In 2016 the NZAS awarded the first Beatrice Hill Tinsley Medal, which replaces the Association’s Research Medal for early career researchers. Hill Tinsley was a New Zealand astronomer and cosmologist, who made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the life-cycle of galaxies. Sadly, she passed away at the age of just 40. Her family have agreed to lend Hill Tinsley’s name to the medal in recognition of her achievements during a tragically short, but literally stellar, career on the international science stage.
Songs for Beatrice, a collection of songs played at the NZAS Awards in 2016 to honour Dr Hill Tinsley, are available here.
Applications for the 2021 Awards are now open. Full guidelines for the Hill Tinsley medal are here.
Associate Professor Frédérique Vanholsbeeck from the University of Auckland is a physicist whose primary field of research is biophotonics, which focuses on the use of optical and laser technologies for biomedical studies. Her research on monitoring bacteria using quantitative fluorescence spectroscopy – very accurate measurement of the spectral density of the fluorescence signal – has created a better understanding on how to monitor bacterial viability and antibiotic efficiency. She has developed a near-real time, cost-effective and portable fluorometer, the optrode, for quantifying fluorescence signals leading to better food safety and antibiotic sensitivity testing. She leads a biophotonics lab undertaking both fundamental and applied research, with diverse and varied interdisciplinary collaboration. A further notable aspect of her research has been the extent to which she mentors a vibrant group of early career researchers and postgraduate research students.
Dr Nick Golledge is an internationally recognised expert in modelling ice sheet and individual glacier behaviour over a range of time periods using state of the art, high resolution computer models. His research has been able to provide pioneering insights into past ice-sheet behaviour that are robustly underpinned by field observations. Since joining Victoria University of Wellington’s Antarctic Research Centre in 2009 soon after completing his PhD, he has focused on modelling Antarctic ice sheets and their contribution to sea-level rise. He has a background in geology and glaciology and readily collaborates with modellers and field scientists around the world. His research and impact in the last 10 years has been considerable having published many high-impact scientific articles, including his latest Nature paper which explores the global consequences of 21st century ice-sheet melting. He has been an invited keynote speaker at some of the world’s most influential climate change meetings and workshops, and his results have made media headlines around the world.
This year’s Hill Tinsley Medal is awarded to Dr Siân Halcrow, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Otago. She is an outstanding and productive researcher, a trailblazer who has made fundamental contributions in her field of bioarchaeological science, focusing on the study of human remains in an archaeological context. Her research programmes are multi-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural, involving both laboratory and field-based scientific research in a range of countries. Associate Professor Halcrow’s studies in southeast Asia and South America investigating the adoption and intensification of agriculture have led to significant insights into the origins of human health, fertility and disease. Her work in prehistory is shedding light on previously understudied relationships, including those between maternal and infant health. Such analyses of stress and health in past populations are fundamental to increasing our understanding of human adaptation to environmental and societal changes.
The inaugural Beatrice Hill Tinsley Medal is awarded to Associate Professor Guy Jameson from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago. Dr Jameson is a gifted biophysical chemist who has made outstanding contributions to the fields of biophysical chemistry and materials science. He is interested in the chemistry of metalloproteins – proteins that contain metal atoms or clusters – and his research involves spectroscopic and kinetic investigations of iron-containing enzymes and compounds. Dr Jameson is a recognised expert in Mössbauer spectroscopy and has established the only low temperature Mössbauer instrument in New Zealand. This gives him the ability to apply spectroscopy to a wide range of materials from proteins through to nanoparticles and inorganic polymers from volcanic ash. One of his major aims is to understand the chemical basis of diseases, such as Parkinson’s and rheumatoid arthritis, through studying enzymes at the molecular level and how their malfunction contributes to the progression of disease.
This year's Research Medal was awarded to Associate Professor Stéphane Coen. Professor Coen works in the Physics Department at the University of Auckland, where he undertakes fundamental and applied studies of nonlinear optical phenomena in optical fibres, with the aim of developing new light sources and new all-optical devices. In particular, he is researching temporal cavity solitons – pulses of laser light that can be maintained indefinitely around a closed loop. This work has revealed fascinating physics for seemingly simple objects, and could also lead to revolutionary applications in fields ranging from telecommunications to ultra-accurate clocks. Stéphane’s first observation of these solitons, 30 years after their prediction, led to a landmark publication, and subsequent research confirmed temporal cavity solitons as among the few new fundamental concepts in nonlinear optics in recent years.
In 2014 we are pleased to award the medal jointly to two scientists.
Professor Merryn Gott of the University of Auckland has developed a programme of research that is at the leading edge of one of the greatest challenges facing health systems today, namely how to reduce suffering at the end of life within the context of rapidly ageing populations and constrained health budgets. Her research has resulted in over 120 publications in peer reviewed journals as well as several books, including an international textbook for Oxford University Press which has been recognised as a ground-breaking work in its field. Not only is her work highly cited, but it has also influenced policy and led to real changes in health and social care services. Merryn directs the Te Arai Palliative Care Research Group based in the School of Nursing, University of Auckland, which has adopted a bicultural framework to focus particularly upon issues of social justice at the end of life and following bereavement. For example, she is currently leading an HRC funded study exploring ways of optimising care at the end of life for Māori and non-Māori over the age of 85 living in a number of communities across New Zealand. Merryn also plays a key role in supporting New Zealand’s next generation of health scientists by mentoring early career researchers and through postgraduate student supervision; she currently supervises seven PhD students.
Associate Professor Richard Tilley of Victoria University has pioneered and developed the synthesis and electron microscopy characterization of nanoparticles in New Zealand. The applications of the nanoparticles made in Richard’s group are varied and include the development of magnetic nanoparticles for MRI contrast agents in collaboration with the Malaghan Institute and Wellington Hospital. The contrast agents are capable of detecting tumours as small as 2 mm and will lead to earlier detection and enhanced treatment of cancers. Additional applications are making light emitting and absorbing quantum dots for solar cells. Richard has also unlocked new fundamental growth mechanisms to explain how nanocrystals can nucleate and grow into unique cubic, hourglass and branched shapes with unique properties for the next generation of catalysts for greener and more efficient technologies. Richard is a Principal Investigator and runs the electron microscope facility of the MacDiarmid Institute. During the past 5 years he has published over 50 papers, including 15 in high impact factor journals, and in 2013 published by invitation in Nature Nanotechnology.
The New Zealand Association of Scientists Research Medal for 2013 is awarded to Dr Noam Greenberg for his outstanding work in many aspects of the fundamental area of science, the theory of computability. There is no doubt that algorithms and algorithmic thinking lie at the heart of modern society, and hence the understanding of computation is one of the most important and central areas of human endeavour. The year 2012 was the Centenary of Alan Turing's birth, when we celebrated Turing's fundamental insight that there could be universal computing machines. This gave birth to the modern theory of computation and led to the development of the modern computer. Dr Greenberg's work follows in the tradition of Turing’s work, by shedding light on the capabilities and limitations of the algorithms used by modern computers and software. The international quality of his research has been recognized by the award of a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship (2011) from the Royal Society of New Zealand and a Turing Research Fellowship (2012) from the US-based John Templeton Foundation.
The recipient for 2012 is Associate Professor Eric Le Ru, Victoria University of Wellington.
Professor Le Ru has made an enormous contribution to research in the multidisciplinary fields of surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) and nanoplasmonics. In particular, his work carried out over the last few years has had an exceptional international impact. It has resulted in the publication of a book and over 50 papers, several of them in the most prestigious journals in physics and chemistry. SERS uses nanoscale metallic objects to boost the sensitivity of Raman spectroscopy. Although discovered 30 years ago, its potential applications are only coming of age now thanks to recent advances in nanotechnology. Once the difficulties in understanding and implementing it are overcome, this technique has the potential to revolutionise analytical chemistry. Associate Professor Le Ru has made seminal contributions to both the theoretical understanding of the physical mechanisms responsible for SERS and to the development of new experimental methods to study it. His work has been at the forefront of the international research effort towards applying SERS to single-molecule detection and identification, arguably the ultimate goal of analytical chemistry.
The New Zealand Association of Scientists Research Medal for 2011 is awarded to Alexei Drummond, Associate Professor of Bioinformatics in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Auckland. His research interests are centred around probabilistic models of molecular evolution and population genetics.
Professor Drummond’s work on the Bayesian phylogenetic analysis programme is very highly regarded. Both his research and his software implementation are now widely used, with incredibly high citation rates. He publishes prolifically in a broad range of prestigious journals and has many collaborators. Being invited to participate in the Woods Hole workshop on molecular evolution is evidence of international recognition of his achievements.
His work has also led to successful commercial enterprises.
The Research Medal for 2010 is awarded to Dr Shaun Hendy, Victoria University and Industrial Research Limited Dr Shaun Hendy has pioneered, established and continued the transformational research area of Theoretical Nanotechnology in New Zealand. Shaun’s major research discoveries include identifying new solid-liquid phase behaviour induced from nano-scale collisions, and the classification of novel recoil behaviour of nano-particles. These new phenomena are absent from both the smaller atomic-scale, and from the larger macro-scale. Their discovery by Shaun attests to his scholarship, especially given the very applied and industrially-motivated aims of the research programmes. Shaun’s mathematical discoveries have resulted from the application of new numerical methods, called Hybrid-Kinetic Monte Carlo methods, developed jointly with Prof Tim Schulze from the University of Tennessee, which allow both a fine computational grid where significant atomic redistribution is occurring, but with a coarse grid where atomic distributions are largely static. Shaun has also discovered new laws relating at the nano-scale, for the drag between a liquid and a solid surface; and obtained new results for droplet entry into nano-tubes. His IRL responsibilities have included successful application for, and management of over NZ$20M of research contracts. Shaun has been employed at IRL since 1998, where he is a Distinguished Scientist and is currently Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.
The Research Medal for 2009 is awarded to Dr Thomas Buckley, Landcare Research Dr Buckley's research focuses on systematics, biogeography, speciation, molecular evolution and phylogenetic methods. Study organisms include stick insects, cicadas fungus-feeding beetles, tortricid moths, earthworms, wetas, onychophorans and terrestrial molluscs. He is particularly interested in the biogeographic origins of the New Zealand biota and evolutionary processes within New Zealand. His interests in systematics also include taxonomy where he is revising the New Zealand stick insect fauna using morphology and genetics. He is also involved in a range of conservation genetics projects on highly threatened invertebrates including terrestrial molluscs, tusked and giant weta. He maintains interests in methods of sequence analysis with an emphasis on likelihood estimation, Bayesian estimation, model selection, tests of topology and coalescent models. Newly developed research directions include transcriptomics and functional genomics of adaptations to environmental stress in stick insects.
The New Zealand Association of Scientists' Research Medal is awarded to a young scientist for outstanding fundamental or applied research in the physical, natural, or social sciences. The recipient of the medal for 2008 is Associate Professor Ulrich Zuelicke, of the Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Massey University, Palmerton North. The medal is awarded to Associate Professor Zuelicke for his research into the theory of new electronic devices at the nanometre scale, which has the potential to revolutionise electronics and information processing. His contributions to this field demonstrate methods of harnessing the unusual quantum mechanical properties of electrons for new electronic devices. For example, electrons can be confined to move only along a line, or in a plane, in ultra small electric circuits, making new types of transistors possible. He is also at the forefront of a completely new electronics paradigm: spintronics. This new field uses the intrinsic angular momentum, or spin, of electrons to influence their motion inside circuits. His research has been recognised through invitations to deliver plenary lectures and to participate in international collaborations.
