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Published 18 November 2021

2021 Research Honours Aotearoa winners

Contributions of innovators, kairangahau Māori, researchers and scholars throughout Aotearoa New Zealand are having their achievements and national and international impact recognised.

For the 2021 Research Honours Aotearoa, Royal Society Te Apārangi has announced the winners of 18 medals and awards and the Health Research Council of New Zealand also has announced 3 award winners. It is planned that winners will receive their awards at regional ceremonies in early 2022. 

The Rutherford Medal, was awarded to Distinguished Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman CNZM QSO FRSNZ and the He Kāinga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme including Professor Julian Crane, Associate Professor Michael Keall, Associate Professor Nevil Pierse from University of Otago, Wellington. The award was given for the groundbreaking research that has quantified the effects of housing interventions on occupants’ health and wellbeing, and informed legislation and policy.

The Rutherford Medal is the highest honour awarded by Royal Society Te Apārangi for an exceptional contribution to advancing and promoting knowledge for the benefit of New Zealand. It is supported by the New Zealand Government, with a prize of $100,000 from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Nā Te Kīkina Whakatutuki te mana hāpai.

Under Philippa’s inspirational leadership, He Kāinga Oranga's research has shown how straightforward housing improvements to cold, damp and unsafe conditions can significantly reduce rates of infectious, respiratory and cardiovascular disease and deaths, particularly for children and older people. This research has influenced public policy innovation and implementation, including the Winter Fuel Payment and the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act, which requires all landlords to meet the World Health Organization's Housing and Health Guidelines, developed by a WHO International Committee chaired by Philippa.

The team’s work has assessed many aspects of housing and health including the benefits of insulation and heating to health, the harmful effects of unflued gas heaters, how to modify the home to reduce injuries from falls, warm homes and the elderly, impact of household mould on asthma and viral infections, interventions to allow parents to keep their newborns warm, programmes to offer housing interventions where a child becomes ill from a housing-related illness, and the impact and possible solutions for homelessness. Philippa is now a director of Kāinga Ora-Homes and Communities, New Zealand's largest Crown company, charged with improving the quantity, quality and sustainability of public housing and creating communities. Read more on the 2021 Rutherford Medal winner.


The Health Research Council of New Zealand awarded the Te Tohu Rapuora Award to Dr Amohia Boulton (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngai te Rangi, Ngāti Mutunga, Te Āti Awa o te Waka a Māui) of Whakauae Research Services for her outstanding leadership and contribution that has helped advance Māori health services in Aotearoa. Amohia is current director of New Zealand’s only iwi-led and mandated health research centre, Whakauae Research for Māori Health and Development (Whakauae) in Whanganui. She is a passionate advocate for Māori-led solutions and leadership to achieve equitable health outcomes for Māori and works tirelessly to support the growth and development of the Māori research workforce nationally. Read more about the 2021 Te Tohu Rapuora winner. 

For excellence in translational health research, the Health Research Council of New Zealand presented the Beaven Medal to Professor Lesley McCowan CNZM and team from the University of Auckland for their research which identified that pregnant women who went to sleep lying on their backs had an increased risk of stillbirth after 28 weeks of pregnancy, and for the subsequent development of a national public awareness campaign to get pregnant women sleeping on their side to reduce this risk. Read more about the 2021 Beaven Medal winner.

Dr Sarah Jefferies from The Institute of Environmental Science and Research and her multi-agency team have been presented with the Liley Medal from the Health Research Council of New Zealand for their landmark Lancet Public Health paper analysing the impact of New Zealand’s response to the first wave of COVID-19 in New Zealand. This world-leading study assessed the impacts of nationwide non-pharmaceutical interventions in the attainment of an explicit goal of COVID-19 elimination and contributed to New Zealand’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about the 2021 Liley Medal winner. 


Professor Gary Wilson from GNS Science was awarded the Thomson Medal by Royal Society Te Apārangi for leadership in developing New Zealand’s international profile in Antarctic research. Through his roles as Director of the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute, Chief Scientific Advisor at Antarctica New Zealand and the New Zealand delegate to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Gary has provided important and strategic leadership for the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme which has supported more than 100 New Zealand researchers and research students to conduct research in many frontier areas and present their findings at the highest international level. Read more on the 2021 Thomson Medal winner.


