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Victoria researchers gain funding boost

7 September 2006

Victoria researchers gain funding boost

Victoria University researchers have been given a significant funding boost, picking up funding worth almost $4.7 million for 11 new research projects from the Marsden Fund.

The Minister of Research, Science & Technology, the Hon Steve Maharey, announced the recipients of this year’s funding allocation at Victoria University’s Kelburn Campus today.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Neil Quigley, congratulated the successful Victoria researchers on their achievements.

“The number of projects our researchers will be leading, as well as the value of the grants, has grown significantly in the last year. The increase in funding is the fruit of Victoria’s strategic initiative to increase research revenue. Since 2000, Victoria has increased its external research income by 227 percent, reaching $22.6 million in 2005, with a target of $40 million by the end of the decade.”

Professor Quigley also welcomed the wide diversity of successful research projects.

“As well as Victoria’s established strengths in the sciences, it is heartening to see the wide scope of grants awarded in areas as diverse as art history, politics, philosophy and management. This not only reflects the vibrant research culture at Victoria but also the University’s initiatives in providing internal research grants.

“Victoria’s strategy recognises that enhancing our research culture needs to be fostered at all levels. As well as support and grants for new and emerging researchers – who receive mentoring in preparing funding applications – we have also increased funding for the University Library and for scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate students.”

A total of 78 new research projects worth $39 million over the next three years were awarded across the country, in the highly competitive programme administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Victoria’s academics will lead the following projects:

Professor Paul Callaghan, Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials & Nanotechnology in the School of Chemical & Physical Sciences, has received funding of $900,000 over three years to examine new horizons in the nuclear magnetic resonance of complex soft matter. The grant is second largest issued in this funding round. Using nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, optics and the science of mechanical deformation, Professor Callaghan’s team will study changes in synthetic, soft materials as they are continuously deformed, unlocking secrets of molecular motion, organisation and structure. Contact: or 04 463 5945.

Associate Professor Pablo Etchegoin, from the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials & Nanotechnology in the School of Chemical & Physical Sciences, has been awarded $735,000 over three years to examine vibrational pumping in ultra-sensitive laser spectroscopy. SERS is an ultra-sensitive spectroscopy technique, which can detect minute quantities of molecules. Under the right conditions, it is thought that SERS might be able to detect just one molecule – the ultimate analytical tool. The team will use their grant to develop a way of calibrating the SERS technique; by creating vibrations in molecules with a laser. Contact: or 04 463 6681

Dr Peter Brunt, Senior Lecturer in the School of Art History, Classics & Religious Studies, has been awarded $480,230 over three years to investigate a new history of art in Oceania. The project will result in a book that redresses current omissions from texts on Oceanic art reflecting the cultural renaissance and thriving debate across the Pacific spanning issues of culture, identity and tradition. Contact: or 04 463 5805.

Dr Jeff Shima, Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences, has been awarded $794,338 over three years to investigate how extreme environmental differences necessitates a novel conceptual framework for large marine populations. Populations of marine reef organisms are linked by the movement of their larvae. The larvae can be lost by their parental population, and be captured by a distant one. Using the ear bones of larval fish, the team will pinpoint geographic origin, and place the data in an ocean physics and biology-based computer simulation to explore the connections between fragmented marine populations. Contact: or 04 463 6494

Associate Professor Joel Baker, from the School of Geography, Environment & Earth Sciences, has been awarded $630,000 over three years, to investigate the first million years of the Solar System. Associate Professor Baker’s team will develop novel methods to establish a high-resolution timescale for planet and comet formation in the infant Solar System. Meteorites that could not previously be analysed will be dated to an unprecedented resolution. Contact: or 04 463 5493.

