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Recognition for young New Zealand scientists

Double recognition for young New Zealand scientists

Two young New Zealand scientists have scored an unprecedented double in the prestigious and highly contested international competition for 2008 International Fulbright Science and Technology Awards, both winning the opportunity to undertake fully-funded PhD study in the US from next year.

Alana Alexander from Auckland and Wynton Moore from Dunedin were nominated by Fulbright New Zealand for the awards, which are described as the US government’s most prestigious and valuable scholarships. Both were named among 40 recipients chosen by a US-based panel of science, technology and engineering experts, who considered 131 nominations put forth by 63 participating countries in the Fulbright exchange programme.

The success of Fulbright New Zealand’s nominations in the second year of the new competition follows that of inaugural recipient Irene Ballagh from Dunedin, and proves New Zealand to be a leading producer of promising young scientists. Only three other countries have obtained a “hat trick” of successfully nominating three candidates for the two rounds of competition thus far. Both students will obtain full PhDs from leading US universities, with the Fulbright award covering three years of tuition and living costs, and their host university covering the remaining two years of study. The award also includes health insurance and allowances for books and equipment, research costs and conference attendance, with a total estimated value of over NZ$350,000.

Alana Alexander graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Biology in May. Her honours dissertation focused on genetic diversity among pilot whales, and she intends to continue studying cetacean genetics at Oregon State University. For her doctoral study Alana hopes to investigate changes in the genetic diversity of sperm whales, to estimate population size changes due to whaling and other factors. By conducting her research using non-lethally obtained samples, she will help illustrate the wide body of scientific data which can be obtained without the killing of whales, and contribute to the body of knowledge available for consideration in their management.

Wynton Moore completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Physics at the University of Otago last year, aged just 19. He is currently studying for a Masters degree and intends specialising in theoretical cosmology for his PhD in the US, a subject studied little at Otago. Wynton was inspired by the quest to understand the origin and evolution of the universe after reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time in his early teens. He is interested in using recent astronomical observations of cosmic microwave background radiation to study how the universe evolved from the big bang to its present form.

Both students look forward to returning to New Zealand to apply their newfound knowledge in future.


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