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National academy of top researchers and scholars turns 100

Royal Society Te Apārangi is celebrating he kotahi rau one hundred years of electing Fellows (Ngā Ahurei a Te Apārangi) to its Academy this month. Over 14-15 February there will be a number of activities to mark this milestone.

Ngā Ahurei Fellows are elected into the academy for outstanding distinction in rangahau research and scholarship or contribution to advancing pūtaiao science, hangarau technology and aronui humanities. Fellows can use the post-nominal FRSNZ after their name to indicate this honour.

Royal Society Te Apārangi President Professor Wendy Larner FRSNZ says the Ngā Ahurei Fellows contribute greatly to the mahi work of the Society.

“Our Fellows join our expert panels to consider topics we think are important for Aotearoa and provide expert reviews. Recent topics include the potential risks and benefits of gene editing for New Zealand and the impact of artificial blue light on our health and the environment. Our Fellows also join our selection committees for determining who will receive research funding and awards.”

The first Fellows were inducted in 1919, following a review of science in New Zealand by Allan Thomson that recommended a body of Fellows be established, selected on the basis of research or distinction in science.

“The first cohort of Fellows included those who had received the Hector and Hutton medals as well as Past Presidents of the Society. Also inducted was New Zealand’s most famous scientist, Ernest Rutherford,” Professor Larner says.

The original twenty Fellows were:
Bernard Cracroft Aston FRIC FCS FRSNZ (1871 – 1951)
Sir William Blaxland Benham KBE MA DSc FRS FRSNZ FZS (1860 – 1950)
Eldson Best FNZI (1856 – 1931)
Thomas Frederic Cheeseman FNZI FLS FZS (1846 – 1923)
Charles Chilton MA DSc LLD MB CM FNZI FLS CMZS (1860 – 1929);
Leonard Cockayne CMG PhD FRS FRSNZ FLS (1855 – 1934)
Sir Thomas (Hill) Easterfield KBE MA PhD FRSNZ FRIC FCS (1866 – 1949);
Clinton Coleridge Farr DSc FPSL FRS FRSNZ (1866 – 1943)
George Hogben CMG MA FNZI FGS (1853 – 1920)
George Vernon Hudson FRSNZ FES (1867 – 1946)
Harry Borrer Kirk MA FRSNZ (1859 – 1948)
Patrick Marshall MA DSc FRSNZ FGS FRGS FES (1869 – 1950)
Donald Petrie MA PhD FNZI FLS (1846 – 1925)
Lord Ernest Rutherford of Nelson OM, DSc NZ PhD FRS Nobel Laureate FRSNZ FRoyAcaddLincei HonDSc NZ, Bristol,Cantab,Cape Town, Dublin, Durham, Leeds, Liv, Lond, Melb, Oxon, Paris, Toronto HonLLD B’ham, Copenhagen, Edin, Glas, McGill, Manc, Melb, Paris, Penn, Wisc) HonPhD Geissen, Yale HonDPhys Clark(1871 – 1937)
Hugh William Segar MA FRSNZ (1868 – 1954)
Stephenson Percy Smith FRSNZ FRGS (1890 – 1922)
Robert Speight MA MSc FRSNZ FGS (1867 – 1949)
Sir Algernon Phillips Withiel Thomas KCMG MA FRSNZ FLS (1857 – 1937)
Hon George Malcolm Thomson FRSNZ FLS MLC (1848 – 1933)
James Allan Thomson MA DSc FNZI AOSM FGS (1881 – 1928)

The Fellows were all men until 1936 when eminent mycologist and plant pathologist Kathleen Curtis was elected. Last year the University of Auckland named the atrium in their new Science Centre in her honour as part of its 125 years of Suffrage celebrations.

Over time the scope of the Academy has been broadened to embrace technology and the humanities. Today there are 429 Fellows from a wide range of disciplines and 15% are women.

“That percentage is clearly still well below where we would like it to be but we have been making progress by encouraging nominations from under-represented groups. We are gaining about 1% more women each year and we are also slowly increasing the numbers of Ngā Ahurei Fellows from other under-represented groups,” Professor Larner says.

“In addition to Fellows we value our Honorary Fellows, Ngā Ahurei Honore a Te Apārangi. These are typically eminent researchers living abroad but originally from New Zealand who maintain strong links with Aotearoa’s research community. In fact, I was an Honorary Fellow when I was working overseas but I transitioned into a Fellow when I took up a post in New Zealand,” Professor Larner says.

New Fellows Seminars
The public will have the chance to hear from the latest cohort of elected Ngā Ahurei Fellows and Ngā Ahurei Honore Honorary Fellows, who will be presenting short seminars on their research as part of the Academy Centenary events.

The new Ngā Ahurei Fellows are experts in topics that include, in the humanities, global justice and migration, public economics, sociocultural theory, intellectual property and constitutional law. In the sciences, topics include enzymes, ultrafast lasers, reproductive and eye health, genetic diseases, medical modelling and sensors, pest control, ecological networks and earthquakes.

The New Fellows Seminars will be held at Royal Society Te Apārangi, 11 Turnbull St, Thorndon, Wellington 1.30pm to 4.45pm on Thursday 14 February. See full programme and register at

Academy Centenary Dinner
In the evening of 14 February a special dinner will be held for Ngā Ahurei Fellows and a cake will be cut by the oldest Fellow Dr Eddie Robertson OBE CBE FRSNZ who turned 100 last month. A geophysicist, he was Director General of the DSIR in the last 10 years before his retirement. He was elected a Fellow in 1963.

Academy Centenary Symposium
On Friday 15 February a special symposium with the theme of 'inclusive excellence' will be held to explore how to better measure te hiranga excellence across multiple disciplines.

“There are multiple forms of research excellence and this symposium will discuss these and how best to recognise them, so that we can continue to build diversity in our Fellows,” says Academy Chair Professor Richard Blaikie FRSNZ.

“Publication record has been a primary way that distinction in research has been evaluated for our Fellows; however, as our Academy seeks to become more representative and inclusive across the New Zealand research, scholarly and innovation communities, we recognise that publications alone are not the best way of evaluating research distinction. We are developing better understanding of how to evaluate contributions and achievements from a range or researchers, scholars and innovators working in many fields, and this symposium will help to continue this work.”

The symposium will be split into four sessions, each of which will include a keynote and panel discussion. The session topics are:
• Indigenous research (keynote by Professor Linda Smith FRSNZ, University of Waikato)
• Impact and advancement (keynote by Dr Hugh Bradlow FTSE, President, Australian Academy of Technology and Energy)
• Interdisciplinary research (keynote by Professor Dame Anne Glover FRSE, President, Royal Society of Edinburgh)
• Research that informs clinical and professional practice (keynote by Professor Jane Harding FRSNZ, University of Auckland)

The symposium is free and open to anyone who would like to attend. It is being held from 8.45am to 5pm on 15 February at Royal Society Te Apārangi, 11 Turnbull Street, Thorndon, Wellington. For more details and to register visit:

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