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Travel Grant Reports 2009


The First International Conference on Applied Energy, Hong Kong (ICAE’09), 5–7 January 2009

Montira Watcharasukarn
PhD student, Advanced Energy & Material Systems Lab (AEMS Lab), Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury

Montira WatcharasukarnSincere thanks to the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch for the travel award granted to me in order to attend this conference. It provided an exclusive platform for scientists, industrialists and decision-makers to discuss the topics in applied energy including energy strategies and policies.

It was pleasure to have a chance to give an oral presentation in the conference under the topic of Travel behaviour under fuel constraint study. The topic is related to the conference in the term of a novel survey tool (TACA Sim©) developed by AEMS Lab to collect data on travel demand and adaptability during fuel price increase. The proposed method is based on a role-playing game concept to immerse the participant into the situation of high fuel price while collecting the data. The tool additionally provides feedback information based on the concept that all human beings have the responsibility to inform themselves and evaluate their past and current actions for future planning. Therefore, TACA Sim collects not only travel behaviour data, but also provides the travel behaviour information and adaptation risk for self-evaluation in order to help individuals realise sustainable lifestyles.

This conference has given me a platform to promote my research, our laboratory, and University of Canterbury, New Zealand. It was a good opportunity for me to share the idea with international scientists and industrialists. The interesting and helpful suggestions from many experts have been beneficial to my research. The comments at the end of the presentation prompted me to consider the point I missed in my work. From going overseas, I learned not only the new academic aspects, but also the different cultures that I exchanged to others. Thanks to the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society once again for giving me this valuable opportunity.


The 53rd Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society, Boston, Massachusetts, 28 February – 4 March, 2009

David H. Wojtas
PhD student, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Canterbury

I would like to thank the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch for the funding to assist with my expenses in attending this meeting. With over 6000 attendees this year, the Biophysical Society’s annual meeting is the largest gathering of biophysicists from around the world and offers a comprehensive overview of research currently undertaken in the field of biophysics.

My research focuses on the semi-ordered array of myosin filaments in higher vertebrate muscle. Specifically, I have developed methods for calculating the cylindrically averaged diffraction from muscle using a model of disorder based on an Ising model. This allowed the effect of this kind of disorder on X-ray diffraction patterns to be rigorously determined. The results from this analysis allow for a more accurate determination of the molecular structure of vertebrate muscle from x-ray diffraction data.

At this meeting, I was fortunate to receive feedback on my work from prominent and experienced researchers in my area. Also, it has been a great opportunity for networking and to establish some connections for possible future collaborations. The meeting also hosted a number of career programs and area specific workshops which provided an insight into the career of a biophysical researcher.

Once again I would like to thank the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch for providing me with this travel grant, without which, I would not have been able to attend this meeting.


2009 World Congress of Nephrology (WCN), Milan, Italy, 22–26 May 2009

Maryam Nejat
MD, PhD student, Christchurch Kidney Research Group, Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

Maryam NejatThe European Renal Association (ERA -EDTA dialysis and transplant) and international society of Nephrology (ISN) jointly organize this conference.

Thanks to the generous support of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch I was able to present some results of my PhD. This was a poster presentation describing the role of Urinary Cystatin C as a prognostic biomarker for mortality in intensive care unit (ICU) patients.

Plasma creatinine as a current biomarker of Kidney injury is elevated some 48-72 hours following renal injury and loss of function. Biomarkers of injury have the potential to diagnose AKI earlier than plasma Creatinine. Urinary Cystatin C is an early biomarker of renal injury. We demonstrated that Urinary Cystatin C has utility as a predictor of 30 day mortality and a diagnostic biomarker of AKI in the ICU.

Attending the WCN 2009 was a rewarding experience for me. Several interesting and exciting discussions regarding my research results have lead to the possibility of future work and more experimental and clinical studies. I believe that my attendance at the meeting gave me greater insight into my PhD project (on biomarkers in acute kidney injury) and the opportunity to meet key researchers in this field. Also, the good feedback on my research I received at the conference has encouraged my supervisors and myself to submit abstracts for the American Society of Nephrology meeting later this year, which discuss further aspects of my PhD projects about Urinary Cystatin C.

I am also grateful for the chance to experience Milan and other parts of Italy.


