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Published 8 November 2018

New Marsden Fund grants support innovative research in Aotearoa from atoms to Antarctica’s microbes

The Marsden Fund has allocated $85.6 million (excluding GST) to a total of 136 research projects across New Zealand. These grants support New Zealand’s best investigator-initiated research in the areas of science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities.

In total, 83 grants have been awarded to established researchers. Projects span a range of nationally and internationally relevant issues: from a longitudinal study of self-harm and suicidal behaviour in New Zealand youth to building a better ‘immune system’ for software, and from exploring the quantum entanglement of individual atoms to examining the survival of life in the harsh conditions of Antarctica’s Dry Valleys.

Grants to early career researchers have risen from 49 last year to 53 in 2018. Support for early career researchers will enable these talented individuals to establish their careers in New Zealand and build momentum in their areas of research. These researchers will study topics that include improving immunotherapy for cancer, how microplastics first enter our food chain and unique Māori navigational knowledge and practices.

Marsden Fund Council Chair Professor David Bilkey says: “The Marsden Fund is designed to enable our top researchers to develop their most ambitious and exciting ideas. This ‘blue-sky’ funding is vital to ensuring a vibrant research culture in our country, and the resulting work will help us better understand our environment and society. Some of these fundamental discoveries will also lead to new, and sometimes unexpected, solutions to current problems, in areas as diverse as health care, sustainability and social policy.”

Professor Bilkey is pleased to see steadily increasing representation of women and Māori amongst the successful researchers. “It is also gratifying that Marsden Fund applicants who identify as female or Māori have been as successful as male and non-Māori applicants over the past five years. We will continue to monitor the Fund’s processes to make sure under-represented groups are not disadvantaged.”

“I am also delighted to see strong engagement with mātauranga Māori in applications across a diverse range of disciplines. These range from a study of Māori responses to 20th century welfare policies to the use of a waka-based craft to access and investigate remote volcanoes,” says Professor Bilkey. “These projects exemplify the thoughtful integration of Māori knowledge and methods with specific disciplinary approaches, and were evaluated as both rigorous and innovative by world-leading international referees.”

The overall success rate for applicants has continued to rise slightly, from 10.7% in 2016 to 12% in 2017 and 12.4% this year. The success rate for Fast-Start grants for early career researchers was 14.8%. The amount of funding awarded this year, and thus the success rate, remains at an all-time high due to ongoing government support.

The grants are distributed over three years and are fully costed, paying for salaries, students and postdoctoral positions, institutional overheads and research consumables.

The Marsden Fund is managed by the Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the government.

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi