Marsden recipients tackle climate change, #MeToo and saving the kākāpō

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington-led projects have received more than $12.5 million from the Government's Marsden Fund to tackle issues ranging from climate change and renewable energy to #MeToo and gender-based violence—as well as saving the kākāpō from extinction.

Nineteen Wellington-led projects are being supported in the 2019 round of the Marsden grants, which are for innovative thinking by top researchers and are administered by the Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Wellington researchers are also involved in five projects being led by other institutions. This includes Dr Bella Duncan from the University’s Antarctic Research Centre, who is co-leading a multi-institution team whose interdisciplinary project is one of two to receive inaugural Marsden Fund Council Awards worth $3 million each. The project will contribute to predicting the behaviour of biological systems and their response to shifting temperatures. It also includes the Antarctic Research Centre’s Professor Tim Naish and Associate Professor Nancy Bertler.

The University’s researchers are leading 13 Standard grant projects worth up to $960,000 each over three years and six Fast-Start grant projects worth $300,000 each over three years.

Provost Professor Wendy Larner says the projects reflect the breadth of research Wellington is conducting towards improving social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing.

“As New Zealand’s globally minded capital city university, and number one university for intensity of high-quality research, we are committed to nurturing and developing the innovative thinking necessary to address important issues such as those targeted by this year’s Marsden Fund recipients. These grants are going to help us do a lot of good.”


Professor David Ackerley (School of Biological Sciences), Molecular contingency on a massive scale: how entirely new antibiotic resistance genes evolve, $960,000

Professor Stuart Brock (School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations), co-leading with Professor Richard Joyce (School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations), Religious and Moral Fictionalism, $660,000

Dr Shen Chong (Robinson Research Institute), co-leading with Professor Grant Williams (School of Chemical and Physical Sciences), Next generation magneto-piezochromic composites for optically based intelligent magnetic field sensing, $837,000

Professor Simon Davy (School of Biological Sciences), The language of success: Inter-kingdom communication in the coral-algal symbiosis and the adaptation of coral reefs to climate change, $960,000

Professor Kevin Dew (School of Social and Cultural Studies), co-leading with Professor Kerry Chamberlain (School of Social and Cultural Studies) and researchers from the University of Otago, Massey University and the University of New South Wales in Australia, Exceptional trajectories: transforming understandings of cancer survivorship, $842,000

Professor Justin Hodgkiss (School of Chemical and Physical Sciences), Can enhanced exciton diffusion propel organic photovoltaic cells beyond the bulk heterojunction?, $891,000

Associate Professor Sue Jackson (School of Psychology), #MeToo: A Cultural Shift? Young New Zealanders’ Exposure and Responses to Sexual Harassment Media, $842,000

Dr Janet Pitman (School of Biological Sciences), co-leading with Dr Simon Hinkley (Ferrier Research Institute), Saving the kākāpō: plant hormones to boost breeding, $960,000

Dr Dan Sinclair (School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences), Drought or Deluge? How did Rainfall in the Tropical South Pacific Respond to Sudden Climate Change During the Glacial Period?, $960,000

Professor Matt Visser (School of Mathematics and Statistics), Black holes beyond relativity, $707,000

Professor Ann Weatherall (School of Psychology), Using talk and the body to prevent gender-based violence, $842,000

Associate Professor Bing Xue (School of Engineering and Computer Science), Evolutionary Automated Design of Deep Convolutional Neural Networks for Image Classification, $707,000

Professor Mengjie Zhang (School of Engineering and Computer Science), Genetic Programming for Symbolic Regression, $707,000

FAST-START (all $300,000)

Dr Carolyn Boulton (School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences), Healing and sealing earthquake faults: How fluids influence the seismic cycle

Dr Lisa Connor (School of Biological Sciences), Deciphering the unspoken language between immune cells

Dr Nathaniel Davis (School of Chemical and Physical Sciences), Photon multiplying light harvesting antenna systems for luminescent solar concentrators

Dr Matt Hammond (School of Psychology), How do relationship needs promote sexist idealization and aggression?

Dr Maren Preuss (School of Biological Sciences), Unravelling parasite evolution by tracking gene loss in plastid genomes of parasitic red algae

Dr Corinne Seals (School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies), Creating a Model for Learning Multiple Languages

Also co-leading a project led by another institution is Dr Jamie Howarth (School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences), whose Testing the veracity of turbidite paleoseismology using the Kaikōura earthquake received $954,000.

Associate Professor Nancy Bertler (Antarctic Research Centre) is leading Did the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse during the Last Interglacial Warm Period? on behalf of GNS Science. It received $960,000.