Volcanoes to plastics – wide range of science projects funded

A massive volcanic eruption, plastics pollution and delivery of better nutrition for people who are sick or infirm are just some Faculty of Science projects to receive funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund.

Professor Shane Cronin from the School of Environment is awarded more than $13 million under the Research Programmes fund for one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken into the potential effects from a large-scale eruption.

“Mt Taranaki is the most likely volcano to cause national-scale impacts over our lifetimes so it is critical that we develop the best tools we can to deal with such an event,” he says.

“We will be looking at the geological, engineering and socio-economic impacts of an eruption of that size so we can radically cut down the uncertainty that currently hinders decisive hazard and mitigation planning.”

Under the Smart Ideas fund, Faculty researchers were awarded a total of $$3,998,998 across three projects. In the School of Chemistry, Professor Cather Simpson and Research Fellow Alex Risos were awarded $999,999 for research to develop an instrument that can provide accurate water monitoring to detect biological or chemical contaminants.

Professor Simpson says this will provide industry, communities and governments with an essential tool for achieving and maintaining safe, clean water.

“It’s essential all New Zealanders have access to clean water and to address the challenge, we must have widespread water testing but the tools we currently have are not fit for purpose so the aim of this research is to develop tools that are.”

In the School of Biological Sciences, Associate Professor Anthony Phillips will develop a better way to ensure that the sick and infirm receive optimal nutrition as a direct health benefit.

Current methods of carrying food directly to the gut for those who sometimes need liquid food are not efficient enough to ensure patients receive optimum nutrition. This project receives $1,000,000.

Associate Professor Shaun Lott from the School of Biological Sciences leads a project to engineer microbial enzymes for plastics recycling and, in particular, the plastic widely used to manufacture drink bottles, called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.

The research receives funding of $997,191 to develop better versions of these enzymes to break PET down more effectively.

Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Auckland, Professor John Hosking, says these projects demonstrate the range and excellence of research within the Faculty.

“I’m delighted to see these projects funded, they will have very real impact on our social, economic and environmental health and I warmly congratulate the researchers and research teams who have been successful this year.”

Media contact

Anne Beston | Media adviser
DDI 09 923 3258
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Email a.beston@auckland.ac.nz