Faculty of Science

2008 News

Marsden funding of $6.53 Million for Victoria University Researchers

September 26 2008

Ecstasy abuse and brain behaviour, the role of eye movements in eyewitness identifications and hearing through someone else's ears are three Victoria University research projects from the Faculty of Science which received funding in this year's Marsden funding round. 

The Marsden round is one of the most competitive and rigorous rounds of Government funding awarded to projects of the highest calibre.

Victoria University's strengths in the sciences have again been recognised with 74 percent of the funding coming from science based proposals.

The total funding awarded to research at Victoria is up to $6.53 million, up from $5.97 in last year's round.

The following staff in the Faculty of Science received Marsden grants distributed over three years:

The recipients of Fast-Start grants, worth $100,000 per annum for three years, in the Faculty of Science are:

Marsden-funded research projects also involving Victoria University researchers include:

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Awhina "Hands on" Science

August 18 2008                                                                             
Students, whānau and teachers from Hutt Valley High School (HVHS) enjoyed a 'Hands on Science' evening hosted by Āwhina mentors in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS). The event was organised and co-ordinated by Dr Adele Whyte. 

DNA and its uses were explained first in the SBS tearoom and then later participants had the opportunity to extract DNA from everyday foods in a laboratory.  In addition to the range of activities on offer, a tour to one of the high tech research labs (Chemical Genetics Laboratory) was a highlight of the evening. 

"I really enjoyed it and the mentors were super helpful."

"The DNA testing was really cool! I liked seeing the fancy university equipment. It was a great opportunity to see what I might have to do if I do science at university."

Special thanks to technicians Angela Fleming and Lesley Millicich who helped with the lab set up.  Thanks also to Āwhina mentors Cassidy, David, Jonnel, Kirsty, Marie, Miles, Nathaniel and Shalen and to Te Taite Cooper and Liz Richardson.

Dr. Adele Whyte,
School of Biological Sciences

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Peter Barrett Function

April 2 2008

Professor David Bibby, the Dean of Science at VUW, hosted a function for Professor Peter Barrett on 2 April to celebrate Professor Barrett's outstanding contribution as Director of Victoria University's Antartic Research Centre from 1971 to 2007. The function, attended by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pat Walsh, and approximately 200 colleagues and friends, also served to welcome Professor Barrett into his new role supporting work on Climate Change in his continuing role as Professor of Geology.

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German Research Delegation visits the Faculty of Science

March 26 2008

Professor Dr Ing Matthias Kleiner, President of the German Research Foundation (DFG) visited the Antarctic Research Centre and the MacDiarmid Institute on 26 March.

Professor Kleiner was accompanied on his visit by Mr Christoph Anton, the German Deputy Ambassador to New Zealand and other members of the German Research Delegation -  Professor Dorothee Wagner, DFG Vice-President, Information Science Professor Peter Herzig, Member of DFG Senate, Marine Geoscience Christoph Mühlberg, Head Office, International Affairs Dr. Beate Konze-Thomas, DFG, Head of Department for Coordinated Programmes and Infrastructure and Dr. Frank Bruhn, Germany Science and Technology Coordinator at MoRST.

The delegation hosted by Professor David Bibby, the Dean of Science at Victoria University, also met with Professor Neil Quigley, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor - (Research), Professor Charles Daugherty, the Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Rob Rabel (Vic International) and Professor John Hine, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.

The visit of the President of the German Research Foundation delegation was part of their official visit to New Zealand from 24 to 30 March.  After the visit to Victoria University, the delegation travelled to Auckland where Professor Kleiner gave an inaugural New Zealand - German Science Circle lecture entitled The German Research Foundation: Fuelling the Dynamics of Research Funding, reciprocating the inaugural lecture in Germany by the New Zealand Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Hon Pete Hodgson in Berlin on 4 March.

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Minister of Tertiary Education, Science, and Research & Technology visits VUW

March 20 2008

Hon Pete Hodgson, Minister of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology visited the Faculty of Engineering, the MacDiarmid Institute and the Antarctic Research Centre on 20 March. The Minister was accompanied on his visit by the Vice-chancellor, Professor Pat Walsh, and the Dean of Science, Professor David Bibby.

