Media Advisory June 25


How robotics technology is changing the way we do business and how it will help future-proof labour-intensive industry are questions up for discussion at Tauranga’s next Cafe Scientifique. Today, Monday 25 June, Steven Saunders, Managing Director of Tauranga’s Plus Group Horticulture, will discuss his company’s focus on research and innovation to ensure the sustainability of the horticultural industry. Rising costs, uncertain labour supply and a need to become more environmentally sustainable are pertinent issues which are being addressed through innovative research projects, such as a robotic apple packer and robotic kiwifruit picker. Also presenting will be three Otumoetai College students, who finished third equal in the 2012 VEX World Championship Robotics competition, recently held in the US. They were the only New Zealand team outside Auckland to have qualified for the competition, which involves more than 10,000 participants from middle school to university level from nearly 20 countries. Café Scientifique is a forum for debating science issues, where for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Organised by Julia and Warren Banks, Cafe Scientifique is held today, Monday 25 June, 6.45pm at Alimento, 72 First Avenue, Tauranga. For more information please visit


In his Inaugural Professorial Lecture taking place tomorrow, 26 June, University of Waikato Accounting Professor Charl de Villiers will discuss why businesses have begun to promote their social, environmental and sustainability programmes. Professor de Villiers has been researching the choices managers make when they decide which social and environmental information to disclose in their annual reports, on their websites and in other reports. He says the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is a great example of a company strategically releasing information to the public. During his lecture tomorrow, Professor de Villiers will explore the reasons behind companies releasing information to the public, the potential financial consequences and the influence information can have on investors’ decision making. “Organisations distribute a lot of information about environmental and sustainability issues. One of the questions I explore is why managers would disclose the information voluntarily. They must see some benefit.” The lecture starts at 6pm tomorrow, Tuesday 26 June, in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts. Inaugural Professorial Lecturers are the university’s way of introducing new or recently appointed professors to the wider community.


Two University of Waikato science and engineering students have been awarded the inaugural National Agricultural Fieldays Scholarships. Mark Benseman and Max Arrowsmith were awarded the scholarships by Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford during Fieldays. The scholarships, each worth $11,000, are aimed at graduate students undertaking research at the University of Waikato with a specific focus on the agricultural sector. Mark Benseman applied for the scholarship after working for an electronics company that supplies farming products and seeing the inaccuracies of currently-available pasture-measuring devices.“ Pasture’s the backbone of the New Zealand farming industry and it is essential for farmers to make the best use of available pasture. One of the limitations in farming is the ability to get accurate readings of the amount of dry matter in a given paddock,” says Mark. His project is currently being patented. Max Arrowsmith wants to find out if precision agriculture methods can be applied to steep hill country land areas to maximise fertiliser use. His work will take place at Blue Duck Station, 43km south west of Taumaranui, and will involve creating a model to predict the distribution of fertiliser across farmland with difficult terrain. “My work will determine whether precision agriculture can be applied to hill and steep land area to maximise phosphorous use efficiency, so that farming and phosphorous distribution is both economically and environmentally sustainable.” The University of Waikato is a strategic partner of Fieldays.


The Waikato University students behind the battery electric vehicle that successfully drove from Auckland to Bluff, have been highly commended for their work. The accolade was given to the group as part of their submission for the Ray Meyer Medal for Excellence in Student Design. Recognition is given annually to excellent final-year projects with a substantial design component, which have been completed as part of an Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) accredited qualification. The team of engineering students included Tim Mason, Dale Oswald, Greg McPherson and Matt Kershaw, with supervision from lecturer Dr Mike Duke. The group designed and built the single-seat car affectionately known as BEV (battery electric vehicle) as part of their fourth-year project during their Bachelor of Engineering last year. BEV was built by the students over two semesters and is a single-seater commuter vehicle powered by a bank of 10 lithium-ion batteries. Prime Minister John Key was particularly impressed with BEV during a visit to a University of Waikato stand at Fieldays recently. Mr Key spoke to current student Benjamin McGuinnes, who talked him through the working of the vehicle. The Ray Meyer award aims to encourage a new generation of engineering designers and is named in recognition of Professor Ray Meyer who was actively involved in research design and commercialisation throughout his engineering career.


