University of Auckland awarded $23.5m in research funding

Funding is allocated across a wide range of research at the University in the humanities, science and health sciences, the social sciences, mātauranga, education and engineering, with 31 projects successful including 10 Fast Start grants which aim to support emerging researchers.

Individual projects include research into ‘green hydrogen’ to help reduce the country’s carbon emissions, strengthening democracy for the 21st Century, using random DNA to find the functional regions of genomes and a literal and cultural history of taboo.

The large interdisciplinary project from the Marsden Fund Council Award will be led by Professor Renate Meyer from the University’s Department of Statistics who will bring together expertise in mathematics, computational science, fundamental physics and novel statistical methodologies from across Aotearoa New Zealand.

The project will facilitate participation in the International LISA (Laser Interfermometer Space Antenna) mission led by the European Space Agency and scheduled to launch in the 2030s. The mission is designed to decipher gravitational waves which are ripples in space-time caused by accelerating massive objects.

“This funding will provide a collaborative platform within Aotearoa New Zealand to facilitate the participation of NZ scientists in one of the most exciting international science missions,” Professor Meyer says.

“It will mean a huge boost for fundamental science in New Zealand in terms of PhD students and postdocs and provide a springboard for the careers of newly emerging researchers.”

Other major projects include Dr Emily Scotter from the Faculty of Science who is funded with $960,000 over three years to improve the ‘switch off’ mechanism in cells to treat X chromosome diseases.

Also awarded $960,000 in funding is Dr Carolyn Barrett from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences looking at preeclampsia, a disease of pregnancy which affects around 3000 women in New Zealand each year.

In the Faculty of Engineering, Associate Professor Peng Cao is awarded $916,000 for a project to investigate keeping spatters at bay in 3D printing of metals using a powder conditioning process to synthesise a printable feedstock containing two or more constituents.

Dr Frances Hancock, honorary academic, Te Puna Wananga, Faculty of Education and Social Work, receives a $838,000 grant to look at how Aotearoa can resolve the injustice of confiscated Māori land outside the scope of Crown Tiriti Settlement Policy, using what happened at Ihumātao as an in-depth case study.

In English, Drama and Writing Studies, Faculty of Arts, Associate Professor Alex Calder is awarded $494,000 for an extensive exploration into the history of ‘taboo’. The word was picked up from Polynesian languages, and went on to become an important concept in anthropology, comparative religion, and psychology, as well as featuring in literary works about the Pacific. The project will also fund doctoral research into the Māori concept of tapu.
In the Faculty of Law Associate Professor Tim Kuhner’s $660,000 Standard grant will fund an exploration of democracy in the 21st Century, looking at democracy in crisis and the political entrenchment of economic power.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Jim Metson, congratulated everyone who had been successful in this funding round.

“The wide range of research and the quality of applications this year show the excellence of research across the University and we congratulate everyone who has been funded in the 2021 round. It is particularly pleasing to see the extremely competitive Marsden Fund Council Award.”

All projects in the Marsden Fund Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden are distributed over three years.