Inaugural Lecture Series

Inaugural lectures are important flagship events in the Faculty of Science.

Inaugural lectures are held by our newly appointed professors of science. Inaugural Lectures take place throughout the academic year. They are free and open to everyone. They are a great way to find out more about all the different subjects our scientists are investigating and how their research impacts society.

Upcoming lectures

Date Speaker School/Dept
Thursday, 29 February 2024  Professor Geoffrey Waterhouse Chemical Sciences
Thursday, 14 March 2024 Professor Siew-Young Quek Chemical
Thursday, 11 April 2024 Professor Luitgard Schwendenmann Environment
Tuesday, 7 May
Professor Craig Radford Marine Science
Tuesday, 14 May 2024 Professor Lynette Tippett Psychology
Tuesday, 21 May 2024 Professor Geoff Willmott Physics
Tuesday, 28 May 2024 Professor JR Rowland Environment
Wednesday, 5 June
Professor Michael Hautus Psychology
Thursday, 4 July 2024 Professor Tony Hickey Biological

Thursday, 25 July
Professor Gordon Miskelly Chemical Sciences
Thursday, 3 October
Professor Karen Fisher Environment
Monday, 7 October
Professor Maren Wellenreuther Biological Sciences
Tuesday, 15
October 2024
Professor Yun Sing Koh Computer Sciences
Thursday, 17
October 2024
Professor Annette Henderson Psychology
Tuesday, 22 October
Professor Cate Macinnis-Ng Biological Sciences
Tuesday, 19 November
Professor Nicolas Lewis Environment
Thursday, 21
November 2024
Professor Craig Millar Biological

Date TBC in 2025 Professor Claire Postlethwaite Mathematics

2023 lectures

Professor Kevin Simon - Lessons from Invaders

Humans have a long history of moving organisms around the planet with them for a wide range of reasons.  Once established, these ‘invasive’ species often have unintended consequences that damage ecosystems and that problem has been a primary focus of concern and scientific research. However, these invaders can also tell us much about how ecological systems work, how organisms evolve, and what role animals play in ecosystems. In this seminar, I’ll talk about some examples of invasive fish that, while problematic, also serve as models for understanding the ecological world we live in. A cast of colourful individuals responsible for spreading those invaders is matched by a diverse array of people focused on understanding just what those invaders do. As part of my talk, I’ll reflect on how teams of bright, motivated researchers studying these animals in the places I have ‘invaded’ over my career have taught me lessons about being an ecologist, a collaborator, and a research mentor.

An interest in biology and a field trip to a cave as an undergraduate student started Kevin on a career as a freshwater ecologist. He spent his graduate years in the US and in France studying animals in caves and karst aquifers. After a postdoc at the University of Otago, he returned to the US where he held faculty positions before finally returning to Aotearoa and the University of Auckland. Along this journey, he has studied a wide range of fundamental and applied aspects of freshwater ecosystems.

Professor Mark Dickson - Sea change: our transgressing coast 

Research over the past two decades has gradually coalesced toward quite a different perspective on the evolution of New Zealand’s coast than what I understood as an undergraduate student. This lecture traverses Aotearoa’s sandy open coasts to our rocky cliffed shoreline, reviewing selected studies that have sought to unpack the complex relationships between sea level change, tectonics, environmental processes, and coastal landform evolution. Along the way there will be opportunity to reflect on the inductive field traditions of physical geography, set amid myriad new opportunities afforded by advances in sensor technology, radiometric dating, remote sensing, and modelling. We finish speculatively, on the topic of future coastal change and the challenges posed by accelerating global sea level rise.

Mark was an undergraduate at Massey University, completed a PhD at the University of Wollongong and postdoctoral positions at the University of Bristol and NIWA. He works primarily on eroding coasts and is particularly interested in the effects of sea-level rise on coastal erosion. Mark conducts his research using a combination of field experiments, remote sensing and numerical modelling. He currently co-leads the Coastal Programme of the Resilience National Science Challenge and a Marsden project that is investigating the creation and destruction of marine terraces.

Professor Kerry Loomes - How to focus on everything

Many of my research stories have come from chucking ideas, like paint splatters, onto an invisible canvas. Some splatters remain intact and stagnant while others show initial promise but end up dribbling into pathetic vestiges. Yet other splats merge in unpredictable ways, evolving into new forms and textures. The portrait resembles a battlefield, mostly littered with splats meeting tragic ends amidst a few survivors, battling bravely as champions of opportunity for their right to exist.

