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Prestigious Marsden Fund backs Otago’s excellent research

Clocktower clock

Thursday, 25 October 2012 12:24pm

Dr Richard Blaikie
Professor Richard Blaikie

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.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Richard Blaikie
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8513
Email dvc.research@otago.ac.nz

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) 

Marsden Project summaries:

 

Dr Greg Anderson (Anatomy)

Overcoming anxiety: the neuroendocrine strategy of new mothers
$975,000 over three years

Attenuation of anxiety during pregnancy and lactation in response to elevated levels of the hormone prolactin helps prevent programming of later-life diseases, and allows the mother to focus on nurturing dependent offspring. How this is achieved is unknown. The recently-discovered neuropeptide RFRP-3 is a potent stimulant of the stress axis, and during lactation prolactin acts on RFRP-3 neurons to suppress their output. We will use neuroanatomical techniques, combined with a new conditionally transgenic mouse line in which prolactin receptors are deleted specifically from RFRP-3 neurons, to characterise how these cells communicate the anxiolytic effects of prolactin to the stress axis.
Email greg.anderson@otago.ac.nz

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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

Factors influencing the decline of civilizations may differentially affect communities on the margins of a collapsing society. How these groups fare during societal decline is central to key archaeological questions concerning population response and societal re-emergence. Archaeological research on the Late Angkorian era maintains a lowland-centric focus, mainly due to previous lack of evidence for highland groups' biological, economic and cultural responses to state collapse. However, by the late 14th century AD and the decline of the great kingdom of Angkor, some ethnic minorities had socially and geographically distanced themselves in the Cardamom Mountains of southern Cambodia. Their existence is known only from burial sites that are unique relative to rituals recorded in Khmer history: re-burial of human bone in log coffins and exotic ceramics, on exposed rock ledges. The sites hold previously untapped information on demographics, health, environmental conditions, and trade relationships, which are essential for answering archaeological questions about responses of marginal cultures in an era of political, environmental, and economic change. Using novel integrations of methods to examine the archaeological information from different perspectives, we will develop the first-ever characterization of a highland culture’s lifeways and how they fared in the Late Angkorian era.
Email nancy.beavan@otago.ac.nz

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Professor David Bilkey (Psychology)

Brain mechanisms of self control
$800,000 over three years

Self-control underlies a range of human behaviour, from saving for retirement to saving the planet. The construct is so influential that it appears across a host of disciplines, variously termed as impulsivity, self-regulation, delay of gratification, willpower and inter-temporal choice. It has become a focus of study in recent years, not least because childhood self-control appears to predict physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes in adulthood. This project examines one of the brain mechanisms underlying self-control, in particular that involved when access to an easily available reward is rejected in favour of an ultimately more valuable option that might require effort or patience to attain.  We will use an animal model that allows us to study the activity of brain cells during behaviour and investigate how the brain uses prospective memory to modulate self-control. This study builds on our novel pilot data that shows how the communication of information from the prefrontal cortex to the hippocampus is important for this process. The outcome of this study will be of significant importance as it will provide new insights into one of the brain processes that supports self-control, and how this operates during decision-making.
Email psyhod@psy.otago.ac.nz

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Professor Richard Blaikie (Physics)

Engineering optical near fields: principles and techniques for applications in sensing and lithography
$910,000 over three years

Controlling light at scales much smaller than its wavelength allows us to see, sense and pattern down to the molecular level.  The prospect of ‘perfect’ imaging—using visible light (wavelengths 400-750 nm) to sense or image at molecular scales (1-10 nm)—is enticing, and new developments in this field are now entering the marketplace. 

This field, known as 'nanophotonics', is rapidly advancing.  Using nanophotonics light can confined to precisely-defined nano-scale regions; these so-called near-fields, once in the right place at the right wavelength, can then be used in applied technologies ranging from biosensors to advanced nanofabrication.  But the principles and techniques for such engineering are in many ways is still in their infancy.  They usually require special ‘tricks’ of the light, and still do not bring to bear many of the powerful ideas of contemporary optical physics, such as negative refraction, superlensing, metamaterials or transformation optics. 

