Professor Merryn Tawhai

Deputy Director – Auckland Bioengineering Institute
Deputy Director – The Medical Technologies CoRE
Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) PBRF – The University of Auckland

Professor Merryn Tawhai is the Deputy Director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, University of Auckland, and Deputy Director of the Medical Technologies Centre of Research Excellence. Merryn’s research is in computational respiratory physiology, developing anatomically-detailed models of the lung that span cell-to-organ function. She was awarded the 2016 RSNZ MacDiarmid Medal for “outstanding scientific research which demonstrates potential for human benefit”.


Creating a personal digital lung

There are currently very few tools for quantitative assessment of the lung prior to surgery, radiation treatment, or other interventions. Current tools focus on image analysis, usually based on densitometry or texture analysis. No tools are currently available for patient-specific prediction of respiratory system function post-treatment. We are developing a digital lung model that provides the capability to predict redistribution of air and blood flows and their impact on gas exchange and other physiological functions in response to various interventions or treatments. The digital lung spans from the nasal and oral airways to the deepest smallest parts of the lung, connects to the circulatory system, exchanges respiratory gases, and interacts with models for central and peripheral respiratory control. A lean version of the model provides rapid analysis of breath-by-breath data at the bedside, and higher fidelity versions of the model provide deep analysis of patient response to treatment. Inclusion of imaging and pulmonary function data from hundreds of normal healthy subjects means that the model appropriately represents structure-function relationships over the full adult lifespan. We now have a full personalisable model that has the capability to link 3D imaging (MRI or PET of ventilation defects) to forced expiration (the mainstay of pulmonary function testing) and other laboratory tests that are more sensitive to ventilation heterogeneity. The ultimate goal is to provide a comprehensive tool that can be used to predictively test interventional approaches and therapies, both well in advance and at the bedside, to develop and optimise new and current treatments for the individual, as well as to identify and stratify patients into risk groups and groups in need of more targeted, personalised therapies.


Dr James Hetherington

Head of Research Software Development – Research IT Services, UCL
Head of Research Engineering – The Alan Turing Institute

A growing proportion of researchers carry out their research through the medium of computer code, whether in traditional programming languages, or in domain specific languages used by modelling platforms. Such research often suffers through the lack of software development best practice within research teams. While postdocs and PhD students often do not have the time, and are not incentivised, to produce high-quality software usable by other researchers and sustainable beyond the lifetime of a project, generic contract software developers are not equipped to understand the academic context of the research. In the UK, a solution has emerged since 2012 in the form of a new kind of research professional: the Research Software Engineer combines the knowledge and expertise of a computational scientist with the values of a professional software engineer.

James is the founder of the Research Software Engineering Group at University College London, the first such group in the UK, which has grown over five years to ten members of staff, and has also recently been appointed as the head of Research Engineering at the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s new national institute for data science.

He advocates that readable, reliable and efficient software, written for humans to understand as well as computers to execute, forms an important part of research communications and can deliver significant research impact, and his team works with researchers in many different fields to put this into practice. James has been instrumental in establishing the role of the Research Software Engineer as a recognised career path in the UK science system and in promoting the value of research software as a first-class research output. He aims to build a stable home for research programmers within research institutions, and to secure for research the benefits of the high-quality software they write.


Professor Marina Jirotka

Professor – Human Centred Computing, Department of Computer Science
Associate Director – e-Research Centre at the University of Oxford

Marina Jirotka is Professor of Human Centred Computing in the Department of Computer Science and Associate Director of the e-Research Centre at the University of Oxford. She leads an interdisciplinary research group investigating the responsible development of ICT. Her research has long been concerned with bringing a richer understanding of work practice into the process of engineering technological systems. Early in her career, she helped develop the use of video-based ethnographies in Requirements Engineering which she drew upon later in her research on e-Research applications in a wide variety of projects, including studies involving applications in e-Health, e-Science and e-Humanities. In these studies, Marina was concerned with how technologies could be developed to be sensitive to the interpretative practices of scholars and scientists, support forms of collaborations between practitioners, and help maintain trust built up between participants.

