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Published 9 November 2022

First event to celebrate 2022 Research Honours Aotearoa winners

Ten medals and awards were presented in Kirikiriroa Hamilton this evening by Royal Society Te Apārangi and the Health Research Council of New Zealand to recognise researchers in New Zealand who have achieved excellence in scholarship, innovation or who have made a significant contribution to Aotearoa through their research and career.

This was the first of three 2022 Research Honours Aotearoa events to be held around the country.

“We are enormously proud of our sparkling winners and their outstanding achievements,” said Professor Charlotte MacDonald FRSNZ, Chair of the Royal Society Te Apārangi Academy Executive Committee.

Professor Sunny Collings, Chief Executive of the Health Research Council of New Zealand, agreed. “We are proud to partner with Royal Society Te Apārangi to celebrate the significant achievements of some of our country's outstanding researchers.” 

View photographs from the event.


The MacDiarmid Medal for outstanding scientific research that demonstrates the potential for application to human benefit was awarded to the AgResearch Plant Biotechnology Team comprising of team members Dr Greg Bryan, Dr Nick Roberts, and Dr Somrutai Winichayakul for research on enhanced photosynthesis. This technology has the potential to increase nutrient and energy density of forages and crops, improving productivity and animal performance whilst reducing environmental impacts of agriculture. The technology produces and stores oil in the green tissue of plants via the transfer of two genes. This not only increased leaf fatty acid content, but also enhanced photosynthesis by up to 24%. If successfully applied to crops, this technology could simultaneously alleviate global hunger and slow climate change. View more on MacDiarmid Medal winner.

The Humanities Aronui Medal for research or innovative work of outstanding merit was awarded to Professor Timothy Mulgan FRSNZ from University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau for his contributions to moral philosophy, philosophy of religion and political philosophy. Tim has developed new ways of thinking about our obligations to distant strangers and future people. He asks: “how might people inhabiting different possible futures reimagine ethics?” He defends a provocative non-human-centred account of cosmic purpose and he asks how we might find meaning at humanity's end. His work has greatly influenced scholarship in many other disciplines including theology, development studies, environmental studies, and political theory. View more on Humanities Aronui Medal winner.

Te Puāwaitanga Research Excellence Award for eminent and distinctive contribution to Te Ao Māori and indigenous knowledge was presented to Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki, Ngāti Hako, Ngāti Mahanga, University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, for indigenising the psychology profession. With intentional space-making for Māori and indigenous values, she has been a driving force behind curriculum development. Moana has brought mātauranga Māori, te ao Māori and kaupapa Māori approaches together as an alternative to eurocentric psychology practices. Her exceptional contribution affords psychologists opportunities to learn and to choose tikanga Māori in their practices. The Whiti te Rā and the Mauri Ora Toko models are being used to address mental health and addiction issues, intergenerational trauma, and to develop resilience and enhanced wellbeing for tamariki experiencing emotional issues. View more on Te Puāwaitanga Research Excellence Award winner. 

The Hector Medal for outstanding work in chemical, physical, mathematical or information sciences was awarded to Professor Murray Cox FRSNZ, University of Massey Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa, for major advances in population genetic theory and the innovative development of associated computational methods that have delivered deep insight into genome evolution. Murray has made striking new discoveries about the biological world from vast population and genome data sets. His major breakthroughs include discovering a previously unknown species of early human living in the Pacific region; identifying the limits to which information from European genetic data sets can be transferred to Pacific communities; and identifying new mechanisms for how the 3D structure of DNA in a cell's nucleus coordinates gene expression. View more on the Hector Medal winner.

The Metge Medal for excellence and building relationships in the social science research community was awarded to Associate Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem, University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau for intellectual leadership on gendered social relations and development studies. Yvonne’s research and her leadership of several major initiatives in the Pacific have deepened our understanding of the complexities of gender relations in Pacific communities, including those in Aotearoa. She highlights the intersection of gender relations with familial, generational, sociocultural, religious, and political relations, which are regarded by Pacific Islanders as equally, if not more, important than gender. Her wide networks have enabled her leadership of initiatives at the interface of research and policy, integrating scholarly work with community empowerment. View more on the Metge Medal award winner. 

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award
for early career researchers to recognise innovative Māori research was presented to Dr Melissa Derby, Ngāti Ranginui, University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, for creating a culturally-responsive literacy programme. Melissa’s research is aimed at strengthening bilingual preschool children’s early literacy skills in te reo Māori and English. In her award-winning doctoral study, she drew from Māori oral traditions and teaching approaches to co-create a culturally-responsive literacy programme. She used her findings to co-write Talking Together: He Korerorero, an early childhood resource that strengthens kaiako and whanau practice in fostering early literacy skills. View more on the Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award. 

The Cooper Award for an emerging researcher in technology, applied sciences and engineering was presented to Dr Hamid Abbasi, University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau, for developing a method for automatically identifying biological markers of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury at birth. This condition results from reduced oxygen delivery and blood supply, but is challenging to diagnose partly due to a lack of robust biomarkers. Through his research, Hamid has identified promising biological signatures for diagnosis in the form of subtle electrical brain signals. These can be seen in the first 6 hours after injury, when it would be optimal to start treatment. His advanced machine-learning framework can accurately identify and quantify these subtle wave-form signatures in real-time, with accuracy of over 99.8% and could be a game-changer for treating at-risk infants. View more on the Cooper Award winner. 


Te Tohu Rapuora Medal for outstanding leadership and contribution to Māori health was awarded to Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell, Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki, Ngāti Porou, University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau, and the Te Ārai Palliative Care and End of Life Research Group for improving palliative care, end-of-life and tangihanga experiences for Māori kaumātua and whānau throughout Aotearoa. Their research has contributed significantly to Aotearoa’s palliative care policy, including Mauri Mate: A Māori palliative care framework for hospices. They also produced the informative website Te Ipu Aronui to support whānau caregivers and health professionals care for kaumātua at the end of life. Their mahi has helped increase Māori access to palliative care and supported whānau access to knowledge about tikanga processes across the end-of-life pathway. 

The Liley Medal for published research that makes a significant contribution to health and medical sciences was awarded to Professor Valery Feigin FRSNZ, Auckland University of Technology Te Wānanga Aronui o Tamaki Makau Rau, for the landmark Lancet Neurology paper that showed for the first time the global, regional, and national burden of stroke and its risk factors in all the world’s 204 countries. The paper showed that the world’s burden of stroke continues to increase substantially, with the global incidence of strokes increasing by 70% between 1990 and 2019. Among other key findings, it also showed the importance of low ambient temperature as a risk factor for stroke, including in New Zealand where 10% of stroke burden could be attributed to low temperature, particularly in the home.

The Beaven Medal for excellence in translational health research was awarded to Associate Professor Nigel Wilson for ground-breaking research to help children in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands battling rheumatic fever and its subsequent damaging heart disease. Nigel’s initial studies showed that Doppler echocardiography was better than the stethoscope for detecting damaged heart valves in rheumatic fever, informing New Zealand’s and international guidelines. He has led treatment trials for rheumatic fever and his research findings have been widely translated for clinical healthcare. He has also led international collaborations to develop and promote echocardiographic screening protocols and criteria for diagnosing long-term rheumatic heart disease.




Additional 2022 Research Honours Aotearoa awards will be presented on Wednesday 16 November in Ōtepoti Dunedin and Tuesday 22 November in Te Whanganui-a-tara Wellington.

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi