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What will the wasp plague be like this year?

31 Jan 2017 - 15:25 in Interesting

New research from Victoria University of Wellington has revealed the population of the common wasp is amplified by spring weather, with warmer and drier springs often meaning more wasps and wasp stings in summer.

The study, published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology, examined 23 years of data from New Zealand and 39 years from the United Kingdom, which included the annual Rothamsted Insect Survey.wasp-web.jpg

“We saw different populations exposed to different weather conditions, which substantially influenced population numbers. The patterns typically show lower numbers of wasps after cold, wet springs, and higher numbers after warm, dry springs,” says lead author Professor Phil Lester from Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences.

“This year we’ve had a really wet spring in many areas across New Zealand. These places that have seen a lot of spring rainfall could expect lower numbers of wasps than average this summer.”

Professor Lester says climate change could considerably increase wasp numbers.

“The average global temperature is rising each year. We are therefore likely to see more wasp abundance in the future as our weather gets warmer.

“We saw this at Rothamsted in the United Kingdom. The area experienced a change in climate in the 1990s, and its warmer spring weather has resulted in considerably higher numbers of wasps.”

The study also found population densities for the upcoming year are heavily dependent on numbers from the previous year.

“If we saw a high abundance of wasps in one year, numbers are likely to be lower in the following year,” explains co-author Dr John Haywood from Victoria’s School of Mathematics and Statistics.

“This is a relatively common way that insect populations change over time. We also determined that wasp populations don’t ‘cycle’—we can’t predict the abundance of wasps three, four or more years from now based on their current numbers. There is no predictable rise and fall of numbers over the long term.”

The invasive common wasp is a native species in the United Kingdom and became established in New Zealand in the 1970s. The insect is a major pest in both countries—in New Zealand it has been estimated to cost the economy in excess of $130 million each year.

Other authors on the study are Dr Michael Archer from York and Chris Shortall from Rothamsted Research, both in the United Kingdom.

The study was supported by the Marsden Fund managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand, as well as New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, for which Professor Lester leads research into novel pest control technologies.

For more information contact Professor Phil Lester on 021 243 5096 or .

Radio NZ: Interview "Our Changing World"

27 Jan 2017 - 16:36 in Interesting

Mark McGuinness was approached by Alison Ballance of Radio New Zealand to talk about his research on Cooking Crispy Cereals and the Freezing of Antarctic Sea Ice, in a short interview that was broadcast on “Our Changing World” on Thursday 13 October 2016 at 9:05pm.

Listen in if you would to find out how little encouragement Mark needs to talk at some length about his work! And if you want to hear about how ubiquitous the diffusion equation can be!

Postdoctoral fellow awarded Stieltjes Prize for 2015

27 Jan 2017 - 15:58 in Achievement

A postdoctoral fellow from Victoria’s School of Mathematics and Statistics has been awarded the Stieltjes Prize for 2015, which recognises the best PhD in Mathematics in the Netherlands.

Rutger Kuyper was awarded the prize for his thesis entitled Computability, Probability and Logic, which examines the interplay between these three subfields of mathematics. His thesis consists of three parts: computability and logic, algorithmic randomness and how logical reasoning can be combined with intuitive probabilistic reasoning.

The Stieltjes Prize has been awarded annually since 1996. Thomas Stieltjes was a nineteenth century Dutch mathematician whose name is associated with a number of mathematical discoveries.

Dr Kuyper completed his PhD at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, under the supervision of Dr Sebastiaan Terwijn. Dr Kuyper’s thesis committee included Victoria’s Professor Rod Downey.

Dr Kuyper’s research at Victoria focuses on computability theory, with an emphasis on algorithmic randomness. He says Victoria is a great place to carry out this research, as there is a strong group of researchers working in algorithmic randomness.

Originally from Haarlem, the Netherlands, Dr Kuyper previously spent a year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He plans to spend a year in Wellington before returning to Wisconsin.

Mathematician receives Humboldt Prize

07 Dec 2016 - 12:25 in Achievement

Victoria University Professor of Mathematics Rod Downey has received a distinguished Humboldt Research Award for his academic contributions.

Rod.jpgGranted annually by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, the award recognises a researcher's achievements to date and is given to academics whose fundamental discoveries, new theories or insights have had a significant impact and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future. It is valued at EUR 60,000 (NZD $90,000).

Professor Downey from Victoria’s School of Mathematics and Statistics is a leading expert in theory of computation, particularly the relationship between algebraic and descriptive complexity versus algorithmic complexity.

Professor Downey is the third New Zealander to receive the award, but the first mathematician from New Zealand and the first from Victoria University.

Just last month Professor Downey was awarded his seventh Marsden Fund grant as Principal Investigator. This puts him among an elite group of researchers to consistently win funding over many years.

“Professor Downey is a mathematical pioneer whose work has shaped research in a fundamentally important field—determining the limits of what is computable, the effectiveness of algorithms and clarifying our notion of what is random as opposed to deterministic,” says Dr Peter Donelan, Head of Victoria’s School of Mathematics and Statistics.

“Having someone of Professor Downey’s calibre at the University has made it a magnet for some of the finest minds around the world, and it is a fitting acknowledgement that he joins some of the great names of mathematics of the last 50 years in being a Humboldt Award recipient.”

Professor Downey plans to visit Germany to work with colleagues from Heidelberg University who nominated him for the award.

Next year several events are being held to celebrate Professor Downey’s 60th birthday, including a symposium in Wellington and a month-long programme Singapore.