American Geophysical Union (AGU) Joint Assembly, Toronto, 24–27 May, 2009

Rose Turnbull
PhD Student, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Rose TurnbullI recently had the opportunity to attend the AGU Joint Assembly Conference in Toronto, thanks to a generous grant from the RSNZ Canterbury Branch. My PhD research is focused on the examination of ancient, exposed composite magma chambers, in order to elucidate what magmatic processes were operating during the time of their formation, and how this information can be applied to understanding active volcanic systems. The focus of my research is on an exposed magma chamber on Stewart Island, and has involved extensive fieldwork and geochemical analysis of key samples. This work has allowed for a magmatic stratigraphy to be reconstructed, and the physical, chemical and thermal processes operating when the magma chamber was active to be determined.

I was fortunate to be able to give an oral presentation of my current PhD research findings entitled ‘Physico-chemical processes involved in the construction of a composite pluton: an example from Stewart Island, New Zealand’. I received a lot of helpful feedback, which will undoubtedly strengthen my final thesis. Many of the talks and posters presented at the meeting were very relevant to the research I am doing, and provided me with a lot of new ideas that will help with future research. The large number of researchers who attended provided the opportunity to exchange ideas, provide insight into future research directions, and created valuable contacts for the future.

Overall, attending the AGU Joint Assembly was an incredible experience that provided me with many ideas about my current and future research directions, and confirmed that I will continue to pursue a career of research in geology.


XV International Symposium on Atherosclerosis (IAS), Boston, US, 14–18 June, 2009 and Post-Satellite Symposia: Pharmacology & Atherosclerosis, New York, US, 19–20 June, 2009

Joanna Young
PhD student, Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch

Joanna YoungI am grateful to the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch for supporting my attendance at the XV International Symposium on Atherosclerosis in Boston and the Post-Satellite Symposia on Pharmacology & Atherosclerosis in New York, June 2009. The Symposium was attended by over 2,000 delegates and provided an international forum for presentation and discussion on many aspects of international atherosclerosis research, treatment and prevention. The Post-Satellite Symposia was attended by approximately 100 delegates and focused more specifically on novel therapies for treatment of atherosclerotic disease.

My PhD involves the investigation of therapies, both drug and dietary, to improve vascular function in high risk patient groups, including hypercholesterolemia, the metabolic syndrome, and hypertension. As part of my research, I undertook a clinical study to establish whether coenzyme Q10 depletion occurs in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia on long-term statin therapy, and whether increased arterial stiffness is associated with reduced plasma coenzyme Q10 levels in this statin-treated population.

I presented a poster at both meetings, entitled “Coenzyme Q10 and Vascular Function in Patients on Long-term Statin Therapy for Familial Hypercholesterolemia.” that summarised the results of our study. We found that long-term statin therapy in familial hypercholesterolemic patients does not lead to subnormal coenzyme Q10 levels. Furthermore, arterial stiffness was higher in patients with treated-familial hypercholesterolemia compared to controls and was inversely correlated with the coenzyme levels in the cohort of familial hypercholesterolemic patients with identified LDL-receptor mutations. Our findings do not establish a current clinical role for coenzyme Q10 supplementation in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, but an intervention trial in familial hypercholesterolemic patients who are LDL-receptor mutation positive may be warranted.

Attendance at the Symposium and Post-Satellite meeting has contributed to my academic development, by allowing me to profile our research, and to acquire and consolidate knowledge from experts in the field of cardiovascular research, through the valuable plenary sessions, and oral and poster sessions, as well as the more informal lunch-time sessions at the Post-Satellite meeting.

Once again I would like to thank the Royal Society of New Zealand, Canterbury Branch for providing me with a travel grant to support my attendance at these two conferences.


5th International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment in Big Sky, Montana, USA, 22–25 June, 2009

Petra Hoggarth
PhD student, Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury

Petra HoggarthMy research focuses on finding off-road measures that can predict on-road driving performance in healthy older drivers, and in those with Alzheimer’s dementia. I submitted a seven page article for the conference co-authored by my three supervisors Richard Jones, Carrie Innes and John Dalrymple-Alford. I also presented a poster titled “Driving assessment and subsequent driving outcome: a prospective study of safe and unsafe healthy driver groups.” My paper focused on a one-year follow-up of a group of healthy older drivers to see whether an on-road driving assessment pass/fail score was related to past and future traffic infringements and violations. I have just begun the two-year follow-up of my sample.

