News & Notices

Audrey Lustig presents at major global ecology conference

Audrey Lustig presents at major global ecology conference

Dr Audrey Lustig, Associate Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini and postdoctoral researcher with the Geospatial Research Institute (GRI) Toi Hangarau, University of Canterbury, presented her work at the 2018 British Ecological Society (BES) held in Birmingham, UK, in December.

Audrey, whose research is focused on spatial modelling of species distribution, presented her paper on regional pest control at the conference, the second largest annual meeting for ecologists in the world. With more than 500 talks and 200 poster presentations, there was an international flavour, which really added to the diversity of speakers, topics, systems and organisms discussed.

BES promotes diversity, equity, access, and inclusion

Audrey said it was a privilege to attend the three-day event. “This really is an exciting place to be for those partial to thinking about the natural world…. It was an incredibly stimulating and well-organised three days, with a lovely balance between unstructured (social) time and scientific talks and posters.”

The BES has taken a national leadership role in promoting diversity, equity, access, and inclusion in science and academia, reflected by a various new initiatives meeting diversity targets across gender, race, and sexual orientation during the event. This included a 1:1 gender ratio at the plenary session, a ‘women in science’ networking session, a LGBT+ and Trans mixer, gender neutral toilets, a ‘meet the plenary speaker for early career researchers’ session, and more.

Conference presentation highlights and challenges

“The wonderful plenary sessions by Samuel M. ‘Ohukani‘ōhi‘a Gon, III on using the Hawaiian Isles as a Model for Biocultural Conservation and by Danielle Lee on cultivating a generation of scholar in your communities were a major highlight of the academic program,” said Audrey.

One of Audrey’s fellow speakers, biologist Danielle Lee, presenting during the BES conference.

“I urge people to view their talks when they become available through the BES [website]. We also all had a good laugh when Ken Thompson started listing some of the most inspirational ecology papers of the year. I will remember that ‘gardening is the perfect antidote to thinking that one year’s field data means anything at all!”

“I somehow muddled through my presentation on regional pest management in the invasive species oral session,” Audrey added. “Unfortunately, I felt like a bit of a zombie that day as my body still insisted that it was night time! On the positive side of things, I interacted with so many great scientists. I finally had the opportunity to meet up with Guillaume Latombe and Tim Blackburn and catch up with the incredible Jane Catford and Stéphane Boyer. Lots of cool research opportunities and potential collaborations, so I’m already looking forward to the next British Ecological Society Meeting!”

Shaun Hendy appointed to Callaghan Innovation Board

Shaun Hendy appointed to Callaghan Innovation Board

Shaun Hendy, Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland and Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, has been appointed to the Board of Directors for Callaghan Innovation. Shaun’s appointment was announced recently by the Minister for Research, Science and Innovation Hon Dr Megan Woods.

Shaun will sit on the Callaghan Board for a term of 3 years. Other new appointments announced by Dr Woods include Jennifer Kerr, who is on the board of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and sitting members Stefan Korn, George Gong and Robin Hapi, who have had their terms extended.

“Callaghan Innovation is New Zealand’s innovation agency, supporting Kiwi businesses to innovate and collaborate,” says Dr Woods. “They have been major partners in the development of the R&D Tax Incentive which will encourage even more New Zealand firms to undertake R&D activity.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini is delighted with the news of Shaun’s appointment and wholeheartedly congratulates all of the new appointees.


Shaun Hendy #nofly2018 update

Shaun Hendy #nofly2018 update

As many of you will be aware, our director Shaun Hendy has been travelling a lot differently this year. Despite being a frequent domestic and international traveller, Shaun decided that for 2018 he would set an example and highlight his concern about climate change by not using air travel for the entire calendar year. The hashtag #nofly2018 was born and, from the first day in January, he has walked the talk – effectively turning his back on flying as a means to get around, favouring instead modes of land transport that emit less carbon.

Various news outlets have covered Shaun’s journey over the year, including Radio New Zealand and the New Zealand Herald. So, now that we’re into September, how is he getting on? Well, very impressively according to the stats. By mid-September 2017, Shaun had made 10 return flights from Auckland to Wellington, at a cost of 2.66 metric tonnes of CO2 (equivalent)*. So far this year he has been to Wellington and back six times (once by car, three times by train, and twice by bus) at a cost of just 0.458 metric tonnes of CO2 (equivalent)*. What is more he’s got more done in Wellington this year: in 2017 his 10 flights gave him 10 business days in Wellington, while in 2018 he has had 21 working days down the capital.