Victoria student awarded prestigious Woolf Fisher scholarship

07 Oct 2016 - 11:47 in Achievement

A Victoria University of Wellington student has been awarded a prestigious Woolf Fisher Trust scholarship worth around $300,000 for his doctoral study at the University of Cambridge.

ls medium.jpgHonours student Liam Jolliffe will travel to Cambridge in the United Kingdom to study for a PhD in Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics.

Sir Woolf Fisher (1912-1975), co-founder of Fisher and Paykel, set up his Trust in 1960 to recognise and reward excellence in education. The Scholarship selects young New Zealanders based on their outstanding academic ability, leadership potential as well as their integrity, vision and capacity for work.

Liam studied at Wairarapa College before coming to Victoria to complete a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Physics.

In his time at Victoria he has won numerous awards for academic excellence, including the Geoffrey A Rowan Memorial Bursary prize awarded to the best 300-level mathematics student, the Pablo Etchegoin Prize in Experimental Physics, and a Victoria Graduate Award in 2015.

Liam, a keen footballer and saxophonist, says he sees his future in academia.

“I will complete a Master of Advanced Studies at Cambridge, before transitioning to the PhD programme.

“I chose my degree at Victoria with no particular path in mind—I was just following my curiosity as I wanted to learn more about how the world works. Now, I see my future career in academia. Research will ensure I am challenged and engaged in interesting new material, and teaching will allow me to pass on my love for mathematics. I hope to return to Wellington and Victoria University later in my career.”

Liam has been studying algebraic matroids in his Honours research project, says Dr Dillon Mayhew from Victoria's School of Mathematics and Statistics.

"This area of mathematics is notoriously difficult to grasp, but Liam has quite quickly clarified the connections between two different ways of viewing these objects. No doubt his study at Cambridge will be equally successful."

Sir Noel Robinson, Chairman of the Woolf Fisher Trust, says, “We are delighted that we have had such a strong field shortlisted for this year’s scholarships. They each bring a range of strengths and research interests. And most importantly, they embody the characteristics envisaged by Sir Woolf when he established the scholarship. We will follow their progress with great pride and great interest.”

Creativity Scholarships 2016 for Undergraduate Students

07 Sep 2016 - 14:15 in Interesting

These scholarships have been set up as part of the Cultivating Creative Capital work. There are 5 scholarships of 2000 dollars each. The scholarships will be awarded to students who have distinguished themselves for thinking outside the box and taking a creative approach to their studies.

The scholarships will be awarded at a dinner on November 23. The deadline is just over a month away.

Please refer to this flyer for more information

New Degree Programme Student Wins Scholarship

14 Jun 2016 - 15:32 in Achievement

A Victoria University student who will be among the first people in New Zealand to graduate in actuarial science has been awarded the 2016 Cigna Actuarial Scholarship.

Please refer to this link for full story:

New Professor Explores Multiplicity of Mathematics

04 Apr 2016 - 16:25 in Research

The freezing of sea ice and exploding rocks in volcanoes may not sound like things a mathematician would worry about, but a newly-appointed Professor says mathematics has taken him on a 40-year academic journey of discovery.Mark.jpg

As part of his inaugural lecture held 5 April 2016 to mark his professorial promotion, Victoria University of Wellington Professor Mark McGuiness will shed light on some of the interesting puzzles he has faced during his career.

“I studied physics and worked my way through to applied and industrial mathematics,” says Professor McGuinness. “I’ve had the good fortune to work on a range of problems, including how to cook crispy cereals, how fast sea ice freezes, and why volcanic eruptions are sometimes very lumpy.”

During the lecture Professor McGuinness will outline how mathematics provided the tools to solve these problems.

In July, Professor McGuinness is codirecting Mathematics in Industry New Zealand 2016, a forum for researchers to look at applying mathematics, statistics, physics and engineering principles to problems brought by local businesses and industry.

From a young age he was interested in solving puzzles and problems, says Professor McGuinness.

“This curiosity continues to drive my research today. It’s really rewarding brainstorming and then solving a problem. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in problem solving to consider mathematics in their studies or as a career.”

Rod Downey Founder of International Conference series CCR

10 Mar 2016 - 16:54 in Research

Rod Downey is a founder, with Veronica Becher in (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Denis Hirschfeldt (Chicago), of the international conference series Computability, Complexity and Randomness (CCR), first held in 2004 and an annual event since 2007.

Rod is also on the conference series steering committee.

The 2016 meeting was recently held in Honolulu and Rod will be co-editor of the proceedings, due to appear in the journal Theory of Computing Systems. Among the invited speakers at the meeting were current postdoctoral fellow Linda Brown Westrick and lecturer Dan Turetsky - further evidence of the strength of Victoria University in this exciting research area.

A local tv show was made about the CCR conference in Hawaii and can be seen here:

MINZ 2016

09 Mar 2016 - 16:10 in Event

Mathematics in Industry New Zealand 2016

4-8 July 2016, at Victoria University of Welington.

Co-Director: Prof Mark McGuinness

Please come and join us at Victoria University of Wellington to solve interesting and vital industry challenges to help New Zealand businesses innovate and grow. The meeting is centered around a number of brainstorming problem-solving working groups, applying mathematics, statistics, physics and engineering principles to real problems brought by local businesses and industry.

More soon on the actual problems for this year. Free registration.

To express interest, contact

For more information please click on this link MINZ 2016, or look at the website

There are some fascinating comments about these Study Groups on the YouTube clip