Science achievements shine at the Excellence Awards

19 May 2017

The achievements of the Faculty of Science’s academic and professional staff, as well as postgraduate students, were celebrated in two separate ceremonies last week.

Family, friends and colleagues gathered to congratulate more than 12 winners across six different categories at the University Research Excellence Awards and the Vice Chancellor's Excellence Awards.

Dean of Science Professor John Hosking says: “I’m proud to announce that members of our faculty gained awards in every category.

“Congratulations to all our winners. Being recognised for their hard work in their respective fields of endeavour is an honour.”


2017 Research Excellence Awards (9 May)


Professor Cather Simpson, School of Chemical Sciences and the Department of Physics, and Photon Factory founder, received a Vice Chancellor’s Sponsored Research and Commercialisation Medal for the impact of her research and commercialisation activities and her contribution, beyond academia, to industry.

Since 2010, Cather has generated nearly $3 million in commercial research contracts and nearly $13.7 million in grant funding, most of it as principal investigator. She is the named inventor on 14 patents – making her one of the top 10 inventors at the University.

She is also the founder of two spin-outs, Engender Technologies Ltd. and Orbis Diagnostics, which have both raised significant external capital to further their development and commercialisation programs. Engender recently won first prize in the Agtech category in the 2016 Silicon Valley World Cup Tech competition and it was judged to be one of five Most Innovative International Start-ups at Series A and Beyond by AgFunder.

Dr Danny Osborne, Professor Chris Sibley, Associate Professor Nickola Overall and Dr Sam Manuela, School of Psychology, Dr Carla Houkamau, Department of Management and International Business and Tim West-Newman, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, received a University Research Excellence Award for their collaborative work on the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS).

The NZAVS is a 20-year longitudinal study of the social and political attitudes, personality and health and well-being outcomes of about 15,000 New Zealanders and how that may change over time. Since 2009, the research team has led the literature on the long-term effects of personality and belief systems on people’s well-being and socio-political views and continue to produce cutting-edge research that has revolutionised the field.

The team’s important empirical contributions range from identifying factors mitigating distress caused by natural disasters; the diversity and resilience of Māori and Pasifika identities; and the developmental processes underlying personality. Together, the team have published 112 survey-based publications, 52 of which are first-authored by students supervised by tonight’s winners.

Professor Sibley says: “Winning the award was a great honour for our group. It was wonderful to see the broad team of researchers involved in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study recognised together as a group.”

Dr Gabriel Verret, Department of Mathematics, received an Early Career Research Excellence Award for his world-leading work in discrete mathematics.

Over the last few years, Gabriel has made several breakthroughs in our knowledge of the symmetries of particular graphs, leading to 30 publications in refereed international journals, including eight papers in journals rated in the top five percent by the Australian Research Council. Gabriel has also been invited to many international conferences to present his work, and has held a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award and a Discovery Project grant from the Australian Research Council.

He says: "It's a great pleasure to have my research recognised by this award. I hope to stay productive and keep deserving it."

Sean Curry and Andrew Keane, both PhD students from the Department of Mathematics, received Vice-Chancellor’s Best Doctoral Thesis prizes.

Sean’s thesis, Submanifolds in Conformal and CR Manifolds and Applications, resolved many problems of how to treat structures called submanifolds. In particular, he found a new and very effective way to identify the 'fingerprint' of the geometry.

Andrew’s thesis, entitled A dynamical systems approach to understanding the interplay between delayed feedback and seasonal forcing in the el Niño Southern Oscillation, introduced advanced mathematical techniques to provide fundamental insights. For example, he showed that the irregular and unpredictable nature of El Niño events does not require external stochastic input.


Vice Chancellors Excellence Awards (10 May)


Alistair Mead, Pooja Yadav, Roger van Ryn, Tony Chen, Stuart Morrow, Tasdeeq Mohammed, Radesh Singh, Sreeni Pathirana, Jan Robertson and Tim Layt, School of Chemical Sciences' Technical Staff Relocation Team, won the Professional Staff Excellence Delivering Results Award for relocating complex lab operations from multiple locations to the Science Centre.

The activity involved relocating many laboratories, equipment and instrumentation spaces, workshops, stores and associated hazardous chemicals and infrastructure into the new building with minimal downtime. Major facilities were moved from Grafton and Tāmaki campuses as well as from other buildings at the City Campus. The technical team won the award against very strong competition because it was recognised as an activity that involved considerable complexity, and was conducted while normal school activities were in progress.

Technical Manager Mike Wadsworth says: “This was a very challenging and technically demanding exercise, and was the most substantial activity of its type that the school has undertaken in a generation.

”The team were thrilled to be recognised for their efforts, and it was nice to be able to reflect on the successful completion of the activity seven or eight months afterwards.”

The Faculty of Science Sustainability Network, chaired by Associate Dean for Sustainability, Associate Professor Niki Harré, won the Environmental Sustainability Award for a large number of initiatives to make the faculty more sustainable; ranging from multi-disciplinary teaching modules to providing composting options for waste disposal.

The Sustainability Network is open to all staff in the faculty. Their current projects include an interdisciplinary teaching study on the global clothing industry, a cycle interest group, a Sustainable Labs group, a seminar series that show cases sustainability-related research, and a student award scheme.

Associate Professor Harré says: “This award gives us a great opportunity to connect with other faculties and discuss opportunities to work together on related projects. We know there are lots of great projects going on across the University, and we would love to help build a widespread sustainability culture.”


Additional information:

Take 10 with Dr Gabriel Verret

University Research Excellence Awards

Vice Chancellors Excellence Awards

Prize for best doctoral thesis