Christchurch biochemist Professor Christine Winterbourn last night became the first woman ever to receive the country's highest science and technology honour – the Rutherford Medal.
She is currently director of the Free Radical Research Group in the pathology department at the University of Otago, Christchurch. Her current work encompasses mechanisms of antioxidant defence, understanding how white blood cells kill bacteria, and free radical involvement in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Together with the medal awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand, she also received $100,000 from the government.
Royal Society president Dr Garth Carnaby said Professor Winterbourn’s research into free radical biology has opened the way for groundbreaking research into links to diseases.
“Professor Winterbourn’s passion and dedication over the past 40 years into research on free radicals and antioxidants has led to her making several seminal discoveries which have important implications for medical research.
“Her mana extends well beyond New Zealand’s shores. She is recognised internationally as one of the founders of free radical research in biological systems and a leading world authority in this field."
She was one of the first scientists to demonstrate that our cells produce free radicals as part of their normal function, going on to characterise some of the chemical reactions of free radicals we now know occur in diseases such as cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and arthritis.
As well as publishing more than 260 scientific papers, Professor Winterbourn is also recognised for publishing many useful science methods that are now widely used by researchers.
A number of other top New Zealand researchers were recognised for their work at the Royal Society of New Zealand 2011 Research Honours event in Wellington.
Three new medals were presented, two for science-related work and one for humanities research.
The inaugural Callaghan Medal for an outstanding contribution to science communication was presented to Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor; the MacDiarmid Medal to Dr Gary Evans – a chemist who has pioneered the design and synthesis of new pharmaceuticals for the treatment of major diseases – of Industrial Research Limited; and the Humanities Aronui Medal to Professor Jim Flynn at the University of Otago for his outstanding work in political philosophy.
The top award for achievement in technology, the Pickering Medal and $15,000, was awarded to Professor David Ryan FRSNZ, Professor of Operations Research and Deputy Dean of Engineering, at The University of Auckland for developing technology at the heart of optimisation software used worldwide for solving complex logistics problems, such as airline scheduling.
The Thomson Medal and $15,000 was awarded to Mr Neville Jordan CNZM, for his outstanding contribution to leadership in the management of science leading to the development and application of science and technology to wealth generation through his management of MAS Technology Ltd, Endeavour Capital Ltd and his role as a director of numerous spin-out companies he has supported through the latter.
The Hutton Medal for animal sciences was awarded to Professor Robert Poulin FRSNZ from the University of Otago for his leading research in the field of parasitic diseases, especially for his work in ecological parasitology, an area of particular relevance to New Zealand’s marine and freshwater ecosystems.
The Hector Medal for mathematical and information sciences was awarded to Professor Rod Downey FRSNZ from Victoria University of Wellington for his influential and innovative work in mathematical logic.
The Te Rangi Hiroa Medal was awarded to Professor Colleen Ward fromVictoria University of Wellington for her outstanding contributions to the advancement of the psychological study of immigration, acculturation, intercultural relations and cultural diversity.