Media Advisory October 29


An examination of what triggers toxin production in blue-green algae, the role of the hormone oxytocin in sharing food with others, and an analysis of whakatauki (proverbs) and conservation of biodiversity in Aotearoa are among six research projects led by University of Waikato researchers to receive support from the Marsden Fund, New Zealand's funding for ideas-driven research. The Marsden Fund will distribute $54.6 million to fund 86 new research projects nationwide, each for a three-year period. More than a third of the proposals funded are Marsden Fast-Starts, which are designed to help outstanding young researchers establish themselves within New Zealand. "Marsden Fund grants are highly competitive, less than 10% of all applications are successful, so I’m delighted with our success," says Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford. Recipients include ecologist Dr Daniel Laughlin, fresh water ecologist Professor David Hamilton, Dr Pawel Olszewski who is looking at social eating behaviour, Dr Joseph Lane who is looking at nitrous oxide in the environment, Dr Hemi Whaanga from the School of Māori and Pacific Development, and Associate Professor Shiv Ganesh who is looking at collective action in New Zealand. The Marsden Fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council, and funded by the New Zealand Government.


A chemical engineering student who’s looking for ways to use blood polymers to make bioplastics was a double winner at the University of Waikato’s Thesis in 3 competition. Ten doctoral students each had three minutes and a single static powerpoint slide to talk about their research and why it was important, with their presentations judged by a panel of experts and a full theatre at the University’s Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts. Ku Marsilla Ku Ishak won the people’s choice award and was judged the overall winner, taking away $5000 for her win. It’s the first time in the competition’s four-year history that the one person has won both major prizes. Her speech was titled Turning animal blood into bioplastics: A perfect marriage. “With 39.5 million sheep and cattle in New Zealand there is plenty of opportunity to use animal blood in bioplastic manufacture. The trouble is, animal bloodmeal needs to blended with other polymers, and it’s a bit like finding a compatible partner to make that perfect marriage - sometimes it’s like oil and water, and it doesn’t work.” The judges praised Ku Marsilla’s content and engaging communication style. She’ll go on to represent Waikato at next year’s Australasian competition.


The University of Waikato is once again a major partner of Equidays – a national event for all sectors of the equine industry. Waikato University Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford says being involved in Equidays is a fitting partnership for the university. “The University of Waikato is a very strong supporter of the region. We are strategic partners at the National Agricultural Fieldays, and it is fitting that we also play our part with Equidays.” Professor Crawford says Equidays is particularly relevant to the university which has a proud history of involvement and support in the agricultural and equine industry. Equidays takes place later this week from 2-4 November and is held at Hamilton’s Mystery Creek. For information visit the Equidays website.


Te Mata Hautū Taketake - the new Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre at Te Piringa-Faculty of Law at the University of Waikato is holding its official launch next week. The Centre has been established to explore cutting edge research themes that are practical, effective and culturally relevant for improving Māori governance generally. The Centre plans to apply this research by assisting Māori organisations and communities through the provision of quality governance courses, workshops, publications and symposia and will also work to facilitate a network of partner organisations to explore opportunities for mutual benefit. The launch will be held at three locations – Hamilton on Monday 5 November, Rotorua on Tuesday 6 November and in Wellington on 7 November. Guest speakers will include Professor Mick Dodson (Director of National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University, Canberra), Chief Judge Wilson Isaac of the Māori Land Court, Judge Stephen Clark, Judge Craig Coxhead, Leith Comer (Chief Executive, Te Puni Kokiri) plus representatives from the Law Faculty.


A group of senior students from the University of Waikato’s Computer Science Department has developed a phone-based photo printing app for the United States’ biggest pharmacy chain, Walgreens, thanks to support from MEA Mobile, one of New Zealand's top mobile application developers. The four Waikato students took on the job of developing the app for their COMP 314 software engineering project - a three-month exercise for third-year students to design and implement a medium-sized software project. MEA Mobile provided technical guidance and market support for the students to give them real-world experience in the globally booming business of mobile app development. MEA Mobile has already developed a range of successful apps for the mobile photography market, and through its US offices was able to facilitate the special arrangement with Walgreens. Called Printicular, the free Android app lets users send their phone, tablet or Facebook photos to be printed at the nearest Walgreens store. Walgreens is one of the largest chain drugstores in the US with more than 8000 outlets throughout the country all of which provide a photo printing service. Mark Feaver, Jeremy Roundill, Yoni Villamor and Simon Campbell had eight weeks to build the app, using Walgreens Application Programming Interface (API) or code library which was made available to them through MEA Mobile.


Two University of Waikato researchers are working to come up with a faster way to detect strangles in horses. Biological scientist Dr Ray Cursons and his Masters student and technician Olivia Patty have been trialling a molecular diagnostic method, which would help diagnose the infection faster. Horse strangles is one of the most contagious diseases in horses worldwide. It’s characterised by abscesses in the neck that cause lymph nodes to become inflamed. The surrounding tissue becomes swollen and in very severe cases can strangle the airways of affected horses. They received a grant from the New Zealand Equine Research Foundation in 2011 to develop a polymerase chain reaction (a molecular diagnostic method) that decreases the amount of time required for getting the results back and increases the accuracy. This study also identified two novel strains of the strangles causative agent and as a result, they received another grant to compare and evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccines available against these two strains of horse strangles unique to New Zealand.


With renewability and sustainable practices under the global spotlight, scientists are focusing their research on discovering new waste materials that can be turned into useful products. At today’s Café Scientifique in Tauranga, engineering lecturer Dr Johan Verbeek will discuss his work in creating bio-derived products, and the progress made to commercialise them. Dr Verbeek has been nominated for and won various awards, including being a finalist in the 2011 Kudos Awards for his work turning low-value animal protein into high-value biodegradable plastics. 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. The Café Scientifique series is organised by Julia and Warren Banks and supported by the University of Waikato. The next Café is held today, Monday 29 October, 6.45pm, at Alimento, 72 First Avenue, Tauranga. For more information visit:


Waikato University Organic Chemistry student Megan Grainger has been awarded a Claude McCarthy Fellowship and is heading to the University of Montana to finish her PhD. Her PhD is looking at the chemical conversion that occurs in mānuka honey responsible for the unique mānuka factor (UMF), and trying to find out how it occurs, and how long it takes. The Claude McCarthy Fellowship allows Megan to move to the University of Montana and continue working with her external supervisor Professor Emeritus Richard Field – a physical chemist who specialises in nonlinear dynamics. “My PhD title is ‘Kinetics of conversion of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to methylglyoxal (MGO) in honey’. MGO is the compound responsible for the unique mānuka factor (UMF) which has anti-bacterial properties unique to mānuka honey. At present beekeepers store the honey for a long time without knowing if the conversion is complete.” She is 20 months through her PhD and is working to produce a model that will predict the ideal conversion environment. Megan leaves in June and will spend two months at the University of Montana.


University of Waikato law graduate Laura Clews is joining the family business. This month she graduated alongside about 600 fellow Waikato students at Claudelands Arena and days later was admitted to the bar by her father at the Hamilton High Court. Law is a big thing in the Clews household. Laura’s father Kit has his own practice and her mum Jenny is a legal executive who is studying towards a law degree at Waikato. “I finished my degree in June, so have spent the last few months tutoring and completing my professionals and on Friday was admitted to the bar. It was pretty special being admitted to the bar by my dad. You have to get someone from the local legal fraternity to admit you, and I’m lucky to be in a position where he can admit me.” She’s already landed on her feet and in January moves to Auckland to work as a Judge’s Assistant at the High Court.

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