The winner of the 2007 medal was Associate Professor Kathryn McGrath of the MacDiarmid Institute, at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, for her outstanding research over the last three years that spans the disciplines of physical chemistry and soft-matter physics. In nature and in man-made materials there are distinct two- and three-dimensional patterns of organization in systems that are classically fluid or solid, or have characteristics pertaining to both. For many of these natural and man-made materials, the pattern of interaction among components of the system is controlled by the weak forces of interaction between the molecules, leading to assembly of components into higher-level structures. Investigation of this process of self-assembly has driven Assoc. Prof. McGrath's research interests. She and her team are focussed on applying knowledge of the self-assembly process to see how it can be used to control patterning and thereby the macroscopic physicochemical properties of fluid and solid materials. To this end, the work of her group is focused on three main classes of materials: 1) Energetically stable liquid-crystalline systems, which span the range of roughly 1 to 100 nanometres. Here, the liquid-crystalline state is achieved through changes of temperature or via the addition of an appropriate solvent such as water. Examples of such systems in everyday use are LCD TVs, in which the self-assembly is manipulated by applied electrical fields; 2) Kinetically stabilised emulsion colloidal systems. Characteristic length scales in emulsions (e.g. milk) range from 100 nanometres to 100 micrometres. Emulsions are also used as model systems for biological processes and are widely used in drug delivery; 3) The final class "biominerals" fits the solid-materials group. Biominerals are the hard tissues synthesized by organisms such as egg shells, bones, and the like. The biomineral of interest in Kathryn's group is calcium carbonate, which is the base material used by many organisms. In humans, for example, micrometre-sized calcium carbonate crystals within our inner ear are used to orientate ourselves in gravitational fields. Using sea urchins as a model organism, Kathryn's group is studying formation of calcium carbonate formation in the shell, looking at the interaction of molecular forces involved in precipitation, and "soft templation" - the inducement of crystal formation by a surface such as a cell membrane. In addition to the research excellence of Kathryn and her team, she is considered to be one of New Zealand's leading young physical scientists and has natural leadership qualities. She plays an active role in the life of the MacDiarmid Institute and is or has been the supervisor of six doctoral and three masters students and co-supervisor of a further eight doctoral students.
The winner of the 2006 medal was Dr Jamin Halberstadt of the Department of Psychology, University of Otago for his outstanding social psychological research over the last 3 years. Dr Halberstadt's primary research interests are in the how emotional responses influence social cognition (the representation and use of social information), and vice versa. His innovative research includes notable contributions to the fields of reasoning, intuition, and decision making. He has characterized intuition as the direct use of brief emotional responses to make decisions and argued that analytic thought - trying to determine and explain the reasons for a decision - may be incompatible with such use. As a result, analytic thought can paradoxically produce a worse decision. For example, Dr. Halberstadt has shown that reasoned predictions about basketball games are less accurate, relative to the actual outcomes of the games, than predictions based on 'gut feelings'. Dr. Halberstadt is developing a theoretical framework for when analytic approaches to decisions should be helpful and when they should be harmful. Dr. Halberstadt's work on the effects of cognition on emotion is equally ground-breaking. For example, he has shown that a surprisingly strong predictor of attractiveness in a wide variety of social and non-social categories is simply how good an example something is of its group. For example, if people judge a sparrow as a good example of a 'bird', but a penguin as a poor example, Dr. Halberstadt finds that people like the sparrow better than the penguin, and has observed the same effect in nearly all categories, from human faces, to horses, dogs, and fish, to cars, wristwatches, and handguns. The reasons for this 'prototypicality bias', which include the fact that good category members feel familiar, and that they can be easily perceived and cognitively processed, shed light on the fundamental relationship between cognition and emotion, as well as the evolutionary origins of the attractiveness of humans and objects. As observed by his nominator, Dr. Halberstadt is not only an able and disciplined experimentalist, but he is also a gifted communicator, able to explain the significance of his findings and place them in a broader theoretical context. His research has been published in the very top journals in Social and Cognitive Psychology and has already been extensively acknowledged by other researchers. In less than a decade since his doctorate he has established himself internationally as a leading researcher in his field.