In developing innovative solutions to particularly complex problems, these projects raised a general set of issues for the participants for example, regarding how data could be shared, how data could be reused in different settings, and how digital archives raised many challenges at the institutional, disciplinary and personal level where researchers found themselves caught between conflicting requirements. These issues, though often characterised as ‘social or ethical’, raised concerns that are much broader than those usually considered in formal ethical procedures. To try and unpack and address such issues, Marina has been at the forefront of recent research in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in both the UK and the European Union. Her current projects involve a range of topics in RRI: she leads the Responsible Innovation initiative for Quantum Technologies; she has co-developed a social charter for embedding novel platforms into Smart Societies; and from her work on the spread of hate speech and misinformation on social media, she has recently been appointed specialist advisor to the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Communications for their inquiry into Children and the Internet.


“I don’t think I’ve come across an unethical scientist”

At  a  time  when  powerful  technologies  have  the  potential  to  transform  society,  investigators  in  all  fields  are  under  growing  pressure  to  consider  the  motivations, purposes,  and  possible  consequences  associated  with  their  research.    Almost  daily  there are examples where ICT grabs the headlines about the potential consequences of  recent  innovations.  These  issues  typically  are  raised  only  after  the  technologies  have  been  introduced  into  mainstream  use.  Whilst  developments  in  science  and technology  have  always  run  ahead  of  our  ability  to  think  through  their  ethical  implications,  the  rate  of  change  seems  to  be  accelerating.  A  novel  initiative  called “responsible  research  and  innovation,”  (RRI)  has  emerged  recently  in  response  to  the challenge of designing innovation in a socially desirable and acceptable way. This approach  may  be  useful  for  framing  the  discussion  about  how  to  manage  the  introduction of future ICT innovations. 

In this talk, I will trace the roots of Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT and demonstrate  connections  to  recent  work  in  e-­‐Research.  Many  of  the  attempts  to  make the vision of global, multi-­‐disciplinary, collaborative research and data sharing a reality at ground level have given rise to a raft of unanticipated ethical, social and institutional  concerns.  I  will  discuss  these  and  some  of  the  theoretical  and  methodological  challenges  of  embedding  RRI  into  researchers’  development practices and conclude with some practical and innovative approaches to deploying RRI.

Dr Allan McRae

NHMRC Career Development Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience
Joint Appointment, Queensland Brain Institute

Dr Allan McRae obtained a BSc in Statistics from the University of Otago and then a PhD in Quantitative Genetics from the University of Edinburgh. In 2006 he joined the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, before moving to the University of Queensland in 2012.

He currently leads the Systems Genomics theme in the Program in Complex Trait Genomics at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience. His research group focuses on the understanding of genetic and environmental control of variation in low level biological traits, including DNA methlyation and gene expression, and how this can inform our understanding of complex disease.


Genomic Basis of Human Disease

The last decade has seen an explosion in the discovery of DNA variants associated with disease or other complex traits. The challenge for the next decade is to identify the causal genetic variants underlying these associations and biological mechanism that affect disease risk. To achieve this goal, researchers are taking systems level approach by combining genetic data with a variety of low-level genomic measures including gene-expression and DNA methylation. This talk will introduce a range of genomic data and how we are using this data to better understand the genetic and environmental contribution to human complex traits and disease.


Luca Fascione

Senior Head of Technology & Research – Weta Digital

Luca Fascione is Senior Head of Technology & Research at Weta Digital, where he oversees Weta’s core R&D efforts including Simulation and Rendering Research, Software Engineering and Production Engineering.

Luca is the lead architect of Weta Digital’s next-generation proprietary renderer, Manuka. This renderer is the culmination of a three-year research endeavour involving over 40 researchers and continues to allow Weta Digital to produce highly complex images with unprecedented fidelity.

Luca joined Weta Digital in 2004 and has also worked for Pixar Animation Studios. Through a partnership with NVIDIA, Luca co-developed the GPU-based PantaRay that was instrumental in the making of the movie Avatar, and (since 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin) also became the foundation of volumetric shadow support within the Weta pipeline. Luca was recently recognized with a Scientific and Engineering award from the Academy of Motion Pictures for his work on FACETS, Weta’s facial motion capture system.

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