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University of Otago Recognises its Outstanding Researchers

University recognises its outstanding early-career researchers

The impressive contributions of seven up-and-coming University of Otago academics have been recognised through the University’s annual Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research.

Dr Tilman Davies (Mathematics and Statistics), Dr Bill Hawkins (Chemistry), Dr Tobias Langlotz (Information Science), Dr James Scott (Geology), Dr Nic Rawlence (Zoology), Dr Jesse Wall (Law), and Dr Ting Wang (Mathematics and Statistics) are all receiving the honour.

Announcing the awards, Professor Richard Blaikie (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise) says each of the recipients have distinguished themselves impressively in their academic spheres over a short period of time.

“We are extremely proud of each of them – they are exemplary scholars pursuing important new knowledge in their respective fields,” Professor Blaikie says.

Their research areas range from developing new generation wearable digital communication devices to devising new statistical ways to clarify volcanism and earthquake hazard.

Otago’s 2017 Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research recipients:

Dr Tilman Davies (Mathematics and Statistics)

Dr Tilman Davies has demonstrated impressive progress in research since completing his PhD and being appointed as a lecturer at Otago in 2012. Dr Davies’ research focuses on the development and application of statistical methods related to data that varies in space and time. His significant contributions include new methods for estimating the risk of disease over geographical regions, which is important for understanding the distributions of illness within cities and countries so public health resources can be targeted effectively. These methods have been adopted by other researchers as a standard approach for exploring relevant data.

Dr Davies is the 2014 recipient of the Worsley Early Career Research Award from the New Zealand Statistical Association.

Dr Bill Hawkins (Chemistry)

Dr Bill Hawkins completed his PhD at the University of Wollongong, followed by postdoctoral positions at the University of Melbourne and Ecole Polytechnique (France). After a short stay at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, he joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago as a lecturer (2012) and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2016. His research interests include the synthesis of bioactive natural products and their use as chemical probes to understand biological processes and inform drug design, as well as the development of new synthetic methodologies.

Dr James Scott (Geology)

Dr James Scott is fascinated by geological processes and how they have shaped Earth. He completed a PhD at Otago in 2009 and then post-doctoral and industry-based work in New Zealand and Europe before taking up a lectureship position at Otago in 2014. His current research interests include processes that have affected the Earth’s mantle, the formation of New Zealand, and the movement of fluids through the crust. Major funding has been awarded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise, the former Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and the University of Otago.

He has established international research collaborative programmes with geoscientists in Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, South Africa and the United States. He is currently president of the Otago Institute for Arts and Sciences, a Geosciences Society of New Zealand committee member, and the leader of the Geosciences Society of NZ Geochemistry Special Interest Group.

Dr Tobias Langlotz (Information Science)

Dr Tobias Langlotz is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Science where he is co-leading the Human-Computer Interaction group. He received a Diploma degree in Media Informatics from the Bauhaus-University in Weimar and in 2013 a PhD in Computer Science from the Graz University of Technology before joining the University of Otago as a Lecturer in 2014.

His main research interests are in human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing – and in particular – augmented reality interfaces for mobile and wearable devices. He developed several key technologies for augmented reality browsers that overlay interactive multimedia content on the physical world or objects they refer to. His work has been published in the top engineering and computer science journals, has led to several patents, and has attracted funding by the European Union, Callaghan Innovation, and companies including Qualcomm and Nokia.

Recently, Dr Langlotz has started to investigate technologies for turning head-mounted displays into computational glasses for managing visual impairments that cannot be managed with prescription glasses. He is further working on mobile telepresence technologies, investigating the future of video calls that allow users to virtually join remote people at distant locations by using mobile and wearable devices.

Dr Nic Rawlence (Department of Zoology)

Dr Nic Rawlence is a lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Director of the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory. After studying at Victoria University of Wellington, he completed a PhD at the University of Adelaide in 2011. His research focuses on using ancient DNA and palaeontology to answer fundamental questions relating to the evolution and palaeoecology of extinct biodiversity, and the effects of climate change and human impact on past ecosystems.

Since Dr Rawlence took up his position at the University of Otago in 2013 as a postdoctoral research fellow, and later as a lecturer, he has been awarded both a Marsden Fast-Start and Full Research Grant.

Dr Rawlence’s current research focuses include “Do glaciers drive diversity? Using ancient DNA to retrace the history of New Zealand’s biodiversity”; “Testing for fisheries induced evolution using modern and ancient snapper DNA”; and “pre-European cetacean resource use by Polynesian/Maori in New Zealand”.

Dr Jesse Wall (Faculty of Law)

Dr Jesse Wall joined the Faculty of Law in 2014. He was previously a Lecturer in Law and Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, University of Oxford. He had earlier completed his postgraduate studies (BCL, MPhil and DPhil) at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he was studying as a Rhodes Scholar. Jesse completed his undergraduate studies in Law and Philosophy at Otago.

Jesse’s research interests are shaped by two overlapping, and theoretical, inquiries. First, he is interested in the moral limits of private law concepts. For instance, his monograph, Being and Owning: The Body, Bodily Material and the Law, argues against the recognition of property rights in items of separated bodily material. More recent scholarship concerns the application of social obligation norms to trust property, and the notion of community responsibility supervening private law rights and obligations. Second, Jesse is interested in the concepts that construct our personhood. These include theories of autonomy, bodily integrity and personal identity. In his research, these concepts are applied in medico-legal contexts, such as dementia, depression, and consent.

Dr Ting Wang (Department of Mathematics and Statistics)

Dr Ting Wang joined the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in 2012 and is now a Senior Lecturer. After obtaining BSc and MSc in Statistics from Beijing Normal University, she completed a PhD in Statistics at Massey University in 2010. Dr Wang is the recipient of the Worsley Early Career Research Award from the New Zealand Statistical Association in 2013.

Dr Wang’s research field is multidisciplinary, centring on the interface of statistics and geophysics. Her main focus has been on the development of novel statistical models and their application to real-world problems in geosciences. In a Marsden Fast-Start funded project, Dr Wang has developed methods for the inversion of point processes with non-stationary missing probabilities, such as earthquake and volcanic eruption catalogues that often have incomplete earlier portions resulting in hazard underestimation. This project also led to a new research field developing statistical models for non-volcanic tremors that can aid the study of the mechanisms of highly destructive megathrust earthquakes.

Prior to this, Dr Wang developed hidden Markov models for spatial and temporal variation of long-term seismicity in an EQC-funded project, and developed models for extracting signals from GPS measurement for earthquake forecasting.


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