On this page:
On the 21st of February 2013 The Royal Society of New Zealand co-hosted a very special function at the Northern Club in Auckland with the Rutherford Foundation to celebrate the work and achievements of some of the Foundation’s alumni. Associate Professor Alan Davidson, the Foundation’s inaugural Distinguished Fellow, spoke about his research concerning how acquired and congenital defects in the kidney leads to disease. Furthermore he spoke about his ongoing research goal to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying renal regeneration following injury. Dr Rachel Shaw, who won a scholarship to study towards a PhD at the University of Cambridge, spoke about her time at the prestigious University and her research into the behaviour and cognition of the Eurasian jay. The function was a resounding success, with the special guests learning more about the Scholars outstanding achievements and the Rutherford Foundation as a whole.
The Rutherford Foundation Trust has awarded prestigious scholarships to nine of New Zealand’s most outstanding emerging researchers, including four international PhD scholarships and five postdoctoral fellowships.
Highlights from the 2012 funding round include a range of projects, from the treatment of osteoporosis and cardiac dysfunction in diabetes, to the future of resource management in New Zealand and black holes in astrophysics.
The Rutherford Foundation, which awards the scholarships, is a trust set up by the Royal Society of New Zealand to provide support to emerging New Zealand scientists.
Chair of the Trustees of the Rutherford Foundation, Professor Margaret Brimble, says it is important for our emerging researchers to gain these types of scholarships. She highlights the need for these opportunities:
“The shortage of postdoctoral positions in New Zealand is a concern for the research community. The Rutherford Foundation is therefore very pleased to offer five postdoctoral fellowships to talented PhD graduates as well as four PhD training scholarships.”
“The calibre of these young scientists was truly outstanding and the competition was extremely tough. These scientists were all undertaking research in areas of national importance.”
The five postdoctoral fellows will work at New Zealand universities and crown research institutes.
Two of the PhD scholarships will be hosted by the University of Cambridge in England. One will be hosted by the University of Michigan in the USA and the other at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Funding for these awards comes from the New Zealand Government, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, the Freemasons Roskill Foundation and private donations.
New Zealand Postdoctoral Fellows:
Dr Peng Du, The University of Auckland
Electrogastrogram – a non-invasive diagnostic tool of gastric bioelectrical activity
There is a bioelectrical activity associated with every muscular contraction in the human body. The timing, pattern and shape of these bioelectrical activities can tell us about the health of our muscles. The stomach is also a highly muscular organ in the human body and the bioelectrical activity in the stomach can be recorded from the body surface using a technique called electrogastrography (EGG). EGG offers an attractive efficient screening and diagnostic tool for patients with chronic digestive-related diseases. In this proposal, Dr Peng Du will seek to decode the EGG recordings and relate them to specific abnormal patterns of gastric bioelectrical activity. To achieve this goal, Peng will develop a series of mathematical models that will be capable of predicting the unique bioelectrical signatures associated with each class of abnormal gastric bioelectrical activity. Experiments will be conducted to validate the predicted bioelectrical signatures and further refine the EGG recording protocols in a clinical setting. Peng believes the application of EGG as a routinely diagnostic tool will be a promising step towards facilitating improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of certain classes of chronic digestive diseases.
Jamie Howarth, GNS Science
How often does the Alpine Fault produce characteristic great earthquakes?
New Zealand is a country that straddles a complex plate boundary, which is represented by the Alpine Fault in southern New Zealand. The fault is one of the longest, straightest and fasting slipping faults on earth; it is also the largest source of seismic hazard in the South Island. The proposed research will determine the frequency, length of fault rupture and magnitude of earthquakes that have occurred on the fault during the past 3000 years from evidence of past earthquakes preserved in the sediments of lakes distributed along the length of the fault. Data from the lake sediments will be used to determine whether the Alpine Fault always produces great (magnitude >8) earthquakes. The outcomes of the study will improve our understanding of the seismic hazard posed by the Alpine Fault and of what to expect from the next big earthquake on the fault. It will also help determine whether faults produce earthquakes with similar magnitudes each time they break. This is a topic of intense international interest as it has implications for how seismic hazards from individual faults are assessed.
