Five University of Auckland researchers have been awarded top honours in this year’s awards list from the Royal Society of New Zealand:
- Professor Simon Malpas (Auckland Bioengineering Institute - Physiology) - the Pickering Medal for the application of technology for his physiological wireless sensors.
- Professor Alistair Gunn (Physiology) – the MacDiarmid Medal for human benefit for his brain cooling to prevent brain injury in babies.
- Distinguished Professor Marston Conder (Mathematics) – the Hector Medal for outstanding contributions to mathematics.
- Professor Alison Jones (Education -Te Puna Wananga)– the Joan Metge Medal for research and capacity building in the social sciences.
- Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd (English, Drama, and Writing Studies) – the Humanities Aronui award for research or innovative work of outstanding merit in the Humanities.
Professor Malpas pioneering work on wireless implantable devices that monitor physiological signals has been awarded one of the year’s top honours from the New Zealand Royal Society.
His work utilises major improvements in technology, including telecommunications, battery technology and miniature sensors, to put the team at the forefront of international research and science in the field. Under the scientific programme he leads, Professor Malpas’ work has advanced our knowledge on the effects of high blood pressure, heart failure and injury to the brain and spinal cord.
Professor Gunn’s experimental studies have provided the foundation for understanding how, when, and for which babies cooling can successfully reduce brain damage. With his mother, the late professor Tania Gunn, he carried out a pioneering randomised, safety study of head cooling in New Zealand in the late nineties.
This study established that therapeutic cooling was feasible and safe even in very sick new born babies, and that simple bedside tests could quickly identify babies who might benefit from treatment. Further trials demonstrated that cooling could improve survival without disability in all but the most severely affected babies. Mild cooling (therapeutic hypothermia) is now the worldwide standard of care for treating babies with brain injury due to low oxygen levels.
Distinguished Professor Marston Conder is an internationally renowned and pioneering mathematician whose main interest is in group theory and its applications, especially to the study of symmetry. He is considered a world authority on discrete objects with maximum possible symmetry in their class. In mathematics, ‘symmetry’ describes how an object’s properties stay the same under transformation – for example, rotating or reflecting a pentagon doesn’t change its appearance.
He is also renowned for pioneering the application of an array of algebraic, combinatorial and computational techniques to find answers to open questions in a wide range of fields.
Professor Alison Jones has had a wide impact on many aspects of education in New Zealand – both research and practice, particularly for Māori, Pacific and women’s education at tertiary level. She has worked in the field of sociology in education in a number of areas of study including feminist theory, an ethnography of Pacific Island girls’ schooling and social anxiety about children’s bodies, and her work has influenced many fields of educational practice.
Her current research focuses on the earliest educational relationships between Māori and Pākehā, and the relationships that established the first school in New Zealand in 1816.
Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd has written on literature from Homer to the present, from epics to comics, and on American, Brazilian, English, Greek, Irish, New Zealand and Russian writers, including Shakespeare.
He is known for his work on Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov. He has written and edited 19 books and more than 250 articles and an extensive website on Nabokov and his work has been translated into 15 languages and received many awards.
He has recently become interested in new evolutionary and cognitive approaches to literature and the arts, exploring why we engage in art and storytelling and whether our minds and behaviour can be re-shaped by art and literature.