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Merryn Tawhai

Merryn Tawhai


Merryn Tawhai always loved mathematics and biology, but coming from a small rural school with limited career advice, she opted to study engineering.1 Luckily, Tawhai came across several academics doing biomedical engineering research at the University of Auckland, and found she could combine her two favourite subjects after all.

Now deputy director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, Tawhai has is known for her work building a structure-based mathematical model of the lung. About one sixth of all deaths worldwide are from lung diseases, but it is difficult to assess lung function. Tawhai’s model has the potential to allow faster and better treatment plans for individual patients. One example of this is acute pulmonary embolism, where blood clots travel to the lungs. Tawhai has led an international collaboration on the risk of cardiac failure in patients with the chronic form of this disease, before they have surgery.2

In 2016, Tawhai was awarded the MacDiarmid Medal for her work.3


1. Jamie Morton Science Reporter, “Women’s Passion Now Their Careers,” NZ Herald, March 10, 2014, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11217256.

2. “MacDiarmid Medal: Virtual Window into Our Airways - The University of Auckland,” accessed April 15, 2018, https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news-events-and-notices/news/news-2016/11/macdiarmid-medal--virtual-window-into-our-airways-.html.

3. “Royal Society Te Apārangi - Bioengineering - a Boon for New Zealand?,” accessed April 15, 2018, https://royalsociety.org.nz/news/bioengineering-a-boon-for-new-zealand/.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.