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Mathematician wins the Zonta Science Award

2 June, 2016

Media Release

Mathematician wins the Zonta Science Award

Amy Van Wey Lovatt is the first mathematician to win the Zonta Science Award. Last night, she received her prize at a ceremony held in The Grand Hall, Parliament hosted by the Minister for Women, the Hon. Louise Upston.

“Amy is a role model for others contemplating a career in the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, often called the STEM fields, subjects where women are historically under-represented”, says Dame Margaret Sparrow, Convenor, Zonta Science Award.

Initiated and organised by the Zonta Club of Wellington since 1990, the Award brings a prize of $15,000 as well as $3,000 towards overseas travel and a pounamu medal especially designed by Upper Hutt jeweller Neke Moa.

The subject of Amy’s PhD thesis, completed in 2013, was, “Mathematical models of biofilm growth and food particle degradation in the gastrointestinal tract”. Her dissertation was recognised by the Dean of Massey University as an exceptional PhD thesis.

Now employed as a postdoctoral Fellow at AgResearch in Hamilton she collaborates with other researchers studying the digestion of foods. Amongst her many strengths is the willingness to learn, ask questions and challenge ideas. These aspects of her personality help to initiate deeper and new thinking to formulate innovative ideas.

Amy, in her essay for the Zonta Science Award, says, “What sets me apart from many successful researchers is that I achieved all of my academic goals as a solo parent. I started my tertiary studies when my son, Noah, was 18 months old, and I completed my PhD when he was 18 years old.

“There are many young women in New Zealand who find themselves where I was 21 years ago, raising a child alone, uneducated and with little prospects for the future. I believe my accomplishments set an example to all young women.”

When asked “What will you do with your prize?” Amy replied, “I intend to use the Zonta Award to meet with prominent scientists at the University of California Davis in the Department of Food Science and Technology.

“I want to examine topics of particular interest to the dairy industry in New Zealand, notably, the recovery of important bioactive components from agricultural waste and the development of better infant formula from a study of the differences between human and bovine milk and their effect on the infant intestinal tract” she says.

The guest speaker at the presentation was Professor Mark McGuinness, Professor Applied Mathematics, Victoria University of Wellington.

Rayoni Keith, President of the Zonta Club of Wellington, in her summing up, says, “We congratulate you Amy, you are a well deserving winner, your journey and what you have accomplished is very humbling.”

She went on to thank the sponsors for their generous and continuing support.

Gold Sponsors, Dr Jilly Evans of PharmAkea Therapeutics and Istar, in memory of Dr Diana Edwards Silver Sponsor Wellington Harbour City Rotary Club

Inaugural and Continuing Sponsor John Ilott Charitable Trust

Special Sponsor KPMG

Enduring Sponsor Zonta Club of Wellington

END

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