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Otago researchers gain prestigious Rutherford Fellowships

The Clocktowers clock

Friday 11 November 2016 2:23pm

Two University of Otago scientists are among 10 top researchers who have been awarded highly sought-after fellowships to help them develop their research careers in New Zealand.

Drs Federico Baltar (Marine Science) and Virginia Toy (Geology) have received Rutherford Discovery Fellowships, which will provide each of them $800,000 (excl. GST) over a five-year period.

The fellowships allow researchers to develop a research group and programme around a particular topic, and are designed to ensure they establish themselves as contributors to and future leaders of New Zealand’s research community.

Federico Baltar
Dr Federico Baltar

Dr Baltar’s research programme will investigate the role which microbes play in the biogeochemistry of oceans in waters that are rich in nutrients but low in plankton, due to low levels of trace metals.

He will study how marine microbes are able to thrive in these understudied regions, which account for 30 per cent of ocean surface waters.

Microbes are the base of the marine food chain and the “engines” regulating the composition of the atmosphere, which affects climate. The ultimate aim of his research is to better understand their contribution to global climate processes, which until now has been a neglected area of study in those waters.

Dr Baltar says he is very grateful to receive this support.

“I believe that by identifying the microbial mechanisms of action and their influence we will be able to understand the role of these magnificent marine microbes and better gauge the scale of the effect of climate change and human actions on the marine ecosystems.”

Virginia Toy
Dr Virginia Toy

Dr Toy’s research programme will investigate the way that observations of fault rocks can be used to infer their mechanical behaviour – which influences how they behave during earthquakes, their potential to host mineral or hydrocarbon resources, and their ability to affect geothermal fluid flow.

She will couple high resolution observational methods – such as synchrotron and neutron tomography – with experiments and simulations to study fault rocks from active systems such as the Alpine Fault. She will take natural samples from the surface, but also from depth via scientific drilling projects, allowing her to follow the evolution of the rocks as they are progressively deformed.

Dr Toy says, “I am really looking forward to this opportunity to devote a substantial part of my time toward developing this research, and excited about my research group’s potential scientific advances in the next five years”.

For more information, contact:

Dr Federico Baltar
Department of Marine Science
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 5621


Dr Virginia Toy
Department of Geology
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 7506

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