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Published 23 November 2016

2016 Celebrating NZ's Researchers

Outstanding New Zealand researchers have received prestigious medals at the Royal Society of New Zealand’s 2016 Research Honours event, held in Christchurch at the Transitional Cathedral on Wednesday night.

Medals were presented by both the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

“We’re pleased to have the opportunity to honour these researchers, our excellent and inspiring experts, and their achievements in the sciences, social sciences, technology and the humanities at the 2016 Research Honours Dinner. New Zealand needs to retain more of our excellent researchers and providing opportunities for us to show our respect and admiration for their work helps them both at home and overseas,” says Royal Society of New Zealand President Emeritus Professor Richard Bedford QSO FRSNZ.

The medal winners’ research covers some intriguing problems. How did human language evolve? How can school leaders best enable students to learn successfully, or teach literacy? What’s the best way to deal with low blood sugar in babies? How does light move in fibre optic cables? Can we mimic muscle movement using polymers? Is it possible to model a respiratory system? Can mitochondrial DNA move between cells? What impact have colonial ways of thinking had?  Our medal winners have been thinking about these issues and many more and can help us better understand the world we live in.

View photographs from the evening


Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis receives Rutherford Medal from Minister of Science and Innovation Steven Joyce

The Royal Society of New Zealand awarded the Rutherford Medal, the Society’s premier science award, to Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis ONZM FRSNZ of the University of Auckland for his research into the human mind. His work includes understanding the differences in the two hemispheres of the brain, the evolution of language and the human capacity for ‘mental time travel’ where we can think about both the past and future. In addition to the medal, he received $100,000 from the Government, presented by the Minister of Science and Innovation, the Honourable Steven Joyce. Read more about the Rutherford Medal winner 2016.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand awarded the Liley Medal for outstanding contributions to health and medical science jointly to Professor Mike Berridge from the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and Dr Paul Young from Capital & Coast District Health Board and Medical Research Institute of New Zealand.  Professor Berridge received the medal as one of the lead researchers in a landmark paper that was first to demonstrate movement of mitrochondrial DNA between cells in animal tumours. Dr Young received the Liley Medal for leading the largest clinical trial ever conducted exclusively in New Zealand’s intensive care units, comparing two intravenous fluid therapies. 

The Royal Society of New Zealand awarded the Pickering Medal to Associate Professor Iain Anderson for commercialising electroactive polymer technology that can mimic muscle action. He directs the Biomimetics Lab at the Bioengineering Institute of the University of Auckland and launched the highly successful StretchSense company with two of his former students, which has commercialised this research. Read more about the 2016 Pickering Medal winner. 

The Royal Society of New Zealand’s Thomson Medal for science leadership has been awarded to Dr Bruce Campbell of Plant and Food for his contributions to agriculture and horticulture, which has led to innovations in grazing crop, wine, kiwifruit and avocado sectors.  The awarding of the medal also recognises how he has fostered both new science talent and beneficial linkages between science, business and the wider community. Read more on the 2016 Thomson Medal winner

Professor Hamish Spencer FRSNZ, University of Otago, received the Callaghan Medal for science communication from the Royal Society of New Zealand for his leadership of successful partnerships engaging public in scientific activities involving the Allan Wilson Centre and both Uawa/Tolaga Bay and Ngai Tāmanuhiri. The awarding of the medal recognises these self-sustaining projects as exemplars of future public participatory partnerships. Read more on the 2016 Callaghan Medal winner.

Professor Merryn Tawhai, Deputy Director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland, has been awarded the MacDiarmid Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand for her research to create anatomically detailed models of the respiratory system. The medal is awarded for outstanding scientific research that has the potential for human benefit, and the models created by Professor Tawhai provide new tools for diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of lung disease. Read more on the 2016 MacDiarmid medal winner.

