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Published 16 November 2022

The Dunedin Study wins Rutherford Medal and other Research Honours Aotearoa winners celebrated in Ōtepoti Dunedin

The team behind the 50-year-old Dunedin Study, led by Professor Richie Poulton FRSNZ, University of Otago Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou, was awarded the Rutherford Medal at a celebratory Research Honours Aotearoa event held by Royal Society Te Apārangi at Glenroy Auditorium in Ōtepoti Dunedin.

The Rutherford Medal was presented for insights into the human condition and the resulting global impact on scientific theory, research, policy, and best-practice from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study. The Dunedin Study has followed a cohort of over 1,000 study members since birth – they are arguably the most studied group of human beings in history. 

The multidisciplinary study is renowned for generating new, cross-disciplinary knowledge about a range of ‘big picture’ issues. These include the long-term influence of childhood experience (for better or for worse) on adult function and life success; the complex interplay between nature and nurture; and why individuals age at markedly different rates, and thus vary in their susceptibility to non-communicable diseases and early mortality.

The study is also renowned for its significant discipline-specific contributions to mental, oral, respiratory, cardiovascular, and sexual health as well as social and behavioural research.

Other team members include Professor Murray Thomson FRSNZ, University of Otago, and Professor Terrie Moffitt and Professor Avshalom Caspi, Duke University.

Rutherford team

The Rutherford Medal is awarded for an exceptional contribution to the advancement and promotion of knowledge for the benefit of New Zealand society and comes with a prize of $100,000 from the Government.
See more on Rutherford Medal winner. 


Six other medals and awards were presented.


LEADERSHIP FOR PHYSICS RESEARCH AND OUTREACH AND SUPPORTING EARLY CAREER RESEARCHERS

The Thomson Medal for outstanding contributions to the organisation, support and application of science or technology in New Zealand was awarded to Professor David Hutchinson, Director of Dodd-Walls Centre, University of Otago. It was presented to David for establishing and developing the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, advocating for early career researchers and developing outreach partnerships through the museum sector.

From 2013, David led the Dodd-Walls Centre’s bid to become a Centre of Research Excellence and has been the Centre’s Director ever since. The Centre is a flagship for outstanding New Zealand physics research into the manipulation of light at the most fundamental, quantum level, and the control and manipulation of matter at the atomic scale. In partnership with Otago Museum, which David has also served on the board for, the Dodd-Walls Centre has delivered outreach across Aotearoa and the Pacific. In addition, David led the University of Otago’s Ozone Group of early career researchers and helped form the InterAcademy Partnership’s Global Young Academy, which advocates for early career researchers across the globe, especially in developing nations. See more on Thomson Medal winner.

 

GENOMIC MEDICINE FOR ALL

The Hercus Medal, a health sciences award for excellence in molecular and cellular sciences, biomedical science or clinical science and public health was awarded to Professor Stephen Robertson FRSNZ, Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, University of Otago, for research on genetic conditions impacting children and seeking to establish equitable delivery of genomic medicine for Māori.

Stephen is a clinician-scientist and an international authority on the clinical and molecular genetics of life-limiting malformations and neurocognitive disorders. He has discovered the cause of more than 30 disorders, enhancing the clinical care of people with such conditions globally. He is committed to developing accurate diagnostic genomics for Māori and is currently co-leading the assembly of a national resource to enhance genomic medicine for tangata whenua. He is involved in the leadership of multiple national and international research consortia, and is Chair of Paediatric Genetics at Cure Kids. Stephen is a clinician, translating his research findings into practice, and is committed to equity and access to care. See more on Hercus Medal winner.

 

STATISTICAL TOOLS FOR GENOME-BASED LIVESTOCK BREEDING

The Jones Medal for a lifetime achievement award in pure or applied mathematics or statistics was awarded to Dr Kenneth Dodds, AgResearch, for developing and applying statistical methods for genetic data analysis that have allowed low-cost genotyping for livestock breeding. Throughout his career, Ken has been a global leader in developing and combining new statistical tools with genetic analysis. His methods and software allowed genome regions in livestock to be associated with diverse production traits. More recently, he has led the development of statistical tools for the application of low-cost DNA sequencing for genetic improvement. See more on Jones Medal winner. 

This year is the first time the Jones Medal has been awarded since the untimely death of the late Sir Vaughan Jones, winner of the prestigious Fields Medal, and Fellow of the Royal Society of London and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand (Te Apārangi). Associated with this Medal is a $5000 prize generously supported by the family of Sir Vaughan Jones and administered through the New Zealand Mathematics Research Institute.

COMPUTING THE SHORTEST PATH BETWEEN EVOLUTIONARY TREES

The Hatherton Award for the best scientific paper by a PhD student at any New Zealand university in chemical sciences, physical sciences, mathematical and information sciences was awarded to Dr Lena Collienne, Department of Computer Science, University of Otago, for identifying a biologically meaningful way to calculate distances between evolutionary histories, such as between species or variants in genomic data analysis.

The number of steps needed to map one evolutionary tree onto another is described as the distance between them. To date, these distances have been complex and impractical to compute. Lena has discovered a process and an efficient algorithm to do this called Ranked Nearest Neighbour Interchange. This is the first positive result in such research in over 20 years. This algorithm has been incorporated into software widely-used for the analysis of genomic data. See more on Hatherton Award winner.

 

ORPHAN RELIEF IN CHINA

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanities was awarded to Dr Anna High, Faculty of Law, University of Otago, for her socio-legal exploration of orphan relief efforts, child rights and charity regulation in mainland China.  

Anna’s book Non-Governmental Orphan Relief in China: Law, Policy and Practice is based on extensive longitudinal, ethnographic research, drawing on interviews with NGOs and private caregivers across rural and urban China. Her book focusses on child rights and the oversight, both legal and extra-legal, of charitable endeavours, in the context of one of China’s most disadvantaged groups of children – gu’er, literally the “lonely children”.  Described as “masterful and thoughtful”, her book was awarded the 2020 Asian Law and Society Association Distinguished Book Award, reflecting its outstanding merit as an original piece of humanities research. See more on ECR Excellence Award for Humanities winner.

 

VALUING YOUNG CHILDREN’S INPUT FOR URBAN PLANNING

The Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences was awarded to Dr Christina Ergler, School of Geography — Te Ihowhenua, University of Otago, for her research highlighting young children’s contribution to achieving just, healthy, sustainable and inclusive cities. Christina’s research demonstrates that young children are silenced on urban issues, but they deserve the right to be listened to. Young children demonstrate a logical interpretation of their environments and an awareness of risk and vulnerability, and they also care about their city, neighbourhoods and home spaces.

Christina’s work bridges disciplinary boundaries and is highly-regarded for subscribing to child-led methodologies and provides accessible tools for planners and urban policy makers. Many seek out her expertise on including pre-schoolers voices on urban matters. See more on ECR Excellence Award for Social Sciences winner.

 

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Additional 2022 Research Honours Aotearoa awards will be presented on Tuesday 22 November in Te Whanganui-a-tara Wellington. The first 2022 Research Honours Aotearoa awards were presented in Kirikiriroa Hamilton on 9 November.  

 

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi