Megan Woods signals thrust of science sector restructuring

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods, in  her Cawthron Institute Centenary Speech today, portended some key features to be incorporated in a shake-up of the country’s research, science and innovation sector.

Dr Woods congratulated Cawthron for its support of industry and work in improving the health of our environment. Continue reading

Government targets innovation-led growth to turbo-charge business potential

Hundreds of New Zealand companies are set to benefit from the launch of two new grants aimed at fuelling firms that want to innovate, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said today.

The $250 million investment over the next four years was a sign of her commitment to some of New Zealand’s brightest businesses, and to turning great ideas into building a higher-value, more sustainable economy, Dr Woods said.

“I want to turbo-charge all the tremendous potential I see in our business ecosystem, by introducing grants to help out with the high costs and steep learning curves associated with R&D, and to provide an on-ramp to our existing R&D Tax Incentive. Continue reading

Green Paper portends big changes for the research, science and innovation sector and greater diversity

We should brace for big changes – and hope they amount to changes for the better – when the Government makes a grand announcement under the heading 30-year-old RSI system to modernise.

The Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways Green Paper has been launched by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods and Associate Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

This marks the start

“… of a wide-ranging and collaborative korero about the future f the RSI science system.”

 The Ministers are encouraging all researchers and stakeholders to join the “conversation”.

“The world is a very different place now to when our Crown Research Institutes were created in the 1990s. If the last 18 months have shown us anything, it is that we need to have expert science to make expert, dynamic decisions,” Megan Woods said.

“Our RSI system has served Aotearoa exceptionally well, but now it’s time to ask whether the system is set up as well as it can be to answer today’s pressing environmental, economic and social challenges, like climate change and child poverty.

“Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways is a programme that seeks to start an open and fulsome conversation on a range of issues facing the sector, but we’re not going into this with any pre-determined ideas.” Continue reading

Strengthening Māori knowledge in science and innovation

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods has announced the 16 projects that together will get $3.9 million through the 2021 round of Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund.

She said this further strengthens the Government’s commitment to Māori knowledge in science and innovation.

 “We received 78 proposals – the highest number of applications since the Fund began and I am excited to announce our 16 successful applicants. I want to personally congratulate them and am eager to see the impact and growth within their iwi and organisations from these projects,” says Megan Woods.

“The Fund supports the implementation of a kaupapa Māori approach to research, development and innovation, while ensuring cultural knowledge is maintained, protected and still owned by Māori or iwi.

“By supporting partnership between Māori and the research sector, we strengthen science and innovation for all New Zealanders and our ability to create a better future.”

Successful applicants will be focusing on a wide range of topics including:

  • Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research will partner with Ngāi Tahu Māori Rock Art Trust to merge mātauranga and palaeoecology to inform restoration plans and educational programmes;
  • Te Ruapekapeka Trust will partner with Victoria University of Wellington to digitally construct aspects of the Ruapekapeka heritage pā site using virtual reality technology; and
  •  Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa Trust will partner with Massey University to work to create an integrated Tātau Tātau geographical information system aimed at preserving, maintaining, and disseminating mātauranga Māori material.

“These projects strengthen our understanding of how research can contribute to the aspirations of individuals, whānau, Māori communities and Māori organisations.

“Protecting and growing mātauranga is a key factor in preserving the uniqueness of Aotearoa. I am proud to be able to support the continued growth of Māori knowledge and research,” says Megan Woods.

A list of Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund successful applicants can be found on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website.

