UC researchers gain over $4 million to study space junk, lava, glaciers and the SVA’s ‘youthquake’

08 November 2018

Eight University of Canterbury academics have been awarded 2018 Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Funding to lead research in diverse topics, from identifying space debris to understanding lava flow and analysing melting glaciers to studying quake stories and the Student Volunteer Army’s ‘youthquake’ legacy.

  • Purdie_NWS_block

    UC glaciologist Dr Heather Purdie will investigate the impact of seasonally exposed crevasses on glacial melting in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. To do this, Dr Purdie will use a drone equipped with an infrared camera to map the shape of the surface of Haupapa Tasman Glacier.

Eight University of Canterbury (UC) academics have been awarded 2018 Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Funding to lead research in diverse topics, from identifying space debris to understanding lava flow and analysing melting glaciers to studying quake stories and the Student Volunteer Army’s ‘youthquake’ legacy.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Wright says he continues to be inspired by UC’s Marsden Fund successes across a range of humanities and STEM subjects, and the ability of the exceptional established and emerging research talent at UC.

“It is timely to see academically rigorous societal and cultural research being undertaken on the impact of the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes, including a major longitudinal study of disaster narratives through the lenses of ethnicity, age, gender, socio-economic status and geographic location, and a significant study into the spontaneous and collective student youth initiative – UC’s extraordinary Student Volunteer Army and its ongoing civic legacy,” he says.

“These studies will provide significant insight into the societal effects of natural disasters within a New Zealand context.”

The successful UC researchers are:

Dr Laurie McLay, Health Sciences, UC Education, Health and Human Development: Are genes all that matter? Investigating the role of the environment and learning-based therapies in treating sleep problems in children with rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorders (Fast-Start $300,000)

The prevalence of sleep problems in children with rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorders (RGND), such as Rett, Williams, and Prader-Willi syndromes, far exceeds that observed in typically developing children. They profoundly affect children’s daytime functioning, and parent and child wellbeing. Without effective treatment, these sleep problems are unlikely to abate, necessitating the identification of evidence-based interventions for this population. Sleep problems in children with RGND are commonly attributed toward biological and circadian abnormalities. As a result, they are predominantly treated medically. While biological and genetic contributors are evident, this should not preclude the potential impact of the environment and learning, on the sleep problem. The proposed study will investigate the role of environmental and learnt (i.e. parent-child interaction) contributors toward sleep problems in children with RGND; the effectiveness of behaviourally based interventions; the short- and long-term maintenance of treatment effects; the role of pre-treatment salivary melatonin levels on response to treatment; and the collateral benefits of effective sleep treatment on family wellbeing. Study findings will clarify the interface between learning and genetics and potentially broaden treatment options.

Professor Paul Millar, Humanities and Creative Arts, UC Arts: ‘Kōrero mai. Tell us your earthquake story’ – A longitudinal study of post-disaster narratives ($859,000)

There are no major longitudinal, interdisciplinary studies of retelling of disaster narratives from a cohort of similarly affected participants. We will remedy this by re-recording a representative subset of the 720 participants who in 2012 gave their earthquake stories to UC QuakeBox – a recording studio in a shipping container that we moved around Ōtautahi Christchurch. The resulting large longitudinal dataset will provide an unprecedented resource for analysis by our multi-disciplinary team. Studying the retold stories will offer insight into how retellings of dramatic experience years later crystallise narrative structure. Accounts of subsequent events over the interim seven years will also provide multi-faceted perspectives of people’s experiences of recovery, and reveal more of how narratives of traumatic events change over time. In seeking to understand what retelling reveals about post-disaster recovery and adaptation, we will take particular account of such factors as ethnicity, gender, age, disability, socio-economic status, and geographical location. In line with our Vision Mātauranga focus on the Hauora/Oranga theme of improving Māori health and well-being, our corpus of Māori disaster narratives will significantly advance understanding of factors that influence resilience and rejuvenation within Māori whānau and communities.

Dr Sylvia Nissen, Language, Social & Political Sciences, UC Arts: Youthquake, a decade on – The political legacies of student collective action following the Christchurch earthquakes (Fast-Start $300,000)

The spontaneous student collective action in Christchurch following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 remains one of the largest youth-led movements in New Zealand in recent years. As the ten-year anniversary of the earthquakes draws near, this research offers the first in-depth investigation of the long-term effects of this student mobilisation. Previous research has shown that moments of significant collective action can have subtle but substantial implications for the actors involved as well as for the wider political environment over time, and yet we have little understanding of the repercussions of the student action in Christchurch. Using archival research, life-memory interviews and a survey, this project collaborates with researchers from the UC Arts Digital Lab and Aotahi: School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at UC to critically analyse these civic legacies. In an era of a perceived ‘youthquake’ and a global rise in student protest, this research offers a unique opportunity to examine how moments of significant collective action can affect the trajectories of young people’s political lives. The project will also provide novel insight into emerging forms of political participation among young people, as well as the ideas and practices associated with service learning and civic volunteering movements.

