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2010 Research Honours

Top New Zealand researchers have been recognised for their work with the presentation of prestigious awards at the Royal Society of New Zealand 2010 Research Honours event held in Christchurch on Wednesday 10 November.

The country’s highest science and technology honour, the Rutherford Medal, was awarded to internationally renowned molecular biologist Professor Warren Tate FRSNZ from the University of Otago for his outstanding achievements in molecular biology and molecular neuroscience. Together with the medal awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand, he also received $100,000 from the Government.  

The top award for achievement in technology, the Pickering Medal and $15,000, was awarded to Professor Frank Griffin from the University of Otago for his contribution to work in developing diagnostics tests for detecting two major bacterial diseases of New Zealand deer, and a vaccine for the prevention of Yersiniosis in deer. These products and services are estimated to have saved the deer industry between $80-90 million worth of production that would otherwise have been lost to these diseases. (More details below.)

The Thomson Medal and $15,000 was awarded to Mr Shaun Coffey CRSNZ, chief executive of Industrial Research Limited, for his outstanding leadership in the management of science, and development and application of science and technology to generate wealth for New Zealand. (More details below.)

The Hutton Medal for plant sciences was awarded to Dr David Galloway FRSNZ from Landcare Research in Dunedin for his significant contributions to understanding the New Zealand environment, particularly through his botanical work on New Zealand lichens. (More details below.)

The Hector Medal for physical sciences was awarded to Dr Grant Williams of Industrial Research in Lower Hutt for his internationally recognised work on the chemical and electronic structure of materials, especially high temperature superconductors. His work has led to a better understanding of the fundamental physics and the development of materials for magnetic sensors, radiation detection and imaging, and optical communication. (More details below.)

The first recipient of a new award established this year, the Jones Medal, was Professor Emeritus John Butcher FRSNZ of The University of Auckland. The medal recognises lifetime achievement in mathematics and was awarded to Professor Butcher for his exceptional work on numerical methods for solving differential equations and leadership in developing mathematical sciences in New Zealand. The new medal was presented by the person the medal is named after, New Zealander Sir Vaughan Jones.  (See separate news release with full details of the award, quotes from Professor Sir Vaughan Jones and from medal designer Marion Fountain.)

The T.K. Sidey Medal for electromagnetic radiation research was awarded to Grant Caldwell of GNS Science in Lower Hutt for his pioneering studies of the Earth’s volcanic and fault line regions using magneto-telluric techniques that survey the Earth’s structure to depths of more than 30 km.  (More details below.)

The Dame Joan Metge Medal for social sciences was awarded to two recipients Professor Richard Bedford FRSNZ of AUT University and the University of Waikato, and to Professor Richie Poulton FRSNZ of the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago. Professor Bedford has been an influential figure in the development of social sciences over a long period, and has made major contributions to new knowledge in the field of migration, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Professor Poulton is well known for his work as director of the University of Otago longitudinal study which is following the health and development of more than 1000 babies born In Dunedin in 1972/3 providing substantial contributions to new knowledge.  (More details below.)

All these medals are awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand. There were also several other science awards made at the Research Honours celebration event  – these were the Liley Medal, Jubilee Medal, Maurice Wilkins Centre Prize, Dan Walls Medal, Gold CREST award, and Rutherford Discovery Fellowships.

The prime purpose of the Royal Society of New Zealand is to promote excellence in science, technology and the humanities.

 

Full list of the 2010 awards, with citations and details of winners’ work 

From the 2010 Research Honours celebration, hosted by the Royal Society of New Zealand

Rutherford Medal – for an exceptional contribution to New Zealand society in science and technology: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Warren Tate FRSNZ of the University of Otago

Citation: Awarded to Warren Perry Tate for outstanding scientific achievements in molecular biology and molecular neuroscience, for enthusiastic support and mentoring of young researchers, for tireless contributions to science policy and funding at national and international levels, and for public outreach with respect to molecular science.

Description of work: Professor Warren Tate, of the University of Otago, is an outstanding molecular biologist of great international repute who has made groundbreaking discoveries regarding the mechanisms by which proteins are synthesized in living cells. He has revealed how these mechanisms are altered in diseases such as HIV-1, and how proteins, once made, can contribute to memory formation and neurological disease. In addition, he has devoted enormous energy to university teaching, to the training of budding researchers, and to science policy and funding, both nationally and internationally. Professor Tate is recognised by his peers as one of New Zealand’s most eminent scientists. (See separate news release about the Rutherford Medal winner.)

Pickering Medal – to recognise excellence and innovation in the practical application of technology: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Frank Griffin of the University of Otago

Citation:  Awarded to John Francis Thomas Griffin for the provision of diagnostic tests for the detection of two major bacterial diseases of New Zealand deer, Bovine Tuberculosis and Johne’s disease and a vaccine for the prevention of Yersiniosis in deer.