The Hector Medal was awarded to Professor Eric Le Ru, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, for his world-leading research in analytical chemistry using surface-enhanced spectroscopies. He is a pioneer in the research field of how electromagnetic fields are enhanced around metallic nano-objects, how this changes the interactions between molecules and materials, and how this knowledge can allow molecules to be detected by vibrational spectroscopy techniques, such as surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). This knowledge is leading to the creation of next-generation biosensors based on this new understanding in physics and chemistry. Read more on the 2021 Hector Medal winner.

Professor Rich McDowell FRSNZ from AgResearch and Our Land and Water, National Science Challenge received the Hutton Medal for outstanding contributions to the knowledge of nutrient flows in soils and water, and informing farm management and environmental policy. A soil scientist, Rich is best known firstly for showing how contaminants move across land and into water, and secondly how to manage land to mitigate losses. He has used this knowledge to inform policy and has made an immense contribution to the strategies available in New Zealand and overseas for mitigation of nutrient losses to water. Read more on the 2021 Hutton Medal winner.


The Te Rangaunua Hiranga Māori Award has been presented to the Imagining Decolonised Cities team for their innovative combining of decolonial scholarship with urbanism practice and engaging rangatahi as mātauranga co-producers. The work of the team has led to clear and thoughtful discussions of what decolonisation could look like and has moved society to rethink curriculums, admissions practices, teaching practices, and how to better serve our community. The interdisciplinary collaboration between iwi and university researchers alongside rangatahi has ensured that the work is relevant and accessible to whānau, hapū and Māori communities. Read more on the 2021 Te Rangaunua Hiranga Māori Award winner.

Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora FRSNZ (Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngāi Tūhoe) from the University of Auckland has been presented with Te Rangi Hiroa Medal for transforming Psychology for Māori and Aotearoa by indigenising the discipline, and for enduring contributions to shaping the foundations for promising and flourishing futures for all New Zealanders. Linda’s first notable achievement was championing for recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi responsibilities into the New Zealand Psychological Society, which led to the establishment of the Bicultural National Standing Committee on Bicultural Issues. Among many firsts, Linda became the first Māori Professor of Psychology while at the University of Waikato, where she co-developed the Māori and Psychology Unit, which has been central to the rise of mātauranga Māori-focused research. Read more on the 2021 Te Rangi Hiroa Medal winner.

The Mason Durie Medal has been award to Professor Tony Ward FRSNZ, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, for his original work on treating violent individuals that has been hugely influential around the world. Tony is a clinical psychologist who has been working in the clinical and forensic field for over three decades. His preeminent research has reshaped correctional models across the globe. His work has driven substantial empirical research projects, resulting in treatment programme innovation in at least 15 countries. Tony’s pioneering research has transformed correctional rehabilitation both nationally and internationally, positioning New Zealand on the global map for forensic psychology. Read more on the 2021 Mason Durie Medal winner. 

Professor Annie Goldson ONZM FRSNZ, from the University of Auckland, has been awarded the Humanities Aronui Medal for her documentaries that explore difficult contemporary socio-political issues ranging from war, genocide, sexuality to surveillance and her influential academic work. Her 26 films have attained critical and commercial success. Titles include Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web on surveillance, privacy, internet piracy and geo-political relationships; First in Family about five students who are first in whānau to enter university; The Eruption: Stories of Survivors, examining the Whakaari/White Island eruption and its aftermath and most recently A Mild Touch of Cancer which explores the science and history of cancer immunotherapy. Read more on the 2021 Humanities Aronui Medal winner.

The Pou Aronui Award had been presented to Emeritus Professor Harry Ricketts, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, for being one of the most prolific figures in New Zealand literature, as a writer, teacher, editor and promotor of local intellectual culture. He has written over 30 books – his most notable being his internationally acclaimed biography of Kipling, The Unforgiving Minute: A Life of Rudyard Kipling, which positioned him as one of the world’s leading Kipling scholars.  Harry has profoundly contributed to many facets of New Zealand literature and literary culture. Read more on the 2021 Pou Aronui Award winner.


Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee from the University of Canterbury has received the MacDiarmid Medal for sustained excellence in translational research to improve patient outcomes, decrease healthcare costs and create innovative technologies associated with swallowing impairment. Maggie-Lee has developed a ‘therapeutic video game’ that gives biofeedback to patients to improve aspects of their swallowing after stroke, brain injury or neurological disease. Her simple clinical diagnosis swallowing test is now used in 13 countries and is decreasing hospital stays and chest infections. Read more on the 2021 MacDiarmid Medal winner. 

