About Us

Te Ao Mārama

Centre for Fundamental Inquiry

We exist to promote engagement with deep questions at the University of Auckland and beyond.

We are interested in simple questions that are hard to answer and which transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Such questions include:

  • Abiogenesis: How did life originate from non-living matter?
  • Astrobiology: How is life distributed in the universe, and what is the nature of living systems?
  • Foundational cosmology: Was the Big Bang a unique event? What if the universe, and the apparently fundamental laws of physics, were different? How do we even reason about such questions?
  • Māori perspectives on life and the universe: How does a Māori informed world view (e.g., the concept of mauri, the ‘life’ found in all things natural) enrich our investigation of fundamental questions of knowledge and ultimate reality?
  • Mind and cognition: What is mind, what is consciousness, and how do diverse methodologies come together to help us grapple with these questions?


Professor Kathy Campbell from the School of Environment at the University of Auckland is the Director of Te Ao Mārama. She is joined by co-founders Professor Richard Easther from the Department of Physics, Dr Daniel Hikuroa from Māori Studies and Dr Emily Parke from Philosophy on the Executive group. The wider team includes researchers from Biological Science, Business, Computer Science and Engineering Science. 

A unique model

Te Ao Mārama is one of a handful of organizations and institutes world-wide with the goal to focus on “fundamental” questions, and it has a distinctive New Zealand focus.

Being located in New Zealand gives us our own vantage point on some of these key questions. For example, comparing New Zealand’s hot springs with similar ‘deep time’ (millions to billions of years old) deposits globally suggests life existed on land on Earth much earlier than was once thought. This re-opens debate about whether life began on land or in the sea, and has implications for NASA’s 2020 Mars expedition.

Our Name

Te Ao Mārama literally means the “world of life and light”, the idea of breaking into light from darkness. This progression is a metaphor for coming to an understanding of something – a journey of discovery and becoming. By taking a name drawn from te ao Māori, we are expressing our commitment to working on transcendent questions from a vantage point that is firmly located within Aotearoa/New Zealand and draws from both mātauranga and science.

Code of Conduct

Affiliates of Te Ao Mārama and participants in activities we organise are expected to be committed to making these interactions productive and positive experiences for everyone involved, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, nationality or religion. Consequently, we will not tolerate harassment of participants in any form