Outstanding research recognised in annual awards

Five researchers from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington have been recognised in the 2022 Research Honours Aotearoa Awards.

The awards celebrate research excellence and are presented annually by Royal Society Te Apārangi and the Health Research Council.

This year’s winners work in diverse fields from climate change, to health, plate tectonics, sustainable energy, and equity in academia.

“The University is extremely proud the pioneering work of our staff has been recognised in these prestigious awards,” says Professor Jennifer Windsor, Acting Vice-Chancellor of Victoria Univerisity of Wellington.

“The research they are doing is not only contributing to our understanding of the problems we face as a society, but also to the solutions to them,” she says.

2022 winners

  • Professor Colin Simpson receives the Liley Medal for his role as lead author of a paper confirming the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rolled out in New Zealand.

This influential paper, published in Nature Medicine, looked at the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines using data from 2.53 million Scotland residents (57.5 percent of the adult population) who had received their first vaccine dose between December 2020 and April 2021.

The Liley Medal is presented by the Health Research Council to an individual or team producing internationally recognised research that marks a significant breakthrough within the health and medical fields.

  • Professor Rod Badcock receives the Pickering Medal for his work developing high-temperature superconductors, machines that significantly increase the energy and power density of electric motors.

Professor Badcock’s research is enabling the development of all-electric aircraft and high-speed trains that use superconducting motors. He is currently playing a lead role in developing engineering approaches that will see this technology rolled out internationally.

The Pickering Medal is awarded to a person or team that has undertaken innovative technological work resulting in significant national and international impact.

  • Professor Rupert Sutherland receives the Hutton Medal for his research on global plate tectonics, the evolution of Zealandia, and the implications for large magnitude earthquakes in New Zealand.

Professor Sutherland’s work surveying and uncovering the geological evolution of Zealandia has contributed to its recognition as a discrete continent that is twice the size of India. He has also made major contributions to our understanding of large earthquakes in New Zealand and is recognised for his work on the Alpine Fault, which is overdue for a magnitude 8 earthquake.

The Hutton Medal is awarded for outstanding work by a researcher in Earth, plant or animal sciences.

  • Dr Christopher Cornwall receives the Hamilton Award for his work forecasting the severe effects of climate change on coral reefs.

Dr Cornwall’s world-leading research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, quantified the impacts of climate change on coral reef growth at more than 200 locations globally. This work showed the reefs will be dramatically affected, even under low greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Ocean warming is expected to cause mass bleaching of coral reefs while ocean acidification will significantly reduce their ability to build and grow their calcium carbonate skeletons.

The Hamilton Award is given to an early career researcher to encourage scientific research.

  • Dr Tara McAllister (Te Aitanga a Māhaki) receives Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award for her work on under-representation and undervaluing of Māori academics.

Dr McAllister was the lead author of the influential paper “Why isn’t my professor Māori? A snapshot of the academic workforce in New Zealand universities”, which showed Māori make up only five percent of academics. Her subsequent work has highlighted inequities for women, Māori, and Pasifika in the wider research sector.

Te Kōpūnui Māori Research Award is given to an early career researcher to recognise innovative Māori research with a high standard of excellence.