Rutherford Foundation repatriates two Kiwis to study in New Zealand with $190k fellowships

The Rutherford Foundation has awarded its 2011 post-doctoral fellowships to two New Zealanders currently residing overseas who wish to return home to establish their scientific research careers here.

These fellowships each include funding of NZ$190,000 over two years, covering research costs and a travel allowance to attend conferences or do collaborative work.

Geologist Dr Ben Mackey and biologist Dr Gillian Gibb are the successful recipients. Ben will be returning from the US to work at the University of Canterbury, and Gillian is returning from France to work at Massey University.

Both scholars intend to take up their awards in New Zealand in the New Year.

The Foundation’s chairperson Professor Margaret Brimble said: “The Rutherford Foundation is pleased to be able to help repatriate these two young scientists who will contribute to the advancement of knowledge in areas of national importance.”

Dr Ben Mackey’s Rutherford Foundation post-doctoral fellowship will enable him to return to New Zealand from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to work at the University of Canterbury.

Professor Brimble said: “During his fellowship Ben will be developing a new technique for dating the exposure age of basalt rocks for seismic hazard assessment.”

This is important in New Zealand where many large urban centres are underlain by basaltic rock.  The research will lead to a greater understanding of the recurrence intervals of rare earthquakes, and the timing of landslides and volcanic eruptions.

Dr Gillian Gibb is currently in France at the University of Montpellier 2.  Her Rutherford Foundation post-doctoral award will be used to investigate the genetic architecture of flightlessness in island birds.

Professor Brimble said that the genetics of avian flightlessness is of particular importance in New Zealand as it is an aspect of our native fauna that reflects the nature of New Zealand’s isolation from predatory mammals for so long.

Dr Gibb has expertise in genetic sequencing and bioinformatics – the use of advanced computing to describe the sequences of genes on a large scale, which can compare sequences between individuals or species to gain knowledge about how genes affect traits of living things.  She will return to Massey University for her fellowship.