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Otago scientists’ contributions recognised nationally

Three University of Otago scientists have been recognised for their significant contributions to New Zealand’s science community with awards from the New Zealand Association of Scientists.

Associate Professor Siân Halcrow has received the Hill Tinsley Medal awarded to outstanding young scientists, Dr Judith Bateup the Cranwell Medal, for excellence in science communication and Professor Warren Tate the Marsden Medal for “a lifetime of outstanding service” to science.

Professor Tate, from the Department of Biochemistry has a stellar national and worldwide reputation for his internationally recognised research discoveries in molecular biology and human disease, and his collaborative research.

He won the Rutherford Medal in 2010, administered by the Royal Society and recognised as the top science award in New Zealand, but he says the Marsden Medal has special significance for him both personally and for what it represents.

His brother, Kevin, a former scientist for Landcare Research working on climate change, won the same medal – the Marsden Medal – in 2005. Professor Tate’s brother died earlier this year after he was tragically afflicted with Motor Neurone Disease last year.

“Accepting nomination for the award was a special way for me to honour his memory and his major contribution to science,” Professor Tate explains.

“As well, the prescription of this award – ‘contribution to science in the broader sense’ – is an ethos I have lived by during my extensive career – not only to try to do excellence scientific research, but also to nurture the discipline by being involved in important policy and investment development in New Zealand and globally, and especially through the mentoring of young and emerging scientists and helping them reach their full potential.”

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Encouraging young people to consider a career in science is also the driver for his colleague, Dr Bateup from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Over two decades, Dr Bateup has developed a microbiology programme for secondary school pupils. She has exposed many thousands of students to a world they have not seen before and to the many ways that humans interact with microbes.

Alongside this programme, Dr Bateup has produced resources for secondary school teachers – posters, presentations and background information to assist in teaching a Microbiology NCEA Level 1 Achievement Standard, distributing this material nationwide to all secondary schools this year.

Dr Bateup is the convenor of Hands-On at Otago, a programme that enables senior secondary school pupils to experience study and research in science at the University; she is on the organising committee of the International Science Festival; is a Schools Science Fair judge and regularly speaks at conferences for scientists and science communicators.

She considers being a tertiary educator carries wider responsibilities than simply teaching.

“Just as a language is central to a culture, it is important that science is seen, heard and understood in the community,” Dr Bateup says.

“Motivating young minds into science and understanding aspects of the world around them, such as antibiotic resistance, vaccination and genetic modification, helps them to make informed decisions in the future.”

2018 has been a big year for Associate Professor Halcrow, from the Department of Anatomy, who was recognised as one of the country’s top young scientists. In October she received the University’s Rowheath Trust Award and the Carl Smith Medal, awarded annually to recognise the outstanding scholarly achievement of researchers in the early stages of their careers.

Associate Professor Halcrow is recognised internationally as an expert in the field of childhood bioarchaeology. Her studies in Southeast Asia and South America investigating the adoption and intensification of agriculture have led to significant insights into the origins of factors affecting human health, fertility and disease.

Bioarchaeology – the study of humans from archaeological contexts – is the only direct way to look at human experiences from the past, she says.

“Because our biology is affected by environmental pressures, we can track major social and environmental transitions, such as the development of agriculture and the effects that has on past human health.”

“For example, some of our work that looks at the effects of the development and intensification of agriculture in prehistoric Southeast Asia found there was an increase in infant mortality and stress and an increase in population size with agricultural intensification. Today, almost half of the world lives in crowded and insanitary conditions and this has its roots with the development of agriculture in the distant past.”


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