The Pickering Medal has been awarded to Professor Keith Cameron ONZM FRSNZ and Professor Hong Di ONZM FRSNZ from Lincoln Univeristy for inventing new technology to treat dairy farm effluent to recycle water and reduce phosphate and E coli leaching into water. ClearTech® is a fully-automatic treatment system that uses a coagulant to produce 'clarified water' and 'treated effluent'. It reduces the volume of effluent that needs to be irrigated or stored; clarifies and recycles more than 50% of the water that can be used to wash the farmyard; and reduces the risk of contamination of rivers, lakes and groundwater, reducing phosphate and E coli leaching by over 90%.  Read more on the 2021 Pickering Medal winner.

Dr Zhenan Jiang from Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington has been presented with the Scott Medal for global leadership in measuring and modelling the response of superconductors to applied currents and magnetic fields, thereby enabling cost-effective superconducting machines. High Temperature Superconductors (HTS) offer the promise of very low energy losses and increased power in electrical machines. Zhenan has developed the demanding measurement techniques required to understand the relationships between losses and fields, computational modelling to allow its prediction, and engineering methodologies to support its application. His work is allowing improvements to high-speed trains, aircraft motors and wind power generation. Read more on the 2021 Scott Medal winner.


The Cooper Award has been presented to Dr Laura Revell, University of Canterbury, for her chemistry-climate interaction modelling work and pioneering research on understanding how microplastics might impact the Earth's climate. Laura’s research focuses on how greenhouse gases and airborne particulate matter behave in the atmosphere, and how Earth's climate is affected as a result. She has led numerous climate modelling studies examining how greenhouse gas emissions affect the ozone layer and air quality. Her research group recently reported the presence of airborne microplastics in New Zealand - the first study of its kind - and are studying how airborne microplastics interact with the global climate system. Read more on the 2021 Cooper Award winner.

The Hamilton Award for encouraging excellence in scientific research by early-career researchers in New Zealand has been presented to Dr Kyle Clem, Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, for his research on the warming of the remote interior of Antarctica. He has shown the true vulnerability of remote polar regions to warming, having identified the different influences of Antarctica’s warming. Kyle’s research offers crucial insights of global significance regarding the future of increasing global temperatures and natural variations. Read more on the 2021 Hamilton Award winner.

Dr Gilles Seropian, from the University of Canterbury, has been presented with the Hatherton Award for providing a framework to understand why some volcanoes are more likely to erupt after an earthquake than others. Gilles’ paper – the first review on this topic for 15 years—describes what is happening inside a volcano after an earthquake happens nearby. The study shows that the volcano’s hydrothermal system (the topmost part where water is heated into steam) is particularly sensitive to earthquakes and that an earthquake cannot trigger an eruption unless the volcano is already close to erupting. Read more on the 2021 Hatherton Award winner.

The Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanities has been awarded to Associate Professor Elizabeth Macpherson from the University of Canterbury for her work on opportunities for Indigenous peoples' water rights in laws and policies around the world. In 2019, she released her book Indigenous Water Rights in Law and Regulation: Lessons from Comparative Experience, which is now regarded as the first comprehensive examination of laws and policies around the world that protect Indigenous peoples’ rights to use and regulate water. This book is ground-breaking in its coverage and insights it offers into international legal and policy frameworks for Indigenous water rights. Read more on the 2021 Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanities winner.

Dr Emily Beausoleil from Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington received the Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences for identifying key obstacles to listening by advantaged groups and creating effective anti-racism strategies. Emily’s research helps to enhance equality of voice in diverse communities by studying the conditions that underlie chronic inattention and inaction by advantaged groups, and the insights these have for designing more effective forms of civic engagement. Read more on the 2021 Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences.

The Early Career Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award has been received by Dr Karen Brewer (Whakatōhea, Ngāi Te Rangi) from the University of Auckland for a kaupapa Māori speech-language therapy resource for whānau with communication difficulties following stroke. The resource includes bilingual resources for therapists and whānau as well as an online course that covers the health inequities faced by Māori, social determinants of health, racism, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, cultural safety, and power inherent in the therapist’s role.  This course shifts the boundaries of speech-language therapy beyond traditional ‘cultural competence’ to a public health approach which focuses on the culture of speech-language therapy as a discipline and the context of Māori as Indigenous peoples in a colonised society. Read more on the 2021 Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award.  

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi