Te Tari Pāngarau me te Tatauranga
Department of Mathematics & Statistics

Recent News

Otago part of world-first trial to prevent TB in people with diabetes

Otago researchers are playing a leadership role in an Euro €4.8 million international project to conduct the world’s first trial attempting to prevent tuberculosis in people with diabetes.

Every year, more than 11 million people worldwide develop tuberculosis (TB) and more than 1.4 million die from the disease. In recent years it has become clear that diabetes is an important factor driving the global tuberculosis epidemic.

University of Otago McAuley Professor of International Health, Professor Philip Hill, explains that diabetes not only increases the risk of tuberculosis, but also leads to more severe and recurrent disease and more deaths from tuberculosis.

“Globally, there are now an estimated 425 million people living with diabetes, but this number will strongly increase over the coming decades, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and other settings with a high burden of TB.

“As such, global TB control can only be successful if TB among people with diabetes is addressed well.”

Professor Hill is excited that scientists from the University’s Global Health Institute will be involved in the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, which is supported by the European Union. He is the lead epidemiologist and biostatistician Professor Katrina Sharples is the lead statistician on the project.

“We know we won’t eliminate TB unless we tackle the huge reservoir of people already infected who do not have disease symptoms. To do this we have to expand our approach to preventing those at increased risk from developing TB disease and people with diabetes are the obvious next target, but we don’t currently have enough information to guide policymakers.”

The consortium will be led by an experienced group of scientists and clinicians in the Netherlands, Uganda, Tanzania, UK and New Zealand.

Three thousand people with diabetes and latent tuberculosis infection in Uganda and Tanzania will either get 12 weekly doses of preventive treatment or placebo and followed over two years to see if this treatment can prevent the disease developing.

In parallel to the trial, 1,000 people with diabetes but without evidence of latent tuberculosis infection, will be followed to confirm the risk of TB in this group is indeed too low to warrant preventive treatment.

“If we are successful, this intervention could see a significant reduction in the burden of TB worldwide,” Professor Hill explains.

March 2020

Statistician gives tips to Powerball hopefuls

Matt Parry featured on Radio NZ and the NZ Herald talking about this week's (almost) record setting Powerball draw.

February 2020

Māori genetics research

Dr Phillip Wilcox's work on developing genomics tools for improving Māori health has been featured in the recent issue of the University's He Kitenga magazine that highlights topical research. This work, co-led by Prof Stephen Robertson, and overseen by a Māori leadership group including Prof Khyla Russell (Ngāi Tahu) and former Minister of Māori Development Te Ururoa Flavell, is the first of its kind and addresses underrepresentation of Māori in genomic tools and databases that could lead to improved health outcomes.

February 2020

Teaching statistics to the UN

John Harraway has been commissioned by the United Nations in Geneva to develop with Sharleen Forbes teaching materials which they can use in staff training and the training of people round the world working in government departments. The material reflects the 17 sustainability principles of the UN and has a particular emphasis on Africa.

Earlier this year John and Sharleen were also appointed by the World Bank, UNESCO and the International Statistics Institute to an Indian Committee to review the Curriculum of a statistics programme taught in Kolkata for people from developing countries working with data and statistics.

John is an Honorary Associate Professor in Statistics.

December 2019

Professor of Statistics

We're delighted Katrina Sharples has been promoted to Professor. Katrina is one of 30 new professors at the University of Otago.

December 2019

University Teaching Development Grant success:

Katrina Sharples, Lisa Avery, Megan Drysdale and Phil Wilcox have been awarded a $20,000 CALT grant.

The aim of the project is to develop an eLearning environment using R Shiny apps to enhance the teaching and learning of introductory statistics. Greater capacity for individual learning, at the pace of the student, will help cater to the wide variety of backgrounds of students taking an introductory statistics paper. The development of a local purpose-built environment provides an opportunity to increase engagement of Māori and Pacific students through use of Te Reo, careful design of the user interface, and the use of examples and data that are relevant.

