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University of Otago researchers contrasting winners of AMP Scholarships

Students in the Unicol dining room

Friday 28 August 2009 9:24am

The aims of two young researchers from the University of Otago are very different as winners of prestigious $10,000 AMP Scholarships, and yet both have research interests linked to study of the brain.

The Scholarships are to be presented by the Prime Minister, the Hon John Key, at the Auckland Museum Events Centre tonight, Friday 28 August.

Dr Shieak Tzeng (28) from the University of Otago, Wellington will use his scholarship for further ground-breaking health research into the brain and the body's autonomic nervous system at Harvard University Medical School's Cardiovascular Research Laboratory in the USA.

The other winner, Dr Jonathon Clearwater from the University's Psychology Department, and one of the country's top rock climbers, is aiming to be the first New Zealander to solo climb one of the most technically difficult and dangerous rock walls in the world. He has been climbing for 12 years and was named NZ Mountaineer of the Year in 2006.

Dr Clearwater (29) is heading to the USA's Yosemite National Park to try to 'knock off' the 1000 metre vertical rock wall of El Capitan. He expects to take five to 10 days in the attempt, sleeping on a suspended 'portaledge' fixed to the wall.

When he heard he had won a Scholarship Dr Clearwater enthused: "It's the chance of a lifetime and I'm really psyched!"

He is currently carrying out innovative research in the Department of Psychology using mathematical models and computer simulations to investigate how information is combined in the brain.

Dr Clearwater says many neural disorders such as schizophrenia are related to combining information in the brain, so a better understanding of the neural level interactions used in this process could be of great help in treating these disorders.

Dr Shieak Tzeng from the University of Otago, Wellington is equally excited about the opportunities that his AMP Scholarship will provide to develop his work at Harvard Medical School's Cardiovascular Research Laboratory.

"I'm really looking forward to it, and am delighted to have won an AMP Scholarship. It's one of the best labs in the world in this area and it'll mean that I can learn new techniques and skills to facilitate my research. It'll also be hugely stimulating to be working with a bigger group amongst leading international scientists."

Dr Tzeng's research, of wide interest internationally, is understanding how the cardiovascular system is controlled through the autonomic nervous system and the brain, and what happens when that equilibrium goes out of balance.

"My research is working around four major questions; what determines that balance, what things can change it, how can we measure the activity non-invasively, and what happens if cyclical body rhythms are lost, such as in heart failure?"

Both Dr Clearwater and Dr Tzeng expect to leave for their contrasting challenges around May next year.

For further information contact

Dr Shieak Tzeng
University of Otago Wellington
Tel 64 4 918 5229

Dr Jonathon Clearwater
University of Otago

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