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From kiwifruit to fog: 2017 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes awarded


The 2017 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes have been awarded to New Zealand's most exceptional researchers, students, communicators and teachers.

The awardees include a team of kiwifruit disease destroyers, a young creator who designed a way to get drinking water from fog, a leading science filmmaker, an innovative scientist using nanotech to tackle tooth disease, and an inspirational teacher at a girls' college in Nelson.

The prizegiving recognises the impact of science on New Zealanders’ lives, celebrates the achievements of current scientists and aims to encourage those of the future.

The winners were announced today at an award ceremony held at Parliament.


2017 Prime Minister's Science Prize

PSA research team at Plant and Food

The top honour of winning the Prime Minister's Science Prize goes to a multidisciplinary team from Plant & Food Research. Led by Dr Bruce Campbell, this team supported the New Zealand kiwifruit industry to claw its way back from the brink of disaster after the discovery of Psa (external link) - a disease that kills kiwifruit vines.

When Psa was identified, Plant & Food Research mobilised a team of more than 100 people. By grouping together the top scientific brains within the organisation, the team multiplied its effectiveness and moved ahead at speed.

The kiwifruit industry faced one of its most serious challenges with Psa. However it is now on track to double global sales to $4.5 billion by 2025.


The Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize

Sarah Johns

This year's recipient for this prize is Nelson science teacher Sarah Johns, who is in charge of junior science at Nelson College for Girls. 

Sarah receives the Prize for what the judges describe as, "100 percent commitment to her students and an uncompromising approach to bringing out the best in them". She devotes a huge amount of time to getting to know her students as individuals and negotiating the learning experiences that are relevant to them.

Sarah says passion and joy are a high priority in her classroom and she believes that this comes from students having a say in how the class moves through a piece of work. She empowers her students by encouraging them to share her own philosophy of life: to be curious, open to possibilities and willing to take a risk.

Read Sarah's Women in STEM profile.


The Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize

Damian Christie

Damian Christie, a lawyer-turned-journalist, has received this prize in recognition of his creation and production of the video series ‘Jamie’s World on Ice’, in which globally renowned Kiwi YouTuber Jamie Curry explored Antarctica and shared her journey with her international social media followers. The series gained over 2.5 million views online as well as being featured on television, radio, in media publications and played on Air New Zealand international flights.

Damian intends to use the prize money to establish New Zealand’s first science video news agency. The Aotearoa Science Agency will showcase some of the extraordinary achievements and discoveries from within New Zealand’s science sector and promote the successes to new audiences here and overseas.


The Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize

Carla Meledandri

This prize goes to Dr Carla Meledandri from the University of Otago who is at the forefront of developing applications for nanotechnology. Her research includes developing a new solution for tooth decay, one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world.

Carla's work incorporates silver nanoparticles into a range of breakthrough products designed to treat and prevent dental disease, which could make dental care more affordable. She does this through a start-up company she co-founded, Silventum Limited, and a technology licensing deal with a multinational dental company.

She is also developing nanomaterials for use in industrial applications such as greenhouse gas capture and storage, which can potentially help lessen global warming.

Read Carla's Women in STEM profile.


The Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize

Jonathan Chan

The winner of this prize is Jonathan Chan for developing a 3D printed spider web-like mesh for collecting drinking water from fog, which could be used by countries where safe drinking water is difficult to find. 

Jonathan invented the device while he was at Auckland Grammar School, with help from experts at the University of Auckland. His challenge was to create an efficient mesh that mimicked wetted spider silk or cactus spines by controlling the size and structure of the mesh and using a chemical coating. Jonathan’s research also involved analysing how droplets formed as fog came in contact with the mesh.

This year Jonathan has started studying biochemistry at the University of Auckland, with the goal of eventually being involved in designing new drug therapies. The prize money will help pay for his studies.

Read more about the winners on the Prime Minister's Science Prizes website (external link)

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