We have developed a new surface-state field enhancement framework (SSFEF) and have already made an important demonstration of how it can be used to dramatically improve near-field super-imaging—in this program this discovery will be expanded to provide a comprehensive set of principles for designing new advanced sensing and lithography systems.
Email dvc.research@otago.ac.nz

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Associate Professor P Blair Blakie (Physics)

Thermal dynamics of a spinor condensate
$940,000 over three years

A Bose-Einstein condensate is a quantum state of matter occurring in extremely dilute atomic gases at less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. By producing condensates in a special laser trap, where the atomic spins are liberated to organize themselves at will, a spinor condensate is realized. This is a unique system that simultaneously exhibits the phenomena of superfluidity (ability to flow without viscosity) and magnetism. Indeed, spinor condensates can spontaneously magnetize, just like metals such as iron, and are pristine and flexible systems for studying the microscopic origin of magnetism without the veil of complexity ever-present in solid-state systems.

We propose to develop a new theory of spinor condensates that will describe processes such as the dynamics of its phase transitions between different magnetic states, and how exotic spin vortices form. The key innovation of our theory is the inclusion of thermal effects: We will comprehensively treat the dynamics of atoms thermally excited out of the condensate. These thermal atoms play a crucial role in the system evolution as it transforms into new phases and in the nucleation of vortices. Our theory will provide a firm basis for future theory and experiments with spinor condensates.
Email bblakie@physics.otago.ac.nz

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Dr Lynette Brownfield (Biochemistry)

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

Asymmetric cell division, where a mother cell produces two distinct daughter cells, is a key mechanism for generating different cell types in multicellular organisms. In animals, the adoption of different fates by daughter cells often depends upon unequal segregation of regulatory molecules.
The formation of new cell types by asymmetric division is also essential in the development of plants, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood.

A critical asymmetric cell division in flowering plants occurs within pollen grains and is required for the creation of the male germ line. Here, the smaller of the two daughter cells is believed to receive factors that promote germ-line development, while the larger cell follows a default pathway and plays a supportive role.

We aim to discover how plant male germ-line fate is controlled by asymmetric cell division. To do this we will identify unequally segregated factors that control the production of a germ-line specific protein. This research will provide valuable information on how plants utilize asymmetric division to generate new cell types. It will also aid in the understanding of how plants make male gametes creating opportunities to manipulate fertility for the benefit of plant breeders.
Email lynette.brownfield@otago.ac.nz

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Dr Anita Dunbier (Biochemistry)

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

The interaction of the immune system in cancer development and progression remains one of the most challenging questions in immunology. It has emerged that immune cells can suppress tumour growth but paradoxically, they may also promote tumour progression. Precisely what determines which of these roles will predominate is not well understood.

In breast cancer, conflicting studies show immune cell infiltration into the tumour can be an indicator of both good and poor outcomes. Our recent data suggest that anti-oestrogen therapy, a common treatment for oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer, increases immune cell infiltration and that infiltration is associated with poor response to treatment. We hypothesise that molecules secreted by oestrogen deprived tumour cells recruit immune cells, which then fuel the growth of the tumour, contributing to the observed resistance to treatment. We aim to demonstrate this in a mouse model of breast cancer. We will use this model to investigate which specific subtypes of immune cells are recruited when oestrogen is absent and trial using a common anti-inflammatory drug to modulate this response. This research will help elucidate the mechanisms that drive immune cells to infiltrate and fuel cancers, and identify ways that this can be regulated to improve outcomes.
Email anita.dunbier@otago.ac.nz

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Associate Professor Claire Freeman (Geography)

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

That children need nature for health and well-being is widely accepted, but what type of nature?
The assumption that children must interact with wild pristine nature has been used to justify recognition of a 'nature deficit disorder', when such contact is lacking. However, recent research shows many urban areas support high biodiversity. Children may not suffer from a lack of connection with nature because they interact with nature in their neighbourhood, and even if social or cultural norms frustrate this access, there may still be sufficient diversity within their immediate nearby environment. We argue that the premise of an epidemic of 'nature deficit disorder' for children in western society is accepted uncritically and is adult-determined. By evaluating children's reported nature interactions and biodiversity within self-defined neighbourhood nature maps, we will explore nature contact from the child's perspective, emphasising nature in urban contexts. We will produce a child-centred biodiversity assessment, definition, and view of nature that will aid in better understanding the reality of children’s lived experiences and how children can be best supported to develop and maintain connections with the natural world.
Email cf@geography.otago.ac.nz