The driving assessment conference was targeted directly at my area of research and was attended by a dedicated group of around 200 driving researchers mainly consisting of engineers, psychologists and car company research and development staff. Myself and my supervisor Carrie Innes were the first attendees ever from New Zealand. The conference was a great chance to meet other influential researchers in the field, and to see what cutting edge research is currently being conducted. It also gave me the chance to have a peer-reviewed paper published that is available on the conference website. The beautiful resort setting of Big Sky, Montana was a fantastic location for a conference, and many attendees including myself took part in an eleven-hour bus tour through Yellowstone National Park at the end of the conference.

I would like to thank the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand for awarding funding for me to attend this conference. My experiences there will help with the remainder of my PhD research and thesis writing.


The 10th International Congress of Ecology, Brisbane, Australia, 16–21 August 2009

Amy Whitehead
PhD student, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Amy WhiteheadAmy Whitehead - DuckThe conference titled, Ecology in a Changing World, focused on ecological researching a world in the midst of the most rapid period of ecosystem and climate change that has been documented. It included symposia on ecological issues in freshwater, marine and terrestrial environments. There was a very strong focus on conservation and modelling issues; topics that I am particularly interested in and have direct relevance to my research. The conference was well attended by leading ecologists working with a wide range of ecological issues across the globe.

I have a very strong interest in conservation biology, both freshwater and terrestrial, and this conference was an excellent forum for learning about the work being undertaken in a wide range of fields and locations. It also provided the ideal opportunity to present my research on blue duck conservation in New Zealand to the international scientific community and to make many useful contacts. I gave an oral presentation in the Adaptive conservation decision-making and expert elicitation session titled Get more ducks for your bucks: tools for prioritising conservation management of threatened species. This research from my PhD at the University of Canterbury has focussed on how we can improve the effectiveness of conservation for New Zealand’s threatened whio (blue duck) by identifying the threats to whio conservation, assess the effectiveness of current management techniques and identify areas of high quality habitat where management should be targeted. My presentation showed that stoats are the primary cause of contemporary whio declines but predator control in high quality areas of habitat should reverse these declines and lead to increasing populations. This work was very well received and I was able to get some helpful feedback which will help direct my future research.

I was also able to spend several days exploring the natural areas around Brisbane, including a number of dryland and rainforest National Parks. This was extremely interesting and gave me an appreciation of the diverse nature of Australia’s ecosystems and wildlife.

I am extremely grateful to the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand for awarding me a Travel Grant, enabling me to attend this conference.


European Society of Cardiology Congress 2009, Barcelona, Spain, 29 August – 2 September 2009

Katrina Ellis (PhD student- 3rd year)
Christchurch Cadioendocrine Research group, Department of Medicine, University of Otago Christchurch

The European Society of Cardiology Congress (ESC) 2009, attracted over 30,000 delegates, and was one of the premiere cardiology conferences to be held this year. The congress attracted both clinicians and basic scientists, and focused on the most significant and recent scientific developments in the field of cardiovascular medicine from around the world. Throughout the congress, the most relevant aspects of the diagnosis, treatment and management of cardiovascular disease were highlighted, with presentations focusing on basic science, clinical and population research.

My doctoral research has focused on identifying genetic factors that contribute to an increased risk of having poorer outcomes in patients with established coronary heart disease. In recent years the field of cardiovascular genetics has evolved greatly, with the establishment of new technologies that enable whole genome scans for disease susceptibility loci. In 2007, using this approach several studies identified a region on chromosome 9 that was strongly associated with susceptibility to developing coronary artery disease. The research that I presented at the conference investigated the association between a gene variant within this region and survival in patients with established coronary artery disease. The effect of this region on clinical outcomes in patients with heart disease had yet to be determined.

This research was presented in a poster session at the ESC Congress. A number of people attended this poster session and were interested in the results that I was presenting. They were particularly excited about how well characterised the patient cohorts were, the extent of the follow-up data, and the possibilities of not only investigating the chromosome 9 region but other recently identified loci for associations with clinical outcome in these cohorts. In addition to the poster session, I was also invited to present this research at the ESC Council of Basic Cardiovascular Science Reception, and at this event received positive feedback from the other attending delegates. Having the opportunity to present my research to an international scientific audience was of significant value to my current and future research.

The ESC Congress was an exciting conference, and there were a number of sessions that I particularly enjoyed. One highlight was a session summarising the recent findings of coronary artery disease whole genome association studies. This session featured a number of internationally regarded scientists that have played a significant role in identifying key genetic factors in the development of coronary artery disease. This conference also gave me exposure to, and stimulated my interest in the many other areas of cardiovascular disease research in both the clinical and basic science fields. I greatly appreciate the support of the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand, which made attending this conference possible.

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