Faculty of Science

2009 News

Marsden grants support 'world-class' research at Victoria

9 October 2009

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pat Walsh, says the world-class research of Victoria academics has been recognised and supported by Marsden Fund grants announced today.

Victoria University received 16 research grants equating to almost 15% of total funding, one of the University's best ever results.

"Our success in this year's round reflects our commitment to high quality research at Victoria. The grant recipients are some of our foremost academics and I am thrilled that their valuable work has been recognised.

"Victoria has had particular success in our distinctive strengths in history, earth sciences, mathematics, linguistics and literature, and biology.

"Our success in science has been acknowledged with a high percentage of Marsden funding coming from science-based proposals. Our staff and students are immersed in the science capital of New Zealand and are contributing to outstanding research.

"It is also pleasing to see our work in the Humanities recognised in these grants.

"As well as benefiting New Zealand, many of these projects lead or play a part in research internationally."

Victoria University Science Faculty recipients of full Marsden grants distributed over three years:

  • Dr Simon Davy, Corals in a changing world: establishing a physiological mechanism for current and future patterns of reef distribution, $960,000
  • Dr David Ackerley, Cracking the non-ribosomal code, $912,000
  • Professor Tim Naish, How does Antarctica ride the Milankovitch cycle?, $870,000
  • Professor Tim Stern, Ups and downs of subduction, $735,000
  • Professor Martha Savage, Ruamoko's rumbles: understanding magma movement and time varying seismic properties, $721,000
  • Dr Noam Greenberg, Randomness, degree theory, higher computability: new interactions, $575,000
  • Professor Denis Sullivan, Pulsating white dwarf stars: unique astrophysical laboratories, $549,000
  • Professor Matt Visser, Topics in mathematical general relativity and theoretical cosmology, $475,000.00
  • Professor Estate Khmaladze, Contiguity theory for set-parametric problems of statistics, $470,000


Victoria University recipients of Fast-Start grants, worth $100,000 per annum for three years:

  • Dr Byoung Kim, Iwasawa theory for supersingular primes, $300,000
  • Dr Eric Le Ru, Optical properties of metallic nano-particles for ultrasensitive molecule detection, $300,000
  • Dr Dillon Mayhew, Rota's conjecture for the five-element field, $300,000.00

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Victoria Univeristy student wins MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Competition

28 August 2009
A Victoria University PhD student has been named the 2009 MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year for his research removing toxic pollutants from vehicle emissions.

27-year-old John Watt's studies focus on using infinitesimally small nanoparticles of the precious metal palladium to remove toxic gases from a car's exhaust system. John is a student in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.

Award recepient John Watt using the electron microscopy facilities at the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Victoria University.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pat Walsh, said that Mr Watt's research was world-leading.

"Our staff and students are immersed in the science capital of New Zealand and are contributing nationally and internationally. John Watt's work is one example of research excellence that could make a real difference."

"His research could result in a cheap and effective way of removing pollution from our streets. A British company is currently examining how suitably the palladium particles can be used."

"Being awarded the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year is a superb achievement and is a tribute to John's research and the support of his professors."

Mr Watt was presented with the 2009 MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Award by the Minister of Research, Science and Technology, the Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, at a function in Auckland on Thursday night.

The awards are named after Victoria University alumnus and Nobel Prize winning scientist, the late Professor Alan MacDiarmid.

Mr Watt has created nano-size palladium particles which achieves much better performance than conventional palladium and are significantly cheaper. Conventional palladium costs up to $11,000 a kilogram, limiting its use.

As well as Mr Watt, Victoria had two other winners in this year's Young Scientists of the Year Awards, from a total of five finalists.

Kerstin Burridge developed textiles that combine wool with gold to create a real world Golden Fleece. She grew tiny particles of gold on wool which produces textiles ranging in colour from light pink, through to purple, grey and gold.

Professor Walsh said that her study was something that would have great benefits for the New Zealand textile industry.

"Universities add significant economic and intellectual benefits to society and Kerstin's research reflects this." 

"Victoria has a strong research association with Crown Research Institutes and the private sector, and I look forward to Kerstin advancing her work. It could be something we'll soon see on catwalks around the world."

The five finalists from Victoria University.
From left: Dmitri Schebarchov, Matt Gerrie, Kerstin Burridge, Fern Kelly, John Watt .

Dr Matthew Gerrie's research looked at innovative techniques that improve the accuracy of eyewitness identification of offenders. He used infrared eye tracking technology to record eye movement patterns, giving insight into how witnesses make decisions.

"Dr Gerrie's work helps to reduce wrongful convictions based on inaccurate eye witness identifications from police line-ups," said Professor Walsh.

"His efforts as manager of Innocence Project New Zealand (IPNZ), part of a world-wide organisation that investigates and overturns wrongful convictions, and his research fits well with the University's aim to be critic and conscience of society. The identification of offenders is an incredibly important area of justice."

Find out more about about John Watt's work with nanoparticles.

Listen to John being interviewed by Ruth Beran on Our Changing World , Radio New Zealand National.

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New Coastal Ecology Laboratory opens

March 12 2009
Hon Dr Nick Smith, the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, officially opened Victoria's new Coastal Ecology Lab (Te Toka T Moana) on Thursday 12 March.  

The new marine laboratory in Island Bay replaces the old fish oil factory which previously housed the VUW laboratory. The new building is purpose built and exists of 816 square metres of functional space including a research laboratory, two wet lab facilities with access to both raw and filtered flow-through seawater, 161 square metres of office space for up to 30 research students and staff and a substantial staging area for coastal and sub-tidal research. 

