News & Notices

Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers receive $4.2M in Marsden funds

Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers receive $4.2M in Marsden funds

Several Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers around New Zealand have been successful in securing major funding for their research, about $4.2 million in total, from the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s 2017 Marsden Fund round.

Marsden Fund applications are very competitive. This year, it distributed an overall total of $84.6 million to more than 130 research projects across the country.

Professor Shaun Hendy, director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, says the current round was the largest number of Marsden projects awarded in one year and one of the highest success rates since 2003. “This is due to the largest real increase in funding since the Marsden Fund was created.”

“It is also pleasing that this large increase in funding didn’t simply lead to more proposals being submitted, which would have lowered the success rate and increased the burden across the sector.”

Successful projects involving Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators

Research supported by the Marsden Fund led by Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators will address diverse range of topics:

  • Professor Stephen Marsland and Associate Professor Isabel Castro (Massey) – AviaNZ: Making sure New Zealand birds are heard ($880,000).
  • Professor Murray Cox (Massey) – From genotypes to phenotypes: Quantifying the functional load ($925,000).
  • Professor Uli Zuelicke and Professor Michele Governale (Victoria) – Supercharging electromagnetism: Tuneable magnetoelectricity in unconventional materials ($905,000).
  • Associate Professor Claire Postlethwaite (Auckland) – Noisy networks: understanding how stochasticity affects mathematical models of cognitive systems ($545,000).
  • Professor Richard Easther (Auckland) – Ultralight dark matter: Dynamics and astrophysics ($910,000).

“It is fantastic to see the success of a number of Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers in the latest Marsden round,” says Professor Hendy. “The Marsden Fund supports fundamental, blue-skies research, so this suite of projects will stimulate and inspire the whole Te Pūnaha Matatini collaboration over the next few years.”

Investigator Professor Marsland says that being awarded the funding means his team can now get down to the business of conducting valuable research. “We can focus research effort on the conservation needs of New Zealand birds, and keep New Zealand at the forefront of methods of adaptive wildlife management, as well as developing novel mathematical methods for dealing with acoustic signals.”

“It also shows us that other people in New Zealand value our approach.”


Professor Murray Cox awarded Te Rangi Hīroa Medal

Professor Murray Cox awarded Te Rangi Hīroa Medal

Professor Murray Cox, a computational biologist in the Institute of Fundamental Sciences at Massey University in Palmerston North and a Principal Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini, was recently awarded the prestigious Te Rangi Hīroa Medal by the Royal Society Te Apārangi, in recognition of his anthropological work involving the use of genetic data to reconstruct processes of transformation and change in past societies.

Combining genetics and statistical modelling to reveal insights into past societies

Professor Cox’s skills in genetics and statistical modelling have allowed him to ascertain various features of how past societies operated and the social rules they followed, such as those pertaining to marriage (who can marry who).

Using genome-scale data and a novel simulation framework, Professor Cox examined an archetypal example of a key marriage system within a small community on the east Indonesian island of Sumba. His research found that the community had relaxed compliance with the rules, suggesting that marriages were sufficiently flexible to promote social connectivity without negative biological consequences.

Professor Cox has also used statistical modelling to determine how farming expansions across Southeast Asia influenced changes in demographics and social behaviours. Using 2,300 genomic records, individuals with Asian ancestry were found to migrate further and have higher birth rates than individuals with Papuan ancestry.

Early migration from Asia to the Pacific

Another area of Professor Cox’s research is tracing the genetic heritage of the first people in the Pacific. Analysis of ancient DNA from three individuals who were among the earliest to settle in Vanuatu (up to 3,100 years ago) and one of the earliest to settle in Tonga (up to 2,700 years ago), confirmed they were from Asian farming groups rather than of suspected Papuan ancestry.

Pacific people today, including New Zealand Māori, carry Papuan versions of genes. Professor Cox’s research methods have made it possible to investigate how this mixing occurred. They show it was a later mixing, largely driven by Papuan men who came to Oceania and married resident Asian women.

“Genetics has been really powerful at telling us when people moved into the Pacific and what paths they took to get there. But how they acted along the way has largely been a black box,” said Professor Cox.

“It’s only in the last few years that we’ve realised that some of these social behaviours are recorded in the genetics too.  It’s telling a whole new story to interweave with those from archaeology, linguistics and oral history.”

How we make trust judgments when it comes to scientific information

How we make trust judgments when it comes to scientific information

It is often difficult to find accurate information online, especially when it comes to science-based questions. This is amplified by the fact that scientific findings themselves are revisable or when they are the subject of debate within their respective fields. However, not being able to find concrete answers to scientific questions may lead the public to question and discount the general veracity of science.

