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Published 5 November 2020

2020 Research Honours Aotearoa winners celebrated at Government House

The achievements and contributions of eight innovators, kairangahau Māori, researchers and scholars were celebrated at Government House this evening, the first of three 2020 Research Honours Aotearoa events to be held around the country.

Royal Society Te Apārangi presented six awards and the Health Research Council of New Zealand also presented two awards.

The Rutherford Medal was awarded to Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd FRSNZ, University of Auckland, for his pre-eminent literature scholarship.

The Rutherford Medal is a prestigious award instituted by Royal Society Te Apārangi, at the request of the Government. Awarded annually, it recognises preeminent research, scholarship or innovation by a person or team and comes with a $100,000 prize from the Government. This year is the first year it embraces the humanities.

Royal Society Te Apārangi President Professor Wendy Larner said Professor Boyd was a fitting Rutherford Medallist in the year that the humanities are included.

“In addition to being recognised as the world’s leading scholar on author Vladimir Nabokov, Professor Boyd’s other main area of interest is in the intersection of science with the arts and humanities. He has argued convincingly that storytelling and art creation have given humans an evolutionary advantage, and he champions for scientific theories and methods to be applied to the arts.  Indeed, he makes a compelling case for why the humanities are sciences and the sciences are humanities.”

Brian said he was “thrilled” that the humanities have been included within the scope of the Rutherford Medal. In his work, he is interested in exploring how, as humans, we can extend our boundaries. 

“As a humanist, you can choose to explore what humans have done wrong, and continue to do wrong, and there’s no shortage of examples; but I prefer to show how some humans have extended the possibilities for us all, in art or in thought. If we aren’t inspired by what humans at their best can do, we might despair of what humans at their worst can do.

“I especially like to work on people who cross the boundaries of the arts, the humanities and the sciences,” he said. Read more on the 2020 Rutherford Medal winner.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand awarded the Te Tohu Rapuora Award for outstanding leadership, excellence and contribution to Māori health to Dr Cherryl Waerea-i-te-rangi Smith (Ngā Wairiki-Ngāti Apa, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu) of Te Atawhai o Te Ao. Cherryl co-founded and co-directed New Zealand’s first community-based, independent research institute focused on environmental and health research that addresses Māori needs and is firmly rooted within whānau, hapū, iwi and the community. Since then, she has gone on to lead and be a part of many influential Māori-focused health projects, including leading the first HRC-funded Programme to be awarded to a community-based host, which has helped change the national discourse around Māori intergenerational trauma and healing. Read more on the 2020 Te Tohu Rapuora Award winner.

Professor Mark Weatherall from the University of Otago, Wellington, and Mr Mark Holliday from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand were jointly awarded the Liley Medal from the Health Research Council of New Zealand for an outstanding contribution to the health and medical sciences. They are senior researchers on a New Zealand-led study that found patients with mild asthma are much less likely to have a severe asthma attack if they use an inhaler containing a combination of both preventive and reliever medication as needed. The Global Initiative for Asthma guidelines have stated that the study’s findings are the most significant paradigm change in asthma management over the past 30 years.

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Te Puāwaitanga award for an eminent and distinctive contribution to te ao Māori and Indigenous knowledge was awarded to Associate Professor Maria Bargh (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) from Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka.  Maria has made an outstanding contribution to the discipline of political science in collaboration with Māori communities. Two interweaving strands of her work—political economy and the environment—are contributing to self-determination for Māori. They are also radically reshaping how Aotearoa New Zealand responds to environmental issues. Her ground-breaking iwi voting project and research leadership in the BioHeritage National Science Challenge are two highlights that show her drive to ensure a greater role for Māori in the governance of natural resources. Read more on the 2020 Te Puāwaitanga award winner.

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Pou Aronui award for dedicated service to the humanities–aronui over a sustained period was presented to Professor Rawinia Higgins (Tūhoe) Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka. Rawinia has made esteemed and far-reaching advances in Māori language revitalisation. She jointly led a project that examined state and community responsiveness to Māori language revitalisation efforts. This project led to the development of a new theoretical model that identifies three ‘effect’ areas that allow Māori language initiatives to be more specific and targeted and, thereby, more effective. She then led changes to the new Māori language legislation and policy framework for the whole Māori language sector and helped implement these changes. Read more on the 2020 Pou Aronui award winner.

The Tahunui-a-Rangi award for invention and creation is being awarded for the first time this year, with the support of Callaghan Innovation. The inaugural winner is Professor David Tipene-Leach MNZM (Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāti Kere, Ngāti Manuhiri), Eastern Institute of Technology for the wahakura. The wahakura is an ingenious flax sleeping device designed to decrease sudden infant death whilst supporting bedsharing. Designed for Māori infants who are six times more affected, its use has been shown to reduce infant mortality by nearly a third. The woven wahakura and sister pepi pod now form part of the nation’s safe sleep programme.  David has led all aspects of the wahakura, apart from the weaving, advising on its safe use and gathering research evidence on its safety and effectiveness. Read more on the 2020 Tahunui-a-Rangi award winner. 

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Thomson Medal for leadership to support new knowledge and its application was awarded by to Dr John Caradus, chief executive of Grasslanz Technology. John has spent his whole career focussed on improving the value of grasslands for New Zealand farmers, from fundamental research through to commercialisation. As a plant breeder, he was involved in developing 16 white clover cultivars. He is also an expert in grass-fungi partnerships, which can offer grass protection from insect pests. In later years, his focus on commercialisation has ensured plant and microbial technologies have become available for use by farmers to improve pastoral sector productivity. Read more on the 2020 Thomson Medal award winner.

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Hamilton Award to encourage scientific research in Aotearoa by early career researchers was awarded to Dr Nick Albert of Plant & Food Research. A plant geneticist, Nick has made major contributions to understanding the compounds responsible for different colours in plants, their origins and how they are controlled. This knowledge is being applied to developing new fruits with novel colours and enhanced health-promoting properties. He has also made discoveries about when and how the earliest land plants acquired their ‘sunscreen’ properties to cope with environmental stress during evolution. Read more on the 2020 Hamilton Award winner.

Additional 2020 Research Honours Aotearoa awards will be presented on Thursday 12 November in Ōtautahi Christchurch and Wednesday 18 Nov in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi