Ten researchers chosen for new Rutherford Discovery Fellowships

Rutherford Discovery Fellowship

News release from the Royal Society of New Zealand

Ten talented researchers have been chosen as the first recipients of a new Government funded scheme designed to support early to mid-career researchers.

The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships will provide financial support of up to $200,000 per year to the researchers over a five-year period. This funding goes towards both their salary and their programme of work.

The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships are an important scheme within New Zealand’s research system, says Minister of Research, Science and Technology Wayne Mapp.

“High-quality research is the cornerstone of innovation. Science and innovation are at the heart of building our economic growth. The success of our science and innovation system is dependent on the quality of the people working within it.

“These Fellowships empower leading researchers who are at a critical juncture in their careers.

“The successful candidates are of a very high calibre. I look forward to their success and growth over the coming years,” he said.

The recipients were announced on Wednesday night at the annual Research Honours celebration event of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The researchers are:

The new fellowships, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand, have been set up to fill a gap in support for researchers in the three to 10 year period after they complete a doctorate degree.

It has been found that this is the time when many researchers can find it difficult to progress their careers, especially in areas with heavy competition for funding.

The funding will enable researchers to investigate a particular research topic, and help them establish their career in New Zealand.

The chairperson of the selection panel, Professor Margaret Brimble, said it was a difficult decision for the panel to only choose ten people to receive the fellowships.

“We received a large number of exceptional applications in this first year and those chosen are very worthy recipients. They are not only excellent researchers, but also potential future leaders for research in New Zealand.”

The Government is making a substantial investment in this new scheme. Each year there will be 10 Fellowships awarded. In the first four years the Government will invest more than $24 million. When the scheme is fully operational in 2015/16, more than $9 million a year will fund about 50 fellows at any one time.

List of recipients with details of their research programme:

Dr Donna Rose Addis

University of Auckland, Department of Psychology

Building our Autobiographies: How the Brain Constructs Past and Future Autobiographical Events

The various details of memories are stored as fragments in different brain areas and memories are then reconstructed when we remember.  Storing memories in fragments does have advantages: these details can be used to imagine novel future events.  With this programme of research Dr Addis aims to advance our understanding of how a region of the brain, the hippocampus, is involved in the constructive memory processes.

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Dr Ashton Bradley

University of Otago, Department of Physics

The Birth, Life, and Death of a Quantum Vortex Dipole

At ultra-low temperatures atoms can undergo a phase transition, coalescing into a quantum droplet exhibiting the remarkable property of frictionless flow, known as superfluidity. When a superfluid rotates, it does so by creating a quantized vortex resembling a tiny fluid whirlpool or tornado.  Dr Bradley has developed a new theory of ultra-cold atomic superfluids and will investigate the fundamental nature of quantum turbulence.

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Dr Murray Cox

Massey University, Institute of Molecular BioSciences

Computational reconstruction of genomic evolution

The ability to integrate new technologies for studying the whole genome with sophisticated computational analysis remains a key bottleneck in advancing the biological sciences.  The interdisciplinary field of computational genomics is increasingly linking these diverse subject areas.  Using novel computational approaches Dr Cox will investigate human prehistory in the Indo-Pacific region, and the way genes are regulated in an inter-species fungal hybrid which arose from two highly divergent parent species.

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Associate Professor Alexei Drummond

University of Auckland, Department of Computer Science

Computational analysis for molecular ecology and evolutionary biology

Questions such as how species evolve in the face of infectious disease and climate change still demand satisfactory answers.  To understand the origins and maintenance of biodiversity requires a statistical framework that can synthesize molecular data with ecology and climate.  Associate Professor Drummond will lead an international collaborative project to develop novel computational models to shed light on the processes of speciation, diversification and extinction.

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Dr Paul Gardner

University of Canterbury

Bioinformatic approaches to functionally characterise RNAs

Together with proteins, fats, sugars and DNA, RNA is a member of the selected group of molecules that play a major role in life’s chemical machinery.  Recent scientific advances have shown that RNAs are important for turning genes on and off in response to different signals.  Dr Gardner, who will return to New Zealand from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, will perform computational analyses of RNAs to inform us of RNA’s further diverse functions.

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Dr Noam Greenberg

Victoria University of Wellington, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research

Effective randomness, lowness notions and higher computability

In much the same way as biologists aim to understand life, and particle physicists aim to understand the nature of matter and energy, computability theorists try to understand the essence of computation.  Dr Greenberg intends to study objects which are not quite computable, but very close to being so, along with randomness using the tools of logic and mathematics.

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Associate Professor Jennifer Hay

University of Canterbury, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Episodic word memory

Individuals know many hundreds of thousands of words.  Recent results indicate that what we know about each word is shaped in a dynamic ongoing way with our own experience with that word.  Associate Professor Hay’s research program explores episodic word memory – asking what the range of environments (social, physical, contextual) in which we encounter a word does to the way we hear, use and pronounce that word.

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Dr John Reynolds

University of Otago, Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology

Improving brain function: a balancing act

Disruption of normal communication between brain areas is a feature of a number of common brain disorders such as stroke and epilepsy.  In the proposed research Dr Reynolds will use experimental approaches to alter the normal balance between excitation and inhibition in the brain and in doing so attempt to improve function in these brain disorders.

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Dr Eric Le Ru

Victoria University of Wellington, School of Chemical and Physical Sciences

Surface-enhanced spectroscopy: from fundamentals to applications

The remarkable optical properties of nanostructures are increasingly used in a variety of emerging optical methods aiming at dramatically improving the sensitivity of devices for molecule detection and identification, ultimately down to a single-molecule.  Dr Le Ru will study both theoretical and experimental aspects of electromagnetism at the nano-scale and in particular nano-plasmonics with the goal of dramatically improving our fundamental understanding of single molecules on surfaces and the applicability and transfer of these advanced techniques to real-world problems.

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Dr Jason Tylianakis

University of Canterbury, School of Biological Sciences

Reweaving the web of life: the interplay of species traits and resource constraints during the assembly and disassembly of ecological networks in changing environments

Global environmental changes threaten biodiversity, but their effects on the networks of interactions connecting all living organisms are largely unknown.  Using analyses of global datasets, combined with a field study in the unique Franz Josef chronosequence – where networks of different time periods are revealed as the glacier retreats – Dr Tylianakis will study these network structures in detail and relate this to the function of ecosystems.

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