Vice-Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and senior lecturer at Te Piringa - Faculty of Law Valmaine Toki attended Rio+20 and was part of a side panel talking about indigenous peoples and food sovereignty. Rio+20 involved world leaders, thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups coming together in an effort to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on a crowded planet. Ms Toki’s research interests are in the area of human and indigenous rights, therapeutic jurisprudence and resource management and the panel she was on included UN representatives, an International Indian Treaty Council delegate, and Dr Mirna Cunningham, an indigenous Nicuraguan – and her tribe’s first female doctor. They discussed food insecurity and promoting food sovereignty based on traditional cultures and human rights.


University of Waikato researchers have been awarded research grants totalling more than $1 million to study Māori men’s health and Māori child rearing. The research grants have been announced by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga – the Auckland-based Centre of Research Excellence that undertakes and invests in Māori community research. A two-year study into Māori men’s health has also received funding, worth $650,000. Led by Mohi Rua and Professor Darrin Hodgetts in the School of Psychology, the project will look at the everyday lives and positive relationships of Māori men in the context of men’s health by exploring supportive relationships and positive social interactions among three diverse groups of Māori men. “The majority of research on Māori men is illness-focused, reflecting the abundance of negative health and social statistics, but presents very few answers,” says Mohi Rua. “This project is not about illness however, it’s about wellness and the relationships that are necessary for sustaining it. This study will extend our understanding of human relationships as a resource for optimising Māori men’s health and wellness.” Researchers from the Te Kotahi Research Institute at the University of Waikato have been awarded a $520,000 grant for a two-year study of Māori child rearing. Dr Leonie Pihama, senior research fellow at Te Kotahi, is principal investigator for the research that will take a multi-pronged approach to study traditional forms of child rearing and how that might be applied in a contemporary environment. “Whānau is the cornerstone of a healthy and functioning society, economy and culture, but due to a range of reasons there’s been a disruption in the intergenerational transmission of mātauranga [knowledge] and tikanga [culture] for many whānau and we need to fix that.”


Miniature vehicles built from scratch had a crowd of local secondary school students ooing and ahhing with anticipation at the recent Osborne Physics and Engineering (OsPEn) Days event at the University of Waikato. The Capacitor Car Competition held during OsPEn Days required students to build cars that could travel up a custom built 9m long ramp which was set up along the front of a university lecture theatre. The cars performed individually and were judged on the maximum forward distance achieved on a single capacitor charge. “We saw excellent performances from St John’s College (22.1m total travel distance), Melville High School (23.6m) and Central Hawke's Bay College (26.7 m). The standout overall winner was Tuakau College with an amazing distance of 41.7m. Students were so enthusiastic that we plan to hold a similar competition at next year’s event,” says organiser Associate Professor Alistair Steyn-Ross. More than 600 students from as far afield as New Plymouth and Hawke’s Bay attend lectures and practical demonstrations. The focus was on applications of physics, with speakers providing examples such as vibration, energy harvesting, capacitors, and satellites to show how the physics they are learning at school can be used in the real world.


Computer science students at the University of Waikato are looking to business and community organisations for real-world projects to hone their programming and project management skills. The Department of Computer Science’s software engineering project is a three-month exercise for third-year students to work in groups to design and implement a medium-sized software project for a client – free of charge. Last year, students completed a range of projects including an iPad game for Asthma Waikato. The game was such a success that Asthma Waikato is coming back this year for more. Software engineering lecturer Dr David Streader, who’ll be supervising the projects over the course of the next semester, says it’s a great opportunity for organisations to get some free help from senior students. Interested organisations should contact Dr Streader on before B semester starts on 16 July.

This page has been reformatted for printing.