Medals awarded to top New Zealand researchers

Top New Zealand researchers have been recognised for their work with the presentation of prestigious awards at the Royal Society of New Zealand 2011 Research Honours event held in Wellington on Wednesday night.

The country’s highest science and technology honour, the Rutherford Medal, was awarded to biochemist Professor Christine Winterbourn FRSNZ from the University of Otago, Christchurch, for her outstanding achievements and discoveries in free radical biology which have established her as a leading world authority in this field. Together with the medal awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand, she also received $100,000 from the Government.

Professor Winterbourn is the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Rutherford Medal in its 20 year history.

The top award for achievement in technology, the Pickering Medal and $15,000, was awarded to Professor David Ryan FRSNZ, Professor of Operations Research and Deputy Dean of Engineering, at The University of Auckland for developing technology which is at the heart of optimisation software used worldwide for solving complex logistics problems, such as airline scheduling.

The Thomson Medal and $15,000 was awarded to Mr Neville Jordan CNZM, for his outstanding contribution to leadership in the management of science leading to the development and application of science and technology to wealth generation through his management of MAS Technology Ltd, Endeavour Capital Ltd and his role as a director of numerous spin-out companies he has supported through the latter.

The inaugural Callaghan Medal for outstanding contribution to science communication was awarded to Professor Sir Peter Gluckman FRS FRSNZ, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister for his achievement in science communication, in particular raising public awareness of the value of science to human progress.

The inaugural MacDiarmid Medal for outstanding scientific research that demonstrates the potential for application to human benefit, was awarded to Dr Gary Evans of Industrial Research Limited who has pioneered the design and synthesis of new pharmaceuticals for the treatment of major diseases including gout, psoriasis and cancer of the immune system. (More details below.)

The Hutton Medal for animal sciences was awarded to Professor Robert Poulin FRSNZ from the University of Otago for his leading research in the field of parasitic diseases, especially for his work in ecological parasitology, an area of particular relevance to New Zealand’s marine and freshwater ecosystems.

The Hector Medal for mathematical and information sciences was awarded to Professor Rod Downey FRSNZ from Victoria University of Wellington for his influential and innovative work in mathematical logic.

The Te Rangi Hiroa Medal was awarded to Professor Colleen Ward from Victoria University of Wellington for her outstanding contributions to the advancement of the psychological study of immigration, acculturation, intercultural relations and cultural diversity.

The inaugural Humanities Aronui Medal was awarded to Professor Jim Flynn FRSNZ from the University of Otago for his outstanding work in political philosophy, in particular his discovery of historical gains in IQ, now known as the ‘Flynn Effect’.

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, Easterfield Medal, NZMS Research Award and Dan Walls Medal.

A key role of the Royal Society of New Zealand is to promote and support excellence in science, technology and the humanities.

Full list of the 2011 awards, with citations and details of winners’ work – From the 2011 New Zealand Research Honours celebration, hosted by the Royal Society of New Zealand


Rutherford Medal Professor Christine Winterbourn
Pickering Medal Professor David Ryan
Thomson Medal Mr Neville Jordan
Callaghan Medal Professor Sir Peter Gluckman
MacDiarmid Medal Dr Gary Evans
Hutton Medal Professor Robert Poulin
Hector Medal Professor Rod Downey
Te Rangi Hiroa Medal Professor Colleen Ward
Humanities Aronui Medal Professor Jim Flynn
Liley Medal Dr Chris Pemberton
Jubilee Medal Dr Michael Dunbier
Easterfield Medal Dr Bridget Stocker
NZMS Research Award Dr Shaun Cooper
Dan Walls Medal Professor Jeff Tallon

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

Citation: To Christine Coe Winterbourn for seminal discoveries in free radical biology, promotion of rigorous standards in research, and fostering excellent scientific education. 

