University academics take Royal Society honours

Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland was well represented in this year's Royal Society Te Apārangi and the Health Research Council of New Zealand awards.

Professor Tim Mulgan

The awards, presented in Kirikiriroa Hamilton on 9 November, recognised researchers who had achieved excellence in scholarship or innovation or made a significant contribution to Aotearoa through their research and career.

The Royal Society Humanities Aronui Medal for research or innovative work of outstanding merit was awarded to Professor Timothy Mulgan FRSNZ, from the Department of Humanities, Faculty of Arts, for his contributions to moral philosophy, philosophy of religion and political philosophy.

Professor Mulgan has developed new ways of thinking about our obligations to distant strangers and future people and asks: “How might people inhabiting different possible futures reimagine ethics?”

He defends a provocative non-human-centred account of cosmic purpose and asks how we might find meaning at humanity's end. His work has greatly influenced scholarship in many other disciplines including theology, development studies, environmental studies, and political theory. View more on Humanities Aronui Medal winner.

Associate Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem

The Royal Society Metge Medal for excellence and building relationships in the social science research community was awarded to Associate Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem, Māori and Pacific Studies, Faculty of Arts, for intellectual leadership on gendered social relations and development studies.

Dr Underhill-Sem’s research and her leadership of several major initiatives in the Pacific have deepened our understanding of the complexities of gender relations in Pacific communities, including those in Aotearoa.

She highlights the intersection of gender relations with familial, generational, sociocultural, religious, and political relations, which are regarded by Pacific Island people as equally if not more important than gender. Her wide networks have enabled her leadership of initiatives at the interface of research and policy, integrating scholarly work with community empowerment. View more on the Metge Medal award winner.

Dr Hamid Abbasi

The Royal Society Cooper Award for an emerging researcher in technology, applied sciences and engineering was presented to Research Fellow Dr Hamid Abbasi, Auckland Bioengineering Insitute, for developing a method for automatically identifying biological markers of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury at birth. This condition results from reduced oxygen delivery and blood supply, but is challenging to diagnose partly due to a lack of robust biomarkers.

Through his research, Dr Abbasi has identified promising biological signatures for diagnosis in the form of subtle electrical brain signals. These can be seen in the first six hours after injury, when it would be optimal to start treatment. His advanced machine-learning framework can accurately identify and quantify these subtle wave-form signatures in real-time, with accuracy of over 99.8% and could be a game-changer for treating at-risk infants. View more on the Cooper Award winner.

Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell

The Health Research Council of New Zealand Te Tohu Rapuora Medal for outstanding leadership and contribution to Māori health was awarded to Research Fellow Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell (Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki, Ngāti Porou), School of Nursing, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, and the Te Ārai Palliative Care and End of Life Research Group for improving palliative care, end-of-life and tangihanga experiences for Māori kaumātua and whānau throughout Aotearoa.

Their research has contributed significantly to Aotearoa’s palliative care policy, including Mauri Mate: A Māori palliative care framework for hospices. They also produced the informative website Te Ipu Aronui to support whānau caregivers and health professionals care for kaumātua at the end of life. Their mahi has helped increase Māori access to palliative care and supported whānau access to knowledge about tikanga processes across the end-of-life pathway.

Associate Professor Nigel Wilson with his HRC Bevan Medal for translational research.
Associate Professor Nigel Wilson.

The Beaven Medal for excellence in translational health research was awarded to Associate Professor Nigel Wilson, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, for ground-breaking research to help children in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands battling rheumatic fever and its subsequent damaging heart disease.

Nigel’s initial studies showed that Doppler echocardiography was better than the stethoscope for detecting damaged heart valves in rheumatic fever, informing New Zealand’s and international guidelines.

He has led treatment trials for rheumatic fever and his research findings have been widely translated for clinical healthcare.

He has also led international collaborations to develop and promote echocardiographic screening protocols and criteria for diagnosing long-term rheumatic heart disease. Read about Nigel Wilson's research.

Media contact

Gilbert Wong | Research communications manager
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