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FiRST Award Winners Announced

National And South Island FiRST Award Winners Announced

Groundbreaking research into novel therapies to prevent cataracts and biological treatment of wool scouring wastes have taken top honours in this year’s prestigious FiRST Awards, sponsored by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The South Island FiRST Awards and the winner of the national FiRST Award were announced at a function in Christchurch tonight (Friday 29 June). The North Island winners were honoured at a similar event in Auckland last week.

The North Island Regional award winner, young Auckland scientist Kaa-Sandra Chee, was named the national winner for a research project titled ‘Novel Opportunities to Prevent Lens Cataract’. Matthew Savage, a Ph.D student at Canterbury University, won the Technology for Industry Fellowship or TIF Award and the South Island Regional award for research titled ‘Biological treatment of wool scouring wastes presents new export opportunities for Timaru’.

Other young scientists were honoured in the Christchurch awards for research into developing a method of labelling chemical compounds, the genetic make-up of the New Zealand abalone, and the development of a new type of potato with the best attributes of two different varieties.

Tonight’s winners in the four Awards categories – TIF, Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Fellowship, Bright Futures and New Zealand Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowship – each receive one-thousand dollars. The regional winner also receives a plinth and the national winner a laptop computer.

A number of other projects were highly commended including research into improving the survival rate of newborn lambs in cold weather, pregnancy in reptiles and 3D imaging.

The awards were presented by New Zealand born scientist Professor Alan MacDiarmid, who was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry last year. Professor MacDiarmid is on a 10-day tour of New Zealand.

Other speakers at the awards ceremony included Neil Richardson, Chairman of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and Sir Gil Simpson, Chief Executive of Aoraki Corporation.

Sir Gil Simpson and Dame Cheryl Sotheron, CEO of Te Papa, judged the finalists in this year’s Awards, reflecting the importance of co-operation between the business and science and technology sectors.

The Awards ceremony, held at Rydges Hotel in Christchurch, was attended by about 150 people. The presentation followed a half day seminar on the theme of bringing science and business closer together.

More than 90 research projects were submitted to the FiRST Awards this year, well up on previous years. The FiRST Awards have been presented annually since 1999 by the Foundation and showcase the outstanding work being done by young researchers, scientists and innovators.

Any person currently receiving research funding from the Foundation has been eligible to enter the awards by presenting their projects on a poster, which makes the findings simple, clear and easily understandable.



Highly Commended

Jonathan Carr, Technology for Industry Fellowship
Implicit Surface Modelling with Radial Basis Functions
Company: Applied Research Associates NZ Ltd, Company Mentor: Dr Rick Fright

Highly Commended

Rachel Forrest, Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Fellowship
Variation in the B3-AR Gene: A Double-Edged sword?
Academic Supervisor: Dr. Jon Hickford, Lincoln University
Maori Mentor: Ailsa Smith

Highly Commended

Dr. Jane Girling, NZ Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowship
The story of the lizard with the really long pregnancy (Physiological control of pregnancy in alpine reptiles.)
Mentor: Assoc. Professor Roy Swain, University of Tasmania


Technology for Industry Fellowship
Matthew Savage
Biological treatment of wool scouring wastes presents new export opportunities for Timaru.
Company: ADM Group Ltd, Company Mentor: Graeme Wood
Academic Supervisor: Professor Laurence Weatherley, University of Canterbury

Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Fellowship
Maxine Bryant
Molecular Analysis of an Abalone (Haliotis iris) Actin Gene
Academic Supervisor: Professor F Sin, University of Canterbury
Maori Mentor: Jeanne Kerr

Bright Futures Scholarship
Derek Martyn
An Amino Acid Protecting Group that can be coloured on demand
Academic Supervisor: Dr. Andrew Abell, University of Canterbury

NZ Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowship
Dr. Margaret Gilpin
Creating Chimeric Clones
Mentor: Dr. Tony Conner, Crop and Food Research

Matthew Savage
Biological treatment of wool scouring wastes presents new export opportunities for Timaru.