Te Pūnaha Matatini invites you to a free lecture by Professor Rainer Bromme, Senior Professor for Educational Psychology, University of Münster, Germany, who will provide an overview of data collected from surveys in multiple countries on the public’s trust in science, and also discuss research on peoples’ capacities to make trust judgments.

In the best case scenario, such judgments are not based on gullible faith in ‘science’, but rather rest on informed trust. Such trust judgments are based on a general understanding of both sides of science as: a system of knowledge and methods for understanding the world and as a social institution for the production and distribution of such knowledge.

Event: The ingredients of informed trust: What citizens (need to) know for coping with science experts

Guest Speaker: Professor Rainer Bromme, Senior Professor for Educational Psychology, University of Münster, Germany

Speaker panel:

  • Professor Shaun Hendy, Department of Physics, University of Auckland (MC)
  • Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, Department of Physics, University of Auckland
  • Dr Daniel Hikuroa, Senior Lecturer, Māori Studies, University of Auckland
  • Dr Cate Macinnes-Ng, Senior Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

Location: Auckland Museum

Date & time: Wednesday 25th October from 6-8pm

Tickets are free but bookings are essential.

Please email or register here to book tickets.

Maths Craft Festival arrives in Auckland

Maths Craft Festival arrives in Auckland

Do you enjoy craft? Then you probably enjoy mathematics too – you just may not know it yet. Don’t miss out on Maths Craft Festival 2017 being held this coming Saturday and Sunday, September 9-10, at the Auckland Museum.

Discover the maths behind craft and the craft behind maths. Find out how to tie a mathematical knot, crochet a Möbius strip, fold an origami octahedron, draw an impossible triangle, or colour a Latin square.

Ten craft creation stations will be set up in the museum’s event centre, a fully glazed circular room on top of the museum roof. Featuring incredible views of the city and harbour, it also has plenty of natural light – perfect for crafting. And there will be lots of space and seating, so you can stay and craft all day!

Sharing the beauty of maths

Dr Jeanette McLeod and Dr Phil Wilson, senior lecturers at the University of Canterbury’s School of Mathematics and Statistics, will lead a team of volunteers and host the two-day festival, part of a nationwide tour to raise interest in maths among New Zealanders.

“By using craft as a medium… we aim to introduce adults and children alike to a new and fun way of engaging with mathematics,” says Dr McLeod.

“Through these events, we’re keen to show people how maths underpins almost every aspect of today’s society. Whether it’s used in crafts, technology, business, science, social science or education, maths is vital,” she says.

Learn how to make an origami icosahedron (pictured) and many other wonderful creations at this weekend’s Maths Craft Festival.

Dr McLeod has crocheted and knitted a variety of mathematical objects – from Möbius strips to intricate coral-like hyperbolic planes – and is passionate about sharing maths as the language of science. Her specialisation is combinatronics, with a particular focus on asymptotic enumeration, graph colouring, random graphs, and Latin squares. She is also an accomplished crafter and crocheter.

Dr Wilson, who usually works in the field of theoretical fluid dynamics and mathematical modelling in biology and industry, says Maths Craft Festival offers something for everyone.

“A lot of our speakers are really good at finding mathematics in ordinary everyday things –from how you tie your shoe laces, tie knots or even how to set a wobbly table straight,” says Dr Wilson. “Maths Craft is really for all ages and all backgrounds.”

Public talks promise to fascinate

The two-day festival will also include five public talks over the course of the weekend:

  • Associate Professor Clemency Montelle, University of Canterbury – The (a)symmetry of a sari (September 9, 2.30pm)
  • Ms Elizabeth Chesney, University of Canterbury – Knuts about knitting knots (September 9, 3.45pm)
  • Associate Professor Burkard Polster, Monash University – What is the best way to lace your shoes? (September 9, 5.15pm)
  • Dr Michael Assis, University of Melbourne – The beauty of origami / The beauty of mathematics – connecting folds (September 10, 2.30pm)
  • Professor Bernd Krauskopf and Professor Hinke Osinga, University of Auckland – Chaos in Crochet and Steel (September 10, 3.45pm)

Where and when?

Maths Craft Festival is being held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Events Centre on Saturday 9 September and Sunday 10 September. All are welcome and entry is free with a museum ticket. Maths Craft is running a free bus service from South Auckland to the Museum on Sunday 10th September (see for details of how to book your free seat).

Visit the Maths Craft website for more information about upcoming events in Dunedin: Also on FacebookRavelry, and Twitter #mathscraftnz

Sexism and the gender pay gap – data that can’t be ignored

Sexism and the gender pay gap – data that can’t be ignored

A recent study by researchers at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research provides strong, definitive evidence that sexism is mostly to blame for the gender pay gap in New Zealand.

