‘Waka lab’ among recipients of $14.5m Marsden Fund boost

A ‘waka laboratory’ to sample gas emissions from some of the world’s most inaccessible volcanoes is among 22 Victoria University of Wellington-led projects to receive more than $14.5 million from the Government’s Marsden Fund for innovative thinking by top researchers.

Dr Ian Schipper from the University’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences and Dr Yves Moussallam from the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in France have received $928,000 over three years to lead an international team that will build a mobile waka observatory.

Partnering with Māori and Melanesian voyaging societies, the team will sail the world-first ‘waka lab’ close to active land-based and underwater volcanoes in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

They will launch aerial drones and ocean submersibles from the waka to collect samples to help identify potentially hazardous volcanoes and increase our understanding of the environmental impacts of volcanic gases, including on climate change.

Other Victoria University of Wellington-led projects supported in the 2018 Marsden Fund round include ones to:

  • Develop an ‘immune system’ for computers through software tools that ensure programs are secure from external bugs and breaches
  • Investigate whether self-harm among New Zealand youth leads to suicidal thought and behaviour or vice versa
  • Research the evaluation culture and practice in New Zealand’s public service and identify potential improvements
  • Transform understanding of the foundations of New Zealand’s legal system by examining the influence of Scottish, rather than English, law
  • Look at how subtle genetic differences create diverse and useful chemical compounds in fungi, with a view to tailor-making compounds with medicinal uses.

The Marsden Fund is administered by Royal Society Te Apārangi. The University’s researchers are leading 17 Standard grant projects (worth up to $960,000 over three years) and five Fast-Start grant projects (worth $300,000 over three years).

The University also has four researchers who are part of Marsden Fund-supported projects being led at other institutions.

Professor Margaret Hyland, the University’s Vice-Provost (Research), says the University’s strong performance in the Marsden Fund reflects its commitment to world-leading and world-changing research, and its position as New Zealand’s top-ranked university for research quality.

“We had a higher-than-average success rate for our applications overall and for our Standard grant applications. This funding enables our researchers to lead projects that will have a profound impact on social, environmental and economic wellbeing in New Zealand and internationally. This is a fundamental goal of Victoria University of Wellington as a global-civic capital city university.”

Professor Hyland adds that the number of projects incorporating mātauranga Māori reflects another focus of the University, “where researchers recognise how such thinking and knowledge can expand the horizons of their research and enhance our understanding of the world around us”.

The University’s full list of researchers leading projects supported in the 2018 Marsden Fund round are:


Professor Astrid an Huef (School of Mathematics and Statistics), co-leading with Professor Iain Raeburn (School of Mathematics and Statistics), Through the looking glass: sharpening the classification program through implications for operator algebras of graphs and groupoids, $680,000

Dr Chris Bumby (Robinson Research Institute), co-leading with Dr Rod Badcock (Robinson Research Institute), Over-critical currents in a superconducting dynamo, $808,000

Professor Jackie Cumming (Health Services Research Centre), co-leading with Dr Jenny Neale (Health Services Research Centre), Understanding the 'black box' of evaluation culture and practice in New Zealand, $827,000

Professor Susy Frankel (School of Law), co-leading with Dr Jessica Lai (School of Accounting and Commercial Law), “Mission Creep” in the Pharmaceutical Industry and its Impact on Innovation and Health, $622,000

Dr Monica Gerth (School of Biological Sciences), Excuse me, can you show me the way? Microbial chemotaxis and survival in the phyllosphere, $939,000

Dr Nikki Hessell (School of Film, Theatre, and Media Studies), Sensitive Negotiations: Indigenous Diplomacy and British Romantic Poetry, $563,000

Associate Professor Joanna Kidman (School of Education), co-leading with Dr Vincent O’Malley (HistoryWorks Ltd), He Taonga te Wareware?: Remembering and Forgetting Difficult Histories in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, $859,000

Associate Professor Robert McKay (Antarctic Research Centre), Antarctic Ice Sheet interactions with the ocean during past warm climates, $960,000

Professor James Noble (School of Engineering and Computer Science), OCRA: Object Capabilities for Robust Applications in the Open World, $679,000

Professor Emily Parker (Ferrier Research Institute), Molecular Basis of Diterpene Chemical Diversity, $934,000

Associate Professor Wayne Patrick (School of Biological Sciences), Enzyme evolution in the context of cellular metabolism, $939,000

Dr Ian Schipper (School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences), co-leading with Dr Yves Moussallam (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France), Navigating a Sea of Bias in the Study of Volcanic Gas Emissions: He Waka Eke Noa, $928,000

Dr Nick Strickland (Robinson Research Institute), An ion-beam engineered microstructure for high-performance superconducting films, $901,000

Dr Inge van Rij (New Zealand School of Music—Te Kōkī), Hidden women on the public stage: Gender and culture in the nineteenth-century symphony orchestra, $614,000

Dr Valerie Wallace (School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations), Scots Law and British Colonialism, $378,000

Professor Geoff Whittle (School of Mathematics and Statistics), Structure theory for matroids representable over infinite fields, $659,000

Professor Marc Wilson (School of Psychology), Understanding the puzzling relationship between non-suicidal, and suicidal, thoughts and behaviours, $827,000

FAST-START (all $300,000)

Dr Lynzi Armstrong (School of Social and Cultural Studies), Stigma, discrimination and sex work laws: an international comparative study

Dr Mark Calcott (School of Biological Sciences), Development of large-scale substitution approaches to engineer non-ribosomal peptide synthetase enzymes

Dr Rolando Coto Solano (School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies), Development of Tonal Metacognition in Vietnamese and Me’phaa

Dr Jenni Hopkins (School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences), Cryptotephra: unearthing hidden eruptions from Taupo Volcanic Zone

Dr Martino Lupini (School of Mathematics and Statistics), Logic and C*-algebras

Associate Professor Rhonda Shaw from the School of Cultural and Social Studies is co-leading and Professor Monica Gerth from the School of Biological Sciences, Dr Kevin Norton from the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences and Professor John Townend from the same school are assistant investigators on other institutions’ projects.