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$5.4m Marsden funding boost for Massey researchers

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
$5.4m Marsden funding boost for Massey researchers

Eleven research projects led by Massey staff have been awarded a total of $5.4m in funding over the next three years from the Marsden Fund administered by the Royal Society.

The society today announced $54m in total funding for leading-edge research projects in the sciences, engineering, maths and information sciences, social sciences and humanities, mostly to universities but also to crown research institutes.

Massey was awarded seven Marsden Grants and four Fast Start grants, which are designed to support outstanding researchers early in their careers.

Marsden Fund Council chairman Dr Garth Carnaby says the funded projects have been thoroughly reviewed internationally and are of excellent quality.

“The fund sits at the discovery end of New Zealand’s research spectrum, allowing our best researchers freedom to explore their own ideas,” Dr Carnaby says. “It represents a government investment in the creation of cutting edge knowledge through scholarly research.”

Last year, the University received eight new research projects led by University staff and four Fast Start projects for emerging researchers, with funding totalling $5.86m over three years.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Warrington says Marsden grants are awarded in a highly-competitive environment and those receiving these prestigious awards can be very proud of their achievements.

"The significant number of grants awarded both to established and to new staff at Massey reflects very well on the continued high standards of research being undertaken at the University."

Marsden grants:

Professor Nigel French, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, receives $740,000 for a project entitled Cows, Starlings and Campylobacter in New Zealand: unifying phylogeny and epidemiology to gain insight into pathogen evolution.
The introduction of European wildlife and livestock into New Zealand has provided us with a unique opportunity to study the evolution of a globally important human pathogen: Campylobacter jejuni. Using analytical tools developed by our research team and detailed laboratory studies including whole genome sequencing, we aim to exploit the newly-discovered host specificity of C. jejuni strains and the historical separation of both host and bacterial populations, to improve our understanding of C. jejuni evolution. Ultimately we can learn why C. jejuni emerged to become such a prominent pathogen, anticipate further evolution and restrict emergence and spread of new strains.

Professor Paul Rainey, Institute of Molecular Biosciences, receives $880,000 for The evolution of multicellularity.
The origin of multicellularity is one of the most perplexing and exciting problems in biology. Recent empirical work has led to recognition of shortcomings with existing theory. Together the applicants have formulated a radically new theory which shows that tension among levels of selection can fuel (rather than impede) transitions in individuality. A key realisation is that the fitness of higher and lower levels is intimately linked so that cells at each level can be considered different stages of a life cycle. This proposal seeks to extend recent theory, test key predictions and experimentally recreate an evolutionary transition.

Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, Institute of Fundamental Sciences, receive $740,000 for the project The variation of fundamental constants in space-time.
Fundamental constants like the speed of light, Planck constant or gravitational constant play defining roles in physics and chemistry. Modern theories attempting to unify all four fundamental forces of nature suggest that all fundamental constants may vary in space and time. The search for such small variations currently constitutes one of the most exciting areas of physics. For further progress in this area it is important to find enhanced effects of the variation of fundamental constants. We therefore want to find suitable molecules, perform calculations and stimulate new searches of the variation effects both in cosmic and laboratory molecular spectra.

Professor Martin Hazelton, Institute of Fundamental Sciences, receives $310,000 for his project New tools for statistical inference for network-based transportation models.
Network-based models of road traffic systems underpin a vast array of transport management and planning activities. In practice they must be calibrated for the traffic system under consideration, giving rise to a wide range of statistical inference problems. The most readily available type of data for fitting transport models comprises traffic counts on a set of network links. However, these do not uniquely determine the route flows, leading to a statistical linear inverse problem structure. By focusing on this common structure, our aim is to develop improved tools for inference with wide applicability in transportation science.

