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Matariki: Stars of Māori innovation

The fourth event in our Speaker’s Science Forum series for 2024 was held on 19 Pipiri June at Parliament. Katerina Pihera-Ridge spoke about sharing knowledge about our ngahere forests. Dr Ratu Mataira spoke about Aotearoa’s potential to be a world-leader in fusion energy.

Katerina Pihera Ridge and Dr Ratu Mataira outside Parliament

Katerina Pihera-Ridge and Ratu Mataira at Parliament

Māori-led approaches to science impact. E heke e Heka!

Katerina Pihera-Ridge, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi te Ahi, Kōtimana, me te Czech Republic  
Scion Portfolio Leader

Katerina Pihera-Ridge is a transdisciplinary specialist and environmental anthropologist and leads Scion’s Restoration, Protection, and Mauri o Te Waonui a Tāne portfolio.

Katerina has developed pathways for science-led and Māori-led research that interface distinct knowledge systems to work to complement each other, leading to better understanding and positive outcomes for ngahere (forest) ecosystems. She gave examples of several of her outreach projects including the Nga Ataata Rokiroki Science and Research Video Series, the Nga Huarahi ki Te Ao award for the Te Tukohu Ngāwha Matauranga Science Fair, and Scion’s Extreme Wildfire Endeavour with establishment of a co-leadership research pathway to identify traditional at risk knowledge related to Indigenous fire and fuels behaviour and wildfire planning.

MPs were lucky to get a preview of E heke, e Heka!, an app Katerina’s team developed to share knowledge about myrtle rust and related topics. Myrtle rust is a plant disease that affects native taonga species and non-native myrtle trees impacting wider ngahere (forest) ecosystems. The app is an example of Māori-led research collaboration, that promotes accessibility of current myrtle rust science knowledge via an interactive platform (with a virtual reality feature) in both English and Te Reo Māori for schools, kura kaupapa Māori, and the wider community.

E heke, e Heka! was developed with help from the Curious Minds Fund and is available at the end of June.

Katerina Pihera Ridge finishing her presentation with a waiata

Katerina Pihera-Ridge ending her presentation with the waiata ‘Ka Hua a Tāne’

New Zealand’s place among the stars

Dr Ratu Mataira

OpenStar Technologies

Dr Ratu Mataira, the founder and CEO of Wellington-based fusion energy company OpenStar Technologies, invoked the legend of Maui to describe his own quest to harness the power of the sun for renewable energy.

Renewable energy accounts for 30% of New Zealand’s total energy consumption. To meet our goal of total energy consumption being 50% renewable by 2035, we need to change the way we produce and consume energy. New Zealand currently imports more energy than it exports, which will become an economic liability as the world divests from carbon. If we heavily invest in renewable energy technologies, like fusion, we could instead become world-leaders like Norway, exporting renewable energy.

Ratu explained how fusion technology aims to recreate events that happen inside the sun: nuclei of hydrogen fuse to become helium, releasing huge amounts of energy. Recreating these conditions on Earth requires the means to manipulate extremely hot plasma. At OpenStar, New Zealand’s first private fusion energy company, Ratu and his team have innovated a technology that aims to use a simple dipole magnetic field (similar to the Earth’s magnetic field) to contain plasma. This technology is inexpensive and efficient compared to established methods. A simple, modular design allows the team to rapidly adjust parameters during research and development.

OpenStar is a small company, but its technology is competitive internationally due to New Zealand’s world class expertise in fusion and superconducting magnets. They are close to detecting their first plasma.

Dr Ratu Mataira presenting to MPs

Dr Ratu Mataira tells the legend of Maui and the Sun and how it relates to his work in fusion energy.