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Outstanding Otago academics made full professors

Main entrance to the University at night

Friday 6 November 2015 3:30pm

Clocktower angle sky image

Seventeen University of Otago academics—across a spectrum of research fields—have been promoted to full professor.

At Otago, full professorships are conferred only after a rigorous selection process that thoroughly evaluates academic quality and involves input from international experts.

Candidates must have demonstrated records of sustained excellence and outstanding leadership in research, teaching, and service to the University and their external communities. The promotion criteria at Otago are particularly rigorous.

Announcing the new professorships, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne warmly congratulated the 17 Otago staff on their success.

“These well-earned promotions are going to leading academics from across our Dunedin, Christchurch, and Wellington campuses and clearly reflect the range and depth of world-class scholarship at this university.”

Otago’s new professors are: Colin Brown (Physiology), Peter Dearden (Biochemistry), Claire Freeman (Geography), Jonathan Hall (Classics), Patricia Langhorne (Physics), Derelie Mangin (General Practice, University of Otago, Christchurch), Sally McCormick (Biochemistry), Tony Merriman (Biochemistry), David O’Hare (Psychology), Holger Regenbrecht (Information Science), Poia Rewi (Te Tumu), Jacinta Ruru (Law), Diana Sarfati (Public Health, Wellington), Abigail Smith (Marine Science), Darryl Tong (Oral Diagnostic and Surgical Sciences), James White (Geology), Nicholas Wilson (Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington).

The academics take up their new titles from 1 February 2016.

A further 28 University of Otago academics were promoted to Associate Professor level (full list below).

Professor profiles:

Colin Brown

Department of Physiology

Colin Brown investigates how the brain controls birth and lactation. His current research focusses on the mechanisms that control secretion of the hormone oxytocin, which is required for normal birth and lactation, and is involved in driving increased food intake during pregnancy. He also investigates the mechanisms that cause water retention in pregnancy via vasopressin (anti-diuretic hormone) secretion, and how malfunction of these control mechanisms might contribute to the development of hypertension.

Peter Dearden

Department of Biochemistry

Peter Dearden’s research focusses on the evolution of shape and form in animals. By studying how the genes and pathways that make an animal during embryogenesis change over evolutionary time he seeks to understand how shape evolves. Peter studies not only the way evolution interacts with development, but how the environment influences the way these genes and pathways work. His work focusses particular on insects, especially bees. Much of his work involves genetic studies of honeybees to support the beekeeping industry, and in searching for novel bee-friendly insecticides. Peter also has a strong interest in science communication and community engagement, and is the Director of Genetics Otago and the leader of the Lab-in-a-Box project.

Claire Freeman

Department of Geography

As an environmental planner, Claire Freeman’s research focusses on the intersection of the natural and built environment. She examines how environmental relationships can be enhanced through more effective planning policy, design and practice. In particular, she looks at how planning can help create urban environments that work better for children and young people, and for nature. It links across three major disciplinary fields; the social sciences, biological science and planning. Some current and recent projects she is involved with are: “Natural neighbourhoods for city children”, a Marsden-funded study exploring how children in Dunedin, Auckland and Wellington connect with nature in their daily lives; “the Dunedin Garden Study,” which investigates householders’ relationships with native biodiversity in their gardens; “Children and young people’s experiences following the Christchurch earthquake”; and a study of “Children’s experiences of neighbourhood” in New Zealand, Fiji and Kiribati.

Jonathan Hall

Department of Classics

Jon Hall’s research focusses on the works of Marcus Cicero, a writer, orator and politician who lived in ancient Rome during the time of Julius Caesar. Jon’s publications include the book Politeness and Politics in Cicero's Letters (Oxford University Press 2007), which analyses the use of diplomatic language in the correspondence exchanged between Cicero and powerful contemporaries such as Mark Antony, Pompey and Cato; and Cicero's Use of Judicial Theater (University of Michigan Press 2014), which examines the orator's exploitation of showmanship in the Roman law courts. He has also co-edited a 500-page volume entitled A Companion to Roman Rhetoric (Blackwell-Wiley 2007), which features chapters written by prominent scholars from across the world, and he has published numerous academic articles on Cicero's letters, speeches and treatises in leading international journals.

Patricia Langhorne

Department of Physics

Pat Langhorne has been fascinated by the polar regions since her teenage years. After undergraduate physics at the University of Aberdeen, Pat completed a PhD on sea ice at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England. In 1985 she was invited to take part in an Antarctic experiment which brought her to New Zealand for the first time, and since 1988 she has been teaching physics and researching sea ice physical processes at the University of Otago. Working with postgraduate students and with national and international collaborators, she has taken part in about twenty research visits to Antarctica. Her research group studies an exotic form of sea ice known as platelet ice, which grows at the base of sea ice when super-cooled seawater flows out from under ice shelves. Platelet ice preserves a record of the oceanographic conditions at the time of its formation during the Antarctic winter.

Derelie Mangin

Department of General Practice, University of Otago, Christchurch

Dee Mangin’s work focuses on improving the safety and effectiveness of prescribed medicines, and on trials of new models of extended primary care delivery in the community. Her primary care research has spanned childhood to older age, including a study of the effects of early iron deficiency on children’s long-term developmental outcomes, studies on antibiotic resistance, and a clinical trial of the effectiveness and safety of long-term antidepressants. Her current focus is on patients with multimorbidity, and their increasingly complex medication regimens (polypharmacy). Her work on polypharmacy research, advocacy and education programmes has improved understanding and prompted discussions around drug use in older age. One of her studies has become one of the most cited in this area internationally, showing the patient benefits of ‘de-prescribing’ (reducing the medication burden), and is the foundation for her ongoing work in multimorbidity and polypharmacy in New Zealand and internationally. She is a practising family doctor and in 2012 received the RNZCGP Distinguished Service Medal.

Sally McCormick

Department of Biochemistry

Sally McCormick’s laboratory studies the regulation of molecules involved in heart disease with a particular interest in the plasma lipoproteins that determine blood cholesterol levels. Sally’s research investigates the genetics of families with inherited plasma lipoprotein disorders. She has a special interest in the genetics of lipoprotein(a), a recently evolved lipoprotein which promotes the development of heart disease and in high density lipoprotein, a lipoprotein which protects against heart disease but is commonly found at low levels in the population. She has a programme to identify new targets for manipulating the levels of both lipoprotein(a) and high density lipoprotein as currently there is no therapy available that specifically targets either. Her laboratory also investigates the role of oxidative stress in heart disease by testing antioxidant compounds for their ability to enhance antioxidant status and reduce disease development.

Tony Merriman

Department of Biochemistry

Tony Merriman studies the genetics of gout and other related conditions (diabetes, kidney disease and obesity). Gout is a form of arthritis caused when blood levels of urate get too high. In some people the urate crystallises in the joints and an extremely painful inflammatory response causes gout. Gout is particularly prevalent in New Zealand’s Māori and Pacific populations and commonly occurs with other metabolic diseases, particularly diabetes, heart and kidney disease. In order to better understand the biological causes, Tony’s research programme focusses on the contribution of inherited genetic variants, diet and some drugs and the way they interact, to raise urate levels and trigger gout attacks. The genetic causes of diabetes, obesity and kidney disease in Māori and Pacific people are also being studied. Better understanding of the biology should reveal new approaches for medical and public health intervention in addition to improving current approaches.

David O’Hare

Department of Psychology

David O’Hare’s research interests are in the area of human decision making involving risk and uncertainty. Most of his research has been carried out in relation to aviation decision making. Studies have been conducted in flight simulation experiments, online surveys and through intensive study of archival aircraft accident data. His work has included the development and evaluation of interactive training tools distributed to pilots in several countries. David’s work has been funded by the US Federal Aviation Administration and NASA, amongst others, and cited in accident investigations by the NTSB. He has also carried out field and laboratory studies of the accuracy of sports officials’ decision making and ways of developing decision making accuracy in training. He has studied the effects of age on risky decision making, the effects of individual differences in cognitive ability on learning to perform complex tasks, and the development of decision support technology for diagnostic reasoning.

Holger Regenbrecht

Department of Information Science

Holger Regenbrecht’s general field of research is Human-Computer Interaction with an emphasis on visual computing. In particular, he works on computer-mediated realities where the human's view of the world is delivered via a computing system. For example, in augmented reality the real world is superimposed with spatially-aligned information. His work spans theory, concepts, techniques, technologies, and applications in a wide range of domains (civil engineering and architecture, automotive, aerospace, medicine, rehabilitation and well-being, and neuroscience). A second emphasis of his research is computer-mediated communication, such as telepresence systems, where he studies technological and psychological aspects and delivers prototype solutions, such as the integration of collaboration (e.g. shared design models) with communication (e.g. spatial videoconferencing) technologies. Computer-mediated realities and communication research requires strong multi- and interdisciplinary approaches. Holger has worked in, and led teams, comprising computer and information scientists, psychologists, designers, and domain experts.

Poia Rewi

Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies

Poia Rewi’s areas of expertise lie in language revitalisation, Māori culture, Māori performing arts and research. The foundation of these is primarily Māori language, as the following comment shows: “Ko te reo Māori te whakairinga o ngā whakapapa a te Māori ki ana tātai, ki tana taiao. Genealogical and environmental connectivity, for Māori, is afforded through the Māori language itself” (Rewi & Rewi 2015). His recent Māori language research has included marae and urban family communities as well as central government departments. Not only does the research have published outputs and conference presentations, it has also provided the opportunity for summer scholarships and postgraduate scholarships at master’s and doctoral level which allow for succession planning, especially in ensuring the research capacity on the Māori language at the University of Otago and in Dunedin and the South Island is maintained. It also enables research at Otago to benefit local communities who seek to ensure the Māori language remains a distinguishing feature of New Zealand.

Jacinta Ruru

Faculty of Law

Jacinta Ruru, based in the Faculty of Law, teaches first-year law and upper-level courses in Māori Land Law and Law and Indigenous Peoples. Her more than 90 publications explore Indigenous peoples’ legal rights to own, manage and govern Māori land, water, national parks and coastlines. She has co-led national and international research projects on the common law doctrine of discovery, Indigenous peoples’ rights to freshwater and minerals, and multidisciplinary understandings of landscapes. She has won awards in teaching, research and for supervision. Jacinta is General Editor for the Resource Management Law Association, co-chair of Te Poutama Māori (Otago’s Māori Academic Staff Caucus), and Director of a new Te Ihaka Building Māori Leaders in Law programme. She is an associate at the Indigenous Law Centre, University of New South Wales and will commence co-directorship of Nga Pae o te Maramatanga New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence in 2016.

Diana Sarfati

Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Diana Sarfati is the Director of the Cancer Control and Screening Research Group. She has led a large body of work on ethnic disparities in cancer outcomes. This work has resulted in the identification of key patient and health system factors that influence cancer survival. This work has been used extensively by health policy makers, clinicians and other researchers to develop policies and practices that aim to reduce inequities in cancer outcomes. Her work in screening has included both research and policy elements. She has written many academic papers relating to screening and is currently leading work on the benefits and harms of rheumatic heart disease screening. She is a member of the National Screening Advisory Group and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Advisory Committee. Multimorbidity is the co-existence of long-term medical conditions. Multimorbidity is common, particularly among those aged over 65 years, Māori and Pacific people and those living in socioeconomic deprivation. Diana has a strong interest in research focussed on identifying interventions to improve outcomes among patients with multimorbidity.

Abigail Smith

Department of Marine Science

Abby Smith is fascinated by seashells. Her research focuses on how marine animals make shells, what those shells are made of, and how the geochemistry of marine skeletal carbonate reflects the composition of seawater. Her recent work has focussed on how marine shells (particularly bryozoans) are affected when CO2 in the atmosphere reduces the pH of seawater – which shells will last into the future? In December Abby will lead a multi-disciplinary international expedition to White Island in the Bay of Plenty to examine the effect of volcanic vents on seawater and on the seaweeds and animals living there. Abby is the Head of Department of Marine Science, Director of the Otago Research Theme on Ocean Acidification, Chair of the Council of the NZ Ocean Acidification Community, Treasurer of the International Bryozoology Association, and a keen cricket fan.

