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Founder and Director



Nick is a mathematician and engineer by training. He was formerly Director of Humanitarian Engineering at the University of Canterbury, where he developed a distinctive field-based programme emphasising out-of-classroom, hands-on learning (including mathematics). With uncommonly broad interests and experience, his current research is concerned with the development of novel methods for groundwater exploration, ranging from very basic to cutting edge techniques requiring high performance computing. Nick is equally at ease with both abstract mathematics and the practical engineering of well drilling and shotfiring.

Patron and Chief Field Engineer

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Lyell began drilling over 60 years ago when he worked on his father's cable tool drill rig during school holidays. With his wife Val he grew McMillan Drilling through the 1970s and 80s and introduced the first rotary drill rig into New Zealand in 1982. Both Lyell and McMillan Drilling have a long history of supporting University of Canterbury students. His infectious enthusiasm in the field and unparalleled knowledge of drilling and field engineering have been an inspiration.

Board of Trustees



Jenny is currently undertaking clinical training to complete her MChD medical degree at the Australian National University. She was formerly a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury where she specialised in geotechnical engineering.  She has a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Jenny is chair of the board of trustees, and also serves as expedition medic and artist.



Nishant Tiku studied geosciences engineering at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun. After working in oil fields for 5 years, he worked briefly for Médecins Sans Frontières on logistics in rural India. In 2017 he went to the Australian National University to study for a Master in Environment and spent eight months in Ladakh learning how to build ice stupas in 2018/19. He is continuing this work for his PhD and is also a research associate for the Himalayan Institute for Alternatives, Ladakh. He is managing the Ice Stupa team and working on village rehabilitation projects in the Trans-Himalayas.



Siale first came to New Zealand in 1972 to undertake an apprenticeship sponsored by the Tongan and New Zealand governments. He then returned to Tonga and taught at the Tongan High School in Nuku'alofa. Since 1986 he has run the geotechnical engineering laboratory at the University of Canterbury. For the past 27 years, in partnership with his wife Milika, he has presented a Tongan language radio programme providing news, interviews and information for the Tongan community in New Zealand. Siale is also a Justice of the Peace. In the 2021 Queen's Birthday Honours, Siale was appointed Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Pacific education.

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Val began her career as a Medical Laboratory Scientist and worked at Christchurch Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital before becoming the joint Owner/Director (with husband Lyell) of McMillan Drilling Ltd. She established McMillan Laboratory Services (an IANZ accredited water quality testing laboratory) in 2000. Val and Lyell have been involved in humanitarian work in the Pacific Islands for many years and drilling water bores for villages in both remote areas and on the main islands. Val recently completed a Master of Water Resource Management.

Associate Researchers



Mike is an electronics & software development technician in the Civil & Natural Resources Engineering department at the University of Canterbury. He has an NZCE in Electronics & Computers and 24 years’ experience developing and building instrumentation and control hardware, as well as developing proprietary software. Mike spent a number of his childhood years living in the Philippines where he experienced cultural integration first-hand.



Simon is a mathematician at the University of York, UK. He has broad ranging interests and has worked on problems in quantum physics, economics and pure mathematics. His recent work is on the application of seismic waves to mapping groundwater reserves. He plays a fundamental role in the development of code for use on supercomputers, vital for tackling real world problems.



Timo is a physicist at the University of Eastern Finland. He works in the world-renowned Computational Physics and Inverse Problems Group, which belongs to the Finnish Academy Centre of Excellence in Inverse Modelling and Imaging. He is also an adjunct senior fellow at the University of Canterbury. Timo is an expert in computational physics and has worked extensively on wave-related problems which require significant computing resources.

Field Engineers

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Hamish graduated with a BE(Hons) in mechanical engineering in 2018 and now works as an engineer for Waratah NZ in Tokoroa. He is working on the design and fabrication of mechanical winches and capstans for SGE. Hamish has a passion for the outdoors, especially surfing and snowboarding. He is also active in the local community through his basketball club, the Putaruru Panthers, both as a coach and player. To relax he plays the piano and guitar.

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Ka reretawhanga te au o te kupu ki te tihi o Whitireia, heke iho ki nga wai o Awarua te pori e pari ra ki a Raukawakawa moana. Tu mai ko Hongoeka te tohu maumahara o te heke mai raro, Tu mai ko Takapuwahia Te Tohu I Te mana o raha, koia ko Ngati Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Koata, Ngāi Tahu, Te Ati Awa, me Ngati Raukawa ngā iwi, tihei mauri ora. Kakati is a final year student in civil engineering at the University of Canterbury. He has worked as a driller's offsider and completed Nick's field engineering training in 2019. He is an active mentor with the charity Pillars and is a keen sportsman currently in training for the IronMaori.



Quinn graduated with a BE(Hons) in civil and natural resources engineering in 2017 from the University of Canterbury and now works as a consulting engineer for Tonkin + Taylor in Nelson. His work is primarily focused on hydraulic modelling of natural and urban catchments to inform three waters design and map areas vulnerable to flooding hazards. Quinn is also a keen adventurer and has spent many hours exploring and climbing in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.



Steph is a final year natural resources engineering student at the University of Canterbury. She began her studies in 2012 in both engineering and architecture and has since spent time abroad, recently moving back to Christchurch to focus on engineering. Steph has a background in landscaping both in New Zealand and the UK, as well as teaching music performance and composition. She enjoys playing ice hockey which has seen her travel internationally, and has a great love for the outdoors.

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