We’ve got talent

by Sir Peter Gluckman
Coastal view of a beach at sunset.

Earlier this week, the Royal Society of New Zealand honoured a number of young and senior scientists with a range of medals and awards.

The Rutherford Medal, the Society’s highest award, was presented to Professor Christine Winterbourn, a biomedical researcher from the University of Otago’s Christchurch School of Medicine.

Christine is one of the world’s foremost authorities on free radical chemistry and its application to clinical questions. When she started this work, free radical biology was seen as fringe and many people doubted its value and application. But over recent decades an enormous amount of work, to which the Christchurch team has contributed greatly, has shown the importance of free radical mediated injury in many disease processes.

Christine has built up an impressive team of young scientists, and her work shows the value of consistent investment in basic research of the highest quality in areas that may not always seem at first relevant. But what was seen as marginal 30 years ago is now a difficult but important component of biomedical research.

Such award ceremonies remind one of how impressive the scientific talent is in New Zealand — we just have to get better at not marginalising it, and recognising that good science is key to the future.

I accepted the first Sir Paul Callaghan Medal awarded for science communication — somewhat reluctantly, because the most deserving winner would have been the person the medal is named in honour of!

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