The winner of the 2005 medal is Dr Fiona McDonald of the Department of Physiology, University of Otago for her outstanding physiological research over the last 3 years. Dr McDonalds' research explores a cellular mechanism, operating in the kidney, that helps to control blood pressure. Movements of too much sodium from the urine back into the bloodstream is a recognized feature of both inherited and acquired forms of high blood pressure. Dr McDonald has studied the protein molecules, called sodium channels, which facilitate the movement of sodium out of the kidney. Inherited changes in the genes coding for this sodium channel result in life-threatening high blood pressure. In particular, Dr McDonald's laboratory has identified and studied a number of proteins that regulate the activity of the sodium channel. Very recently a novel, regulator protein, called Murr1, was described by Dr McDonald's group opening up a new pathway of sodium channel regulation. Her research is providing the groundwork for understanding the basic cellular pathways that control the kidney sodium channel. It may be possible to target drugs to these pathways to alleviate high blood pressure. Fiona is an active collaborator with scientists in related disciplines enabling questions to be answered through a variety of techniques and approaches and she has four PhD students. She has published an impressive number of papers in the last 3 years. These papers have received a great deal of international attention that indicates the valuable contribution she is making in the field.
The 2004 medal was awarded to Associate Professor Richie Poulton of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, and Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, University of Otago. Richie Poulton has produced an extraordinary body of high-quality scientific work that is having a large impact on psychiatric and public health practice. Some of his papers, with his co-authors, have received international recognition as being among the top 10 papers of the year by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and the Canadian Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development. Richie Poulton, with his colleagues, is contributing outstanding research in several fields based mainly on data from 1000 children (born in New Zealand during 1972-73) who have been followed throughout childhood. Psychological, social and physical health data is being brought together in novel ways to provide a more complete understanding of the processes involved in normal and abnormal human health and development across the lifespan. His work is contributing insight into anxiety disorders, gene-environment interactions in the prediction of complex behavioural disorders, and studies of how adult health is related to socio-economic status in childhood. This work is of enormous public health importance and significantly advances theory and spurs new research. This new emphasis in his research has emerged strongly in the last three years and reflects his maturation as a researcher and sits nicely with his leadership role in one of the premier multidisciplinary health studies in the world. His record of scientific output in the last 3 years is truly remarkable in its breadth, quantity and most critically, its high quality. New Zealand can be very proud to have produced such an outstanding young scientist.
The winner of the 2003 medal was Associate Professor Robert McLachlan of the Institute of Fundamental Sciences at Massey University. Professor McLachlan has gained an international reputation in the emerging area of geometric integration, which concerns new methods for numerically integrating differential equations that preserve qualitative features of the physical systems that the equations describe. He has published more than 50 papers on geometric integration, including contributions to the mathematical foundations of the method, the introduction of techniques from other branches of mathematics and the development of new algorithms. Together, these contributions have established Professor McLachlan as a world leader in this new and exciting field of mathematical endeavour. His reputation is reflected in the demand for him to speak at major conferences and the invitations he receives for secondment to leading overseas research groups. In addition to publishing his research findings in specialist journals, Professor McLachlan has a gift to write for a more general readership as shown by an article in New Scientist on new methods for calculating the behaviour of the solar system, and a gallery of elegant pseudospherical surfaces published in The Mathematical Intelligencer. Professor Mc Lachlan graduated BSc (Hons) First Class from Canterbury University, and completed his PhD in applied mathematics at the California Institute of Technology. He took up a lecturing position at the University of Colorado and taught for a short period at the Zurich Eidgenossiche Technische Hochschule before being appointed to a lectureship at Massey in 1994.
The 2002 award was made to Dr Jack Heinemann of the Department of Plant and Microbial Sciences at the University of Canterbury for his outstanding contribution to the knowledge of horizontal gene transfer in bacteria and the biology of genetic elements outside chromosomes. His work contributes to the definition of the mechanisms and extent of transfer of genes among micro-organisms in different environments. He and a colleague demonstrated recently that a process of natural DNA transfer that occurs between closely related bacteria is also effective in transferring genes to organisms of different biological kingdoms. Dr Heinemann has also demonstrated that bacteria can evade antibiotics, and acquire genes for resistance to antibiotics, by invading human cells and exchanging genes with one another while inside the human cells. This paper and related papers have attracted immense international interest. He has been the primary supervisor to about 10 PhD students and twice as many MSc and BSc (hons) students, many of whom are pursuing outstanding careers of their own. For his work, Dr Heinemann has received a number of awards and has been invited to prepare reviews for prestigious journals. He received the American Society for Microbiology ICAAC Young Investigator Award at a very young age. He was support by the Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg as a Rockefeller Scholar in New York in 2001. In April 2002, the American Society for Microbiology called one of his recent publications the "best paper in the world". At the age of 39, Dr Heinemann has established himself as a highly productive and accomplished New Zealand researcher. His work may eventually yield insights into the design of fundamentally different anti-infective agents for the control of antibiotic resistance and infectious diseases. In addition, his work is relevant to the volatile debate on assessing the risks of genetically modified organisms to the environment. Dr Heinemann was awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists Research Medal in recognition of his innovative and dedicated research.
