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Published 22 March 2017

150 years of discovery – Royal Society Te Apārangi celebrates its 150th anniversary

This year the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi celebrates 150 years of discovery, and supporting the pursuit of knowledge.

To celebrate, the Society has a full programme of events and activities planned over the six months leading up to 10 October, 150 years to the day that legislation was signed establishing the New Zealand Institute, as the Society was previously called.

Its celebratory programme kicks off on April 5 with a formal dinner that will also launch a book on its history by New Zealand historian John E Martin called Illuminating our World: 150 Years of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. This will be followed by a symposium with international leaders of academies from around the world to discuss key concerns including issues of public engagement and public trust, how to manage global research, and how to improve diversity.

A number of activities and events will follow including an exhibition of portraits telling the story of the Society, science demos, a product development challenge and a chance for school students to have their questions answered by its experts, events with international researchers and writers including Helen Czerski and James Gleick and regional events for New Zealand researchers to share their latest discoveries with communities.

The six-month celebration will conclude on 10 October with a special gala event in Auckland to mark exactly 150 years from the private Act of parliament which formally set the independent organisation up.

Back in 1867 Sir James Hector, head of the Geological Survey and the newly established Colonial Museum, recognised that New Zealand needed an organisation to allow people to come together to discuss and share knowledge at meetings and to publish their findings to share with peers in New Zealand and overseas. Thus was born the New Zealand Institute (later renamed the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi) and its published transactions.

President of the Society Emeritus Professor Richard Bedford says the organisation today is essentially doing the same thing that it did when it first began: supporting the discovery and sharing of knowledge in New Zealand. 

“It served a vital role in the early years of New Zealand to support exploration and to share what was being discovered from one end of the country to the other by newcomers to New Zealand about New Zealand’s unique geography, fauna and flora and mātauranga māori.

“The Society is committed to continuing to play this role in New Zealand for hopefully another 150 years and beyond.

“We seek to serve the many different communities in New Zealand, from supporting researchers to follow their most interesting ideas, through to fostering an appreciation and interest in discovery in our school children.

“We also seek to support the people of New Zealand to face future challenges by providing them with the latest findings on these issues so that they feel empowered to make decisions.  

“Over the last few years, for example, we have provided updates on topics including:

  • fluoride in water
  • pest management
  • how climate change will impact New Zealand and what we can do to reduce the risks
  • the role of sugar in health.

“We have work underway on other issues including the health impacts of climate change and how New Zealand is placed for the revolution occurring in gene editing.

“To kick off our 150th anniversary celebrations we are delighted to be able to host colleagues from many of our international counterparts, including England, Scotland, China, Finland, Canada, South Africa, Germany, Fiji and Australia for a special symposium.

“In launching our full and varied celebration programme leading up to the 10th of October, we hope there will be something there to interest and engage all New Zealanders.”