Doco maker awarded

Associate professor Simon Lamb
Associate professor Simon Lamb

The Kiwi maker of a documentary on climate change has won a top scientific prize.

Victoria University professor Simon Lamb, maker of the film "Thin Ice", has been awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists' 2013 Communicator prize.

The award recognises excellence in communicating science to the general public.

Lamb's 2013 documentary put him in the lead, immediate past president of the association Shaun Hendy said.

"Simon really stood out for he fact that he's been able to reach an international audience, and that's actually quite unique for a scientist who has been based in New Zealand," he said.

"Thin Ice" was released on Earth Day last year (22 April), and has since been viewed more than 50,000 times.

"It's so topical and so important, and it's also an area, communicating climate change, that's fraught with difficulty, because it has become a bit of a political issue as well as a scientific issue, so it does take some courage for a scientist to really put their neck out," he said.

Lamb has been involved in science communication since 1990, writing popular books and working on TV and film documentaries, including 10 documentaries with the BBC on earth science subjects.

Lamb says while his audience's response has been gratifying, this is the first time he has been recognised by his fellow scientists in the 24 years he has been communicating science to the public.

"I'm very pleased that I've got this award because there were times when I wondered whether the scientific community would appreciate the investment in time and feel that it was worthwhile," he said.

The next media project he wants to work on is looking at the solutions to climate change, talking to scientists and engineers about how humanity might tackle the problem.

Other winners of the 2013 awards were Professor Barry Scott from Massey University, who won the Marsden Medal for his work on the relationship between grass and fungus, which has been of great importance to the New Zealand agriculture industry, Hendy said.

Wining this year's Shorland Medal was Dr Graham Nugent and his team at Landcare Research for their two decades of research into New Zealand pest control.

"Controlling these pests is really important, not just from the point of view of protecting our environment but also, for example, we know that possums carry TB and they can infect dairy cattle, so managing possums is important for our economy as well as our environment," Hendy said.

The Research Medal went to Dr Noam Greenberg for his work in the mathematics of computability.

Computability is an area of study focusing on whether or not it is possible for a computer to produce an answer to particular problems.

"Understanding the limitations of computers, what exactly they can and can't do is really important. So his work, we think, will have an impact for many, many decades to come," Hendy said.