Kaa-Sandra Chee
Novel Opportunities to Prevent Lens Cataract

Winner and Project Profiles

Highly Commended
Technology for Industry Fellowship Highly Commended – Jonathan Carr
Jonathan graduated with a 1st class Honours degree in Electrical & Electronic Engineering from Canterbury University in 1991. In 1995 he completed his doctorate at Canterbury, specialising in 3D ultrasound and aspects of X-ray CT imaging. Novel systems for 3D ultrasound imaging and the design of cranial prosthesis manufacture were developed at Christchurch Hospital. He continued with the development of 3D ultrasound at Cambridge University and the Fraunhoffer Institute in Stuttgart. Jonathan returned to New Zealand in 1999 and joined applied Research Associates NZ Ltd in Christchurch where he has been developing their Radial Basis Function or RBF technology in association with Canterbury University.
Jonathan’s research has focussed on modelling and reconstruction from incomplete data of 3D objects using RBF technology. This process uses Computer Aided Design or CAD and computer graphics and animation packages. His work has wide application in all fields of 3D imaging from geology and animation to medical imaging. Applied Research Associates RBF technology makes it possible to represent very large datasets with a single mathematical function, a task that was previously believed to be unfeasible.

Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Highly Commended – Rachel Forrest
Rachel Forrest completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Canterbury and the Christchurch Polytechnic. She is currently working at Lincoln University. Rachel is of Maniapoto descent and was born and raised in the small farming community of Marton. Her whanau marae, Te Ahoroa, is in Te Kuiti. She says a desire to research something of significance to New Zealand and Maoridom led her into the field of agricultural science. "Most of my whanau are high country farmers, so doing my Ph.D research into cold tolerance in sheep should have a direct effect on their productivity,” she says.
Rachel’s work investigates variations within the gene in sheep that determines how the body uses its energy at any one time - for example for heat or muscle or fat production. Her aim is to find a genetic marker that might improve the survival rate for newborn lambs in cold weather. Rachel says 15 – 20% of all lambs born in New Zealand die within the first three weeks of life, with at least one third of these deaths due to starvation and cold exposure. “Hopefully my work will result in less reproductive waste,” says Rachel. To carry out her research, Rachel has collected all the dead lambs within selected flocks on numerous South Island high country sheep stations over the past three lambing seasons. To date she has isolated six different variants, or alleles, within the B 3 –adrenergic receptor gene.

NZ Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowship Highly Commended
– Dr Jane Girling
Dr Jane Girling is currently based at the University of Tasmania in Australia. Her field of interest is the reproductive physiology of vertebrates, particularly reptiles. Many reptiles are viviparous (meaning they produce live young rather than laying eggs) and this includes almost all of Tasmania’s lizard and snake fauna. Dr Girling has been using one of Tasmania’s endemic skinks, the Southern Snow Skink, as a model species to investigate the mechanisms that control reproduction in viviparous lizards. This work follows on from her Ph.D research in New Zealand, where she investigated the structure and function of the reproductive tract in geckos and the differences between egg-laying and live-bearing species.

South Island Fellowship Winners

Technology for Industry Fellowship – Matthew Savage
Matthew Savage graduated from the University of Canterbury in 1998 as a Chemical Engineer. From there he joined ADM Group Ltd, a Timaru manufacturing firm, initially to complete a short term contract. However ADM Group persuaded Matthew to stay in New Zealand and complete his post doctoral study here, rather than travel to the United Kingdom to do the study as he originally planned. Matthew’s research involves developing a biological treatment system capable of cleaning up the particularly strong and distasteful effluent produced by wool scouring plants. After this treatment, the effluent can be discharged into the environment at minimal cost and with little environmental impact. After two years work, the large scale experimental plant developed as part of Matthew’s research has been sold to a small wool scour in Ashburton as a fully functioning industrial effluent treatment plant. The first full size commercial treatment plant based on his design has now also been sold and is due for installation in Portugal later this year. These two sales have a combined value of more than half a million dollars. Matthew is passionate about snowboarding and mountain climbing.

