Royal Society recognises IRL scientists' work

MATT STEWART AND JAZIAL CROSSLEY
Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012

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Gracefield's top scientists - who promote awareness of the economic impact of science, create cancer treatments and develop technology used internationally - were recognised at the Royal Society of New Zealand's 2012 Research Awards last night.

Three scientists at Industrial Research in Gracefield won awards at the event.

Richard Furneaux was given the Thompson Medal for his leadership of 32 scientists in a carbohydrate chemistry research team and work creating biotechnology products to improve health such as vaccines and treatments.

Judges said his research, along with a long-standing collaboration with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, had helped make drugs that could be used in treating cancer, gout and malaria.

Recently his team has been working on developing the first fully renewable "green" waterborne paint for Resene.

Physicist Shaun Hendy was awarded the Callaghan Medal for raising public awareness of science and its role in boosting economic prosperity.

The medal is named in honour of renowned science communicator and 2011 New Zealander of the Year Sir Paul Callaghan, who died in March.

Hendy does significant work to translate scientific discoveries into layman's terms, broadcasting on Radio New Zealand, writing a blog titled A Measure of Science and commenting in the media.

With the economy increasingly tied to science, he said scientists needed to better communicate advances in the field to the public.

Most scientists were not natural salespeople and were wary of communicating the uncertainties inherent to individual studies in the wider quest for scientific discovery, so instead preferred to "couch" their answers.

Scientific discovery was an evolving process that was never "absolutely definitive" and did not lend itself to the soundbites favoured by news media, he said.

"It's hard to convey the degrees of uncertainty in a study - it's only when the weight of evidence builds up that uncertainty begins to evaporate."

The Cooper Medal was given to IRL principal scientist Mark Poletti for developing a concert hall acoustic tuning system that has become the preferred method worldwide.

His system, called Constellation, is used at more than 100 halls and theatres, including Auckland's Aotea Centre, to alter the acoustics in the space to achieve "optimal reverberation" for differing types of music.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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