Dr Carlo Laing, Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences, receives $454,000 for his study into Complexity reduction in neural models.
Recent advances have led to increasingly detailed models of neuronal networks. These models are time-consuming to simulate, and understanding their "essence" is difficult. Recently-developed
"equation-free" (EF) methods enable one to analyse and efficiently simulate complex, multi-scale systems. We aim to use EF methods to analyse several neural models, including the complex respiratory neural network. The techniques involved include identification of low-dimensional variable(s) which describe the macroscopic dynamics of the network, and bifurcation analysis in terms of these variables. Our goal is to provide an understanding of such networks that cannot be found in any other way.

Professor Mick Roberts, Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences, receives $462,000 for his project entitled Modelling a virus.
Viruses multiply and evolve within their hosts. A virus is in conflict with its host's immune system. Transmission of a virus to a new host, even one of the same species, introduces it to a different environment and different selection pressures. Transmission of a virus between hosts of different species may result in unexpected consequences for host or virus. Mathematical models will describe the within-host evolution and between-host transmission of a virus. Thought experiments carried out on the models will reveal how the virus's characteristics and environment determine how it spreads. The results will be related to HIV and influenza.

Professor Kerry Chamberlain, School of Psychology, receive $645,000 for their study Social meanings of medication.
Medications abound in contemporary society, and many people believe there is 'a pill for every ill'. This project explores the social meanings of medications and their use within everyday life in domestic settings. Specifically, we will sample three types of households, those containing: younger children; people with chronic illness; and users of alternative medications. Information will be sought through interviews, discussions, observations, diaries and photographic tasks, and from the contents of first aid kits and medicine cabinets. Our aims are to discern what medications are present, their pathways through such households, their symbolic meanings, and social practices involving their use.

Fast Start grants:

Dr Wayne Patrick, Institute of Molecular Biosciences, receives $300,000 for his study Where do new enzymes come from.
All species must adapt to survive in changing environments; however, the molecular mechanisms that underlie adaptation are poorly understood. My goal is to understand a key aspect of adaptation: the origins and evolution of new enzymes. Here, I propose to use the high-throughput tools of functional genomics and in vitro evolution to observe the emergence of hundreds of new enzymes in the model organism, Escherichia coli. This work will provide unique genome- and proteome-wide insights into the fundamental biological processes of adaptive molecular evolution, as well as into applied problems such as the evolution of antibiotic resistance.

Dr Steffen Lippert, Department of Commerce, receives $300,000 for Venture capitalists and intellectual property.
Venture capitalists (VCs) often finance early stage innovations that are too preliminary for patent protection, and are kept secret instead. This secrecy provides VCs with an information advantage, inducing stronger incentives for them to invest into innovations than for traditional players.
Therefore, the common wisdom suggesting that better intellectual property (IP) protection fosters innovation may be wrong, implying that policy-making could benefit from economic research on the link between IP protection and VC financing. Hence, we propose to use economic modelling to investigate this link and to test our predictions empirically, aiming at sound theory-based policy recommendations for fostering innovation.

Dr Leigh Signal, Sleep/Wake Research Centre, receives $300,000 for Waking up can be hard to do: unravelling the dynamics of sleep inertia.
How the brain transitions in and out of sleep remains a fundamental unsolved mystery of neurobiology. On awakening, consciousness returns before full waking function. The poor performance and grogginess experienced in this transitional period is known as sleep inertia. Two studies will be conducted that systematically manipulate the factors affecting the magnitude and time course of sleep inertia after short periods of sleep at different times of the day and night. The proposed research will significantly advance basic scientific understanding of dynamics of sleep inertia and is directly relevant to the issue of workplace napping in safety critical settings.

Dr Ingrid Horrocks, Department of English and Media Studies, receives $220,000 for her study Reluctant wanderers: women re-imagine the margins, 1775-1800.
This project will explore how and why the figure of the female wanderer became important in late eighteenth-century British literary culture. There is a significant understudied corpus of literary texts from the last three decades of the eighteenth-century that foreground this figure. "Reluctant
Wanderers" will analyse the uses to which the figure of the wanderer is put in texts by Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Smith, Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe and other women writers, critically examining their content, context and formal attributes to reveal a uniquely female contribution to wide-ranging debates about the nature of sympathy, community and social exclusion.


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