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Otago postdoctoral researchers gain prestigious fellowships

Clocktower.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010 9:22am

Five emerging University of Otago scientists have been awarded three-year postdoctoral fellowships by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology to undertake cutting-edge research projects.

The Foundation’s Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme is designed to boost future science leaders and build greater national research capability and knowledge.

Fifteen fellowships, worth almost $3,880,000 in total, were awarded to New Zealand scientists in the scheme’s latest round. Otago recipients gained $1,328,553 of the funding.

The successful Otago researchers and their projects are:

Dr Martin Hohmann-Marriott

(Department of Biochemistry)
Utilising nanowires to plug into New Zealand's microbial solar cells
$267,000

Dr Hohmann-Marriott aims to advance knowledge around the application of biological nanowires—metal-decorated protein filaments — to directly tap into highly efficient processes of photosynthetic energy conversion. The ability of photosynthetic model organisms and entire ecosystems to provide an efficient, carbon-independent source of energy will be explored. This research could contribute to New Zealand’s energy future and create opportunities for economic growth.

Dr Daniel Leduc

(Department of Marine Science)
Disturbance, diversity and deep-sea ecosystem function
$262,418

Dr Leduc aims to develop cost-effective tools to assess and manage human impacts on deep-sea habitats. With a focus on nematodes—a poorly-known but major group of marine animals—in New Zealand’s Chatham Rise, he will determine the environmental drivers of sea-floor biodiversity and the impact of seabed disturbance (e.g. bottom trawling) on function and diversity, among other goals. Dr Leduc aims to develop management tools that will ensure a balance between fishing industries and the conservation of marine ecosystems.

Dr William Rayment

(Department of Marine Science)
Recovery of right whales
$266,967

Dr Rayment’s research will focus on southern right whales around New Zealand—a population that is showing signs of recovery since the suspension of whaling. Specifically, he will study trends in population growth and habitat preferences around the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands and the linkages between sub-Antarctic, New Zealand mainland and Australian populations. This information will facilitate predictions of the regions around mainland New Zealand likely to be recolonized by the recovering species, and thus where the potential impacts of commercial fishing, aquaculture, shipping and tourism can be mitigated.

Dr Geoffrey Rodgers

(Dept of Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)
Acoustic emission monitoring following total joint replacement surgery
$265,168

A unique collaboration in the fields of medicine and engineering will see Dr Rodgers develop a non-invasive device to investigate loosening and wear in hip and knee joint replacements, using acoustic emission monitoring. Aging, but still active, populations are leading to a surge in demand for joint replacement (7000 operations and $70 million per year in New Zealand alone), the majority of which will need to be replaced due to wear and/or premature loosening after 10-15 years. Early diagnosis of impending failure can save significant time, cost and more serious surgery. However, there are currently no reliable, non-traumatic and non-invasive monitoring methods to do so—a problem that Dr Rodgers and his team will solve.

Dr Miriam Sharpe

(Department of Biochemistry)
A bright future: New Zealand glow-worm bioluminescence as a biotechnological tool
$267,000

Dr Sharpe’s research focuses on the unique bioluminescent (light-emitting) properties of the New Zealand glow-worm (titiwai). Bioluminescence produced by living organisms is an extremely valuable, widely-used biotechnological tool and a new bioluminescent system, as promised by the glow-worm, would be an important scientific and biotechnological advance and could improve current, and generate new, bioluminescent applications. Dr Sharpe will study the biochemistry of the glow-worm’s light emission by purifying and cloning the proteins involved and determining how they function.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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