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NZ 's Top Young Scientists Named At Awards

Wednesday 7 June

New Zealand’s Top Young Scientists Named at Awards Ceremony

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Rod Lea, Steve Maharey and Clair French

A PhD student developing a new cell identification technique that could help solve sex crimes has taken top honours at the 2006 MacDiarmid Young Scientists of the Year Awards, held in Auckland tonight.

25-year-old Claire French has found a method of identifying whether cells samples collected for DNA testing come from the skin, the mouth or the vagina, something that hasn’t previously been possible and has the potential to provide additional evidence in sex crimes.

Currently, DNA from cells found at a crime scene can link a person to the crime but cannot provide evidence about which part of the body the cells came from.

Claire French, who is working with ESR (Environmental Science and Research) as she completes a doctorate in Anatomy and Forensic Science at the University of Auckland, was presented with the gold MacDiarmid medal by the Hon. Steve Maharey, Minister of Research, Science and Technology, and Jon Bongard, CEO of principal sponsor, Fisher & Paykel Appliances.

This year’s overall MacDiarmid Awards runner-up is Dr Rod Lea, also a scientist with ESR, who is researching how genes influence nicotine addiction with the aim of finding more effective ways of helping people stop smoking.

The prestigious awards, organised by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, are named after New Zealand-born Nobel Prize winning scientist Professor Alan MacDiarmid and are designed to publicly celebrate the achievements of New Zealand’s future leaders in science and to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

Research, Science and Technology Minister Steve Maharey said the awards were an important platform for New Zealand's most promising young scientists to further their careers.

"It is highly appropriate that we celebrate the achievements of these future leaders in science and also encourage others to follow in their footsteps," Steve Maharey said. "The work the young scientists have done is both highly innovative and world class, helping to ensure that New Zealand remains at the cutting edge in certain areas of scientific discovery.

"Each year the government makes a significant investment in the work of New Zealand's young scientists and researches and these Awards are a key part of that initiative."

Claire French’s win entitles her to a trip to the United Kingdom to attend the British Association’s (BA) annual Science Festival, which attracts 400 of the world’s best scientists and science communicators. She also receives the gold MacDiarmid medal. Dr Lea will receive a travel grant to attend a science event in Australasia and the runner-up MacDiarmid medal.

A panel of judges selected the winners in this year’s awards from more than 100 entries submitted from around the country. Entrants prepare a poster highlighting their research work with judging taking into account both science excellence and clear communication. Claire French also won the Science in our Communities category while Dr Lea was first equal in the Advancing Human Health category.

Other winning posters showcased research into:

- The causes of diseases that result in tremor and loss of muscle control
- A critical factor in creating maleness in the brain that will help understanding of brain diseases with a gender bias, such as autism
- The use of electrospinning technology to produce novel fibres
- How fungi and grass gang up to poison grazing animals
- Reducing fuel consumption at Scott Base using wind turbines to generate electricity

This year’s six category winners each receive a cash prize of $2,000, as does the winner of the award for best Masters level research. Six students also receive a runner-up prize of $1000 and two other entries received commendations.

A range of educational and research institutions and private companies are involved in the winning research projects and all acknowledge the work supervisors and mentors do in terms of supporting and working closely with the students.

Along with principal sponsor, Fisher & Paykel Appliances, other sponsors of the Awards include gold sponsors the Health Research Council and the University of Auckland, and supporting sponsors the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, the University of Canterbury, the Institute of Environmental and Scientific Research, Crop & Food Research, Massey University, the University of Waikato, NZ Bio, the British Council and AgResearch.

The full list of this year’s winners follows:

National Award Winner:
Claire French (Auckland), ‘CSI Cellular Source ID’. Claire was also first in the Science in our Communities category.

National Award Runner-Up:
Dr Rod Lea (Wellington), ‘Genes, Nicotine & Addiction’. Rod was also first equal in the Advancing Human Health category.

Winner Adding Value to Nature:
Damien Fleetwood (Manawatu), ‘A toxic tag-team”.

- Runner-up Adding Value to Nature: Jane Kay (Hamilton), ‘Is low fat milk healthy for cows’

Winner Science in our Communities:
Claire French (see above under national award winner)

- Runner-up Science in our Communities: Gregory Francis (Christchurch), ‘Science v Terror’

Winner Advancing Human Health (first equal):
Rod Lea (Wellington),

Pei-Yu Wang (Dunedin), ‘Brain Sex”

- Runners-up Advancing Human Health (two):
Kylie Quinn (Wellington), ‘TB’s partner in crime’

Hayley Reynolds (Auckland), ‘Melanoma, Catch it before it’s too late’

- Commendation Advancing Human Health: Dr Karen Silvers (Christchurch), ‘Can Fish make you Happy’

Winner Future Science:
Jonathan Stanger (Christchurch), ‘How to make a Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear’

- Runner-up Future Science:
Andrew Graham (Auckland), ‘The Robots are Coming’


Winner Understanding Planet Earth:
Wendy Imlach (Manawatu), ‘What’s Making them Shake’

- Runner-up Understanding Planet Earth:
Jake Frye (Christchurch), ‘Sustainability on the Ice’
NOTE: Jake also won the award for best Masters level research.

- Commendation Understanding Planet Earth:
Hayley Lawrence (Auckland), ‘Can Whakapapa help save NZ’s rarest seabird’

For further information on the Awards: http://www.frst.govt.nz/awards/macdiarmid.cfm

ENDS

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