Mandarin, mountain and muscle research funded


he Suoana maar volcano on Miyakejima Island. one of the target sites for Associate Professor Karoly Nemeth's project


The development of new online Chinese language learning tools is one of three Massey University research projects awarded Catalyst: Seeding funding from the Royal Society of New Zealand. Modelling horse and dog skeletons, and understanding the dynamics of volcanic eruptions are the others.

Professor Cynthia White, linguistics expert and research director for College of Humanities and Social Sciences, is the lead researcher for the project titled ‘Investing in Human Capital: Growing Workforce Expertise in Speaking Mandarin’, in collaboration with the Beijing Language and Culture University.

The two-year, $63,400 project addresses the need for more New Zealanders to gain proficiency in Mandarin as part of a wider goal to foster business and trade connections.

“New Zealand’s engagement with China has continued to grow over the past two decades, yet as a nation we have little capacity to communicate in Chinese beyond bilingual native speakers or official interpreters,” she says. “Having even some basic proficiency in Chinese can confer strategic advantage but New Zealand faces significant challenges in terms of how to build that workforce capability and capital.”

The research network at the centre of the project will extend collaborative links already in place with Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), which holds China’s only Centre for Research Excellence in Chinese language. It will examine the viability of innovative online language learning methods, with the aim of making them more accessible to people in a range of workplaces.

Modelling horse and working dog musculoskeletal structure

Dr Bob Colborne, from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, is working on a model of the musculoskeletal breakdown of horses and working dogs designed to help prevent injuries and help to screen animals with the physical characteristics that appear to predispose them to injury.

The $32,000 project, titled ‘Modelling breakdown of the musculoskeletal system in working dogs and horses’, is in collaboration with the University of Ghent (Belgium), the University of Veterinary Medicine (Austria), and Aalborg University (Denmark).

“New Zealand’s populations of working dogs and horses are significant in the national economy, from the standpoints of export, their work and attachment to humans, and also their training and medical maintenance costs,” Dr Colborne says. “Their welfare is of paramount importance in their working life.”

The research proposal says that dogs are used for farm, military, search and rescue, and police activities. Their work, involving high-speed locomotion, jumping and landing, causes them to break down at weak points in their spines and limbs. Horses are used for recreation and sport, and lameness is the largest cause of days lost to training and competition.

The project will model the spine and limbs, incorporating bones, joints, ligaments and muscles in such a way that it can be perturbed with disrupting forces or varied tissue properties that cause it to fail, identifying weak points in the system.

Into the throat of a volcano

Associate Professor Karoly Nemeth, from the Institute of Agriculture and Environment, is exploring the entrance structure of volcanoes prior to an eruption to better understand the hazardous impact.

In a $77,520 research project, titled ‘What is in the throat of a volcano? Understanding small volume volcanoes through examples from Japan and New Zealand’, he will collaborate with the Geological Survey of Japan to better understand the last moments of magma prior to eruption.

“The throat of a volcano is the pipe through which magma passes on the way to eruption. The structure of the pipe, and the rock debris contained within it, can dramatically affect the rising magma and hence the type of eruption,” he says.

New Zealand’s young volcanoes frequently have their pipes still buried beneath the surface, preventing them from being studied, so the project involves collaborating with Japanese researchers to gain access to volcanoes that are similar to those in New Zealand, but where the pipes are exposed.

“The project aims to describe the textural features of the volcanic pipes and apply this knowledge to New Zealand, particularly in locations where small, young volcanoes dominate, including the Auckland Volcanic Field,” says Dr Nemeth.

The projects were among 12 across New Zealand research institutions to receive funding for international collaborations from the society’s Catalyst Fund, on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

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