The new ecology laboratory provides a base for 7 academic staff members whose research has a strong marine focus, 35 PhD students, 13 Masters students and about 180 undergraduate students. Prior to the official opening, VUW's Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Tim Beagehole, Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh and Council members were hosted by David Bibby, the Dean of Science and Dr Jeff Shima, the Director of the Coastal Ecology Laboratory, on a working visit on Tuesday 3 February 2009.

Geospatial Research Centre at Victoria

February 11 2009
Victoria University has entered into a cooperation agreement with the Geospatial Research Centre (GRC). The Geospatial Research Centre was founded in 2006 as a Christchurch based joint venture between the University of Canterbury, the University of Nottingham and the Canterbury Development Corporation.

The Geospatial Research Centre conducts research involving image analysis and visualisation, electronics and signal analysis, aerial mapping systems and systems integration services. The cooperation agreement with VUW involves working together in the areas of research development, commercialisation activities, joint applications for research funding, PhD scholarships and supervision of students.  The Wellington branch of the GRC, hosted at Victoria's School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences in the Faculty of Science, was officially launched on 11 February 2009.

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Aramoana/Pourerere Health and Education Programme 2009

30 January 2009
Guardianship of the resources of the sea- Kaitiakitanga o ng rawa a Tangaroa

The recent Aramoana/Pourerere Health and Education Programme 2009 gave Dr Adele Whyte and seven whina mentors the opportunity to travel to Pourerere Beach in central Hawkes Bay. Approximately 70 tamariki (children) and rangatahi (young adults), aged from 6-16 from around the country, participated in a fun filled week that focused on learning about sustainable management and becoming kaitiaki (guardians) of our marine and freshwater environments.  The programme also aimed at motivating rangatahi to become rangatira (leaders) for the future and taught a broad range of life skills including responsibility, respect and leadership.

Shalen, Jonnel, Ramona, Catherine, Darryl, Janice and Kelly, along with Adele organised several activities that illustrated this theme including water conservation, erosion and an estuary survey. These activities not only taught the rpu (group) about the environment but also sparked their interest in science! Highlights included discussing the diversity of the oceans with Catherine, finding baby estuarine snails with Adele, learning from Darryl that soap can affect the sex of fish and making miniature beach models with Ramona.

The whina mentors also had many other opportunities while they were there, including attending a traditional blessing at sunrise, eating crayfish and paua fritters, snorkelling at Te Angiangi marine reserve and sleeping out under the stars. All in all it was a fun trip, and we hope to return next year!

We also got the impression that the tamariki, rangatahi and everyone else enjoyed having us there too.  We received many positive comments and had an enthusiastic response to our quiz based on the days activities.   We were also treated to an impromptu farewell haka followed by hongi (pressing noses) from the rangatahi and tamariki.  This physical demonstration of their love and respect for us was a huge honour which moved some of us to tears.

This event was organised by Te Tai Timu Trust, with support from a large number of groups including: the NZ Police, Ministry of Fisheries, Department of Conservation, Water Safety New Zealand, Central Hawkes Bay District Council and the Faculty of Science, Victoria University of Wellington.  The whina mentors would like to thank Adele (School of Biological Sciences) and Zack Makoare (Program co-ordinator) for organising the trip, all the parents who helped bring our message to the tamariki and rangatahi, and everyone involved for giving us such a fun and memorable experience.

Please contact us if you want to attend future programmes or if you would like to discuss hosting a similar event in your area.
Dr Adele Whyte, address or 04 463 5233 extension 8051


Learning about water conservation with Darryl.

Examining quadrats with Adele.

Developing models for erosion with Ramona.

The Awhina Pourerere Team

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The New Flexible BSc at Victoria University

January 2009
From 2009 Victoria University will be offering a new and more flexible BSc degree. This is the outcome of a three-year evaluation of the degree that provides more flexible study options and clearer pathways to degree completion.  It will also give you the knowledge and skills required for entry into the workforce or to continue on to post-graduate science study.

Main features:

  • All 100-level science courses will be 15 points; all 200 and 300 level science courses will be 15 or 20 points; all field courses taught outside normal teaching time will be 10 points.
  • The School of Psychology and the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences will be introducing changes at all levels in 2009; the School of Biological Sciences, the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research and the School of Engineering and Computer Science will introduce changes over the period 2009 (100-level), 2010 (200-level) and 2011 (300-level).
  • A second major from outside of science will be allowed: you will therefore be able to complete a BSc with a first major in science and a second major from any other degree such as a foreign language or a commerce subject.
  • Majors will now be more consistent to allow double majors, when both from science, to be achieved easily within three years: 60-80 points at 200-level and 60 points at 300-level.
  • You will need at least 210 points at 200- and 300-level, of which 120 points must be science and 75 points from 300-level science.
  • You still require 270 science points in all except when a major from outside of science is included in a programme of study in which case at least 210 science points will be required.
  • A total of 360 points are still required to complete the BSc degree.

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New Schools for the Faculties of Science and Engineering

January 2009
From 2009, Victoria University will establish two new Schools; the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research in the Faculty of Science and the School of Engineering and Computer Science in the Faculty of Engineering.

These two Schools will replace the current School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science in the Faculty of Science.
Professor David Bibby, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Science, Architecture & Design and Engineering, says the split will facilitate the continuing development of Engineering and Computer Science at the University. The Bachelor of Engineering was first offered in 2006.
The new Schools will continue to foster the strong research culture of their disciplines and continue to contribute to research throughout the University.
This change does not affect the range qualifications offered by each School or impact on current students intended qualifications in any way.