December 2019

University Teaching Development Grant success:

Associate Professor Boris Baeumer (with co-PIs Dr C. Linsell & A. Knowles) has been awarded a $20,000 CALT grant on

'A sustainable model of support for students with low numeracy'.

December 2019

Phil Wilcox wins Kaupapa Māori Research Award

Dr Phillip Wilcox has been recognised for his contributions in Māori-related research in this year's University of Otago School of Biomedical Sciences awards. Phil is an Affiliate faculty of the Department of Biochemistry and has several longstanding collaborations with Biochemistry faculty in the areas of Māori health, as well as teaching Māori content in genetics and biochemistry papers.

December 2019

Teiteivaki in Maths & Stats

Students with Pacific island descent from South Island schools (years 9 and 10) visited the University of Otago for the very first Teiteivaki organised by the Pacific Island Centre. Lisa Avery (Statistics), Florian Beyer (Maths) and Andrea Knowles (Education) hosted the kids on the morning of November 26 with loads of educational and fun activities. We showed them the importance and relevance of numeracy and that maths is fun!!

December 2019

Welcome to Martin Hazelton

We are delighted to welcome Martin Hazelton to our Department as our new Professor of Statistics. Martin completed his doctoral studies at the University of Oxford in the UK, and has previously worked at Oxford, University College London, the University of Western Australia, and most recently as the Chair of Statistics and Head of Institute of Fundamental Sciences at Massey University. His long string of academic achievements revolve around research interests in both theoretical and applied statistics, including linear inverse problems and polytope sampling, nonparametric smoothing, and spatial statistics.

November 2019

Marsden success for the department

The department of Mathematics and Statistics had an excellent round of Marsden successes this year.

November 2019

Marsden award for gravitational waves

Good things come in threes: we are thrilled that Joerg Frauendiener has also received a Marsden award. Joerg's project is on the interaction of gravitational waves and rotating black holes, in particular over long time and distance scales. The project builds off a powerful numerical framework developed by the Otago gravity group led by Joerg.

November 2019

Marsden award for spatial statistics

Congratulations to Tilman Davies, who has been awarded a Marsden grant to develop new statistical tools for spatial point pattern data. The goal of his work is to disentangle two fundamental components of spatial models, one relating to persistent spatial (fixed) effects and the other reflecting (stochastic) interactions between points, such as a tendency to cluster together. Tilman's work will help researchers answer questions in fields as diverse as epidemiology, ecology, and archaeology.

November 2019

Fast-Start Marsden Award

We are delighted that Tm Candy has been awarded a Fast-Start from the Marsden Fund. Tim is studying the global in time behaviour of nonlinear dispersive partial differential equations. This is particularly challenging as nonlinear effects can lead to highly non-dispersive behaviour, such as coherent soliton solutions, and the formation of singularities. He will address this problem for important model equations in mathematical physics (in particular nonlinear Dirac and Zakharov systems) by developing new multilinear restriction estimates. These estimates are closely related to the unsolved restriction conjecture in harmonic analysis. Thus the results obtained will be of wide interest to both the dispersive equations, and harmonic analysis communities. Congratulations, Tim!

November 2019

MBIE grant success for Fabien Montiel

Congratulations to Fabien Montiel for being part of a multi-disciplinary team of international researchers that has secured MBIE funding ($1,000,000) through the Endeveour Smart Ideas programme. The project entitled "Better sea ice predictions for shipping via wave-ice forecasting" is led by Dr. Richard Gorman at the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). The team will develop a 6-day forecast system for sea ice conditions in conjunction with waves, winds and currents, allowing safer navigation in the ice-covered Southern Ocean.

September 2019

Welcome to Lisa Avery

We are delighted to welcome Lisa Avery back to our Department as a fixed term lecturer. Lisa has a Masters in Statistics from Otago and is currently a PhD candidate at York University, Canada. Her doctoral work is around regression methods in respondent driven sampling data, a surveying strategy that aims to sample from otherwise hard to reach populations. Other areas of interest are longitudinal modelling of individual characteristics and interrupted time series analysis. She is also a big fan of visualizing data and literate programming with R/R studio. Welcome Lisa!

