University of Auckland academics take top science prizes

12 November 2013

Four University of Auckland academics have won three of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes including the main science prize, and those for science media communications and the McDiarmid emerging scientist.

There are five prizes with the top award recognising a transformational science discovery or achievement which has had a significant impact on New Zealand or internationally.

Professors John Boys and Grant Covic from the University’s Faculty of Engineering accepted the $500,000 top award for the 2013 Prime Ministers Science Prize.

Boys and Covic have pioneered wireless or inductive power transfer technology and coined IPT terminology globally. Their technology is now used throughout the world, from factories that depend on automated systems or clean-room environments, to charging electric vehicles (EV).

Auckland Bioengineering Institute scientist, Dr Ben O’Brien won the 2013 Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize worth $200,000 (with $150,000 of the money to be used for further research).

Dr O’Brien has pioneered the development of small, light and soft, stretchy sensors that can measure movement of the human body and transmit the information to a smart phone app.

Earlier this year, he formed a company – StretchSense - to start selling the technology to global customers in healthcare, rehabilitation, sports training, animation and gaming.

O’Brien plans to use his prize money to take the technology to the next level by developing an intuitive skin-tight under garment that can monitor and interpret body language, gestures and posture to accurately read the emotions of the wearer.

His goal is to create an ‘emotionally aware’ body suit that he expects will produce a range of practical technologies that can be commercialised by his company.

University of Auckland microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles has won the 2013 Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize.

She receives the award for her communication of a wide range of scientific issues, including aspects of the recent Fonterra botulism scare.

As well as working as a scientist in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Dr Wiles is a media commentator and blogger who regularly gives public talks about science and was one of the faces of last year’s public engagement campaign for the National Science Challenges.

In her research work, Dr Wiles makes bacteria glow in the dark so that we can better understand how to fight infectious diseases and is researching the uses of bioluminescence (or the production of light by living organisms).

She also leads the University of Auckland’s Bioluminescence Superbugs Group, focusing on how glowing bacteria can help scientists better prevent and fight microbial infections such as food poisoning, tuberculosis and hospital superbugs.

The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes were awarded in Wellington on 12th November 2013.
They combine recognition and reward with total prize money of $1 million and are presented annually.

The Prizes are New Zealand’s most valuable science awards and were introduced to raise the profile and prestige of science. The prizes celebrate scientific achievement, highlight the impact science has on New Zealanders’ lives and aim to attract more young people into science careers.


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