Not flying has its advantages

In addition to reducing his carbon footprint, Shaun says one of the great advantages to taking it slower by road or rail is that you can actually get a lot of work done on the way and plan in more meetings with investigators in one trip. Te Pūnaha Matatini, a national Centre of Research Excellence, has investigators spread across New Zealand.

“Over the last two weeks [for example] I have travelled #nofly2018 style from Auckland to Queenstown and back again,” said Shaun. “It was great to catch up with a number of investigators on the way through. I spent a beautiful sunny day at the University of Canterbury, catching up with [Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators] Alex James, Jeanette McLeod, Mike Plank, and Audrey Lustig, as well as dropping by to see Rebecca Turner at Scion. The conversations that day were very timely as I have gotten involved with MPI’s Mycoplasma Bovis Eradication Science Advisory Group to help them think about how they can use the various data sets they have at their disposal.”

Electric vehicles becoming more feasible

On his most recent trip, Shaun was also sponsored by Yoogo Share, an electric vehicle share company that has 100 electric vehicles based in eight locations in Christchurch.

“They lent me one of their Hyundai IONIQ’s for five days,” said Shaun. “I had about 1,000km to drive, including the odd hill or two. The IONIQ doesn’t yet have the range of a petrol vehicle. Depending on the terrain, you’ll get around 100-160 km between charges, although running the heater will shave 10-15% off this. A fast charge takes around 15 minutes and will boost your battery up to about 80% capacity, but if you’ve got another 10 minutes or so you can charge it up to 95%.”

Luckily, there is a growing network of charging stations across New Zealand, which means electric vehicle users can get to most places without too much trouble.

“From Christchurch, I charged up at Geraldine, then Tekapo, followed by a big charge at Twizel to make sure I made it over the Lindis pass, and then a final top up in Cromwell,” said Shaun. “The IONIQ was great to drive – I had no problems taking it up over the Crown Range Rd. Definitely give it a go next time you are in Christchurch.”

Follow Shaun on Twitter for #nofly2018 updates!

Keep up-to-date with Shaun Hendy’s travels on Twitter by following the #nofly2018 hashtag.

*Calculated using the Enrivo-Mark Travel Emissions Calculator.

Interns work to enhance use of te reo Māori

Interns work to enhance use of te reo Māori

In the summer of 2016-2017, Te Hiku Media and Te Pūnaha Matatini co-funded a number of student internships – work from which led to the development of Kōrero Māori – a project to teach machines how to speak te reo Māori.

One of the interns was Jamie Chow, a conjoint BComm/BEng (Honours) degree student from the University of Auckland. Jamie’s work on Te Hiku’s Data Analytics and Visualisation Project involved using online audience data to measure the performance of the organisation’s digital platform, matching it with other information such as demographics and geographical data.

Internship leads to ongoing employment opportunity

Following his 10-week summer internship, Jamie continued working on the project for Te Hiku in part-time employment over the course of 2017.

“We kept Jamie on board,” says Te Hiku’s R&D Scientist and Engineer Keoni Mahelona. “He had the internship then we hired him on contract for about 6 months or so. Just casually, furthering the work that he did for that project. That was really useful.”

Jamie was able to create visualisations of the data that allowed Te Hiku staff to quickly understand and interpret the behaviour of their audience. Staff can now immediately examine their content for audience engagement, allowing them to adapt their future programming.

“The project mainly involved developing tools to obtain usage data for their online platform and present this data in a suitable form to their staff, producers, and content creators,” says Jamie.

“My project was very self-driven so it was always challenging and engaging. It was clear even from the beginning that I would learn a lot throughout the project. Te Hiku Media seemed to be pleased with the results and I’m happy they’re using and benefiting from my work.

“Overall, it was a great experience and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to work with some awesome people.”

Jamie Chow, Te Pūnaha Matatini 2016-17 summer student intern (centre), with Keoni Mahelona, Te Hiku Media (left) and Shaun Hendy, Te Pūnaha Matatini (right).

About the Kōrero Māori project

Te Hiku’s Data Analytics and Visualisation Project led to discussions about the need for ICT tools for te reo Māori. Working together, Keoni’s team developed the Kōrero Māori project to create computer language models for te reo Māori – the basic tools which will allow machines to be able to transcribe and speak the language.

Keoni is optimistic about how Te Hiku and Te Pūnaha Matatini can collaborate in terms of research direction in the future.