July 2019

Celebrating Alexander Aitken

An official information board celebrating the life of noted mathematician and author Alexander Aitken has been unveiled. Aitken studied at the University of Otago but spent most of his professional life at the University of Edinburgh. He made hugely influential contributions to statistics, algebra and numerical analysis, and was also involved in decrypting the Enigma code. He was an athlete and gifted musician, and was elected to the Royal Society of Literature for his World War I memoir "Gallipoli to the Somme".

June 2019

Web-based tool for environmental experimental design

Peter Dillingham has been at the heart of developing a new web-based simulation and decision support tool for experimental design: the Multiple Environmental Driver Design Lab for Experiments (MEDDLE).

The launch of MEDDLE features in a News & Views article in Nature Climate.

The aim of this new tool, put out by the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) Working Group 149, is to provide guidance in supporting best practices for oceanic research. The Multiple Environmental Driver Design Lab for Experiments (MEDDLE) provides learning material and user-friendly experimental design tools to help scientists create accurate and statistically meaningful single and multi driver experiments. The MEDDLE simulator is a computer model that mimics some typical responses of marine organisms to multiple drivers. It allows users to run several virtual laboratory experiments by setting the combined levels of the drivers, choosing the number of replicates, and considering natural variability.

May 2019

Katrina Sharples has secured research funding

Researchers from the Otago Global Health Institute have secured funding from the e-Asia Joint Research Programme and the Health Research Council of New Zealand to help improve the management of tuberculosis (TB) in Indonesia. McAuley Professor of International Health Philip Hill and his colleagues, Associate Professor Katrina Sharples and Research Fellow Dr Sue McAllister, will receive $450,000 over three years to carry out a study, which aims to increase the number of cases of TB being publicly notified in Indonesia.

April 2019

Welcome to Darryl MacKenzie

After 17 years in the academic wilderness, we welcome Darryl MacKenzie back to the Department as a part-time Associate Professor in Statistics. Darryl completed his PhD (under Professor Richard Barker) in 2002 on methods to assess the fit of mark-recapture models. While studying for his PhD, Darryl worked at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (Maryland, USA) and became involved in the development of occupancy models for analysing presence/absence data with imperfect detection, which are now widely used in ecology. Since then, Darryl has run his own consulting company in New Zealand, Proteus, which specialises in the development and application of statistical methods to ecological problems. Often this amounts to figuring out how to make a square peg fit in a round hole! Darryl's main research interests are in the realm of population estimation (e.g., distance sampling, mark-recapture, occupancy modelling, population modelling) both in ecological, and non-ecological, settings.

March 2019

Welcome to Tim Candy

We are very pleased to welcome Tim Candy to the Department. Tim is a new Lecturer in Mathematics. He did his PhD at the University of Edinburgh, and has spent the past few years as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Bielefeld, Germany. Tim's research interests lie in the general area of mathematical analysis, and in particular, on problems arising in partial differential equations and harmonic analysis. Recent work has focused on understanding the global behaviour of various nonlinear dispersive equations, and proving sharp bilinear estimates for products of waves.

March 2019

Welcome to Sarah Wakes

We are very pleased Sarah Wakes has joined us as Associate Professor in Mathematics. Sarah’s current research interests are based around using Computational Fluid Dynamics to predict environmental wind flows and the use of numerical modelling in engineering design. She is currently working on modelling wind flows over complex coastal dune systems including sedimentation and vegetation roughness effects. She has close collaborations with colleagues in Geography and local businesses such as PowerHouse Wind.

As well as teaching in the department Sarah also contributes to the postgraduate Bioengineering programme as well as leading and teaching a popular Sustainability of Materials paper at Summer School. Sarah is the Chair of the Applied Sciences Board of Studies.

March 2019

Welcome to Robert van Gorder

We are delighted to welcome new Senior Lecturer Robert van Gorder to the Department. Robert obtained his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida and was most recently a research fellow at the University of Oxford. Robert's research interests are in various areas of applied mathematics, mathematical modelling, and differential equations.

March 2019