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Victoria success in Science Honours

Victoria success in Science Honours

Victoria University scooped three of the most prestigious awards at the Royal Society’s Science Honours dinner last night.

Dr Richard Tilley won the Easterfield Medal, Professor Ken McNatty the Pickering Medal and Professor Colin Wilson won the Hutton Medal.

Victoria Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh said that the success was a credit to Victoria’s researchers.

“The three medal winners are outstanding researchers. They are leaders in their fields and are making world-class contributions,” said Professor Walsh.

“Our staff and students are immersed in the science capital of New Zealand and it is pleasing to see their success at the highest level.”

“It is fitting we have won the Easterfield Medal because Thomas Easterfield was one of Victoria’s four founding professors and played a leading part in New Zealand science, establishing chemistry at Victoria and later the successful Cawthron Institute.”

Easterfield Medal for work with nanoparticles

Dr Richard Tilley from Victoria University has been awarded the prestigious Easterfield Medal which is awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Chemistry in Britain.

Dr Tilley, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, studies nanoparticles—in particular synthesising them for a variety of uses.

“We focus on making nanoparticles in solution, changing their shapes and properties so we can make the most of this technology,” said Dr Tilley.

“By combining nanoparticles with quantum dots we can make a special light-emitting nanoparticle which could be used for biological imaging such as finding and illuminating cancers in the body.”

He has also worked with magnetic nanoparticles which are used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify tumours and cancers in the body. His group is working with the Malaghan Institute, the largest independent medical research organisation in the country, to make the technique better and cheaper.

“It’s a tremendous honour to receive the Easterfield Medal. It’s very humbling because everyone in my group has worked very hard.

“We’ve also been part of wonderful collaborations with organisations like the Malaghan Institute as well as companies and academics in Britain and Japan.”

In recent years, Dr Tilley has won two sizeable research grants—a $1.3 million and a $1.8million grant from the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology (FRST).

One of Dr Tilley’s postgraduate students, John Watt, won the 2009 MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year.

Professor Ken McNatty rewarded for reproductive technology research

Victoria University Professor Ken McNatty received the Pickering Medal, awarded annually to a person who has performed innovative work which has had an impressive influence nationally and internationally, or which has led to significant commercial success.

Professor McNatty fulfils all these requirements. An expert in reproductive biology in animals and humans, he has done pioneering work that has had huge benefits for farmers and work that could soon help couples going through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

“I’m dumbfounded by the award because there’s some terrific talent in New Zealand. It’s a wonderful feeling and I’m truly grateful to those who nominated me.”

Professor McNatty worked with New Zealand organisation AgResearch where he developed a vaccine that released more eggs in sheep during ovulation. Using this process, farmers typically received a 20-40% increase in the number of lambs born.

Professor McNatty also developed a fertility product for use in deer, cattle, sheep and goats by extracting a hormone from the brains of sheep at slaughter.

“This successful product was originally used extensively in the Angora goat industry.” but since has been used in other species including those on the endangered list such as Eld’s deer and the Spanish Ibex.”

Since arriving at Victoria in 2006, he has been working with Fertility Associates on reproductive technologies particularly for mothers undergoing IVF The technology could help to improve success rates.

He is also using his skills with DNA technologies to develop a prototype diagnostic tool to check environmental contamination including water quality, an area he is passionate about.

“Environmental contamination of water is a major issue. Whilst we have certain standards, what we don’t have are simple and highly sensitive tools to apply high-throughput, low cost screening to test residues in water to see if they are below the minimally-acceptable standards.”

Volcanologist Colin Wilson wins Hutton Medal

Professor Colin Wilson, from Victoria’s School of Geography, Geology and Earth Sciences, received the Hutton Medal.

A leading volcanolgist, his work focuses on trying to understand when volcanoes might erupt.


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