Spring Week

Immerse yourself in a week of intellectual stimulation and social enjoyment designed to expand your mind.


Spring Week on Campus is an annual week-long event which opens a fascinating window into some of the world-class research carries out at New Zealand’s leading university.

Morning and afternoon sessions feature lectures by distinguished University of Auckland faculty members, chosen for both their subject expertise and their passion for teaching adult students. You’ll join a group of enthusiastic adults who not only have a love of learning but also enjoy the opportunity to debate current issues and meet new people.

Enrolment options

Enrolment in a week pass ($95.00) entitles you to attend all three lectures each day Monday – Friday (15 lectures in total). Tea, coffee and biscuits are provided during the morning break each day.

Single-day pass enrolment ($35.00) entitles you to attend all three lectures on a single day.

Mix-and-match enrolment ($40.00) entitles you to attend any three lectures across the week.

Registration closes Friday 16 November


  • Monday 19 – Friday 23 Nov, 10am–2:30pm
  • $95.00 incl. GST (week pass)
  • $40.00 incl. GST (mix-and-match x3)
  • $35.00 incl. GST (day pass)
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus

A portal through the skin

10:00 – 11:00am
Associate Professor Andrew Taberner
Auckland Bioengineering Institute and Faculty of Engineering – Engineering Science

Imagine an electronic water pistol that quietly shoots a high-speed jet of liquid that is as narrow as a human hair. We can use such a device to inject drugs into our skin, fat or muscle, and also to extract fluid through the skin, without ever needing to use a needle or a lancet. In this session Associate Professor Andrew Taberner will discuss how the New Zealand inventors of this technology, at the University of Auckland, and at MIT in Boston, are leading the clinical use and commercialisation of this new class of medical device. Our teams of innovative students and researchers continue to develop this technology, and apply their findings towards helping patients manage their diabetes, providing new methods for smokers to overcome their nicotine cravings, and helping us all to become less afraid of receiving dental treatment.

Circular Economy – Sustainable Business Models for the Future?

11:30am – 12:30pm
Ms Miriam Seifert, PhD Candidate
Faculty of Business and Economics – Management and International Business

Increases in purchasing and consumption habits have led to increases in waste and pollution around the world. Companies adopted a ‘take, make and dispose’ approach, which led to unimaginable repercussions for society and the environment. Some of these effects are visible within the fashion industry. 2,700 litres of water (or one person’s drinking water for almost three years) are needed to produce one cotton T-shirt, and about 10,000 litres of water for a pair of jeans (Duncan, 2018; WWF, 2013). Textiles account for 4 per cent of all waste sent to New Zealand landfills according to Ministry for the Environment figures (Meij, 2017). The concept of a circular economy or the regenerative economy seems to provide a solution to some societal and environmental problems. The circular economy and businesses adopting a circular business model focus on maximising the lifespans of goods. Goods and materials are reused, recycled and upcycled to avoid goods ending up in landfills. Companies adopting a circular business model have demonstrated innovative strategies of reducing the environmental impact of goods.

What every New Zealander needs to know

1:30 – 2:30pm
Professor John Morgan
Faculty of Education and Social Work – Head of School

In this session, Professor John Morgan will explore the ‘curriculum question’ – what should people learn – at all levels of the NZ education system.

Should We Have Freedom To Discriminate?

10:00 – 11:00am
Dr Jane Norton
Faculty of Law – Law

Most liberal democracies have a commitment to equality and non-discrimination. Liberal democracies also have a commitment, however, to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. It is inevitable that sometimes these commitments clash. When they do, what should the law do about it? How can we protect freedom of expression and religion while also honouring society’s commitment to equality and non-discrimination? In this session, Dr Jane Norton will look at some of the contemporary challenges for liberalism such as hate speech, discrimination by religious organisations, and discrimination by goods and service providers (such as bakeries and hotel owners).

How we ‘listen’ to the Alpine Fault: An overview of the history and reasons for its ruptures

11:30am – 12:30pm
Dr Mila Adam
Faculty of Science – Enviroment

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are spectacular surface expressions of Earth’s deep dynamic character. The faults underlying these earthquakes behave in complicated ways, but we learn a great deal from their rupture history and current unrest. In this session, Dr Mila Adam will talk about one of the longest and potentially most powerful faults in New Zealand, the Alpine Fault. After an overview of what we know about its geology, she will discuss how we listen to the fault’s recent rumblings. Monitoring the Alpine Fault does not have to be the work of the professionals only; this presentation introduces our educational seismic network Rū, where schools and museums join us in listening to our Shaky Isles!

Who really won the US-Soviet space race?

1:30 – 2:30pm
Associate Professor Jennifer Frost
Faculty of Arts – History

In this session Associate Professor Jennifer Frost will address the history of the Cold War space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The space race was one of the arenas in which the two superpowers battled for global dominance. It propelled both nations to pursue rapid scientific research and technological advances and demanded massive economic support and political commitment. Jeniffer will consider the connections between Cold War politics and superpower science during the 1950s through the 1970s and engage with the question of whether the US or the Soviet Union ‘won’ the Cold War space race. By bringing a historical perspective to this topic, we see the answer is not a simple one. Challenging national myths and popular memories requires questioning assumptions about how we analyse and understand the past.

Where did language come from?

10:00 – 11:00am
Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis
Faculty of Science – Psychology

From the Bible to Chomsky, language has been regarded as a miracle, unique to humans, and emerging as a single event, initially in a single individual, within the past 100,000 years. I will argue instead for a Darwinian approach. Language evolved primarily to allow our species, and its forebears, to communicate about the nonpresent and share mental travels in space and time. Mental time travel itself goes far back in evolution, and our capacity to communicate about it emerged through gesture and pantomime, gradually refining into the miniaturized form of gesture that we call speech.

Telling a thin tale: women and performance art in Aotearoa

11:30am – 12:30pm
Associate Professor Linda Tyler
Faculty of Arts – Art History

On the occasion of the centenary of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa in 1993, Christina Barton wrote that a history of performance art by women in New Zealand would be a small volume. In this session ssociate Professor Linda Tyler will show that from disappearing, women’s performance art in Aotearoa is thriving and has a vital history which needs to be claimed and celebrated during the year in which there are commemorations for the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

The unrealised potential of sand

1:30 – 2:30pm
Dr Erin Leitao
Faculty of Science – Chemical Science

Carbon based products are ubiquitous. From electronics to packaging, to banknotes, to pharmaceutical drugs, to structural materials, we see and use these daily. The advancements in this area of science can be attributed, for the most part, to oil. This is because the building blocks required to create these products are byproducts of petroleum refining. Instead of taking oil as our raw material, our research group is interested in converting silicon from sand, as well as other earth-abundant elements, into different materials. These materials are thought to possess very different properties when compared with the carbon analogues. This fundamental science has the potential to open up a new field of chemistry with applications we have yet to imagine.

Africa in Egypt: The Kingdoms of Ancient Kush and Egypt – A Trip to the Great Temple at Gebel Barkal

10:00 – 11:00am
Professor Anthony Spalinger
Faculty of Arts – Classics and Ancient History

Précis: An art-historical study of king Pianchy’s Amun Temple at Napata/Gebel Barkal (ca 730 BC). In this session, Professor Anthony Spalinger will examine the pictorial images left by King Pianchy’s on the sandstone walls of Amun Temple at Napata/Gebel Barkal (ca 730 BC). Owing to their details and beauty, the significance of his local wars, as well as the religious aspects of kingship, emerge with beauty and clarity.

Shedding light on how the brain works

11:30am – 12:30pm
Dr Peter Freestone
Faculty of Medical and Health Science – Medical Science

The brain comprises a network of billions of connected neurons. This overwhelming complexity makes studying how the brain works a daunting challenge. A significant hurdle to understanding the brain has been the inability to precisely control discrete parts of the network. The recent combination of light (opto) and genetics – optogenetics – has largely overcome this obstacle, allowing the study of brain function at a level of detail previously impossible. Moreover, optogenetic approaches are finding their way to the clinic where they are informing novel treatments of drug addiction and even restoring vision.
This lecture will chart the history of optogenetics from algae to clinical applications, unpacking how light can control brain activity. Peter’s own research will be presented where he unravels the brain networks affected in Parkinson’s disease, as well as develops new light-based medical devices for future clinical interventions.

