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Published 3 November 2021

Marsden Fund supports innovative research in Aotearoa

Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden, the Marsden Fund, has allocated $82.345 million (excluding GST) to 120 research projects led by researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand. These grants support excellent research in the humanities, science, social sciences, mātauranga, mathematics, and engineering for three years


This year, one large interdisciplinary project received the prestigious Marsden Fund Council Award worth $3 million (excluding GST). The project will investigate ways to decipher gravitational waves – ripples in space-time caused by accelerating massive objects. The extensive collaborative team led by Professor Renate Meyer from the University of Auckland will be bringing together expertise in mathematics, computational science, fundamental physics, and novel statistical methodologies from across Aotearoa to make core contributions to gravitational wave science and facilitate participation in the international LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) mission.

Marsden Fund Fast-Start grants support early career researchers to develop independent research and build exceptional careers in Aotearoa. In 2021, there were 44 recipients of Fast-Start grants for a total of $15,840,000 (excluding GST). The success rate was 10.8% for these awards. Projects for funding this year cover a broad range of topics that include an investigation of conspiracy theory beliefs; Cook Islands Māori language; young onset Parkinson’s disease; the effects of climate change on the kuku green lipped mussel; more sustainable South Pacific tourism in a COVID-19 world; and how girls deal with the potential dangers and potential social benefits of online media.

Established researchers and their teams were awarded 75 Marsden Fund Standard grants with a success rate of 10.2%. These research projects will address a wide range of issues of both local and international importance; from how we age; understanding the mechanism of an artificial nose; how body temperature is regulated during pregnancy; through to investigating whether the building blocks of life can form in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

The research projects are of world-class standard and have undergone a highly rigorous selection process, including substantial international peer review. Marsden Fund Council Chair Professor David Bilkey says, “Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden is a fund designed to enable and create momentum for our leading and up-and-coming researchers to develop their most innovative and ambitious ideas. This support of fundamental ‘blue-sky’ research is crucial to ensuring a healthy, vibrant and resilient research culture in Aotearoa, capable of addressing major societal challenges, as we have seen recently with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The range of knowledge represented in this year’s funded research is something to be proud of, with research excellence and scholarly impact in areas such as hauora health, climate, and languages. The outcomes of this research will benefit Aotearoa in many ways, for example, by helping us to better understand who we are and by discovering novel solutions for some of our most pressing problems.

“It’s great to see the increasing engagement with mātauranga Māori, which has been recognised across a range of disciplines”, notes Professor Bilkey. “Some examples include studies investigating the cultural importance, sustainability and affordability of urupā tautaiao (natural burials); exploring the potential for green innovation – including by Māori – in the environmental impact of body disposal; the genetic variations associated with gout; and using cutting edge tools to better align archaeological findings with Māori history. Some of the funded projects have also committed to supporting early career Māori researchers through endeavouring to recruit Māori students – an effort we commend for its potential positive impact on the under-representation of Māori in academia.

The projects funded in this round will help fulfil one of the Marsden Fund Council’s goals for the fund:

Ka pūmau tonu te hapori mātanga i te katoa me te whānuitanga o ngā kaupeka rangahau
Maintain a New Zealand community of experts in the full, and expanding range of research fields.

“Many of this year’s awarded Marsden grants include opportunities for the training of postgraduate students. As the Marsden Fund Council is particularly keen to support the development of the next generation of emerging researchers, we have been working diligently on the initiative to raise the value of Marsden scholarships for several months. After careful consideration, we have increased the value of PhD scholarships from $27,500 per year to $35,000 per year and Masters scholarships from $17,000 to $22,000. These increases will benefit any postgraduate students recruited on these new grants,” Professor Bilkey said.

The overall success rate for applicants is down slightly from last year (11.5.%) to 10.4% this year. The main reason for this is that the budget cap for Fast-Start awards increased this year (from $300,000 to $360,000 over the project life), decreasing the number of Fast-Start projects that could be funded.

The grants are distributed over three years and are fully costed; paying for salaries, students and postdoctoral positions, institutional overheads, and research consumables.

Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden is managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the New Zealand Government with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Nā Te Hīkina Whakatutuki te mana hāpai.


Marsden Fund Highlights 2021

Marsden Fund awards 2021

Information on the 2021 Marsden Fund round

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi