of the School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS)…

“Welcome to 2017! I hope you had a relaxing festive season and are feeling refreshed and pumped to take on the new year. An especially warm welcome to those of you who are on campus for the first time. We hope to provide a setting for you to learn, to grow, and to think about where you are going in the world. We can’t wait to show you what ECS has to offer you!

Although I'm not big on resolutions, the start of a new year does make me think about the things I want to achieve. Personally, once this weather settles, I want to get out on the harbour a little more - I need the exercise to offset the chocolate-eating that was forced upon me at Christmas. Rather than work out at the gym, I've also invested in some seriously sharp power tools to help with the gorse explosion - plus power tools are an amazing form of stress relief. I'm not so sure my wife agrees - but that's the price she pays for being married to a practical engineer!

Work-wise it's going to be a really full-on year for ECS. Student numbers are growing, and in fact, we're the fastest-growing Engineering faculty in New Zealand - and probably Australasia. We have developed a well-deserved reputation for the quality and employability of our grads, with many of our alumni pursuing amazing careers all over the world. Yet from my own experience, I know how important it is that, as new students, you feel a real belonging to your faculty from the very beginning; that your lecturers sincerely care about your progress, and that there is support there when you need it.

Our pastoral care programme is second to none. So if you are a new student this year, please touch base with Craig Watterson and Howard Lukefahr at the first year orientation. Craig and Howard are employed specifically to help you get ready for the challenges that are coming your way in your first year of university. It's absolutely normal to be overwhelmed, for things to go wrong, for flatting to go awry, or to miss your family. You'll be amazed at how many students have exactly the same worries as you - and how easily Craig and Howard can help out.

Technology is changing all the time, and I keep hearing that most of the jobs that will exist in 20 years' time have yet to be invented. But that is our challenge. We will be New Zealand's leading institution for high-tech ICT and Engineering training and research. While other universities might offer civil, structural or other ‘classical’ forms of Engineering, we only focus on the new, modern, high-tech forms - to prepare you for those jobs of the future.

To achieve this, we are already hiring new staff under two new majors: Cyber Security and Sustainable Energy. In a year’s time we will be offering Mechatronics. We will also provide a major in Victoria’s new health degree so that we are training specialist graduates capable of creating new software systems to improve New Zealand's health systems. We will be working with several other university programmes as well to help inject state-of-the-art technology training to a wide variety of Victoria’s degrees.

Last year we also introduced a BSc major in Computer Graphics and we were extremely fortunate to lure Professor Neil Dodgson away from Cambridge University to lead this programme. We more than tripled the expected number of students in the first year it was offered! That we can get staff of this calibre is a real testament to the quality of the education you will get from us. In fact, another indication of the quality of our staff is the number we have said ‘no’ to. We only want the best. We also have supporting professional staff who are the envy of many other schools at Victoria. And we are all here to help you succeed!

This year will be challenging, and personally, I will have to keep an eye on my work/life balance. My three year old daughter still wants my time, and my wife tells me that she enjoys my company - when she manages to drag me away from the power tools. I'd like to encourage you to make sure you get a good work/life balance as well. You will definitely need breaks from studying, but fifty hours of gaming a week is not going to get you a degree! Balance is the key.

So on reflection, my resolution for 2017 comes down to ensuring that we are New Zealand's best high-tech Engineering faculty - and that student well-being is at the heart of all that we do.

It is a real privilege to be the Dean of such a buzzing faculty full of dedicated staff and outstanding students. Have a great year and I sincerely look forward to announcing your name at one of our graduation ceremonies in years to come.”

Gareth's good thinking about drinking

30 Nov 2016 - 10:52 in Research


An Honours-year Electronics and Computer Systems Engineering student won’t find his good ideas drying up any time soon. That’s because this year, Gareth Clay built a ‘Bioimpedance Hydration Measurement Device’ that could prove handy for emergency department doctors treating dehydrated patients on the go.

Gareth’s device enables doctors to form an accurate picture of the volume of fluid within a person’s body by measuring their ‘body impedance’, or the resistance and reactance of the body.

The hydration level of a patient is extremely important to the treatment options prescribed, especially on admission in an emergency room setting. Low levels of hydration in patients who are already weak due to sickness or injury can lead to complications that compromise patient health.