Dr Heather Purdie, Geography, UC Science: Cracking under pressure: do crevasses make glaciers melt faster? (Fast-Start $300,000)

Dr Heather Purdie will investigate the impact of seasonally exposed crevasses on glacial melting in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Her work will help us understand the response of glaciers to climate change. Whether glaciers advance, retreat, or stay put depends on the amount of accumulating snow and melting ice. As the world warms, the snow cover on mountain glaciers is thinning, so that crevasses are exposed earlier in the summer season and have a greater potential impact on glacier melting. Crevasses in a glacier’s surface change the way the glacier interacts with wind and sun, leading to an increase in the rate of melting. Dr Purdie has been awarded a Marsden Fund Fast-Start grant to pioneer a study comparing melt rates of crevassed and un-crevassed regions of the same glacier. To do this, Dr Purdie will use a drone equipped with an infrared camera to map the shape of the surface of Haupapa Tasman Glacier. High-tech weather stations erected on the glacier will provide detailed measurements of heat exchange between the crevasses and snow surface, and the overlying atmosphere. The information will feed into mathematical models to determine the impact that crevasses have on surface roughness of the glacier and the turbulent movement of heat above it, both of which effect melting. The results will demonstrate the influence of crevasses on glacial melt rates. This will help scientists develop better models to predict the health of high mountain glaciers around the world and more accurate estimates of glacial response to a warming climate.

Associate Professor Mathieu Sellier, Mechanical Engineering, UC Engineering: Indirect measurement of lava rheology ($917,000)

The ongoing volcanic eruptions in Hawaii are a timely reminder for New Zealand that lava flows are a threat to many inhabited areas. Understanding the rheology of lava is critical to predicting its flow path and inform hazard management plans but standard rheology measurement techniques are ill suited to the extreme environment of lava flows and do not fully replicate the evolving lava rheology. The increasing availability of aerial imaging of lava flows provides a rich set of information at the surface which contains a hidden signature of the rheology. This project which gathers a research team at the cross-road between thermo-fluid engineering, rheology, volcanology, and applied mathematics proposes to develop new techniques which will unravel this rheological signature and enable the remote identification of the lava rheology from observed free surface flow measurements in-situ and in real time.

Dr Steve Weddell, Electrical & Computer Engineering, UC Engineering: High resolution satellite imaging without artificial beacons ($849,000)

Due to the proliferation of low Earth orbiting objects a method is required to find and characterise space debris and satellites. Imaging through the Earth’s atmosphere results in small extended objects, in addition to massive celestial point-source objects many light years from Earth, appearing through telescopes as faint, distorted objects. To reduce distortion caused by turbulence on 2D images and 1D light curves, natural or artificial point source beacons are used. The former uses one or more artificial (laser) beacons and is moved to track a fast Earth orbiting object. The latter uses background (natural) stars over a wide field-of-view. Our approach will image faint background stars as point sources over a wide field to estimate localised aberrations. Astronomical tomography, more specifically, multiple-object adaptive optics, will use a spatiotemporal machine learning method to estimate the spatially variant distortion function localised over an orbiting satellite or objects known as space debris. The distortion function will be continuously updated and used for restoration of a region of interest and provide high resolution 1D polarimetric or 2D images for characterisation and classification of exo-atmospheric objects.

Dr Geertrui Van de Voorde, Mathematics and Statistics, UC Engineering: The geometry underlying rank-metric codes (Fast-Start $300,000)

Error-correcting codes make sure a receiver gets the correct message, even if the message is slightly distorted during transmission. The use of new types of code, called rank-metric codes, has been proposed for a variety of applications ranging from storing information in the cloud to public-key cryptosystems. For over 30 years, the only optimal rank-metric codes known were Gabidulin codes until Sheekey (AI) recently constructed a new family of optimal rank-metric codes (MRD-codes). He showed that, for certain parameters, MRD codes could be constructed using an object known from finite geometry, called a linear set. In recent work, we pinpoint the geometric condition under which a linear set gives rise to an MRD code and prove this for all admissible parameters. In this project, we exploit the connection between rank-metric codes and linear sets to tackle several interrelated questions from coding theory and finite geometry. We will construct new linear sets satisfying our condition and find out under which circumstances the corresponding MRD codes can be called ‘new’. We use tools from coding theory to investigate the weight distribution of linear sets and find out the consequences for well-studied objects in finite geometry such as caps and blocking sets.

Professor Felipe Voloch, Mathematics & Statistics, UC Engineering: Hearing algebraic curves and factoring polynomials ($551,000)

Can you tell the shape of a drum from the sounds it makes? Many problems in mathematics are concerned with recognising mathematical objects using only accessible information about them. This project will develop methods to tell apart the important mathematical objects called algebraic curves from information that corresponds to their sound. Due to a remarkable recent connection, these methods for telling curves apart will yield a fast algorithm to factor polynomials over finite fields. Efficient factoring of polynomials is an essential tool in applications to error correcting codes, cryptography and random number generation.

About the Marsden Fund

The Marsden Fund supports excellence in leading edge research in New Zealand. There are two types of grants: Fast-Start grants worth $300,000 (excl. GST) over three years for early career researchers and Standard grants that can be worth up to $960,000 (excl. GST) for three years. Grants pay for salaries, student and postdoctoral positions, and consumables. The Marsden Fund is contestable, for investigator-driven research projects, and is not subject to government priorities. It is administered by the Royal Society Te Apārangi and funded by the New Zealand Government.

Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 27 254 3949margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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