Source:  Minister of Research, Science and innovation

Govt provides $401.3m injection for innovation and R&D for the COVID economic rebuild

A $401.3 million funding boost for entrepreneurs, innovators and crown researchers was fleshed out today by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

A breakdown shows:

  • $196 million for Crown Research Institutes
  • $150 million for R&D loan scheme
  • $33 million for Māori research and development opportunities
  • $12 million for the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases
  • $10 million to help maintain in-house capability at Callaghan Innovation

According to notes accompanying the press statement, AgResearch will receive capital expenditure from the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, to develop a new fit-for-future scientific research facility and corporate headquarters at Lincoln University. The facility will encourage more collaboration in food and fibres research and innovation, to help farmers and growers manage challenges, and seize opportunities for getting more economic value out of products. Continue reading

Yes, these are challenging times – but it’s a challenge, too, to find a Budget boost for ag science

We sifted through the Budget speech and the outpouring of press statements from the Beehive which typically gush about what Ministers have done for their sectors, looking for the word “science”.

We found one mention in the Budget speech (a document of around 6600 words), but not in a way that should cheer NZIAHS members.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said unemployment was forecast to increase significantly, rising to 8.3% in the year ending June 2020, before peaking at 9.8% in September 2020 and then recovering thereafter.

Then he said:

“It is worthy of note that economic forecasting is more of an art than a science at the best of times, but more so than ever now. The full impact of COVID-19 around the world is still being seen. The depth and duration of the pandemic means that the economic outlook is highly uncertain and forecasts will change as more information comes to light. But what they do clearly show is the scale of the economic challenge that lies ahead.” Continue reading

Minister announces $25m fund (established several weeks ago) for innovative solutions in response to COVID-19

Dr Megan Woods, the Minister for Research, Science and Innovation, has been curiously silent  in recent weeks while the government set about tackling COVID-19 and – to buttress its credibility – firmly rooted its proclamations in science.

The last press statement from her as Minister of science was on February 4. At that time she announced the Government had signed a memorandum of understanding with urban air mobility company Wisk (the new trading name of Zephyr Airworks) to support a world-first passenger transport trial of the company’s all-electric, self-flying air taxi ‘Cora’ in Canterbury.

Today the silence ended with the Minister announcing the Government is investing $25 million to speed up the trial and deployment of innovations to help New Zealand’s response to COVID-19.
Continue reading

Mission control centre for methane-measuring satellite venture to be based in NZ

New Zealand has joined its first official space mission as a country to combat climate change and the mission control centre will be located in New Zealand.

The Government will contribute $26 million towards MethaneSAT, a state-of-the-art satellite designed to detect global methane emissions with unprecedented accuracy.

The mission is being led by a United States-based non-government organisation, Environmental Defense Fund, and its subsidiary, MethaneSAT LLC, which have signed a partnership agreement with New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

While EDF and MethaneSAT are initially focused on collecting data about methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, New Zealand intends working with EDF to consider how the data might be used to investigate and potentially lead an atmospheric science component of the mission related to agricultural methane emissions. Continue reading

Marsden Fund gives a boost to climate change research

Several climate change projects were given a boost in the latest Marsden Fund investment of $83.6 million, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said today.

The projects that will benefit from the investment include –

 Projects aimed at addressing climate change

  • Geologic champagne: What controls sudden release of CO2 at glacial terminations on the Chatham Rise? (The University of Auckland) – $952,000
  • Drought or Deluge? How did Rainfall in the Tropical South Pacific Respond to Sudden Climate Change During the Glacial Period? (Victoria University of Wellington) – $960,000
  • Could airborne microplastics play a role in climate change? (University of Canterbury) – $300,000

Projects aimed at renewable energy issues

  • Molecular wiring of graphene with organic films (University of Canterbury) – $960,000
  • Photon multiplying light harvesting antenna systems for luminescent solar concentrators (Victoria University of Wellington) – $278,499
  • Can enhanced exciton diffusion propel organic photovoltaic cells beyond the bulk heterojunction? (Victoria University of Wellington) – $891,197

Continue reading

Alas, nothing for the ag/hort sector from the latest Strategic Science Investment Fund decisions

The meaning of “excellence” is worth examining with regard to the public  funding of science projects.

The Government has dipped into the Strategic Science Investment Fund and – taking “excellence” into account – decided to to boost four projects, one of them aimed at teaching Siri to speak Te Reo.

