16 Dec 2011

Top science award awarded to NIWA and Otago University

3:28 pm on 16 December 2011

A team scientists from the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research and Otago University has been awarded the top award in this year's Prime Minister's Science Prizes.

They have received $500,000 for a study into how oceans might be manipulated to remove carbon dioxide emissions from the air.

Led by Professor Philip Boyd, the team of nine carried out two experiments in the Southern Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska where they added an iron solution to large areas of the sea, with the hope of altering concentrations of atmospheric CO2.

The team plans to use $400,000 of the prize for future research at the NIWA/Otago Centre so New Zealand scientists and international collaborators can study Southern Ocean phytoplankton.

Other prize winners

The MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize goes to Dr Rob McKay of Victoria University's Antarctic Research Centre.

Dr McKay uses marine sedimentary records and glacial deposits to reconstruct episodes of melting and cooling in Antarctica over the past 13 million years and show how they influenced global sea levels and climate.

His work is contributing to understanding what past environmental change in the Antarctic means for the current phase of global warning.

Dr McKay receives $200,000, with $150,000 to be used for further research.

The Science Teacher Prize has been presented to Dr Angela Sharples, head of biology at Rotorua Boys' High School.

She has rewritten senior biology courses and reversed a decline in the number of students studying biology at the school over the past three years.

The number of students achieving excellence grades is now higher than the national average and Maori students' results between 10% - 20% higher.

Dr Sharples receives $50,000 and Rotorua Boys High School receives $100,000.

The Future Scientist Prize goes to Nuan-Ting (Nina) Huang, a Year 13 student at Auckland Diocesan School for Girls.


Nina's winning project is in the area of neuro-biology. She investigated the effects of high level concentration on pupil size and whether different activities could result in the early development of short sightedness.

Her results show that tasks which require more thinking, such as solving maths problems, lead to a decrease in pupil size while easier tasks, like simple reading, result in larger pupil size.

Nina wins a scholarship worth $50,000 to help pay for her tertiary studies.

The Science Media Communication Prize has been presented to Dr Mark Quigley, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, who has been at the forefront of communication about the causes and effects of the Canterbury earthquakes.

Since 2010, Dr Quigley has delivered more than 40 lectures in New Zealand and overseas and published seven peer-reviewed articles on the Christchurch quakes.

He has also been interviewed frequently on radio and television, been the focus of multiple newspaper articles and maintained a website that has attracted over 130,000 hits.

He receives $50,000 with another $50,000 allocated for further developing his science media communication skills.

The Prime Minister's Science Prizes were introduced in 2009 as a means to recognise outstanding research: $1 million is awarded annually to five recipients.