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Otago academics made full professors

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Friday, 20 December 2013 10:15am

Twelve leading University of Otago academics are being promoted to full professorships.

Announcing the move, University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne warmly congratulated the new professors on their well-earned promotions, which take effect from February next year.

“Otago’s promotion processes are very rigorous and involve thorough evaluation of an academic’s record of contributions across key areas such as research, teaching, and service to the University and community.”

The selection procedure includes advice from international experts in evaluating the candidates’ research contributions.

A further 37 University of Otago staff were promoted to the Associate Professor level (full list below).

Otago’s new professors are: Blair Blakie (Physics), Stephen Cranefield (Information Science), David Gerrard (Dean’s Department, DSM), Mark Hampton (Research Professor, Pathology, Christchurch), Tony Harland (Higher Education Development Centre), John Knight (Marketing), Craig Rodger (Physics), Philip Seddon (Zoology), Richard Troughton (Medicine, Christchurch), Michael Williams (Medicine, DSM), Steve Wing (Marine Science), Michael Winikoff (Information Science).

Professor profiles:

Blair Blakie
Department of Physics

Blair Blakie’s research interest is in the physics of ultra-cold gases, with a focus on Bose-Einstein condensates. A condensate is a unique fluid phase that occurs at the coldest temperatures ever produced (a billion times colder than room temperature) and is a fantastic playground for exploring the mysterious laws of quantum mechanics. His research has paved the way for a better theoretical understanding of the equilibrium and dynamical properties of these systems, and he has made a number of predictions for novel phenomena.
Blair joined the Department of Physics at the University of Otago as a lecturer in 2004. He is a member of the Jack Dodd Centre for Quantum Technology, and his research has been supported by multiple sources, including three grants from the Marsden Fund of New Zealand.

Stephen Cranefield
Department of Information Science

Computer software is increasingly used to coordinate the activities of multiple people and organisations. To achieve its intended outcome, a computer programme may need to exchange information with other programs running on different computers and with no single organisation in control. Stephen Cranefield studies techniques for simplifying the construction and improving the capabilities of this type of software system. In particular, his research field of multi-agent systems views computer programs as social "agents", and adapts organisational concepts from human society to help ensure that collections of independent computer programs can coordinate their behaviour effectively. Stephen has developed techniques that allow programmers to think at a higher conceptual level when building software with complex communication requirements. He has also made theoretical and practical advances in the construction of computer programs that can reason about externally imposed constraints on their behaviour, such as organisational policies.

David Gerrard
Department of the Dean, Dunedin School of Medicine

David Gerrard’s current sports medicine research encourages the clinical application of science to the prevention of injury and illness. It also challenges the topical issue of drug misuse by athletes and their advisors. A recent collaborative study has investigated the thermal stress of competition in water temperatures of up to 32℃. The results of this internationally funded project will inform regulations governing the safety of elite swimmers at Olympic and World championships, bringing recognition to researchers at Otago drawn from Medicine, Physical Education, Exercise Sciences, Physiology and Physics. It has also helped to revitalise the swimming flume in the School of Physical Education as a unique research tool. An additional focus of his is that of drug misuse in sport, prioritising doctor and athlete education. This contemporary research is contributing to the development of ethical guidelines for the use of prohibited substances by athletes with a genuine medical need.

Mark Hampton
Department of Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch

Mark Hampton is a principal investigator within the Centre for Free Radical Research. He is studying the antioxidant defence systems of cells, and how these systems might be manipulated to prevent or treat human disease. Mitochondria are important sites of oxidative stress inside cells. These small organelles are responsible for converting the food we eat into energy. Mitochondria also play a crucial role in triggering self-destruct pathways within unwanted or damaged cells. Mark’s primary goal is to unravel details of the interactions between our antioxidant defence and cell death pathways. One potential application of this research would be targeting the antioxidant pathways of cancer cells, making them easier to kill. Mark’s research team have been investigating a class of plant-derived compounds called isothiocyanates that promote oxidative stress and cell death.