Professor John Hine, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Engineering briefed the Minister on the key aims and objectives of the new Faculty, the possible niches in robots, signal processing, distributed processing and software development and the need for engineers in New Zealand and the benefits of more engineering graduates for the Wellington Industry.

Professor Tim Naish, the Director of the Antarctic Research Centre gave the Minister an overview of the major research programmes and strategic initiatives, the new VUW Climate Change Institute and the ANDRILL project.

Professor Paul Callaghan, the Director of the MacDiarmid Institute, briefed the Minister on the role of the Institute in advancing nanotechnology and its function as a Centre of Research Excellence; Professor Pablo Etchegoin gave the Minister a demonstration of the laser spectroscopy.

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Science Wānanga creates future Maori scientists

March 3 2008
Science Wānanga creates future Māori scientists
Te Wānanga Pūtaiao Pukemokimoki Marae, 13th - 16th January 2008

Can a science wānanga help to increase the number of Māori scientists, architects and engineers?  Comments from the inaugural Te Wānanga Pūtaiao at Pukemokimoki Marae in Napier suggest that taking science from the laboratory to the marae can inspire new generations of Māori scientists. 

"I never used to like science but now I do".
Primary-School aged participant

"I thought science was boring, but this wānanga has made me think its FUN".
High-School aged participant

Pukemokimoki Marae and Victoria University's Science Faculty joined together to host Te Wānanga Pūtaiao. This successful event is an extension of the Science Faculty's Āwhina outreach programme. The central focus of Āwhina is Māori and Pacific development, which was also the central theme of Te Wānanga Pūtaiao.  The aim of this particular wānanga was to encourage participation and achievement among Māori rangatahi and tamariki in science.  Excitement for science was generated by concentrating on themes that were relevant to Māori communities including sessions on DNA/Whakapapa and the Marine Environment. 

Āwhina alumni Dr. Adele Whyte (Ngāti Kahungunu) led this project with the help of  several past and present Āwhina mentors; Wesley Lagolago (Samoan), Cassidy Moeke (Ngāti Porou), Shiro Nippert (Tuhoe), Matt Viliamu (Samoan).  Āwhina mentors formed a vital part of the team, contributing to the DNA extractions and the smooth-running of the whole programme. Liz Richardson (Architecture & Design, Science & Engineering Deputy Dean, Equity) and Te Taite Cooper (Te Pou Ārahi Māori, Ngāti Kahungunu) also supported this project.

Drs Howard Lukefahr (Physics) and Ocean Mercier (Te Kawa a Maui, Ngāti Porou) ran interactive physics demonstrations which included liquid nitrogen, superconductors, light waves and sound waves. Pupils explored how the human eye works by investigating optical illusions and computer imaging technology.

Drs Hilary Miller (Allan Wilson Centre - AWC), Kristina Ramstad (AWC), and Adele Whyte (Centre for Marine Environmental & Economic Research - CMEER) designed and taught the genetics portion of the wānanga. This allowed everyone to see and extract DNA from everyday food items, including strawberries, using household chemicals.

Drs James Bell (CMEER), Jonathan Gardner (CMEER) and Adele Whyte (CMEER) gave presentations and led discussions about protecting and enhancing the marine environment. 

Support from whānau is vital to encourage more Māori youth to seek careers in science and technology. For this reason, the wananga set out to attract all age groups. Participants' ages ranged from 5 to 75 years old and everyone enjoyed the wide range of activities, including what could have been the world's first DNA extraction on a marae!

The project was also an education for the scientists as Kaumatua and Kuia also contributed their knowledge to this wānanga.  In many instances, the observations of our tūpuna highlighted obvious parallels between Māori oral tradition and science. This reinforces the idea that Māori have been scientists for many years. If tamariki can continue on this rich tradition of seeking knowledge, incorporating the knowledge of their ancestors with technical advances, then the scientific future of Aotearoa is in good hands.

Acknowledgements:  We would like to acknowledge the financial support of Te Puni Kōkiri. Te Puni Kōkiri staff members also supported this event by attending the wānanga. Special thanks to Joinella Maihi-Carroll who was the liaison person at Pukemokimoki for this event.

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