A New Look at Old Ideas – Testing Our Assumptions About Sex Differences

1:30 – 2:30pm
Dr Kristal Cain
Faculty of Science – Biological Science

How do we explain costly and ridiculous traits like bright colours, elaborate ornaments, exaggerated weapons and lethal aggression? Usually, we rely on sexual selection; males use these traits to improve their chances. Females, on the other hand, focus on producing and caring for offspring. This is a common story in evolutionary biology, and it’s one that spills over into how we think about men and women, and why we look and act the way we do. That’s the usual story. But that is not the story Dr Kristal Cain is going to tell in this session. Not because it’s not true, there is a lot of evidence for many parts of that story. Kristal is going to tell you a different story because there are other important parts of that story we’ve been ignoring or leaving out. And those things can totally change how we look at these traits and how we view sex differences.

Africa in Egypt: The Kingdoms of Ancient Kush and Egypt – Royal Women and Jewellery in Kush

10:00 – 11:00am
Ms Elizabeth Eltze
Faculty of Arts – Classics and Ancient History

Précis: Royal women in ancient Kush were highly political and socially important. Their status, both royal and divine, was expressed through their remarkable jewellery. Exceptionally striking and impressive are the royal ornaments of the queens and their sisters, all of which served to enhance their crucial status in the Kushite state.

Delivering childhood immunisation programmes internationally: the better you do the harder it is to sell.

11:30am – 12:30pm
Associate Professor Nikki Turner
Director Immunisation Advisory Centre

Childhood immunisation programmes are one of the greatest achievements of modern medical science. Smallpox is eradicated, polio is nearly gone, and measles and rubella could be next. Every country in the world delivers an immunisation programme to their children. The global vaccine action plan had made incredible progress in delivering vaccines. However, in the past few years, progress has stalled, the international goals have not been met, with multiple challenges for effectively delivering vaccines: Population growth, conflict, displaced people, fragile countries, many with geographic, ethnic and social disparities. The paradox is that, alongside this, stemming usually from wealthier countries where severe disease is less visible, there are growing concerns around vaccines and trust in health services. This is often amplified via modern social media. In this session Associate Professor, Nikki Turner will focus on the reasons behind the gaps and the scientific approaches to looking at complex interactive systems to support change.

Earthquake prone buildings: from damage assessment to community resilience

1:30 – 2:30pm
Professor Jason Ingham
Faculty of Engineering – Civil and Environmental Engineering

Following a comprehensive 6-year research investigation that studied methods for seismic assessment and improvement of unreinforced brick and stone masonry buildings, by chance, the author was in central Christchurch on 22 February 2011 and walked out of the city centre amongst the debris of collapsed buildings. He subsequently led the reporting of building damage at the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission and his team’s research efforts have been incorporated into the national methodology for seismic assessment of earthquake-prone buildings. More recently, he was a member of the NZ Aid team that was sent to Nepal in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquakes. In this session, Professor Jason Ingham will review this 14-year sequence of how university research has helped to inform public policy and community recovery following major earthquakes.

The University of Auckland City Campus

All lectures will be held at the City Campus in the University of Auckland’s General Library lecture theatres.

Comments from past participants

Spring Week is an excellent program to bring oneself up to date on current issues. After this program, I was in conversation with friends regarding its content. Highly recommended.

Harley Neil

Once again, I was thrilled to attend Spring Week, and absorb the most incredible information, facts and opinions, from such a wide range of expert lecturers. I am so grateful for their time and willingness to impart their knowledge. Many thanks!

Dawn Judge

Spring Week energized me with new ideas and a greater understanding of our world.

The opportunity to hear passionate people present on such a diverse range of subjects is both stimulating as well as providing an opportunity to follow developments in many fields of investigation and research.