Tuapapa Putaiao Maori Fellowship – Maxine Bryant
Maxine Bryant is of Ngati Kahungunu descent through her mother, who was from Mohaka in the Bay of Plenty. Her father was from the Nelson area. She has lived in Christchurch all her life and completed a BSc (Hons) in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Canterbury. Maxine’s honours project was a study of the insulin-like growth factor in the zebrafish, Danio rerio. She is currently studying for her Ph.D at the University of Canterbury.
Maxine is researching developmental genes during the larval stage of the New Zealand abalone, Haliotis iris. The aim of her work is to isolate developmentally important genes in Haliotis and show what happens to them during larval development. As part of her work, an abalone actin gene has been isolated and sequenced and will be used as a control during gene expression studies. The study of developmental genes is interesting in two ways – it explains how embryonic development is regulated and it can be used to explain how animal groups differ from each other.

Bright Futures Scholarship – Derek Martyn
Derek graduated with a BSc (Hons) first class from the University of Canterbury in 1998, majoring in Chemistry and Biochemistry. In 1999 he was awarded a University of Canterbury Doctoral Scholarship and a Bright Futures top achievers scholarship to carry out research with Dr Andrew Abell at the university’s Chemistry Department.
Derek’s research is aimed at developing a method to label compounds with a molecular tag that can be revealed, and therefore identified, by a specific and controlled chemical process. This system is much like a bar code used to identify and track a product on a supermarket shelf. Rather than using a bar code reader, the chemical bar code can be identified by measuring its UV spectrum. The idea has a number of potential applications. It could be used to tag a compound so that its origin can be tracked at a later date so, for example, the origin of paint used in graffiti could be found using this method. A more immediate application would be the specific identification and/or isolation of tagged derivatives from synthetic mixtures or libraries of compounds.

NZ Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowship – Dr Margaret Gilpin
Dr Margaret Gilpin gained her Ph.D in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Lincoln University in 1997. She was then employed for two years as a Post Doctoral fellow in the Plant Biology Department at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Copenhagen, Denmark. On returning to New Zealand in late 1998, Dr Gilpin began working with Professor Tony Conner at Crop & Food Research, Lincoln. Her research interests include developing and analysing improved crop plants via traditional plant breeding methods and genetic manipulation.
Her research project is called Creating Chimeric Clones. It aims to find better ways to achieve more plant diversity using genetic mosaics to develop chimeric plants. A chimeric plant has a mixture of cells from two or more different plants. Using potatoes as a model plant, Dr Gilpin was able to develop new varieties which have the inner flesh layer from one parent and the outer skin layer from another parent. She successfully mixed cells from a purple potato, together with cells of a white potato, to produce a purple skinned potato with white inner flesh. This development could lead to the creation of new potatoes with the best attributes of different varieties.

National FiRST Award Winner – Kaa-Sandra Chee
Kaa-Sandra Chee, a 24-year-old of Maori-Chinese ethnic origin, grew up in the Bay of Plenty (Otumoetai College) and has completed two degrees at the University of Auckland – a Bachelor of Science majoring in Biological Sciences and a Master of Science.
She is currently investigating the causative agent of lens cataract for her Ph.D research project.
Cataracts blind twenty million people world wide. The only cure is lens replacement with an intraocular implant, which often requires repeat surgery due to secondary cataract formation. The project focuses on investigating the mechanisms by which lens volume is controlled. Using a combination of techniques, Kaa-Sandra is gathering an inventory of the transport mechanisms present in the lens. Further analysis will determine what happens
to these transport systems during the formation of cataracts. This is expected to reveal novel and non-invasive possibilities for using drugs to treat cataracts.


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