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North Island FiRST Award Winners Announced

Some of New Zealand’s brightest young scientists and researchers were honoured tonight, when they received accolades at the Auckland presentation of this year’s FiRST Awards, sponsored by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Research into reducing exhaust emissions, the origins of Maori and Pacific peoples, novel therapies to prevent cataracts and increasing disease resistance in plants won FiRST Awards with the lens cataract project by Kaa-Sandra Chee, taking the regional North Island honour.

This project now goes forward, along with the regional South Island winner, as a candidate for the overall national FiRST Award. The South Island FiRST Awards and the national award will be announced in Christchurch later this month. (29 June)

Tonight’s winners in the four Awards categories – Technology for Industry Fellowship or TIF, Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Fellowship, Bright Futures and New Zealand Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowship – each receive one-thousand dollars. The regional winner also receives a plinth.

A number of other projects were commended and highly commended including research into the detection of license plate numbers using video security cameras, reducing aluminium wastage in vehicle wheel production and developing a high protein, nutritional ice cream.

The North Island Awards were presented by the Minister of Research, Science, and Technology Pete Hodgson, who says science and technology are key building blocks for New Zealand’s future in the global economy.

“Researchers such as those we are recognising today are champions of the knowledge economy,” Mr Hodgson says. “They are essential to achieving our goal of transforming the economy.”

“As a country we need to be innovative and adaptive to change, New Zealand’s future as a high-skilled, high-employment, high-value added economy relies on people like you,” the Minister told the Award recipients.

Mr Hodgson says money invested in FRST schemes is money well spent with a recent evaluation showing that for every $1 the Government puts into the Technology for Industry Fellowships or TIF Scheme, company turnover increases by $6. The value that the research fellow receives from the experience is an additional benefit.

Other speakers included Neil Richardson, Chairman of FiRST, John Cunningham, Chairman of Caltech Capital Partners and President of the Institute of Professional Engineers ,Burns Fallow from North Sails (NZ) and Dame Cheryll Sotheran, Chief Executive of Te Papa.

Dame Cheryll and Sir Gil Simpson, CEO of Aoraki Corporation judged the finalists in this year’s Awards, reflecting the importance of co-operation between the business and science and technology sectors.

The Awards ceremony, held at the Novotel, Ellerslie was attended by about 150 people. The presentation followed a half day seminar on the theme of bringing science and business closer together.

More than 90 research projects were submitted to the FiRST Awards this year, well up on previous years. The FiRST Awards have been presented annually since 1999 by the Foundation and showcase the outstanding work being done by young researchers, scientists and innovators.

Any person currently receiving research funding from the Foundation has been eligible to enter the awards by presenting their projects on a poster, which makes the findings simple, clear and easily understandable.




David Irecki, Technology for Industry Fellowship
Licence plate recognition
Company: R&D Technology Solutionz Ltd, Company Mentor: Milo Roth

Mr Timothy Loughnane, Technology for Industry Fellowship
Quantifying the Effects of Filtration on Casting Quality
Company: Ford Motor Company of New Zealand, Company Mentor: Dr Darius Singh
Academic Supervisor: Dr Deliang Zhang, University of Waikato

Highly Commended

Wendy Robinson, Technology for Industry Fellowship
Nutrascoop: The fresh scoop on Nutrition
Company: Kiwi Milk Products (Kiwi Co-operative Dairies Ltd), Company Mentors: Jeanne-Marie Schumann & Sally Morrison


Technology for Industry Fellowship
Simon Longdill
At the speed of light
Company: Buckley Systems Ltd, Company Mentor: Wayne Wright
Academic Supervisor: Dr Robert Raine, University of Auckland

Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Fellowship
Adele Whyte
Human Evolution in Polynesia; A Molecular Biological Study
Academic Supervisor: Dr. Geoffrey K Chambers, Victoria University of Wellington
Maori Mentor: Lee Smith

Bright Futures
Kaa-Sandra Chee
Novel Opportunities to Prevent Lens Cataract
Academic Supervisor: Professor Joerg Kistler, University of Auckland

NZ Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellow
Jennifer Smith
“It's Resistance, Jim, But not as we know it”
Mentor: Professor Paula Jameson, Massey University

Kaa-Sandra Chee
Novel Opportunities to Prevent Lens Cataract

Winner and Project Profiles

Technology for Industry Fellowship Commended – David Irecki
David grew up in Lower Hutt (Hutt Valley High School) and is studying at Massey University for a Bachelor of Engineering, majoring in Information Engineering. He has always had an interest in how things work and has worked in both the Information Technology and microwave radio industries to apply his knowledge to real world problems.
The aim of his License Plate Localisation and Recognition project is to allow the characters and numbers on a vehicle registration plate to be decoded from a digitised bitmap image of the licence plate. This is done using a software application. Eventually the project will mean a video security camera can pick up a clear image of a license plate. The system is being designed primarily for use by the New Zealand oil retail industry to help with security within their petrol station forecourts. The main benefit will be to help catch drivers who fill their vehicles with petrol and then drive off without paying.

Technology for Industry Fellowship Commended – Timothy Loughnane
Timothy Loughnane grew up in Rotorua and completed a B.Sc in Materials and Processing Engineering at the University of Waikato. He then enrolled in a Master of Science under the guidance of Dr Deliang Zhang, conducting research in association with Ford Motor Company of New Zealand.
Timothy’s research project involves running numerous in-depth trials at the Ford Alloy Wheel Plant in Manukau.
The project is split into several major categories dealing with the production of high quality aluminium, which is used to cast wheels. The results of the research will reduce the amount of casting scrap produced in the wheel plant and lead to considerable savings for the Ford Motor Company.

