This year's Marsden Fund recipients revealed

  • 03/11/2014

The history of the coconut as a commodity, how to make wearable technology less distracting, and research into the origins of cosmic rays are among more than 100 projects receiving a share of this year's $55 million Marsden Fund grants.

Now in its 20th year, the Marsden Fund will distribute 11 times as much money as it did in its first. The fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand and given to researchers working in science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities.

"Many of New Zealand's very best researchers have received Marsden funding in their career, people like Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, Professor Jeff Tallon, Professor Peter Hunter and the late Sir Paul Callaghan," says fund chair Professor Juliet Gerrard.

This year saw a record 1222 proposals made, with the 101 successful projects chosen purely on merit.

Associate Professor Jenni Adams of the University of Canterbury is getting $770,000 to study cosmic neutrinos detected in the ice deep below the South Pole. Neutrinos from outer space carry energy much greater than that created by the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, but it's not yet known exactly where they come from.

Professor Judy Bennett of the University of Otago is investigating how the coconut went from being a dietary staple in the Pacific to an export so dominant, many island economies became dependant on it. With $710,000 in funding, Prof Bennett plans to write a book and create a video for use in schools.

Dr Rachel Blagojevic of Massey University wants to improve computers' ability to recognise sketches and drawings, and for that she's been given $300,000, while Dr KJ Challis of Clean Technologies will receive a similar amount to figure out how nano-motors work.

Other research getting the nod includes: investigating the causes of asthma; how kiwifruit bacterium Psa finds its way around; using Google Loon balloon data to study the stratosphere; and looking at whether taxes on unhealthy food stops people buying it, or if they just switch to cheaper brands.

"By supporting New Zealand researchers to carry out fundamental research which they are passionate about, the Marsden Fund is helping to build a stronger nation, both economically and socially," says Prof Gerrard. "The Marsden Fund is an investment in the long-term success of New Zealand."

More than a third – 37 – of the successful proposals are being funded under the Fast-Start scheme aimed at young, up-and-coming researchers.

"The Fast-Start scheme has been a hugely successful mechanism to enable emerging researchers to develop their own interests in the research community," says Prof Gerrard. "Many Fast-Start recipients have gone on to head their own labs and make outstanding discoveries."

The number of female and Maori-led studies is also up this year – 39 percent of the grants are going to studies spearheaded by women, up from 32 percent last year, and Maori are in charge of 5.2 percent, despite only making up 3.3 percent of the original submissions.

Other topics researchers will be looking into with the help of the Marsden Fund include the history of state surveillance in New Zealand, Maori legal traditions and attitudes towards the Government's partial of sale of state-owned energy companies, and how altering the environment led to epigenetic changes in the Whangamata sea squirt.

The Marsden Fund was named after physicist Sir Ernest Marsden and established in 1994, when it gave out $5 million.

Grants pay for salaries, scholarships for postdoctoral students and consumables required to carry out the research. The funding is usually spread out over three years.

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source: newshub archive