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Prestigious Marsden Fund backs Otago’s excellent research

Thursday 25 October 2012

Prestigious Marsden Fund backs Otago’s excellent research

University of Otago researchers have gained more than $15M in new government funding for 22 world-class research projects at the frontiers of knowledge in their fields.

Their innovative projects are being supported through the Royal Society of New Zealand-administered Marsden Fund, which is regarded as a hallmark of excellence that allows New Zealand’s best researchers to explore their ideas. For the eighth successive year, Otago researchers have gained the largest share of funding available through this annual round.

Researchers from across the University’s four divisions of Commerce, Health Sciences, Humanities and Sciences will lead the new projects, which include 15 standard projects and seven ‘Fast-Start’ projects designed to support outstanding researchers early in their careers.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie warmly congratulated Otago’s successful applicants in the highly competitive annual round, which saw only 7.7% of the 1113 preliminary proposals nationally eventually securing funding.

“I am delighted that the world-class quality of all these Otago research proposals has been recognised by the Marsden funding panels. The number of Fast-Starts is particularly pleasing as these up-and-coming researchers are set to be among the University’s future research leaders,” Professor Blaikie says.

The 22 projects address a diverse range of topics, reflecting the breadth and depth of Otago’s research, he says.

Researchers from the University’s Departments of Anatomy, Biochemistry, Economics, English, Geography, Mathematics & Statistics, Marine Science, Philosophy, Physics, Physiology, Psychology, Women’s and Children’s Health, and Zoology will lead projects.

“Their research initiatives seek to generate important new insights regarding fundamental questions in areas spanning much of the realm of human knowledge. In many cases, these researchers are also working towards tangible outcomes that promise to bring benefits to New Zealanders.

“For example, one project aims to work towards a better understanding of the Universe’s geometry, while another involves gaining insights into how city-dwelling children can best be supported to develop and maintain their connections with nature to improve their health and well-being.”

One project will delve into the fascinating properties of ultra-cold atoms, while several others are aimed at paving the way for quantum computing, invisibility cloaking, and several tantalising nanotechnologies to become realities. A number of projects involve clarifying various key aspects of plant, animal and human fertility and reproduction, while others seek to advance basic biomedical knowledge in areas such breast cancer and bone health.

Several projects involve gaining an improved understanding of brain anatomy, physiology or neural circuitry. One of these will investigate whether chronic stress causes serious brain function deficits in bees and may play a role in the disturbing world-wide phenomenon of honeybee colony collapse disorder.

Developing computer models to estimate the power able to be generated from arrays of tidal turbines in locations such as Cook Strait is also among the projects, as is an attempt to discover what may be behind several types of pay gaps in New Zealand. A further two projects aim to provide new insights into past cultures in Asia and Europe respectively, while another explores a new mathematical approach to resolving logical paradoxes in philosophical theories.


Otago’s Marsden recipients

(Please note only Otago principal investigators and co-principal investigators at Otago are listed)

Dr Greg Anderson (Anatomy)
Overcoming anxiety: the neuroendocrine strategy of new mothers
$975,000 over three years

Dr Nancy Beavan (Anatomy)
“Living in the shadow of Angkor”: Responses and strategies of upland social groups to polity demise in the late-to post-Angkor period
$720,000 over three years

Professor David Bilkey (Psychology)
Brain mechanisms of self control
$800,000 over three years

Professor Richard Blaikie (Physics)
Engineering optical near fields: principles and techniques for applications in sensing and lithography
$910,000 over three years

Associate Professor P Blair Blakie (Physics)
Thermal dynamics of a spinor condensate
$940,000 over three years

Dr Lynette Brownfield (Biochemistry)
The role of asymmetric division in male germ line specification in flowering plants
$ 345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

Dr Anita Dunbier (Biochemistry)
Hormonal regulation of immune cells: does anti-hormone therapy inadvertently fuel cancer?
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

Associate Professor Claire Freeman (Geography)
Natural neighbourhoods for city children
$430,000 over three years
Co-Principal Investigator: Dr Yolanda van Heezik (Zoology)

Professor David Grattan (Anatomy)
Mechanism of hormone entry across the blood-brain barrier
$975,000 over three years

Dr Jörg Hennig (Mathematics & Statistics)
Causality and cosmological models in general relativity
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

Professor Allan Herbison (Physiology)
Recording the electrical activity of GnRH neurons in vivo
$975,000 over three years
Co-Principal Investigator Dr Stephanie Constantin (Physiology)

Dr Martin Krkosek (Zoology)
Cycling salmon: Integrating theory and data of spatial population dynamics
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

Dr Jevon Longdell (Physics)
Efficient conversion of individual microwave photons to individual optical photons
$930,000 over three years

Dr Richard Macknight (Biochemistry)
Molecular understanding of flowering time regulation in legumes
$910,000 over three years

Professor Alison Mercer (Zoology)
En garde! The development of a stress response in bees and its impact on learning and memory
$910,000 over three years
Co- Principal Investigator: Dr Elodie Urlacher (Visiting Research Fellow, Zoology)

Professor Stephen Robertson (Women’s & Child Health)
Feeling gravity in your bones - characterising a molecular sensor of force
$975,000 over three years

Dr Patrice Rosengrave (Anatomy)
How do males adjust their sperm quality in response to social cues?
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

Professor Steven Stillman (Economics)
Mind the gap? Worker productivity and pay gaps between similar workers in New Zealand
$800,000 over three years

Dr Robert Thompson (Mathematics & Statistics)
Transformation optics: the science of cloaking
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

Professor Evelyn Tribble (English)
Ecologies of Skill in Early Modern England
$485,000 over three years

Dr Ross Vennell (Marine Science)
A scaling law for a renewable energy resource: Is Giga-Watt output from tidal turbine farms realistic?
$940,000 over three years

Dr Zach Weber (Philosophy)
Models of Paradox in Non-Classical Mereotopology
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)


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