News & Notices

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.

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.