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Second Diocesan Old Girl Wins Coveted Rutherford Medal

For immediate release

November 22, 2012

Second Diocesan Old Girl Wins Coveted Rutherford Medal

The only two women who have ever won New Zealand’s most coveted science and technology award, the Rutherford Medal, are both Old Girls from Auckland’s Diocesan School for Girls.

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, from the University of Auckland’s Department of Chemistry, received the Royal Society of New Zealand’s 2012 Rutherford Medal on Wednesday, a year after Professor Christine Coe Winterbourn became the first woman to win the award since it was introduced in 1991.

Professor Brimble, a medicinal chemist who designs new chemicals for the treatment of disease, received the medal in recognition of her world-leading contributions to synthesising bioactive natural products and novel peptides.

When Professor Brimble received the medal and two others at a New Zealand Research Honours Dinner in Auckland, Science Innovation minister Steven Joyce said her contribution to science in New Zealand was “truly immense”.

A day after receiving her medal, Professor Brimble, who attended Diocesan School from 1972 to 1978, credited her alma mater for teaching her to aim high and persevere.

“Dio has obviously produced some of New Zealand’s top female scientists. I think it is probably because the school encourages its students to aim high and persevere – you certainly need perseverance to be an academic scientist these days,” she said.

Schools like Diocesan played an important role in educating New Zealand’s future scientists by providing the solid foundations upon which tertiary educators could build.

“It is important that Diocesan's pupils do get to engage with scientists and be shown that pursuing science as a career is rewarding and something that can also lead to many other careers. I often say that doing research teaches you about decision making as you are constantly faced with difficult decisions as to how to progress your research.

“Look at Diocesan’s principal Ms Heather McRae. She started out as a graduate in Chemistry and Biochemistry and now she is one of New Zealand's top educators.”

Professor Brimble, whose daughter is enjoying sciences in Year 10 at Diocesan, studied Chemistry at school but also loved Maths and languages including French and Latin.

“I picked up Stage 1 Physics at university and have had to learn Biology on my own through collaborating with biologists. I had to leave the class in Form 3 when they dissected rats –

that is why I stuck to Chemistry and did not do medicine.”

Royal Society president Sir David Skegg said the fact that Professor Brimble had not only won the Rutherford Medal, but also the Hector Medal, for excellence in Chemistry, and the MacDiarmid Medal, for science of potential human benefit, testified to the excellence and importance of her achievements.

In 2007, Professor Brimble was the first New Zealander to win the L'Oreal-Unesco Women in Science Asia-Pacific Laureate in Materials Science, an honour celebrated in newspapers around the world.

As chair of Organic and Medicinal Chemistry at The University of Auckland, principal investigator at the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, director of Medicinal Chemistry for Neuren Pharmaceuticals and chair of the Board of Trustees of the Rutherford Foundation Trust, Professor Brimble's work has proven to be significant academically and commercially.

Professor Winterbourn, who also attended Diocesan and is now a biochemist and director of the free radical research group in the Pathology Department at the University of Otago in Christchurch, received the Rutherford Medal in 2011 for her ground-breaking research into free radicals.

The Government created the Rutherford Medal in 1991 to acknowledge those who have made exceptional contributions across a lifetime of research to Science and Technology in New Zealand in research and the promotion of public awareness and understanding of science.

Following the creation of the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes in 2009, the Rutherford Medal is now awarded by the Royal Society, along with a $100,000 prize provided by the Government.


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