Tony Harland
Higher Education Development Centre

Tony Harland’s field is Higher Education and it is both multidisciplinary and broad in its scope. He has wide-ranging interests that include university teaching, student learning and how knowledge is constructed. All his research calls into question the purposes and values of a higher education and ultimately contributes to the type of educational experiences that enable graduates to go out into the world with the capacity to influence it and make a difference. In recent projects he has investigated the impact of neoliberal political and economic reforms on higher education, how the teaching of values forms an important part of a student’s education, how undergraduate students learn through doing research, and what critical theory has to offer our thinking about university work. His current research aims to contribute to the theories of student assessment.

John Knight
Department of Marketing

John Knight’s research is designed to inform public debate and government policy in matters concerning international marketing of New Zealand agricultural exports. With colleagues, he has studied potential impacts of introduction of GMOs on country image, providing evidence that debunks certain popular misconceptions. Other research involves: crisis management in international markets, particularly in regard to Fonterra and the milk contamination crisis in China; the long-standing Australian ban on apple imports from New Zealand; “food miles”; and corporate apologies. As a result of this research, he has been guest speaker at several industry conferences, including a Federated Farmers National Conference, and forestry, plant biotechnology, and crop science conferences in NZ and also in Beijing. He aims to conduct research of practical value to primary industry but also published in leading international academic journals including Nature Biotechnology, Science Communication, Journal of International Business Studies, Journal of Business Research, and Journal of World Business.

Craig Rodger
Department of Physics

Craig Rodger is an academic from the Department of Physics. His research focuses on the coupling between the Sun, the space around the Earth, and the Earth’s atmosphere and climate. He is particularly interested in how explosions on the Sun influence the polar environment and can potentially damage satellites. Craig uses both measurements made in space by Earth-orbiting satellites, and also observations from experiments on the ground which detect changes in the upper atmosphere. He has a particular focus on measurements using a type of passive radar system, which have been deployed in the Antarctic and Arctic. His research is strongly collaborative, and he has a wide network of international scientists he works alongside.

Philip Seddon
Department of Zoology

Phil Seddon’s research relates broadly to the conservation management of native species and takes three main directions: animal conservation translocations, wildlife resource selection, and seabird ecology. Since 1991 Phil has been actively involved in research relating to the restoration of populations of rare and threatened species, and has been one of the founders of the emerging discipline of Reintroduction Biology; his research has influenced global translocation policy through his role in the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Through application of a range of wildlife tracking tools, including light-weight GPS devices, Phil and his students have quantified movement and habitat selection patterns in both native and introduced species. Phil’s work with seabirds dates back to his doctoral research on yellow-eyed penguins in the 1980s. These three research themes interact with ongoing work on patterns of post-release dispersal and resource selection in translocated animals, and with application of GPS tags to quantify the foraging ecology of penguins.

Richard Troughton
Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

Richard Troughton is co-director of clinical studies at the Christchurch Heart Institute (CHI), a University of Otago research centre, and a cardiologist at Christchurch hospital. His research has focused on novel ways to monitor heart function and guide treatment for heart conditions. This research has included a landmark study using circulating blood levels of a heart hormone discovered by CHI researchers (called NT-proBNP) to guide the treatment of heart failure. He subsequently helped to lead an international collaboration of studies testing this novel treatment strategy. More recently he helped lead a team testing a new implantable sensor that allows patients to measure pressures within the heart to guide daily dosing of heart failure medications. His research interests extend to cardiac imaging and the use of new ultrasound techniques to assess heart function.

Michael Williams
Department of Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine

Michael Williams’ research interests include studying the effect of lifestyle factors and diet on arterial function and the development of arterial disease. He has investigated the influence of physical fitness on measures of arterial inflammation and the risk of developing chest pain and heart attack in later life. His other clinical research has focussed on understanding the biology of restenosis in stents inserted in patients’ heart arteries to open blockages. Studies of cardiovascular genetics have contributed to international collaborative research and the identification of novel genetic markers of arterial disease. Michael’s current investigations include the regulation of gene expression on the development of narrowing and stiffening of cardiac valves with the aim of developing therapies to delay or prevent the requirement for surgical valve replacement. He is presently Chair of the New Zealand Interventional Working Group, Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand.

