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Ethicist and chemist retires after 42 years

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ethicist and chemist retires after 42 years

Internationally recognised scientist and ethics specialist Professor Sylvia Rumball is retiring after 42 years at the University. She is believed to be the longest-serving staff member in Massey's 82-year history.

Professor Rumball, a chemist, held multiple roles at the University, the most recent as the Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor responsible for Research Ethics.

She has a BSc in chemistry and botany and an MSc (First-Class Honours) in chemistry, both from the University of Canterbury, and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Auckland, where her supervisor was Sir Neil Waters, who became Massey vice-chancellor from 1983-95. She worked as a junior lecturer at Auckland from 1963-66 while completing her PhD then took up a postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford University working under the Nobel Laureate Professor Dorothy Hodgkin in the field of protein crystallography.

She joined Massey University in 1967 as a chemistry lecturer, did a second postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell University in the field of theoretical protein conformation in 1970 and 1971 and returned to Massey the following year. She was promoted to senior lecturer in 1975, associate professor in 1989, and was executive dean of science from 1995-97.

She has won numerous awards, scholarships and grants for her work, has been a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's International Bioethics Committee and the Health Research Council's Ethics Committee, chaired the National Ethics Committee on Assisted Human Reproduction and was last year made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to science. Currently she is Chair of the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology and is a member of the International Council for Science’s Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science

At a farewell function earlier this month Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey said Professor Rumball broke the glass ceiling and paved the way for many of the University's most high-achieving women. "People associate outstanding behaviour and outstanding achievement with you," he said.

Pro Chancellor Stephen Kos paid tribute to Professor Rumball for her four years on the University Council from 2005-08, saying she had a "talent for asking awkward questions" and her arguments were invariably compelling enough to convince other members of the council to change their minds.

Professor Vince Neall recalled Professor Rumball's contribution to the successful establishment of the Manawatu Science Centre, saying without her enthusiasm he doubted it would exist. . She chaired the Science Centre Working Party from 1987-89 and was on the trust board from 1993-98.

Professor Graeme Fraser said thorough analysis, careful articulation and accurate formulation have been the hallmarks of her career and her wide-ranging contribution to Massey.

Professor John O'Neill, who replaces Professor Rumball as the University's research ethics director, said she had made a unique, significant and enduring contribution to universal bioethics in the area of human genetic data.

"Sylvia will be remembered for her sense of humanity: as both colleague, and mentor. She is widely recognised and appreciated for her wisdom and for her warmth."

Although Professor Rumball's official retirement date was last month, she will be completing some additional duties over the coming weeks at the Manawatu campus.


ends

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