Prof. Kerry Loomes was born and raised in Whanganui a short distance from the Whanganui river. His mother, Elizabeth Potts, hailed from Waverley, South Taranaki, and his English father, Maurice, emigrated to Whanganui after serving in the merchant navy after WWII. They both worked at telephone exchanges in Waitōtara and Whanganui, meeting each other over the wire. Then they had four children one of which was Kerry. After attending Whanganui High School, he gained his Ph.D. in Chemistry at Massey, Palmerston North, and came to the University of Auckland on a postdoctoral fellowship in 1991 following a postdoc at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. His research interests range from metabolic disease, natural product biochemistry (Mānuka honey), rare metabolic disease, and drug discovery.

Professor Frédérique Vanholsbeeck - What is a real physicist?

After 25 years in physics, I still don’t know the answer. People have many misconceptions about physics and physicists, meaning that many stereotypes come to their mind when they picture a physicist. We are not all boring or white or…I consider myself a true applied physicist which means that I use physics concepts to solve real-life problems. My specialty is optics and photonics, i.e. the science of light. I first started in the field of nonlinear optics and for my PhD worked in collaboration with Alcatel on signal amplification for telecommunication applications. When I came to the University of Auckland, I switched to biophotonics, and founded my own group to work on imaging biological systems at the micron scale with amazing colleagues from Science, Engineering, and Medicine. During my talk, I will delve into my research journey. Amongst other things, I will focus on the physics behind monitoring bacteria viability using fluorescence and microfluidics as well as understanding osteoarthritis using optical coherence tomography. I will also touch on why physics and science are fun; especially when you work across disciplines and your first task is to understand each other’s topics. Hopefully, by the end of the lecture, we will have an answer to my question.

Frédérique Vanholsbeeck is a professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Auckland. She leads the biophotonics group and her research focuses on biomedical optics. In April 2023, she was appointed as the director of Te Whai Ao - the Dodd Walls Centre for photonics and quantum technologies. She was awarded the NZAS Hill-Tinsley Medal in 2020, the OSA (Optical Society of America) Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Recognition inaugural award in 2018, and the Miriam Dell Excellence in Science Mentoring Award and the Dean’s Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching in 2017.

Professor Giovanni Russello - Cybersecurity in Aotearoa

Any digital system that is connected to the Internet is intrinsically insecure. Yet numerous organisations in New Zealand, both public and private, treat cybersecurity as an optional aspect of their digital infrastructure. In this presentation, I will share some insights and experiences gained over the past 10 years of working in this field within Aotearoa, highlighting the critical importance of addressing cybersecurity challenges.

Dr. Giovanni Russello is a Professor and serves as the Head of the School of Computer Science at the University of Auckland. With a rich background in academia and industry, Dr. Russello has made significant contributions to the field of cybersecurity.

Notably, he holds the position of Director of the Cyber Security Research Programme, a prestigious project funded by MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment). Furthermore, Dr. Russello is the founding Co-Director of the Cyber Security Foundry. This pioneering centre represents the first multi-disciplinary center for cybersecurity in New Zealand, focusing on bridging the gap between industry and academia.

Dr. Russello served as the CEO of a start-up between 2013 and 2014. This venture was dedicated to addressing the pressing security concerns in the smartphone market, demonstrating his commitment to practical applications of his research.

Dr. Russello's research interests encompass a wide range of areas within cybersecurity. He is particularly focused on human-centered cyber security, policy-based security systems, privacy and confidentiality in cloud computing, smartphone security, and applied cryptography. Through his extensive research efforts, Dr. Russello seeks to address critical challenges in the field and develop practical solutions to protect individuals, organizations, and systems from cyber threats.

Professor Kerry Gibson - What young people can tell us about the crisis in youth mental health

There is widespread concern about a ‘crisis’ in youth mental health in Aotearoa New Zealand and elsewhere. Academics, professionals, and parents are struggling to make sense of rising rates of mental health problems amongst young people and are at a loss to know how they can help. Despite considerable public debate on youth mental health, young people are seldom included in these conversations. But youth are at the forefront of dealing with new political and social challenges, negotiating the rapid transformation of digital technologies, and preparing for an uncertain future. I will argue that young people are able to offer unique insights into the reasons for the mental health crisis, and provide direction for the kind of mental health support that will work for them. Adopting a youth-informed approach, I will challenge some of our ideas and practices in youth mental health, and make suggestions for how we can better meet the needs of young people in distress.

