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Otago researchers gain major Marsden funding

Concrete Gargoyle

Thursday 6 October 2011 2:18pm

University of Otago researchers have gained $17.8 million to undertake 26 leading-edge projects in the Marsden Fund annual round announced today.

The extremely competitive Marsden Fund is regarded as a hallmark of excellence, allowing New Zealand’s best researchers to explore their ideas. In the latest round, projects will be led by researchers from across the University’s four divisions of Commerce, Health Sciences, Humanities and Science.

For the seventh successive year, Otago researchers have gained the largest share of funding available in the round. The research topics they will address range from delving into the physics of ultra-cold atoms to critically examining the notion of ‘informed choice’ in young adult smokers.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Helen Nicholson says that Otago’s “fantastic” showing in the round, which sees the University’s researchers gain one-third of the total pool of $53.8 million, reflects their high calibre and the excellence of the projects they proposed.

“I am extremely proud of our researchers’ sterling performance, especially given that the Marsden Fund involves a rigorous application process that this year saw only 8.2% of the 1078 preliminary proposals nationwide being funded.”

Otago’s result also highlights the continuing emphasis the University places on supporting a strong research culture among staff, Professor Nicholson says.

The innovative Otago projects funded in the latest round include investigations into the physical world around us, such as: the strange properties of ultra-cold atoms; new nanotechnologies; earthquake mechanisms deep under the Alpine Fault; factors which affect the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide; and parasite transmission in freshwater eco-systems.

Other studies aim to shine new light on the history of New Zealand’s plants and animals, including the question of whether some of our iconic coastal species are actually relatively new arrivals from overseas; to use latest techniques to chart the emergence of ancient Asian civilisations and, in another project, to delve into how, when and where cattle were domesticated.

Among projects with a biomedical focus are investigations into a tumour suppressor gene variant; early embryo development; a possible new mechanism regulating the immune system; and other studies involving aspects of DNA and certain proteins that are vital to normal health and development. The mystery of why females of many species choose to mate with old males will also be explored in one project.

Neuroscience-related studies focus on the role of new nerve cells in memory storage; the genetic basis of independent hand movements; and the neural basis of ambitiousness.

Projects in the humanities and social sciences will involve examination of medieval influences on modernist literature; how the interactions between researchers and ethics committees might be improved through post-research conversations; and whether tobacco companies’ claims that smokers make ‘informed’ decisions to smoke match young adults’ experiences or if ‘informed choice’ is an oxymoron that inhibits tobacco control.

Eight of the Otago projects are ‘Fast-Start’ grants designed to support outstanding early-career researchers. All 26 projects run for three years and the funding amounts are spread over this period.

For more information, contact

Professor Helen Nicholson
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
Tel 64 3 479 8835

Otago’s Marsden recipients

(Please note only Otago principal investigators and co-principal investigators are listed)

Professor Cliff Abraham (Department of Psychology)
Young versus mature neurons: competition for the representation of memory
$985,000 over three years

Professor Chris Ackerley (Department of English)
The “Machinery of Transcendence”: Unattended moments in the Modernist Tradition
$822,000 over three years

Professor Antony Braithwaite (Department of Pathology)
The p53 tumour suppressor and its nemesis - does a p53 isoform promote cancer through an inflammatory pathway?
$860,000 over three years
Co-Principal Investigator: Professor Margaret Baird (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

Dr James Crowley (Department of Chemistry)
Readily Synthesised Molecular Actuators
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start grant)

Associate Professor Catherine Day (Department of Biochemistry)
E2s and the regulation of ubiquitin transfer
$985,000 over three years

Dr Elizabeth Duncan (Department of Biochemistry)
Plastic genomes: does genome structure facilitate phenotypic plasticity?
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start grant)

Associate Professor Liz Franz (Department of Psychology)
The Genetic Basis of Independent Movements of the Left and Right Hands
$924,500 over three years

Dr Tzahi Grunzweig (Department of Physics)
Quantum Tunnelling and the Zeno effect for Individual Atoms
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start grant)

Associate Professor Mark Hampton (Department of Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch)
Regulatory cytokine with a built-in redox sensor
$890,000 over three years

Professor Charles Higham (Department of Anthropology and Archaeology)
The Passage of Time: Dating the Prehistory of Southern China and Southeast Asia
$818,000 over three years

Dr Kristin Hillman (Department of Psychology)
Ambition and the anterior cingulate cortex: neural-level contributions to effortful choice behaviour
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start grant)

Professor Janet Hoek (Department of Marketing)
Exploring an oxymoron: smoking as an ‘informed choice’
$615,000 over three years
Co-Principal Investigator: Professor Richard Edwards (Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington)

Dr Ann Horsburgh (Department of Anatomy)
Inventing Cattle: A genetic study of cattle domestication through next generation sequencing
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start grant)

Dr Julia Horsfield (Department of Pathology)
Linking cell division with differentiation: is stem cell fate sealed by cohesin?
$990,000 over three years

Dr Sheri Johnson (Department of Anatomy)
Are old males still good males and can females tell the difference?
$345,000 (Fast-Start grant)

Professor Martin Kennedy (Department of Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch)
Methylation-stabilised G-quadruplex structures as a novel mammalian gene regulation mechanism
$815,000 over three years

Dr Niels Kjaergaard (Department of Physics)
Littlest Hadron Collider: a laser based accelerator for ultra-cold atoms
$735,000 over three years

Associate Professor Daphne Lee (Department of Geology)
Life in and beyond maars: a revolution in understanding New Zealand Miocene terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystems
$767,000 over three years

Dr Carla Meledandri (Department of Chemistry)
Toward new functional magnetic materials for biomedicine: Synthesis of shape-controlled magnetic nanoparticles and investigation of their magnetic resonance properties in suspension
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start grant)

Dr Christopher Moy (Department of Geology)
The Winds of Change: Evaluating New Zealand's Hydrologic Response to Changing Southern Hemisphere Westerly Winds
$345,000 over three years (Fast-Start grant)

Professor Robert Poulin (Department of Zoology)
Connect the dots: Network analysis of parasitism within food webs
$830,000 over three years

Professor Dave Prior (Department of Geology)
Episodic creep at the brittle-ductile transition during the seismic cycle of great earthquakes
$915,000 over three years

Professor Iain Raeburn (Department of Mathematics and Statistics)
Equilibrium states of operator algebras associated to dynamical systems
$585,000 over three years
Co-Principal Investigator: Professor Astrid an Huef (Department of Mathematics and Statistics)

Dr Sylvia Sander (Department of Chemistry)
From soils to seas: how does the long-term fate of aerosol iron impact ocean productivity and global climate
$818,000 over three years

Associate Professor Martin Tolich (Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work)
Could post-research conversations between ethics committees and applicants untangle researchers’ tensions with the ethics review process and enhance how NZ researchers engage with Maori?
$810,000 over three years

Professor Jon Waters (Department of Zoology)
The biogeographic importance of historical contingency: extinction and recolonisation in coastal New Zealand
$878,000 over three years

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

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