Description of work: Professor Christine Winterbourn of the University of Otago, Christchurch, has made several seminal discoveries concerning the fundamental biochemistry of free radicals and how they contribute to host defence and oxidative stress. She is internationally recognised as a leading authority on the biochemistry and biology of free radicals and antioxidants. She has also been a strong advocate for basic research in New Zealand, contributed much to the national scientific scene through administration of various research bodies, and has been an excellent mentor to numerous students and fellow scientists

Pickering Medal – to recognise excellence and innovation in the practical application of technology: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor David Ryan FRSNZ of The University of Auckland

Citation: Awarded to David Murray Ryan for his world-renowned research specialisation in mathematical programming and optimisation theory, and in particular scheduling, timetabling and combinatorial optimisation problems.

Description of work: Professor David Ryan is New Zealand’s leading authority on Operations Research and this country’s most influential contributor to the field. He is best known for developing the innovative ‘Ryan-Foster constraint branching’ technology which is now a fundamental component of optimisation software used worldwide for solving complex logistics problems. This technology revolutionised the optimisation landscape by dramatically increasing the range and size of problems to which optimisation could be applied.

Professor Ryan is a strong advocate for the use of mathematical optimisation techniques to solve problems of significant industrial importance. In New Zealand his methods have allowed a new range of practical real-world problems to be solved.

For example, Professor Ryan has collaborated with Air New Zealand for more than 20 years to commercially exploit his technology. He developed pioneering optimisation software that is now used by the airline to optimally schedule flight crews. The savings from these optimisers were estimated in 2000 as being more than NZ$15 million per year. He has recently worked with Air New Zealand to develop robust solutions that can reduce the impact of disruptions, work which is regarded as ground-breaking and possibly the first airline implementation of this new technology.

Other examples of solving difficult practical problems include – selecting the outputs of the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter at Tiwai Point thereby increasing the value of the aluminium significantly and he is currently working on optimisation methods to manage container stacks in a container terminal to get selected containers from a large stack of containers in a minimum number of container moves, and more.

Professor Ryan’s contributions have been recognised internationally in numerous ways including his election as a Fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), making him one of only 12 such Fellows from outside the United States. Based in the United States, INFORMS is the world’s largest professional organisation for Operations Research.

Thomson Medal – for outstanding and inspirational leadership in the management of science: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Mr Neville Jordan CNZM of Endeavour Capital Limited

Citation: To Neville Jordan for his outstanding contribution to leadership in the management of science and technology leading to wealth generation through his management of MAS Technology Ltd and Endeavour Capital Ltd.

Description of work: Neville Jordan’s record of wealth creation through the application of science and technology spans more than three decades. His leadership has extended across many companies, resulting in substantial export revenue and employment growth.

In 1976 Neville Jordan started MAS Technology, a company designing defence simulation equipment based on advanced algorithms. In the mid 1980s he foresaw the need for microwave equipment in long distance telecommunications and migrated the defence technology into commercial applications.

As CEO of MAS Technology he attracted an international team. In 1996 MAS had revenue of $100m pa, employed 240 staff, had offices in 15 countries, and exported to over 60 countries. In 1997 he led a float on the NASDAQ main board. He gifted shares to all staff and several were then able to start their own New Zealand technology companies.

In 1998 he founded Endeavour Capital Ltd, guiding and investing in many science and technology start-up companies, then an additional investment fund in 2003, supported by the New Zealand government. To date he has founded and directly invested in over 30 science and technology companies, with more than $100m worth of funds under management.  Cumulative foreign exchange earned by MAS Technology and the Endeavour Capital portfolio now exceeds $1 billion.

His Jordan Foundation, established more than 20 years ago, assists disadvantaged students with University fees and he actively mentors young scientists and technologists.  As President of the Royal Society of New Zealand from 2006 to 2009 he led significant and innovative reforms.

Neville Jordan has always given freely of his time to universities, Ministries and other government organisations and has recently signed creative partnering agreements for New Zealand science in China, the USA, Germany and Saudi Arabia. He led the very successful CRI Review Taskforce, was a member of the Defence Technology Agency review panel and is currently on the government’s Green Growth innovation panel.

His contribution to wealth generation in New Zealand, based on science and technology, has earned public recognition including: CNZM, UK Kirby Medal, Business Hall of Fame, Hi-Tech Hall of Fame, the Governor General’s Supreme Award for Exporting and an honorary Doctorate from Canterbury University.