Stephen Wing
Department of Marine Science

Steve Wing and collaborators study marine ecosystems in Antarctica, the sub-Antarctic Islands, and the Mainland. In each place primary productivity from seaweeds and phytoplankton fuels an abundance of life. Using chemical tracers Wing and colleagues track organic matter and nutrients though the food web. With these data they assess the effect of changes in abundance, or species loss on the system. For example evidence from Wing’s research demonstrates that marine mammals and sea birds act as vectors, redistributing nutrients around the sub-Antarctic Islands and enhancing productivity. In the Antarctic Wing has linked productivity from algae living in the sea ice to invertebrates, fish, seals and penguins, providing new insights into the effects of climate change. In Fiordland, Wing and colleagues have demonstrated that marine life is dependent on the surrounding forest. These studies provide new insights into our place within, and the effects of our activities on, the marine ecosystem.

Michael Winikoff
Department of Information Science

Software plays an essential role in modern society. Increasingly, there is a need for software that can operate successfully in complex and dynamic environments, and that is adaptable, flexible and robust. The aim of Michael Winikoff’s research is to devise better ways of creating such software, drawing inspiration from how humans, human organisations, and human societies function. The resulting approach conceptualises software as a collection of autonomous entities (“agents”). Michael’s contributions in this area include work on foundational concepts for designing agent systems (in particular the role and use of goals), a methodology for designing agent systems, approaches for designing flexible and robust agent interactions, and techniques for testing, debugging, and modifying agent systems. Michael is the Head of Department of Information Science. In his spare time, he plays piano, sings in choir, and composes music.

Promotions to Associate Professor level:
(Effective 1 February 2014)

Promoted to Associate Professor:

Dr Gillian Abel (Public Health & General Practice, Christchurch)
Dr Nicola Atwool (Sociology, Gender and Social Work)
Dr Caroline Bell (Psychological Medicine, Christchurch)
Dr John Birch (Food Science)
Dr Michael (Mik) Black (Biochemistry)
Dr Rhiannon Braund (Pharmacy)
Dr Roland Broadbent (Women’s and Children’s Health)
Dr Rob Burns (Music)
Dr Anthony Butler (Radiology, Christchurch)
Dr Colin Cheyne (Philosophy)
Dr Vijay Devadas (Media, Film and Communication)
Dr George Dias (Anatomy)
Dr Ruth Empson (Physiology)
Mr Timothy Eglinton (Surgery, Christchurch)
Dr Ruth Fitzgerald (Anthropology & Archaeology)
Dr Catherine Fowler (Media, Film and Communication)
Dr Andrew Gorman (Geology)
Dr Jean Hay-Smith (Medicine, Wellington)
Dr Richard Macknight (Biochemistry)
Dr Lisa McNeill (Marketing)
Dr Motohide Miyahara (Physical Education, Sport & Exercise Sciences)
Dr Karen Nairn (College of Education)
Dr Patricia Priest (Preventive and Social Medicine)
Dr Lynette Sadleir (Paediatrics & Child Health, Wellington)
Dr Sheila Skeaff (Human Nutrition)
Dr Joel Tyndall (Pharmacy)
Dr Ross Vennell (Marine Science)
Dr Sarah Young (Pathology)

Promoted to Research Associate Professor:

Dr Sarah Derrett (Preventive and Social Medicine)
Dr Mira Harrison-Woolrych (Preventive and Social Medicine)
Dr Merilyn Hibma (Microbiology and Immunology)
Dr Michael Keall (Public Health, Wellington)
Dr John Pickering (Medicine, Christchurch)
Dr Sylvia Sander (Chemistry)
Dr Claudine Stirling (Chemistry)

Promoted to Clinical Associate Professor:

Dr Helen Lunt (Medicine, Christchurch)
Dr Michael Harrison (Surgery and Anaesthesia, Wellington)

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

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