“I do look forward to us continuing to work together… and doing research around Te Reo, language processing and also looking to the languages of the Pacific – because there’s a lot of similarities,” says Keoni. “If we can turn these into machine models, perhaps we can learn something about the evolution of our languages.

Keoni says that Te Pūnaha Matatini has been very helpful and open in terms of how the data are managed.

“It’s about managing data in a way that aligns with our tikanga and our values, as Māori and as a Māori organisation and as indigenous people. Our language is our culture. It’s our identity. We’re talking about giving that to a machine and I guess the question comes, well, who owns that data or who owns the machines that have access to that data,” explains Keoni.

“As indigenous people, we want to maintain some sovereignty… and Te Pūnaha Matatini has been helpful in terms of having quite a broad and open understanding of those aspects of the project.”


Students thrilled with summer internship experiences

Students thrilled with summer internship experiences

Students who’ve taken part in previous summer internship programmes run by Te Pūnaha Matatini have expressed a high level of satisfaction with their experiences. Indeed, the 10-week paid internship programme provides an excellent opportunity for students to hone their data analytics skills while working for organisations in a real-world setting.

A total of 21 undergraduate and postgraduate university students from around New Zealand were selected for our 2017-18 programme. Divided into teams, the interns were placed on a wide range of projects working for various organisations, including Iwi, government and private firms based in either Auckland or Wellington.

There were some exciting new opportunities. One team, for instance, were placed on a project with Dragonfly Data Science and Te Hiku Media based in Wellington. Their internship involved work related to Te Hiku’s Kōrero Māori project, developing language tools that will enable speech recognition and natural language processing of te reo Māori. This requires the collection of more than 100,000 sentences and 250 hours of Māori language corpus. Once complete, it aims to provide these language tools to the Māori ICT industry.

Interns share their thoughts and details of their work

One of the student interns on this project was William Asiata, a BSc Mathematics graduate from the University of Canterbury and a current Master of Information Technology student at the University of Auckland.

“As a result of the internship I was able to generate a corpus of all te reo Māori spoken in Parliament which will be included in the greater corpus used to train the digital natural language processor language model,” said William. “As an interesting by-product we also produced some statistics about the historical usage of te reo in Parliament. I had the opportunity to learn and practice the Python and R programming languages and exercise data processing skills.

“I believe that it was a great opportunity for an inexperienced student to sharpen one’s skill set, to clarify future career goals, and to gain direct insight into the ICT and data science industries through practical work experience on meaningful, high-impact projects and the chance to learn directly from working professionals,” he added.

Another team worked on a project supporting research by Kate Hannah, Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Executive Manager, into the historical representation of women in science.

Emma Vitz, a statistics and psychology graduate from Victoria University of Wellington assigned to this project, researched an algorithm that classifies people by gender according to their first name, and blogged about the ethical pitfalls of such an approach. Emma also began research into networks underlying science collaboration in New Zealand. “I particularly enjoyed using both R and Python in the internship, and collaborating with researchers and other interns from Te Pūnaha Matatini,” said Emma.

Also on the team was Beth Rust, a BA (Hons) history graduate from Victoria University of Wellington, who conducted a literature review of the background and achievements of women in science.

“Women are everywhere in science,” said Beth. I noticed a few trends: a lot of early women scientists tended to be in botany – then later women dominated home science – now they are everywhere. I’ve also learnt a lot these past ten weeks, not just in terms of the history of science but also in a more general sense,” she added. “I’m very grateful for the experience and everything it’s taught me.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini Whanau member Stephen Merry, who is pursuing a PhD in mathematics at the University of Canterbury, also took part in the internship programme working with the Social Investment Agency in Wellington.

“I worked on two projects,” said Stephen. “The first investigated the scope of data held inside and outside of the Integrated Data Infrastructure, and the second examined how people’s use of health services is affected by the services’ accessibility. This internship gave me the opportunity to work in a different environment, and I felt a genuine sense of purpose completing the projects,” he added. “My colleagues in the Social Investment Agency were enormously helpful and understanding throughout, and the experience overall is something I would recommend to anyone interested.”

Following the programme, interns were invited to blog about their work for the Te Pūnaha Matatini website and these articles resulted in very positive feedback on Twitter – with even some New Zealand parliamentarians chiming in!


Project to boost scientist mātauranga capability

Project to boost scientist mātauranga capability

A Te Pūnaha Matatini research project that aims to improve the way in which scientists connect and work with Māori has been awarded $100,000 in funding by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE).