Darryl Tong

Department of Oral Diagnostic and Surgical Sciences

Darryl Tong has a wide range of research interests which includes clinical (trauma and military surgery), biomechanical (forensic biology and subconcussion in sports), historical (development of maxillofacial surgery) and development of surgical instruments for commercialisation. His current research includes the quantification of subconcussive forces to the head and how it relates to potential long-term brain injury especially in sports and the martial arts; the development of an anatomical head model (which incorporates a simulant skin, skull and brain) for forensic blunt and ballistic trauma research and war surgery of the head, face and neck relating to operational deployment in areas of conflict, personal protective equipment and lessons learned from military medical history. He is the co-director of the South Island Interdisciplinary Brain Injury Research Group (SIBIRG) and part of the management committee for the Veterans’ Health Research Group (University of Otago Research Theme).

James White

Department of Geology

James White’s work in volcanology is broadly collaborative and applies tools from geology, chemistry and physics to analyse volcano behaviour. Field studies provide primary data, and have so far taken him to the North Island, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Iceland, Antarctica, on research cruises using remote submersibles, and to the floor of the Pacific Ocean in submarines. He also uses laboratory and field-scale analogue experiments to investigate dynamic processes, and textural and geochemical analysis of volcanic rocks and particles that record past events. Volcanic eruptions are controlled by processes that begin underground, so he geologically investigates drillcores and deeply eroded extinct volcanoes to processes once active there. Finally, all volcanoes and their eruptions are affected by the environments in which they form, and he has particularly focussed on volcanism involving groundwater, lakes, oceans, and glaciers, plus resulting hydrological hazards such as lahars and flooding.

Nicholas Wilson

Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

Nick Wilson trained as a medical doctor and subsequently specialised as a public health physician. He has always had a strong interest in prevention and big-impact public health issues. This has led him to work particularly in the field of tobacco-use epidemiology and control—with a special focus on tobacco taxation, smokefree environments and measuring secondhand smoke pollution. More recently he has been working with the BODE3 Team, University of Otago, Wellington, which uses epidemiological and health economic modelling to explore the cost-effectiveness of tobacco control and other preventive interventions such as policies to lower dietary salt. He has also undertaken work on optimising diets from various perspectives, including to both benefit health and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Much of his earlier career was in communicable disease control and this remains one of his research interests, especially foodborne campylobacter infection and pandemic influenza.

Promoted to Associate Professor:

(Effective 1 February 2016)

Lynley Anderson (Bioethics Centre)
Boris Baeumer (Mathematics and Statistics)
Vincent Bennani (Oral Rehabilitation)
Lyndie Foster Page (Oral Sciences)
Clinton Golding (Higher Education Development Centre)
Kimberly Hageman (Chemistry)
Mike Hilton (Geography)
Lisa Houghton (Human Nutrition)
Jackie Hunter (Psychology)
Guy Jameson (Chemistry)
Niels Kjaergaard (Physics)
Mihaly Kovacs (Mathematics and Statistics)
Beulah Leitch (Anatomy)
Craig Marshall (Biochemistry)
Jacques van der Meer (University of Otago College of Education)
Janice Murray (Psychology)
Lachlan Paterson (Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies)
Chris Prentice (English and Linguistics)
Mark Seymour (History and Art History)
Vicki Spencer (Politics)
Bruce Robertson (Zoology)
Will Sweetman (Theology and Religion)
Geoff Tompkins (Oral Sciences)
June Tordoff (School of Pharmacy)
Shieak Tzeng (Surgery and Anaesthesia, University of Otago, Wellington)
Angela Wanhalla (History and Art History)
Ceri Warnock (Faculty of Law)
Kate Wynn-Williams (Accountancy and Finance)

Promoted to Research Associate Professor:

Timothy Woodfield (Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)

For more information, contact:

Simon Ancell
Marketing and Communications
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 5016

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