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Funding boost for Victoria’s researchers

9 September 2005

Funding boost for Victoria’s researchers

Victoria University staff will lead nine new research projects worth $3.5 million, after receiving grants from the Marsden Fund.

A total of 79 new research projects worth $39.4 million over the next three years were awarded across the country, in the highly competitive programme administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

"Research is fundamental to the mission of universities. It creates new knowledge which our academic staff can then incorporate into teaching and learning. This process is vital to developing our students' critical thinking, communication and leadership skills. These grants recognise the considerable breadth of talented researchers at Victoria," says Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Mackay.

“This week, the University was pleased to confirm that Professor Neil Quigley has been appointed to the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), a new role that will focus on the strategic push to increase research revenue for the University. As well, to further enhance the strong research culture at Victoria we’re planning to increase funding for library services and scholarships.”

Victoria’s academics will lead the following projects: Dr Denis Sullivan, from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, will work with colleagues from Massey University, the University of Canterbury and Auckland University to continue research into finding new solar systems and planets and will also conduct the first census of all types of planets within our galaxy.

Previous research enabled the team to discover an extrasolar planet with a technique known as microlensing – where two stars align by chance with the Earth which results in the gravitational field of the near star acting as a magnifying lens for the distant star.

Because this makes the distant star brighter for a short time, it causes a small blip in the light coming from the star if the star has an orbiting planet. The team will be using a new 1.8m diameter telescope, funded by their Japanese collaborators and is the world’s largest telescope dedicated to microlensing.

[Funding: $900,000] Professor Janet Holmes, from the School of Linguistics & Applied Language Studies (LALS), will be the principal investigator in a study of the language of leadership in Mâori and Pâkehâ organisations. In collaboration with colleagues at Te Puni Kôkiri (The Ministry of Mâori Development) and Dr Meredith Marra (LALS) and Dr Brad Jackson, Director of Victoria’s Centre for the Study of Leadership, Professor Holmes will explore the stereotypes of leadership and explore what effective Mâori leaders do that might be overlooked when their leadership and communication styles are viewed through a mainstream management lens.

[Funding: $506,000]Dr Carolyn Wilshire, from the School of Psychology, will explore the language disorder, nonfluent aphasia, which commonly occurs after a stroke and limits people's speech to strings of only one or two words at a time. Dr Wilshire will explore the underlying brain processes that cause this problem, and in particular will investigate a new theory that the problem might be due to a difficulty deciding between alternative words or ways to express an idea. The results will enable better understanding of the speech problems of individuals with nonfluent aphasia, and ultimately lead to the development of better treatments for this condition.

[Funding: $450,000] Professor Rob Goldblatt, from the School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science, and Associate Professor Edwin Mares, from School of History, Philosophy, Political Science & International Relations, will combine philosophy and mathematics to develop a more philosophically satisfying and mathematically controllable theory of meaning for certain symbolic languages and logical systems that are fundamental to our understanding of how reasoning works. Contact or

[Funding: $465,000] Professor Geoff Whittle, from the School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science, will continue his exploration of matroids (finite geometrical structures). Matroids have applications in computer science and optimisation. The aim of this research project is to resolve some famously difficult, long-standing problems concerning their structure.

[Funding: $525,000] Fast Track Awards ($140,000 each over the next 2 years) Dr Nancy Bertler, from the Antarctic Research Centre, will continue research on ice cores in Antarctica, to determine the impact of greenhouse gases (GHG) on our climate.

Dr Bertler and her collaborators from the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences and the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research will focus on a new ice core recovered from the high accumulation zone on Mt Erebus, which is thought to hold the world's highest resolution GHG record for at least the last millennium.

The team will also employ a new method that allows them to fingerprint the sources of the carbon to better understand and predict the role of the ocean, atmosphere, and the terrestrial biosphere.

Dr Ronald Fischer, from the School of Psychology, will be researching how surveys are interpreted by different cultural groups. Recent evidence shows that individuals from different cultural backgrounds interpret and answer surveys differently. Such response styles are often seen as bias that contaminates answers and leads to misdiagnosis or wrong interpretations. His research will have applications in assessing the well-being and needs of minority groups.

Dr Nicole Phillips, from the School of Biological Sciences, will conduct the first research, in conjunction with a colleague in the United States, on the effects of individual variation of early life stages on community attributes in marine ecosystems. In marine ecosystems, differences among individuals, even at the earliest life stages of microscopic larvae, may have strong impacts on the later success of juveniles and adults.

This research will help ecologists understand how communities of organisms develop and change, by focusing on the role that differences among individuals have made rather than just the numbers of individuals in a community. Dr Phillips’ research will improve general understanding about biodiversity and community dynamics in marine and other ecosystems.

Dr Mengjie Zhang, from the School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science, will investigate methods that help in the development of computer-based classification programmes. Dr Zhang is working with an approach known as 'Genetic Programming', a method that uses computers to automatically build systems for classification, based on ideas similar to biological evolution.

Dr John Townend, from the School of Earth Sciences, will now be studying 'slow earthquakes', where the earthquake fault slips by several centimetres over days or weeks, rather than occurring abruptly. The award will give Dr Townend the opportunity to develop new scientific tools for identifying slow earthquakes from the low frequency sound they generate.

In collaboration with Dr Martin Reyners from GNS Science, he will start by using data from New Zealand's newly established GeoNet monitoring system, which has already detected this type of activity with global positioning system (GPS) instruments.

Victoria’s researchers will also collaborate on a number of other Marsden-funded projects with researchers at other universities and Crown Research Institutes as associate investigators. A full list of research awards is available at

For more information, please contact the individual researchers, or visit


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