A word from the Dean

Welcome to the 2021 edition of inSCight.

This edition is themed around finding solutions with science. We will be exploring many of the ways in which research in the faculty has responded to global issues in the past year.

While COVID-19, and the way Science has stepped up to address the pandemic, has dominated headlines, notably via the contributions of Auckland Science staff such as Professor Dame Juliet Gerrard, Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, and COVID modellers Professor Shaun Hendy and Dr Dion O’Neale, there are many other issues that we have been helping to address.

Professor John Hosking, Dean of Science
Professor John Hosking, Dean of Science

Vital elements

The environment and our impact on it is one of the most pressing of those issues. The air we breathe and what’s in it has been receiving much attention. Whether that relates to aerosol spread of COVID particles or other types of emission, Dr Joel Rindelaub from Chemical Sciences is at the forefront of research, as well as a practised science communicator. Professor Jennifer Salmond from Environment has also been looking at causes of urban air pollution and potential mitigation strategies.

Being an island nation, the health of our oceans is a paramount concern. Dr Jenny Hillman and her team in Marine Science have been working on green-lipped mussel restoration in the Hauraki Gulf – an ecosystem that was decimated by over-fishing last century. A by-product of successful restoration is that it will help reduce the amount of silt in our water, enhancing biodiversity; mitigate eutrophication; and could sequester large amounts of carbon, contributing to mitigating climate change.

In a different take on ocean health, Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine and PhD student Louise Wilson from Biological Sciences are researching sound pollution and creating a soundscape of the Hauraki Gulf. A by-product of COVID lockdowns has been the ability to understand what a noise-free ocean sounds like (read more).

Being an island nation, the health of our oceans is a paramount concern.

Ingenuity and resolve

Our alumni are, of course, also very active in addressing global problems, and in this issue we highlight two of them, both former Biological Sciences students. Dr Anne Wyllie has been leading the Yale School of Public Health research team behind one of the most prominent saliva based Covid-19 tests (read more). Neil Birrell is tackling issues of waste in his Hexacycle start-up, which is converting organic waste into a protein source for animal feed using the Black Soldier Fly. His PhD studies look at insects as food in New Zealand (read more).

While viruses have dominated headlines in recent times, bacteria and antibiotic resistance are also a constant threat. Hill Tinsley Medal recipient Associate Professor Frédérique Vanholsbeeck and her colleague Dr Cushla McGoverin, both from Physics, have been addressing this problem in a novel way by applying biophotonics to provide better food safety and antibiotic sensitivity testing (read more).

Creating opportunities to thrive

Closer to home, we are looking to address under-representation of Māori and Pacific people in Science via a new initiative, Ngā Motu Whakahī, which seeks to provide bridges between islands of learning to overcome some of the barriers to participation and progression that we have identified. And contrary to what you may have seen in the popular press and on social media, we have very active Mātauranga Māori research and engagement within the Faculty, as highlighted in our centrefold.

Reaching out to potential students continues as a theme in Bioinformatics Masters student Sebastian Dunn’s article describing his experiences at the MOTAT STEM Fair. Sebastian has built a Virtual Reality experience that teaches students about DNA. He is working to discover the best ways to communicate scientific concepts in this new 3D medium (read more).

Whether it’s pipelines in the East Coast USA or District Health Boards, Banks, and the Stock Exchange here in New Zealand, cybersecurity is never far from the headlines due to the impact when it fails. Dr Danielle Lottridge from Computer Science has been looking at the human side of cybersecurity, including an interactive exhibition at Auckland Museum exploring data surveillance through facial recognition, and a recent address to the New Zealand Parliament. Dr Rizwan Asghar, also from Computer Science, has been focussing on cyber-attacks and cybersecurity (read more). I’d also draw your attention to the annual Gibbons Lecture series hosted by Computer Science, the most recent of which was themed Dissolving the interface between humans and computers and included a talk by Danielle. Recordings of these sessions are available online and can be found at cs.auckland.ac.nz/gibbons-lectures.

While health has been a common theme through the year, the contribution of exercise to wellbeing is something that has been highlighted during lockdowns. Our own Exercise Sciences Department has been active in this space. Dr Rebecca Meiring has been exploring exercise and chronic health conditions such as diabetes and neuromuscular disorders, while PhD student Ruhi Bajaj (joint with Business) has been researching wearable technology to aid preventative healthcare (read more).

We round out this issue with a couple of student profiles and a thought piece by Professor Niki Harré from Psychology on human connections and the practice of love, ahead of her presentation on the same topic at TEDxUoA later this year.

As always, a wide variety of contributions from our diverse and impactful faculty. I do hope you enjoy it and that you and yours are surviving well in these unusual times.

Dean of Science, University of Auckland


This article appears in the 2021 edition of inSCight, the print magazine for Faculty of Science alumni. View more articles from inSCight.

Contact inSCight.