The study found that, on average, women in New Zealand’s workforce are paid 84 cents for every $1.00 a man earns, despite there being no statistically significant difference in productivity levels between male and female employees.

“This study is different to most previous wage gap studies in that it tests whether men and women are paid different wages for adding the same amount of value to their employer,” said lead researcher Dr Isabelle Sin, Fellow at Motu and Principal Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Motu study dispels some common arguments

Lead study researcher Dr Isabelle Sin, Fellow, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and Principal Investigator, Te Pūnaha Matatini.

The researchers analysed New Zealand tax data for 50 per cent of the working population from 2001 to 2011, to determine how much of the overall difference between women and men’s pay could be attributed to women being employed in industries that pay less.

“We found that women were over-represented in low-paying industries like food and beverage services, but this explains a mere 7 per cent of the entire gender wage gap,” Dr Sin said. “If you add in the fact that women also tend to work in low-paying firms, we can say that 12 per cent of the overall gender wage gap is due to the particular industries and firms where women work.”

The study then looked at productivity and wages of New Zealand men and women in private, for-profit organisations with five or more employees. Using employee-level data linked to business information, they found that on average, Kiwi women are paid 16 per cent less than their male counterparts for making a contribution of the same value to their employer.

Overall, the data suggest that sexism is a drag on large segments of New Zealand’s economy, with the gender wage-productivity gap as high as 40 per cent in some sectors – in finance and insurance, telecommunications, transport equipment manufacturing, water and air transport, and electricity, gas and water, and rail.

“It’s worth noting that these are all sectors that have the potential for monopoly-created profits and have low competition,” said Dr Sin. “To put it simply, our research suggests sexism is likely to be a major driver of the gender wage gap. What we’re going to do about it is another matter.”

Quality of the data make findings difficult to ignore

Professor Tava Olsen, Deputy Director – Industry and Stakeholder Engagement at Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Professor Tava Olsen from the University of Auckland, Director at the New Zealand Centre for Supply Chain Management and Deputy Director, Industry and Stakeholder Engagement at Te Pūnaha Matatini, described the results as “pretty definitive”.

“There is a gap and [because the study researchers] were able to get firm-level data on productivity, there’s really no explanation for it other than implicit bias or sexism,” said Professor Olsen.

The Motu research is a lot harder to ignore than previous studies due to its sheer size and the nature or quality of the data collected, she added.

“It’s not until you get a really big study like this that you can say ‘Oh yes, there is actually a problem here.’ Obviously, this isn’t the first study to show gender pay gaps, it’s just a very clean one in terms the data they got access to,” she said. “I doubt there are many countries who allow researchers access to their tax data… If you think about it, it’s pretty phenomenal.

“So I think this is quite important research in terms of showing there is a real gap. There is a problem here and it’s not really okay,” said Professor Olsen.

“Hopefully, companies will start putting procedures in place to check themselves and try and start looking at their own gender gaps.”

Sin I., Stillman S., Fabling R. (August 2017). What drives the gender wage gap? Examining the roles of sorting, productivity differences, and discrimination. Motu Working Paper 17-15 Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.

Te Pūnaha Matatini supporting NZ science journalism

Te Pūnaha Matatini supporting NZ science journalism

Te Pūnaha Matatini is a major contributor to the Aotearoa-New Zealand Science Journalism Fund, which recently awarded $20,000 in funding to several New Zealand science journalists to cover stories ranging from genomics to driverless vehicles to climate change.

This first round of funding received 20 applications, with six projects involving journalists from a variety of media outlets across the country being selected.

“Overall, we were extremely impressed with the range and quality of the applications – from established science journalists to relative newcomers, from a range of media and from around the country,” said the fund’s founder Dr Rebecca Priestley.

Controversial technologies to be covered

Within the fund’s category on ‘Controversial technologies: Should we even go there?’ Te Pūnaha Matatini is funding three projects to a total of $10,000, as follows:

  • $4,500 to Naomi Arnold (New Zealand Geographic article)
  • $4,000 to Simon Morton (RNZ’s This Way Up feature)
  • $1,500 to William Ray (RNZ’s Our Changing World series)

All of the projects are expected to be published by the end of 2017, after which they will be available under Creative Commons licence. Science journalists from around New Zealand will then have a second opportunity to apply for funding through the Aotearoa-New Zealand Science Journalism Fund in early 2018.

“Round one showed that journalists want to work on important science-related stories and that there is appetite to fund them doing so,” said Dr Priestley. “We are looking forward to seeing these projects come to fruition and to working on securing funding for round two.”

