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Latest 10 Fellows Announced In 10th Year Of Rutherford Discovery Fellowship Awards

Ten early-to mid-career researchers have been awarded Rutherford Discovery Fellowships that will support them to accelerate their research careers in Aotearoa.

The research programmes of the new fellowships span a wide variety of interesting topics, including:

• Developing greater understanding of the formation and evolution of our planetary system by using observations of distant small worlds to model those that are beyond the sight of telescopes.

• Finding out how viruses evolve to make the jump to a new host species by sequencing RNA from diverse animal species in Aotearoa and analysing any viruses present.

• Understanding to what extent transgender people have autonomy to choose which gender affirmation steps they wish to take in Aotearoa, using surveys and applying principles of self-determination and informed consent.

This year marks the 10th year that the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships have been awarded. Professor Jason Tylianakis (University of Canterbury, Imperial College London) was one of the inaugural fellows, and his work has now been cited over 12,000 times, placing him amongst the top international ecologists. His research examines how communities of interacting species respond to environmental changes. He is currently a Principle Investigator for the Bio-Protection Research Centre CoRE (Centre of Research Excellence), which focuses on fundamental research into natural, sustainable ways of protecting New Zealand from plant pests, diseases and weeds.

“Rutherford Discovery Fellowships mark a career turning point, as they allow the recipients to make a leap forward in their research. They also provide inspiration by witnessing the breakthroughs made by a whole community of fellows,” Professor Tylianakis said.

The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships seek to attract, retain and develop New Zealand’s most talented early-to mid-career researchers and support their career development by helping them to establish a track record for future research leadership. A few of the awardees will be returning from overseas to take up these fellowships.

Chair of the selection panel, Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith FRSNZ, said the high calibre of applicants made it extremely difficult to select 10 new research fellows out of more than 102 who applied.

“In my opinion, after watching the outcome of 10 years’ worth of awards, the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships provide some of the best bang for your buck when it comes to research funding. They provide opportunities for both attracting and retaining the research leaders of the future and giving them the time necessary to really develop not just a research project, but a long-term programme.” Professor Matisoo-Smith said.

The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships receive government funding of $8 million per annum and award $800,000 over five years to each research fellow. There are at least 50 Rutherford Discovery Fellows supported at any one time.

Royal Society Te Apārangi manages the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship programme on behalf of government.

For 2020, the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship recipients are:

  • Siautu Alefaio-Tugia, Massey University, for research titled: Redefining the humanitarian landscape: Pacific-diasporic disaster resilience.
  • Michele Bannister, University of Canterbury, for research titled: Emissaries from the darkness: understanding planetary systems through their smallest worlds.
  • Nathaniel Davis, Victoria University of Wellington, for research titled: Pushing the limits on renewable energy technology through hybrid organic/inorganic nanomaterials
  • Jemma Geoghegan, University of Otago, for research titled: Ecological barriers and drivers of virus emergence.
  • Nathan Kenny, University of Otago (currently Oxford Brookes University, UK) for research titled: Stretched mussels: tracing the genetic basis of resilience to climate change and ocean acidification in cultured green-lipped mussels (kuku) from genome to embryo.
  • Gabor Kereszturi, Massey University, for research titled: Caught in action - volcano surveillance with hyperspectral remote sensing.
  • Libby Liggins, Massey University, for research titled: Tohu of change for Aotearoa New Zealand’s marine biodiversity.
  • Martino Lupini, Victoria University of Wellington, for research titled: Computing the shape of chaos.
  • Jaimie Veale, University of Waikato, for research titled: Health inequities, social determinants of health, and gender affirmation: transgender health research guided by principles of self-determination and informed consent.
  • Adele Williamson, University of Waikato, for research titled: In extremis: how bacteria replicate, repair and diversify their genomes in challenging environments.

More information on the new Rutherford Discovery Fellows is available at including statistics about the funding round.

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