Prime Minister’s Science Prizes showcase New Zealanders ‘inspiring tomorrow’

Research, Science and Innovation Minister, Megan Woods and Associate RSI Minister, Ayesha Verrall have today announced the winners of the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes for 2021 in recognition of the people making a big difference to New Zealand’s scientific landscape.

“The 2021 winners are a broad mix, from Year 13 student, Carol Khor who, with the help of The University of Otago, Christchurch, has made a potential breakthrough in cancer research, to Dr Jemma Geoghegan the scientist behind our world-leading COVID-19 genome sequencing programme,” says Megan Woods.

“Whether a researcher, teacher, student or communicator, it’s great to see that all the winners have a common purpose, to ‘inspire tomorrow’ by making a positive difference to our society through science excellence.

“Their work has real benefits for all of us, in so many different ways, from research that has led to a non-invasive, cost-effective treatment to prevent brain injury in newborns, to innovative ecology teaching that’s inspiring our rangatahi to be kaitiaki in their community,” Megan Woods said.

“The winners, who include emerging scientists and future scientists, are all outstanding role models, playing a big part in showcasing science and the value it brings, whether they work in the community, the lab, or behind an illustrator’s desk,” said Ayesha Verrall.

“I congratulate all the winners for their dedication, innovation, and hard work which will deliver solutions for everyone’s benefit,” Ayesha Verrall said.

The Government introduced The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes in 2009 to raise the profile and prestige of science in New Zealand.

The prizes were awarded during a celebratory event in Wellington. The 2021 winners are:

  • Te Pūiaki Putaiao Matua a te Pirimia Science Prize – the Neonatal Glucose Studies Team at The University of Auckland. The team developed new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent neonatal hypoglycaemia, reducing ICU admission, improving breastfeeding and saving money.
  • Te Puiaki Kaipūtaiao Maea MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist – Dr Jemma Geoghegan. As a result of Dr Geoghegan’s work, genomic sequencing is being used as a key tool for understanding and limiting the spread of COVID-19, meaning that viral genomics continues to be critical to New Zealand’s successful public health response.
  • Te Puiaki Kaiwhakaako Pūtaiao Science Teacher – Bianca Woyak. Through Ms Woyak’s approach to teaching ecology, students are motivated to lead environmental projects and be kaitiaki in their school and wider community. She has also contributed to community focussed activities and projects that support sustainability and long-term engagements.
  • Te Puiaki Whakapā Pūtaiao Science Communicator – Toby Morris of The Spinoff. Through his work as an illustrator, Mr Morris has helped explain the science behind COVID-19 in ways that a wide cross section of society can understand.
  • Te Puiaki Kaipūtaiao Ānamata Future Scientist – Shun Ting (Carol) Khor, Year 13 student. Ms Khor’s research into reducing drug resistance for treating melanoma has highlighted the combined effectiveness of two different drugs. Further research based on her findings could potentially lead to improvements in the treatment of melanoma.