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Founder and Director



Nick is a mathematician and engineer by training, and has held academic appointments in the UK, France, Finland, the United States, and New Zealand. Most recently, he lectured fluid mechanics and geophysics at the University of Canterbury, where he also developed a distinctive field-based engineering programme emphasising out-of-classroom, hands-on learning (including mathematics). Nick undertook his early research training under the supervision of the eminent mathematician Professor Walter Hayman FRS, who remained a lifelong friend. With uncommonly broad interests and experience, his current focus is on the development of advanced methods for subsurface characterisation, 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.


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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.




Jenny is a medical doctor working in Tasmania. She was formerly a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury where she specialised in geotechnical engineering and has a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Jenny 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 serve an apprenticeship with New Zealand Railways sponsored by the Tongan and New Zealand governments. He returned to Tonga in 1977 where, after a brief period with the Tongan Ministry of Works, he taught technical subjects at Tonga High School in Nuku'alofa.  Siale returned to New Zealand in 1984, working initially for the New Zealand Ministry of Works on building the Clyde Dam and managed a 6 week trip to Antarctica to build a shower system for the scientists at Scott Base, allowing people to wash on a daily basis! He has the singular distinction of being the first known Tongan to have set his feet in Antartica. Since 1986 he has worked at the University of Canterbury as an engineering technician. For the past three decades, 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. He 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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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 Masters student in civil engineering at the University of Canterbury. He has worked as a driller's offsider. He is an active mentor with the charity Pillars and is a keen sportsman.



Steph studied natural resources engineering at the University of Canterbury. She began her studies in 2012 in both engineering and architecture and then since spent time abroad, moving back to Christchurch in 2018 to complete her degree. 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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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.



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.

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