Reception for Prof Alan McDiarmid - Nobel Prize Winner

  • Judith Tizard
Arts, Culture and Heritage

Prof Alan McDiarmid Reception, Dining Room, Old Government House, University of Auckland

- Salutations -

Good evening, Professor Alan McDiarmid,
Professor Dick Bellamy (Dean of Science),
Dr John Hood (Auckland University Vice-Chancellor),
Sir John Ingram,
Dr Bruce Hucker (Deputy Mayor of Auckland City),
Dr Steve Thompson (CEO of the Royal Society)
and distinguished guests.

What a fascinating lecture. I found it inspiring and understandable! I must admit that as a History major, it's been a while since I sat in a science lecture, but I have never lost my curiosity about the world and how it works.

While "science" at its root means "knowledge," an interest in science begins with children playing at the sand and water tables at kindy or play centre.

The book "The Scientist in the Crib" describes how the scientific instinct kicks off very very early indeed, as babies run experiments on the world around them. The book describes babies as "little scientists". Does that perhaps also means that scientists are, in the best possible sense, just big babies?!

Maybe not - but most scientists I talk to tell me that they do what they do for fun, or love, or the sheer pleasure of finding things out. Would you agree, Alan? !

The government is committed to fostering a society that encourages the sense of curiosity, inventiveness, and even playfulness that are the hallmarks of really productive and successful and hardworking scientists and innovators.

At the same time, the Government's Science Policy is geared towards a transformation of the New Zealand economy.

- Government Science Policy -

When we as a Government talk about economic transformation, we're actually talking about a vision that informs much of what we're doing - in economic and industry development, in education and training, in research, science and technology.

We're aiming to trade in expertise, intellectual property and technology, on top of our long tradition of primary production.

So the focus is very much on innovation: how it happens and what the Government can do to help it happen more.

We're working with the idea that New Zealand has an innovation system. It's the infrastructure that allows an idea, a scientific discovery, or a technological breakthrough to be turned into a business or an industry.

Our science policy includes increased funding and support for the education system,
public and private sector research and development,
our technological infrastructure,
venture capital, intellectual property protection, incubators,
and most importantly our human resources.

We have increased public investment in science and research by ten percent. We've made funding available for Research Centres of Excellence, and set up the Science and Innovation Advisory Council - a kind of think-tank feeding ideas directly to the Prime Minister.

But we couldn't do all of this if we didn't have the base of excellent New Zealand science and scientists to draw from that we do have - both here and overseas.

While the Government's Science Policy plays an important role in the economic transformation of New Zealand, at the heart of our science policy is the nurturing of world-class scientists.

- Innovative NZ Scientists -

It's not surprising that the world is recognising the work of New Zealand science.

We have a distinctive pattern of innovation in the sciences and engineering, much as we do in the arts, in the form of innovative solutions to otherwise expensive problems.

Take earthquake engineering for example. As Associate Arts Minister, I find the invention of lead-rubber bearings to isolate buildings from earthquakes - such as those under Te Papa - particularly exciting.

Why? Well it's wonderful that New Zealand's cultural treasures are resting on and being protected by New Zealand science!

And here at the University of Auckland there is the world-class work of the (late) Professor Dan Walls and his quantum optics group, which is doing pioneering work on the quantum properties of light.

And then of course there are the New Zealanders overseas who continue this innovative approach to science, such as Alan McDiarmid, and his Nobel prize-winning work in the conductivity of polymers.

- "Brain Drain"? -

It's not necessarily "brain drain" when people get on aeroplanes, because science in
particular and research in general are transnational endeavours in their nature.

If you go into any top lab in the world and do a quick passport survey, you'll find the globe in miniature -- there's an international fellowship of "knowledge", a sort of United Nations of inquiry.

So when talented New Zealanders like Alan McDiarmid head overseas and win Nobel prizes while maintaining their links with New Zealand, we all win.

The government sees overseas New Zealanders not as a loss to New Zealand, but as a resource.

And our commitment to building up New Zealand's knowledge economy will, all going well, see more and more of our brilliant ex-pats taking a greater part in innovation in New Zealand.

It's an absolute pleasure to have Professor Alan McDiarmid "home".

Thank you.