Without Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand research on evolution hailed as a breakthrough by the world's leading news media would never have happened.

LIKE MANY A scientific race, it came down to the wire. When Dr Shane Wright, at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, published new findings on the speed of evolution in top scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, a rival team from Florida followed home just three weeks behind.

At Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga we now manage a database of well over 500 Māori scholars. Twenty five ago years ago Māori academics were so few we'd have had no need for the resource. As for Māori PhDs, with a national total of around 20, some academics would have been realistically able to name them all.

For Māori artists, as any other, recognition overseas can be vital. While sculptor Dr Brett Graham (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura) and audio-visual artist Rachael Rākena (Kāi Tahu, Ngā Puhi) had already built a strong following at home, their success at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2007 was confirmation of Māori-inspired art’s international impact – and fulfilled a dream of exhibiting at a major world venue.

Everyone was blown away
It never pays to underestimate the power of determination. When Patricia (Trish) Johnston (Ngaiterangi, Ngāti Pikiao) arrived to take up the position as Professor of Postgraduate Studies and Research at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi she asked about basic research at the Wānanga and was told by one staff member it was something they didn’t do.

How do birds navigate vast oceans, correcting themselves when blown off-course? The inner compass possessed by some animals is an enigma that has absorbed Professor Michael Walker, Joint Director Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, for many years. His breakthrough in extracting magnetite – the iron mineral also known as lodestone – from yellowfin tuna established a physical basis for this creature’s ability to detect the Earth’s magnetic field and was published in Science magazine in 1984.

Like all research centres, Ngä Pae o te Märamatanga pursues research excellence through academic communities. But our brief also extends outwards – aiming to also benefit many other communities as widely as possible. In doing this, the Knowledge Exchange programme is a unique feature of the Centre, and an essential part of achieving social transformation.

A few sleepless nights may well have been all to the good for Sarah-Jane Paine. She successfully completed her doctorate in 2006 on key factors affecting sleep and how they might be affected by ethnicity and socio-economic factors – and in the process became one of 500 new Mäori PhDs last year.

In a paper published in the international Journal of Biological Rhythms, Sarah-Jane, who isfrom Tühoe iwi, saw a prevalence of both “morning people” and ”night owls” in New Zealand.

For more then a generation scientists have known that life proliferates more rapidly near the equator. The problem was that up until recently, no one knew why this was so. And in 2006 when Dr Shane Wright solved the riddle in a Ngä Pae o te Märamatanga research project, the scientific world applauded.

Now largely surrounded by downtown Napier, Te Whanganui-a-Orotü (the Ahuriri Estuary), has seen decades of agricultural, industrial, and urban activity that have transformed this once pristine cultural and food resource into a sink for environmental contaminants. Pushing the lagoon floor up two metres, the region’s 1931 earthquake only added to reclamation and pollution of food stocks.

Long lead times from research to curriculum materials are hardly a new frustration. But with materials sometimes lagging discovery by 20 years for Mäori-medium teachers the delay is acute. They face challenges in low rates of te reo Mäori literacy growth, and have few resources in non-language subjects or in materials reflecting a Mäori world view.