The project, part of MBIE’s Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund, will be led by Dr Tara McAllister (pictured above), an environmental scientist with the University of Auckland, in collaboration with ecologist Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng and earth systems scientist Dr Daniel Hikuroa, Principal Investigators with Te Pūnaha Matatini at the University of Auckland. Importantly, the project team will partner with Mahaanui Kurataiao Limited, an environmental and resource management advisory firm based in Canterbury.

While there are some excellent examples of scientists engaging well with Māori communities, there are also instances when connecting has been a struggle.

“We want to look at how we make those interactions more successful, more productive, and more workable for everybody involved,” Dr Macinnis-Ng says.

“So we are going to co-develop a project with an Iwi group, where we’ll look at what their science needs are, and work out who in our field can deliver those things. By co-developing the project, it’s all about what the needs are of that group, rather than imposing what scientists want to do.”

The project will be conducted in a reflective way so the project team can understand what works best for the different groups involved. It will also develop te reo science materials appropriate for school curricula.

“We’ll be developing some teaching materials for kura kaupapa to make science more accessible to everyone,” says Dr Macinnis-Ng.

The project will be very important to Te Pūnaha Matatini’s wider research programme, says Shaun Hendy, the Centre’s Director and Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland.

“Building close engagement with Māori communities and learning about the mātauranga of complex systems is a wonderful opportunity for us,” he says.

“Not only will this project be essential to us in meeting our research goals, it will also provide social, economic, and environmental benefits to Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Project lead Dr Tara McAllister (Te Aitanga a Mahaki) out in the field. Tara has a strong research focus on freshwater ecology and management.


New report shows mothers take pay cut to have a baby

New report shows mothers take pay cut to have a baby

A new report co-authored by Dr Isabelle Sin, Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research (pictured), has revealed that mothers experience an average 4.4% wage decrease after having a baby.

The report’s findings made the front page of the New Zealand Herald print edition, with commentary from Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles – also a Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator – and her husband and mathematician Professor Steven Galbraith, both from the University of Auckland. Check out the article here. Isabelle Sin was also interviewed on RNZ’s Nine To Noon – listen in here.

Ka pai Siouxsie!

Ka pai Siouxsie!

The 2018 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Gala Awards were held in Auckland last night, with much-admired Kristine Bartlett, rest-home carer and pay equity campaigner in the healthcare sector, taking out the top honour.

Kristine’s fellow nominees included Mike King, well-known comedian turned mental health and suicide prevention campaigner, and our very own Siouxsie Wiles, award-winning microbiologist and science communicator, and principal investigator with Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Siouxsie’s research involves diseases that affect vulnerable children, in particular how to reduce the high rates of infectious diseases in New Zealand kids.

Professor Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, says it was was an incredible achievement for Siouxsie to be named as one of the three finalists for Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

“She is an inspiring role model for everyone at Te Pūnaha Matatini and we are all incredibly proud to work with her,” says Shaun. “Siouxsie is driven by her curiosity about the world and a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. She thinks very deeply about the ethics and impact of her work, and this is evident in the problems she chooses to study and the approach she takes to this study. She is also a passionate believer in making science transparent to the public, and strives to make it accessible to everyone. Siouxsie works hard to make it so that science is something for everyone, not just a privileged few.”

Congratulations Siouxsie for your magnificent mahi and for being a great Kiwi. Aroha nui!

If you haven’t already seen the official awards’ video tribute to Siouxsie, here it is:


Sally Davenport MNZM

Sally Davenport MNZM

What better news to start the year than one of our Principal Investigators featuring on the 2018 New Year Honours List?

Sally Davenport, Professor of Technology and Innovation Management at Victoria University of Wellington, Director of the ‘Science for Technological Innovation’ National Science Challenge and Commissioner at the New Zealand Productivity Commission, has made the list in becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to science.

Since beginning her career as a science and technology lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington in 1991, Sally has certainly emerged as one the country’s strongest voices and most passionate leaders in the fields of science, technology, management and innovation.

Well done Sally. All of us here at Te Pūnaha Matatini extend our warmest congratulations for your thoroughly well-deserved appointment. Read more about Sally here.

Te Pūnaha Matatini scholar in the news

Te Pūnaha Matatini scholar in the news

Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau PhD student Caleb Gemmell from the University of Auckland was recently interviewed by the NZ Herald about his ground-breaking research using social network analysis to examine ancient artefact movement in pre-European New Zealand.

Supervised by Principal Investigators Dion O’Neale and Thegn Ladefoged, Caleb’s research stems from work being done in a larger study funded by a Marsden grant.

To read the NZ Herald article and find out more about Caleb’s research, please see here.