Top Doctoral Theses to be awarded Vice-Chancellor’s Prize

Press Release – University of Auckland
The five top University of Auckland PhD theses for 2012 will be presented at the University’s ‘Celebrating Research Excellence’ function to be held tomorrow 5-7pm at the marquee on Old Government House lawn.

The theses, which were each awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis, were on topics as various as wireless implantable devices and the emergence of lesbian representation in early cinema.

“The extremely high standard of all nominations received this year is a credit to the many highly-talented graduate students at this University and shows the University’s consistent commitment to encouraging students in innovative and meaningful research,” says Associate Professor Caroline Daley, Dean of Graduate Studies.

Faculties nominated 19 theses from the 312 successfully examined for 2012, and these were judged on their demonstrable significance, the originality and excellence of the research, exceptional academic and intellectual achievement, and timely completion.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis (2012) has been awarded to: Dr Cosmin Laslau (Chemical Sciences), Dr Chris McKinlay (Liggins Institute), Dr Stefan Oehlers (Molecular Medicine and Pathology), Dr Susan Potter (Film, Television and Media Studies), and Dr David Russell (Auckland Bioengineering Institute).

The thesis topics are (listed alphabetically):

Dr Cosmin Laslau, School of Chemical Sciences, Faculty of Science (Main supervisor: Associate Professor Jadranka Travas-Sejdic; Co-supervisor: Professor David Williams) “Novel Fabrication and Characterisation Methods for Conducting Polymer Nanostructures and Microstructures.” This thesis investigates the development of novel experimental techniques for the fabrication and characterisation of two prominent conducting polymers; poly (3, 4-ethylenedioxythiophene) (PEDOT) and polyaniline (PANI). This research was developed to support development of devices based on conducting polymers for the benefit of humanity, for example, artificial muscles and lab-on-a-chip diagnostics, which require the ability to reliably fabricate and understand these materials at micro and nano scales.

Dr Chris McKinlay, Liggins Institute (Main supervisor: Distinguished Professor Jane Harding; Co-supervisor: Professor Wayne Cutfield) – “Early School Age Outcomes after Exposure to Repeat Antenatal Glucocorticoids.” In his thesis Dr McKinlay showed that the children of women treated with repeat doses of glucocorticoids for preterm birth do not have increased physiological risk factors for later cardiovascular and metabolic disease, a concern that had previously limited wider use of this treatment. These findings will encourage increased use of repeat doses of glucocorticoids for preterm birth, improving outcomes for infants born too early, and challenge previous hypotheses about underlying mechanisms of fetal programming of adult disease.

Dr Stefan Oehlers, Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (Main supervisor: Professor Philip Crosier; Co-supervisors: Dr Christopher Hall, Professor Kathryn Crosier) “Zebrafish models of inflammatory bowel disease.” Dr Oehlers study characterised the innate immune system of the zebrafish model organism and examined the feasibility of utilising zebrafish larvae to investigate the function of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) susceptibility genes. The results formed an important base for future application of the zebrafish model organism IBD research, provided novel insight into IBD aetiology and established new platforms for anti-inflammatory drug discovery.

Dr Susan Potter, Department of Film, Television and Media Studies, Faculty of Arts (Main supervisor: Professor Annamarie Jagose; Co-supervisor Associate Professor Misha Kavka) “Queer Timing: The Emergence of Lesbian Representation in Early Cinema.” Dr Potter’s thesis considers the role of early cinema, one of the most significant of modern mass media forms, in generating novel modes of sexual representation. Reading a selection of films and figures from the period 1895-1929, her thesis traces how cinema reconfigures female same-sex eroticism and generates new forms of sexual identity. Her findings represent a significant contribution to current understandings of the invention of cinema and the history of sexuality.

Dr David Russell, Auckland Bioengineering Institute (Main supervisor: Dr David Budgett; Co-supervisor: Associate Professor Andrew Taberner) “Wireless implantable microdevices: Chronic in-vivo monitoring of physiological signals.” A better understanding of physiological systems relies on measurement of in-vivo physiological signals. Wireless implantable microdevices are valuable tools for obtaining these measurements without disturbing the system generating them. David’s thesis presented advancements in the field of chronic monitoring from wireless implantable microdevices in small rodents. The outcomes from his research provides new tools for physiological monitoring, enabling the continuous lifetime monitoring of oxygen concentration and high fidelity electrocardiogram. Not only has his research provided new methods for exploring disease development and treatments, but also provides a platform for the development of human medical devices.
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