Professor Matt Visser, from the School of Mathematics, Statistics & Computer Science, has been awarded $457,011 over three years to investigate analogue models of curved space time. The mathematics of sound in a supersonic wind is surprisingly similar to the maths of light falling into a black hole. Mathematicians and physicists are beginning to think about ‘acoustic black holes’’ – and these models are analogues for the curved space time of Einstein’s general relativity. The team will look for other possible analogues, extend them until they ‘break’, and look beyond traditional mathematical framework for Einstein’s general relativity. In developing these analogue space times, they believe may throw light on other cosmological mysteries and find a back door approach to ‘quantum gravity’. Contact: or 04 463 5115.

Fast Start Awards ($140,000 over two years)
Dr Devon Polaschek, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology, will investigate dangerous thinking and whether hidden beliefs predict risk and change in violent people. Most studies have examined the likelihood of violent offenders reoffending by simply asking them what they think. But is it in their interest to speak truthfully and do we know when they are lying? This project uses novel techniques to uncover hidden thinking, thinking that is hard to fake, and thinking that may help lead to a better understanding of the link between attitudes, violence, and rehabilitation. Contact: or 04 463 5768

Dr Sally Riad, Senior Lecturer in the Victoria Management School, will be investigating the use of discourse theory to approach organisational mergers. How do the differences between merging companies become problematic rather than constructive? How can integration be smoothed to encourage powerful and productive mergers? What are the key factors affecting the process – and how can a better understanding lead to a more constructive merger experience for everyone involved. Contact: or 04 463 5079.

Dr Sondra Bacharach, Lecturer in the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science & International Relations, will be examining groups, art and interpretation. How do groups of artists collectively produce a single artwork? How do we interpret art produced in this way? Do we fully appreciate the social way the artwork was produced? Dr Bacharach will develop a new theory of art interpretation that accounts for the collective nature of such art, bridging a gap between art history, philosophy and art itself. Contact: or 04 463 5178

Dr Andrew Mackintosh, Lecturer in the School of Geography, Environment & Earth Sciences, will be investigating whether temperature or precipitation drives Southern Hemisphere glacier fluctuations. Glaciers are sensitive indicators of changing temperature and rainfall. Using numerical modelling they will reconstruct the glaciers of New Zealand and Tasmania of the last 30,000 years, giving them a unique perspective on the changing climate of the region. Contact or 04 463 6193.

Dr David Capie, Lecturer in the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science & International Relations, will be examining socialisation in Asia-Pacific security institutions. When humans engage in social interaction they rarely emerged unchanged. Is the same true of different nations? Do their attitudes and interest change when nations take part in different international forums? Using approaches to counter-terrorism as an exemplar, Dr Capie will investigate how and why Asian states changed their attitudes and approaches despite a lack of obvious benefit. Contact: or 04 463 7483.

In addition to the Victoria recipients, several researchers at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, an independent biomedical research centre based at Victoria’s Kelburn Campus, were also successful in gaining grants. They were:

Professor Graham Le Gros, Director of the Malaghan Institute and a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, and Professor Franca Rochese, also from the Malaghan Institute, will be examining T-cells and the immune system. Control of allergy and auto-immune disease is a major quest of immunology. Immune system T-cells can get involved in inflammatory or allergic responses, depending on how they develop. The team will manipulate the chemical environment of T cells making this decision, and develop a protocol for changing their fate – to become mediators of either inflammatory or allergic reactions. Contact: or 04 499 6914 ext 828

In addition, two Victoria staff in the School of Chemical & Physical Sciences, have also been awarded grants through Crown research institute, Industrial Research Ltd. They are:

Professor Jeff Tallon will be investigating quantum fluid in high-temperature superconductors? High temperature superconductors aren’t fully understood. As they heat up, electrons interact with each other, the atomic lattice and magnetic moments to create a ‘quantum soup’ that changes dramatically from one ordered state to another. The team will use all sorts of different conditions and measurements to determine the real nature of this ‘soup’. Contact: or 04 931 3000 or 04 463 5233 extn 8707

Dr Shaun Hendy will be examining the precursors to melting in extremely small participles or nanoparticles. How do metal nanoparticles melt? Because of their minute size, they may not melt in a smooth, continuous process. Using theory, computer modelling and experimentation the team will investigate, potentially giving them a new way to control nanoparticle structure.


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