“I’ve made a unique device using all the skills I’ve learnt from my university studies”, says Gareth. “It could really help doctors in their day to day work. A lot of people are interested in developing it further”.

The project was proposed by Dr Sapi Mukerji, an emergency department doctor working at Lower Hutt hospital, who contacted Victoria about the potential to collaborate on developing some biomedical products he had been thinking about.

Several clinical techniques already exist to measure the hydration levels of a patient. However, Gareth’s new technique has been praised for being less invasive and less expensive than current commercial bioimpedance devices. His device was also found to be precise to within 1%.

“It’s always nice to have a real world application for a project – it’s really motivating!” says Gareth. “It was easy to see how this device would be helpful to doctors and that made the project all the more appealing and interesting to be part of”.

Gareth has already landed his dream job at Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, which he says was “definitely” helped by the fact that he had developed a medical device at university.

“It was a lot of fun and a great learning experience because it’s the first chance you get as an Engineering student to develop a large project independently”, he says. “It was also a time to refine all my learning, solidify the theory and practise the practical stuff I needed to hit the ground running when I entered the workforce”.

Gareth’s advice to other Honours students is to get as much done as early as possible.

“I put a lot of work into the first trimester, when the workload was easier, and it really paid off”, he says. “It meant I had time for setbacks and to refine my ideas, including actual testing with patients in the final stages of the project.

“The next step in the process is to decide the feasibility of further development - I would love to see a new commercial product on the market as the result of this idea.”

Operation Zombie saves the day

21 Nov 2016 - 10:18 in Research


A group of enterprising third year Engineering students are the ‘brains’ behind Operation Zombie, a project to develop cutting-edge technology for use in search and rescue training scenarios.

The project was one of several available to students to choose as part of a compulsory year-long project management paper, where students were asked to combine their electronics, software and networking expertise to solve a problem for an external client.

A team comprising Patrick Savill, Layne Small, Callum Gill, Miten Chauhan, Kandice McLean and Marc Laroza created a product for the New Zealand Fire Service’s Urban Search and Rescue team that simulates human behaviours for search and rescue training exercises.

All of the team members are studying Engineering, but as they are pursuing different majors, they each brought something different to the table. The project was called ‘Operation Zombie’ as it is targeted at replacing humans during training operations. Real people cannot be placed in realistically dangerous scenarios for fear of physical harm - and using dummies to simulate these scenarios is currently too expensive.

Patrick, the team’s spokesman, says they were aiming to produce a simple and cheap solution to the problem, by creating a small, self-contained motorised control box that can be operated wirelessly from a website. Instead of using a real person, the motorised box can mimic heat loss from the human body that might occur due to exposure in an emergency situation, as well as providing a realistic rescue scenario where someone is trapped in a river or under rubble. The group’s design was praised for being robust, waterproof and able to be operated at long-range.

“We had to build the hardware, configure the network, and design software to run the web page, so we were able to utilise our team members’ individual skills based on their areas of expertise”, Patrick says. “It was an enjoyable challenge with a tangible result, which is always a bonus”.

Patrick and his teammates found the project a useful platform to practise both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills learnt in class.

“I used what I knew about creating printed circuit boards - equipment that supports electrical components - as well as everything I had learnt about micro-controller coding”, says Patrick. “A happy by-product of the course was getting to practise people-management and communication skills which are so valued by employers”.

The team met some hurdles along the way, including “timing, work falling behind, untested assumptions - and blowing up electronic parts!”

“It was definitely challenging”, says Patrick. “I went in imagining the utopia of a high-functioning team, perfect circumstances and rigid scheduling – but came out the other side with an intimate understanding of Murphy’s Law.”

Patrick says that despite the challenges, the project has definitely added value to his university degree.

“I now realise that the challenging projects are the ones you learn the most from”, he says. “I have learnt far more by making mistakes than I ever could have from easy successes. Now I hope to find a job where I can use my engineering skills and really make a difference in the world”.

And Patrick’s advice to future students?

“No one said Engineering was going to be easy, so to paraphrase American writer Denis Waitley, “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised!””