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Professor David Grattan (Anatomy)

Mechanism of hormone entry across the blood-brain barrier
$975,000 over three years

Several hormones produced in the body are transported across the “blood-brain-barrier” to exert important regulatory functions in the brain, but the mechanisms of transport are not well understood.  Using the pituitary hormone, prolactin, as a model, this proposal describes an innovative transgenic strategy to test the hypothesis that prolactin receptors in the choroid plexus are critical for transporting prolactin into the brain.  The study will provide novel insight into mechanisms regulating entry of large molecules across the blood-brain-barrier, a function of both physiological and pharmacological significance.
Email dave.grattan@otago.ac.nz

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Dr Jörg Hennig (Mathematics & Statistics)

Causality and cosmological models in general relativity
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

This project is concerned with cosmological models within general relativity, Albert Einstein's theory of gravitation, and the investigation of their properties and causal structures. The starting point is the interesting observation that there are mathematical solutions to Einstein's field equations with a strange feature: they contain regions where causality is violated and time travel backwards in time is possible. This unexpected behaviour and the resulting philosophical problems are in disagreement with the current picture that physicists have of our universe. Moreover, it might indicate a lack of determinism in the theory of general relativity. Intimately connected to these problems is the famous cosmic censorship conjecture, according to which generic cosmological solutions cannot be extended into acausal regions. Hence, it is believed that acausal models - despite their existence - cannot be realised in nature. However, we claim that there are indeed large families of such peculiar mathematical solutions and our goal is to prove their existence. In particular, we will study their properties with both analytical and numerical methods, and construct exact solutions. Our investigations will provide essential contributions towards a better understanding of the mathematical structure of general relativity and, therefore, the geometry of the universe.
Email jhennig@maths.otago.ac.nz

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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)

The gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons are the key cells controlling fertility in all mammalian species. This project aims to characterize the electrical activity of GnRH neurons in vivo and determine how they generate pulsatile and surge patterns of reproductive hormone secretion. Using a novel surgical approach, we have recently discovered that GnRH neurons can be accessed from the base of the brain in anaesthetized GnRH-green fluorescent protein transgenic mice. This provides the first-ever opportunity to make electrical recordings from GnRH neurons in vivo. Understanding how these cells control fluctuating levels of gonadotropin hormones in the blood will provide long-awaited foundations for developing new strategies for the beneficial regulation of fertility in humans.
Email allan.herbison@otago.ac.nz

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Dr Martin Krkosek (Zoology)

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

Ecologists have long sought to understand cycles in the abundance of animal populations, which can fluctuate synchronously or travel repeatedly across landscapes as waves of abundance.
Theoretical and empirical understanding of the underlying processes has been limited by few opportunities to properly integrate models and data. Pacific salmon exhibit some of the most spectacular but poorly understood cyclical dynamics in animal populations, yet offer highly detailed and replicated data, life-history knowledge, and quantitative methods. This project will combine large datasets with mathematical models of cycles in Pacific salmon recruitment to extend and test fundamental ecological theory of population dynamics.
Email martin.krkosek@otago.ac.nz

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Dr Jevon Longdell (Physics)

Efficient conversion of individual microwave photons to individual optical photons
$930,000 over three years

Rapid advances are currently being made in quantum information processing using superconducting qubits. Superconducting qubits naturally couple to microwave photons. This project aims to convert these microwave photons into optical photons. Using optical fibers would then allow the long distance transfer of quantum states between superconducting qubits. It would also allow access to the quantum memories that have been developed for light. The conversion will use cryogenic whispering gallery mode optical resonators containing rare earth ion dopants with integrated superconducting microwave resonators.
Email jevon@physics.otago.ac.nz

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Dr Richard Macknight (Biochemistry)

Molecular understanding of flowering time regulation in legumes
$910,000 over three years

Domestication by early farmers and improvement by modern breeders have dramatically transformed wild plants into today’s crops. Flowering time is a critical agronomic trait and its evolution was essential for the domestication and spread of wild plants into new climatic regions. This project aims to; (i) discover how legumes use seasonal changes in daylength and temperature to precisely control their flowering time and, (ii) understand how this process has evolved to allow natural populations of legumes to grow in new geographical regions. Ultimately, this knowledge will enable plant breeders to more efficiently develop new legume varieties tailored for different geographical regions.
Email richard.macknight@otago.ac.nz

