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School of Natural and Computational Sciences
We offer an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse community in a unique interdisciplinary atmosphere. We are located on Massey’s Auckland campus.
We teach into programmes within biological sciences, computer science and information technology, mathematics, statistics, the physical sciences and wildlife ecology.
The Natural and Computational Sciences group at Massey University is comprised of some of the world’s leading scientists. Recent recruits have come from Harvard, Cambridge, Max Planck and other leading institutions. They continue their research in New Zealand at Massey, while collaborating with colleagues across the globe.
Our areas of specialisation cross the mathematical and natural sciences disciplines. We disseminate and generate scientific knowledge of the highest quality in our areas of specialisation, producing relevant, globally-influential research.
First Tuesday of every month
Come and hear from some of the leading minds in science today. Massey University Auckland scientists take you into the fascinating world of scientific discoveries.
Professor Dianne Brunton
Professor Brunton is the head of School of Natural and Computational Sciences
Her research expertise is in social behaviour and the evolution and ecology of animal communication with her main research interest in the evolution of song.
Associate Professor Alona Ben-Tal
Alona is the deputy head of the School of Natural and Computational Sciences. Her research interests currently focus on the cardio-respiratory system of mammals.
Associate Professor Shaun Cooper
Shaun Cooper teaches mathematics courses at all levels at Massey, including algebra and calculus, discrete mathematics, analysis and theoretical mathematics. His research expertise is in number theory, especially in relation to the work of the Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan.
Professor Timothy Cooper
Tim work focuses on understanding the dynamics of microbial adaptation. His work focuses on the genetics of adaptation, especially on how interactions among genetic mutations and the environment influence evolutionary outcomes.
Professor James Dale
James’ research focuses on evolutionary ecology, such as the function of elaborate coloration in animals. He also teaches first year zoology and third year ornithology courses.
Associate Professor John Harrison
John is a physical chemist with a particular interest in chemical dynamics and spectroscopy. He is also a founder and director of the Massey startup Lifeonics Ltd.
Dr Barry McDonald
Barry’s research focuses on creating statistical methods to give insight into real-life problems in medicine, nutrition, informatics, industry, and social research.
Associate Professor Chris Scogings
Chris is the programme leader for the Bachelor of Information Sciences. His research interests are in design and implementation of agent-based simulations in the areas of computational science, artificial life and military studies.
College of Sciences
The School of Natural and Computational Sciences is one of six interconnected schools within the College of Sciences.
Examples of research projects from School scientists.
Musical vibration patterns inspire the search for defects in ultra-cold atomic gases
A European/New Zealand collaboration has resulted in a theory around the physical characteristics of Chladni solitons, proposing experiments to observe them in ultra-cold atomic superfluids.
The work, between Professor Joachim Brand and Antonio Muñoz Mateo from the University of Barcelona resulted in the paper: 'Chladni solitons and the onset of the snaking instability for dark solitons in confined superfluids' published in Physical Review Letters.
Take it from the birds
Associate Professor Alona Ben-Tal led a project that developed mathematical equations to describe how the avian respiratory system works. In birds, air flows in one direction during both inspiration and expiration, in an area of the lungs where gas exchange occurs. The project provides a new explanation on the way in which this unidirectional flow is generated.
Coral reef bleaching
Dr David Aguirre, a Massey marine ecologist is helping to uncover the ways the world’s coral reefs could survive in the face of rising global temperatures. Coral bleaching is having devastating effects on coral reefs around the world. The study, led by the Australian Museum is hoping to understand how reefs will respond to climate change and show us where our best efforts to preserve reefs lie.
Chromosome architecture constrains horizontal gene transfer in bacteria
Horizontal gene transfer is a powerful source of change in bacteria that can significantly aid their ability to survive. These rules are governed by architecture imparting sequences (AIMS), which are in all bacterial chromosomes. A team of international researchers including Massey’s Dr Heather Hendrickson discovered that if sets of AIMS are well matched between a donor and recipient genome, then the DNA moving between those genomes can be maintained. The opposite is true if they are not well matched, effectively establishing the rules of transfer.
Molecules in extreme environments
In the atmospheres of certain stellar objects such as rotating white dwarfs and neutron stars, extreme magnetic fields exist that cannot be generated on Earth. Knowledge about chemistry and physics under such conditions is indispensable for understanding astronomical observations. Dr Elke Pahl and Prof Peter Schwerdtfeger as well as post-doctoral fellow and PhD students of the Centre of Theoretical Chemistry and Physics joined European scientists at the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 2017/18 to work towards understanding how the chemistry we know on Earth changes under extreme conditions. Exciting new research ideas resulted - one example is a new highly collaborative research project on the study of melting processes in high magnetic fields.
Massey University has developed a real-time gross domestic product (GDP) tracker, believed to be the first of its kind in the world. Called GDPLive, the online portal was developed by Dr Teo Susnjak of the College of Sciences and Professor Christoph Schumacher from the Massey Business School. It uses machine learning algorithms and the most up-to-date data possible, including live data sources to allow users to instantly see estimates of how the New Zealand economy is performing on a daily basis, and provides GDP forecasts.
Revolutionary smart measuring optical device
Massey scientists in natural, mathematical sciences and engineering have developed what is thought to be the first-ever ‘smart’ cell density sensing tool. The SMODTM (Smart Measuring Optical Device) was launched by Lifeonics in 2015 and since then has signed a number of international distributors,.
Genetics of the Galapagos Mockingbird
Nothing is known about the genomic correlate or genetic mechanisms for inter-island diversification of Galapagos mockingbirds. Massey scientist Dr Luis Ortiz-Catedral worked with American scientists to investigate the genomic correlates of phenotypic diversification of this endangered bird.