The Royal Society of New Zealand awarded the Hector Medal for an outstanding advancement in the physical sciences to Associate Professor Stéphane Coen, University of Auckland, for his research into optical phenomena in optical fibre. He has observed pulses of light, called temporal cavity solitons, that can self-organise to travel around a loop of fibre optic cable and linked understanding of these to optical frequency combs. Frequency combs, heralded through the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, are fundamental new tools for high-precision scientific measurement. Read more on the 2016 Hector Medal winner.

Wendy Nelson with Barry Scott 255x171

Professor Wendy Nelson receives Hutton Medal from Professor Barry Scott

Research into seaweeds has earned Professor Wendy Nelson MNZM FRSNZ, of NIWA and University of Auckland, the Hutton Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand for plant sciences. She has significantly expanded knowledge of New Zealand seaweeds and the evolutionary relationships between seaweeds worldwide. She has also campaigned against seaweed pests and advanced understanding of the ecological importance of coral seaweeds and their vulnerability to climate change. Read more on the 2016 Hutton Medal winner.

Professor Tony Ballantyne FRSNZ, University of Otago, has been awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Humanities Aronui Medal for reshaping scholarly thought on British imperial history.  His research on the history of the British empire during the nineteenth century has shown how ideas about cultural difference (race, religion, language and gender) structured colonial power, and how these ideas influenced and continue to influence both colonised and colonising people. His idea of the ‘web of empire’ draws attention to the importance of both direct connections between Britain and its colonies and connections between colonies. Read more on the 2016 Humanities Aronui Medal.

The Mason Durie Medal for social sciences has been awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to Distinguished Professor Viviane Robinson, University of Auckland, for her research and development work on educational leadership. She identified that school leadership styles effected student outcomes and has designed and evaluated interventions to increase school leader’s skills to improve student learning and well-being. Her resources are being used in New Zealand, Australia and Scandinavia under licence. Read more on the 2016 Mason Durie Medal.

Professor Stuart McNaughton ONZM, University of Auckland, has been awarded the Dame Joan Metge Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand for excellence in research and capacity building in the social sciences.  Professor McNaughton has pioneered techniques that allow schools to improve teaching outcomes by monitoring their own results, and adjusting teaching approaches accordingly, particularly in literacy and language development. His research has had a large impact on education policy nationally and internationally. Read more on the 2016 Dame Joan Metge Medal.

Emeritus Professor Alastair Scott FRSNZ, University of Auckland, has been awarded the Jones Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand for his lifetime contribution to statistics.  The medal recognises him as a world leader in the areas of survey sampling theory and analysis of case control studies. His methods are applied in a wide range of application areas and he has also contributed substantially to research in public health. Read more on the 2016 Jones Medal.

TK Sidey Rick Millane with Barry Scott 255x170

Professor Rick Millane receives the TK Sidey Medal from Professor Barry Scott


Professor Rick Millane, University of Canterbury, has been awarded the T.K. Sidey Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand for his research into using electromagnetic radiation to image biological material. His theoretical and computational methods for imaging biological molecules and tissue using x-rays and optical radiation allow their structures to be determined, which is key to understanding disease for drug design and for non-invasive medical imaging. Read more on the 2016 T.K Sidey Medal.

Professor Richard Beasley CNZM FRSNZ, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand and Capital & Coast District Health Board, has been awarded the Sir Charles Hercus Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand for his wide ranging contributions to advancing respiratory medicine and health science research in New Zealand, which have had a major impact on clinical practice and public health. Read more on the Sir Charles Hercus 2016 Medal.

Distinguished Professor Jane Harding ONZM FRSNZ, from the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute, has been awarded the Beaven Medal from the Health Research Council of New Zealand for her research into treating babies with low blood sugar with a cost-effective dextrose gel massaged into the inside of a baby’s cheek. This research is expected to change the way millions of babies are monitored and treated for low blood sugar around the world, given it also supports mother-baby bonding and breastfeeding. Read more on the 2016 Beaven Medal.

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi