Science honours for Auckland researchers

Professor Margaret Brimble

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble from the School of Chemical Sciences and Maurice Wilkins Centre of Molecular Biodiscovery has won the Rutherford Medal, the highest award of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Professor Brimble is an expert in medicinal and natural products chemistry, synthesising chemical compounds from nature that show promise for medical applications such as the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases, and for agricultural use. She is only the second woman to receive the Society’s top award since it was established 21 years ago.

In 2007, Professor Brimble was the first New Zealander to win the L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Asia-Pacific Laureate in Materials Science but she says winning the Rutherford Medal is significant to her.

“It’s about national pride. I have a sense of trying to do things in New Zealand, for New Zealand, with New Zealanders and the Rutherford Medal really epitomises that.”

“I am personally very pleased that New Zealand has now recognised me, not for being a woman in science, but for my science.”

Five University researchers received a total of seven medals at the Royal Society’s Science Honours Dinner last night. Professor Brimble also received the MacDiarmid Medal for outstanding scientific research with the potential for application to human benefit, and the Hector Medal for outstanding work in chemical sciences by a researcher in New Zealand. The MacDiarmid Medal specifically recognised her work pioneering the design, synthesis and clinical development of a small molecule drug candidate that shows promise for significantly reducing the impact of traumatic brain injury.

Professor David Williams from the School of Chemical Sciences and MacDiarmid Institute received the Pickering Medal, a technology excellence award, for his contribution to the development of biomedical and gas sensors which have been commercialised. He is an expert in electrochemistry and chemical sensors and his work has been commercialised through spin-out companies, most recently Auckland-based Aeroqual Ltd, the world’s largest manufacturer of hand-held and networked ozone sensors.

Professor Russell Gray from the School of Psychology received the Mason Durie Medal, a social sciences award presented for the first time this year, for his pioneering social science research on questions of fundamental relationships between human language, cognition and biology.

Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki from Elam School of Fine Arts, received the Pou Aronui Award for his outstanding contribution in the development of the humanities in Aotearoa New Zealand. Jonathan is an art historian, architectural historian, cultural historian and curator, and in particular a pioneer in the development of contemporary Maori and Pacific art and art history.

Professor John Fraser Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre received the Sir Charles Hercus Medal, a health science award, for his pioneering studies on bacterial superantigens that have major implications for understanding and treating a range of human infectious diseases.

“We are very proud of these outstanding researchers,” says Distinguished Professor Jane Harding, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research. “These awards recognise not only the extremely high calibre of the winners, but also the contributions of the many staff and students who work with them and will share in celebrating their success.”