Highly Commended
Technology for Industry Fellowship Highly Commended
– Wendy Robinson
Wendy Robinson has recently graduated from Massey University’s Albany campus with a Bachelor of Technology in Food Science (Hon.) She has recently been employed at Tip Top Ice Cream as an Associate R & D Technologist for Export Products. Prior to this she worked at Kiwi Milk Products, where she completed the research project which is receiving an award this year.
Wendy’s objective in her project was to develop a concept for a meal replacement or nutritional ice cream. The project involved two literature searches – the first based on high protein ice cream and the second focussing on meal replacement regulations and any meal replacement products currently on the market. Ultimately the research led to the successful creation of NutraScoopTM, a nutritional frozen confection which is based on hard pack chocolate ice cream and has the added benefits of providing 12g of protein and 2g of linoleic acid per 160g serve.

North Island Fellowship Winners

Technology for Industry Fellowship – Simon Longdill
Simon attended Macleans College in Howick from 1990 to 1993. After finishing his 6th form year he began a Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Auckland, which he completed in 1997. Simon then spent 4 months working with Volvo in Sweden as a design trainee before starting work on his Ph.D back at the University of Auckland.
Simon is collaborating with Buckley Systems Limited to carry out his Ph.D research project called ‘At the speed of light’. The project focuses on developing a new method of measuring the ratio of air to fuel that is burning inside an engine. The air-fuel ratio of combustion has a fundamental effect on the efficiency and exhaust emission levels of an engine. By developing a new measurement method that is significantly faster than existing ones, it will be possible to more closely control the air-fuel ratio, leading to improved efficiency and reduced exhaust emissions.

Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Fellowship – Adele Whyte
Adele is enrolled as a full-time student at Victoria University in Wellington and is completing an M.Sc (Part 11) in Genetics. Her whanau is very important to her and she says their support and guidance ‘have allowed me to pursue a career which will bring benefits to our community’.
Her current project involves research into the origin of Maori and Pacific peoples. She is using DNA sequences to follow the genetic trail. In particular she is using mitochondrial DNA samples passed down from mothers to their children. The results allow her to compare similarities and differences between Maori and Pacific peoples.
Adele says the project brings together her love of genetics and Maori and says it is important to have Maori researchers ‘who can ensure our DNA Whakapapa is cherished as always and available to all’.

Bright Futures – Kaa-Sandra Chee
Kaa-Sandra Chee, a 24-year-old of Maori-Chinese ethnic origin, grew up in the Bay of Plenty (Otumoetai College) and has completed two degrees at the University of Auckland – a Bachelor of Science majoring in Biological Sciences and a Master of Science.
She is currently investigating the causative agent of lens cataract for her Ph.D research project.
Cataracts blind twenty million people world wide. The only cure is lens replacement with an intraocular implant, which often requires repeat surgery due to secondary cataract formation. The project focuses on investigating the mechanisms by which lens volume is controlled. Using a combination of techniques, Kaa-Sandra is gathering an inventory of the transport mechanisms present in the lens. Further analysis will determine what happens
to these transport systems during the formation of cataracts. This is expected to reveal novel and non-invasive possibilities for using drugs to treat cataracts.

NZ Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellow - Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith is a graduate of the University of Otago where she gained a B.Sc (Hons) in Molecular and Physiological Plant Biology in 1994 and a Ph.D in Botany in 1999. Plant physiology ‘in all its weird and wonderful forms’ has been Jennifer’s research focus throughout her career and she has been involved in a wide range of research projects.
Her award winning research was part of a postdoctoral project at Massey University. Its aim was to clarify the roles of certain plant hormones in the development of disease. During virus infection there is a decrease in active forms of a group of plant hormones known as cytokinins. The activities of enzymes that scavenge reactive oxygen species are also affected. External applications of cytokinin can maintain the levels of these useful enzymes and prevent virus spread -– thus the research proposed that there is a critical link between maintaining cytokinin levels and those of reactive, oxygen-scavenging enzymes. The research aimed to throw light on the relationship between hormones, plants and viruses so that hormone-reduced resistance can be better understood.


1. David Irecki, Room 33 – Mogine Hall, Student Mail – Massey University, Private Bag 11 222, PALMERSTON NORTH
‘Licence plate recognition’ in association with R&D Technology Solutionz Ltd (company mentor Milo Roth)

2. Timothy Loughnane, 168 Ihumatao Road, Mangere, AUCKLAND
’Quantifying the effects of filtration on casting quality’ in association with Ford Motor Company of New Zealand (company mentor Dr Darius Singh) and the University of Waikato (academic supervisor Dr Deliang Zhang).

3. Wendy Robinson, 2 A Faimouth Street, Mairangi Bay, AUCKLAND
‘Nutrascoop: The fresh scoop on Nutrition’ in association with Kiwi Milk Products (company mentors Jeanne-Marie Schumann & Sally Morrison).

4. Simon Longdill, 16 Burford Place, Howick, AUCKLAND
‘Air-fuel ratio measurement of two-stroke engines’ in association with Buckley Systems Ltd (company mentor Wayne Wright) and the University of Auckland (academic supervisor Dr Robert Raine).

5. Adele Whyte, 196 Glenmore Street, Northland, WELLINGTON (
‘Human Evolution in Polynesia’ in association with Victoria University of Wellington (academic supervisor Dr Geoffrey K Chambers, Maori mentor Lee Smith)

6. Kaa-Sandra Chee, 3 L Laxon Terrace, Parnell, AUCKLAND (
’Novel Opportunities to Prevent Lens Cataract’ in association with University of Auckland (academic supervisor Professor Joerg Kistler)

7. Dr Jennifer Smith, 122 B Tasman Street, NELSON (
‘It’s Resistance Jim, but not as we know it’ in association with Massey University (mentor Professor Paul Jameson)

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