Siri – according to Wikipedia – is a virtual assistant that is part of Apple Inc.’s iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, tvOS and audioOS operating systems

None of the projects announced by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Wood involves agricultural and/or horticultural science.

Dr Wood – obviously delighted with the way “excellence” has been interpreted to decide which projects will secure SSIF funding – made special mention of the Te Reo project in her press statement.

The Taxpayers Union is not so thrilled.  It’s press statement, challenging the wisdom of this spending, was headed $13 million teaching Siri to use Te Reo is an IT boondoggle.

boondoggle is a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.

Dr Woods said the four projects to be funded “range from teaching Siri to speak Te Reo to crunching large amounts of  environmental data collected via satellites”.

“The projects were chosen on excellence, and will help New Zealand to address some of our greatest challenges like bringing Te Reo into everyday digital interactions, and building a picture of climatic and ecological trends,” Megan Woods says.

“To harness the benefits of data science, New Zealand needs to be at the forefront of emerging data science technologies. The new investment will significantly lift New Zealand’s capability, provide fresh and ambitious thinking to support international and national collaborations in cutting edge data science research.”

Collectively the programmes provide a wide coverage of data science research and make good use of unique New Zealand data sets, Dr Woods said.

“They have strong domestic and international collaborations involving a number of New Zealand universities and research organisations with strong links to end users.

“Greater use of advanced data science across the economy, environment and society will create new ways of working, helping to position New Zealand for a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future.”

Data science involves extracting useful information through different methods of recording, storing, and analysing data.

The Strategic Science Investment Fund’s purpose is to establish and support longer-term research programmes of mission-led science critical to the future of New Zealand’s economy, environment and wellbeing.

This is the first SSIF investment in a fund dedicated to data science research.

The Taxpayers Union said the $13 million research grant for Te Reo voice recognition technology is a poor use of taxpayer money.

According to the union’s statement, the project is hoped to allow people to ask Siri or Alexa things like how to “find a choice as kai of panipopo” . This will “ensure a New Zealand identity is firmly embedded in the digital world”.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says:

“This is a classic case of taxpayer money being poured into a shiny, fashionable IT project that is a nice-to-have at best. These projects should be left to private companies who have an incentive to keep costs under control and develop technology that people actually use.

“Someone on the median wage would have to pay income tax for 1,500 years to cover the cost of this project. This money could have been used to provide more much-needed measles vaccines, or even tax relief.

“The entire Strategic Science Investment Fund appears to be rife with fuzzy spending initiatives and corporate welfare. This is the same fund that last year allocated $5.4 million for research into shoe leather. The fact Minister Megan Woods is proudly putting out press releases about this kind of spending leads us to wonder whether she has taxpayers’ interests at heart.”

The successful programmes announced by Dr Woods are:

  • A language platform for a multilingual Aotearoa: Starting with Te Reo. This will develop a multilingual language platform to that will enable New Zealanders to engage with technology in the language they use or aspire to use every day. World-leading data scientists from New Zealand, Cambridge University, Oxford University, Mozilla and Māori communities will work on this project in a unique collaboration. (Te Hiku Media and Dragonfly Data Science, $13 million over seven years).
  • A data-science driven evolution of aquaculture for building the blue economy: This will develop innovative data science techniques that will enable the aquaculture industry to produce high quality, low-carbon protein efficiently and at large scale, without impacting the environment. (Victoria University of Wellington, $13 million over 7 years)
  • Time-Evolving Data Science / Artificial Intelligence for Advanced Open Environmental Science: This will focus on developing new methods to deal with environmental datasets that are collected in large volumes over time, ranging from broad scale satellite images to single point measurements on the ground, in the water or air. (University of Waikato, $13 million over 7 years)
  • Beyond Prediction: explanatory and transparent data science for life and social sciences: This will develop new methods that discover, gather and integrate useful data with minimal human intervention. (University of Auckland, $10 million over 7 years).

Sources:  Minister of Research, Science and Innovation; New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.