IRANZ news briefs

Simon Childerhouse on TV1 News

During the level 4 lockdown, MRINZ researchers took the opportunity to study pandemic public health, conducting an online survey of people's ‘bubbles’. Image: MRINZ.

Outpatient studies paused and ‘How big is your bubble?’

The Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) has temporarily paused outpatient studies to protect outpatients and staff and to redirect their full research efforts to COVID-19. Researchers will contact participants as soon as the situation allows studies to resume. See “Outpatient studies are paused to focus on COVID-19 and ICU studies”.

During the level 4 lockdown some MRINZ researchers took the opportunity to study pandemic public health, conducting an online survey of people's ‘bubbles’. A bubble was made up of the people living together during the Level 4 lockdown. For most, this is just the people in our household, such as flatmates, parents, siblings, children, and/or partner. For some people, a bubble covered more than one household, for example, those with shared custody of children.

The response from the public was so successful MRINZ had to rapidly upgrade their servers to cope with the traffic.

The survey will help inform research on pandemic planning and advice.

Werner Müller Award and COVID-19 programme

Malaghan Institute Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Johannes Mayer has been awarded the German Society for Immunology’s Werner Müller Award for his research into a branch of immune responses involved in parasitic disease.

The award, for postdoctorates who have completed their PhD within the last four years, recognises achievements in the field of immunology that can benefit the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of diseases in the developing world.

See “Malaghan scientist wins prestigious international immunology prize”.

Two large-scale and long-term studies, SHIVERS-II and WellKiwis - multi-agency and multi-disciplinary collaborations led by the ESR that involve the Malaghan Institute's Hugh Green Cytometry Centre - will expand to include testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The studies will take swabs and blood samples from participants to identify and follow up any COVID-19 infections. See “Kiwis could hold the clue to COVID-19”.

Cawthron supporting essential NZ businesses

The Cawthron Institute laboratory for food safety testing and certification for absence of listeria and natural toxins remained operating throughout Level 4 lockdown, processing high volumes of samples for regional councils and essential businesses recognised by MPI to ensure the safety of New Zealand’s food and drinking water to keep us healthy.

Cawthron has increased its capacity to deliver these services throughout Level 3 as more businesses are recognised as essential. Plans are currently being put in place in anticipation of moving to Level 2, with further details available on their website. See "Cawthron essential laboratory services at Level 3".

BRANZ turns 50

This year BRANZ celebrated its 50th anniversary. IRANZ Executive Officer Dr Rob Whitney was a BRANZ employee from 1972 to 1988. He headed up the Materials Research Group, specialising in building materials durability, in the organisation’s early days in Wellington.

“It was an amazing time in the history of New Zealand’s building industry. We all worked on developing material performance criteria as well as New Zealand’s first ever national Building Code.”

See “BRANZ turns 50”.

A whole new world at PlantTech

It is quite a way from the observatory in Teruel in Spain where Dr Alvaro Orsi studied the very existence of the universe and simulated its evolution over time. Now he is turning his skills in data science and artificial intelligence to examining data from the kiwifruit industry and contributing to its export growth – and he says he couldn’t be happier.

“What we can do as researchers is explore the problems of implementing the AI side of things. All of these technologies rely on computer vision and the interpretation of real images in quite complex environments.

“In an orchard, computer vision on a self-driving vehicle must be able to localise itself and identify trees and fruit reliably and accurately.

“These are very new to me as problems and, although I have no background in plant biology or horticulture, learning about these things has been really interesting. But most of all it feels very rewarding to know that our work can have a real tangible impact on the industry. The possibilities are huge.”

See “Former astrophysicist discovers a whole new world at PlantTech

Changes at Lincoln Ag

Professor Ian Woodhead who has been Group Manager of the Technology Group is stepping down from this role. “Woody” as he is affectionately known is stepping back from the rigours of day-to-day management as he enters his “gold card years”. He will continue his role as Chief Scientist on slightly reduced hours.

Following Prof Woodhead’s reduced role, Dr Joanne Hay has been appointed Group Manager of Technology. She will be responsible for managing the Technology Group, will continue working with MBIE, supporting Lincoln Agritech’s research proposals to MBIE for funding, and overviewing the company’s project management and contracting practices. See "Lincoln Agritech Announces Senior Management Changes".

Approved Research Provider for R&D Tax incentive

Lincoln Agritech has joined the growing list of approved independent research providers for the New Zealand Government’s Research and Development Tax Incentive (RDTI) scheme to grow New Zealand’s knowledge economy. See “Lincoln Agritech is an Approved Research Provider”.

30 years at LASRA and 2020 IUR Research Grants

LASRA’s Chemistry Lab Manager Brendon Hayman celebrated 30 years at LASRA with a presentation from Director Geoff Holmes and an afternoon tea.

LASRA staff are amongst the three winners of this year’s IUR Research Grants awarded to young scientists, under the age of 35. Dr Megha Mehta won €1,500 for her project ‘Investigating the structural differences of hides, skins, and leather throughout the different processing stages’ and Wenkai Zhang won a €1,000 grant for his project ‘Fate of biocides used in leather industry and their environmental impact’. This is the third year in a row that LASRA has been a recipient of these awards. See “Winners of the 2020 IUR research grants announced”.

New scientists join Verum Group

Laura Molles has joined Verum Group as a behavioural ecologist in charge of identifying individual Great Spotted Kiwi through their calls in association with the Paparoa Wildlife Trust. This research will provide break-through information for the understanding of kiwi behaviour, social structure, and as well as fundamental ecological information.

Cameron McCabe has joined the Verum Group as a project geologist. Cameron has vast experience with New Zealand’s permitting regime and this includes preparation of any applications to NZP&M and technical reporting requirements.

HERA Keith Smith Memorial Award

Warwick Downing, a former director of TiDA and now CEO of spin-off company RAM3D, was awarded HERA’s Keith Smith Memorial Award at the ‘Nation Dinner’ earlier this year.

Warwick was recognised for his contributions to developing the metal-additive manufacturing industry in New Zealand. This journey started in 2008 with the importation of the first ever metal 3D printer to New Zealand.

HERA CEO Troy Coyle writes that the “introduction of this ‘enabling technology’, has allowed New Zealand to have a significant presence on the world stage, making us world-class – if not world-leading in this space. With possibly more metal additive manufacturing machines per capita than any other nation, New Zealand can be very proud of what Warwick has quietly achieved.”

See “A celebration of industry wins at Future Forum award ceremony” for other awards from the Nation Dinner.

NZ Hi-Tech Awards: Public Good

Congratulations to IRANZ members the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and BRANZ on their selection as Finalists in the NZ Hi-Tech Awards Public Good category. See “2020 New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards – Finalists Announced!”.

Date posted: 30 April 2020

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