Description of work: For three decades Professor Griffin has led an Otago University based research team devoted to solving animal health problems in the deer industry. This award recognises the diagnostic tests and vaccine developed by Professor Frank Griffin and his team for the detection and prevention of the three major bacterial diseases of New Zealand deer, Tuberculosis, Yersiniosis and Johne’s disease. These products and services are estimated to have saved the deer industry between a conservative $80m and $90m of production that would otherwise have been lost to these diseases.

Tuberculosis – Professor Griffin has inspired and led a group which has developed a series of diagnostic tests for tuberculosis in deer that are more sensitive and specific than the skin test used to screen deer. These tests have been available for farmers since 1990 and have helped reduce the incidence of the disease to very low levels in New Zealand deer.

Yersiniosis - The vaccine to protect young deer from Yersiniosis, was developed by Professor Griffin in collaboration with Dr Colin Mackintosh and Dr Bryce Buddle of AgResearch. The vaccine was registered in 1992 and its usage has eliminated the disease as a major economic constraint to production for farmers. Before the introduction of this vaccine, some deer farmers would lose up to 20 percent of young stock. With this vaccination programme they are protected for life.

Johne’s disease - In the last decade Johne’s disease has become the largest single constraint to increased productivity in the national deer herd. The development by Professor Griffin’s lab of a series of tests means infected animals can be identified early and removed from the herd. His work has found that some strains of deer are more susceptible than others to Johne’s disease and the current focus of his work is to find the reasons for this, with the aim of culling susceptible animals from breeding and developing a more disease resistant national deer herd.

Professor Griffin is widely sought after internationally for his advice on livestock diseases and their control and is very highly regarded by the deer industry in New Zealand. His expertise has even been sought by the Kruger National Park in South Africa, famous for its lion population, to help combat the spread of bovine tuberculosis from buffalo to lions and other wildlife species in the park. Since 1989 he has been a consultant to the Royal Saudi Arabian Wildlife Commission, for the control of tuberculosis in Arabian oryx and gazelles.

Thomson Medal – for outstanding and inspirational leadership in the management of science: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Mr Shaun Coffey CRSNZ of Industrial Research Limited

Citation:Awarded toShaun Gerard Shaun Coffey for outstanding and inspirational leadership in the management of science and outstanding contribution in the development and application of science and technology to wealth generation in New Zealand and Australia.

Description of work: Mr Shaun Coffey has led and managed several significant organisations in the last decade. From 2000-2006 he was Foundation Chief of CSIRO Livestock Industries in Australia, before becoming  Chief Executive of Industrial Research Ltd in 2006.  He has gained a reputation both as a natural and inspirational leader, and also as an astute and successful manager.

He has made an outstanding contribution to the development and application of science and technology in both countries, through stimulating growth of research revenues; catalysing world-leading research programmes such as the International Bovine Genomics Project; establishing ground-breaking staff development programmes; expanding technology transfer and commercialisation activities; and actively managing the establishment and/or rebidding of many science projects.

At Industrial Research, Mr Coffey reversed 20 months of negative growth to achieve a positive cash flow including growing competitive research contracts by over 25% per year and reducing costs by $17 million per year. At the same time a crippling debt was completely retired. He is the director of nine subsidiary and associated businesses. Mr Coffey was made a Companion of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2009.

Hutton Medal – for excellence in plant sciences: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Dr David Galloway FRSNZ of Landcare Research

Citation: Awarded to David John Galloway for his significant contribution to the understanding of the New Zealand environment through great advances in knowledge of New Zealand's richly diverse lichen mycobiota.

Description of work: Dr David Galloway, Research Associate with Landcare Research, is a taxonomist specialising in New Zealand and Southern Hemisphere lichens. His research into lichens has made a significant contribution to the understanding of the New Zealand environment as these the lichens inhabit ecosystems ranging from maritime to the highest alpine environments.  In fact, they can be key environmental indicators at local, regional and global levels.

The advances made by Dr Galloway have come from a career-long involvement in research on lichens. These advances include a very large body of his own work describing and classifying lichen species, integrating that work with pre-existing knowledge of New Zealand lichens, and integrating the knowledge of New Zealand lichens with knowledge of lichens in other parts of the world. Dr Galloway worked for 22 years at the British Museum where he collaborated with scientists internationally on lichen projects before returning to New Zealand in 1994.

Much of his contribution to lichen research is encapsulated in his book “Flora of New Zealand – Lichens”, first published in 1985, with a revised and expanded second edition published in 2007 in two volumes totalling 2400 pages. It details 1706 taxa in 354 genera and is an outstanding achievement for a single researcher.

