Wednesday is science and technology’s big night out. A variety of awards, from the top science medal (the Rutherford) to the Chemistry Olympiad Silver Medal, will be presented at the annual Science Honours dinner on 17 November, this year to be held in Christchurch. In contravention of usual award night protocol, the speeches will be short and pithy, and wisdom and intellectual capacity will take precedence over beauty and brawn – which is not to say that our scientists lack the latter.

Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Hon Pete Hodgson, will present the Rutherford Medal to Professor David Penny, who is research director at the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, based at Massey University in Palmerston North. Professor Penny works on theories relating to the origin of man and the dispersal of people through the Pacific thousands of years ago. His findings confirmed the oral tradition of Māori that their founding population was generated by 50-100 women. As well as being a brilliant scientist, Professor Penny has shown great compassion for our fellow primates, working on legislation to give them special status and protection. He has also been very active in his work on behalf of the science community. The Rutherford Medal for Science and Technology is a government award, conferred by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Dr Peter Barrett (based at Victoria University of Wellington), scientist and Antarctic adventurer, will receive the Marsden Medal from the NZ Association of Scientists. His contribution to Antarctic research includes the discovery of the first fossil remains of four-legged animals that clinched the link between the Antarctic and the great continent of Gondwana, of which Australia and New Zealand were once part.

And young Chemistry Olympiad champion, Reed Roberts, seventh former at Scots College in Wellington, will be honoured for winning a silver medal at the 36th International Olympiad in Germany.

The full list of award recipients is given below.

President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Dr James Watson, said “The achievements of our scientists and technologists are less visible than those of our sports and other heroes. Sometimes, it may be decades before an avenue of research yields results. It takes a lot of patience and nerve to stick at it. Like everyone else, scientists need encouragement and recognition, especially from their peers, who understand what they’re up against.

“Often scientific work seems obscure and irrelevant to the public because they are tackling a very small piece of a very large puzzle. Sometimes there are hundreds of scientists all round the world chipping away at a problem. Our distance from the rest of the world is no impediment to our involvement in collaborative research enterprises, and we are leading the way in some areas. The science awards are a real eye opener to the breadth of work going on.”

The Science Honours dinner is organised by the Royal Society of New Zealand, whose prime purpose is to promote excellence in science and technology.

Full list of award recipients

  • Rutherford Medal for an exceptional contribution to New Zealand society in the field of science and technology. Awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the New Zealand Government to Professor David Penny, Research Director of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, based at Massey University, Palmerston North.
  • Pickering Medal to recognise excellence and innovation in the practical applications of technology. Awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the New Zealand Government to Dr Bob Buckley, Industrial Research Limited, Lower Hutt
  • R J Scott Medal to recognise excellence in engineering sciences and technologies. Awarded by the Academy of the Royal Society of New Zealand to Professor Emeritus Jos Arrillaga, University of Canterbury, Christchurch
  • Marsden Medal for a lifetime of outstanding service to science. Awarded by the New Zealand Association of Scientists to Professor Peter Barrett, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University, Wellington.
  • Research Medal for outstanding research. Awarded by the New Zealand Association of Scientists to Associate Professor Richie Poulton, Dunedin School of Medicine, Dunedin
  • Liley Medal to recognise research which has made an outstanding contribution to health and medical sciences. Awarded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand to Associate Professor Richie Poulton, Dunedin School of Medicine, Dunedin.
  • Thomas Kirk Medal for high scholarship in contributions to scientific forestry in New Zealand. Awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Forestry to Dr Michael Wilcox
  • Te Tohu Pae Tawhiti Award for research in Māori education. Awarded by the New Zealand Association for Research in Education to Professor Russell Bishop, University of Waikato, Hamilton.
  • McKenzie Award for educational research. Awarded by the New Zealand Association for Research in Education to Professor Sue Middleton, University of Waikato, Hamilton.
  • Silver Olympiad Medal, awarded by the International Chemistry Olympiad to Reed Roberts, student at Scots College, Wellington.
  • Outstanding Physiologist, awarded by the New Zealand Society of Plant Physiologists to Dr Ralph Bungard, University of Canterbury.
  • Applied Biosystems Award, awarded by the New Zealand Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to Associate Professor Iain Lamont, University of Otago, Dunedin
  • NZMS Research Award, awarded by the New Zealand Mathematical Society to Associate Professor Eamonn O’Brien, The University of Auckland, Auckland
  • Three R’s Award for excellence in humane use of animals in research, teaching and testing. Awarded by the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee to the Cawthron Institute, Nelson
  • Genesis Energy ‘Realise the Dream’ premier award, awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand in association with Dexcel Limited to Bridget Nicolson, first year student at The University of Auckland.