Dr Kimberley Mellor, The University of Auckland
Cardiac dysfunction in diabetes: a novel therapeutic approach
Diabetes is a global epidemic with high mortality and is linked to heart failure. Despite over a decade of investigation, the ultimate cause of cardiac dysfunction in diabetic patients remains elusive. Dr Kimberley Mellor proposes that diabetic heart failure reflects a progressive decline in heart pump efficiency due to irreversible modification of the proteins involved in contraction and an accumulation of large glycogen stores in the heart muscle cells. At the Auckland Bioengineering Institute she will be able to directly assess efficiency of the heart muscle and investigate the underlying causes of this mechanical inefficiency in the diabetic heart.
Dr Estelle Dominati, AgResearch
Quantifying and Valuing the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services of Agro-Ecosystems: The Future face of Resource Management in New Zealand
Dr Estelle Dominati obtained her Master’s degree in sustainable agriculture from SupAgro in Montpellier (France) in 2006 before completing her PhD in Ecological Economics with AgResearch and Massey University in Palmerston North. With Estelle’s current research interest at AgResearch she is exploring the utility of an ecosystem service approach to resource management in New Zealand.
The concepts of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services, the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, have gained considerable attention globally, and have been identified as the future of resource management. In New Zealand, an ecosystem services approach will give life to the central pillar of the Resource Management Act, and help inform “Greening New Zealand’s Growth”.
The overall goal of this project is to advance knowledge around the quantification and valuation of ecosystem services from agricultural systems. The project will develop an ecosystem services approach to evaluate current policies affecting farming in different regions. Making information about the trade-offs between environmental, economic, social and cultural outcomes more accessible to resource managers and policy makers will lead to better informed decision making and thereby guide agriculture in New Zealand towards increased sustainability and reduced environmental impacts.
Freemasons Roskill Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow:
Dr Renata Kowalczyk, The University of Auckland
Preptin peptidomimetics for the treatment of osteoporosis
The focus of Dr Renata Kowalczyk’s research is the design and chemical synthesis of novel drug candidates which may be used in the future for the oral treatment of osteoporosis. The project will be conducted at the University of Auckland in close collaboration with the Auckland Bone Research Group (School of Medicine). It has been shown that the peptide hormone, preptin-(1-16), can be used to stimulate bone formation. The aim of Renata’s study is to design chemical modifications of the preptin-(1-16) peptide to find more stable and/or potent molecules. The novel compounds prepared will be tested for their ability to stimulate the activity of bone forming cells.
International PhD Scholarship:
Jordan McMahon, The University of Michigan
Jordan McMahon will be conducting research into the field of abstract algebra, which is the study of mathematical objects and their properties. He will be specialising in non-associative algebras, which is a fundamental research field in mathematics and has particular importance in quantum physics. The University of Michigan is one of the best institutions in the world for mathematics, and has an excellent faculty with expertise in this field.
Thomas Wright, University of Oxford
Does the ‘histone code’ speak across the generations? Using synthetic protein chemistry to investigate the heritability of histone PTMs
With this award, Thomas Wright will study the chemistry of proteins under the supervision of Professor Ben Davis at the University of Oxford. His work will look at new, faster methods for targeted modification of proteins using chemistry. The specific proteins they will study are histone proteins, which wrap up the DNA in our cells and control how that DNA is ‘read’ by the cell. These proteins are important in processes as varied as cancer, the flowering of plants and what makes the different tissues in our body unique. Coming up with easier methods to make these proteins in a controlled manner will have a big influence on our ability to understand the biology of these proteins, which could potentially have a large impact across a range of biological fields.
PhD Scholarships at the University of Cambridge:
Scott Thomas, The University of Cambridge
Scott Thomas will be studying towards a PhD at the Institute of Astronomy. Unlike many PhD programmes, he will first spend some time taking further courses and investigating potential research areas before choosing a project and supervisor. As part of his Honours degree in astrophysics, Scott studied unidentified objects seen by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. This work revealed that some of these unidentified objects could be large clumps of dark matter within our galaxy. He would like to continue with research in high-energy astrophysics or observational cosmology, using data from the world’s largest space- and ground-based telescopes to investigate some of the most mysterious questions about our universe. He is also looking forward to participating in the active outreach programme of the Institute and bringing these experiences back to New Zealand.
Patricia Larsen, The University of Cambridge
Tests of predictions from modified gravity theories
Patricia Larsen plans to complete a PhD in Cosmology, the study of the large scale nature of the Universe. The University of Cambridge is one of the leading places in the world to study this and so she is very excited to have the opportunity to go there. She is particularly interested in studies of the Cosmic Microwave Background, the afterglow from the big bang, and what this can tell us about the history of the Universe.