Hector Medal – for an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the physical sciences: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Dr Grant Williams of Industrial Research Limited

Citation: Awarded to Grant Victor McLelland Williams for his sustained internationally recognised work on the chemical and electronic structure of materials, especially his application of nuclear magnetic resonance techniques to the understanding of high-temperature superconductors and related materials.

Description of work: Dr Grant Williams is internationally recognised for his contributions to the physics of high temperature superconductors and other strongly correlated electron systems. He is one of New Zealand’s foremost scientists working in the field of materials research. His research outputs have the potential to lead to new devices with many possible applications in the electricity, transportation, medical, infrastructure reliability, communications, and security sectors.

In addition to his work on high temperature superconductors, he is researching new materials for magnetic sensing, radiation detection and imaging, fibre optic communications and optics based imaging and sensing. He is currently developing a portable fibre optic radiation sensor for medical, security, and radiation protection applications as well as working on other proof-of-concept devices.

Dr Williams has produced a huge number of published articles, and he is one of the most highly-cited scientists in New Zealand with more than 165 peer reviewed journal articles.

Jones Medal – a mathematical sciences award for lifetime achievement: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Emeritus John Butcher FRSNZ of The University of Auckland

Citation: Awarded to John Charles Butcher for his exceptional lifetime work on numerical methods for the solution of differential equations and leadership in the development of New Zealand mathematical sciences.

Description of work: Over the past half century, Professor John Butcher has established himself, not only as one of the most internationally acclaimed New Zealand mathematicians, but also as one of the most important leaders of mathematics within New Zealand.

His research on numerical methods for solving differential equations is regarded as some of the best work ever done in this area, and has stood at the forefront of international research for more than 45 years. Professor Butcher is regarded as the founder of the modern theory of Runge-Kutta methods, one of the principal classes of numerical methods for solving ordinary differential equations.

His research has earned him a wide range of top international prizes, including the prestigious Fellowship of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (the only New Zealander holding this fellowship; the Hector Medal in 1996 from the Royal Society of New Zealand; and the New Zealand Mathematical Society’s Research Award when it was offered for the first time in 1991. In February 2011 he will be presented with the Van Wijngaarden Prize for mathematics. The prize is awarded every five years by the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in the Netherlands and is named after the late Adriaan van Wijngaarden, a pioneer in numerical analysis and computer science.

Professor Butcher was the first supervisor of a full-time PhD student in mathematics at The University of Auckland and has subsequently supervised many other PhD students, many of whom hold prestigious positions worldwide. Professor Butcher was a founding member of the New Zealand Mathematical Society, and its second president, and was the first editor of the ‘Mathematical Chronicle’, the journal which later became the ‘NZ Journal of Mathematics’. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1980.  

(See also separate news release on Jones Medal  with full details of the new award, quotes from Professor Sir Vaughan Jones and from medal designer Marion Fountain.)

T K Sidey Medal - for outstanding scientific research concerning electromagnetic radiation: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Grant Caldwell of GNS Science

Citation: Awarded to Trevor Grant Caldwell for pioneering studies of the Earth’s volcanic and fault-line regions using magneto-telluric techniques.

Description of work: The T. K. Sidey Medal was awarded to Grant Caldwell at GNS Science for his pioneering work as part of a team of scientists he leads to probe the structure of the Earth using naturally occurring electromagnetic radiation. This team is recognised internationally as a leader in this field. It has made outstanding advances that help reveal the role fluids play in geological processes deep within the Earth’s crust.

Grant Caldwell’s development of a novel method for representing magneto-telluric data has opened the way for applying this technique to complex geological problems including studies of volcanic processes and the roots of major fault zones, both in New Zealand and overseas.

The team’s work includes investigations of the volcanic systems beneath the Mount Ruapehu and Mount St Helens.  Other work has imaged the magma that provides the heat needed to drive the geothermal systems found in the central NorthIsland and fluid rich zones that occur at the base of the Alpine and Marlborough Faults.

Dame Joan Metge Medal – social sciences award for excellence and building relationships in the social science research community: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Richard Dodgshun Bedford FRSNZ, AUT University and the University of Waikato, and to Professor Richie Graham Poulton FRSNZ, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

Note: there are two recipients of this medal.

Citation: Awarded to Richard Dodgshun Bedford for his landmark research on migration in the Asia-Pacific region and his inspiring role as a strategic and influential institution builder making possible new, vibrant and vital directions in New Zealand social science.

Description of work: Professor Richard Bedford has made a major contribution to the understanding of migration in the Asia-Pacific region, and been an influential figure in developing social science research in the Pacific and New Zealand over a long period. He has been a critical figure in the Migration Research Group at the University of Waikato and was Director of the Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences initiative, designed to develop doctoral, post-doctoral and early career social scientists.

In the 1980s, he was convenor of the Population Monitoring Group of the New Zealand Planning Council, and has been involved in immigration policy reviews and a longitudinal survey of immigrants from 2000-10. He is currently Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at AUT University and Professor of Population Geography in the Population Studies Centre at the University of Waikato.

Professor Bedford was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2000 and a Companion of the Queens Service Order, for services to geography, in 2008.

Citation: Awarded to Richie Graham Poulton for his influential and far-reaching achievements and capability contributions to the internationally recognised University of Otago longitudinal study of human health and development.

Description of work: Professor Richie Poulton has been the Director of Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit at the University of Otago since 2000. This research unit has been following the health and development of the 1037 babies born in Dunedin during 1972/73. Known as the Dunedin Study, it is one of the most detailed studies of human health and development ever undertaken. The participants, who are now 38 years old, have been followed up since birth, at age three, then every two years to age 15, at ages 18, 21, 26, and 32. They are being followed up this year.

During his 10-year term as director of the Dunedin Study, Professor Poulton has been actively involved in building capacity and mentoring. He has helped more than 300 researchers to publish peer-reviewed journal articles, monographs or chapters in books, and has supervised a large number of post-graduate students.

The hallmark feature of the Dunedin Study is its extremely high retention rate. In his role as director, Professor Poulton devotes a great deal of time and effort into maintaining good relationships with study participants. During the last collection phase in 2005-5, 96 percent of living study members took part in the research. The research outputs of the Dunedin Study have made a substantial contribution to new knowledge with more than 1100 publications to date, with many of these published in the world’s leading journals.

Liley Medal – to recognise research that has made an outstanding contribution to health and medical sciences: awarded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand to Professor Stephen Robertson of the University of Otago in Dunedin.

Citation: The award recognises a contribution to health and medical sciences by Professor Stephen Robertson of the University of Otago, in the field of human genetics.

His research, published in the journal ‘Nature Genetics’, is the first to seriously question current dogma that germline mutations in a tumour suppressor gene predispose to cancer. Professor Robertson has shown that the same genetic event, separated by only space and time, can have dramatically different outcomes. In this case, that being born with a mutation in the cancer gene WTX does not result in the childhood kidney cancer Wilms tumour, whereas acquired mutation in WTX is known to be associated with tumor formation.

This research demonstrates the critical nature of developmental timing of key genetic events and will encourage new ways of thinking about cancer.

Jubilee Medal – To recognise an outstanding contribution to primary resource science: awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science (NZIAHS) to Dr Ross Ferguson FRSNZ of Plant and Food Research.

Citation: Dr Ross Ferguson has been awarded the Jubilee Medal of the NZIAHS in recognition of his contribution to our scientific knowledge of kiwifruit. He is a world authority on kiwifruit and projects under his leadership have been fundamental to New Zealand’s kiwifruit breeding programme. He is a major contributor to the success of this New Zealand industry and to the wealth of New Zealanders.

Dr Ferguson has worked in kiwifruit research for almost 35 years and has published nearly 150 papers, from peer-reviewed science in international journals to popular advice for horticulturalists.  He is a Fellow of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, a Fellow of The New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science, a winner of the New Zealand Science and Technology Medal, an Associate of Honour of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

2010 NZIC Maurice Wilkins Centre Prize  for Chemical Science – for a significant contribution to chemistry: awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry to Professor Keith Gordon from the University of Otago and the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.  

Citation:  Professor Gordon, working for the MacDiarmid Institute and the University of Otago, has made significant contributions to chemical science. His work is in the field of molecular electronic materials particularly analysing their design, understanding their electronic properties, and their development. He has developed methods to understand and predict the electronic properties of high molecular weight materials which has led to a number of important research findings.  A highlight was in 2006 when Professor Gordon’s work on electroluminescent materials featured on the cover of the international chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.

Dan Walls Medal – The Dan Walls medal is presented to the physicist working in New Zealand for at least the past ten years who is deemed to have made the greatest impact, both nationally and internationally, in his/her field of research. This year it is awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Physics to Professor David Parry FRSNZ from Massey University.

Citation: This year the medal is awarded to Professor David Parry, the Distinguished Professor of Biophysics at the Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Massey University. Professor Parry received his PhD from the University of London, and has since made many contributions to the research environment both within New Zealand and internationally. He is world-renowned for his work on the structure and function of fibrous biological macromolecules, which include the proteins found in muscle fibre. His outstanding career has included key advances in the understanding of the structural properties of alpha-helical coiled-coil proteins. He is a former winner of the Rutherford Medal in 2008. Professor Parry is an exemplary scientist placing New Zealand work on the world stage, and a fully deserving recipient of the Dan Walls medal.