The Association's Research Medal for 2001 was awarded to Dr Robert Poulin of the Zoology Department, University of Otago, for his outstanding contribution to understanding in the area of evolutionary ecology of parasites. Close to half of the known species of living organisms on the planet can be classified as parasites, and yet we know little about the evolution of parasites and other disease-causing organisms. Dr Poulin's work has helped to answer questions such as why certain animal species are host to more parasite species than others, or what produces geographic variation in the number of species of parasites. Because this work identifies features of hosts or their environments that promote their transmission and persistence of disease, it has important implication for understanding the incidence and transmission of parasitic diseases. Dr Poulin's research has highlighted the intriguing ways in which parasites manipulate the behaviour of their hosts. Many parasitic species take control of their host's actions in ways that ensure their own transmission to other hosts. He has provided the first theoretical analysis of the evolution of this phenomenon, as well as some of the best evidence. His work has also shown how these manipulative parasites attract other opportunistic parasite species, resulting in multiple infections for the host. Furthermore he has shown how manipulative parasites can influence the ecology and evolution of their hosts, with major repercussions for ecosystems. A good example of the work done by Dr Poulin and his colleagues involved cockles. It showed that a parasitic worm in New Zealand cockles stunts the growth of the cockle's foot - the large muscular organ that cockles use to burrow under sediments. Heavily infected cockles are incapable of burrowing with their ridiculously small foot and become more vulnerable to oystercatchers. This benefits the parasitic worms inside the cockles, because they must reach the intestine of the birds to complete their development. An important consequence of parasitism in this case, however, is that cockles lying at the surface of the sediments provide the only hard surface on which limpets and sea anemones can attach on mudflats. Without the presence of parasites in cockles, the co-existence of limpets and sea anemones in these habitats would be impossible. This pioneering work was the first to demonstrate the positive effects of parasitism at the ecosystem level. It is currently the basis of a Marsden-funded research programme. Dr Poulin has made important contributions to several areas of ecological parasitology that have resulted in numerous publications in respected international journals. He was educated in Canada where he completed a PhD the Universite Laval, Quebec City. He joined the Zoology Department at the University of Otago in 1992. He is the sole author of a book, Evolutionary Ecology of Parasites, published in 1998.
Dr Michael Murphy, of the Biochemistry Department at the University of Otago, was awarded the Association's Research Medal for 2000 for his widely recognised work into 'mitochondria' - the small organelles that help our bodies access the energy stored in the food we eat. Dr Murphy's research has explored how damage to mitochondria contributes to human diseases. Correct mitochondrial function is essential to keep cells alive, particularly the energetic cells found in our brains and muscles. Damage to mitochondria contributes to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's Disease and to the general decline in vigour associated with ageing. He has studied how mutations to mitochondrial DNA lead to diseases and how damaging free radicals disrupt mitochondria and lead to cell death. A valuable result of this work has been the development of new classes of compounds, some of which have been patented, targeted to mitochondria to prevent their damage in human diseases. This work has led to a number of new insights into how mitochondrial damage occurs during diseases and to how it may be prevented. An important aspect of Dr Murphy's work is the range of interdisciplinary collaborations with other scientists. These collaborations have enabled him and colleagues to make a globally unique contribution. In particular, interaction with Professor Rob Smith, an organic chemist at Otago University, is leading to a range of novel molecules targeted to mitochondria. Many of these projects have led to unexpected new results, some of which are now being developed as novel therapies and research tools. Dr Murphy completed his undergraduate science training at Trinity College, Dublin, his PhD at Cambridge University, and has been teaching at the University of Otago since 1992. He has built up a well-funded research laboratory made up of three technicians, four PhD students and two post-doctoral fellows. Dr Murphy is Associate Dean for Research in the Otago School of Medical Sciences where his role is to coordinate research activities throughout the school and assist others in raising research funding.