Callaghan Medal – for outstanding contribution to science communication, in particular raising public awareness of the value of science to human progress: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Sir Peter Gluckman FRS, FRSNZ, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and  researcher at the Liggins Institute at The University of Auckland

Citation: To Peter David Gluckman for his exceptional and effective communication skills based on his extensive experience as a world-leading medical scientist, his scientific knowledge, and his national and international networks.

Description of work: Professor Sir Peter Gluckman is one of New Zealand’s best known scientists, receiving many national and international honours for his work on the biology of growth and development in relationship to human health. He is also a passionate advocate for science as an essential part of the country’s economic, social and environmental progress. He has long believed that all New Zealanders need to have some level of understanding of the scientific issues that confront society and why investment in science and innovation is critical for our future as a ‘smart nation’.

The world-class Liggins Institute that he co-founded in 2001 has done much to encourage secondary school teachers and students to access and interact with the scientific research community. Appointed in 2009 as New Zealand’s first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Sir Peter interprets science in its widest sense – as the organised acquisition of knowledge – and promotes an evidence-based approach to policy making across all of government. His work this year has reflected this in the release of several reports, namely on the Canterbury Earthquakes, Science in Education, Evidence in Policy, and Improving the Transition for Adolescents.

MacDiarmid Medal – for outstanding scientific research that demonstrates the potential for application to human benefit: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Dr Gary Evans of Industrial Research Limited

Citation: To Gary Brian Evans for his world-leading research in synthetic organic chemistry with a specific focus on the design and synthesis of pharmaceuticals for the treatment of major diseases.

Description of work: Dr Gary Evans is a world leading researcher in synthetic organic chemistry who has pioneered the design and synthesis of new pharmaceuticals for the treatment of major diseases. He is a science team leader within the internationally renowned Carbohydrate Chemistry group at Industrial Research Limited in Lower Hutt. He has demonstrated great success in converting his skills in the synthesis of enzyme inhibitor drug candidates into a substantive portfolio of patents which have underpinned major clinical trials to address three distinct challenges to human health, namely gout, psoriasis and cancer of the immune system. He has also developed drugs that are in preclinical development for treating malaria, bacterial infections and solid tumour cancers.

To enable uptake of this research Dr Evans has developed strong relationships with key international research agencies, particularly the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. The success demonstrated to date in clinical trials is a testament to Dr Evans’s ability to undertake excellent science both personally and as leader of a research team, and to implement this science for the benefit of human health.

Hutton Medal – for excellence in animal sciences: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Robert Poulin FRSNZ of Department of Zoology at the University of Otago

Citation: To Robert Poulin for his leading research in the field of parasitic diseases, especially for his work in ecological parasitology, an area of particular relevance to New Zealand’s marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Description of work: Professor Robert Poulin of the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago is a leading authority on the evolutionary ecology of host-parasite interactions. Parasites can have a major impact on the behaviour of their animal hosts and many of these parasites manipulate the infected host in a way that increases the probability of transmission. Professor Poulin is almost solely responsible for expanding our knowledge of their vast diversity in New Zealand aquatic habitats.

He and his research team have identified parasites new to science and have documented the details of the transmission routes of numerous parasitic worms from host to host and their impacts on survival and reproduction of key aquatic animal species. His work has been highly cited and has been influential in developing our understanding of the basic processes involved in parasitic diseases.

Professor Poulin began his research career in Canada and immigrated to New Zealand in 1992 when he took up a position as Lecturer in Zoology at the University of Otago. He soon established himself as a prolific publisher in the field of parasitology. Since arriving in New Zealand he has published 400 refereed scientific papers and four books. In 2001 he won the Research Medal of the New Zealand Association of Scientists and was awarded a James Cook Research Fellowship in 2002. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2001.

Hector Medal – for an outstanding contribution to the advancement of mathematical and information sciences: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Rod Downey FRSNZ from Victoria University of Wellington

Citation: To Rodney Graham Downey for his outstanding, internationally acclaimed work in recursion theory, computational complexity, and other aspects of mathematical logic and combinatorics.

