The 2017 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes, which provide a total of $1 million across five categories, have been presented in Wellington today.
The Prizes recognise the impact of science on New Zealanders’ lives, celebrate the achievements of current scientists and encourage those of the future.
The top prize of $500,000 has been awarded to a multidisciplinary team from Plant & Food Research, led by Chief Operating Officer Dr Bruce Campbell, which helped the New Zealand kiwifruit industry claw its way back from the brink of destruction after the discovery of the vine-killing disease Psa (Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae).
The industry faced its most serious challenge with Psa but is now on track to double global sales to $4.5 billion by 2025.
When Psa was identified, Plant & Food Research immediately mobilised a team of more than 100 people. By grouping together the top scientific brains within the organisation, the team multiplied its effectiveness and moved ahead at speed.
The recovery of the industry has been possible due to a new kiwifruit cultivar ‘Zesy002’, referred to by growers as Gold3 and sold around the world as Zespri® SunGold Kiwifruit. Forty-eight million trays of the new variety were sold last season, with an export value of $686 million, up 70 percent on the previous year and increasing by around 10 million trays a year as newly-grafted vines reach production.
Other prize winners are:
The Prime Minister’s 2017 MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize goes to Dr Carla Meledandri from the University of Otago who is at the forefront of developing applications for nanotechnology. This includes incorporating silver nanoparticles into a range of breakthrough products designed to treat and prevent dental disease through a start-up company, Silventum Limited, that she has co-founded and a technology licensing deal with a multinational dental company. The products offer a new solution for tooth decay, one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world, and have potential to make dental care more affordable. Carla is also developing nanomaterials for use in industrial applications such as gas capture and storage, which can potentially assist to mitigate global warming.
The Prime Minister’s 2017 Science Teacher Prize has been won by Nelson science teacher Sarah Johns who is in charge of junior science at Nelson College for Girls. Sarah says she empowers her students by encouraging them to share her own philosophy of life—to be curious, open to possibilities and willing to take a risk. Sarah receives the Prize for what the judges describe as 100 percent commitment to her students and an uncompromising approach to bringing out the best in them. She devotes a huge amount of time to getting to know her students as individuals and negotiating the learning experiences that are relevant to them. Sarah says passion and joy are a high priority in her classroom and she believes that comes from students having a say in how the class moves through a piece of work.
The Prime Minister’s 2017 Science Communication Prize has been presented to Damian Christie, a lawyer-turned-journalist, who will use the prize money to establish New Zealand’s first science video news agency. The Aotearoa Science Agency will showcase some of the extraordinary achievements and discoveries from within New Zealand’s science sector and promote the successes to new audiences here and overseas. The Prize recognises the success of Damian’s creation and production of ‘Jamie’s World on Ice’, which featured globally successful YouTuber Jamie Curry exploring Antarctica and relaying her findings to an international following on social media. The video series gained more than 2.5 million views on social media, featured on television, radio, in several media publications and played on Air New Zealand international flights. Damian also won the 2017 Science Communicators Association of New Zealand (SCANZ) Excellence in Science Communication Award for the same project.
The Prime Minister’s 2017 Future Scientist Prize has been won by former Auckland Grammar School student Jonathan Chan, for development of a sophisticated, 3D-printed mesh, emulating a spiderweb, as a novel approach to atmospheric water collection. With support from his teachers and staff at the University of Auckland, Jonathan researched a low cost, environmentally friendly system of fog collection to provide good quality drinking water, where it might otherwise be unavailable, in less economically developed countries. Jonathan’s challenge was to create a more efficient mesh that mimicked the wetted spider silk or cactus spine by controlling the size and structure of the mesh and using a chemical coating. Jonathan’s research also involved analysis of droplet formation as fog came in contact with the mesh. Jonathan is enrolled at the University of Auckland to begin biochemistry studies, with the goal of eventually being involved in designing new drug therapies.
The 2017 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes were presented to winners on 13 February, at the Banquet Hall, Parliament Building, Wellington. To find out more about the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes visit: www.pmscienceprizes.org.nz