Kerry Gibson is a professor and clinical psychologist in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland. She is passionate about ensuring young people are included in conversations about their mental health. Her research, conducted as part of The Mirror Project, asks young people how they experience mental health distress what they want from support services. Kerry is the author of What young people want from mental health services: A youth informed approach for the digital age, published by Routledge in 2022. Kerry completed her PhD at the University of Cape Town and worked at several universities in South African and New Zealand before joining the University of Auckland in 2010. Kerry is a past president of the New Zealand Psychological Society and a Fellow of the Society.

Professor Giovanni Coco - Rhythms of the Shoreline: Patterns in Waves, Sand and Jazz

This seminar explores the fascinating rhythms of the shoreline, from the intricate patterns formed in the sand to the improvisational rhythms of jazz. The formation of beach cusps and other sand patterns are a result of complex feedback mechanisms between waves, currents, and the shape of the beach. We will examine how these feedbacks lead to the emergence of these patterns, and how they can be used to better understand coastal processes and predict coastal change. To further explore the connections between music and the coastal environment, we will draw parallels between the improvisational nature of jazz and the dynamic nature of coastal systems. Finally, I will explore how modern technologies, such as machine learning, can be used to better predict and
manage coastal evolution. By examining the intricate connections between the coastal environment and music, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and beauty of our natural world.

Giovanni has obtained his PhD from Plymouth University and has subsequently worked at Scripps Institute of Oceanography (USA), at NIWA (New Zealand) and at IH Cantabria/University of Cantabria (Spain). His scientific activity is primarily related to the study of nearshore morphodynamics, coastal hazards, pattern formation and interactions between physical and biological processes. The approach is based on a combination of numerical modeling, field and laboratory observations, and addresses system evolution over timescales ranging from seconds to millennia. More recently, he has focused on machine learning techniques for data analysis applying them to geophysics and jazz.

Professor Vivien Kirk - Making good use of time

Curiosity about the way things change with time is what drives the broad disciplinary area known as dynamical systems. Sometimes the “thing” of interest might be the spread of infectious disease, principles of robotic control, the physiology underlying cell signaling, or some other phenomenon in science or the humanities. Other times the focus is on a purely abstract system just because its evolution in time is fascinating to a mathematical eye or because investigating the system may advance our knowledge of what is possible in general. I will talk about some of the dynamical systems that intrigue me and how my research interests and projects have themselves changed over time.

Vivien obtained BSc and MSc degrees at the University of Auckland and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. After postdoctoral positions at the University of California, Berkeley and at Caltech she returned to NZ to a lectureship at the University of Auckland. Vivien has been active for many years in supporting the recruitment, retention and development of women in mathematics and in science, and is a past President of the NZ Mathematical Society. Since 2017 she has been Associate Dean Postgraduate Research – Doctoral in the Faculty of Science.

Professor Jan Eldridge - Exploding binaries: stars and gender

My path towards becoming a professor has involved exploding a lot of binaries! The majority of these binaries are binary stars, that is two stars who orbit around one another, that sometimes "get-in-each-others-way" creating violent and unusual explosions. The other binary I've "exploded" is the idea that gender is only binary.

I'm going to talk about our most exciting discoveries about the lives of binary stars and how they have shaped our Universe. I will also be discussing my own personal and academic path that I've followed while doing astrophysics. I'll reflect on how someone who was first in their family to go to university became a professor in Aotearoa New Zealand while challenging the understanding of

Professor Russell Millar - Counting fish is like counting trees, but you can't see them and they move

Modelling of marine population dynamics is challenging and fraught with uncertainty. This talk flows a course through contributions made to quantify these dynamics and uncertainties for the better management and protection of marine resources. These contributions include methodology for estimating the natal origins of high seas salmon, determining the right type of fishing gear to catch the targeted size and species of fish, and fundamental work on incorporating variability and quantifying uncertainty in population dynamics models of fish stocks. These have enabled the establishment of international conventions for catch of high seas salmon, reduction in bycatch and discards, and fathered the current stock assessment models used in the management of high-value fish stocks globally. More recent contributions include validation of a radical trawl gear for humane capture of wild fish.

Russell did his undergraduate and MSc study at the University of Auckland and completed a theoretical Ph.D (Statistics) at the University of Washington in 1989. Involvement with a salmon management problem in Washington led to an interest in applying theory to real-world problems and he took a research scientist position with the Canadian Dept of Fisheries and Oceans (St John's, Newfoundland). There he established the quantitative methodology for assessing the ability of fishing gears to target the desired sizes and species of fish.

In 1992 he returned to New Zealand as a lecturer at the University of Otago. He joined The University of Auckland in 1996 where he founded the class of state-space models for the dynamic modelling of fish populations. These models are now ubiquitous in the stock assessment of high-value fisheries worldwide. Other research includes providing expert advice and analyses for management of New Zealand fisheries, and recently the validation of a novel trawl gear for humane capture of wild fish.

Professor Margaret Stanley - Nature connections & unassuming teachers: key ingredients for creating a well-baked ecologist

Any ecologist will be able to recount their earliest childhood memory of nature that filled them with awe. But recent research has shown that exposure to nature throughout our lives is fundamental to everyone’s health and wellbeing. There’s an increasing disconnect between people and nature around the globe as we cram more people into cities and push nature out. I’ll relate my journey as a young ecologist ecstatic about studying nature in the wilderness to one hopeful of improving nature in the city for Aotearoa’s biodiversity and people. I’ll introduce you to the places and people that have been my unassuming teachers as we amble through the highlights (and lowlights) reel of research and teaching. We’ll finish the journey together with some challenges that lie ahead for impactful ecological research and teaching. As with all ecological stories, everything will be connected and everything will be context dependent.

Margaret is an ecologist with a special interest in urban ecology. She began her journey in Ōtepōti as an undergraduate with a passion for natural history. She was awarded her PhD from Monash University in Melbourne in 2001, and worked as an invasion ecologist at Manaaki Whenua until she was appointed to the University of Auckland in 2007 to establish a Masters programme in Biosecurity and Conservation. Margaret’s research projects have spanned many aspects of ecology, from lizard homing behaviour to weed biocontrol, while her teaching spans first year ecology to postgraduate pest management. She enjoys working with postgraduate students and a variety of community and agency partners to use science to inform decision-making and improved biodiversity outcomes for Aotearoa.

Professor Rochelle Constantine - The Big Animals in the Big Blue Backyard

The large ocean animals form a critical part of ecosystem function, yet they are over-represented in global endangered species lists. We know surprisingly little about most species and their interactions in the marine environment. Habitat degradation, hunting, climate change, tourism and vessel strike all pose threats to the survival and distribution of populations and species despite people’s often strong connections to these ‘charismatic megafauna’. In this lecture, I will highlight some of our multidisciplinary research to understand immediate conservation challenges facing whales and dolphins. I will also share some of our recent research where we use tags, drones, acoustics, and artificial intelligence to understand complex interactions within and between species and their environment. Conservation ‘success’ requires bringing different people, ideas, and knowledge together. I will reflect on some of the most rewarding, but sometimes challenging parts of many years of work in this space.

Rochelle has spent most of her life near, in, or on the ocean. She is a behavioural ecologist who ended up studying cetaceans by accident but knows they are handy in discussions about more important ocean issues. Since joining the University of Auckland –Waipapa Taumata Rau in 2004, she has led several international and Aotearoa based projects and is an adviser on several global ocean initiatives.

Professor Gavin Lear - When small things matter: how microbes clean our polluted planet

Climate change, pollution and habitat destruction continue to degrade Earth’s ecosystems and their life-supporting services. As global distributions of plant and animal species adjust, so too does our “invisible” microbial world, leaving a trail of evidence as to both extent and causes of environmental change. In this lecture, I’ll describe my attempts to catalogue the current ecological health of Aotearoa through the analysis of microbial DNA. Along our journey, I’ll share with you my efforts to unlock the immense potential of microbial life to transform and degrade some of our world’s worst pollutants, from nuclear waste and pesticides to vast islands of marine plastic.

As a child, Gavin cared little for the small things in life! Only during his PhD in Engineering at Oxford University did he begin understanding the immense power of microorganisms to degrade and transform even the world’s most noxious pollutants. Since joining the University of Auckland in 2006, Gavin has published widely on applied and theoretical themes in microbial ecology, including the remediation of contaminated soil and water. Gavin is vice president of the New Zealand Microbiological Society.