PM announces science prizes

The top awards in this year's Prime Minister's Science Prizes go to two climate-related projects.

The $500,000 top prize, half the $1 million total, was awarded to a nine-member team from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) and Otago University.

Under the umbrella of the university's Centre for Chemical & Physical Oceanography, the team investigates the ocean's role in influencing climate.

Its findings positioned New Zealand as a leader in the debate about whether manipulating the oceans to remove carbon dioxide from the air - a form of geo-engineering - could mitigate or solve global warming, a statement announcing the prizes said.

The team planned to use the $400,000 of prize money tagged for ongoing research to help set up a state-of-the-art culture facility at the Niwa/Otago centre where scientists could study Southern Ocean phytoplankton.

The MacDiarmid emerging scientist prize goes to Victoria University scientist Dr Rob McKay, a world-leading glacial sedimentologist based at Victoria's Antarctic Research Centre.

Using marine sedimentary records and glacial deposits, he reconstructed episodes of melting and cooling in Antarctica over the past 13 million years and showed how they influenced global sea levels and climate.

His work contributed to understanding what past environmental change in the Antarctic meant for the current phase of global warning, the statement said.

He receives $200,000, or which $150,000 is for research.

Dr Angela Sharples, head of biology at Rotorua Boys' High School, wins the science teacher prize, receiving $50,000 herself while the school gets $100,000.

Sharples had rewritten senior biology courses, reversed a decline in the number of biology students at the school and significantly improved results.

Auckland Diocesan School for Girls year 13 student Nuan-Ting (Nina) Huang won the future scientist prize, receiving a $50,000 scholarship to help pay for her tertiary studies.

She investigated the effects of high level concentration on pupil size and whether different activities could result in the early development of short sightedness, the statement said.

For his work explaining the Christchurch earthquakes, Canterbury University senior lecturer Dr Mark Quigley won the science media communications prize.

Since 2010, he had delivered more than 40 lectures and published seven peer-reviewed articles on the quakes.

He had been interviewed frequently on radio and television, featured in many newspaper articles and maintained a website that attracted more 130,000 hits.

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

The annual prizes were introduced to raise the profile and prestige of science, and aimed to attract more young people into science careers.