How to support the Aotearoa-New Zealand Science Journalism Fund

Interested readers and organisations wishing to support the fund can do so by emailing Dr Rebecca Priestley at or through the Aotearoa-New Zealand Science Journalism Fund Press Patron crowd-funding page.


Dr Rebecca Priestley wins Prime Minister’s Prize – fourth for Te Pūnaha Matatini

Dr Rebecca Priestley wins Prime Minister’s Prize – fourth for Te Pūnaha Matatini

Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator Dr Rebecca Priestley has been announced as the winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize. 

Dr Priestley is a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington in the Science in Society Group. She has been an Associate Investigator in Te Pūnaha Matatini since the Centre was established in 2015.

Te Pūnaha Matatini is one of ten national Centres of Research Excellence. Its research focuses on the science of complex systems and networks, and applies this to study problems in society, the environment, and the economy. Dr Priestley co-leads a project in the Centre that studies public engagement by researchers.

“Dr Priestley is unique amongst New Zealand’s science communicators”, says Prof Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini. “She is not only an accomplished science writer and journalist, she also has academic standing as one of New Zealand’s leading historians of science and has undertaken pioneering work in the study of science’s engagement with society.”

She received the $100,000 prize from the Prime Minister at an event in Wellington today, joining Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Dr Michelle Dickinson, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Prof Hendy, as previous winners of the prize. 

“We’ve placed public engagement and communication of our research at the heart of our mission” added Hendy, “and so it should be no surprise that Te Pūnaha Matatini has become the meeting place for New Zealand’s leading science communicators.”

Some of Dr Priestley’s prize money will be used to establish New Zealand’s first fund to support science journalism. Te Pūnaha Matatini will also contribute to this fund.

“As newsrooms shrink, it is getting harder for the media to cover science,” says Hendy. “For science engagement to work well, journalists need to be able to take the time to cover science stories critically. We hope this fund will help sustain independent science journalism in New Zealand.” 

Contact: Dr Rebecca Priestley ( 021 917050); Prof Shaun Hendy ( 021 1442349)

Scholarship established following “Hidden Figures” gala screening

Scholarship established following “Hidden Figures” gala screening

A fundraising campaign and gala screening of the critically acclaimed film Hidden Figures has raised $13,500 to help establish a scholarship for women to study physical sciences, maths or engineering in 2018.

Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Executive Manager Kate Hannah, Deputy Director Dr Siouxsie Wiles and University of Auckland Associate Professor Nicola Gaston from the Department of Physics organised the fundraising campaign to raise the profile of Māori and Pacific female scientists and students.

Listen to an interview with Kate Hannah on Radio Zealand’s Morning Report:

In addition to funds raised through the Givealittle campaign, five New Zealand Centres of Research Excellence provided financial contributions toward the scholarship: Te Pūnaha Matatini, the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Technology, the Maurice Wilkins Centre, and Brain Research New Zealand. The University of Auckland Department of Physics also contributed.

The scholarship will be administered by the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS).

20th Century Fox, EVENT Cinemas, SOHO Wines and L’Oreal New Zealand provided valued assistance and promotional material for the gala screening of Hidden Figures.

Donate to an ongoing scholarship fund to support women in New Zealand science.

Read more:

Analytics to improve health delivery systems

Analytics to improve health delivery systems

Te Pūnaha Matatini Associate Investigator Dr Michael O’Sullivan discusses analytics to improve health delivery systems.

Michael researches a combination of Operations Research and Analytics and is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Engineering Science and the Precise, and Timely Healthcare Theme Leader at the Precision Driven Health Research Partnership. The latter is a data science research initiative that features collaborations between the University of Auckland and partners in the public, corporate and healthcare sectors.

This presentation was recorded at an Orion Health Seminar on 6th December, 2016.

Reception for Women in Mathematics and their Supporters at NZ Mathematics Colloquium

Reception for Women in Mathematics and their Supporters at NZ Mathematics Colloquium

After the AGM for the New Zealand Mathematical Society on Monday 5th of December, there will be a reception for women in mathematics and their supporters. Everyone is welcome. The reception is sponsored by Te Pūnaha Matatini and will be chaired by Principal Investigator Dion O’Neale.

The event theme is: Being an ally: what we can all do to improve equity.

Abstract: Advocating for improved equity is a task that often falls to members of under-represented groups. This is problematic for a number of reasons; not least because it means that some of the voices that most need to be heard are least numerous and are, perhaps, undermined by perceptions of self-interest.

This event will begin with some background on what it means to be an ally, the benefits it can bring, and some of the potential pitfalls that can be associated with it. Over drinks, we will discuss the things that we can all do as individuals, both at work and at home, in order to improve equity in our departments and the New Zealand mathematical sciences community.

This event comes with a code of conduct: see