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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)

Honey bees are critical for pollination; they are an integral part of the natural ecosystem. The proposed research will see three internationally recognised honey bee research groups focus their knowledge and expertise on a problem of significance worldwide, colony collapse disorder. Environmental stressors such as pesticides and Varroa are having profoundly detrimental effects on honey bee survival. We hypothesise that early in adult life, insults to neural circuits essential for learning and stress reactivity compromise honey bee survival and contribute to colony collapse.
The discovery of an opioid-like signalling system in the honey bee provides us with a novel and potentially very powerful tool with which to examine stress reactivity and its ability to shape learning behaviour in the honey bee. We will use this and other tools to establish whether chronic stress leads to deficits in brain function that impact negatively on the survival of this economically important insect.
Honey bees are under threat worldwide. Finding ways to enhance the survival of this important insect pollinator is one critically important long-term goal of this research.
Co- Principal Investigator: Dr Elodie Urlacher (Visiting Research Fellow, Zoology)
Email alison.mercer@otago.ac.nz

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Professor Stephen Robertson (Women’s & Child Health)

Feeling gravity in your bones - characterising a molecular sensor of force
$975,000 over three years

Bones can sense forces, like gravity, and respond by strengthening themselves through mineralisation. A terminally differentiated cell that lies buried within the bony matrix is known to house the key mechanotransducer that mediates this effect, but the identity of the molecular sensor remains unknown. Through the study of Mendelian diseases with aberrant skeletal mineralisation we hypothesise that proteins called filamins fulfil this role and that knockout of a key filamin protein domain in the mouse will ablate mechanosensation in bone. This protein domain, encoding a flexible hinge is known to equip filamin with the ability to arrange cytoskeletal actin fibrils into configurations that optimise a cell's ability to sense, and withstand, shear forces exerted upon them. Identifying causative mutations in genes other than filamin in other individuals with similar bone accretion defects will also add to our understanding of the workings of this cellular sensor of mechanical force. These insights will not only be of considerable fundamental biological interest but also address the mechanism through which inactivity leads to bone weakening in the immobile and infirm.
Email stephen.robertson@otago.ac.nz

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Dr Patrice Rosengrave (Anatomy)

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

Males of many species respond to a variety of social cues—like the presence of a female or competitor—by making rapid adjustments to sperm quality (sperm number, swimming speed and morphology) that maximizes their reproductive success. How such ejaculate adjustments occur remains largely unknown, and whether such adjustment actually alters a male’s reproductive success against a competitor has seldom been examined. Using a series of innovative social manipulation experiments in Chinook salmon, we will determine: (i) how ejaculate quality adjusts to changes in social status, and (ii) which characteristics of the ejaculate actually change—the gametes themselves, the seminal fluid released with the sperm, or both. We will also explore whether sex hormones have a role in mediating ejaculate adjustments, and whether changes in the ejaculate actually affect a male’s reproductive success when competing with other males to fertilise a batch of eggs. Improved knowledge of the effects of seminal fluid on sperm function and its effects on male reproductive performance and fitness will increase our understanding of male fertility in humans, livestock, and aquaculture.
Email patrice.rosengrave@otago.ac.nz

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Professor Steven Stillman (Economics, School of Business)

Mind the gap? Worker productivity and pay gaps between similar workers in New Zealand
$800,000 over three years

Wage differences for workers in different demographic groups, firms and locations have been documented in many empirical studies. For example, women in New Zealand earn, on average, 10-15 percent less than comparable men, while workers in the biggest firms earn 20 percent more than similar workers in the smallest firms. Understanding the cause of these so called ‘wage gaps’ is critical for evaluating the role of public policy in creating an equal playing field for different workers. However, previous research has not been able to account for possible differences in productivity that might instead explain these wages gap. Our proposed research will test competing hypotheses about three important wage gaps; the gender pay gap, the big firm wage premium and geographic wage differences, by exploiting unique longitudinal data collected by Statistics New Zealand on all employee-employer relationships in New Zealand. This data can be used to simultaneously measure wage and productivity differences across groups of workers and will allow us to use two methods to estimate the proportion of each observed wage gap that is explained by differences in worker productivity and evaluate possible explanations for any unexplained wage differences.
Email steven.stillman@otago.ac.nz

