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Geographer Wins Zonta Science Award

Media Release
Embargoed until 28 May 2008

Geographer Wins Zonta Science Award

Christchurch scientist Dr Deirdre Hart has been declared the winner of the 2008 Zonta Science Award. His Excellency the Governor-General of New Zealand, The Honourable Anand Satyanand PCNZM presented Deirdre with her prestigious prize at Government House last night.

The Zonta Science Award which is presented biennially consists of a cheque for $10,000 and airfares for international travel. In addition to the monetary prize Deirdre was presented with the Zonta Science Medal designed by well-known sculptor Tanya Ashken, a former member of the Zonta Club of Wellington.

Zontian and Science Award Judge, Dr Margaret Sparrow, DCNZM, MBE, involved in the Award since its inception twenty years ago, says, "I was impressed by the quality of entries this year. There were thirty two applicants this year and the standard was exceptionally high with a wide range of scientific accomplishments. This makes the judging very challenging.”

Deirdre, a graduate of the University of Canterbury, completed her PhD in Geography and Oceanography at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Her PhD thesis was entitled Eco-sedimentological environments of an inter-tidal reef platform, Warraber Island, Torres Strait. Deidre completed her thesis in 2004. Her current research concerns new analysis and modelling techniques for application in research on river mouth lagoons.

A former pupil of Christchurch Girls High, she is now a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Deirdre says, “I have been encouraged by other women scientists outside of my specific field who have demonstrated how to combine cutting edge contributions alongside community engagement and family lives”.

Deirdre enjoys a diverse and fulfilling life incorporating a range of interests - related and unrelated to her enthusiasm for all things coastal. She spends her leisure time keeping fit, healthy and alert by cycling, walking, horse riding, scuba diving, renovating at home, reading, learning about sustainable practices in everyday life and coffees with "the girls".

She is a keen contributor to community education and capacity building. She assisted in the development and dissemination of the Canterbury District tsunami evacuation plan. Deirdre regularly supervises summer scholarship and Royal Society Teacher Fellow projects on issues such as mudflat growth, salt marsh decline and nuisance algal blooms, the results of which are actively disseminated though community talks.

Zonta Science Award Convenor, Sue Hope says, “The Zonta Science Award promotes science as a career for women as well as providing encouragement and recognition to those already working in the scientific field. We look for an outstanding woman scientist able to use the Award to further her career, a person who can be an advocate for women in science but who also contributes to her community. We want a role model for other women scientists who will demonstrate the rewards of entering into the science field and Deirdre certainly shows all these attributes”.

Deirdre says, "This Award will allow me to present at the International Coral Reef Symposium to be held in Florida in July 2008. I also plan to present my research, foster collaboration and learn about the workings of large academic teams at the University of Cambridge Department of Geography. I propose to work with them to explore new analysis and modelling techniques for application in my research on river mouth lagoons. These freshwater environments occur at the mouths of gravelly rivers on high energy coasts in New Zealand, the UK, Canada, Russia and Argentina. Globally rare but locally common, these freshwater environments support internationally significant wetlands that include endangered fish and plant species.”

The Zonta Club of Wellington is grateful for the continued support of the Principal Sponsor, BP Oil New Zealand Limited, and the contribution of the John Ilott Charitable Trust. The Zonta Club of Wellington contributes financially and organises the event.



Previous Science Award winners:

• 1990 Dr Jean Flemming, molecular biologist – studied fertility in sheep
• 1992 Dr Philippa Gerard, environmental entymologist – studied wool carpet pests
• 1994 Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, agricultural scientist – studied grassland seed production
• 1996 Dr Wendy Nelson, botanist – studied seaweeds and European collections of early explorers
• 1998 Dr Helen Neil, marine geologist – studied climate change in seabed samples from the Chatham Rise
• 2000 Dr Michelle Princep – studied natural components occurring in marine organisms and sponges
• 2002 Dr Julia Charity, Project Leader for the Genetic Engineering for Future Forests research team
• 2004 Dr Ursula Cochran, paleoecologist – studying paleo-environments in relation to earthquakes and tsunamis
• 2006 Dr Victoria Metcalf, geneticist – studying unusual aspects of blood of Antarctic fish which help them survive in extremely cold water.

Zonta International

Zonta is an international organization of executive and professional women working together to advance the status of women. There are over 33,000 members in 1,242 clubs in 68 countries around the world.

Zonta International Holds consultative status with United Nations’ agencies – UNICEF, UNESCO, ECOSOC – and has permanent observers at the UN in New York, Paris and Geneva. It undertakes international funding projects to which all clubs throughout the world contribute. For example the Amelia Earhart Scholarship is awarded annually to 15 postgraduate students to pursue work in the aerospace science.

Over one million dollars has been contributed to the United Nations Unifem Fund to aid the economic development of women in ten of the world’s poorest nations. In addition, the fund-raising activities of local clubs support local organizations.

The Zonta Club of Wellington is one of 29 clubs in New Zealand. The original Zonta Science Award was initiated by the Wellington Club to fulfil one of Zonta’s main objectives, to improve the economic, legal and political status of women. Visit our website at

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