Capital scientists win inaugral prize

16:00, Mar 09 2010
FROM THE LAB TO THE MARKET: The work of Bob Buckley, left, and Jeff Tallon could revolutionise electricity transmission.
FROM THE LAB TO THE MARKET: The work of Bob Buckley, left, and Jeff Tallon could revolutionise electricity transmission.

Two Wellington scientists whose work could revolutionise the transmission of electricity have been awarded the inaugural Prime Minister's Science Prize.

Bob Buckley and Jeff Tallon have researched the multimillion-dollar field of high temperature superconductivity (HTS) for more than 20 years. They discovered a compound that could be made into wire with no electrical resistance at minus 240 degrees celsius.

Superconductor wires carry up to 10 times the current of copper wires of the same size, without losing energy. Used in transmission wires, they can carry up to five times as much current as copper wire.

The Industrial Research Ltd scientists were awarded $500,000. Of that $400,000 will go to IRL to keep developing the technology.

Dr Buckley said he and Dr Tallon would split the remaining $100,000. His share would go towards some home renovations, he said.

It was a "significant honour" to get the first Prime Minister's Science Prize.

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The award showed science was being recognised for contributing to New Zealand's future economic well-being, Dr Buckley said.

"The real payoff for New Zealand will be witnessed in the next decade as HTS technology starts to make an impact in the global marketplace."

Between the pair of scientists and IRL, their company HTS-110 has become the world's leading producer of superconductor cabling.

The research is already earning $80 million a year and that was predicted to grow to as much as $200m by 2020.

Dr Buckley said superconductors were a dream when he was a student. "Now it's actually happening. It's been extraordinarily fast development for such a complex area of science."

The Prime Minister's Science Prizes included a $150,000 MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist to Victoria University PhD candidate John Watt, and a $150,000 science communication prize for Wellingtonian Elizabeth Connor.

The Dominion Post