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Dr Robert Thompson (Mathematics & Statistics)

Transformation optics: the science of cloaking
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start)

Transformation optics is poised to revolutionize the process of designing electromagnetic and optical devices such as cloaking devices and super-resolution lenses. Recent progress in metamaterials research enables the physical realization of such devices. We will push the boundaries of transformation optics by expanding beyond its current limitations. This will be done by building upon a general theory of transformation optics we have developed in a series of recent papers. Our primary goals are to develop a geometric approach to nonlinear transformation optics, enable transformation optics to control and exploit complex material aspects of metamaterials like dispersion, dissipation, and active gain, and to develop new optimization tools in the way of special or restricted transformations.

These goals have been chosen to support a comprehensive strategy for the development of transformation optics. Progress in each area will dramatically improve the utility of transformation optics and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the field. The outcome of this research will provide engineers with a more complete set of transformation optics tools with which to design complex metamaterial-based devices. This will pave the way for new innovations having global reach, and bring New Zealand to the cutting edge of this new science.
Email rthompson@maths.otago.ac.nz

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Professor Evelyn Tribble (English)

Ecologies of Skill in Early Modern England
$485,000 over three years

Skill links mind, body, and affect in intelligent action. Performers in theatre, dance, music, and sport, as well as experts in craft, conduct, and science, exhibit extraordinary skills when working in both bodily movement and material culture. Yet literary and cultural history lack full accounts of the vital but under-conceptualised domain of skill. The overall goal of this project is to build upon recent work in literary history, theory and culture, to develop an ecological model of skill. Skill is a property of biological, neurological, social, historical, and material forces operating in concert, and is best studied through a systems-level framework capable of considering all of these areas simultaneously. An ecological model of skill takes account of complex interactions among internal cognitive processes, embodied skill building, technologies, expert practices, and cultural situations to ask how skill is inculcated, appraised, transmitted, valued, and evaluated. This project proposes a historically specific treatment of skill in early modern England, anchored in detailed new studies of embodied knowledge networks and apprenticeship learning in drama and other embodied performance domains; an ethnographic study of the transmission and acquisition of skills in reconstructed Elizabethan playhouses; and a cross-historical collaborative re-assessment of the nature of skill.
Email evelyn.tribble@otago.ac.nz

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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

Power from turbines in strong tidal currents will contribute to the increasing demand for renewable energy. Currently operating tidal turbines are producing around 1 Mega-Watt of energy. Realising the Giga-Watt potential of large tidal channels such as Cook Strait could contribute significantly to meeting the NZ Government’s target of increasing electricity generation from renewable sources from 73% in 2010 to 90% by 2025. To do this, tidal turbine farms must scale up from a few turbines, to hundreds of turbines. Unlike wind turbine farms, production from large tidal turbine farms does not increase in direct proportion to the number of turbines, because power extraction slows flows along the entire channel. This complex interaction between power extraction and flow speeds has meant that our understanding of how power production increases as a turbine farm grows is extremely limited. The proposed work uses analytical and computational techniques to develop a fundamental scaling law to underpin the relationship between power production and farm size. This scaling law would constitute a significant step towards addressing a core question for tidal current power: is it realistic to meet a significant fraction of our future energy needs by increasing the scale of tidal turbine farms?

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Email ross.vennell@otago.ac.nz

Dr Zach Weber (Philosophy)

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

Logical paradoxes have beset our best philosophical theories for millennia. Philosophical logic in New Zealand is emerging internationally for innovative responses to these problems. However, the very existence of seemingly unsolvable rational dilemmas remains completely unexplained. This project will give a new description of logical paradoxes, explaining them through mathematical models based on non-classical logics. The hypothesis is that paradoxes are conceptual boundaries, as shown in an intuitive geometric way by a formal theory of connected parts (mereotopology). The goal is to advance on the very idea of paradox, newly rendered in precise terms that facilitate philosophical progress.
Email zach.weber@otago.ac.nz

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