Fifty shades of prey
One of the enduring paradoxes of evolutionary biology is: how do high levels of genetic diversity persist within a population? Massey scientists, led by Dr James Dale, working with American researchers, are addressing this major question through detailed genetic and behavioural research on the dramatic colour variation occurring in an abundant, endemic and poorly known marine isopod, Isocladus armatus. The outputs of this project promise to greatly improve our understanding of both evolution and gene flow in marine environments, and will provide hard insight into the processes that maintain biological diversity.
Bacteriophages – the most numerous entity on the planet
Phages target specific bacterial strains in nature and as a primary parasite of bacteria they are responsible both for bacterial mortality and for transferring genes between bacterial strains. A team led by Heather Hendrickson are investigating, characterising and sequencing these entities in order to learn more about the role they play in the microbial world and their diversity. The group currently study Pseudomonas phages, Lactococcus phages, Paenibacillus phages and Mycobacterium phages.
Awards and funding
Marti Anderson received $936,000 for her research project "Not too hot, not too cold, just right: New models of species’ responses to their environment". This project aims to quantify and predict global-scale responses of ecological communities to environmental change.Royal Society Te Apārangi
Marsden funding for new models of species’ responses to their environment.
Elizabeth Ostrowski received $957,000 for her research project: Can Arms Races Occur Within a Species?Royal Society Te Apārangi
Marsden funding for research into species warfare
Professor Tim Cooper received $953,000 for the research project: Evolving to evolve: testing how history and community influence evolutionary potential.Royal Society Te Apārangi
Marsden funding for research into evolvability
Ian Bond received $958,000 for his project: Lifting the interstellar dust veil to reveal undiscovered planets by infrared observations.Royal Society Te Apārangi
Marsden funding for planetary research
The Hatherton Award is for the best scientific paper by a PhD student.
Christian Offen's paper develops a new framework for a class of non-linear differential equations, which are the basis for modelling many problems in science and technology, including biological pattern formation, viscous fluid flow phenomena, chemical reactions and crystal growth processes.Royal Society Te Apārangi
Dr Liggins was chosen by the WDS Scientific Committee (WDS-SC) as the 2019 winner of the WDS Data Stewardship Award. She is a founder and a director of the Ira Moana – Genes of the Sea – Project in which there are 85 local and international researchers from 25 research institutions in four countries.ICSU World Data System
World Data Systems Data Stewardship Award 2019 for Massey scientist
Dr Melnikov has received funding from the Royal Society for research will apply advanced methods of computability theory to two broad and interconnected programs of research.
The first area of research is the classification problems in mathematics. The second is a new general theory of online algorithms, relying on similar methods, to develop a new general theory of online computation, which has strong connections with algorithm design.Royal Society Te Apārangi
Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for applications of moder computability research
Dr David Aguirre, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, will develop a novel unified framework for reef ecosystems, and examine the forces governing transitions in the dominant species found on temperate and tropical reefs.
His research focuses on understanding how rapid change in the global climate over the last century affects marine biodiversity and, in turn, human populations.Royal Society Te Apārangi
Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research into impacts of global climate changes on coral reefs
Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger has been awarded the Dan Walls medal by the New Zealand Institute of Physics. The award is presented annually to a physicist working in New Zealand for at least ten years who is deemed to have made the greatest impact both nationally and internationally in his or her field of research.New Zealand Institute of Physics
Dan Walls medal from the NZ Institute of Physics
Professor Mick Roberts was awarded $415,000 from the Royal Society's Marsden Fund for the research project 'Biodiversity and the ecology of emerging infectious diseases '.Royal Society Te Apārangi
Marsden funding for ecology of infectious diseases research
Meet our graduates
Massey provided me with a very strong foundation in genetics and introductory research skills that allowed me to hit the ground running.Anežka Hoskin
Bachelor of Science (Genetics) (now Bachelor of Science (Molecular and Cellular Biology), with a minor in Psychology
The degree gave me the flexibility to follow my environmental and agricultural interests and the cross-discipline teaching approach taught me about systems.Charlotte Robertson
Bachelor of Natural Sciences (similar degree: Bachelor of Science (Integrative Biology))
I knew about the great work the marine ecology group led by Professor Marti Anderson at Massey University was doing and their renowned expertise in statistics and data analysis, among other things, was exactly what I needed.David Acuna Marrero
Doctor of Philosophy
My time at Massey was really worthwhile and I picked up a number of life skills including time management, people skills, research techniques and study skills, all of which are still useful to me in my everyday work.David Lasike
Bachelor of Information Sciences (Double major in Computer Science and Information Technology)
I believe Massey set me up very well to succeed in my chosen field of computer science.Dion Shepherd
Master of Information Sciences
I’ve always had a keen interest in technology so when it came time to choose a university, Massey in Auckland appealed to me for a number of reasons.Georgia Barnett
Bachelor of Information Sciences (Software Engineering)
In addition to the knowledge gained from the degree, a biochemistry major provides a large skill set, such as time management, verbal skills and laboratory techniques.Georgia Richardson
Bachelor of Science
My degree taught me the foundations of programming and how to be able to pick up any language/area efficiently.Nicole Wilcox
Bachelor of Science (Computer Science)
I really enjoyed the software papers I took and principles that I learnt I apply in my current job. The top IT graduate jobs are highly competitive and I am glad that I studied with Massey University, I felt it prepared me well for the workplace.Reece Hewitt
Bachelor of Information Science (Information Technology)
It was very satisfying to publish my research and see it become available to the scientific community.Sarah Dwyer
Doctor of Philosophy
We love to get students, parents and educators involved in the science we’re doing at the School of Natural and Computational Sciences.
Equity and Diversity Committee
The School of Natural and Computational Sciences is committed to equitable participation and success of staff and students.
*The School name changed on 1 January 2019 from the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences.