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2020 Callaghan Medal: Te Whetu - Living With The Stars

The 2020 Callaghan Medal for an outstanding contribution to science or technology communication has been awarded to Professor Rangi Mātāmua (Tūhoe) for his pioneering work in Māori astronomy that has engaged the public in the interface between western science and mātauranga Māori.

Rangi is Professor in Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao - the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato. His work illustrates the ways empirical science has always been a part of traditional Māori knowledge systems. Through his study of Māori Astronomy he examines Māori scientific knowledge associated with the cosmos.

Rangi’s passion to engage the public in the interface between science and mātauranga Māori has resulted in television shows, online and print publications, social media blogs, more than 100 public lectures, a museum exhibition visited by more than 100,000 people, and a best-selling book Matariki: The Star of the Year written in both English and te reo Māori. In 2019, he was awarded the Māori Language Commission’s “Ngā Mahi Pāpaho – Broadcasting and Media Award” for his show Living with the Stars. In June 2020 he received the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize for his work communicating about Māori astronomy, including raising awareness about the significance of the rising of the Matariki star cluster in mid-winter for Māori.

Rangi’s science communication work emphasises how empirical science has always been a part of traditional Māori knowledge systems. His scientific outreach demonstrates the ways that Māori ancestors have applied this science to navigate the Pacific Ocean, explore new lands throughout Oceania, and ultimately thrive here in Aotearoa. This science was subsequently embedded in cultural narrative and customary practice and was celebrated in ceremony and religion. Gaining deep knowledge of Māori astronomy, which has been supported by two grants from the Marsden Fund Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden, he has unpacked and disseminated Māori scientific knowledge associated with the cosmos to both national and international communities.

Importantly, Rangi’s work is communicated in both English and te reo Māori, and he is making new linguistic contributions pertaining to te reo Māori and Māori astronomy - helping to expand both fields. Rangi has delivered lectures to Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa, universities, marae, corporate organisations, astronomical societies, community groups, and to Parliament. Māori and Pasifika currently make up less than 2% of the scientific workforce in New Zealand. In line with Maori perspectives of research excellence and impact, Rangi’s important science communication work makes a difference – to the ways young Māori and Pasifika see themselves as future scientists, and by showing that ancestral ways of ‘knowing’ the world still hold true in contemporary times, thus legitimising Indigenous knowledge systems.

Rangi and his family have had a connection with Royal Society Te Apārangi since the late 1800s. His ancestor, Te Kōkau Himiona Te Pikikōtuku, was an informant and friend of Royal Society member Elsdon Best. Their relationship set in course the collection and recording of Māori astronomical knowledge by Te Kōkau, which Rangi inherited. In honouring this enduring relationship, between April and June 2019 Rangi gave 21 two-hour talks throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia for the Royal Society Te Apārangi series ‘Ko Matariki e ārau ana’, with support from the Marsden Fund Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden. This roadshow introduced his work on Matariki to more than 10,000 people.

Rangi is committed to emphasising the interface that exists between Mātauranga Māori and western science. His belief is that by seeking the connections between these spaces a richer, deeper and more culturally rewarding understanding of science will emerge. This new approach to understanding the place and importance of Māori science within the wider field of science has the potential to be transformative. Like the work of medal namesake Sir Paul Callaghan, Rangi is championing a more open, inclusive and innovative view of science in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Callaghan Medal:

For an outstanding contribution to science communication and raising public awareness of the value of science and technology to human progress.


To Rangiānehu Leslie Mātāmua for his science communication work in Māori astronomy that examines Māori scientific knowledge associated with the cosmos.

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