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Auckland chemist wins top science honour

Wednesday 21 Nov 2012 9:02 p.m.

By Tony Field

The country's highest science and technology honour has been awarded to Auckland chemist Professor Margaret Brimble.

She has won the Rutherford Medal for her contributions to the synthesis of bioactive natural products.

Her work involves taking rare and naturally occurring molecules and recreating them in the lab in a more stable form, so they can be used in anti-viral and anti-cancer drugs.

Professor Brimble told 3 News "I think the Rutherford medal really epitomises New Zealand science. I did all my science in New Zealand with New Zealanders and for New Zealand, and Lord Rutherford's the most famous New Zealand scientist there is and everybody knows what the Rutherford Medal is. I feel really good."

She has been involved in the development of a new drug for traumatic brain injuries. It is now undergoing clinical trials, funded by the US Army.

Together with the medal awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand, she also received $100,000 from the Government.

 She hopes to use that to buy a nuclear magnetic resonance machine for her team at the University of Auckland.

The Rutherford Medal was presented to Professor Brimble by the Minister of Science and Innovation Stephen Joyce at an awards dinner in Auckland.

"What gets me out of bed each day is going in and working with the young scientists I work with and hopefully they see that this award is for them as well. I work with New Zealand's best and brightest young scientists, absolutely passionate about what they do, and I think to have this award not only for me but for them is really good recognition for what we actually do."

She is no stranger to awards.  In 2007 Professor Brimble was the first New Zealander to win the L'Oreal- UNESCO Women in Science Asia-Pacific Laureate in Materials Science. But she says winning the Rutherford Medal is special to her.
Professor Brimble is the second woman to be awarded the prestigious Rutherford Medal in its 21-year history, following biochemist Professor Christine Winterbourn from the University of Otago Christchurch who won the medal last year.
Professor Brimble also received the MacDiarmid Medal for outstanding scientific research that could have large human benefit and the Hector Medal for excellence in chemical sciences.

The top award for achievement in technology, the Pickering Medal, was awarded to Professor David Williams FRSNZ, School of Chemical Sciences, The University of Auckland for his contribution to the development of biomedical and gas sensors, which have been commercialised.

The Thomson Medal was awarded to Dr Richard Furneaux FRSNZ, Distinguished Scientist and group manager of carbohydrate chemistry at Industrial Research Limited, for his outstanding and inspiring leadership of carbohydrate chemistry research and commercial application to biotechnology in New Zealand. He leads what is regarded as the largest carbohydrate chemistry team in the world.

The inaugural Mason Durie Medal for advancing the frontiers of social science was awarded to Professor Russell Gray FRSNZ, Deputy Head (Research), School of Psychology, The University of Auckland, for his pioneering social science research on questions of fundamental relationships between human language, cognition and biology.

The Humanities Aronui Medal was awarded to Professor Alan Musgrave FRSNZ, University of Otago, for his enduring and profound influence as a philosopher of science whose influence has ranged widely across the humanities and social sciences.

The Hutton Medal for earth sciences was awarded to Professor R Ewan Fordyce, Department of Geology, University of Otago, for his seminal contributions in New Zealand vertebrate paleontology, particularly for whales, dolphins and penguins.

The Sir Charles Hercus Medal for health sciences was awarded to John Fraser FRSNZ, Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland, for his pioneering studies on bacterial superantigens which have major implications for understanding and treating human infectious diseases.

The recipient of the Pou Aronui Award was Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, The University of Auckland, for his outstanding contribution in the development of the humanities in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Callaghan Medal for outstanding contribution to science communication was awarded to Professor Shaun Hendy FRSNZ, Distinguished Scientist at Industrial Research Limited, Professor of Physics in Victoria University of Wellington's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. The medal is for his outstanding work in raising public awareness of science and its role in increasing economic prosperity.

 The Cooper Medal for research in physics or engineering was awarded to Dr Mark Poletti, Industrial Research Limited for his world-leading development of the globally preferred method for tuning concert hall acoustics.

The Jones Medal for lifetime achievements in mathematical sciences was awarded to Professor Robert Goldblatt FRSNZ, School of Mathematics, Statistics, and Operations Research, Victoria University of Wellington, for his world-leading research in modal logic and category theory.

The Dame Joan Metge Medal for excellence and building relationships in the social science research community was awarded to Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of the School of Māori and Pacific Development, University of Waikato, for inspiring, mentoring and developing Māori researchers.

The Dame Joan Metge Medal was also awarded to Professor Janet Holmes FRSNZ, Chair in Linguistics, Victoria University of Wellington, for her outstanding contribution to linguistics.

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