The Prime-Minister’s Science Prizes awards ceremony

From the President’s Desk, 14 November 2015

The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes 2015

On Wednesday 11 November I had the pleasure of participating at the Prime-Minister’s Science Prizes awards ceremony at Te Papa in Wellington. My invitation to attend was as President of the Society, so I am happy to report to the Society about the event.

Each year, the Prime-Minister awards five prizes for scientific achievement by New Zealanders. Each prize comes with a sculptured ornament on a stand (designed and produced at Callaghan Innovation), a framed certificate and a cash prize. The prizes and their cash amounts are as follows:

  1. Prime Minister’s Science prize: $500,000
  2. Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist prize: $200,000
  3. Prime Minister’s Science Media Communicator’s prize: $100,000
  4. Prime Minister’s Science Teacher prize: $150,000*
  5. Prime Minister’s Future Scientist prize: $50,000

*Of this, $100,000 goes to the school and $50,000 to the teacher.

ScienceRecipientsThe Prime Minister, John Key, and the Minister for Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, were both present at the awards ceremony, and both made short speeches. The awards ceremony was chaired by the new President of the Royal Society, Professor Richard Bedford, the social geographer from Waikato and AUT universities.

IanGriffin awardOne of the winners this year was an astronomer, which makes it especially appropriate to report the prize ceremony to RASNZ. This was the Science Media Communicator’s prize, awarded to Dr Ian Griffin, the director of the Otago Museum. The citation for Ian’s award read as follows:

Dr Ian Griffin has played a vital role in providing a bridge between science and the public through exploiting the potential of one of New Zealand’s richest assets – its museums.

Since Dr Griffin’s appointment as Director of the Otago Museum in Dunedin in 2013 he has led a range of initiatives in science communication including:

A strategy that will see the Otago Museum invest more than $3.5 million over the next two years to create a South Island Centre of Excellence in Science Communication.

A national programme of museum-based outreach for the Dodd-Walls Centre of Research Excellence.

A consortium that hosts the MBIE-funded Otago Participatory Science Platform Pilot.

Outreach projects that have attracted one of the largest audiences for a public science talk in the South Island.

His personal research since assuming his role at director of the Otago Museum has focused on magnetometry and auroral science, with the aim of creating a website that helps visitors to the South Island gauge good nights for seeing an aurora. He has also played a major role in the ‘dark sky city’ project that aims to improve observation of the night sky and aurora from Dunedin.

Ian Griffin in Otago Museum's butterfly houseHe is a scientist with more than 25 years’ experience as an astronomer and as leader of institutions including Northern Ireland’s Armagh Planetarium and the Auckland Observatory. His past leadership roles also include heading the Office of Public Outreach for NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and Director of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Alongside these commitments he has continued to conduct his own research, discovering several new asteroids, and ‘recovering’ a number of supposedly-lost space objects.

Dr Griffin’s work exemplifies the role that New Zealand’s museums can play in communicating science in ways that actively engage the public and young people in particular.

As RASNZ President, I extend the Society’s congratulations to Ian Griffin for the award. It is an exciting time at the Otago Museum, with their new digital planetarium opening in early December.  

The top prize of $500,000 went to a team of researchers from the Bone and Joint research group at the University of Auckland, led by Professor Ian Reid. (He was interviewed by Kim Hill today.) The group’s research concerns osteoporosis and the efficacy (or otherwise) of calcium supplements to prevent fractures.

The emerging scientist award went to Dr Alex Taylor, an ornithologist from the University of Auckland who is studying the cognitive abilities of birds.

The Science Teacher’s prize went to Tania Lineham of James Hargest  College in Invercargill. And the Future Scientist prize, which is awarded to a secondary school student for a science project, went to Georgia Lala, from the Auckland Diocesan School for Girls. Georgia has developed a system for growing plants for family consumption with a very low carbon footprint, the experiments being carried out in her home.

Full details of the PM’s Science Prizes can be found at http://www.pmscienceprizes.org.nz/.

John Hearnshaw
President, 14 November 2015