Description of work: Professor Rod Downey, of Victoria University of Wellington is internationally recognised for his influential and innovative work in mathematical logic and computer science. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts in recursion theory, a technically difficult branch of mathematical logic dealing with the fundamental limits of computation. He inaugurated research in parameterised complexity, which includes the input size as one of the parameters in the analysis of the complexity of computation. This work attracted the attention and involvement of several leading complexity theorists worldwide, and culminated in the publication of a large monograph in 1999.

In recent years, Professor Downey and his collaborators have made very significant advances in the study of algorithmic randomness and complexity, again culminating in a large monograph, published in 2010. In addition to these two books, he has published more than 220 research articles in leading journals and conference proceedings.

His international standing is highlighted by his invitation to give an address at the 2006 International Congress of Mathematicians, the first New Zealander invited to do so.  In addition, he has presented invited talks at numerous high-level, international meetings around the world; organised several such meetings himself; supervised many excellent doctoral students; and attracted many outstanding young mathematicians from around the world to work with him as postdoctoral research fellows (19).

Te Rangi Hiroa Medal – social sciences award for work in social history, cultural diversity, socioeconomics or medical anthropology: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Colleen Ward from Victoria University of Wellington

Citation: To Colleen Ann Ward for her outstanding contributions to the advancement of the psychological study of immigration, acculturation, intercultural relations and cultural diversity.

Description of work: Professor Colleen Ward of the Department of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington is internationally recognised as a leading authority on cultural diversity and how culture affects human behaviour and experience.

Professor Ward’s work with Muslim youth in New Zealand has made a significant contribution to the Alliance of Civilisations Research Network, the United Nations’ collective think tank for the promotion of understanding between Muslim and Western societies.

In 2005-7 Professor Ward was a James Cook Research Fellow in Social Sciences (Identity, Acculturation and Intercultural Relations).

From 2008-10 she led a project, Youth Voices, Youth Choices: Integration and Social Cohesion in Multicultural Aotearoa/New Zealand, which examined the experiences of Chinese, Pacific and Muslim youth.

Her book, The Psychology of Culture Shock, is acknowledged for its state-of-the-art synthesis of theory and research on intercultural contact. Her theory on acculturation and immigrant adaptation has been widely tested and formed the basis of the International Comparative Study of Ethno-cultural Youth, a 13-nation study published as Immigrant Youth in Cultural Transition.

In 2011 she received the Victoria University of Wellington Inaugural Public Contribution Award for the application of scholarly expertise to resolve the challenges facing multicultural communities.

Professor Ward maintains research collaborations with the NZ Federation of Multicultural Councils and has acted as consultant to government on issues around immigration and social cohesion. She is currently Director of the Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research at Victoria University of Wellington, and immediate Past-President of the International Academy of Intercultural Research.

Humanities Aronui Medal – humanities award for research or innovative work of outstanding merit in the Humanities: awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Jim Flynn FRSNZ from the University of Otago

Citation: To James Robert Flynn in recognition of his work in the area of political philosophy with particular recognition of his work on IQ that led to his discovery of what has become known as the ‘Flynn Effect’.

Description of work: Professor James Flynn of the Department of Politics at the University of Otago has produced an impressive body of work in political philosophy for which he has achieved worldwide renown. In particular, his research into nature/nurture and IQ has led to the “Flynn Effect” which states that IQ scores increase over time. This finding has had far-reaching implications and continues to be one of the most highly cited discoveries to originate from New Zealand in the 20th century.

He has written extensively about the relationship between the IQ gains he has discovered and issues of democracy, equality and human rights.

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 Dr Chris Pemberton of the University of Otago, Christchurch

Citation: The award recognises a contribution to health and medical sciences by Dr Chris Pemberton from the University of Otago, Christchurch, in the field of cardiovascular medicine. Dr Pemberton and his colleagues, in a paper published in the premier cardiovascular research journal Circulation, uncovered evidence of a new biomarker for early-stage myocardial damage.

Diagnosis of a heart attack relies on a combination of clinical presentation, ECG changes and, importantly, the appearance of biomarkers in the blood indicative of myocardial damage. The earlier and more confidently a diagnosis can be made or excluded, the sooner vital treatments can be started, or the patient reassured. Dr Pemberton has shown that a previously undiscovered fragment of the signal peptide of the molecule known as BNP is found in the circulation, and early evidence points to a rapid boost in levels shortly after myocardial infarction. If these results are confirmed in larger studies, this biomarker is likely to become a mainstay in the diagnosis or exclusion of myocardial infarction and related acute coronary syndromes.

Jubilee Medal – To recognise an outstanding contribution to primary resource science: awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science (NZIAHS) to Dr Michael Dunbier

Citation: Early in his career Dr Dunbier was a highly productive research scientist in plant breeding and genetics. He contributed to the introduction to New Zealand of Plant Variety Rights and the establishment of an industry testing scheme for new cultivars.

Dr Dunbier progressed into key positions of leadership in the agricultural, horticultural and seafood industries. In 1992 he was appointed Chief Executive of the NZ Institute for Crop & Food Research and continued in that position until 2005. He has been a director of: Dairy InSight; FRST; the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Australia; Gracelinc Ltd ; Crop & Food Research International Ltd; Crop & Food Research Australia Ltd; Quality Wheat Co-operative Research Centre Ltd., Australia; and Lincoln International Ltd.

Dr Dunbier currently holds a number of key governance and advisory roles. These include: Chairman of the Bio-Protection Research Centre Board of Management; Chair of the Pastoral Genomics Consortium; Chair of the Horticulture NZ Vegetable Product Groups Research & Innovation Board; Chair of the Governance Group of the NIWA Marine Biodiversity and Biosecurity OBI; Chair of the Governance Group of the NIWA Coasts and Oceans OBI; Director, AgResearch Ltd; Director, Foundation for Arable Research; and Director of Dunbier & Associates Ltd. He has provided an unsurpassed level of leadership and service to New Zealand’s primary industries and is a very worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

Easterfield Medal – in recognition of significant research by an emerging chemist: awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry to Dr Bridget Stocker of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

Citation: Dr Bridget Stocker is a group leader at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research. A chemist by training, she completed her PhD at Victoria University as a Bright Futures Top Achiever Doctoral Scholar then continued on to a post-doctoral position in carbohydrate synthesis at the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. With a desire to develop a unique research programme at the interface of chemistry and immunology, she returned to New Zealand in 2007 and negotiated the instigation of the ‘Immunoglycomics’ research initiative between the Malaghan Institute and Victoria University. Being the only chemist in an immunology institute was a challenging move, she said, but challenging in a good way once you realise that the two disciplines think about and discuss science in subtly different ways.

The focus of Bridget’s research involves understanding the role of carbohydrates in immunology and key highlights include the development of new ‘green chemistry’ methodologies and the synthesis of carbohydrate ‘probes’ to study diseases, such as cancer. Bridget was a recent participant in the Royal Society of New Zealand Marie Curie Lecture Series and was featured in the European Journal of Organic Chemistry to celebrate the achievements of notable women in organic chemistry and 100 years since Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize.

NZMS Research Award – to recognise excellence in mathematical research: awarded by the New Zealand Mathematical Society to Dr Shaun Cooper of Massey University, Albany

Citation: Dr Shaun Cooper has established himself as a world class expert in number theory, and he is especially recognised for his research emanating from the work of the Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. His work appears in leading mathematical journals and has applications in statistical physics, cryptography and computation of the number pi. Shaun’s recent work includes a comprehensive study of the fundamental formulas in Ramanujan’s theories of elliptic functions to alternative bases. With coauthors from Singapore he discovered new formulas involving the 26th power of Dedekind’s eta function. Shaun’s research exhibits excellence in both its contribution to mathematics and in its originality.

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 Jeff Tallon FRSNZ of Industrial Research Limited.

Citation: Professor Jeffery Tallon FRSNZ received his PhD from Victoria University of Wellington, and has since made many important discoveries, particularly in the field of high temperature superconductors. His fundamental insights have greatly deepened our understanding of these remarkable materials, and have also been instrumental in the formation of a high-tech HTS industry in New Zealand. Professor Tallon is an outstanding physicist, who enjoys tremendous respect on the world stage, and he is a fully deserving recipient of the Dan Walls medal.