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2020 Research Honours Aotearoa Winners Celebrated At Auckland Museum

The achievements and contributions of innovators, kairangahau Māori, researchers and scholars were celebrated at Auckland War Memorial Museum this evening, the third of three 2020 Research Honours Aotearoa events held around the country by Royal Society Te Apārangi.

The Pickering Medal for innovation leading to significant commercial success was awarded to Rocket Lab’s research and development team, led by Peter Beck. Rocket Lab’s research and development team have achieved technical breakthroughs that have allowed the company to become the world’s leading dedicated-launch-provider for small satellites. Its competitive advantage derives from research and development that has achieved both a drastic reduction in the cost of dedicated launches and an increased launch frequency. Key innovative features from the in-house R&D include unique motor designs, 3D printing for manufacture and all carbon-composite construction. The launch vehicle’s components are designed and manufactured in-house at Rocket Lab’s facilities for quick turnaround times and increased efficiencies. Global uptake is significant and growing.

The Hector Medal for outstanding work in chemical sciences, physical sciences or mathematical and information sciences was awarded to Professor Eamonn O’Brien FRSNZ, University of Auckland. Eamonn has made world-leading contributions to the mathematical theory of groups, both through theoretical breakthroughs and his powerful algorithms. These algorithms are now incorporated into the computer algebra systems GAP and MAGMA that allow mathematicians world wide to access these cutting-edge computational research tools. He has solved difficult and significant long-standing research problems, including a 40-year-old challenge posed by Alan Turing and the 50-year old Ore Conjecture. As a research leader, he brings people together from different areas to work on new problems and has helped foster the University of Auckland as a strong research centre for algebra.

The Callaghan Medal for outstanding science communication that raises public awareness of the value of science or technology was awarded to Professor Rangi Mātamua (Tūhoe), University of Waikato. Rangi is an outstanding science communicator whose pioneering work in Māori astronomy has engaged the public in the interface between western science and mātauranga Māori. His passion to share Māori scientific knowledge associated with the cosmos has resulted in television shows, online and print publications, social media blogs, more than 100 public lectures in New Zealand and Australia, a museum exhibition visited by more than 100,000 people, and a best-selling book on Matariki written in both English and te reo Māori. Like medal namesake, Sir Paul Callaghan, Rangi is championing a more open, inclusive and innovative view of Science in Aotearoa, New Zealand and is inspiring the next generation.

The Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanties was presented to Associate Professor Ngarino Ellis (Ngāpuhi/Ngāti Porou), University of Auckland. Ngarino is one of very few Māori art historians in Aotearoa. Her first book A Whakapapa of Tradition: One Hundred Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 18301930, won four major awards. It provides a specific Ngāti Porou art history that significantly advances knowledge and promotes a century of work by carvers of the Iwirākau School. Informed methodologically by kaupapa Māori research principles and practices and other global-Indigenous understandings, her book also demonstrates her strong commitment to provide historical and visual research for practicing artists. It is the first of her planned body of work on Māori art history.

Dr David Moreau, University of Auckland, received the Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences. David’s research has demonstrated the benefits of high-intensity exercise. Physical exercise has long been known to benefit the body and the brain, but David’s ground-breaking research shows that brain functioning benefits can be obtained from short bursts of high-intensity exercise. Benefits include improvements on our ability to plan, focus attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks. Because high-intensity exercise is extremely time efficient, this research has the potential to impact schools, professional workplaces and disadvantaged communities, where opportunities to exercise may be limited. Beyond helping healthy individuals reach their full potential, this work also shows potential for alleviating neurological diseases such as dementia and developmental disorders.

The Cooper Award, for early career research excellence in technology, applied sciences and engineering, was awarded to Dr Mallory Crookenden, AgResearch. Mallory is recognised for her practical solutions to support immune function around calving to improve animal health on New Zealand dairy farms. She uses her expertise in biochemistry, immunology and molecular biology to design practices that can be readily applied on-farm. Roughly 90% of metabolic disease and 75% of infectious disease in cows occurs during the calving period, leading to yearly revenue loses in New Zealand of an estimated at $1.5 billion. Her research seeks to ‘dampen’ harmful inflammatory immune reactions and reduce metabolic issues. One example is to prevent low calcium with a feed additive prior to calving that improves calcium metabolism and modulates the cow’s immune system.

Additional 2020 Research Honours Aotearoa awards were presented earlier in the month at events in Wellington and Christchurch. See full list of award winners:


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