The 1999 award was made to Dr David Wardle of Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Lincoln for his widely recognised ecological work on the associations between above-ground and below-ground communities. A major component of his work is concerned with investigating how biodiversity (species-richness) of communities influences ecosystem properties such as productivity, decomposition, and nutrient cycling. He has challenged the view that "biodiversity begets superior ecosystem function". He has shown that a group of ecosystem properties - including high microbial biomass, high litter quality, and rapid rates of litter decomposition and nitrogen mineralization - coincide with low botanical diversity and the earlier successional state of vegetation. In more diverse systems, succession proceeds to more species-rich vegetation, but here the dominant plants are extremely stress tolerant and produce litter of poor quality, thereby slowing the rates of ecosystem processes. This supports the notion that it is the biological characteristics of the dominant plants, rather than the number of species, that controls ecosystem productivity and recycling processes. Dr Wardle has developed his ideas from work on grasslands. With the help of funding from the Marsden Fund he has progressed his ideas through working on Swedish lake islands and in New Zealand Forests. Dr Wardle completed his undergraduate science training at the University of Canterbury and his PhD at the University of Calgary in Canada. He has been invited to Princeton University to spend next year writing a book on Biodiversity and Ecosystems. He also has an adjunct Professorship with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
Dr. Anthony Burrell of the Institute of Fundamental Sciences at Massey University has been awarded the 1998 Research Medal from the New Zealand Association of Scientists. Dr. Burrell is a chemist who is interested in new ways to produce cheap energy. Most of the world relies heavily on fossil fuels for energy needs, but their quantity is limited and Dr. Burrell is looking beyond their use to new sources. One source is the sun. Dr. Burrell and Dr. David Officer, also at Massey University, are building molecular structures, porphyrins, that resemble plants' chlorophyll, which has been evolutionarily selected for light-gathering efficiency. Taking cues from plants, which use many chlorophyll molecules acting together to harvest light energy, they are building "arrays" of porphyrins &endash; 9 or more linked together. The goal is to get them into just the right orientation to turn light into electricity, and channel the electricity to a less expensive solar cell matrix, such as titanium dioxide. The challenge is to find new ways to assemble the arrays, perhaps even into a new kind of polymer, which would have a myriad of applications from light harvesting to computer chip design. Dr. Burrell also has another research project; he is interested in turning small molecules containing carbon into useful energy sources. For example, methane is produced from decaying organic matter, and carbon dioxide is exhaled by us and resides in the atmosphere. Dr. Burrell is exploring novel ways to convert these small molecules into a manageable form, such as methanol, which could fuel cars. Dr. Burrell has over 50 publications in international journals. His work is being cited by other authors as "important" and his porphyrin research has received major international attention through being highlighted in Chemical and Engineering News which is read worldwide.
This year was awarded to Dr Grant Williams of Industrial Research Limited, Lower Hutt. Grant Williams graduated BSc with First Class Honours and PhD from Victoria University of Wellington in 1986 and 1990 respectively. He was appointed as a scientist in the Superconductivity Group, DSIR Physical Sciences in 1990. He received Post Doctoral Fellowships at Imperial College, London with the Solid State Experimental Group and returned in 1994 to Industrial Research. Dr Williams has published 28 papers. He has gained an international reputation for his work investigating the origin of superconductivity in high temperature superconducting cuprates using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, thermoelectric power, resistivity and susceptibility measurements. His very detailed modelling of temperature-dependent data has exposed a great deal of critical information about the interactions responsible for superconductivity. Previously-proposed models are incompatible with the results of Dr Williams and his collaborators. Current results have taken a prominent place in recent international conferences. The basic understanding achieved in this work underpins the NZ applied superconductivity programme and is directed towards improvements in the performance of material already under investigation for practical applications.