Source: Massey University
The gig economy, deathly volcanic eruptions and a new approach to improve the lives of people affected by physical and nervous system disorders are the focus of three fellowships awarded to Massey University academics in the recent MBIE Science Whitinga Fellowship funding round.
The fellowship recipients were announced on 23 June by Associate Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Dr Ayesha Verrall. The fellowships are supported by funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and administered by Royal Society Te Apārangi. The funding and two-year fellowships are a one-off and are intended to support the retention and development of these researchers in New Zealand. The total value of Te Whitinga Fellowship is $320,000 per award.
Dr Leon Salter from the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing will examine the effects of the expansion of gig work on health and wellbeing in a post-pandemic economy.
The ‘Gig Economy’ is a quickly developing labour market that is defined by short-term contracts or freelance work (as opposed to permanent jobs). Workers get paid for the “gigs” they do, such as a food delivery or a car journey as opposed to a regular salary or wage.
Gig work is becoming more common both internationally and in New Zealand, and expanding into new sectors, however international evidence has linked gig work with poor health outcomes, particularly for ethnic minorities and women.
The proposed study would build on previous research and examine the health and wellbeing of people working in aged care, telecommunication services and construction sectors.
The information gathered from this research will allow an intricate understanding of impacts on worker health and wellbeing, and the outcomes would include collaborative and targeted solutions and recommendations for policy and labour laws.
Volcanic eruptions under the spotlight
Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald will focus her research on forecasting volcanic ballistic projectile, pieces of lava or rock ejected from explosive volcanic eruptions that are the most common cause of death for both tourists and scientists on volcanoes and have caused hundreds of injuries around the world in recent years.
Aotearoa has many active volcanoes that have had unexpected eruptions in the past, and which are frequently visited by tourists. This degree of exposure is high by international standards and mandates the best possible scientific response to address the risk.
Dr Fitzgerald says monitoring the volcano for signs of activity and estimating the forecasting of an eruption can reduce the risk of injuries and hazards. This research project will create a world-first model that rapidly forecasts eruptions and their impacts. It will also increase New Zealand’s scientific capacity and demonstrate commitment to volcano visitor safety.
New approach to better those living with physical and nervous system disorders
Dr Mahonri Owen from the Pūhoro Academy will research semi-autonomous brain controlled interfaces to overcome physical and nervous system disorders.
Around one in six people globally suffer from the effects of nervous system disorders or the loss/lack of a limb. These disabilities effect the mental, social, spiritual and physical well-being of a person. Although there have been many attempts to restore function and quality of life through different means there is still need for a robust and general solution that can address restoring the basic functions of day to day life.
His research will aim to present a new approach toward improving the quality of life for those affected by physical and nervous system disorders, which considers the knowledge of Te Ao Māori and western science. The contribution of this work lies in employing assistive technologies to mimic and assist the human body intuitively and having human characteristics in a way that restores quality of life and increases independence.